Electric bikes can come in handy for a number of reasons. They can help you efficiently get from Point A to Point B with a bit of a boost, promote exercise, and are more environmentally-conscious than using a motor vehicle. If you’re considering getting one, it’s important to first have a good understanding of the types of electric bikes that are available, how they work, who’d they be ideally suited for, and why you can benefit from them.
What is an electric bike?
An electric bike is, as you might have guessed, a bike that can be powered entirely, or partially, by a battery and motor. The motor can be located in the central pedal/gear (called mid drive bikes) or on the rear wheel (rear drive.)
Why electric bikes?
There are a number of reasons why you might want to opt for an electric bike instead of a traditional one. Physical limitations, like knee or joint pain, shouldn’t prevent you from getting much-needed exercise. Electric bikes let you get into the cycling game, but can provide that extra boost when needed, whether it’s to get up a steep incline that you’d otherwise have trouble with, or simply to make it through the last legs of a long ride. If you’ve been reluctant to get a bike because your neighbourhood or the nearby trail has a lot of big hills, an electric bike can add that additional boost of confidence, both literally and figuratively.
Electric bikes can also be a welcome alternative to using a motor vehicle for city dwellers who might find it too far to walk to work or to grab groceries, but don’t want to battle rush hour traffic or pay for parking. But really, anyone who wants to enjoy riding in the great outdoors, and could use some supplemental power, will appreciate the fun and active aspects of an electric bike.
Which type of electric bike is right for you?
There are several types of electric bicycles, along with different motors that power them in different ways, depending on how, where, and why you want to use them.
Types of electric bikes
Electric mountain bike
Electric mountain bikes are meant for all-terrain use, serving as a powerful alternative to a traditional mountain bike. Because they can get you through rough and tricky terrain, they tend to be a bit heavier than others, and can be a costly investment. Likened to a high-end mountain bike, the VoltBike Yukon 750 Limited Electric Fat Bike has a Li-ion battery, and seven speed gears so it can be ridden on everything from roads to tracks.
Electric road bike/hybrid bike
These electric bikes are ideal for everyday use, and might make sense for those who are simply riding to and from work everyday on flat terrain, and making the occasional trip to the grocery store, or riding around the city streets. They will often include a Pedal-Assist System (PAS) – more on this later – as well as the ability for you to ride it just like a normal bike, without electric assistance at all when you prefer. An option in this space is the Goccia Holiday 53cm 7 Speed Electric Bike, which can be ridden as a traditional bike using the pedals, with some assistance via PAS, or with full electric power using throttle mode.
Electric folding bike
If you live in a small apartment, or ride to work every day and need somewhere safe to dock the bike for the workday, folding bikes might be ideal. As the name implies, they can fold up to easily be tucked in the corner of your apartment instead of being left in the underground or outdoor parking lot. Folding bikes are also ideal for frequent travelers since they can be easily placed in the trunk and brought along to your desired trail, or with you on a road trip. The Swagtron SwagCycle Electric Bike easily folds up, and doesn’t even have any pedals: you simply prop your feet up, and let the bike do all of the work. If you want something a bit more traditional in design that you can take with you, there’s the VoltBike Urban 350w Electric Folding Bike, which, at first glance, looks like a standard bicycle, but can ensure you get maximum efficiency when riding up hills or against strong winds using its Bafang Power Motor.
Electric utility bike
Great for city dwellers, or those who operate a bike delivery company of some sort, these bikes are designed for transporting large loads, like the weekly newspaper delivery, or daily groceries. Naturally, they have strong components and powerful motors, but also tend to be larger and heavier in order to accommodate the larger loads.
You can go another route and choose a seated electric scooter that’s sort of a cross between an electric bike and a scooter. The Soozier Adjustable Folding Electric Seated E-Scooter is one such option, able to travel at speeds up to 13km, and appropriate for those aged 14 and older. Plus, as the name implies, it can fold up for easy transport. Or, you could consider something like the Electric Motocross Dirt Bike Scooter. Ideal for kids aged 5 and up, it is designed more like a motorcycle, and offers a maximum speed of up to 22km/hr., and a battery that can run for about two hours per charge.
Types of electric bike motors
There are three main types of electric bike motors.
Direct drive hub motor
These are larger, and the entire hub shell serves as the motor, thus making the bikes faster and more durable. But you may also get less torque from these types, which can also be heavier, and offer overall less efficiency. You do, however, get regenerative braking. If you’re just using it to ride on flat terrain, such as in the city, a direct drive hub motor may meet your needs. Because there are no moving parts, you’ll get a very quiet ride as well.
