I exclaimed loudly as the bus drove by me without even pausing at the bus stop. I pondered my options to reach my destination – hike uphill for forty minutes, walk home and bike twenty minutes uphill, or take an Uber or Lyft. I opened the Uber app on my phone and discovered a fourth option – a Lime electric bike (e-bike). I opted for option 4. Six minutes later, I arrived at my destination with sparkles shooting from my fingertips and a spring in my step. I had become an e-bike enthusiast.
The day after my sparkle ride, I started researching e-bikes for purchase. There were so many elements to consider – e-bike class, gears and pedal assist levels, batteries, e-bike weight and size, lights and monitors, online vs. dealer, and insurance. Read on for elements I learned when considering e-bike options.
There are 3 standard classes of e-bikes, although these could vary based on your state. The classes are:
- Class 1: maximum speed of 20 miles per hour (mph) and equipped with an electric motor that only works when the rider is pedaling (pedal assist). If they have a throttle, it also is pedal assist. Class 1 e-bikes can be ridden anywhere a standard bike can go.
- Class 2: Similar to Class 1 but the throttle works even when the rider is not pedaling. Class 2 e-bikes can be ridden in most places a standard bike can go.
- Class 3: pedal assist and have a maximum speed of 28mph. Due to the high power Class 3 electric bikes have, they’re restricted from certain bike trails and bike paths.
The class you want depends on how much you want to pedal, the maximum speed that you want to ride, and where you want to bike. I purchased a Class 2 although have not felt the need to use the throttle.
My Class 2 e-bike of choice: Adventure Neo Allroad EQ. It’s ready for all types of terrain.
Gears & Pedal Assist Levels
Most e-bikes are either single-speed or 7-speed and up. When pondering my gear options, I thought about the situation of my battery being dead as I sat at the base of a hill. Single speed would make it hard to get up a hill. Living in a hilly city, I went with 7-speeds.
E-bikes also can have varying levels of electric assistance. The more levels you have, the more you can vary the amount of electric “push”. My bike has 5 levels and a “walk assist” mode. The electric level I select depends on the hilliness of my route and how fast I want to go.
A standard e-bike battery size is 10 amp hour (Ah). With this capacity, you can go 20-40 miles on a single charge, depending on factors such as rider weight, speed, wind, and steepness. How large your battery needs to be depends on your cycling needs.
My standard commute is up a steep hill and about 3 miles each way. My battery is 418Wh and 36V, or 11.6Ah*. I keep my bike at level 1 (low electric assist) most of the time and 2-3 for the steep hill. I barely make a dent in my battery charge. However, if I’m biking across town (~10 miles) and back at full speed (level 5), I use about a third of my battery charge.
Monitor indicating battery, as well as electric assist level, speed, and total trip miles.
Removable or Fixed
Another element about the battery is whether you want to be able to remove the battery. A key question when pondering this decision is: Will I always have a plug near my e-bike? If leave your e-bike in a storage area with no outlet, you may want to purchase a removable battery to charge in your home or office.
Weight & Size
The size of the e-bike impact affects how easy it is to lift your bike, where you can store it, and how easy it is to lock up. Weight is probably only important if you will be lifting up your e-bike regularly (e.g., to put it on a hanging rack). The lightest e-bikes I found were about 40 lbs but they have smaller batteries and no racks. My e-bike needs to be able to haul my groceries so I went as light as I could while still being able to carry heavy loads.
Rack and empty pannier ready for grocery shopping.
One accessory to consider is built-in lights. My e-bike has them and I LOVE them. It’s great not to worry about theft or finding your misplaced lights. One word of warning – if your battery is depleted, your lights will not work.
Built-in lights are the best. As long as your battery has charge.
Online or Dealer Purchase
There are many e-bike companies that sell exclusively online. I came close to purchasing from an online start-up due to its unique features and lower costs. However, when I learned that many bike shops won’t repair these e-bikes I hesitated. There also seem to be delays from some online companies when parts have to be exchanged or repaired. I rely heavily on my bike for transport so I decided to purchase my e-bike at REI. REI offers their members an appealing free e-bike support package that includes two years of adjustments and labor for flat tire repairs.
There is a limited but growing world of e-bike insurance. Homeowner’s insurance will not cover e-bikes. E-bike insurance can cover losses like theft, damage, and accidents. If you live in a city with high theft of e-bikes, it may be worth purchasing insurance.
*Battery capacity specifications are often provided in either: 1) watt-hours (Wh) and voltage (V) or 2) amp hour (Ah). Capacity helps to indicate how far you can go on a single battery charge. If you divide your Wh by your V, you will calculate your capacity in Ah: Wh/V = Ah.