Electric bikes have arrived and they’re here to stay!
Also known as e-bikes, this fun mode of transport is extremely popular right now, and it’s easy to see why. Electric bikes have a lot going for them. Not only are they fast, but they’re good for the environment too.
We’re always being told about electric cars, but globally, electric bicycles vastly outsell electric cars. And in China, there are more electric bikes than cars on the road.
Europe is currently the second biggest electric bike market, and Germany leads the way with around 40% of all bikes sold being electric. This compares to only 5% in the UK, so it’s not surprising that most of us don’t know a lot about them.
So what exactly is an electric bike? And are they worth the investment? We’ll take a look at the pros and cons of electric bikes, and give you our pick of the top electric bikes so you can find one that’s right for you.
What is an electric bike and how does it differ from a normal bike?
With technological advancements such as in-tube batteries and smaller motors, most electric bikes look very similar to regular bikes nowadays. Electric bikes have the same wheels, handlebars and body geometry as regular pedal bikes. The mechanical elements also all function in the same way, including the pedals and brakes.
So how does an electric bike differ from a normal bike? In short, an electric bike is simply a pedal bicycle with the addition of an electrical drive system to give you some extra power. This system consists of a Motor, Sensor, Battery, Controls and Display.
- Electric Bike Motor: This is the part of the bike that delivers the extra power to your pedalling. But you can control the assistance that the motor provides using the controls to switch between different modes.
- Electric Bike Sensor: The sensor is the part of the bike which tells the motor that you’re pedalling and that it needs to start adding assistance.
- Electric Bike Battery: Different batteries have different capacity levels, which combined with a number of other factors will determine the range of your electric bike on a single charge. Charging your battery is easy, just unlock it and unclip it from your bike, and charge using a mains plug socket.
- Electric Bike Controls: These controls can sometimes be integrated with your display, but generally they are small buttons on the left hand side of your handlebars which allow you to move between the assistance levels available on your bike.
- Electric Bike Display: Your e-bike display will show a range of information, including: battery level, range, speed, distance travelled, and the assistance mode. Though this may vary from model to model, and the type of electric bike system you choose.
Are there different types of electric bikes?
Most e-bikes are classed as pedal-assist, meaning the power kicks in when you pedal. Most pedal-assist systems can be adjusted for more or less assistance. Some bikes have a throttle which propels the bike forwards instead, and a few bikes feature a combination of the two.
The higher the power setting, the shorter the range. Some pedal-assist e-bikes will show a mileage range on the screen, and some adjust this range based on what power setting you select. In most settings, however, you can expect to be able to travel somewhere between 20 and 40 miles before you have to recharge the battery.
Most e-bike brands choose pedal-assist over throttle, as in many countries, throttle e-bikes are regulated differently. In the UK and Europe, a pedal-assist e-bike must have a motor with a maximum power of 250Wh. The motor must stop assisting when you get over 15.5mph, but of course you can pedal your bike as fast as you like under your own steam. A throttle is only allowed for speeds up to a walking pace.
In many EU countries, there is also a special class of e-bike known as a “speed pedelec”. These are designed to give assistance at up to 28mph before the motor shuts off, but they do have to conform to strict regulations and need to be registered with the DVLA. It’s important to know the differences between the types of e-bikes because laws and regulations vary from country to country - you don’t want to unintentionally be breaking the law!
Pros of electric bikes
So we’ve seen that electric bikes can look pretty similar to normal bikes, and in most cases you still need to pedal, just like with any other bike. But there are many advantages to choosing an electric bike over a regular bike. Here are some of them:
- Electric bikes allow you to travel faster, and over longer distances.
- They’re great for commuting, and you can arrive at the office feeling fresh.
- You’ll still get a great workout on an electric bike as you still need to pedal. When you turn the pedals, your whole body gets a workout, not just your legs.
- They can give you the confidence to tackle hilly routes as riding up hills or mountains can be very difficult if you’re not a very active person.
- Electric bikes are a much cheaper alternative to cars, and if the battery does run out mid-ride, you can keep pedalling (it won’t just stop, like a car that’s run out of petrol).
- You don’t need a licence or insurance in the UK to ride an e-bike.
- They’re much better for the environment compared to some other modes of transport—just like a normal bicycle— as they do not produce harmful emissions.
- They’re great fun!
Cons of electric bikes
Though there are many advantages to choosing an electric bike over a normal bike, there are some disadvantages too. So, it’s important to take these factors into account when making your decision.
- Electric bikes are more expensive to buy compared to normal pedal bikes.
