Electric Bikes have been around for a long time. Longer than you think. The first electric bikes were patented in 1895 by Ogden Bolton Jr., and in 1897 by Hosea W. Libbey.
These early bikes were futuristic with technology that was ahead of their time. Because of that, they tended to be bulky, heavy and not very efficient.
As bicycles advanced in technology with lighter aluminum frames, efficient gearing and high quality components, the electric bicycle was left behind.
Technology has now caught up with this concept in a big way. Today’s e-bikes are lighter and more efficient then ever. They are designed with compact motors and efficient batteries that are perfectly melded with the technology in a standard bicycle.
Table of contents
- The Electric Bike Revolution
- Laws Regulating Electric Bikes
- The 3 Classes of Electric Bicycles
- Electrical Bicycle Safety
- Different Types and Styles of Electric Bikes
- Components of Electric Bikes
- Drive Motors in Electric Bikes
- Brake Systems in Electric Bikes
- Hydraulic Braking System vs Mechanical Braking System
- Battery in Electric Bikes
- Electric Bicycle Controls
- LCD Display
- Electric Bike Conversion Kit
- Shopping Tips for Electric Bikes
- Frequently asked questions about electric bikes
The Electric Bike Revolution
Welcome to the future!!
As technology advanced, so have electric bikes. It wasn’t until more recently that electric bikes started becoming more practical with the advancements in electric motors and battery technology.
Some of these advancements have been pushed by society’s demand to have a cleaner mode of transportation. Because of this demand, the technology of traditional bicycles have been melded together with advanced electric power.
Now anyone can enjoy getting out on back roads or commuting to work with a reduced carbon footprint, not just fit people.
Electric bikes are a great green mode of transportation, especially in urban settings where vehicle emissions are high.
This is a large part of what has driven the rise of the ebike revolution.
Laws Regulating Electric Bikes
The popularity of electric bicycles has driven most states to adopt laws that regulate the use of e-bikes. This has been driven primarily by PeopleForBikes. They developed a “3 class” system to bring clarity to e-bike regulations.
Electric bicycle manufacturers are now required to place a visible sticker on the bicycle frame that clearly identifies the class of the e-bike.
California was on the forefront of adopting this 3 class system in law in 2015. Since then, many states have followed suit. Some states have laws that regulate e-bikes, without using the clarity of the 3 class system.
A little research may be required to determine how the different classes are defined in your state if the 3 class system isn’t used.
There are three classes, or types, of electric bikes. All three classes have been limited to a motor size of 750 Watts, or 1 horse-power.
1000 Watt motors, or larger, can be used on e-bikes, but they won’t be legal for use on most streets.
The 3 Classes of Electric Bicycles
Class 1 Electric Bikes – Pedal-Assist (20MPH)
These e-bikes have no throttle and have a top speed of 20MPH. With these bikes the electric motor only begin to function when pedaling, and stops assisting when the bicycle speed reaches 20MPH.
When the electric motor is engaged, pedaling these bikes feel almost effortless.
Class 2 Electric Bikes – Throttle-Assisted
The electric motor on class 2 e-bikes have a throttle that allows the motor to function with or without pedaling. Also, the motor stops working at 20MPH.
When checking your local laws you may find that class 2 bikes are not allowed on most roads or paths without special permits or licensing.
Class 3 Electric Bikes – Pedal-Assist (28MPH)
These bicycles have a pedal assist electric motor just like class 1 e-bikes. However, the motor allows for a maximum speed of 28MPH.
For updated information on laws pertaining to e-bikes, check out PeopleForBikes. They offer a lot of information and resources for bicycle activists and those looking for information on laws in different states within the United States.
Electrical Bicycle Safety
Here’s a great video from Trek Bikes on how to be safe on an electrical bike.
If you don’t know how to ride a bike at all, then check out this great video by electricbikereviews.com. This video teaches you how to quickly learn to ride a bike.
Different Types and Styles of Electric Bikes
Electric bikes, also called e-bikes, now come in a variety of different styles and classes. Todays electric bikes have a sleek design that allow you to enjoy the great outdoors in style.
There are commuter bikes, mountain bikes, beach cruisers, cargo bikes and folding bikes. There are also a lot of options if you are looking for an electric scooter or an electric trike.
As e-bikes become increasingly popular, manufacturers are becoming more creative with different styles and designs. Now, just about anyone can find an e-bike that is perfect for their wants and needs.
