An electric bicycle, or e-bike, looks just like a normal bike but with the addition of a motor and battery. With help from an on-board motor, e-bikes can help riders reach new levels of fitness and achieve goals previously considered unattainable. Great for commuters, an e-bike offers a fast and effortless way to get to work and for mountain bikers and road riders, they open up opportunities to ride further and take on previously unconquerable hills.
The popularity of e-bikes in the UK has risen exponentially in recent years. Offering all of the freedom and benefits of cycling but with a bit of extra assistance, e-bikes are available in all of the same types as conventional bicycles. The majority of electric bike sales in the UK fall into the hybrid or leisure category, however they are becoming increasingly more popular among mountain bikers and road cyclists looking for an extra boost to their riding.
How do electric bikes work?
All electric bicycles sold in the UK will provide power assistance up to the legally defined speed limit of 15.5mph before the motor cuts out. The majority of e-bike motors are housed centrally around the bottom bracket to form the hub of the drivetrain with the batteries located on the down tube, normally integrated. This helps an e-bike retain the look of a conventional bike but with a bit of added weight. This extra weight requires the frame of the bike to be stronger and more robust. Manufacturers are constantly investing to make lighter parts where possible and e-MTB specific components such as wheels, tyres, forks and shocks are evolving to become better and more affordable.
Just like a conventional push bike, an electric bike is propelled forward through the turning of the pedals. Electric motor systems offer varied levels of assistance, to be adjusted depending on fitness levels, terrain and style of riding.
There are several options available when it comes to which motor powers your e-bike – with Bosch, Yamaha and Shimano leading the way. Bosch’s Performance CX system offers an ‘Uphill Flow’ setting, which automatically adjusts the power assistance and their Active Line motor system offers perfect support for touring and commuting. Yamaha’s PW-X drive unit is compact and lightweight and gives major torque and Shimano Steps system has a second battery option and comes with a decoupled engine. There is plenty to choose from for the discerning e-biker.
The motor systems power source come from an attached battery which defines how much assistance goes through the pedals. Batteries vary in wattage from between 250 and 500w, with a higher wattage providing the rider with more power and a greater range. Battery life will depend on running mode, temperature, terrain and a whole host of factors and charging time from empty to full will take up to 6 hours.
Types of Electric Bike
The most common style of e-bike, hybrid or leisure bikes are ideal for commuting, touring and leisure riding. Extremely capable and comfortable, these bikes will eat up the miles with minimal effort. Electric hybrids such as the Cube Touring Hybrid and Kalkhoff Endeavour are packed with commuter friendly features like pannier mounts and mudguards, making them ideal for city riding and commuting.
Electric mountain bikes, or e-MTBs, deliver everything you love about mountain biking plus a little extra. Assistance from a motor opens up new avenues, allowing you to conquer bigger hills and ride for longer. E-MTBs inevitably carry more weight than a standard mountain bike and therefore require heavier and more robust components. Manufacturers are constantly investing to make lighter parts where possible and e-MTB specific components such as wheels, tyres, forks and shocks are evolving to become better and more affordable.
A full suspension e-MTB such as the Cube Stereo Hybrid 160 or Merida eOne Sixty is great for taking on the most technical terrain and with a built-in shuttle service back to the top of the mountain opens up the chance to ride twice as many downhills. If you’re looking to ride a mix of trails and bridleways then a hardtail e-MTB is the way to go. A hardtail from the Trek Powerfly range offers the versatility to ride fun trails as well as cruising bridleways and country tracks.
The newest entry into the world of electric bikes, e-Road is a new concept prioritising low weight and ride feel. Bikes such as the Cannondale Synapse Neo and Focus Paralane² have integrated motor systems which will provide assistance up to speeds of 25kph, after which the motor cuts out and the bike rides just like a conventional road bike. With frame geometries, narrow tyres and drop handlebars mirroring their non-electric counterparts, e-road bikes are for those riders looking to keep pace with the group as the road tilts upwards.
The latest electric road bikes weigh between 12-13kg thanks to constantly evolving technology and lightweight batteries and motors. Many manufacturers offer decoupling battery systems which allow the bike to be ridden as a conventional bike without the added weight. Motor systems from Bosch and Fazua are the most common on performance e-road bikes and offer between 250 and 400 watts of extra power. Different running modes allow you to adjust the assistance to suit the terrain.
The popularity of electric bikes has grown exponentially over the last few years and the trend is set to continue. In 2016, with nearly 35 million unit sales, e-bikes were the highest selling electric vehicle globally. Manufacturers are constantly making improvements to make e-bikes lighter, affordable and more similar to traditional bicycles.
The benefits of an electric bike are numerous and they appeal to many – for commuters they offer a fast and effortless way to get to work and for mountain bikers and road riders they open up opportunities to ride further and more often. As well as opening up new avenues for experienced cyclists, electric bikes offer an entry point to two-wheels for those who may have been previously deterred from taking up cycling. With assistance from a motor, particularly over hilly terrain, an electric bike can help riders reach new levels of fitness and achieve goals previously considered unattainable.
Electric bikes offer all of the freedom and benefits of cycling, but with a bit of extra assistance.