The foremost aspect you should acquaint yourself with about e-bikes is their enduring presence. Sales of electric bikes skyrocketed by a staggering 240 percent within a 12-month period leading up to September 2021, compared to two years prior, as indicated by the market research firm NPD Group. This surge establishes e-bikes as a nearly $27 billion industry in the previous year, with no indication of deceleration.
Certain individuals perceive the rise of e-bikes as a threat, as if traditional bicycles will become obsolete once everyone switches to electric. However, do not be alarmed: E-bikes do not aim to deprive us of our human-powered way of life. In fact, they may very well enhance it, particularly as travel and commuting behaviors shift following the coronavirus pandemic. Hence, as we venture into the peak riding season, here’s a comprehensive guide to the revolution of electric bikes.
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1. E-bikes facilitate pedaling.
In general, e-bikes are bicycles equipped with a battery-powered “assist” that activates via pedaling, and in some cases, through a throttle. When you exert force on the pedals of a pedal-assist e-bike, a small motor engages, providing a boost that allows you to effortlessly conquer hills and maneuver through challenging terrains without exhausting yourself. These bikes, also referred to as “pedelecs,” offer a riding experience akin to traditional bicycles—yet superior, according to Ed Benjamin, senior managing director at the consulting firm eCycleElectric. He claims, “You control your speed with your feet, just like with a regular bike. You simply feel exceptionally powerful and achieve acceleration effortlessly.”
Additionally, certain e-bikes feature a throttle in addition to the pedal-assist feature. This throttle empowers you to engage the motor with the press of a button. However, these bikes belong to a distinct class of e-bikes and fail to offer a purely cycling experience. It’s worth noting that they are prohibited in certain jurisdictions. Interestingly, Benjamin asserts that those who are not already “cyclists” usually gravitate toward throttle bikes initially, but subsequently opt for a pedal-assist e-bike for their subsequent purchase.
2. They possess notable speed capabilities… to a certain extent.
The more vigorously you pedal, the greater the boost, thereby increasing your speed—up to a certain point. E-bikes allow you to maintain a brisk pace, however, they should not be mistaken for motorcycles. You will never zoom down the road at a staggering 45 mph. The motor is intentionally designed to cease propelling you forward once you reach speeds of 20 to 28 miles per hour, depending on the specific bike. Consequently, you can save time during your commute (personally, I shorten my travel time by approximately three minutes on a five-mile trip) while still savoring the splendid surroundings.
You can also control how big of an assist you get. Most e-bikes come with a power switch that allows you to adjust the boost setting from “eco” (low) to “turbo” (high), for when you desire a little more oomph to assist you, such as when conquering a steep hill.
3. You’ll experience a significant increase in your riding frequency, even if you are already an avid rider.
According to a survey of nearly 1,800 e-bike owners in North America, getting an e-bike can dramatically boost your riding habits. Prior to owning an e-bike, 55 percent of respondents stated that they rode their bikes daily or weekly. However, after acquiring an e-bike, this number skyrocketed to 91 percent. This makes perfect sense, as even the fittest individuals can experience fatigue (often due to training or racing), and remounting a traditional bike can feel like a tedious task. With an e-bike, you can continue riding while giving your fatigued legs a well-deserved break. Additionally, e-bikes allow you to travel at higher speeds, which makes biking for longer distances more appealing, even when you are pressed for time.
For those who do not frequently ride, e-bikes open up an entirely new realm. Even if you are not accustomed to riding five to ten miles at a time, an electric assist can effortlessly help you cover those distances. This is an excellent way to enhance your endurance and build confidence. The same survey mentioned earlier discovered that 94 percent of non-cyclists began riding daily or weekly after acquiring an e-bike.
4. There’s an e-bike tailored to meet every riding preference.
Irrespective of the type of riding you enjoy, there is an e-bike perfectly suited for it. Even if you have no interest in an electric road bike, you may find yourself completely smitten with a high-capacity e-cargo bike that can effortlessly carry 400 pounds of cargo while cruising at a cool 15 mph. E-bikes are available in various styles, including fat, cargo, commuter, recreational, hardtail, full-suspension mountain, and even performance road bike styles. For concrete evidence, take a look at the best e-bikes for each type of cyclist.
5. They have the potential to replace car usage.
“People are purchasing electric bicycles as a means to reduce their reliance on cars,” states Benjamin. The data validates this claim, as 28 percent of survey respondents revealed that they bought an e-bike specifically to substitute car journeys. Moreover, numerous other reasons cited by buyers for wanting an e-bike—including transportation of cargo and kids, avoidance of parking and traffic, and environmental concerns—are clear indicators of their desire to break free from the confines of driving. Furthermore, one doesn’t need to change clothes or freshen up upon reaching their destination because the level of physical exertion is significantly reduced.
Consider the fact that over half of all driving trips are shorter than 10 miles, with some surveys even suggesting that the average distance per trip is merely 5.95 miles. It is a no-brainer that these distances can easily be covered by an e-bike. In fact, the survey mentioned earlier revealed that e-bike owners replaced 46 percent of their car commutes and 30 percent of their driving errands with e-bike rides. All you need is a fantastic commuter bag to transport your belongings, and you are good to go.
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6. Yes, you still get exercise.
E-bikes do some of the work for you, but they still count as exercise, especially for people who are otherwise sedentary. Colorado University researchers discovered that when 20 non-exercising men and women e-biked for approximately 40 minutes, three days a week, they experienced improvements in their cardiovascular fitness and blood sugar levels within the span of just one month. According to Benjamin, “Many individuals lack the fitness level required to engage in prolonged biking sessions that offer significant health and fitness benefits. However, by putting them on an electric bike, they are able to ride for an hour and still derive a considerable amount of exercise.