- Maintenance costs on electric bikes may be slightly higher due to additional electrical components.
- Electric bikes weigh more than normal bikes. They can weigh up to 25kg or more, while a regular bike weighs around 10kg. This can also make them a little harder to transport and store.
- Electric bikes are very desirable so there’s a greater risk that it could be stolen if left on the street.
- You’ll need to be at least 14 years old to ride an electric bike.
- Electric bikes are subject to additional regulations in some countries, which can determine where you can ride if you plan to take your bike abroad.
So as we can see, there are both advantages and disadvantages of choosing an electric bike over a normal pedal bike. The main advantage of an e-bike is of course the electric motor, which helps you pedal and makes it easier to ride - faster and over longer distances. The main disadvantage is the high price and the heavy weight.
Who might an electric bike be useful for?
Even though e-bikes can look similar to normal bikes, the assistance of a motor will add that bit of extra power, making things seem easier when you need it most. So who might benefit from the use of an e-bike? Here are some examples:
- The commuter: An electric bike is really meant to be used over short distances, which makes them ideal for commuting to work. You can choose to ride the whole way to work, or combine with public transport. This is where a foldable electric bike will come in super handy as you can fold it down and take it on the train with you. You will arrive at work fast, relaxed, and sweat-free. And it beats spending hours stuck in traffic in a car each morning.
- The delivery driver: Small business owners and delivery drivers could benefit from using an electric bike as they’re quick, and perfect over short distances. The cost of fuel adds up when using a motorbike or scooter, and it’s not always economical or good for the environment to use a car. Moped scooters are also often noisy, particular at night in quiet neighbourhoods. Plus, you won’t need tax, insurance or a licence to ride an e-bike.
- The environmentalist: For those concerned about the environment, an electric bike could be the perfect mode of transport on the journey to becoming more eco-friendly. There are no harmful emissions, and they're much cheaper than owning a car too. The maintenance is also very low compared to the cost of maintaining a car.
- The senior citizen: Many of the older generation will remember riding their bikes as a youngster. Unfortunately, riding a bike as we become older can prove to be a challenging task, especially for someone who isn’t as mobile as they once were. An electric bike could offer the assistance they need to get cycling again. An e-bike could prove especially beneficial to someone with arthritis, or those recovering from injury.
- The recreational rider: Electric bikes are fun, and a great way to get around and explore your local area. They’re great for riding around a park, or along a canal. And it’s the perfect way to breathe in some fresh air and get some exercise at the same time. Electric bicycles are great for enjoying a scenic ride with family and friends, and they also allow people to ride with stronger cyclists without getting left behind.
Our pick of the top electric bikes
At Decathlon you’ll find a range of e-bikes to choose from, at a variety of different price points. From folding city bikes to pedal-assisted mountain bikes, here’s our pick of the top electric bikes:
This fully-equipped electric bike comes with a pannier rack, mudguard and built-in lighting. It’s ideal for short urban rides, and encourages a straight back position on the bike to guarantee great comfort. This electrical assistance bike can run for up to 55km on a single charge—depending on the chosen power setting—and it will help you reach your destination more easily.
This practical folding bike folds three times, making it super easy to pack into your car, or take on public transport with you. You’ll benefit from assisted pedalling, making it ideal for weekday commutes and weekend rides of up to 35km. And it’s available in a variety of colours too!
This electric mountain bike is designed for MTB enthusiasts who like to ride on very rough and hilly terrain. It has a 250W motor with 70Nm torque, plus a 500Wh battery so you can enjoy even longer rides (around 3 hours at a sporty pace). The built-in motor will automatically assist you when needed, making tough climbs a breeze!
Is an electric bike right for me?
Choosing a bike is a totally personal choice, so only you can decide whether an electric bike or a normal pedal bike is right for you. There are lots of things to think about when choosing a new bike, but the most important question to ask yourself is what you want the bike for.
If you’re planning on using a bike for commuting or travelling long distances, an electric bike might make your journey easier. Or if you’re less fit or mobile than you used to be and struggle with steep hills, electric bikes will make cycling much more manageable. In short, electric bikes are perfect for those rides where you don’t want to exhaust yourself, or when you want to avoid feeling like a sweaty mess when you reach the office.
On the other hand, if you’re just looking for a bike you can get out on during the summer months to cycle around your local park, a regular bike may be a practical and cheaper alternative.
So, why not try out a normal bike and an electric bike in store to see which you prefer? At Decathlon, we make sport accessible to all, and we can help you choose the ideal electric bike to help you go faster and ride for longer.