Thursday, 18 July 2019

Buyer's guide to buying an ebike.

This is a basic guide.

I don't want to swamp you or confuse you with too much information at this point and I certainly don't want to get into which ebike is better than another.

The purpose of this post is to simply give you a brief overview of ebikes written from the perspective of answering the most frequently asked questions we get by new ebike customers visiting our shop.

Benefits of an ebike include:

  1. Pedal assistance against headwinds and uphill.
  2. Fun. Ebikes are fun to ride as those who ride them regularly know.
  3. They're a great form of personal transport whether it be town or city riding, leisure riding or commuting. An ebike can make a relatively long distance, easily manageable and bearable.
  4. Great form of exercise. 
  5. They're a pedal-assist. You still benefit from lots of exercise and you can choose your level of assistance as you ride.

 What do you need to know before buying your new ebike?

The first and arguably, most important thing you need to get right is what type of ebike would be the most suitable for your proposed riding.

For example, are you planning to use your ebike to commute daily to and from work, and if so, how hilly is your route and what distance will you be cycling?

If you're buying one because you want to get out and bike more and live in a relatively flat area and you're not proposing to do great distances, your needs may well differ from those who are using their bike to commute and or, as a primary form of transport.

Reason I say this is that everyone's needs and goals are different - therefore the ebike your neighbour, friend at work or relative has bought, may not be the most suitable for you.

I often meet people in our shop who've been told by some well-meaning person that the only ebike they should ever consider buying is the one the one they ride themselves.

Which really is bad advice.

In my view and experience, there isn't such thing as a bad ebike, but more an unsuitable one. All ebikes, even those at the cheapest end of the market will have some merit provided you understand their potential limitations when you buy one of these bikes. I'd always recommend you avoid anything sold via non-cycling channels and purchase your ebike from a well-established, quality independent cycle shop or even chain of cycle shops.

You'd certainly do well to avoid the shopping channels who offer no after-sales service and whose bikes are unbranded and pretty impossible for your local bike shop to source parts and batteries for in the most likely event, your bike needs them. Often, regrettably, sooner than you'd expect.

First thing therefore is for you to buy from a reputable source.

It is that simple.

We regularly get telephone calls, emails from desperate people who've purchased an ebike from somewhere or other, usually via the internet and now find that the bike isn't working and they're struggling to get any replies from the seller and want us to fix their bike.

Don't allow yourself to be put into this position. Buy from a reputable source.

Where possible, buy from a bricks and mortar bike shop as opposed to an online-only retailer.

Bricks and Mortar shops are easier to visit in the event of a problem arising post sale. Online sellers come and go. When your ebike needs a service or a repair, you'll most likely have to take it to a bike shop. Far better to have established a good reputation with the shop by buying from them in the first place, rather than expect the same shop who you bypassed to then sort out the ebike you bought from somewhere else.

There's a reason these ebikes are cheap.

Next, buy from a reputable brand.

We only sell bikes from brands that I trust because this way, I can be assured that I can look after my valued customers in the event of post-sale problems. I'll be brutally blunt here. Ebikes can have a number of post sale problems, as can any bike even from the best and biggest brand names. There's no such thing as perfection. Especially when it comes to bikes, let alone Ebikes....

By choosing a reputable bicycle brand who fits reputable, quality ebike components, you really can save yourself a lot of trouble down the road.

Are Throttle controlled ebikes that go without pedalling legal in the UK?

Yes, however it's now illegal for a bike shop/business to sell them.

All ebikes built for and sold in the UK must be pedal-assist. However, if you already own, or buy or acquire a used ebike which doesn't require you to pedal and has a throttle control this is still legal to use on the road.

Personally, I've never liked these throttle controlled ebikes. When riding they're near impossible to strike a balance between getting the right amount of electric motor assist versus the right amount of pedal power. Which is probably why so many of these are ridden as a cheap form of electric scooter.

Deciding which motor is best.

There are 3 different locations on a bicycle where the motor can be fitted.

  1. Motor in the Centre/Crank
  2. Motor in the Front Wheel
  3. Motor in the Rear Wheel
1. Centre Motor Ebike (Raleigh Motus Tour - £2050)

2. Front Wheel Motor Ebike (Batavus Genova - £1799)
Raleigh Array Emotion Lowstep 2020 Electric Hybrid Bike Red EV367009 3000 1_Thumbnail 
3. Rear Wheeled Motor (Raleigh Array - £1275)

 Above are examples of the 3 different types of ebike motor locations, which I've taken from bikes we sell in our shop.

