How to Buy, Use, and Maintain an E-Bike

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Rad Power Bikes

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Electric bikes, more commonly called "e-bikes" are the fastest-growing category in bike sales. In fact, it is estimated that there are about one billion bicycles in the world and by 2023, 40 million of them are expected to be electric bikes. This is great news for people who are in the market for some new wheels. You'll have more choices than ever when shopping for an e-bike. Regardless of your riding style, there's an e-bike out there for you.

However, e-bikes are more expensive than their traditional counterparts. So it's good to do some homework before you buy. Think about the pros and cons of e-bikes, investigate the different styles available, and then learn how to maintain and stay safe while riding your new e-bike.

Pros and Cons of E-Bikes

Pros
  • Provides assistance as needed

  • Can allow for a sweat-free commute

  • Equalizes rider ability

  • Makes cycling fun for everyone

  • Better for the environment

Cons
  • Bikes can be costly

  • Bikes are heavy

  • Replacement parts can be pricey

  • Service may be harder to find

Pros

Provides Assistance as Needed

If you buy an e-bike, that doesn't mean you need to use electric assistance all the time. You simply use it as needed. At Trek bikes, they describe the feeling of riding an e-bike like having a hand push you along while riding.

On an e-bike, you can still get a workout, but if you want to back off a bit, simply add some electric power to your ride. You can pedal on the flats and get an extra push on your way up a hill. Use the electric power to help you pass another rider, or give yourself a break when you're on the way home after a long ride.

Allows for a Sweat-Free Commute

If you plan to use your bike for commuting, an e-bike may be a smart choice, especially if there are days when you need to look your best on the job. On a traditional bike, you're likely to hit a hill or two, have to bypass cars along the road, or confront other situations where you must put in some effort. As a result, you're likely to sweat. If you didn't bring a change of clothes, or if you don't have access to a changing room at work, this can be problematic on days when you need a professional (non-sweaty) appearance.

On an e-bike, those sweat-inducing incidents are not a problem. When you approach a hill, use the throttle or the higher level of pedal-assist to ride up with less effort (and sweat). Need a burst of speed to merge in a lane or pass a car? No problem. Let the battery do the heavy lifting. You"ll end up at work looking and feeling fresh.

Equalizes Rider Ability

Cyclists who ride in groups or have athletic partners or friends might feel intimidated when heading out on a bike. Especially if you are newer to cycling, you may feel like you can't keep up the pace when riding with seasoned cyclists. Or you might be concerned that you can't cover the full distance if the group is putting in some long mileage.

An e-bike, however, is the great equalizer. When you ride on an e-bike, you can choose to use your own effort and ability as long as you want. But if you go a little further than you had expected, or if the pace picks up and you feel like you are falling behind, you can add the level of assistance you need to ride comfortably and confidently.

Makes Cycling Fun for Everyone

There's no doubt that e-bikes are fun—for everyone. Even seasoned cyclists who spend the better part of their weekend riding on a road or a mountain path will admit that getting a little boost of free speed now and then is exhilarating.

Better for the Environment

Many of us are taking steps to reduce our impact on the planet. One way to do that is to drive less. But walking everywhere isn't realistic for many people. Getting to and from work and running errands requires a car for many people.

However, e-bikes provide an environmentally friendly option. In fact, they can help you to become carbon neutral, meaning that you contribute net-zero carbon emissions to the environment.

According to Trek Bikes, if you ride 430 miles on a bike rather than a car you become carbon neutral. If you ride more than that you become carbon negative.

Cons

Bikes Can Be Costly

E-bikes are pricey. While there is some variation in cost, you should expect to pay more for an electric bike than a traditional bike. For instance, while a traditional bike can run in the thousands of dollars, you can also find many high-quality options for less. An e-bike, however, is likely to cost over $1,000 for an entry-level model and can even cost over $15,000 for the highest-end models.

E-Bikes Are Heavy

The battery on an e-bike can be heavy. The bike itself is likely to be a little heavier than a traditional bicycle. For this reason, you should consider the weight if you will need to carry the bike up and down stairs or store it off of the ground on a bike hook or rack. The Trek Verve 3 e-bike, for example, weighs 54 pounds. But the traditional Trek Verve 3 (not the e-bike version) weighs about 31 pounds.

