A Beginners Guide to E-Bikes 101

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A Beginners Guide To E-Bikes 101 5

Buying an E-bike is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. No longer just the purview of urban 20-somethings, the e-bike is also a great way for suburbanites to dramatically reduce the number of miles they drive by switching most of their short trips from gas-powered car trips to electric-powered bike rides.

It’s better for your health, lowers congestion on local roads and helps to fight climate change.

What’s not to love?

E-bikes represent the fastest-growing sector of the multi-billion e-mobility market. Valued at over $27 billion US in 2021, the electric bike market is projected to double to $55 billion by 2027. 

And with a growing number of towns and cities encouraging bike use with more favorable bike infrastructure, and with some even banning cars from city centers, demand for affordable, environmentally-friendly transportation options is likely to increase still further over the coming decade.

But navigating through countless models, specifications, and brands can be overwhelming. To say nothing of the new lingo you’ll need to learn.

So we’ve put together this article to explain the basics and start you on the road towards your eventual purchase. Elsewhere on this blog we have a more comprehensive E-Bike buyers guide but here we’ll start you off slowly so that you at least understand the basics.

By the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll be well-equipped to make informed decisions about which E-Bikes are worth your consideration and how to incorporate this eco-friendly mode of transport into your daily life.

E-Bikes for Transportation

Most suburban homeowners probably view the bike more as an exercise machine than a mode of transportation. When I told my spin-loving, fitness-obsessed wife that I was thinking of getting an e-Bike, she was mildly horrified. 

“What’s the point of that?” she asked. “You won’t get your heart rate up anywhere near enough riding one of those things.” 

It’s not surprising that she feels that way. For most of our married life, the concept of going on a bike-ride usually meant slinging the bikes onto the back of a car, driving to a bike trail, riding our bikes to no place in particular, and then riding back to the car so that we could drive them home. 

Not entirely pointless, since it did get us some fresh air and exercise. But close to it.

But thinking of the bike as an alternative form of transportation, rather than just a form of exercise changes your perspective completely. 

Of course, most people in other countries already see it that way, as do city dwellers in the US, for whom car ownership is often more trouble than it’s worth. But suburban Americans, at least adult ones, have gotten into the habit of using their cars for even the shortest of journeys.

That’s largely because even short journeys are quite long in most of our sprawling suburbs. 

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Even Short Trips Are Quite Long In The Suburbs

My own situation provides a perfect example. I live in a typical American suburb, just over a mile from the nearest store. While I often feel guilty about hopping into a 2-ton car just to go pick up a carton of milk, the idea of cycling two-and-a-half miles doesn’t seem like a reasonable alternative.

The time it takes, the sweat it induces and the balancing act required to bring the groceries home on a two-wheeled machine represent just a tad too much hassle, making the car journey seem more necessary than it really should.

But with an electric bike, I can get to that same store in less time and with less effort. Now I can replace that car journey for a substantial portion of my shortest trips.

Benefits of Electric Bikes

Switching to an electric bike offers a range of benefits for you, the rider, for the town or city you live in and for the planet as a whole. They’re a relatively cheap way to decarbonize a significant portion of your transportation, offering many of the benefits provided by an electric vehicle at a fraction of the cost.

Increased Speed and Range

By leveraging the pedal-assist feature, electric bikes enable riders to travel with greater ease and at higher speeds while also extending their range due to less fatigue. This pedal-assist feature not only helps in maintaining a consistent speed but also extends your range by reducing fatigue during long rides or uphill climbs.

Reduced Environmental Impact

  • Fewer emissions: By using electricity instead of fossil fuels like gasoline or diesel, electric bikes produce significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions than cars or motorcycles do – making them an eco-friendly transportation option.
  • No noise pollution: Electric bike motors are virtually silent compared to internal combustion engines found in vehicles; thus they help reduce noise pollution in urban and suburban areas where traffic congestion is common.
  • Promotes sustainable living: Adopting an electric bike as part of your daily commute encourages more sustainable living habits by reducing reliance on non-renewable energy sources and promoting cleaner air quality within communities.

Health Benefits

Electric bikes not only benefit the environment but also promote a healthier lifestyle. The pedal-assist feature encourages riders to engage in physical activity, which can lead to improved cardiovascular health and overall fitness levels.

Cost Savings

While the initial investment for an electric bike might be higher than that of a conventional bicycle, and can even exceed the cost of a used car in some cases, the long-term cost savings can make it worth considering. 

E-bikes require minimal maintenance compared to cars or motorcycles and have significantly lower fuel costs since they rely on electricity rather than gasoline. Furthermore, many cities and states offer financial incentives for purchasing electric bikes as part of their efforts to reduce congestion and carbon emissions.

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E-Bikes Are Great For The City But They Work Just As Well For Suburbanites

What to Look for in an E-Bike

There are a number of factors you have to consider when selecting an electric bike that you wouldn’t necessarily think of when buying a regular bike. Some are obvious, others not so much. 

