E-Bikes 101 – An Introduction to Electric Bikes

e-Bikes 101 ebikes explained - by Electric Bikes Brisbane

Heard about electric bikes and curious to understand more? Or looking to buy an electric bike and finding it all a bit daunting? Here is a handy guide to help you understand more about electric bikes and to help you choose the right e-bike for you.

TIP: If you just want to speak to someone who knows then we are here to help. Drop into our showroom at Milton, call us on 1300 553 110 or contact us via this online form ....from the friendly team @ Electric Bikes Brisbane 

If you want to know more about how electric bicycles work, what types of electric bikes there are and our views on what works best, then read on....

Electric Bikes in Australia

E-bikes - a term that is getting used more and more when people talk about electric bikes - have come a long way since they started to gain in popularity in Europe in the mid to late 90’s. Over 1 million electric bikes were sold in Europe in 2015 and the market isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. 10% of all bikes sold in Germany are now electric.

Rising fuel prices, increasing congestion, environmental concerns and a need to squeeze some much-needed exercise into our busy schedules are all key reasons why electric bikes have taken off in a big way. That, plus legislative changes.

GoCycle electric bicycle

The Law on Electric Bikes in Australia

Australia adopted the European Standard for electric bike design and safety in 2013 (EN15194) which allowed pedal-assist motors of 250W. This provided a 20% boost in power from the existing standard and gave Australia access to a much wider range of electric bike designs and models from European manufacturers. Read more on the legals here.

The choice of electric bikes available now is excellent but we understand that it can be a bit daunting. Take us for example. We are a specialist electric bike shop and have 16 industry-leading brands covering a broad range of frame styles, drive systems and price ranges. That is a lot to take in!

Electric Bikes Brisbane has written this 'E-Bikes 101' guide to help make it easier for you to understand electric bikes, so that choosing your own e bike is easier when the time comes. We have pooled our years of experience in the bike industry, our experience in helping 1000’s of people to choose; and our personal experience as riders of all types of bikes and ebikes. We have ridden and tested just about all of the electric bike brands and drive systems available and in development. So be it a daily commuter, a load carrier or a smile machine - we’ve got it covered.

Start your electric bike journey with ‘Why?’

E-bikes are versatile machines and our customers use them for some amazing things! Most people buy an electric bike for one of more of the following reasons:

Riding an electric bike is fun!

Six times more fun than a traditional bike apparently. Research shows that people who buy electric bikes end up using six times more than those who buy a traditional bike.

Headwinds and hills are a thing of the past when you jump on an e-bike. We can guarantee that they will make you LOVE cycling no matter whether you are a keen cyclist already or just getting into it.

Ebike smiles - Electric Bikes Brisbane @ Milton

We’ve got plenty of customers who ride more Km’s per year on their bike than they drive in their car. And for many it’s a complete car replacement as the ebike becomes the vehicle of choice when nipping to the shops, meeting friends for coffee or lunch or just going for an explore around town or the bush.

Electric Bikes help you ride further with less effort

The latest mid-drive electric bikes driven by motor systems manufactured by the likes of BOSCH, SHIMANO, IMPULSE, and BROSE are now more efficient than ever. Coupled with state-of-the-art lithium Ion batteries, ranges in excess of 150 kms on a single charge are now achievable. Some manufacturers are now making ebikes with dual battery carriage options which can take you 250-300kms on a single charge.

For commuters it means you ride each day when otherwise cycling is "just a bit too far". For leisure riders and adventure travellers its means being able to travel further afield. For electric mountain bike riders it means more time on the trail, and more time riding downhill.

Electric Bikes are a healthy form of low impact exercise

On average you’ll be burning around 300-400 calories per hour.

Yes, that's right. Modern electric bikes are 'pedal-assist' which means it is your pedalling that starts the motor. You pedal but you get up to 250watts of power from the motor in addition to your own pedal power. 

The great thing about an ebike is that you are in control of how much effort you put in. Want a harder work out? Just turn the power down. Want to arrive at your destination fresh and sweat free? Turn the power up to 'Turbo' and enjoy that electric bike “tail wind feeling”.

See why electric bikes are a great form of exercise.

Electric Bikes save you money

If you’re replacing a bus or train journey with an electric bike in Brisbane, you could be saving $50+ per week.

If you’re paying for parking then the savings rack up even faster. And for the ultimate saving - if you get rid of a car altogether you get an immediate pay back from your sale proceeds plus the ongoing cost savings, and health benefits.

