Get on an e-bike, you won't regret it.

image Even if you don’t ride a bike, I’ll bet your spouse or kids or grand kids do and wouldn’t it be fun if you could ride together? In my experience an electric bike allows people of differing fitness levels, different ages and strengths to ride together.

They're too expensive, aren't they?

Electric bikes can be expensive, but any bike can be converted for a few hundred quid as a DIY project and not that much more for conversion done for you, then there's the factory ebikes and these are expensive (ranging from around £1200 to up & up), but are coming down in price all the time. So what’s stopping you?

I converted to an electric bike this year, and it’s been an incredible, amazing, mind blowing experience (and I’m not exaggerating). On my Ramblingfatman tours over the years I’ve had to cut back the miles, because it just simply takes too long to do the nominal mileage, the e-bike allows for a faster ride. And the hills, boy had they become a pain, a slog, again taking too much time to climb. The e-bike doesn’t flatten the hill, but they do allow me get into a nice rhythm that suits my ability. Towards the end of the ride when fatigue sets in, there’s usually enough battery left to really assist me to my final destination. It’s like an invisible hand pushing you along or up that hill. It’s like magic! Until you try an electric bike, you can’t comment, you can’t say it’s not for me- it’s that simple.

Try before you buy

imageIt’s a big step just to rely on a leap of faith, so take your time with your selection and try it out. You can take a 30-minute or 48-hour e-bike trial at your local Halfords branch and have a full demo of an electric bike experience. Trialling an electric bike is the perfect opportunity for you to discover the benefits of a battery-powered bike. Many other retailers will offer the same, I hired an electric mountain bike for 48 hours at a cost of £75. This might seem a lot of money, but represents around 2.5% of the total cost of an average factory bike. The second alternative is to book a cycling holiday including electric bikes. You can have a holiday in Devon to Italy and more, and though prices do vary, the hire of the bike is inclusive with most holidays. Just ‘Google’- electric bike holidays and explore the options.

Which type of electric bike should I get?

  • Hybrid bicycles blend characteristics from more specialized road bikes, touring bikes and mountain bikes. The resulting "hybrid" is a general-purpose bike that can tolerate a wide imagerange of riding conditions and applications. These are the favoured bike of commuters, having a more upright riding position.
  • Folding Bikes are the favourite bike for commuters who use buses and trains to get to work, due to the restrictions of bike carriage on public transport. Fortunately, these bikes can be treated as hand luggage (batteries can't fly with bike) and continue to travel free. So the concept of a super-compact electric foldable bike caught on.
  • Road bikes. While e-Bikes have grown in popularity amongst mountain bikers, for those fans of a skinnier tyre, the electric bike has traditionally been a shameful pastime, but the rise of the e-road bike has well and truly begun. Road bikes generally have to stick to the road, making your options for a ride limited.
  • Gravel bikes are the relatively new kids on the block, they fit somewhat in the awkward space between mountain bikes and road bikes. They are an evolution from the sport of cyclo-cross, but are now being widely used by ‘roadies’ for touring (called bikepacking) using frame bags (not panniers). They have one single front chain-ring and a wide range of easy gears on the back wheel and wide tyres (but not mountain bike width). All my e-bikes are converted standard bikes, this is the only e-bike I’m tempted to buy brand new, but they aren’t cheap.
  • Mountain bikes are designed for off-road cycling, incorporating features designed to enhance durability and performance on rough terrain. They’re more robust and can take more punishment than the three above bikes. Now the electric revolution has created hoards of thrill seeking punters, the grin on your face will still be there days later.
  • Fat bikes decrease the cumulated pressure of you and the bike on the ground. This is why fat tires easily maintain traction on wet sand, sloshy mud, even when the land is covered in snow. Basically, these electric fat bikes can go anywhere.

Which engine?

