What is an Electric Bike? The Beginners Guide

John Clark, Velospeed
John Clark 15.09.20

Learn everything you need to know about “what is an electric bike”. Including reasons to buy, working principle, types, range, charging, license, brands, cost, and much more.

In the past few years, the word “electric” has stuck to many other words — mainly those related to information technology (e.g. e-books), and to vehicles. Now we have electric cars, electric buses, electric ferries, and, quite predictably, electric bikes. Let’s understand together what an electric bike is, answering the 10 most popular questions in this beginners guide.

What is an electric bike?

It’s simple: an e-bike is like a normal bicycle, but with one important difference – an electric motor. It is easier to ride such a bike than a regular one because the motor assists you. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to pedal on an electric bike. It depends on the type of bicycle. We will deal with that further down.

Riding an e-bike also does not harm the environment. The motor generates energy from a battery, not by burning fuel, such as in motorbikes, cars, and other vehicles. An electric bike is as environmentally friendly as a normal bicycle.

By the way, in addition to the popular phrase “electric bike”, it is often written in completely different ways: electric bicycle, electro bike, Electrobike, electroBike, e-bike, eBike, Ebike, pedal electric bikes as well as battery bike or battery-powered bike. You can even come up with your own name!

What may I need an electric bike for?

An electric bike is needed for the same thing as a regular bike: for travel on any road in or outside the city, including unpaved dirt roads, rugged terrain, and even the forest or mountain trails.

It is many times quicker to reach your destination by bike than by foot and more pleasant than by public or private transport. It is also healthier.

So choosing an electric bike means you do several good things at once:

  • you save time while traveling,
  • travel in comfort in an environmentally-friendly way,
  • don’t get tired on the road, and at the same time you do a healthy physical activity.

In other words, an e-bike is an excellent middle choice between walking and traveling by public or private transportation.

An e-bike is suitable for those who want to move quickly, ecologically, and with greater comfort in the city, between cities or in rough terrain, as with a normal bicycle, but with less effort.

How exactly does an e-bike work?

An electric bike consists of the same basic parts as a regular bicycle: frame, two wheels, pedals, steering wheel, brakes, seat, and so on.

Next, the e-bike has five new parts:

  1. An electric motor drives a bicycle, which means it makes the wheels spin.
  2. The battery gives power to the motor.
  3. The drivetrain (transmission) connects the motor to the wheels and ensures the operation of these mechanisms.
  4. The controller (a chip) controls the electronics and transmits current between the components of the bike.
  5. The computer shows the battery charge, power consumption mode, speed, and other indicators.

What are the types of electric bikes?

There are also quite a few, depending on the type of motor, where the motor is located on the bike, type of battery, and, as in the case of regular bicycles, the type of the bike itself and its individual parts.

In short, there are three main types of e-bikes:

  1. Electric bikes with throttle mode, or “power-on-demand” mode, or simply “throttles”. You don’t have to pedal at all. You move because of the motor and decide when to turn it on or off.
  2. E-bikes with assistance mode or “pedal electric bikes” or simply “pedelecs”. You need to pedal. The motor starts when you start pedaling, speed up, or climb. You control its power. The motor only “assists” you — pedaling becomes easier.
  3. Electric bikes with both throttle mode and assistance mode. You pedal alongside the electric motor to increase distance per charge. But these bikes are quite rare.

You can read much more about this in a separate article “Discover the Different Types of Electric Bikes“.

How far and how fast can I go on an electric bike?

The range of a ride – distance and time – and speed of a ride depends on the motor power. (But not only that.) Let’s start with the basics…

Power is measured in watts.

The power of a motor of an e-bike can vary greatly, from a few hundred to a thousand or more watts.

A bicycle with a more powerful motor can ride faster, but it will use up the battery faster. And vice-versa: on an e-bike with a weaker motor, you will ride slower, but the battery will also last longer. The same principle works here as with car motors, whose power is measured in horsepower.

For example, let’s take one of the most popular motors for e-bikes — the Bosch 500 Wh. Usually, you can ride an average of 40—60 miles (65—100 km) on a bike with such a motor on one charge. The maximum average ride on a bike with another type of motor can be up to 120 miles (200 km) and the minimum 20—25 miles (30—40 km).

Now let’s return to the beginning of the question with the phrase “not only motor power”.