If possible, try out your chosen e-bike in person. Before or after your test ride, pick up the bike and see if you can comfortably lift it high enough for your bike hook or rack. Or see if you can keep it lifted long enough to carry up your flight of stairs.

Replacement Can Be Expensive

Your e-bike battery won't last forever. So if you plan to use your e-bike for many years, you should consider the cost of the battery replacement as it can be expensive. At Pedego, for instance, they tell their customers that a battery is likely to last between 2 and 4 years if it is well maintained. They add that a lithium battery will slowly lose its capacity over time, even if it’s not used.

Pedego has been in the e-bike business since 2008. A replacement battery for their bikes and many others can cost several hundreds of dollars or more. For instance, a replacement battery for a Rad Mission e-bike made by Rad Power Bikes will run about $449. A Bosch power pack (used on bikes such as Pedego and Trek) can cost over $800.

Service May Be Hard to Find

Depending on where you buy your bike, you may have a harder time getting it assembled and getting it serviced when maintenance is required. Even though e-bikes are getting more common, not every bike store is qualified to work on them.

You may want to consider maintenance when you choose where to buy your bike. If you buy one online, ask about local bike shops that are experienced with your chosen bike brand. Then follow up with a call to that shop to be sure that they are equipped and experienced with the bike you choose.

How to Buy an E-Bike

The right bike for you depends on your budget, your riding style, and several other factors. Some companies, like Rad Power Bikes, provide an online quiz to help you find the best bike for you. The experts at Trek also suggest that you ask yourself these key questions:

  • Where and how do you plan to ride? Some bikes are designed for off-road conditions, while others are best for paved surfaces.
  • Why do you ride? You might plan to use your bike for commuting. Or perhaps you plan to use your bike for casual, fun rides only. Or maybe you will use your e-bike to begin training for a competitive event or to improve your level of fitness.
  • What position is most comfortable for you? Some people like the more aggressive riding position of a road bike. But others prefer an upright position and some might want a laid-back, old school position that allows you to pedal efficiently while still maintaining your ability to put your feet on the pavement when you stop (without coming out of the saddle).

If you know the answers to these questions, you'll be in a good position to go into a bike store and try the frame styles that are best suited for your riding style and needs. Take several bikes out for a test drive before making your final choice.

Once you've chosen your bike, make sure that the bike shop fits the bike to your body specifications. That might mean simply adjusting the saddle height, but it can also mean changing the handlebar position and finding the best pedals to fit your needs.

E-Bikes to Try

There are many different styles of e-bikes to consider. Try to ride on a few different types before you make a decision on the right e-bike for you. It's a big investment so you'll want to get one that best suits your needs.

First, you'll need to decide on the type of electric assistance that you prefer. There are three general types:

  • Pedal-assist: On this bike, you'll get assistance when you pedal at a level that you prefer, but you must be pedaling in order to use the electric power.
  • Throttle: There's no pedaling needed to use throttle-powered assistance. Simply rev up to the speed that you want and enjoy the ride.
  • Combination: You can choose to use pedal-assist power or the throttle on a bike that has a combination system.

If you can try a bike that has each type of assistance, it might help you decide which you prefer. Then you'll want to decide on the frame style you want based on your riding style and how you plan to use the bike. Here are some of the most popular frame styles, including road bikes, mountain bikes, and more.

Road Bike

Trek road e-bike
Trek Domaine+ HP.

Trek

Road bikes generally have a sleek design that is efficient for long rides on smooth roads. You'll find thinner wheels and a lightweight frame on road bikes. E-road bikes are no different. The e-bike version is slightly heavier, but brands like Trek (shown) and Specialized make sleek designs with integrated lightweight batteries that can weigh less than 30 pounds. E-road bikes are at the high end in terms of price, with some retailing for $14,000 or more.

Mountain Bike

Trek E-Caliber 9.8 GX AXS
Trek E-Caliber 9.8 GX AXS.

