Whether you are interested in a bike to help you get the shopping home, flatten those exhausting hills, arrive at work without being all sweaty, for health reasons or just for fun, advances in technology and plentiful choice mean now is a perfect time to consider going electric. On this page we cover the basics ‘in a nutshell,’ elsewhere on the Pedelecs website we cover everything else you need to know.
Electric bikes come in all shapes and sizes for people of all walks of life. Fitness fanatics, those recovering from illness or injury, tourers, mountain bikers, businesses, 20 years old or 80 years old…
Many find once they’ve had their e-bikes a while, they naturally use the bike more, get fitter and as a result use the assistance less, but still enjoy being able to use the extra boost from the motor when they need to. You can also save substantial amounts on petrol and parking if you commute or get around by e-bike.
Frame types to consider are cross bars, unisex step through, electric mountain bikes, trikes – with front and rear baskets for carrying shopping or deliveries, folding electric bikes (lightweight for commuting, or even a folding mountain bike for easy portability). The UK market now provides just about any style or use you might imagine possible.
Gone are the days when electric bikes came with big ugly frames and batteries, requiring the strength of a body builder to carry them up a flight of stairs. Many models on the market now are barely distinguishable from a normal cycle, plus there are different options as to where the batteries are located. Some brands have cleverly concealed the battery within the frame for that extra stealthy look.
Improvements in electric bike technology
Early bikes had larger, less powerful motors and used older battery technologies like NiCad which suffered from a ‘memory effect’. Now all e-bikes use the latest lithium technology which means smaller, denser batteries and longer ranges with none of the memory effect.
You’ll still find hub motors in the front or rear wheels as well as crank driven motors from the likes of Bosch, Panasonic, Impulse (Kalkoff) etc. Due to the 250W limit prescribed by UK EAPC law, many manufacturers have invested in optimising their motors to get the most out of them.
Lighter pedelecs have also emerged (including lightweight carbon frames) making the bike easier to handle and ride if your battery power runs out for instance. So there is now a greater choice in models weighing less than, for example, 20Kg. As with regular bikes, the lighter they are, generally the more they cost.
If you’re considering buying one, the first question to ask yourself is where do you intend to ride it?
If you’re commuting and need a folding electric bike, then overall carrying weight and ease of folding to fit into tight luggage space on trains or in car boots is your starting point.
Factor in the full ‘ready to ride’ weight with its battery; you might even decide to choose a smaller and lighter – but therefore lower capacity battery – for shorter trips (to be recharged at the office perhaps, before returning home).
If you want your e-bike for leisure, you might prefer larger, 29” wheels to roll down country lanes, potholes, lumps and ruts and all. If you plan town-riding and tighter spaces that require easier manoeuvrability then you might prefer smaller wheels and a rack to add paniers to. ‘Fat’ e-bikes, with their chunky tyres designed to soak up harsh off-road terrain, also arrived on the growing electric mountain bike scene a couple of years ago.
You can also use our ‘Find an Electric Bike’ tool to give you an idea of what’s available.
Where to buy
Over recent years, as their popularity has increased, high street bike shops have started to dedicate floor space to e-bikes alongside push bikes. At the same time, dedicated specialists have sprung up across the UK where you can both try out a broad range of assisted cycles and buy direct (online). Ebay, Gumtree and other second-hand sites may well offer temptation with cheaper price tags, but be sure it isn’t stolen (a missing battery can often be a sign). If you have technical nous on your side, then you may well be able to remedy any electrical problems arising from an aging, cheaper e-bike, as well as re-celling a failing battery. For others, however, the support and backup of a nearby specialist dealer that services and repairs e-bikes is preferable. Pedelecs has a searchable UK map of electric bike retailers and dealers here.
Try before you buy
Ideally you should aim to try several models – and preferably on the sort of terrain you want to ride the bike on – before parting with your hard earned cash. Particularly if you live near steep hills, you’ll want to know how well your bike can cope with those ascents, as well as how confident its brakes make you feel coming down the other side.
Electric bikes are governed by their usage, so if you’re going to ride one, our page on UK law covers the definition of an EAPC (electrically assisted pedal cycle) and how the rules treats them. Legislation dictates you need to be over the age of 14 to ride an electric bike on UK roads, but beyond that there are people in their 70s and 80s that regularly e-cycle. In the UK the definition of an electric bicycle (and a bike that therefore doesn’t require registration, taxing or a driving licence) is one with powered assistance to a maximum of 15.5mph and with maximum rated motor power of no more than 250W; more details on e-bike law are here.
How much should I spend?
With such a wide choice on the market now, price tags can be anything from £500 up the scale to £5k and over.
Some things to consider:
The government offers a tax-saving scheme for employees cycling to work, for which bikes costing up to £1000 are eligible. To service that market, there are a decent number of e-bikes retailing at just under that figure.
Check the specs between e-bikes you’re comparing; you might want to spend extra upgrading tyres to Schwalbe or another ‘top end’ brand for instance. Does the bike come with extras as part of the price? E.g. lights, mud guards?
Battery replacement costs – find out what the expected lifespan of your bike’s battery is (in years/number of charges) as well a where you’ll be able to source a replacement battery from at that time and what it is likely to cost.
Warranty – what sort of protection from future upkeep costs does the bike’s warranty provide?
Stockists will sometimes have clearance deals on at the end of each year (to clear the way for the following year’s new stock).
Finally, consider joining the Pedelecs Forum. We have many thousands of members on hand to offer advice and assistance.
Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles (EAPCs) don’t need to be taxed, registered or insured as long as they meet some basic requirements. The electric bike must have pedals fitted that can be used to propel it and the motor should not be able to propel the bike when it is travelling more than 15.5mph (25kph). There is a maximum motor power output of no more than 250 watts.
In addition to the above, the bike must visibly display the power output or manufacturer of the motor OR the battery’s voltage or maximum speed of the bike.
Type approval is official confirmation from a government or other body that a manufactured item meets required specifications.
A hall-effect sensor is a sensor that responds to a magnetic fields.
BMS stands for Battery Management System. It is an electronic circuit that monitors the cells in your battery pack to make sure they operate within the safe voltage range. If the current, temperature or voltage is outside the permitted range it will switch the battery off to prevent damage to the cells. It can also make sure a battery isn’t overcharged.
An S-Pedelec is a more powerful Pedelec (>250W) which is not classed as a bicycle, but as a moped or motorcycle. Riders may have to register, insure them and have a driving licence. Helmets also have to be worn.
Some electric bikes are fitted with a throttle, which works in a similar way to the throttle on a motorbike i.e. when you twist the throttle power is supplied to the motor.
A conversion kit enables you to convert a regular bicycle into an electric bike. A kit usually consists of a motor (often already built into a wheel), a controller and a battery.
Pedelec means “Pedal Electric Cycle”. A Pedelec will only assist the rider when they are pedaling.
A cadence sensor simply measures how fast you are pedaling.
A hub motor is built directly into either the front or rear wheel. It applies torque directly to the wheel in order to drive it. Hub motors are either direct drive or geared.
A torque sensor measures how hard the rider is pedaling. The controller then uses this information to determine how much power to feed to the motor.