October 8, 2019 — Stopped at the intersection, the light turned green. Your editor pushed on the bike pedals, ready to pass the tourist couple in front, who were wobbling to a start on their tandem bicycle. Except there they went, quickly gaining distance and fading away. Puzzled, I finally figured out they were on an eBike – a new category of bikes assisted by a battery powered motor. These new products are rapidly attracting a whole new group of people to biking.
Electric bikes have several big advantages:
- Great for people who live in hilly country or on a big hill. They have just enough assist to make you not dread starting out your ride or finishing with a monster climb.
- More fun for everyone. Our friend Brian and his wife just got back from a trip to Boulder, Colorado. With power assisted electric bikes their rental bike outings were fun for both of them – she could keep up without becoming exhausted, and he could pedal as hard as he wanted. Routes with big hills, which before they would have tried to avoid, were no problem for either of them.
- Commute without getting sweaty. If you are working or going to a social event in hot weather an eBike can get you there without you needing a shower once you arrive.
The two major classes of eBikes are:
Pedelec – A sensor provides power when the rider pedals, dependent on how much pedal pressure is being provided. In most cases the motor stops providing assistance at 20 mph.
Throttle assisted. The power is controlled by a throttle on the handlebars. In most cases the rider is pedalling, but there are some types that can provide power even if the rider is not pedaling (these are illegal in some cities like New York). If the top speed is over 20 mph these might be regulated as a moped.
eBikes come in all kinds of models – from hybrids to road bikes to mountain bikes – even ones with fat tires. There is likely to be one that could appeal to you.
Finding the right bike.
Like any new tech oriented product, it can be a bit bewildering to find the right bike for your needs. It is pretty hard to find a new eBike for less than $600, but it is not difficult to spend $2500 or more. Fans of different models can be quite passionate about which brands and models are the best. Big variations are battery size, the motor’s power output, and range. With most models you can expect to go about 25 miles in high power mode and much longer in low power status. Some of these bikes are quite heavy so if you run out of juice on a long ride you might be sorry. Batteries usually detach for easy charging. The best idea is to try many different models and brands before buying. Many bike shops and cities now rent eBikes so that makes it easy to see which type best meets your needs. Or you can borrow from a friend or try demos from a bike shop.
Safety. Power assisted bikes have the ability to hit speeds above those of a casual bike rider. At 20 mph you can get seriously hurt or die if you fall off, get hit by a car, or collide with a pedestrian. So you must follow all traffic rules, such as not riding on sidewalks unless specifically permitted. Bright lights in the front and back are essential. So is a good helmet.
Different states and localities can have confusing and fast changing regulations of eBikes. Generally if the bike is throttle controlled, does not require pedal assistance, and can go above 20 mph – it is probably strictly regulated.
As an example, there are three kinds of electric bikes according to classifications made by the State of California:
Class 1 eBike. A low speed bike with a motor that provides assistance as long as a person is pedalling up to a speed of 20 mph. After that all power must come from the person on the pedals.
Class 2 eBike. These are low-speed throttle assisted versions that can provide power even when someone is not pedaling, but the assistance stops at 20 mph. Class 1 and 2 eBikes are legal in California on any paved service where regular bikes are permitted.
Class 3 eBike. These are speed pedal-assisted electric bicycles that provide power when the rider is pedalling, up to 28 mph, when the motor stops providing assistance. Operators in California must be at least 16 years old and where a helmet. They are prohibited on Class I multi-use bike paths unless specifically exempted.
Bottom line. An ebike can make biking fun for more people, particularly for those who need a little help, or who live or ride in hilly terrain. Please share your thoughts and experiences with eBikes in the Comments section below. We would love to know what you are riding!
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