Electric bicycles or pedelecs are already mainstream and a growing number of people are attracted by this hassle-free means of personal transport.
Most good bike shops are offering a growing range of e-bikes alongside their pedal-powered cousins and as the selection on offer gets larger, sales in this segment are ballooning.
The story is the same in many countries, like, for example, Germany where a large rise in e-bike sales in the space of just a year saw a total of 720,000 e-bikes bought in 2017 – an increase of 19% over the year before.
One of the main reasons for the sales fillip is the choice of e-bikes in the shops and there's the rub. Before consumers can choose the right model they need to know the basics about e-bikes and which type of electrically-assisted bicycle suits their needs.
Where are you going to use it?
Answering this one correctly is the key to becoming a happy e-bike owner – "When buying an e-bike you really must be clear about the type of bike you want", says René Filippek of Germany's huge ADFC cycling club.
An electric version of the classic commuter bike with 28-inch wheels and a sporty riding position is a good compromise. It can venture away from the tarmac onto short unmade paths but for genuine off-road action only a electric mountain bike will do. The same applies to pure road bikes which combine aerodynamic efficiency with the effortless power of a pedelec drive unit
Foldable e-bikes are small in stature which makes them ideal for commuters who might want to combine them with a bus or rail journey.
Most pedelecs will travel up to 25 km/h before the motor cuts out to comply with legal requirements. This makes them around 10 km/h faster than a regular pushbike. Speed pedelecs are high-powered e-bikes. They are as fast as mopeds and in most countries special rules apply to these two-wheelers, which can touch 45 km/h. These are banned from cycle paths and must be fitted with registration plates. Owners need to wear a helmet too.
Batteries and charging
The battery is a key component of an electrically-assisted bike and most come fitted with a unit rated at 400w or watt-hours. This means the battery provides 400 watts of power for one hour.
Fillipek says this provides a range between charges of between 60 and 80 kilometres although the distance will depend on the type of bike and even weather conditions – battery power depletes faster when it is cold outside.
A higher wattage up to 550w gives more range but such batteries are much more expensive to buy and replace. Most batteries are detachable which makes them easy to charge at home using mains electricity. Full replenishment usually takes up to five hours.
Replacement batteries are expensive but in most cases the power pack will have a guarantee of at least five years. A battery will tend to have a usable life of 1,000 full discharge-recharge cycles.
Some pedelecs have the motor located at the rear hub but most will have the motive power mounted to the frame at the bottom bracket. This gives a good centre of gravity and aids stability.
A typical motor from Germany's Bosch will last for many years with little attention or maintenance yet the other bike components will take more of a beating. The motor is encased in plastic and is waterproof.
Wear on chains, rear cassettes and gear-change parts is higher since these are having to take the extra strain from the motor, explains Fillipek.
Changing gears and operation
Many Pedelecs have conventional derailleur or hub gears from makers like Shimano or Sram apart from upmarket models which use more sophisticated belt drive systems from Continental or NuVinci.
By the way, conversion kits to convert a push-bike to an e-bike are not recommended. In most cases a conventional bicycle frame is not strong enough to cope with the extra weight.
Most e-bikes offer three levels of electric assistance from Eco to High. The lowest setting is for flat terrain and assistance is between 25 and 80% of maximum battery power. Running in Eco will save battery power but can still be hard work uphill.
The recommended default setting is Normal or Tour. For steep hills a burst of High mode should take the sting out of gradients. Naturally, using more power will dent range.
Take a test ride
Nobody should buy an e-bike without a lengthy test ride, especially if a potential buyer is not used to rapid riding. An e-bike travels faster than a pedal-powered equivalent which means a rider has to react more quickly to traffic situations and hazards. The brakes are more powerful too and take some getting used to.
Cyclists should also keep away from cheap e-bikes which are often just not up to the job. An e-bike must have a robust frame, good brakes and preferably a motor and batteries from a leading manufacturer.
Expect to pay between US$1,800 to US$3,000 (RM7,111 to RM11,851) for an electric bike and even more if it is technically more complex or aimed at off-road use only where more power is needed. — dpa