Three ways to win with your electric bike

What are you going to use your electric bike for?

This sounds like an obvious question but electric bikes are pretty versatile machines. Some might say they’re the swiss army knife of the bike world. We’ve got lots of customers who commute during the week, hit the mountain bike trails at the weekend and also tow or carry their children on family trips out or do the school run on the way to work.

A better question might be what will you use your electric bike for most of the time?

Ride together with an e-bike - Electric Bikes Brisbane Milton

We find that most electric bike riders tend to prefer ebikes that fall into one of the following categories:

Electric Commuter Bikes

Electric commuter bikes are available in a number of frame styles such as Step Over (with crossbar), Step Through (easy low step frame), or the Mixte (a sloping top tube so lower than a crossbar).

Electric commuter bikes are designed with comfort, style and practicality in mind so they are great for long trips as well as short ones. Many commuter ebike models come fully equipped with everything you need for your year round daily commute - integrated lights, locks, kickstand, racks for pannier bags or baskets, puncture resistant tyres, mudguards and chainguards. Some even have a USB charge port for your phone and other gadgets!

NOTE: Electric commuter bikes that are fully equipped are also referred to as electric city bikes and these also make great everyday ebikes for shopping, short trips and for riding just for the sheer pleasure of it. 

Electric commuter bikes and electric city bikes @ Electric Bikes Brisbane Milton

Electric commuter bikes tend to get used a lot. Take the BH Emotion ebikes for example. It’s not uncommon for us to see customers in our workshop with these bikes with 10,000kms on the clock at their annual service!  This means an electric commuter can end up being very economical on the wallet and on your time, and great for your health as well. 

Electric Mountain Bikes

Electric Mountain Biking is one of the fastest growing sports in Europe. Electric Mountain Bikes get you to the top of your favourite downhill trail faster and with fresher legs. This means more laps of the Jumping Ant trail at Daisy Hill, cruising to the top of Dingo at Gap Creek, or never having to worry about when the shuttle is running at Mt Joyce. Uphills and pinch climbs take on a new dimension. Instead of grimacing, you’ll be  smiling on the climbs AND the descents!

Haibike xDure Uphill - Electric Bikes Brisbane @ Milton

European electric mountain bike models such as Haibike are more than a match for their non-electric counterparts in terms of frame design, geometry (shorter chain stays, slacker head angles), high end suspension from Fox and Rock Shox, with Enduro and Downhill models available from the high end e-mtb manufacturers.

Electric mountain bikes also bring a new dimension to your riding. You can level the playing field on a group ride. Riding fast becomes more about being smooth and keeping the flow, rather who’s the fittest or the strongest. Not being born with the physique of a mountain goat and the lungs of a free diver no longer means you’ll be dropped every time the trail heads uphill.

Electric mountain bikes also make great commuter bikes, and you don't have to spend a fortune for the fun. Take the Earth e-bikes for example, one of our most popular all-rounder ebikes. Add a set of slick or semi slick tyres, a set of LED lights for winter and you’re good to go for riding on and off road. 

Electric Cargo Bikes

If you are looking to carry some serious loads (or passengers) on your electric bike, how does 100KG plus the rider sound?

That’s what the Expedir Cargo Bike from eZee, and the Load from Riese Und Muller are rated to carry. Electric Cargo Bikes are great option if you are looking to ditch your car completely or if you want to do things like incorporate the school run on your way to work and have some fun and gentle exercise at the same time. With flexible luggage options, child seats, trailers, and running boards there’s not much you can’t carry on a cargo bike.

Riese Und Muller Cargo Ebike - Electric Bikes Brisbane @ Milton

Electric Folding Bikes or Compact Bikes

Need to travel with your electric bike? Or tight on storage space? Or simply want an ebike that is smaller and more manageable for you? Then a folding or a compact electric bike might be the one for you.

Most electric folding bikes are compact in size with 20" wheels and will pack down to almost the size of a small carry-on suitcase. This means that they are easy to stow in a camper van, camper trailer or boat, and they are great for apartment living. You can also fit them in the boot of small compact cars (we know this from experience!) without the need for special bike racks or carriers. 

And growing in popularity, particularly for inner-city urban use, are the straight compact e-bikes. These do not fold - so offer stiffer frames and have - and are very convenient and zippy for getting around town. 

