Does it feel like there’s more electricity in the air these days? Maybe because there is. E-bikes have literally mobilised a new class of bike rider who has taken wholesale advantage of e-bikes’ electric assistance to boost the quality of their lives. E-bikes have replaced the family car, granted greater access to the outdoors, and given hope to some for whom a bike ride may have seemed impossible. E-bikes have removed barriers to riding so that now e-bikes can be found in nearly every type of setting and for every kind of riding. How do you choose an e-bike? That depends on the bike’s intended purpose. First you have to determine if your e-bike is for recreational or practical use; will you ride it in an urban or rural environment; and how much power and speed are you allowed to have? What follows is a primer on the different types of e-bikes.
Any pedal bicycle that’s assisted by a motor powered by a battery to reach a predetermined maximum speed can generally be called an e-bike. Different levels of power assistance exist within the e-bike category, which are classed as pedal-assist bikes called “pedelecs” or “s-pedelecs”. Pedelec motors won’t exceed 250 watts and top out at a maximum speed of 25 km per hour (15.5 mph). S-pedelec motors can exceed 250 watts, and reach 45 km per hour (28 mph) before the motor shuts off. It’s important to know the differences because laws defining e-bikes and regulating their use vary from country to country.
An instant giveaway is that there are no pedals. Power-on-demand bikes are technically e-bikes since many of them can be pedalled however, they can typically outpower s-pedelecs, which puts them in a class more closely related to mopeds, scooters, and even electric motorcycles.
Other defining e-bike features include what kind of motor it has and what kind of battery powers it. A hub motor is placed in either the front or rear wheel and either “pulls” or “pushes” the bike and rider. A hub motor can convert a favourite traditional bike into an e-bike, which can be a relatively economical solution, however widespread demand for e-bikes has resulted in more sophisticated, purpose-built bikes at competitive prices. In an effort to reduce a dependence on cars, some national governments even subsidise e-bike purchases. A mid-drive motor (also called centre-drive) is integrated with the drivetrain and is installed directly onto a frame that’s been designed around the motor. Electric bike battery types vary in size, power, placement, and integration with the motor. Unless you’re building your own e-bike, batteries are usually specific to the e-bike’s brand of motor.
City/Commuter – Good for getting from A to B and sturdy enough for hauling heavy loads, these versatile bikes feature either a hub or mid-drive motor with the battery positioned inside the frame’s main triangle, on a rear rack, or integrated into the downtube. Frame designs include hybrid, step-through, road, cruiser, cargo, and mountain bike, and can accommodate wide tyres for extra stability. It almost goes without saying that any e-bike can serve as city or commuter bike, which is why this category has such a broad range.
Gravel/Adventure – This evolving e-bike category electrifies the “go anywhere” attitude that its human-powered models have already embraced. Gravel/adventure bikes feature drop handlebars, gravel-specific components, disc brakes, and wide tyres. Gravel e-bikes get their power from a mid-drive motor and battery, which are both integrated into the frame.
Road – Almost identical to a traditional road bike design, e-bikes for road are causing more than a few double-takes for the crafty way that the motor and battery are nearly hidden in the frame. You ride an e-bike for road the same as a traditional road bike…only faster.
Mountain Bike – E-mtb’s also steal their design features from mountain biking’s traditional human-powered origins. Hardtail, full-suspension, downhill, and even fat e-bikes get boosted by mid-drive motors with mounted or integrated battery placement.
E-bikes deserve more than a little credit for getting people outside or out of their cars since they offer a solution that human-powered bikes have so far failed to produce. Mobility, movement, and motivation account for most of the surge in e-bikers and, since riding a bike takes all types, so too are there all types of e-bikes.