Trek

Mountain bikes are designed to provide a comfortable ride when you're off-road and riding on rough terrain. As a general rule, mountain bikes have thicker tires, are heavier than road bikes, and provide some suspension to soften the ride. Mountain e-bikes can also be pricey with some retailing for over $14,000, but you'll also find some by solid brands like Trek for around $3,700.

City/Commuter Bike

Trek Verve+ 3
Trek Verve+ 3.

Trek

Of course, you can ride any type of bike around the city, but generally, city riders prefer a more upright stance so that they can see traffic and also be seen by traffic. The Trek Verve 3 (shown) is currently the company's highest-selling bike overall.

City bikes can be decked out with accessories that help you carry your gear (such as a computer, change of clothes, or other supplies). Brands like Trek, Rad Power Bikes, and others make commuter and city bikes with a top tube—the tube that runs horizontally from the seat post to the handlebars—but you can also opt for a step-through model that can be easier to hop on.

The Verve 3 costs $3,149 but you can also look for the Rad Mission or the Rad City by Rad Power Bikes for around $1,000 to $1,600.

Utility Bike

RadRunner Plus
RadRunner Plus.

Rad Bikes

If you plan to carry cargo or even another person on your e-bike, you might want to consider a utility bike. For this style, Rad Power Bike's RadRunner (shown) is a great choice. Grocery shopping? Taking the dog to the vet? Going on a date with a picnic? All of your errands are doable on this versatile bike. There are countless ways to customize the RadRunner to meet your needs. It provides a zippy, sturdy ride and allows you to choose between throttle power or pedal assist. And the best news is that it is priced reasonably, starting at $1,299.

Family Bike

RadWagon 4
RadWagon 4.

Rad Bikes

If you're looking for a family station wagon that you can pedal, Rad Power Bikes has you covered. The Rad Wagon allows you to put two small children on the back and head out on a fun family adventure—without the stress or effort of having to pedal for three. It provides both pedal assist and throttle power, and it can be decked out to carry cargo on the back (like groceries or large packages) or precious cargo (your little ones). The basic bike retails for $1,899, and then you can accessorize to deck it out to suit your needs.

Fat Tire Bike

Rad Runner Fat Tire
RadRover 5.

Rad Power Bikes

A fat tire bike—also called a fat bike—is designed with large oversized tires that are great for riding off-road and on unstable terrain. Take your fat tire bike out in the snow, on the sand, through mud, or wherever you want. With electric power, you can ride knowing that you can get assistance if you need it. The award-winning RadRover 5 retails for $1,699, but there are other brands like Addmotor that make several models. Addmotor even makes an electric fat tire trike (three-wheeled tricycle) for a super stable ride.

Cruiser Style

sixthreezero A/O Frida Electric
sixthreezero A/O Frida Electric Bike.

sixthreezero

If you're looking for a stylish, low-effort ride, then an e-cruiser is the bike for you. A cruiser e-bike gives a comfy, upright ride. It's a great bike choice for new riders who want a stable, easy ride. But even seasoned riders will enjoy this fun ride.

Trek's Townie brand has several models that are pedal-assist e-bikes that start at a reasonable $1,499. Other brands like sixthreezero (shown) also have several models available for under $2,000, including a three-wheeled cruiser-style e-bike.

Bike Share E-Bike

New York - Citibike bike-sharing program in NYC
Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

If you're not sure that you want to invest in an e-bike, give one a try (or a few tries) with your local bike sharing service. Cities all over the country are offering e-bikes as part of their bike sharing programs. You'll find e-bikes in New York City, Minneapolis, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Portland, San Francisco, and others. In fact, e-bikes are becoming more popular than traditional bikes in bike sharing systems.

According to data shared by Lyft regarding their bike-sharing programs, last year in Chicago, the average classic bike had 1.8 rides per bike per day while the average e-bike had 5 rides per bike per day. In New York City, it was 3.3 for classics and 14 for an e-bike.

With the popularity of e-bikes increasing, you should be able to find one in cities that have bike-share programs. New York City there are 4,500 e-bikes in the Citi Bike system and in Chicago there are 3,500 offered through Divvy bike-sharing. All of these bikes are pedal-assist.