Electric Commuter Bikes
An electric commuter bike is designed for commuting to work, running errands, and general use. Typically they have narrower road tires, a powerful motor and can cover longer distances on a single charge. Even at higher speeds.
They also have accessories that allow for storage and fenders to keep your clothes clean.
Electric Cruiser Bikes
Cruisers are generally built for comfort and are a great bike for recreational use on flat paved surfaces. They typically have fat tires for a smooth ride, a more comfortable seat and high handle bars that allow for an upright riding position.
They may also have front suspension to absorb impact on uneven surfaces. These bike are perfect when you are looking for a versatile ebike that provides a little extra push on longer rides.
Electric Road Bikes
A road bike is designed for one thing…speed. They are lightweight bikes with narrow tires and low handlebars that position the rider leaning forward in an aerodynamic position.
These bikes don’t typically have a lot of accessories or attachments. This keeps the bike as light as possible.
Electric Mountain Bikes
Electric mountain bikes are built for going off-road on your favorite trails. They have wider tires and features that enable them to handle rough terrain.
The handlebars are set lower for a more balanced ride, and the motor has enough power to handle hills. Meanwhile, front and rear shocks absorb rough terrain.
All Terrain Bikes
All terrain e-bikes have a combination of features that are good, not great, for street riding or for going off-road. They are perfect for those who want to use their bike for a little of everything.
These are bikes that can fold into a compact form for storage or transportation. They are typically cruiser style bikes that are perfect for taking with you for recreational riding.
This style of bike is awesome for those who have very limited space to store their bike.
A cargo bike will have a lot of storage built into the frame and are a perfect replacement for a car. They are great for hauling groceries or taking the kids out with you.
These bike have a lot of the comforts of a cruiser, but with additional storage for cargo.
Components of Electric Bikes
Electric bikes have several different components that make them different from a standard bike. They have an electrical motor that assists the drive system, a rechargeable battery, drive system controls and many have an LCD display.
Drive Motors in Electric Bikes
Mid-Drive Motors, Hub Motors and Friction Motors are three types of motors used in the drive system of e-bikes. The different types of motors are used in different applications and all of them have different benefits and drawbacks that make them better for specific applications.
More and more companies are now manufacturing e-bike motors. Bosch, Yamaha, Shimano, Specialized, Stromer, Impulse, TDCM, Bionx, Xion, Dapu and Panasonic are some of the major manufacturers.
Mid-drive motors are positioned in the middle of the bike’s frame. They are mounted between the cranks and generate torque to a shaft through a chainring. This system supplements the pedal drive to provide power through the bike’s chain drive, rather than providing an independent power source.
To optimize the system’s performance, the motor will have a gear reduction system. The motor’s shaft turns at a much faster rate than the rider is pedaling. The internal gear reduction system changes the shaft’s RPM to match the rider’s pedal cadence.
These motors will also have a sensor that cuts power to the motor when the rider changes gears. This prevents wear on the chain drive system from the torque generated by the motor. Some low-end motors may not have this feature, so pay attention to this when looking at the motor.
Hub drive motors are located within the wheel hub of the bike. Most e-bikes have the motor located within the hub of the rear wheel. Some e-bike may have the motor located in the front hub or even have both a front and rear drive system.
There are two different types of hub drive motors, Direct Drive Hub Motors and Geared Hub Motors.
Direct Drive Hub Motors
These motors replace the wheel shaft and are the simplest drive system. The motor propels the bike by spinning around the fixed shaft.
Direct Drive Hub Motors are generally larger in diameter and can generate electricity during braking. Because of this, they tend to be more efficient and can increase the overall range of your battery and increase your stopping power.
This direct drive system is best for fast longer commutes over flat surfaces. They are also good for climbing gradual hills and offering a fun ride.
Geared Hub Motors
Geared Hub Motors have a smaller motor that spins at a much higher speed. The shaft is then geared using a system of planetary gears that spin the hub at a lower speed.
This geared system provides more torque for climbing hills and carrying loads, but doesn’t have as much top end speed.
These motors tend to be smaller in diameter because the motor does not have to be as large, but they are wider due to the gearing within the hub.
Unlike the direct drive hub system, the geared hub motors don’t generate electricity from braking.
They usually have a freewheel feature that reduces the drag on the hub. This makes them operate and feel much like a traditional bike when coasting.
Friction motors use an external wheel that pushes against the rear tire. This spins the tire and drives the bike forward.
This system is not used on bikes that are manufactured as electric bikes. They are typically bolt on systems that convert a regular bike into an e-bike.