What many people don’t realise about the compact size ebikes is that they are excellent climbing machines. All that power going through smaller 20” wheels makes them great for going up hills!

Compact electric bikes

Electric Fat Bikes

Electric fat bikes have also made an appearance in the last couple of years. Fat Bikes have 4+ inch tyres on standard size wheels and were originally designed to ride in snow or on soft sand. Brands such a Surly pioneered the concept with their Moonlander fat bike, and this has now been copied by most of the mainstream brands. If you are looking for something that is a bit out there or you have a burning desire to ride on the beach or cross the Simpson Desert then an electric fat bike can be a good choice. They are very comfortable. 

The wider bike industry has acknowledged that 4"-tyred bikes are a niche within a niche and has responded by introducing the 27 Plus and 29 Plus tyre sizes.  These tyre sizes are typically 2.8 inches to 3.0 inches wide (smaller than the 4 to 5 inches of a fat bike) but still wide enough to run low pressures and are more useable over a wider range of trail conditions. Progressive e-bike manufactures started offering 27 Plus equipped bikes.

Electric Bike Conversion Kits and Custom Electric Bikes

Last but by no means least if you already have a bike you love or don't have the budget for a purpose-made ebike there is also the option of adding an electric motor. The new mid-drive electric bike kits can be fitted to almost any type of bike without major modification. We have fitted many kits and as with any modification there are some things to be aware of however they are a good option if you want to trial 'going electric'.

What is a realistic budget for an e-bike?

The good news here is that as with any fast growing technology, and with more and more people adopting an e-bike as their main form of transport, there is a bigger selection of bikes available offering better value.  At the time of writing you can get an excellent range of quality e-bikes for under $3,000

The German-made electric bikes with mid-drive systems are a bit more money. However they are actually pretty good value when you look at what it would cost to buy a non-electric bike of that quality, and then add top-of-the-range motor technology and high quality, high capacity lithium ion batteries.

Our advice is that if you are looking to buy an ebike, stick with the modern ebikes made by recognised manufacturers with solid reputations and proven warranties. We take particular care in choosing our suppliers and their responsiveness to warranty and performance issues is a key factor. In the unlikely event that you have a problem it will generally be resolved within one to two weeks vs some of the horror stories we have heard where it's taken six to sixteen weeks to resolve, if at all.

Independent reviews and tests from reliable sources are a good starting point to help you narrow down your choices and, as e-bikes are still relatively new to Australia, it is also worth searching further afield for international reviews and tests. The UK and Germany are great sources as they use the same EN15194 legal standard as Australia.

If you do end up on global review sites just bear in mind that many ebikes and riders could be commenting and reviewing ebikes that use a different industry standard. For example the USA allows the use of throttle only bikes and larger motors (750 watt) so it is not really comparable to what is available in Australia.

Like most industries when it comes to price, the cost to manufacture and distribute drives the price. If you see one e-bike that appears to be the same or similar as another ebike but it’s at a much lower price then you can sure that there is an underlying reason. Cheaper prices generally mean that corners have been cut somewhere along the way. It can be an expensive choice in the long run, particularly if the seller is not experienced at fixing some of the technical issues that can arise with cheap electric bikes.

How does an electric bike work?

If you can ride a bicycle, even if it was a long time ago, you can ride an electric bike. For most people an electric bike is easier because they are designed to be easier to ride.

The first time you ride one we can guarantee that you will either smile or whoop when you first experience the power kicking in, and the ease with which you can climb hills will leave you grinning from ear to ear. 

Pedal assist electric bikes

Electric assist (or pedalec)

The way an electric assist bicycle works is through your pedalling. There is a sensor near your cranks that activates the motor as soon as you start pedalling. If you stop pedalling, the motor stops. This is why they are still good exercise - you have to pedal (even if just very lightly). 

Every ebike has a way to turn the electrics on or off  - a bit like turning on your computer. Once you turn your bike on, there are a number of power modes that you can choose depending on how much assistance you want.   
Electric bike power display - Electric Bikes Brisbane @ MiltonMost ebikes have between three to five levels of power displayed as either '1' / ‘Eco’ / ‘Low’ through to '5' / ‘Turbo’ / 'Boost'.  If you feel like some extra exercise most ebikes also provide the option of turning your power off completely while you are riding along.

