Buying Your First Electric Bike
I’m trying to convince my wife to let me get an electric bike. I tell her it will be great for trips to the grocery store, getting around town, and even weekend rides. She’s not convinced. I’m unsure if it’s the price tag or if she doesn’t think I need another bicycle.
If you’re looking at buying an electric bike, also called an e-bike, there are many options. In this blog post, I’ll share my research and cover what you need to know about buying electric bikes, including some benefits and things to look for when shopping. I hope to present all my findings as evidence to support getting a sweet new e-bike.
Electric bikes have a lot of advantages over traditional bicycles. They’re more efficient, meaning you can go further with less effort. And, perhaps best of all, they’re a lot of fun to ride!
Before You Buy an Electric Bike
There are a few things to remember when shopping for an e-bike. First, you’ll want to make sure that the e-bike is the right size for you. It’s important to feel comfortable and have a good range of motion while riding.
Second, you’ll want to consider the motor power and battery life. You’ll want to ensure that the bike has enough power to get you where you need to go and that the battery will last long enough for your needs. Finally, you’ll want to think about the price. Electric bikes can be a significant investment, so you’ll want to ensure you’re getting the best value for your money. Also, if you’re trying to convince your wife to hop on board and be supportive of your electric bike dream, use words like “investment” and “family time” and do not use words like “purchase” or “escape.”
Where Can You Ride an Electric Bike?
There is a great trail system close to where we live, and unfortunately, I’ve had a real hard time finding out precisely what is allowed on the bike paths. I finally talked to a local bike shop, and they educated me on the different types of electric bikes and what was allowed on our trail system. They even offered for me to take a test ride. For the sake of this article, we will focus on Classes 1-3.
Class 1: Pedal Assist Only up to 20 MPH. It’s safe to say these e-bikes are allowed where you can ride a pedal-powered bike.
Class 2: Throttle on Demand and pedal-assist under 20 MPH. Since these e-bikes have a throttle, some bike paths do not allow them. This class is where you get into local laws and regulations.
Class 3: These are pedal-assist up to 28 mph and are more of a commuter-type bike. Class 3 e-bikes will have more powerful motors and a higher capacity battery.
Pedal-assist refers to the motor providing power only when you are pedaling. So yes, you still need to provide pedal power but with reduced effort. Throttle is an on-demand option that gives you power without pedaling.
The good news is that most places that allow traditional bicycles will also allow pedal-assist e-bikes. However, some areas do not allow motorized vehicles, so it’s always best to check before taking your e-bikes.
What to Look for in an Electric Bike
I’m 47 with a bunch of kids, so the type of e-bike I’m looking for may not match up with what you want. Hopefully, the information provides a general overview of electric bicycles and what to look for. Here are a few things that are important to me in an electric bike:
When doing your research, you’ll want to note the location of the battery, the capacity, size, and charging setup. You’ll also want to check the warranty on the battery as batteries are expensive to replace. The battery’s capacity will be one of the most significant range factors. If you live close to work and have no hills, you can get away with a smaller battery. If you want to ride further, pull a kid in a trailer, or have hilly terrain, you’ll want a bike with a larger battery.
Batteries are expensive, so you must think like a thief for a minute. Where would you hide the battery to make it more difficult to find if you were to steal this bike? You want the battery to be locked in place and not easily removable. Then you have to worry about criminals stealing the whole bike. Stinkers!
It should be easy to charge your e-bike, and you should be able to do it without removing the battery. Many electric bikes come with standard charger plugs that go directly into a wall outlet, but some e-bike manufacturers now offer portable chargers that you can take with you on the go.
The electric motor is going to be what helps you pedal up those hills. You’ll want to check the power, placement, and type of motor. Most electric bikes will have either a hub motor in the rear wheel or mid-drive motors. Hub motors tend to be less expensive, but they can make the bike feel less balanced since all the weight is in the back. Hub motors are also more challenging when it comes to changing tires. Mid-drive motors have a higher purchase price but offer better balance and range. The mid-drive motor is hidden away in the e-bike’s crank area, where you can’t even notice.
The frame is going to be one of the most critical aspects of the bike for me. I want a durable rack that’s going to last. I also want a frame that’s comfortable to ride and doesn’t make me look like a doofus. That’s a lot to ask. I’m grouping bike frames into three categories: step-thru, folding, and standard.
The step-thru frame is a new one to me. I was told this would be the most comfortable for getting on and off the bike. If you have any mobility issues, this is the frame you’ll want. The downside of the step-thru frame is that finding a cargo rack can be more challenging. Also, when I was a kid, these were considered girls bikes. I’ll leave it at that.
Folding bikes are what you think they are. These bikes fold up for easy storage and portability. A folding bike is an excellent option if you live in a small apartment or want to take your bike on the train. The downside of the folding frame is that they’re generally not as sturdy as the other options.
The standard frame will be the most prevalent style you run across. Standard frames are the frames you are used to seeing on a regular bike but with e-bike batteries and motors. Mountain bikes, hybrid, street bikes, beach cruisers, and many more frame types have e-bike options.
Of course, it would be nice to have your e-bike connected to your phone and other devices. But, for me, this is more of a luxury than a necessity. If you’re into tracking your data or want to be able to control certain functions of the e-bike from your phone, then you’ll want to make sure the e-bike you’re considering has some connectivity option.
So, here’s the big one. How much are you willing to spend on your first electric bike? There’s a wide range of prices when it comes to e-bikes. You can find decent options for around $1,000, but if you want something top of the line, you’re looking at closer to $5,000.
Before you start shopping, you’ll want to have a budget in mind. The more expensive e-bikes will generally have better components, which means a longer lifespan for the e-bike. But, also keep in mind that you get what you pay for.
I’m looking in the $1500-$2500 range. I want a good quality e-bike that will perform well, is comfortable and will last me about 15 years. As much as we ride and our kids still being so young, I don’t see regretting my final purchase. I’d also prefer a mid-drive motor as opposed to a rear-wheel motor.
This is another big one for me. I want to make sure I’m covered in case something expensive breaks. I’m also choosing to buy from a bike shop that can service electric bikes. That piece of mind is worth it, and the thought of me assembling an e-bike shipped in the mail sounds like a recipe for disaster.
Tires: Depending on the riding you’ll be doing, you’ll want to make sure your bike has the right tires. If you’re planning on doing a lot of off-roading, you’ll want knobby tires. But, if you’re sticking to paved roads and paths, then slicks will do the job just fine.
Suspension: Again, this depends on the riding you’ll be doing. If you stick to paved surfaces, then the suspension isn’t as important. But, if you’re hitting the trails, you’ll want a bike with some suspension.
Manufacturer: There are many electric bike manufacturers, and more are popping up every day. I love the idea of investing in a start-up that makes e-bikes, but I’m not the risk taker I once was.
Size: Make sure you get an e-bike that is the right size for you. I’m not a tall guy, so a step-thru is tempting but not at the potential ridicule of friends.
As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when purchasing electric bikes. I’m going to take my time to do my research, go on a test ride or two and find which of these e-bikes is best for me. I’m not interested in going super fast, and I don’t need much power for my e-bike. I want something that will make pedaling easier, so I can go farther and have more fun with the family.