Electric Bikes 101

electric bike

Electric bikes are bicycles that have added features that boost their power, range, and radius. They can make commutes far less sweat-inducing than standard bicycles. As demand for these e-bikes is growing worldwide, now is a great time to learn a little more about them and what they may have to offer you, your family, and your commute.

What are Electric Bicycles?

Electric bicycles are typically standard bicycles that have a few added features. The motor is one of those added features. It is commonly mounted on the side or the hub, though there are also friction and mid-drive motors available as well. Power ratings for electric bikes can be found anywhere between 200W to 700W.

The battery is a very important feature of the electric bike. According to NYCeWheels, batteries are typically one of the following three types:

  1. Lead Acid
  2. Nickel Metal Hydride
  3. Lithium Ion

With modern e-bikes using one of the latter two.

The controller is the tool that allows you to select the mode, and is generally located on the handlebar of the bicycle to make it easy to use while on the go.

Some will include extras like baskets to make them more useful, and others may come equipped with digital tools to determine speed and available battery charge.

Most states classify these as bicycles, so you won’t need an endorsement on your driver’s license – or a driver’s license at all. While electric bikes have motors that are incredibly useful, they can also operate as a standard bicycle, powered by the pedal. Many of the modern e-bikes allow you the option of riding completely powered, by pedal alone, or with pedal assist.

They are easy to operate with most electric bikes offering you a choice of three operating modes:

  • Pedal Only – in this mode, you’re the power behind the bicycle. It’s just like riding any other bike, and a great way to get a good workout in before or after work.
  • Pedal Assist – with the push of a button located on the handle bars you can switch to this mode that allows the bicycle to provide power as you are pedaling. You can choose the amount of power you’d like to use as assistance in this mode.
  • Electric Only – the motor does all the work for you in this mode so that you can ride along and enjoy the scenery.

Benefits of Electric Bicycles

Some people prefer electric bikes when riding in areas that have a lot of hills as it can help them more easily power up the hills or for longer distances when they may be tired towards the end of their trips. These are just a few benefits e-bikes have to offer.

Environmentally-Friendly Transportation Options

The fact that these bicycles do not consume fossil fuels or create emissions makes them a very earth-friendly choice for transportation.

Versatility

Some really do appreciate the versatility. Others appreciate the speed. According to College Magazine, electric bicycles can travel at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour (please remember to wear your helmets), while traditional bicycles can typically only travel up to 10 miles per hour in cities.

Costs

The price is another factor, especially among young professionals just getting started. Not only is the upfront cost much lower than buying a car, moped, or even paying for public transportation, the costs of ownership are substantially less.

You don’t have to buy gas, pay taxes, buy tags, purchase insurance, etc., though Evelo reports that electric bicycles must travel at top speeds lower than 20 miles per hour when operating in electric only mode AND a motor power maximum of 750 watts to be maintain classification as  bicycle. Electric bikes may go faster than 20 mph when you’re using pedal assist mode.

The savings may look small, but they really add up fast. If you’re working in the city, you know how difficult and expensive parking can be. Yet many buildings allow special bicycle parking free of charge.

Ease of Commute

There are many ways that electric-assist bikes reign supreme when it comes to the daily commute. While cars are stalled in traffic and reduced to frustrated horn blasts, bicycle riders can cruise on by in the bicycle lane avoiding the snarls and snares of rush hour traffic.

Riding along in electric mode means you’re not working up a sweat, though you can switch to pedal assist or full pedal powered mode if you’re interested in getting a good workout in on your way to work. With many businesses offering shower facilities, this is becoming a great way to kill two birds with one stone.

For those who live near the office, this can eliminate the need for a car at all, provided you’re willing to do with a few weather-related hiccups along the way. Many people find it to be a relaxing way to begin their work days, and arrive feeling far more refreshed than those who commute to the office in cars and pay for parking.

Popularity of Electric Bicycles

While embraced whole-heartedly in many cultures around the world, like Europe and especially China, electric bicycles are just now gaining traction in the U.S. — particularly in some cities, like San Francisco.

In fact, Green Revs reported that in February of 2013 there was a meeting of e-bike industry leaders from around the world, and one of the projections to come out of that meeting was that by 2020, 40 percent of all bikes manufactured around the world will be e-bikes.

This is great news because it means these electric bicycles are growing in popularity, becoming more common, and new business means there will be increases in availability, advancing technology, and lower prices to correspond with more electric bikes on the roads.

Across the world, much of Europe consider bikes as a mode of transportation, in addition to a fitness, sports, and recreational device. On the other hand, in the U.S.,  bikes are typically considered as primarily for fitness, sports, and recreation, rather than a transportation source. In the U.S., the car is the primary transportation source. As the population ages though, to active seniors, the electric bike seems like a natural application.

Why Buy Electric Bicycles?

Different people will buy electric bikes for many different reasons. These are some of the more common, and some surprising reasons, people make the investment.

  • Faster Commute – for those living in areas with substantial traffic congestion, electric bikes offer a sensible solution to decrease commute time and get to work even faster.
  • Commitment to Living Green – for some this is the primary motivation to buy electric bicycles. When used as a mode of transportation, they help reduce traffic and smog.
  • College Commutes – with many campuses banning cars for underclassmen, or other students living on campus, electric bicycles provide a cost effective manner of transportation – especially in college towns with many resources located near the campus. The University of Washington is even considering a vending program that allows students, faculty, and staff to rent electric bikes by the hour, according to Inside Higher Ed.
  • Novelty – some people just like toys and gadgets. The bigger the better, and this is one amazing one that is sure to bring its own share of toy joy to all who own it. Don’t knock the fun factor. It can be a powerful motivator for buying and using an electric bike.
  • Traveling around Town– while most people will not find this to be the best choice for long distance or family travel, riding around town to take care of errands, visit the local farmer’s market, visit the library, grab a cup of coffee, or support your local businesses is a great way to maximize the potential and usefulness of electric bicycles.
  • Getting Fit – the great thing about e-bikes is that you’re able to choose the amount of effort you put into operating it. This means you can go all in with your efforts to get a workout on your commute or increase your effort over time as your body becomes accustomed to the routine of your ride.
  • Touring – visiting a new city? You’ll be able to cover more ground sightseeing and without getting tuckered out if using an electric bike to check out the sights of another city.
  • Medical condition – for people who have knee pain or other physical challenges, electric bikes offer the ability to still get out there and enjoy the outdoors with their family.

These are many reasons to consider electric bicycles for people from all walks of life. Understanding basic facts about these bicycles will help you make informed decisions about whether or not this is a good choice for you. As their popularity and availability grows, you can expect to see them more widely used and get more ideas about how you can use them yourself to do great things for the planet, your household budget, and your own physical fitness.

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