An e-bike’s battery and motor don’t just make cycling easier – they change how you use a bicycle and how you look after it.
E-bikes are like normal bikes when it comes to the law, aside from a few regulations of their own, and they’re even easier to ride. Yet there are some practical differences in terms of owning and using one.
While normal bikes that are heavy are hard work to ride, an e-bike’s motor more than compensates. A 20kg e-bike doesn’t ride like a 20kg non-electric bike. It’s only difficult when you come to lift it. (Some e-bikes have a walk mode, incidentally, which helps when pushing it up slopes.)
The power from an e-bike’s motor doesn’t usually kick as soon as you start to pedal. There’s a momentary delay – negligible on some models, obvious on others. This can make it hard to get going at uphill junctions and/or when carrying a heavy load. Try to anticipate this and shift into a lower gear as you approach such junctions so you can set off more easily.
Your speed will vary less on an e-bike than a conventional bike. Any time you’re doing less than 25km/h (15.5mph), the motor will keep you cruising along irrespective of hills or headings. You might overtake fit road cyclists going uphill. Your top speed, however, will likely be lower. Beyond 25km/h you’ll get no assistance. You’ll effectively be riding a heavy, unpowered bike. What’s more, you’re likely to feel some additional drag from the idle motor.
If you regularly want to ride faster than 15.5mph, choose an e-bike with a low-drag motor (for example, a MAHLE X35+ rear hub motor). If you’ll mostly stay under 15.5mph, a heavier, higher-torque crank motor from the likes of Bosch should suit you better.
E-bikes are more expensive than unassisted bikes, other things being equal, so it’s more important to have a good lock, as well as insurance to cover you against theft. For cycle storage at home, you may also want a ground anchor and a big chain.
Because e-bikes are heavier than normal bikes, you need to consider steps and stairs. Can you wheel your e-bike to where you’ll park it or will you have to lift it? Detaching the battery (possible on most but not all e-bikes) will save some weight but the motor still adds a substantial chunk. Weight alone may affect your choice of e-bike. Some are less than 12kg; many are twice that. If you can wheel it to where it needs to go, on the other hand, even a really heavy machine like a cargo e-bike should be easy to live with.
Whenever you park your e-bike away from home, take the usual precautions such as locking it through the frame to a solid piece of street furniture, in a location in public view. The battery itself will generally lock in place on (or in) the bike so you shouldn’t need to take it with you.
You’ll need to recharge your e-bike’s battery whenever it doesn’t have enough charge remaining for your next journey. That might be weekly. It might be daily. It depends on: battery capacity; journey distance; power mode used; terrain; weather; and the weight of the rider and any load. If your commute is really long and your e-bike doesn’t have the range to get you to work and back, you’ll need to carry a spare battery or leave a charger at work.
You can remove the battery from most e-bikes. If you can’t, you’ll have to park the bike within reach of a power socket. Don’t let the battery get wet, cold or too hot while it’s charging. Inside a building and out of direct sunlight is best. Any good quality e-bike will come with a smart charger that won’t cook the battery by continuing to feed power into it. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to use a wall socket timer so you don’t leave the battery on charge when it doesn’t need to be (e.g. overnight). It might prevent an accident and will slightly reduce your electricity bill.
Modern lithium-ion e-bike batteries can be recharged at least 500 times, and often 1,000 times or more. That should last you several years of e-bike use. Battery capacity slowly degrades over time. Eventually, you’ll need to replace the battery, which will cost several hundred pounds.
Batteries don’t like the cold. Capacity, and thus range, is reduced in wintery conditions. If the battery becomes freezing cold, you can damage the power cells if you try to recharge it in that state. It’s best to recharge the battery at room temperature.
Batteries shouldn’t be stored or charged in direct sunlight or near strong heat sources. If they become too hot, or if there’s a fault, they can combust. E-bike battery fires are rare but do happen. Make sure: that the battery isn’t near flammable materials when it’s charging; that there’s a working smoke alarm in the vicinity; that you’re using the manufacturer’s recommended charger and that it’s in good condition.
E-bike batteries and motors are generally very rain resistant when they’re on your bike; the IP rating will tell you how well it will withstand water ingress. It goes without saying that the battery and charger must be dry and kept dry while charging.
Aside from recharging and making sure that all cables are plugged in securely, the electronic side of e-bike maintenance is something that most owners will leave to the bike shop. An e-bike manufacturer’s smartphone app can be useful for diagnosing what’s wrong, however, even if you can’t fix it yourself.
Maintaining the bicycle components of your e-bike – gears, brakes, wheels and so on – is within the scope of many home mechanics. The main problem is the e-bike’s weight. It’ll be harder to lift onto a work stand, even without the battery, and will exceed the weight limit of some stands. You’ll need a sturdy one such as the Park Tool PCS-9.3 or the Topeak Tune-up Stand X.
Dealing with a roadside puncture is trickier with an e-bike than with an unassisted bike, especially if the bike has a hub motor on the wheel you want to remove. You can vastly reduce the risk of a flat by fitting tougher tyres such as Schwalbe’s Marathon E-Plus. Heavier, slower-rolling tyres aren’t a big deal on an e-bike because of the extra power you have available.
On the same note: the extra weight of accessories is negligible with an e-bike. Anything that makes your e-bike more practical is worth adding. You’ll definitely want mudguards and lights if they’re not already supplied. A sturdy kickstand will make parking easier; e-bikes are more awkward to lean against walls due to their weight. A pannier rack will let you take advantage of your e-bike’s superior load-hauling potential – as would a cargo trailer or child trailer.