Thursday 5th August is Cycle to Work Day, and it’s the perfect opportunity to give cycling a go. Whether you’re a keen cyclist or you haven’t sat on a bike in years, this day is for absolutely everyone.
Bikes have been around for a long time. In fact, they were introduced in Europe in the 19th century. And by the early 21st century, there were more than 1 billion bikes around the world. But electric bikes (or e-bikes) are the new kids on the blockelectric bikes (or e-bikes) are the new kids on the block. And with sales of e-bikes soaring in the past few years, we’re pretty sure they’re here to stay. Not only are they fun to ride, they’re fast and good for the environment too. So what exactly are they? And why are e-bikes so good for commuting?
What is an electric bike?
An electric bike, more commonly known as an e-bike, is essentially a pedal bike with the addition of an electrical drive system to give you some extra power. E-bike batteries and motors have gotten smaller and more powerful since the very first model. So nowadays, electric bikes can look very similar to normal push bikes. They’ll usually have the same wheels, handlebars and body geometry. And the mechanical elements, like the pedals and brakes, all function in the same way. But there are a few key components which transform a normal bike into an e-bike:
- Motor: This is the part of the bike that delivers the extra power to your pedalling. It will adjust assistance according to how hard you pedal, to deliver just the right amount of power (torque). You can also choose the level of assistance the motor provides using the controls to switch between different modes.
- Sensor: A very important component on an electric bike, the sensor tells the motor that you’re pedalling and that it needs to start adding assistance.
- Battery: Different batteries have different capacity levels, which combined with a number of other factors will determine the range of your e-bike on a single charge. To recharge your bike battery, just simply unclip it and plug it into a mains socket at home or at work – just like your mobile phone!
- Display: Your e-bike display will show a range of information, depending on the model and the type of electric bike system. It will usually show information such as the battery level, speed, assistance mode, range and distance travelled.
- Controls: These are the small buttons on your handlebars which allow you to switch between assistance levels on your bike. Or the controls can sometimes be integrated with your display.
What are the different types of electric bike?
Most e-bikes are classed as pedal-assist, where the power kicks in when you pedal. And they can be adjusted for more or less assistance. Some bikes have a throttle which propels the bike forwards instead. And a few bikes feature a combination of the two.
In the UK and Europe, a pedal-assist electric bike must have a motor with a maximum power of 250Wh. And the motor must stop assisting when you get over 15.5mph. But you are allowed to pedal as fast as you like without any extra assistance. In many countries, throttle e-bikes are regulated differently.
In many EU countries, there is also a special class of e-bike known as a Speed Pedelec, which is designed to give assistance at up to 28mph before the motor shuts off. But they do have to conform to strict regulations and need to be registered with the DVLA.
Pros and cons
Electric bikes can look pretty normal, but there are many advantages to choosing an electric bike over a regular bike and other modes of transport. There are also some disadvantages, so it’s important to weigh everything up to consider whether an e-bike is right for you.
- Electric bikes allow you to travel faster, and over longer distances compared to a normal pedal bike.
- You’ll be able to tackle hills much more easily on an e-bike.
- You’ll still get a great workout on an electric bike as you still need to pedal.
- E-bikes are easier on the joints compared to traditional bikes.
- Electric bikes are a much cheaper alternative to cars. And if the battery does run out mid-ride, you can keep pedalling (it won’t just stop, like a car that’s run out of petrol).
- You don’t need a licence, tax or insurance in the UK to ride an e-bike.
- They’re much better for the environment compared to some other modes of transport as they do not produce harmful emissions.
- They’re great fun to ride!
- Electric bikes can weigh up to 25kg or more, while a regular bike weighs around 10kg. This can also make them more difficult to transport and store.
- Electric bikes can command a higher price tag compared to normal pedal bikes. They may also cost more to maintain/service due to additional electrical components.
- You’ll get less of a workout on an electric bike, compared to a traditional bicycle – especially when cycling up hill.
- E-bikes are popular, so there’s a greater risk that it could be stolen if left on the street.
- You’ll need to be at least 14 years old to ride an electric bike.
- Electric bike regulations can vary from country to country. This can determine where you can ride if you plan to take your bike abroad.
There are both many advantages and disadvantages of choosing an electric bike. The main advantage of an e-bike is the electric motor which helps you pedal and makes it easier to ride faster and over longer distances. The main disadvantage is the higher price and the weight.
Are electric bikes good for commuting?
As countries around the world strive to remove cars from roads and get more people cycling, e-bikes are likely to become even more popular. So are they any good for commuting?
The average commute by bike in the UK takes 44 minutes. And chances are you’ll feel all hot and sweaty by the time you’ve reached the office. And while it may feel like you’ve had a decent workout, it’s probably not really how you want to start your day. An e-bike, however, helps remove barriers to commuting such as distance and hills.
You can choose to ride your e-bike the whole way to work, or combine it with public transport. This is where a foldable electric bike will come in super handy as you can fold it down and take it on the train with you. You will arrive at work fast, relaxed, and sweat-free. And it beats spending hours stuck in traffic in a car each morning.
Depending on the terrain of your ride into work, you’ll likely need either a hybrid e-bike, or an e-mountain bike. If you’re riding mainly on the road, then a lightweight hybrid e-bike with slick tyres and rigid forks will let you build up some speed. If your route takes in uneven paths or unpaved roads, you may prefer a hybrid with a suspension fork. Or even an e-mountain bike, with wider tyres and more suspension than a hybrid bike.
Remember, the higher the power setting you choose when riding your e-bike, the less distance you’ll be able to cover on a single charge. Some pedal-assist bikes will show a mileage range on the screen, and some adjust this range based on what power setting you select. In most settings, however, you can expect to be able to travel somewhere between 20 and 40 miles before you have to recharge the battery, making riding an e-bike the perfect way to travel to work.
If you want to cycle more, check out the free Love to Ride online community. You can sign up with Facebook, Strava or simply by entering your details, and then connect a smartphone app so you can log your rides. And there are lots of prizes to be won, for that extra bit of motivation!
You might also like to read: A guide from Raleigh about how to maintain your electric bike