Most conversion kits feature a friction drive motor that bolts onto the bike’s frame.These are perfect for someone looking for a cheaper alternative to buying an electric bike.
These systems are also easy DIY upgrades to your existing bike and can be a lot of fun. They can also be interchangeable to different bikes or be transferred to a new bike.
The only downsides to this drive system is that it can be a bit awkward and bulky. They may also cause extra wear to your tire.
Brake Systems in Electric Bikes
There are generally two different types of braking systems that are used on most modern bicycles, including e-bikes. They are mechanical and hydraulic disc brakes.
The brake lever is kinda like the brake pedal on a car, except that you can control the front and rear brakes independently.
A hydraulic braking system and a mechanical brake system will have brake levers attached to the handlebars. Some other components may be integrated into the levers, such as gear shifters, but all brake systems will have braking levers.
By law the lever for the front brakes will be on the left side and the lever for the rear brakes will be on the right side.
Most brake levers will have some kind of adjustment that can fine tune the braking system. For example, a mechanical system may have barrel adjusters to adjust the cable length, which can shorten or lengthen the pull length.
The brake lines on a mechanical braking system have tubes that run from the lever to the caliper.
These tubes have a cable that runs through them and are connected to the lever on one end and the caliper on the other end. When you pull the lever, the cable actuates the caliper.
The brake lines in a hydraulic braking system are sealed and filled with a fluid. When the lever is pulled on a hydraulic braking system it causes pressure to build, which causes the caliper to actuate.
The brake caliper is attached to the frale at the front of the bike for the front brakes and the rear of the bike for the rear brakes.
The caliper has two brake pads and a piston. When pressure is applied to the brake lever the piston is pushed out, which closes the distance between the two brake pads and squeezes the brake rotor.
The harder the lever is squeezed, the more braking pressure is applied by the caliper.
The front brakes and the rear brakes will have their own rotor. The rotors are attached to the wheels and turn at the same RPM as the wheels.
When the brake lever is pulled, the caliper squeezes the rotor between the brake pads. This causes friction and slows the wheels.
The larger the rotor the more braking power you will have. Also, a larger rotor will dissipate heat more efficiently.
A buildup of heat is one of the most devastating things to any braking system. It can damage the rotors and the brake pads.
Hydraulic Braking System vs Mechanical Braking System
These two different systems operate in very similar ways and both have similar components.
Both of these systems operate through friction similar to the way a car’s brake system functions.
Which Braking System is Better?
This is a debate that bicycle enthusiasts will argue at nauseum. Well, neither system is really better than the other…they’re just different.
A mechanical system can be fine tuned much easier that a hydraulic system. However, the hydraulic system tends to be more rugged. It’s also a sealed system, so dirt and water won’t get into the cable any many other moving parts.
If you are using your bike for going off road and trail riding, then a mechanical system may be better if you plan on needing to tune your brakes based on the terrain.
However, if you are using your bike for casual riding or commuting, then a hydraulic system may be better for you.
When both systems are operating properly you probably won’t even notice a difference between a hydraulic and mechanical system. Unless, that is, you are more in tune to your bike’s performance.
Battery in Electric Bikes
The battery in an electrical bike is arguably the most important part of the system. It determines how much power is available to your motor and determines how far you can go on your bike.
Most electric bikes are equipped with a Lithium-ion battery. These batteries are compact, lightweight and can be recharged many times before a loss in capacity.
Bikes that have a longer range will have a larger batter with a higher watt-hour capacity. These long-range batteries are perfect for commuter bikes or those wanting to increase their maximum range.
Electric bikes have an integrated battery that is usually placed in a few different positions.
Some bikes have the battery mounted on the down tube. This provides a balanced feel and is a popular mounting position for mountain e-bikes.
The battery may also be mounted on a rear rack, a front basket or even toward the base of the bicycle.
Electric Bicycle Controls
The controls on electric bicycles are mostly the same as a standard bicycle. However, some electric bicycles may offer controls for the throttle and gearing of the motor.
While in pedal assist mode, these controls can increase or decrease the power levels to change through different levels of pedal assist.
Electric bicycles are also often equipped with lighting that is built into the bike and run off the bike’s battery. Your bike may have controls that operate the lighting system.
Most Electric Bicycles feature an LCD screen that provides important information. Depending on your bicycle, some will provide more detailed information and some will be pretty simplistic.