When you buy a pre-made electric bike, you may not have the choice of engine size or its position, but it’s worth knowing what you’re getting. With a custom built bike- the choice is yours. So, firstly the size of the engine, the watt’s of the motor can be compared to the CC of a petrol engine. A larger wattage engine will go faster and have more torque, but bear in mind the larger the engine size, the more electricity it will use from the battery.

The position of the motor has a direct impact on how the bike rides and reacts to the terrain. For a more in depth reading of the different types of bike motors, click here. Here are the three types of positional motors.

  • Front hub- Most folding electric bikes have a front motor, front hub motors are easier to install than rear hub motors and so are easier to take out after a puncher. The negative side- front hub motors have less traction and are not suitable for mountain bikes as the wheel will slip.
  • Rear hub motors have the advantages of better traction and stronger frame mounting. They also don’t create a slightly odd gyroscopic effect when steering at higher speeds. Though, rear hub motors can be more limiting when it comes to wheel components such as rims, tires, disc’s, and cassettes, and the width of hub motors often precludes cassettes with more than 8 speed.
  • Mid-drive motors were designed to improve upon a number of shortcomings found in hub motors. They are able to climb steeper and longer hills with more torque than hub motors of a similar power, they're also are less likely to overheat on those long climbs. The disadvantage is you can’t cruse with a mid shaft drive like you can with a hub motor.

Which battery do I need?

A complex question, we’ll try and answer. There’s a lot of technical numbers out there concerning bicycle batteries, but we’ll take one common unit called an ampere/ hour (ah) which basically states how much power the battery would give you over time. The bigger the ‘ah’ the longer and harder you can ride. A 15ah is about the norm and will allow you to ride a fair distance back and forward to work without a charge, any smaller and it will not allow you to ride to your potential.

The larger the ‘ah’ the larger the size, the heavier the weight of the battery, and of course- the more expensive the battery gets. The voltage also affects the ‘ah’ and performance, any lower than 36 volts will return a poor output, the next voltage above 36v is 48 volts. There are three common mounting positions of the battery; rear rack, on top of the downtube or totally integrated into the frame. On a factory bike you will have a smaller choice about the battery, but again a custom made bike- it’s your decision. My mountain bike has a 20ah @ 48v and was custom made in China (where most batteries come from). Of course batteries vary in quality and which ever battery you get, don’t be deterred about buying from China, just insure you have a guarantee of charges against performance.

Can you ride them in the rain?

imageYes! Of course. Modern factory built electric bikes are fully weatherproof, the components are sealed from typical weather and designed to last. They are not 100% waterproof, so the electric components cannot be submerged so riding through deep water like a stream or river is not a good idea. If it's a DIY bike, I wouldn't push the wet stuff too much, manufactured bikes are tried and tested, they have mass produced seals. Every DIY bike is a one off.

Aren’t e-bikes cheating?

For the normal cyclist who potters around the country lanes on weekends, or the family that take the kids out on a cycle path when there’s nice weather, or the people who commute to work- no… absolutely not, it’s not cheating. This year (2020) the world holds the first ebike international mountain series sponsored of course by the ebike manufacturers. For the armchair adrenaline junkies the fastest mountain bike series have been traditionally the down-hiller’s, now this new series promises the uphill to be just as spectacular and of course, there’s going to be country by country leagues supporting this. It’s interesting times. It’s only cheating when a person secretly has assistance in a competition.

What about cheating you out of a workout?

The problem with pottering, touring, or commuting on a bike is- once you have some time off the bike (for example bad weather in the winter), the human body in its endeavour to remain efficient will take away your fitness. So what was an easy commute six months ago, becomes a hard slog. What used to take you twenty five minutes, now takes forty five minutes. The e-bike can soften the blow, it can help you do the same route in the same time, with the same effort you used to put in. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s all relative, how much effort you put in. As you get used to riding again, you can put less human effort in (or get to work faster or potter around the countryside faster).

Still not convinced?