E-Bike Safety Precautions

Whether you take a bike share e-bike out for a spin or you head out on your own e-bike, there are some basic safety considerations you should follow. As a preliminary safety precaution, you should understand the maximum speed at which your e-bike is equipped to travel.

Most e-bikes covered in this article are designated as Class 1 (pedal assist) or Class 2 (throttle) e-bikes. These bikes assist up to a speed of 20mph. After that, the bike will not assist. Some bikes, designated as Class 3, will provide pedal assistance up to a speed of 28mph and are equipped with a speedometer.

Another important e-bike safety consideration is battery longevity. If you rely on your battery to get you home or to another destination, you'll want to be sure that you don't travel further than your battery will allow.

Different bikes have different batteries, so there is no hard and fast rule for battery life. But the folks at Rad Power Bikes estimate that their battery will go between 25 to 45 miles on a single charge depending on the level of pedal assist, terrain, and rider size. They add that using the throttle consumes the most battery power.

You can also use an e-bike range assistant calculator to see how far a battery charge will take you on your next trip.

Basic E-Bike Safety Tips

Follow basic cycling safety guidelines when heading out on your e-bike.

  • Always wear a helmet. Make sure the helmet fits properly and isn't more than four years old.
  • Dress to be seen: Wear high-contrast, reflective clothing when possible. This will help you stand out from the environment, regardless of whether you are in the city or out on country roads.
  • Ride predictably. Signal your turns. Don't make unnecessary or quick lane changes. Follow the rules of the road and always stop at stop signs.
  • Use daytime lights to improve visibility. Lights for nighttime riding are essential, but they also improve visibility during the day.

Bike-Share Safety Tips

If you are using a bike-share e-bike, the folks at Lyft offer guidance to stay safe while riding in the city (whether you are using a bike-share bike or your own):

  • Do a pre-ride check: Adjust the seat to fit your height, check tire air pressure, and double-check the brakes. If there’s a problem with the bike, dock it and choose a different bike.
  • Obey traffic signals: Motor vehicle laws also apply to bicycles. Obey all traffic lights and signs. In some cities, cyclists are allowed to proceed with the walk signal. These “leading pedestrian intervals” give pedestrians and cyclists a head start to enter the intersection before motor vehicles are allowed to proceed during a green light.
  • Plan a sensible route: From shared lanes to car-free greenways, choose a route that matches your comfort level. Use the mobile app to map out a route to wherever you’re headed.
  • Ride in the direction of traffic: Cyclists are required by law to ride in the same direction as cars and must use a bike lane when available. If there is no usable bike lane, you can either ride to the far left or right side on a one-way street. You have the right to ride in the center lane if the bike lane or side of the street is obstructed, too narrow, or otherwise unsafe.
  • Ride with caution: Riding close to parked cars leaves bicyclists vulnerable to getting hit by opening car doors. Keep your distance and stay alert, especially around large vehicles or buses. Do not weave from lane to lane, and always make sure to avoid turning vehicles.
  • Stay off sidewalks: Bikes aren’t allowed on sidewalks. Exceptions are made for riders who are 12 years old or younger and under parental supervision or when the road conditions aren’t safe for cyclists. 
  • Yield to pedestrians Like motor vehicles, cyclists must always yield the right of way to pedestrians when the law requires it, including at crosswalks and intersections. If you have the light, use your bell to alert pedestrians to your presence, but you should always yield to them.

Tips to Maintain Your E-Bike

You'll get years of enjoyment out of your e-bike if you maintain it properly. You should check the bike before each ride. Make sure the brakes are working properly, and the tires are properly inflated. You should also scan the frame for any chips in the paint as they can allow rust to develop.

Your chain will need to be inspected, cleaned, and lubricated regularly, depending on how often and where you ride. When you see grit and grime building up on the chain, it's time to clean it and lubricate it.

To extend battery life, take good care when removing or replacing the battery on the bike. Charge the battery in a dry, indoor space away from direct sunlight, dirt, or debris. If you plan to store the battery long-term, make sure it has about 30% to 50% battery life.

Lastly, you should also schedule regular maintenance at least once per year. For this inspection, you should take your bike to a qualified mechanic. They will check that brakes are working properly and that no other repairs need to be made.

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Article Sources
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