Even if you’re in excellent shape and very fit, you can still engage in physical activity through e-biking. When I conducted a head-to-head comparison of commuting with my cross bike versus a recreational e-bike, I discovered that my relative effort was significantly lower on the e-bike, resulting in burning approximately half as many calories. However, I still managed to burn something, around 200 calories per hour, which is equivalent to the calories burned while walking. Additionally, I opted for quick e-bike rides to town instead of driving, significantly increasing my overall level of physical activity.
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7. The batteries are witnessing improvement.
There’s no denying it: E-bikes give you yet another device to charge. Currently, the battery life of an e-bike can range from 35 to 100 miles before requiring a recharge. The duration depends on the battery size and the power consumption of the motor. Naturally, if you constantly ride in “turbo” mode, the battery will deplete faster compared to using lower, more energy-efficient settings. Nonetheless, we anticipate that e-bike batteries will improve in the future.
8. Trail access can be challenging.
E-bikes continue to ignite controversy within the mountain biking community. Presently, many non-motorized trails prohibit the usage of e-bikes, preventing riders from taking them on their favorite singletracks. Nevertheless, the tides are shifting towards a more permissive approach. IMBA, the largest public advocacy group for the sport, altered its stance in 2017 to support the inclusion of pedal-assist e-bikes (with top speeds of 20 mph) on certain trails. With major manufacturers producing e-mountain bikes, it’s only a matter of time before access expands. Benjamin predicts that “in a few years, people will realize that electric mountain bikes have no more trail impact than a regular mountain bike.”
9. They’re not inexpensive, but they can lead to savings.
Currently, acquiring a cheap e-bike is quite challenging. However, if you reduce your car usage and opt for e-biking more frequently, you’ll save money on maintenance and gasoline, in addition to reaping the health benefits and potentially experiencing fewer sick days due to increased physical activity. Prices for e-bikes vary significantly, with a decent e-bike typically costing at least $1,500. For a high-quality bike equipped with a motor system from renowned manufacturers like Bosch, Shimano, or Yamaha, you can expect to pay considerably more, ranging from $2,500 to $5,500.
10. They’re surprisingly heavy.
One of the first things that many cyclists do when they come across a new bike is lift it to assess its weight. However, if you attempt this with an e-bike, you might be in for a bit of a shock. E-bikes are inherently heavier than regular bikes, weighing in at around 20 pounds more due to the battery, motor, additional components, and reinforced frame. Nevertheless, thanks to modern engineering and innovative design, these bikes can still maneuver well despite their weight. And of course, the motor-assist feature makes the extra pounds feel almost non-existent when you start pedaling. But be warned, you’ll need some extra muscle power to transport them on your car rack or navigate them up and down stairs.
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11. They’re revolutionizing transportation.
It’s no secret that e-bikes are the future of transportation. Every major bike manufacturer, along with numerous smaller ones, has already jumped on board with e-bike production. And it’s not just the bike companies that are getting involved; car manufacturers are following suit. In fact, Ford even backed an electric bike-sharing system in San Francisco in 2018, which subsequently got rebranded by Lyft in 2019. Additionally, General Motors has launched their own line of e-bikes. Benjamin points out that the automotive industry is fully embracing e-bikes because they recognize that traditional cars are no longer efficient in densely populated urban areas. With ride-sharing giants such as Uber and Lyft experiencing tremendous success with e-bikes, and cities actively seeking ways to alleviate traffic congestion, e-bike programs are bound to expand further.
12. They’re even fit for racing.
Believe it or not, e-bike racing is not as far-fetched as it may seem. In Europe, where the e-bike market has skyrocketed, the European Cycling Union established a brand new racing circuit exclusively for e-bikes, including e-road and e-mountain bikes, for the 2019 season. Following this trend, the UCI introduced an electric mountain bike competition at the 2019 World Mountain Bike Championships. Yes, you read that right – the world’s top off-road e-biker was awarded a prestigious rainbow jersey! So, it’s clear that e-bikes are gradually making their way into the competitive racing scene as well.
13. Riding with a Smile
That’s the undeniable truth. Our testers, who are all avid traditional bike riders and/or racers, had such an exhilarating experience riding a pedal-assist bike that they couldn’t help but call them “wheee!” bikes. We’re confident that you’ll feel the same way.
Intrigued? You’re definitely not alone. If you’re new to the world of e-bikes, it’s crucial to understand that, although you never forget how to ride a bike, an e-bike is no ordinary mode of transportation. Due to their increased weight and speed, it’s important to take a few extra safety precautions when enjoying the ride.
Learn How to Ride an E-Bike Safely
Be extra cautious when riding in traffic. Motorists often underestimate the speed at which cyclists can move. Until e-bikes become more common, drivers won’t anticipate you riding at their same pace. Ride defensively, assuming that they may not see you. Additionally, make sure to adjust your speed accordingly in congested areas. Enhance your visibility by using daytime riding lights.
Exercise caution when starting and stopping. Since e-bikes are heavier and faster, it will take longer to slow down and come to a complete stop. Begin squeezing your brakes well in advance of intersections. Keep in mind that the bike will accelerate faster than a regular bicycle, so avoid pulling out into traffic until it’s completely clear. Furthermore, don’t be surprised if you feel a bit unsteady while starting or stopping initially due to the bike’s weight. Practice mounting, dismounting, and stopping in safe areas before venturing onto busy roads.