Electric Bike FAQ
Electric Bike Frequently Asked Questions
An electric bike is a bicycle equipped with a battery-powered electric motor. With an electric bike, a rider can pedal with low to moderate effort and use the motor to assist with power and acceleration.
Electric bikes work by giving you a boost when you need it. You can “tell” the bike that you want assistance either by pedaling lightly, twisting a throttle, or even pushing down harder on the pedals, depending on the type of bike you have.
They are very similar to ride, except that every electric bike has three additional components: an electric motor, a battery, and a controller. When the system is off, the bike functions like a regular bike. Switched on, it responds to your input via the pedals or the throttle to give you varying levels of assistance.
Most electric bike will provide assistance up to 20 mph (32kph), with some exceptions in the "speed pedelec" category, which includes bikes which will continue to provide electric-assist up to 28 mph (45 kph). The speed of the bike is the result of the combined efforts of rider and motor, which means, of course, that the rider is free to pedal the bike as fast as they feel comfortable – just like a regular bike.
The two terms mean the same thing, but they tend to be used interchangeably. The nice thing about the term “electric-assist” (or “pedelec” in Europe) is that it reminds people that these are bicycles, first of all, and that the electric motor is there to assist the rider, but doesn’t have to take over completely. “Electric bike” is a bit easier to say, though, which is why you’ll hear this term most often.
The most common answer is no with a few exceptions. There are only a handful of e-bikes with recharge capabilities; because the amount of electricity that the rider actually generates through braking or pedaling is fairly small, this feature has a much less significant effect on range than factors such as battery voltage or motor style. To learn more about regenerative systems read here.
Most Lithium-Ion batteries are rated between 500 and 1000 full charge cycles. To represent this in miles, take into account the bike’s range. If you average about 30 miles per full charge, you should have a battery that will last you between 15,000 and 30,000 miles. Of course, this can be higher if you tend to get more range per charge.
Your bike comes with a small charger, which you simply plug into the bike’s battery and into a standard household outlet. A full recharge usually takes 3-4 hours; partial charges will take less time. Lithium-Ion batteries do not develop a “memory” so you may charge the battery as frequently as you like without affecting the battery’s longevity. Conveniently, most e-bikes do not require you to remove the battery from the bike to charge it.
This means that the electric motor is providing assistance to the rider’s input. For a quality electric bike, this should be the default setting for all-around riding. The bike is equipped with one or more sensors – usually one measuring wheel speed, one measuring cadence (how fast your legs are going around), and sometimes there is even a third sensor measuring torque (how hard you are pushing on the pedals). The motor responds to input from these sensors to give the rider varying levels of power assistance.
Electric bikes have either a hub motor or a mid-drive style motor. The hub motors can be divided further into geared or gearless (direct drive). Hub motors are the most common design and are generally less expensive than mid-drives, which can produce more torque and usually have a greater range. For a more complete discussion of the differences read here.
Most of the controls on an electric bike will be familiar to anyone who has ridden a bike before - pedaling, steering, braking, and shifting gears will all feel like an ordinary bike. The only additional control is the electric assistance level, which can be as simple as an on/off switch, or a simple throttle, or it can have as many as three or four settings so you can choose how much power you would like the motor to give you. Higher settings result in faster speeds, better acceleration and stronger hill climbing, while lower settings maximize range and efficiency.
This is a very common question because it would seem that a higher voltage battery is better, but it is important to remember that the battery, motor and controller all work together as a system. Isolating one piece of the system and comparing it to the same component in a different system can be misleading because the two systems can have significantly different requirements from the battery.
A great example of this is the Bosch mid-drive motor with a 36 volt battery. These systems are very efficient and deliver 50% more torque than most hub motors while delivering a range of up to 80 miles. To read more on the subject of volts, amps and watts click here.
Not so long ago they were, and there are still some new bikes that tip the scales at 70 pounds or more, but today a quality electric bike shouldn’t weigh more than 38-55 lbs (16-25 kg). About 15-20 lbs (7-9 kg) of that overall weight is in the motor, battery, and controller. The important thing to remember is that these systems more than make up for their additional weight by providing the power you need to conquer hills and carry loads.
While one can convert a traditional bike to electric, the expense of such a system usually makes us recommend buying a complete electric bike, often for less than the cost of the conversion. A bike from a reputable electric bike company will have been designed and engineered as a complete bike, with due consideration given to important elements like handling and weight distribution, and the cost of the complete electric bike is usually comparable to or less than the cost of a conversion system. One important exception is the Copenhagen Wheel, by Superpedestrian, which is a cost-effective way to quickly convert a traditional bike to electric. In addition, we carry conversion systems from BionX which are well suited to converting existing bikes for which there is no comparable readily available e-bike.