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How + Why To Buy An E-Bike: The Complete Beginner's Guide

Ride on.

Whether you’re wanting to pop to the shop, head to the countryside, or get seriously fit, there’s an e-bike for you. 

Once upon a time, when it came to reporting on summer must-buys, our lists would be comprised of floral dresses, strappy sandals, lightweight foundations, straw hats and colourful handbags. Sometimes, there'd even be an outdoor parasol for the back garden or an Instagram-worthy egg chair. But as a result of the past year, our shopping habits (along with much of the rest of our lives) have completely changed. While the urge to finally change out of loungewear and actually put on makeup is there, this summer's most popular must-have doesn't fit into the fashion or beauty category. Instead, it fits into fitness. 

As the country once again readies itself to lift restrictions and non-essential workers head back to work, we're starting to see an unexpected shopping trend emerge – but this time, it's bikes that are on everybody's wishlist. 

Getting out of the house while avoiding public transportation, and, for some people, getting to work with minimal contact, is now affording bike riding a refreshed appeal. The classic alternative commuting vehicle provides a huge level of freedom of movement while still maintaining socially distant safety precautions. Not only will you be able to rely on it for weekend adventures and daily errands, but you'll also be securing one for your future commutes while they're still in stock — because currently, these goods are selling out like those proverbial hotcakes we're always hearing about.

But unlike summer must-haves of years past, buying a bike isn't as easy as picking up a floral midi dress. Nor is it as easy as it was when you were a kid. Back in the day, you chose a bike in your favourite colour and away you went. Now, you’ve got to decide between gears or fixie, basket or panniers, fixed gear or electric. And it's the latter that should pique your interest. 

Nicknamed ‘E-bike’ (also called power bike or booster bike), it might be the biggest adoption of green transportation of the decade. ‘Cycling is already green,’ you may say, but it’s more than that. Think about them in place of small petrol scooters rather than normal bicycles. E-bikes use rechargeable batteries that can travel up to 25 to 45 km/h, much faster than most people would cycle, getting you to your destination quicker and in better shape. Basically, they offer low cost, energy-efficient, and emission-free transportation which also has physical and health benefits to boot.

Still need convincing? Or you don't know where to start? No problem. To save you the headache of navigating the E-Bike shopping realm, we quizzed Catherine Ellis, founder of Hill & Ellis, a range of high quality, stylish cycle bags, on everything you need to know about e-bikes.

What are the main differences between an e-bike and a regular bike? 

"The main difference is extra power! Both are great it just depends what you want and what kind of riding you are doing," explains Ellis. "E-bikes will be heavier, and you will need to regularly charge the battery but they will help you up hills and get you many places faster. If you have a hilly commute an e-bike could be the difference between you cycling to work instead of jumping in the car or on the bus."

Why are e-bikes so popular at the moment?

"Over the last few years, there has been some excellent developments in battery power technology that has made it cheaper to make good quality and longer-lasting batteries that mean you can ride for longer without the need to charge," tells Ellis. "Added to that, many people are seeing the virtues of cycling – zero or very low running costs, easy to park, not stuck in traffic, no crowds, easy exercise and fun! But if your route is very hilly, or you just want some extra power to help you on your way, then a normal bike might not be enough to get you in the saddle so e-bikes are filling this gap in the market."

Who are e-bikes best suited for?

"Everybody," answers Ellis. "There are so many styles of e-bikes now that you can get a bike for your style of cycling – mountain biking, road biking, commuting, sit up and begs, cargo cycling. The options are endless."

What journeys are e-bikes most suited to?

"E-bikes are now designed for every type of riding so e-bikes are now suited to so many journeys," says Ellis. "You can get pedal assist that basically just gives you a bit of a boost up a hill but still requires you to do much of the work or full-on electric which will work whenever you choose to use the battery power. Most e-bikes now allow for between 25-100 miles of cycling (depending on the battery power) so as long as you choose your bike well you can do short commutes or long tours on an e-bike."

