How to choose an electric bike

Electric bikes are a bit of a buzzword at the moment - pardon the pun. The thing is though if you are hearing the 'buzz' then chances are its an old model.

Electric bikes have come a long way in the past couple of years. Gone are the old-fashioned buzz boxes. Technology and design has moved on and in its place are a range of great-looking, hard-working bikes that are quiet and can make riding an absolute joy, especially if you have to negotiate hills.

So how do you go about choosing the best electric bike for you?

Well, firstly it's a bike. And there are the same things to consider as if you were buying a normal bike. Ride the bike first to see that it handles well without power. Secondly, it has a rechargeable battery, an electric motor and a control system. This is what powers your wheels and gives you extra oomph. These add an extra dimension to choosing the right electric bike for you.

There are two important things to keep in perspective.

  1. Your average speed will be much higher than what you normally do. Most models provide assistance up to 25kms/hour so the big benefit is hills and the extra speed you carry up them. Flats, too, become faster on average. So whatever bike you choose make sure it has good brakes to stop or slow you when you need to, strong forks to cope with the extra force, and good wheels and tyres to keep you upright and rolling.
  2. You will ride your electric bike a lot. Studies have shown that those with electric bikes tend to ride them 6x more than traditional bikes. This means that you need a bike that will cope with the wear and tear, especially as you will be riding at higher average speeds. Look for a bike that has quality components - ones that will last, will minimise maintenance and parts that can be serviced or replaced quickly if needed. It will be important to service it regularly too so if you aren't doing it yourself make sure you have that service and maintenance support.

Here are the key things to think about when choosing an electric bike :

  • What sort of assistance do you want? If you want to pedal, consider pedal-assist. If you don't want to peddle, or want the option to not peddle, consider a throttle as well. Some bikes have both. Some have just pedal assist.
  • What type of terrain will you be riding? If its hilly, with steep hills, look for a motor with high torque.
  • What style of bike do you like? There are comfortable cruisers that are upright in riding position and great for cruising around. These are best on flatter areas. There are sportier brands, that are designed for commuting or even off-road riding. These tend to be lighter, faster and more nimble. Most brands will have step-through versions if you want to get on and off easily.
  • How much space do you have for storage? If you don't have a garage or an area to store then consider a compact or folding bike.
  • Will you need to carry or lift it? You will want a lighter bike or compact bike. Because there are electrical components to consider and it will be heavier than normal we recommend carrying your bike on a rear tray rack, to avoid unnecessary lifting and getting it knocked.
  • How far you you expect to ride? Most electric bikes can do at least 40km on a charge. Bigger batteries mean greater range, some up to 100km. Higher rider weight means less range so consider a bigger battery.
  • How much as you prepared to spend? With an electric bike it's not just about the sticker price. Think about the cost of ownership. As a general rule, a lower price = lower reliability, lower range, torque and battery life. Also consider what service and support you will get from the supplier.

Finally, we recommend choosing a supplier that stocks a number of brands, preferably ones that have been reviewed independently. That way you will able to try out a few bikes to compare and will have the benefit of reliable, objective information on the bike itself.

Electric bikes really are a buzz - of the fun variety :)

Nick Willis
Nick Willis


Back to top