Here are a few of them:

Battery Type

The battery is a crucial component of any e-bike as it determines the range and overall performance. There are two main types of batteries used in electric bikes: lithium-ion (Li-Ion) and lead-acid (PbA). Lithium-ion batteries are lighter, have a longer lifespan, and offer better performance compared to lead-acid ones. However, they can be more expensive upfront but save money over time due to their durability.

Battery Integration

Broadly speaking there are three ways that a battery is integrated into the frame of an e-bike.

  • Some e-bikes have a battery that is bolted onto the frame the same way a water bottle might be. This is convenient in that the battery can be easily removed and perhaps taken indoors for recharging. But it’s not exactly an elegant design and it does leave the battery itself vulnerable to theft or loss.
  • Other e-bikes have a battery that is integrated into the frame in a more visually appealing way. Sometimes, these can also be removed for charging but just as often are permanently attached to the bike, which means that the entire bike needs to be close enough to a power source when it’s time to charge it.
  • For e-bikes that have fully integrated batteries, the battery is not supposed to be removed at all. In fact, in some models, it isn’t even visible. That means the battery won’t be lost or stolen, and will last longer since it’s better protected from the weather. 

Motor Power

The motor power directly impacts the speed and acceleration capabilities of your e-bike. Motors typically range from 250W up to 750W or even higher for off-road models. A higher wattage motor provides more torque for climbing hills or carrying heavy loads but may consume more energy resulting in reduced range.

  • 250W: Suitable for flat terrain with minimal inclines; ideal for city commuting.
  • 500W: Good balance between power consumption and performance; suitable for moderate inclines or light off-roading.
  • 750W: Best for steep hills, off-road adventures, or carrying heavy loads.

Power Delivery

How the motor’s power is delivered to the wheels is also an important factor in the overall e-bike riding experience. There are three different ways – pedelec, twist and thumb drive.

  • The term pedelec comes from combining the words pedal and electric. As you might expect it refers to e-bikes that deliver the electric power to the wheels via the pedals.This mimics most closely the traditional bike-riding experience except that each turn of the pedals takes you further and faster. These days, pure pedelec e-bikes are quite rare. Most models combine pedal assist modes with the ability to ride along without pedaling by using either a twist or thumb drive throttle.
  • A twist throttle, almost always found on the right handle bar, neatly mimics the experience of riding a motorcycle or moped. Turning the grip makes the bike go faster, releasing it slows it down.
  • A thumb drive has nothing to do with those things we used to store digital files on before we had the Cloud. Instead it’s like the thumb throttle you might find on an electric lawn mower. Press it down to go faster, release it to slow down.Unlike a twist throttle, a thumb drive can be found on either the left or the right  handlebar.

Frame Material

The frame material of your electric bike affects its weight, durability, and overall ride quality. Two materials commonly used in electric bike frames are aluminum alloy and carbon fiber. Aluminum is lightweight and affordable but may not be as durable as carbon fiber. On the other hand, carbon fiber frames offer better vibration absorption and stiffness at a higher price point.

Suspension System

A good suspension system ensures a comfortable ride by absorbing shocks from uneven terrain. There are three main types of suspension systems found in e-bikes:

  • Rigid: No suspension; suitable for smooth roads or light gravel paths.
  • Hardtail: Front fork suspension only; ideal for mixed terrain including moderate off-roading.
  • Dual Suspension (Full-Suspension): Both front fork and rear shock absorbers; best choice for serious mountain biking or rough trails.
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A Beginners Guide To E-Bikes 101 6

Your E-Bike Budget

There’s no doubt that the average price of an e-bike is going be significantly higher than most people are used to paying for a traditional bicycle. But remember, in terms of what you’re looking for your e-bike to accomplish for you, you’re not really replacing a regular bike. You’re replacing a car, or at least a portion of a car.

Just how large of a portion depends on you and your lifestyle. Can your e-bike replace a quarter of the car miles you drive? A third? All of them? When you look at e-bike prices through that lens, it shifts your perspective somewhat. 

Another thing about budget is that everyone has a different idea of what constitutes an expensive bike. For that reason, much of what we say next has to be, by definition, opinion. 

But for the purposes of this site’s e-bike coverage, we’re going to say that a low-budget e-bike will be priced at around $1,000-$1,500. Mid-range bikes will be priced from $1,500 to $3,000 and high-end bikes will be priced from $3,000 to around $4,500. 

Of course, that does not mean that $4,500 is the most you can expect to pay for an e-bike. Five figures is quite possible for top-of-the-line specialty bikes. But once you get into that price range, you go beyond the purview of what this site is all about, which is reducing your carbon footprint through electrification.

Final Thoughts on E-Bikes

An e-bike is an excellent way to reduce your carbon footprint, as long as you use it to reduce the number of miles you drive in a car. If you live a suburban lifestyle and don’t have too long of a commute, you can cut a significant number of car miles driven, as well as help to reduce road congestion and get healthy.

That said, e-bikes are considerably more expensive than regular bikes and represent a significant investment. But they are a lot of fun and many people, myself included, would welcome a reduction in the number of hours I have to spend behind the wheel of a car.