13 Things You Need to Know About E-Bikes - by Bicycling Magazine's Berne Broudy
If you're thinking about trying out an e-bike, here are a few things you should know.
E-bikes have certainly taken off in recent years, and riders interested in picking one up now have several options available to them. But how economical are they really? Are they easy to operate and maintain? And how do they ride? Here, we take a look at the thirteen things you should know about these two-wheeled machines.
How They Ride
Speedy Enough: Think cars are that much faster than an e-bike? Think again. The average car speed for around-town driving is 18 mph. Average e-bike speed? A very respectable 15 mph.
Yes, They Still Count as Exercise: A new University of Colorado Boulder study says that regular e-bike usage has health benefits. Though they’re pedal assist, a e-bike can still give you a workout, improving your cardiovascular health, fitness, and aerobic capacity. The results were most prevalent in previously sedentary riders.
They Eliminate Much of the Heavy Lifting: Many e-bikes let you haul a load sweat-free. For example, Extracycles’ Bosch Electric Assist system helps you maintain an average speed of 15 mph, even when you’re bike is loaded with 400 pounds' worth of rider and gear.
Dollars and Sense
Budget Travel: Many e-bikes are cheaper to operate per mile than a car. According to e-bike manufacturer Elby’s calculations, the average annual cost of maintaining and operating a car is $9,283. Compare that to their calculated average annual cost of maintaining and operating an e-bike, which is just $390. The fuel's cheaper, too: the cost of a 12-gallon gasoline fill-up is about $33.60 (12 gallons at $2.85/gallon). Cost to fully charge an e-bike, on the other hand, is about $0.50 (480 watt/hr battery at $0.10/kwh).
They're Kind of a Bargain: E-bikes are less expensive than you might think—in fact, you can buy one new for under $1,000. (They vary greatly in technology, design and price, however, so be sure to read reviews and try a few models out in person before you hand over your credit card; it's important to know what you’re getting—and not getting—for your money.)
You Can Go Long(ish): E-bikes are great for commuting and even some long-distance travel. Consider this: a car can travel about 289 miles on a tank of gas (assuming an average of 24.1 miles per gallon for a 2015 model year car). Extracycles go 18-60 miles per charge, and a fully charged Elby e-bike can go 95 miles on gentle terrain. (Some e-bikes even have ranges greater than electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and the BMW i3.)
It's Easy to Plug In: If you can find an outlet, you can charge your bike. Unlike electric cars, which require dedicated charging stations, most e-bikes plug in anywhere. Some even have removable batteries, which make it even more convenient to charge. (Elby says to plan around four hours to get their e-bikes fully charged.)
You Can DIY: It's possible to turn any pedal bike into a pedal-assist bike with devices like the Copenhagen wheel, or retrofit kits from BionX, E-Rad, and LEED USA.
Some Throttle, Some Don't: Not all e-bikes have a throttle. In some, the bike's electric assist technology kicks in when sensors determine the rider needs help in a headwind or getting up a hill.
Rules of the Road
Free to Roam the Road: According to California state law, any pedal-driven e-bike with a max speed of 20 mph can use any of the state's bike lanes, bike paths, bike trails or off-street bikeways. (E-bikes are still pretty new, so in many areas, the CA law is the accepted standard in absence of local regulations.)
Bicycle or Motorcycle? It Depends: In 37 US states and Canadian Provinces, e-bikes are considered bicycles—not motorized vehicles. In 29 states and provinces, it’s legal to ride e-bikes on bike paths; in 27 states and provinces, however, you’ll need a license to ride. Where e-bikes are classified as motorcycles, riding on bike paths is illegal. (Seem confusing? People for Bikes has some great online resources to help you familiarize yourself with the rules of the road in your state, like a link to Portland State University’s e-Bike Laws by State and Province.)
Yes, There Are Age Limits: According to Portland State University’s TREC Transportation Insight for Vibrant communities, as of December 2015, at least 40 US states and Canadian provinces had a minimum operator age for e-bikes, typically 14 or 16 years of age. In Alberta, 12 year olds can operate an e-bike, but in Quebec, you must be 18.
They're Entering the Public Domain: There’s a good change that e-bikes are coming soon to a city bikeshare program near you, especially if you live in California. The Golden State’s goal to get 1.5 million zero-emissions vehicles on the road by 2025 has opened up the funding pot, inviting electric bike share providers to apply.