How do e-bikes work?

"The battery pack on the bike uses the battery energy to power the motor. The electric motor provides power assistance when the cyclist is pedalling to ease the amount of effort required," explains Ellis. "The cyclist can choose how much assistance they get from the motor by selecting the power mode on an accompanying head unit. The charge will normally work for 25 – 100 miles of cycling and full charging time is on average about 4 hours with a cost per charge from as little as 10c."

What should we look out for when buying an e-bike?

"There are five main factors that should determine what bike is right for you:

  • Battery Power: This will determine how many ride hours you get and how often it needs to be charged.
  • Charging time: Obviously, if it takes hours to charge you need to factor that into your daily planning. 
  • Weight of the bike: If it's heavy, you might need more power and it's worth considering the weight if you are storing it upstairs. 
  • Price. 
  • If you can use a pannier rack with the bike: some battery packs are placed underneath the pannier rack and this can mean the pannier rack isn't compatible with pannier bags. If you are hoping to put your kit in a pannier bag so your bike carries the load, consider a battery pack that is placed on the bike frame instead."

Do you still get as much exercise when using an e-bike?

"Yes, absolutely. Most e-bikes are pedal-assist so they often kick in when you are struggling up a hill etc. But you are still cycling and exercising with all e-bikes," explains Ellis. "With pedal-assist, you can adjust when you want to use them. But ultimately if you are cycling, with a bit of extra power or not, you are still working your body and you are doing significantly more exercise than if you are on a bus or in a car!"

How do e-bikes differ from other motorised vehicles?

"As they are all-electric, they don’t pump out any fumes like petrol or diesel bikes or cars. They need charging much like an electric car, but of course, the components are smaller and more simplistic so you don’t have to worry about MOTs or serious servicing," tells Ellis. "They are legal to ride on the road, (but not the motorway), you don’t need a licence and the assisted speed can go up to 15.5mph (or 28mph on a peddle assist 28mph bike)."

Are THERE different types of e-bikes:

"There are three types of e-bikes:

  1. Pedal-assist: For this make, you need to peddle to use the motor. When it senses some resistance on the peddles (i.e. you are on an uphill) the motor kicks in and gives you a boost – it’s like having the wind on your back all the time but you still have to peddle.
  2. Throttle only: For this bike, you don't need to peddle to use the motor - it just kicks in when you power up the throttle by selecting the amount of power you want. If you use the motor all the time though on full, the battery will run down so use it accordingly. 
  3. Pedal-assist 28mph: This is the fastest legal e-bike on the market and as it suggests goes up to 28 mph. You don’t need a licence but you do need a helmet.

What maintenance is required owning an e-bike?

"Not much more than a normal bike. But it is definitely worth having regular services as the bike mechanic will check the motor when you take it in," advises Ellis. "Most of the motors are sealed so shouldn’t require any extra maintenance but if you have services every 6 months to a 1 year it will make sure it always runs smoothly. The battery itself is likely to be lithium so you just need to treat it like a battery, don’t let it get too cold or too hot – so if where you live is liable to freezing temperatures I would bring your battery inside when you’re not using it."

What accessories are needed for an e-bike?

"You will need everything you need for normal cycling; so a helmet, lights (many e-bikes have them built-in but it is worth having standard lights just in case your battery runs out) and I would recommend a pannier bag so your bike can carry what you need for the day instead of your back," recommends Ellis.

How much should you expect to spend on an e-bike?

"The cheapest e-bikes start from approx. €500 and can go up to as much as €12,000," says Ellis. "But like with standard bikes, the more you spend the better the components you will get so they will ride better and you won’t need to service them as often. I would say choose the style of bike you like, and then try and spend as much money as you are willing to on a good battery as the battery life and charging time will end up being the success or failure of the e-bike."

Photo by Wolfram Bölte on Unsplash 

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