As a shop which sells and services both traditional pedal bicycles and electric-assist bikes, we understand the desire to assess a bike’s quality by giving it the old “heft” test. It’s still a great way to get a quick sense of whether the bike in front of you is of decent quality or not. With electric-assist bikes, however, the results of the heft test may not tell the full story. Ebike weight does matter, but it matters in different ways than most of us are accustomed to thinking.
Just to give an idea of what sort of weight we are talking about, a typical range for ebikes across a wide range of brands is between about 38 and 70 pounds (17 - 32 kg). There are some bikes outside that range, but at this point to get really light with an ebike requires a significant sacrifice in battery and motor size, with subsequent decreases in power and range.
Let’s say a nice, comfortable non-electric town bike would weigh 30 pounds with that cushy seat and those big tires. An electric version of the same bike might weigh in at about 50 pounds, but the addition of those twenty pounds of battery, motor, controller, display and wiring will more than make up for themselves by powering the bike. In fact, any well-designed bike with an electric motor should - so long as it has some charge in its battery - be easier to pedal than a comparable non-electric bike, despite the weight difference. It would be easy to imagine, therefore, that heavier might actually be better, because it could mean the bike has a bigger battery and more powerful motor.
The extra weight, however, can become a concern when you aren’t riding the bike. Is a fifty pound bike too cumbersome to roll up the steps onto your porch or too awkward to lift onto a bike rack? The bike should never be too unwieldy for the dismounted rider to manage with relative ease.
So, what’s the ideal weight for an electric bike? The answer is often the same as that given to so many other questions about ebikes, and bikes in general: it depends. The key is that for most people there is a threshold of weight that is acceptable; anything above a certain weight may still be fine to ride, but could be difficult to park, store, or transport.
Now that Bosch has brought their drive systems to the US market, we are seeing some ebikes lighter than 40 pounds (18 kg), such as the Felt Sporte and the Haibike Supperrace. These are bikes putting out up to twice the torque of many heavier bikes, and with a range of up to 75 miles (120 km) the light weight comes with a significant improvement in performance. The entire weight of the Bosch system is under 15 pounds (7 kg) so one can compare the ride quality to that of a 23-24 pound (10-11 kg) high end non-electric hybrid bike. These are bikes that can be as easy and fun to ride when they are switched off as they are when the electric-assist is active.
An ebike can give you the opportunity to “have your cake and eat it, too” by supplying both comfort and speed - until recently, two mutually exclusive concepts. With this in mind, be sure to evaluate an ebike not just from from the perspective of how lightweight it is, but also how fun it is to ride and how easy it is to maneuver once you are dismounted. As so many people have discovered, the practical advantages of equipping a bicycle with a motor and a battery more than outweigh the few disadvantages of a little extra “heft”.