A great piece of advice from Richard Peace, author of ‘Electric Bikes Guide’ on how to choose an electric bike: “If it’s nice to ride without power, it’s a good indication of a quality electric bike”. This guide will walk you through the big questions and suggestions over what electric bike to choose.
First, watch this video: Electric Bikes Experts discuss the best way to go about choosing an electric bike:
Don’t Consider Price First.
Yes, price and what you can afford are a limiting factor, but its more important to get something which works best for you than just find the cheapest model readily available. You don’t want to be two weeks down the road and thinking “if only if only if only...”
TOP TIP: Stay on the right track. Download your free, printable one-page matrix to help you decide between different electric bikes
If you’re planning on using your electric bike on extended trips, more than just across town, more than 20 miles each way and over more hilly terrain, then make sure to choose an electric bike that has excellent battery life.
Broadly speaking, you get two types of bicycle. A step-through and a crossover. A crossover is more like a man’s road bike, and features a bar at the top of the bike. A step-through doesn’t have this so you can mount your bike much easier – useful if your limbs aren’t as flexible.
Pedal-assist bikes vs. Throttle-assist bikes
Pedelecs use motion or torque sensors to add power as you pedal harder, as if you had an extra pair of strong legs helping you cycle. It makes the feeling of cycling really quite natural.
Alternatively, you can have a throttle-assist electric bike which is similar to a moped with a twist grip on the handlebars, or even just a button which you hold down, making you feel eight-year old astronaut again.
This is better if you’re not happy about pedalling constantly, although you do have to pedal to get going, albeit gently. This is so it’s still legally classified as a bicycle, and means you don’t have to hold a licence or pay road tax here in the UK. Throttle-assist electric bikes aren’t legal in all countries however.
Electric bikes often have their batteries mounted behind the saddle, right where you would normally attach bags, shopping, your briefcase and anything else. Depending what you want your electric bike for, keep in mind great storage options.
Is It Easily Adjustable?
Nothing is more annoying and difficult than having a bike with a saddle that is too high, or that has a crossbar at knee level. Being able to adjust a bike easily is really handy, even if you’re not going to tinker with it endlessly once you’ve found a comfortable riding position. Don’t be afraid to ask about this, and try bikes ‘adjustability’ out.
Does it weigh a ton?
Electric bikes are typically heavier than traditional bicycles, but generally speaking you don’t want to get a bike more than 30kg. Above that, it becomes difficult to lift and manoeuvre especially when you’re not riding at speed. Electric bikes are getting lighter and lighter, but be wary of some older models.
At least a 20-mile range
Remember, the figures quoted by dealers aren’t necessarily going to reflect your day-to-day mission. Also remember that batteries need looking after, and even the best ones will lose performance over the years. Try to get a battery that promises at least a 20-mile range, with a reasonable recharge time (a few hours is good). This normally means buying some sort of lithium battery.
Availability of spares and support?
Make sure you stick to a branded electric bike company with a good supply of readily available spares. Having a bike that features standard gauge bicycle features means you can replace everything except the core controller, motor and battery from any bike shop. Ask your dealer about the availability of spare parts.
New vs. Used Electric Bikes
In principle, a used electric bike is a good idea. However, early electric bikes tend to have batteries which use lead-acid or other less-efficient batteries which are far more likely to deteriorate over time than lithium-based batteries. Be prepared to buy a replacement battery in any case.
Take care to look over the actual bicycle (with your local bike shop) as well as the controller, motor and battery before parting with any money. Try it out first, rather than buying blind.
Read our full guide to Used Electric Bikes.
The important issue is getting a kit that doesn’t stress your current bike too much, so a conversion kit definitely isn’t something you should skimp on.
How Much Does an Electric Bike Cost?
Electric bikes can cost anywhere from £500 - £2,500 depending on the model. What you’ll often find though is the better quality, purpose-built bike with great support and dealer networks will cost nearer the top end, but don’t forget its a bargain compared with running a car or getting bus and train tickets.
Don’t forget the hidden cost...
How Much Does the Battery Cost to Replace?
Don’t forget to find out how much the batteries cost to replace. Also, make sure you find out too how long the waranty on the battery itself is. This way you can avoid unexpected costs later on.
Almost all quality electric bikes will have lithium-based batteries (much like your laptop or mobile phone) which should last for at least 3 years before performance really starts to be affected.
The single biggest piece of advice any Electric Bikes Experts will give you is try an electric bike before you buy. By trying out a whole range of different models, you’ll realize what you like and what works for you. And your preferences are going to be very different to mine, or someone elses.
This also helps you work out if your electric bike measures up to the job in terms of real world performance. Got a big hill you’re unsure about, or aren’t convinced it’ll make getting around that much easier?
Try it and see. Besides, its so much fun!
You should definitely try:
At least one hub motor bike
At least one crank-drive bike
Try riding up at least one hill
Finding a Dealer
The first step is finding a dealer. Local dealers are always better for trying places out, but make sure you find somewhere where you can test a whole range of electric bikes out. That’s important for helping you find the perfect electric bike for you.
Google is a great place to start, by searching for ‘electric bikes’ plus your hometown. But it’s also important to know how to assess a dealer.
Assess Your Electric Bike Dealer
You might want to run a few checks on them first. Google them, their address and see what happens. There are some fly-by-night dealers out there hiding behind websites with little or no contact information. Please, please stick only to dealers with:
A landline telephone number. That means no numbers that begin with 07. Phone them up (its a good test of customer service for a start) and ask them when you can come and try some bikes.
A clearly displayed street address. Plug their address straight into Google Earth and see if they’re trading from their house (i.e. stay away) or from a retail park (much more promising!). Also, look for somewhere near them which looks good for an extended electric bike test ride.
They have a range of different electric bikes to try. Its not a one-size-fits-all kind of product. Find a dealer with a wide range of different electric bikes for you to try.
Its always best to ring up before hand to schedule some sort of appointment. That way you can walk into a showroom and have a range handpicked for you read to try out, perhaps some that you’ve requested to have a look at over the phone?
Some dealerships won’t have the most room to try something out. Ask the owners if there’s anywhere nearby you could cycle to and try out a few models. And if you’re not ready to buy straight away, tell them.
What to Do on a Test Drive
Riding up a hill is a great test of an electric bike, as is riding into strong headwinds or anywhere else where cycling would traditionally be a difficult challenge. Also, once you’ve got to the top of the hill, try riding down the hill again at speed - this helps you test whether its a good bicycle or not (pssst! Its also really good fun!)
Test it in different power modes. Most electric bikes have a range of power levels which give you more or less assistance. Experiment with them. Some electric bikes allow you to alternate between pedal and throttle assist, which is worth trying out to. Try the bike out without the power on as well. That’s helps you decide on the quality of the actual bicycle.
Trying more than one electric bike
Make sure you try at least one pedal-assist electric bike, and one throttle-assist electric bike. Try one hub motor and one crank-drive motor too. That way, you’ll know which kind you prefer, since the two are very different.
Take time to think about each bike before you decide. Don’t feel pressured into buying straight away; if necessary, ask if you can take a bike away for an extended test ride near your home.
When you're ready to buy, the next chapter will show you five ways to save money on your new electric bike and how to make sure you get the best bike you can.
What are the best places to go and buy electric bikes, and five tips for saving money on your electric bike.
Want more? Buy the Book
David Henshaw of A to B Magazine, and cycling author Richard Peace have co-written an excellent book on the history, best practices and technology all in one handy book. Available on Amazon for a very reasonable price.