Throttle

There are still some brands that offer throttle options and throttles on a bicycle can be great fun to ride and very convenient – especially if you don’t want to pedal at all. However they draw an extraordinary amount of power from your battery so watch your battery levels. Throttles also place additional strain on the motors so unless your ebike has been specifically manufactured to cope with this you could find your ebike cuts out on you while you ride. The better quality drive systems with throttle option have protection mechanisms to stop the motors from overheating and getting damaged.

Vintage Electric Tracker electric bicycle @ Electric Bikes Brisbane Milton

If you are looking for a functional, all-rounder ebike with a reliable throttle option we recommend the Ezee brand.

If you have a penchant for vintage racing machines and top of the range then have a look at the hand-made Californian Vintage Electric bikes. Uber cool and top notch.

Bike skills

The great thing about ebikes is that make bike riding so much easier. With the amount of power assistance that is available and the option for different levels of power while you ride along some of the basic bicycle riding skills suddenly do not seem as important. 

EBikes are still bicycles though and you will always get better performance from an ebike, and have less wear and tear, if you take the time to learn a bit about braking, changing gears, cornering at higher speeds and riding safely on roads and in high traffic areas.

Which e-bike drive system is the best?

Should you get a 'Mid Drive' system, where the motor is in the middle of the ebike and integrated with the cranks, or a 'hub drive' system where the motor is in either the rear or front hub / wheel?

Rather than ‘best’ the better question is which e-bike drive system is best suited to your needs?

There are however some key differences between each of the systems.

Hub motor vs Mid Drive motor

As a general rule Mid Drive motors (or Crank drive motors as they are sometimes referred to) are more efficient than their hub drive counterparts so you tend to get a lot more range from your batteries.

Mid-drive motors also generate more torque - this is what helps hill climbing. When combined with the gearing on your bike, means they are generally able to climber steeper hills. Haibike (the #1 German electric mountain bike manufacturer) demonstrate this in their promo video featuring a rider riding up an Olympic Ski Jump!

BOSCH is currently the number 1 supplier of mid-drive systems for electric bikes. They offer the widest choice of drive systems to support all of the popular e-bike categories ranging from relaxed city cruisers to high performance electric mountain bikes.

Bosch mid drive systems on electric bicycles

At the time of writing BOSCH is also the only e-bike drive system manufacturer to have invested in a dedicated Australian based e-bike service center. Shimano also provide Australian service and support for their STEPS system as part of their wider support for bike spare parts and accessories.

Other drive systems such as BROSE, Yamaha, BAFANG and Impulse rely on the support provided by the local distributor and retailers.

The mid-drive motor systems are designed to make the power assistance feel very natural. It feels like you are a super strong rider rather than the strong push that the hub motors deliver. If you are a keen cyclist already chances are you will prefer the feel of a mid-drive system…. Not always though!

If mid drive bikes have a downside it is that they usually cost a bit more to buy than their hub drive counter parts.  The extra is a result of extra technology in the motors and displays, and generally higher quality and lighter batteries. 

So should I consider a hub drive electric bike?

Absolutely! We still sell just as many hub drive e-bikes as mid-drives and there is still a place for well-designed hub drive electric bikes in the future. They offer great performance and value, and could be the perfect introduction to the world of e-bikes without breaking the bank. The BH Emotion EvoSmartMotion and Earth range, for example, are great options. 

SmartMotion Pacer eBike - Electric Bikes Brisbane @ Milton

What about front vs rear drive electric bikes?

The main reason manufacturers choose to use a front drive motor in their electric bike is to allow the use of internal hub gears. Internal hub gears are very popular in Europe and feature heavily on the top European brands. Internal hub gears are simpler to use then derailleur gears, and require less maintenance. Their downside is that they are a bit heavier than derailleur gears (hence why you don’t see them on racing bikes!) and from an e-bike perspective they occupy the space that would be taken by a rear drive hub motor. 

EBikes with front hub motors have the feeling of being pulled along and also offer a good value option. 

Electric bike with front drive motor - Electric Bikes Brisbane @ Milton 

What gear systems work best – internal hub or derailleur?

Internal hub gears are a great option if you are looking for simplicity and low
maintenance. However if you are looking at a mid-drive ebike with an advertised torque of more that 50Nm – Impulse, Bosch, Brose for example all have motors with >50Nm - just be aware that with internal gears the torque provided by the motor is capped at 50Nm.

Internal gears work well when paired with the Bosch Active Line motors (rather than the too powerful Performance and Performance CX systems) and there is now the Nuvinci 380 gearing system available that is suitable for the more powerful systems.