One of my old friends is a top class mtb/ cyclo-cross veteran. Our fitness levels are totally incompatible, so if we ride together, his metabolism barely draws an extra breath, and I’m a bath of sweat, wheezing like a forty a day smoker. Well, I imagehired an electric mountain bike this year and we did a thirty five mile off road ride (we’re talking- woods, bridleways, steep muddy climbs you couldn’t even walk up without spitting feathers) and I gave him a good work out. Okay, I did have to stop for coffee where I charged the battery a little more, but it worked. To see how hard it is to ride off road, click here to read ‘The Trans Cambrian trail’, a trip I did in 2016.

Official British stance

The UK Government have currently (2019) limited our street legal electric bikes to 15.5 mph and with a motor no bigger than 250 watts. The fit chap (I mentioned earlier) is doing sub-twenty minute 10 mile time trials, that’s in-excess of 30mph- on his own steam! And in my day (forgive the cliché) during a race, I once reached 60mph (on a steep downhill with a tailwind of course), honestly! So, restricting the size of the motor and the speed is absolute nonsense. They claim the issue is about the danger of higher speeds on dual pedestrian/ cycle paths, but that’s not about the bike, it’s about the idiot riding it. This issue is the reason most non-electric bikes are not allowed on pedestrian areas now. Dangerous riders can be convicted now under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, which covers ‘wanton and furious driving’ (designed for horse users), but this law is under review and there may become a specific law to prosecute dangerous cyclists. Anything bigger than 250 watts used on the road requires registration with the DVLA and is treated as a light moped (L1e-B), and needs to be insured and taxed as a motor vehicle. In this case, you will also need a driving licence, and you must wear a motorcycle helmet.

The darker side

imageOn the darker side of electric bikes, criminals (mainly drug sellers or mules) use high powered e-bikes to distribute their wares. There’s so many of them around where I live, it is in epidemic numbers (and I use epidemic in the right context- a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease). The funny thing is they’re so conspicuous, it’s patently obvious what they’re doing and who they are. Most use a ‘man bag’ to hold the drugs which hangs around their front (for anyone who rides a bike and wants to carry stuff they use a rucksack, because a man bag would be a pain swinging around), so for anyone who’s against the police ‘stop and search’ (without probable cause), they ought to include a young cyclists on an e-bike with a man-bag as probable cause for a search. I’ve seen police cars driving past them, knowing full well the riders are so quick and nimble, they’ve no chance of catching them. It must be so frustrating for the police and currently, the drug sellers have the upper hand. So here’s the thing- put the police on high powered e-bikes.

Electric bikes are the best thing since sliced bread

imageI’ve fallen in love with electric bikes, and for the casual user, I guarantee an e-bike will change your life, so I pledge- you will love them too. I ride around one thousand miles a year, and it’s unlikely the e-bike will last more than a few years (if that). The batteries condition decays after every charge (ever so slightly), and the motor usually has nylon cogs inside (which eventually wear out), so they are time (or mileage) limited. So in my opinion, expensive e-bikes aren’t worth it for large amounts of miles, but great for casual use. For those reasons be very cautious about buying a second hand electric bike, it might look nice, but know the year and look at the mileage (recorded on the handlebar display). On the other hand, if you know what you’re doing (from research) and take into consideration the refurbishment, you might end up with a bargain. As a few motors flood the market, after-market spares are becoming more frequent, and there’s even two companies in the UK who will restore your e-battery for a fraction of a new one, second hand e-bikes should not be ignored. Five years ago, you’d be lucky to see an e-bike. Now they’re all around with different manufactures coming on board every year. The mid-drive or hub DIY kits have become readily available and are fairly easy to install even with rudimentary knowledge and basic tool kit. For a much more comprehensive look at what, when, where, how- everything you wanted to know about ebikes (but were afraid to ask), click here. There’s even a white paper going before Parliament to petition for subsidies for a new ebike, there are currently grants for low emission cars, vans, even taxis, but none to promote the greenest transport- Bikes.

The question now is; why wouldn’t you get an e-bike?

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