The e-bike market is changing rapidly as new technology makes it easier to store, charge and maintain batteries that offer increasingly large ranges for long-distance travel. The advantages of electric bikes are numerous, and buying one can offer an exciting change of pace from the normal routine of driving a car. With so many types of electric bikes available and new ones appearing every year, it can help to learn a little about the market before investing in this emerging technology.
Types of E-Bikes
Modern electric bikes have been around since the 1990s when Japanese manufacturer Yamaha produced the first commercially available bicycles with pedal-assist technology. Those early prototypes were limited and expensive, but the technology has rapidly expanded over the years to make electric bikes a major industry.
Today, there are countless types of e-bikes in production, covering every situation you could possibly encounter while living in a city. From standard commuter bikes to off-road bikes and everything in between, manufacturers are now producing parts and equipment for an ever-growing number of activities.
The advantage of an electric bike is that it reduces the amount of energy needed to turn the pedals and make the bike go. Because it’s still legally a bicycle, it can travel in bike lanes, on trails and anywhere else bikes are allowed to travel.
However, the law restricts electric bikes to a top speed of 28 mph, and most models travel no faster than 20 mph. For this reason, the primary use of electric bikes is to assist city-dwellers in their daily commutes and to offer an enhanced level of fun on the trails.
Pedal-assist technology is ideal for people who otherwise may not be able to ride long distances on a bicycle. While top-of-the-line electric bikes can offer assisted commuting as well as motorized off-roading, most models are suitable mainly for grocery shopping and daily commuting.
The earliest electric bikes used rechargeable lead-acid batteries for power, making them extremely heavy, somewhat dangerous and limited in capacity. Most of today’s models use lithium-ion technology for a lighter weight and better capacity, but some bikes may use lithium-cobalt or nickel-cadmium batteries for longer distances and smaller profiles.
While lead-acid batteries are still available for electric bicycles, they offer the smallest capacity of all bike batteries. Because they’re the least expensive option, many cyclists choose lead-acid batteries for short commutes where running out of power wouldn’t be an issue.
Some of the less common types include nickel-metal-hydride, lithium-manganese and lithium-ion polymer. They offer easier maintenance and storage over other types of batteries in certain cases, but most riders will prefer the universal availability of lithium-ion technology for their daily cycling. Lithium-ion technology makes it easy to keep electric bikes charged and ready to ride.
While early batteries, such as nickel-cadmium and nickel-metal-hydride, required deep cycling to fully discharge before recharging, lithium-ion batteries will hold a charge without completely discharging first. Therefore, recharging a lithium-ion cell is like topping off a gas tank even when there’s still some fuel left in it. The battery will function normally as long as you don’t put it in storage while completely discharged, which could permanently destroy it.
Recharging Speed and Accessibility
It can take around six hours to fully recharge lithium-ion bike batteries, but some chargers can finish the job in less than four hours. To recharge a battery, simply plug the charger into a wall outlet and wait until the indicator light shows that it’s charged.
If you only need a partial charge, you won’t have to wait the full length of time. Modern chargers can recharge bike batteries quickly. You may only need to charge your batteries halfway to have enough power to get home. A charge of around thirty minutes could give you enough power to get to your next destination, especially if you minimize the discharge rate by pedaling as you ride.
Although bike- and car-charging stations are popping up in major cities around the country, they’re still relatively uncommon. You can recharge your bike batteries in any public place with an available wall outlet, such as a library or restaurant. The disadvantage of charging batteries in public is that you’ll have to carry a charger with you, which could take up space in your bag or cargo trunk.
How Batteries Affect Range
Instead of stopping at a public place to recharge your batteries, you may prefer to simply buy a battery with sufficient range for your needs. By pedaling when necessary to conserve power, you can make your rounds for the day without needing a recharge.
The capacity of your bike’s batteries limits the distance you can travel before you have to start pedaling. While an electric car will need a tow truck when it runs out of power, an electric bike will still offer the option of pedal power. Therefore, your bike’s true range is a combination of your batteries’ capacity and your ability to pedal.
Cost and Maintenance
The least expensive way to try out an electric bike is with a conversion kit, which could enable you to motorize your ordinary bicycle for $1,000 to $1,500. A purpose-built electric bike could cost $2,500 or more with high-end models going for $7,000 to $10,000.
While electric bikes are much less costly to maintain than other motorized vehicles, they require new batteries about every two years. Lithium-ion bike batteries can cost $500 to $800, depending on the capacity.
The Benefits of Owning an Electric Bike
If you want to get exercise while commuting without arriving at your destination covered in sweat, an electric bike could be for you. Electric bikes offer affordability, versatility and convenience in many situations.
With an e-bicycle, you won’t have to worry about gas prices or traffic congestion ever again. You’ll be able to pedal uphill as easily as downhill, and you could travel up to 20 miles in one hour with minimal effort.