E-Bikes 101

haibike_trekking_lifestyleThey’re an easy, economical and environmental way to get around. Electric bikes, better known as e-bikes. Have you ridden one yet?

E-bikes make biking easier, for everyone from commuters to fitness riders, to those with an injury or disability, older riders and parents pedaling with kids. The “e” translates to electric assist to help you pedal; an e-bike has a motor that is powered by a rechargeable battery.

E-bikes are available in all shapes and forms: commuter, comfort, fitness, trike, mountain, road… and they’re all fun to ride. “An e-bike eliminates the hills and reduces the wind,” says Dean Keyek-Franssen of Pete’s E-Bikes in Boulder, Colo.

E-Bike Facts (with help from the folks at Pete’s E-Bikes)

Two Types of E-bikes

1. Mid-drive or crank driven – motor is in the pedal crank.

2. Hub motor – motor is in the rear wheel, like a rear-wheel-drive car.

How Fast Do They Go?

E-bikes generally go no faster than 20 mph, which is the federal speed limit. Any vehicle traveling faster must be registered, like a scooter.

How Does It Work?

When you pedal an e-bike, the motor gives you a boost in your pedal stroke. “I like to describe it as a ‘tickle’,” says Dean. Some bikes have a throttle on the handlebar that you press for a boost. Most e-bikes have multiple levels of pedal assist (low/medium/high) that you can toggle through via a small control panel on the handlebar.

How Far Can You Go on a Battery Charge?

Typically 30 miles, larger batteries can reach up to 60-80 miles. The more power assist you use, the more battery power you use. According to Dean, most of his customers travel 12-15 miles on a normal commute.

Can I Turn My Regular Bike into an E-bike?

Many “regular” bikes can be turned into an e-bike via a conversion kit by changing out the rear wheel to add a hub motor. The motor’s battery is typically stored in the water bottle cage.

Is It “Cheating” to Ride an E-bike?

Elite riders say yes. E-bikers say no. Why? Because you have to pedal an e-bike, it won’t roll by the motor alone. That said, some e-bikes can be customized to just run on a throttle if a rider is physically unable to pedal.

How Much Does an E-Bike Cost?

The range is wide: $1,000 – $10,000, depending on bike type and frame material, and battery strength. The “sweet spot” on price at Pete’s E-Bikes is $3,000. “For $3,200, you can get a really good bike with a 36V battery,” says Dean. A conversion kit ranges from $1,500-$3,000, depending on battery strength.

What E-Bikers Have to Say

John LaPorte: I ride an e-bike trike and it has changed my life. I am unable to walk, so for years I had to stay at home while my wife and children were out on bikes. Riding my e-bike allows me to get outside, and my wife and I can now bike together. One of our favorite things is to bike to a patio restaurant for dinner.

Tom Satter: I ride my e-bike to commute to work. In three years, I’ve put almost 19,000 miles on my bike. Riding an e-bike gives me a lot more range mileage wise. My commute is 14 miles, so when I’m riding home at night and it’s a bit uphill and often windy, it’s nice to have some help when I pedal.

Diane Carter: I had my Day 6 semi-recumbent bike converted to an e-bike, and I just love it. I’m 68 years old and have been biking for many years. My knees have become arthritic, though, and the e-bike motor allows me to continue riding and travel longer distances.