Electric bikes, E-MTB, pedal-assist bikes, or E-bikes – whatever you want to call them, you’ve probably seen more of them around recently. Want to know more? Read our best electric bikes buying guide.
Recent technological improvements have led to cheaper, lighter batteries that last much longer, making electric power much more attractive to a variety of cyclists.
But while cycling purists remain decidedly unimpressed by the surge in the e-bike’s popularity on the roads and trails, some riders are enjoying a new lease of battery-assisted life on the bike.
Don’t want to read the rest of our best electric bikes buying guide? To go directly to the e-bike product pages at Chain Reaction Cycles, click the link below:
How does an electric bike work?
Electric bikes use a motor to add additional torque to your pedal stroke, meaning less effort is required for climbing hills or going faster.
So far, electrical goods manufacturer Bosch dominates the e-bike motor market, providing the electrical-assist hubs powering most e-bikes. However, Shimano recently launched its own brand of motor – Shimano Steps. Both brands adorn a variety of e-bikes, offering different levels of torque and efficiency.
There are two main types of pedal-assist bikes, pedelec and s-pedelec. S-pedelec electric bikes can travel up-to 45km/h and in most of Europe require a special licence and insurance. In contrast, pedelec bikes are more like conventional bikes with a motor providing a maximum of 250 watts of assistance (generating around 15km/h in speed) in Europe or 200w in the UK.
This means they fall outside the classification of a motor vehicle, and as such have no requirements for insurance or licencing. That makes them perfect for trail riders, commuters, and urban adventurers, with no fuss or admin.
This article will only be discussing pedelec style electric bikes.
Most E-bikes have little or no additional controls – there is no accelerator, for example. The motor simply provides additional torque as you pedal. Some motors do, however, offer several modes, usually ranging from full power to economy, allowing riders to adjust the longevity of the battery.
You can find out more about how battery capacity, motor power, weight, speed, and riding style all interact by using this fun, interactive tool from Bosch below.
Click on the link and input your riding style details and the type of motor you’re considering to find out how long a typical battery charge will last.
With the super-wide gear ratios available on the modern mountain bike and huge 50-tooth cassettes now common-place, you’d expect the electric motor to struggle for relevance on the trails.
But many MTB riders have found powered assistance to be a fun addition to their riding experience. Not only does it allow you to cover more distance, but those with only a short time to spare find they can cram in more of the good stuff into their ride, including more descents as they reach the top of the trails quicker and more often.
Contrary to the increasingly less popular opinion that E-MTB bikes are the lazy option, a recent – if unscientific – test by The Lab (video below) found the experience of riding with electric power used more energy overall, generating a heightened heart rate throughout the ride.
E-MTB has also found favour among older riders who want to enjoy the riding experiences of their youth despite lacking the all-day endurance they may have once had. Riders with long-standing injuries, or those in recovery, have also welcomed the technology, helping them get back on the trails and enjoying the adventures they would otherwise be missing.
Batteries will also vary according to model and manufacturer but expect to find either NiMh (Nickel Metal Hydride) or smaller, lighter and more advanced (but more expensive) lithium-based battery packs. Whatever battery type, recharging is a simple matter of plugging directly into the mains. Recharge times will vary according to battery, but 4-6 hours should be about right.
Again, how long your battery will last per charge will depend on a number of factors, including the type of battery used, the level of pedal assistance provided, and the type of terrain encountered. The more work you do (that is, the more you pedal) the less work the battery will have to do, and the longer each charge will last.
Finally, battery life will vary from bike to bike so bear in mind that initial investment in a bike with a long-lasting and reliable battery pack may well prove to be the best choice in the long run.