Geared hub motor
Smaller and lighter, geared hub motors can offer greater torque than direct drive, but also slower top speed. But looking at the wheel hub, they could pass for a regular one. There’s one free wheel, which means there’s no resistance when the motor is not being used. But there’s also no regenerative braking. And because of moving parts, you’re likely to hear a louder whir as the bike moves along than you would with a direct drive motor. But you can also go a bit faster. The hub motor can be in the front for all-wheel drive, or on the rear wheel to simulate a riding experience closer to a conventional bike. When it comes to lightweight bikes, the T4B H3 Fixie Volt Electric Bicycle meets that criteria at just 13.5kg in total weight, and with a carbon belt and single speed, rear wheel drive brushless motor.
Crank drive motor
Also referred to as mid drive motors, these add power through the rear gear system, and can be adjusted to suit different environments and terrain. So you can use the bike’s gears, for example, to help you get up big hills, or accommodate more weight. And because the weight is found low on the bike, you’ll get relatively good balance, and it will feel more like a traditional bike.
What to consider when selecting an electric bike
Throttle control vs. assisted pedaling
Electric bikes are typically throttle control or incorporate a Pedal-Assist System (PAS).
Throttle control, also known as “twist n go,” means the electric bike functions much like a motorcycle, whereby you twist your wrist to activate acceleration and control movement and speed. You’ll find it in bikes like the Vorpal Pulsar 27.5” electric bike, which has a torque sensor and twist throttle.
Conversely, with a PAS or “pedelec” electric bike, there’s a torque sensor that picks up and pushes out the motor power when you start pedaling. And it remains active until you stop, lightly applying movement. You can use it only when needed, manually pedaling the rest of the way with a little or no assistance. You can find PAS in electric bikes like the VoltBike Enduro Full Suspension Mid-Drive Electric Bike, which has lockable front suspension, and lockable rear suspension that’s ideal for light and medium terrains.
If you have mobility issues and/or trouble pedaling, you might appreciate a bike with throttle control that will take care of movement for you, without the need to pedal. But if you just want a bit of extra help, to go faster and/or get up slight or high inclines, a bike with a PAS is probably the way to go. This also allows you to enjoy traditional riding when you don’t need any assistance and want to actively pedal, such as when your leg or joint pains aren’t flaring up, or when you’re going for a leisurely ride on smooth and flat terrain.
Safety and requirements for electric bikes
An electric bicycle must have a power output that’s 500W or less, and the maximum speed an electric bike is permitted to go, according to Transport Canada, is 32km/hr. on level ground. Anything faster will be classified as a motorcycle, and must follow the rules applied to those motor vehicles. While there’s no specific license required for riding an electric bike, it would be wise to check requirements in your province/city, as there could be minimum age requirements. It’s usually 16 years in most areas, but it would be prudent to verify this information before allowing a child to ride. Naturally, all typical road safety rules apply, whether you’re riding a traditional bicycle or an electric one.
Weather-resistance of electric bikes
While most electric bikes will be at least water-resistant, you might want to take some extra precautions if you plan to ride frequently in the rain. This could include covering the electric connections with electrical tape to keep them protected, and sealing all connectors and openings with silicone. But an occasional spitting of rain shouldn’t do the bikes any harm. And, like any bicycle, you should keep it properly stored away when it’s not in use, and do things like keep the tires inflated, grease the chains, and clean it regularly to maintain its optimal
Battery life and charging for electric bikes
Naturally, electric bikes need to be recharged. You can get about 15-30km per charge of most bikes, but this number can vary dramatically based on the type of bike you have, type of terrain you’re riding, and weight of the rider and/or other items being carried, like a basket of groceries or backpack. Bikes with a PAS tend to last for a bit longer since riders are taking on some of the chores by pedaling the entire time.
Typically, an electric bike that uses a Li-Ion or NiMH battery can recharge in about 4-8 hours and up to 700-1,000 times; while one with a sealed lead acid (SLE) battery can be ready to go in about 6-8 hours, and be recharged 300-500 times. The first time you charge an electric bike, be prepared to do so for about 12 hours prior to your first ride. In order to extend the life of the battery, make sure to always charge up the battery, and keep the batteries and charger at above-freezing temperatures when you aren’t using it – so don’t leave it outside through the cold Canadian winter. It’s also a good idea to take it out of the garage or wherever you’re storing it off-season and recharge it every month or so.
Added features/accessories for electric bikes
There are interesting additional features and accessories that might be worth considering for electric bikes based on your specific needs. For example, some models have LED lights, and others have built-in USB ports for recharging the bike as you ride, or even charging up your phone. Handlebar controls can show useful information like battery life, and let you control things like a horn.