LCD Screens on electric bicycles commonly display the following information:
- Battery level
- Pedal assist level
- Bicycle specific information
Electric Bike Conversion Kit
An electric bicycle conversion kit is a great way to upgrade a standard bike to an e-bike at an affordable price.
These kits are a common way to create DIY electric hybrid bikes. Instead of purchasing individual components, most kits come with everything you need for the conversion.
Older conversion kits consisted of a friction motor that drove the tire. Technology advancements have provided hub drive and mid-drive options.
Some of most simple conversion kits entail simply swapping out the front wheel. Other conversion kits may take a bit more work, such as a mid-drive conversion, but are often the best investment.
Shopping Tips for Electric Bikes
- Check with local bike shops that offer test rides on different styles and models.
- Before heading to a bike shop to test ride bikes, be sure to know how you plan on using your bike.
- When shopping on-line, be sure the bike frame is the right size. The right electric bike will have the features you need and will also fit your size and weight.
- When shopping for an e-bike, pay attention to what company makes the motor, what kind of warranty is offered on the motor and how easy that company is to work with when a problem arises.
- Check with local bike shops in your area for a shop that work on e-bikes. Some shops only work on standard bikes, so you may have to do some searching for a dealer or bike shop that can service your new bike.
- When buying an electrical bicycle, be sure to check the Watt hour (Wh) rating on the battery. This is the “size” of the battery. It’s a huge factor in determining the weight of the battery and how far you can go between recharging the battery.
- Know your price range. Some companies offer financing on their bikes.
- If you are virtual shopping, check for companies that will have your new bike shipped directly to your local shop. This is often less expensive that having the bike shipped to your address.
- Do your research on the laws in your area. Most cities have ordinances that regulate e-bikes. These ordinances may be different than state law.
Frequently asked questions about electric bikes
What is the average price of an electric bike?
Electrical bicycles can vary greatly in price. Most quality electrical bikes will cost around $2000. However, prices can range from about $500 to about $15,000 for top quality bikes.
Most companies offer financing for those purchasing an electric bike. Check out the company website to see if that’s an option, or talk to a dealer.
How fast does an electric bike go?
Electric bicycles are designed to go either 20MPH or 28MPH.
This is largely due to the laws regarding the use of electric bicycles. Class 1 and class 2 electric bikes will have a top speed of 20MPH, and class 3 electric bikes will have a top speed of 28MPH.
What are the disadvantages of electric bikes?
- Cost more that a standard bike
- Heavier that standard bikes
- More parts to maintain
- Batteries have a limited lifespan
- The bike’s use is determined by the battery life
- They have to be recharged
- You won’t get as much exercise with an electric bike
What are the advantages of an electric bike?
- They can be used with less effort
- Commuter friendly in urban areas
- Lower your carbon footprint
- Provides a way for anyone to enjoy biking
Are electric bikes worth it?
Absolutely! Electric bikes are more expensive than a standard bike; however, if you are using your electric bike for commuting you will soon save money over having to pay for gas in a car. They are also a great green alternative to relying on fossil fuels.
Why are electric bikes bad?
A downside to electric bikes is their reliance on lithium-ion batteries.
These batteries have a history of being highly combustible. But, with proper care and treatment they are very safe. Furthermore, with the advancement of battery technology Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries will become a safer more efficient alternative.
Is an electric bike still good exercise?
Electric bicycles can still be good exercise, depending on how it’s used.
If you are constantly using the motor to assist you, then you won’t get much exercise. Alternatively, if you use the assist sparingly you will get more exercise and your battery life will last longer.
Can electric bikes get wet?
Yes, most electric bikes have systems that meet IPX4 water-resistant standards.
You should check with your manufacturer to be sure your bike meets these standards if you plan on using your bike in inclement weather.
How often should I charge my electric bike?
How often you charge your electric bike depends greatly on how often you use the bike. If you are using it daily, then consider charging it on the same basis.
That being said, the lithium-ion batteries that power most electrical bikes don’t have a memory and can be charged even when just partially depleted.
However, after around 500 charges they begin to loose their capacity.
Purchasing an electric bike is a great step in going green. So, if you are serious about reducing your carbon footprint, or just looking for a fun ride, go find the bike that suits you best!
I strongly encourage you to continue going green with a solar generator to charge your electric bike.
Solar generators are perfect to keep your bike charged. Especially on trips to the mountains or heading out to the beach.
Check out this article: 13 Best Solar Generators for Camping – 2022 Buyer’s Guide