 

Internal hub gears on Sinus electric bicycle

 

Derailleur systems on the other hand (this is the normal gears that most people are used to) require some practice. The disadvantage of this system is that you need to be pedalling to change gears however they do allow the motor to operate to its full torque potential. This is why the better-designed premium ebikes with high torque motors will have derailleurs rather than internal gears.

EBikes 101 - Derailleurs on ebikes - Electric Bikes Brisbane

 

No matter what gearing system you choose though you will still need to make sure that you are in the right gears for your hills. If your gears are too hard:

  • You may not be able to turn the pedals – which means no electric assist as that’s what turns your motor on; and
  • You risk the motor shutting down through overheating from too much load.

Don’t be put off by gears – most riders only need 2 or 3 gears with the electric assist but it is important to gear down on steep hills, in particular.

What size battery should I get?

Think of your battery as your fuel tank. Without it your e-bike will not work. It should be high quality and have at least enough capacity to power your bike for your longest expected round trip.

Most batteries available today are lithium ion. This is the same material as your phone and laptop batteries are powered by. Importantly, lithium ion batteries do not have a memory like old batteries used to and they benefit from continual topping up, rather than complete discharge and recharge from empty.

Keep this in mind when buying and focus on how far your longest expected trip will be rather than how many kms the seller quotes as its range. You may not need to pay for that expensive battery upgrade after all!

How much range – or how many km’s you can ride under power before going flat – depends on a number of factors and is often different for each rider. As a general rule:

  • The more sophisticated the motor technology is, the further you can ride each charge. For example in our experience an ebike with a simple rear drive motor and a 10Ah battery will allow you to comfortably travel between 20 – 40km whereas a Bosch mid-drive motor could take you as far as 100km on that battery size.
  • The power levels you tend to ride in - riding in the higher power levels will reduce your range. This may be necessary due to headwinds, lots of hills or heavier weights/ loads but it is something to factor into your choice if this is your likely ride.
  • The age of your battery – as your battery ages the range that you can expect from it will decrease (like your phone and computer). Most manufacturers warrant their batteries for two years and a reduction to 70% - 80% capacity at the end of two years is expected. All batteries accompanying our electric bikes are new however this is something to be aware of if purchasing second hand.

What does my electric bike come with, if I buy one?

No matter who you buy from you should make sure you receive the following things:

  • If buying new, an ebike with low mileage
  • A battery and the charger for your battery
  • Keys for your ebike – these are needed for a few things such as locking your battery onto your bike, unlocking your battery so you can take it out, and sometimes they are needed to turn the electric bike on (not for all ebikes though).
  • Manual(s) – note that the manuals can often be downloaded from the manufacturers website as well

Ideally you should also receive instruction on how to use it upon collection and, if you can, ride it before you leave so you are satisfied that it is in good working order. 

Looking after your electric bike – service and maintenance

Like any machine with moving parts an electric bike will benefit from regular servicing and maintenance.

It is a bicycle, with parts that will wear, and it has a motor and a number of electrical parts that allow it to travel at faster average speeds than a normal bicycle. While you, the rider, do not need to touch the motor or battery, it is important that things such as the electrical wiring are checked regularly and that all the key running gear such as brakes, chains, gears etc are in good and safe working order.

For most ebikes we recommend a service at least once a year, and more often than that If you are using it for high mileage or nearly every day. It is not unusual for some of our ebikes to come into our workshop for a service every 4-6 months having done 5,000 - 10,000km since their last service. Bosch recommends that their bikes are serviced every 900km - 1500km, depending on motor type. 

You can also help to maintain your ebike by keeping your tyrres at the correct pressures to protect from punctures and spoke / wheel damage and lubing your chain regularly to stop it from getting squeaky and wearing out faster. If you have any concerns – call us :) Better to get it looked at than to let a small problem become a big, expensive one.

What next? Let us help you find the right e-bike. 

Drop into our store at Douglas St in Milton, call us on 1300 553 110 or send us an email via our contact form.

We encourage you to think about these three things in advance, and this will help us to help you narrow your options:

  • Why do you want to get one – what benefit do you see it giving you?
  • Where will you be riding your electric bike, 90% of the time?
  • What price range suits you?

Thanks for reading and if you have any questions or suggestions then get in touch.

Happy riding

The team at Electric Bikes Brisbane, 26 Douglas St, Milton

 




Samantha Willis
Samantha Willis

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