Electric bike, ebike, pedal assist bike

What’s all the buzz about an electric bike?

8 things you need to know about ebikes

I continue to love my electric bike. As shared in other blogs, I developed exercise-induced asthma late in life and it took a toll on my bike riding. Discovering an electric assist bike liberated me and as a result, I’m back on the bike, riding locally and on vacation. I continue to get lots of questions since writing the first electric bike Frequently Asked Questions article, so here’s a second installment.

What is an electric bike? How does it work?

When someone hears the term electric bike, they often picture an electric scooter or motorcycle. But electric bikes are quite different. Picture a traditional bike with the addition of motor, battery and controller. Some electric bikes do have a throttle in addition to pedal assist mode, but extended use would quickly drain the battery. Electric bikes provide varying levels of assistance to make pedaling easier, but don’t replace pedaling. Sensors detect the amount of load on the pedals and pedal cadence, adding motor assistance when the load is greatest … think steep hill or strong headwind.

Electric bike, ebike, pedal assist bike
Off for a ride through Kentucky on my electric bike. The saddle bag has a second battery to extend mileage.

How much help does the electric motor provide?

The amount of motor assistance is variable and controlled by the rider. My Easy Motion ebike has four levels of assist:

  • ECO – The rider provides about 90 percent of the effort and the motor provides about 10 percent under load. Essentially, in ECO mode, the motor helps offset the additional weight of an electric bicycle. I ride in ECO or with the system off entirely when the hills are minimal and I want a good workout.
  • Standard – This is the norm for most rides.
  • Sport and Boost – Provide more assistance, but take a toll on battery life so I avoid these.

How far can you go on an electric bike?

The manufacturer rates my electric bike at 30-40 miles per charge. It all depends on the intensity of wind, hills and the assist setting. I frequently get 55-60 miles per charge. To extend my ride duration, I purchased a second battery to change out during a longer ride.

How fast can an ebike go?

By law, an ebike cannot exceed 20 mph under motor power alone. Some ebikes can achieve speeds up to 28 mph with the biker pedaling using pedal assist. Above 28 mph the motor stops providing assistance, but the sky is the limit. You can pedal an electric assist bike and make it go as fast as any other bike.

Transport electric bicycle, ebike, ebike rack
Transporting an electric bike requires a wheel-mount bike rack rated for 50-plus pounds per bicycle.

How much does an electric bike weigh?

An ebike typically weighs about 50 pounds. Traditional road or mountain bikes weigh 16-25 pounds. The additional weight turns many people off because an ebike is a beast to lift into a car or mount on a bike rack. But the alternative for me is not riding at all, so I happily put up with the extra weight. When possible, I get a buddy to help me load the bike. If it’s just me, I remove the battery to lighten the load. Even at 50 pounds, the pedal assist system negates the effort that would be required to manually power a heavier bike.

How do you transport such a heavy bike?

I use a wheel-mount bicycle rack that attaches to the car via a trailer hitch. Frame-mount or roof-mount racks would not support the weight of an e-bike. Just be sure the rack you are looking at is rated for 50-plus pounds per bike. Other times I load the bike in the back of my Subaru Outback. My front tire has a quick release so I pop the wheel off to make loading in the car easier.

Can you ride an ebike in the rain?

This was one of my concerns in purchasing an ebike because we are often caught in the rain riding or driving to bike destinations. Electric bike motors and batteries are made to withstand most rain and puddles. But my manufacturer does suggest getting off the road if caught in heavy downpours during a ride, which we would do on a traditional bike anyway. We’ve had the bike mounted on the car and driven through many downpours without incident.

How can I try an electric bike?

Ebike dealers are happy to arrange a demo ride for you. You should try out different types of bikes to see what suits you best and ride them on a variety of terrain. Be sure you include some daunting hills. You’ll surely smile when you feel the electric motor kick in as you start to climb. Beyond demo rides, many shops offer daily electric bike rentals. I recommend this so you can spend an entire day on the bike.

The first time I experienced an ebike was in Sonoma, California. Thorny and I did a guided bike tour with Napa Valley Bike Tours on traditional bikes. At this time I was only vaguely aware of electric bikes. The countryside and wineries were splendid, but I suffered several times during the ride because of my asthma. One rider had an ebike provided by the shop and I asked her about it. She explained that her husband and adult kids were experienced riders and she used an ebike to enjoy riding without holding everyone back. The next day, Thorny and I returned to the shop and I rented an ebike for the day. What a difference! We revisited several of the same places that had nearly defeated me the day before and I did the climbs with ease. The ebike allowed us to venture out to distant places that I lacked the confidence to attempt on a traditional bike.

My next ebike experience was cycling the Big Island of Hawaii with Backroads, an active travel company that includes electric bicycles at no additional charge for guests. We spent six glorious days exploring the entire island, including several days of 1,000-foot-plus elevation gain and a 50-mile day in strong winds.

Keep your questions coming and I’ll try to answer them in future blogs!