The range of an eBike ride depends not only on the motor power but also on the type of motor and its location on the bike. For example, you can ride a pedelec bike longer than on a throttle bike.

Because of the limited power of the motor, the eBike, just like a motorbike or car, has a limit on the maximum speed it can develop. For electric bikes, it is usually between 15 and 30 miles per hour (25—50 km per hour).

But that doesn’t mean you can’t go faster. Once you have developed the speed limit, the motor will stop working. To go faster, you will have to pedal harder. 15 miles per hour (25 km per hour) is a great speed for a trip on the plain, and it will allow you to put less effort into climbing.

Other factors that also affect the range and speed of the ride: driver weight, physical condition, terrain type, and… even the weather. If it rains heavily, hail or snow, you won’t go far on an e-bike.

Conclusion: riding an electric bike, just like riding a normal bicycle, is a very individual thing. But remember the minimum and average range and speed.

How do I charge my electric bike?

Charging an eBike is as easy as charging a smartphone or computer — from a normal outlet. With each eBike, you get a cord. The usual charging time is between 2-4 and 6-8 hours, depending on the type of battery.

If your bike suddenly discharges on the road, you can easily continue the ride by simply turning the pedals. Your e-bike will become a regular bike.

Changing the battery of an electric bike depends on the type of battery and how often you ride.

There are two main types of batteries, but there are more in general:

  1. Lead-acid batteries (SLA) are the cheapest. It is enough for 500—600 charges for an eBike.
  2. lithium-ion batteries (Li-ion, LIB) are the same as in smartphones and notebooks. It costs more and can withstand 1000 charging cycles.

The time period of use before the battery begins to lose its properties is 3—5 years of service.

Just like with other electronic devices, once you’ve used up your charge limit, the battery’s capacity will start to decrease — it will discharge faster, it will need to be recharged more often.

Before buying, be sure to check what type of battery is installed in the e-bike you liked.

Read more in the articles:

How much exactly does an electric bike weigh?

E-bikes are heavier than regular ones.

Bikes can weigh from 15-18 kg to 25 kg and more. Their average weight is about 20 kg.

For example, a regular mountain bike weighs from 5-8 kg to 20 kg. On average it weighs 10-15 kg. So the average weight of a regular bicycle is the minimum weight of an e-bike.

What kind of license is required to ride an e-bike?

The need to obtain a license to ride an electric bike depends on the motor power and the maximum speed the motor can develop. However, the speed that you can develop beyond the motor speed is not taken into account.

You probably won’t have to get a license because, in fact, the main models have a power limit — to a certain amount of watts and speed.

You only need a license to ride powerful bicycles depending on the country and/or its city and region. If you do decide to buy one of these powerful bikes and you already have other driving licenses for a more powerful vehicle, it may fit. Ask us in store about this.

The following few restrictions apply in the UK to riding e-bikes:

  • A bicycle must meet the characteristics: bike weight limit — 30 kg, maximum speed — 15.5 mph (25 km/h), maximum power — 250 watt.
  • It should be a pedal electric bike — meaning that you have to pedal to get the motor to work. All our bikes are in this category.
  • Rider must be at least 14 years old.
  • E-bikes allowed on bike paths in the forest, mountains, etc., when not using electric mode.

Which are the most popular brands of electric bikes?

As with regular bicycles, eBikes have their own manufacturers, popular brands and models.

There are companies that produce e-bikes in addition to regular ones (Focus, Trek, Specialised, etc.), and there are those that specialize in producing only e-bikes.

The last ones introduce new methods and technologies for their production more often than others, and they have a wider model range.

We advise you to choose these manufacturers. The most popular brands — Batribike, Cube, Egide, Moustache, Riese & Müller, Tern, Urban Arrow — are represented in our shop.

There is an article about the best electric bikes in the UK.

How much does an electric bike cost?

The cost of an eBike depends on the cost of its two main components: an electric motor and a battery.

The price is also influenced by the type of frame. Frames can be iron or aluminum. The first is cheaper but heavier. The second is more expensive and lighter.

In general e-bikes are more expensive than ordinary bicycles: from 1000 to 5000 pounds. The average cost is between 1500 and 3000 pounds.

Read more in the article “What to Look for When Buying an Electric Bike”.

If you have any more questions, visit FAQ on the website.

Have a good ride!