Which one is better?

By far the most common question we get when it comes to ebikes, is why motor location is best.

One is not necessarily better than the other, it's more a question of what type of riding you're intending to do and how much you're going to be using your ebike.

However, the cost of your ebike will very much depend on where your motor is located.

The centre/crank drive motor being the most expensive option as you can see from the above prices.

If you're planning to use your ebike regularly and you live in a relatively flat area, then either a front wheel motor or a rear wheel motor will most likely be suitable for what your riding.

Even if you live in a relatively hilly area, the front or rear wheel motor will usually assist you up those hills. I've ridden a front wheeled motor ebike up some fairly serious hills here in Arundel and surrounding areas, which are located near our shop. I've also ridden a rear wheeled motor up these hills and both motors do the job.

However, if I were buying one, and had the budget available, the centre motor would do the job easier and more efficiently than either the rear or front wheeled motor.

Power through the crank is very efficient compared to either the 'pull' of the front motor or the 'push' of the rear wheeled motor.

But don't let this put you off buying one of the other less expensive alternatives. We've sold many many ebikes with front and rear motors to customers who've enjoyed them now for some years and perform well for their needs.

As a general rule - if budget isn't a problem for you and you're really planning to use an ebike, then the centre motor is the best option to choose from. But don't be put off the two alternative lesser expensive options. Both do the job, it's more a question of your budget and what you're looking to achieve with your new ebike.

Are there any specific problems with a front or rear wheeled motor?

Front wheel motor

If you're motor is located in the front wheel, you may experience occasional problems riding on gravel/pebble surfaces where the front wheel can 'spin' as you ride along. This is because the front powered wheel which doesn't have any real weight bearing down on it, can have difficultly making contact with the surface. This is usually only ever experienced when either starting or stopping on gravelly/shingly surfaces.

This is why you'll find e-mountain bikes have the motor located either in the rear wheel or in the centre/crank location.

Rear wheel motor

Motor in the rear wheel reduces the risk of the front wheel spinning or making poor contact on pebbles/shingle or other off-road surfaces, which is why rear wheel motors are popular on e-mountain bikes.

However, the rear wheel is where your gears are located and often the most likely place for you to carry any luggage/cargo/panniers on your bike as well as the wheel that most of your body weight sits over. Therefore you need to be aware of the additional weight factor to the rear wheel.

You can therefore expect to get more punctures on your rear wheel given the extra weight. Always worth upgrading the tyres to something like Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres (or similar), which give greater anti-puncture protection that those usually fitted by the manufacturers. 

Other Problems with front and rear wheel motors?

Another factor is the 'pull and push effect' of the motor being in the front or rear wheel.

UK road traffic legislation requires motor assistance to stop after the bike reaches approximately 15mph. Once this speed is reached, the ebike motor will automatically cut off leaving you to cycle unaided. This in itself won't cause you a problem, but you can experience a jerking as the motor cuts out as soon as you reach the speed limit and then cut back in when your speed lowers back down below the limit and the motor re-engages.

It's not a huge problem, but if you're travelling for a distance it can become tedious having the motor clicking in and in and out as your speed varies. Hence, it's better to cycle your ebike at less than the maximum 15mph thereby avoiding the 'jerking effect.'

In my experience, lots of ebike riders don't really notice this effect, but some do. And those who do notice and experience the effect, really hate it!

With a crank motor, the motor still cuts out, but the effect of the motor cutting in an out is far less noticeable. 

Which brand of centre motor is better?

This is a question which can raise enormous debate on ebike forums.

Which is the better brand of centre motor? Bosch? Shimano Steps? Yamaha? Bafang?

Brutally honest here - I don't believe one is better than the other, all have merits and some motors would be more suitable for ebike riding where more torque is required. For example, the Yamaha PW series motor is typically more powerful than the standard Bosch motor, however the Bosch more is (in my view, at least) perfectly adequate and capable for all ebike riding.

Best advice I can give here - is when comparing ebikes and ebike motors, have a look at the power ratings between motors and models. Noting that some ebike motor brands build different power variations. If you want the most powerful motor, check to see which one delivers the most power and obviously there's your bike. However, in terms of reliability, speaking from a bike shop owners point of view where we both sell and service a variety of ebikes and see the motors post-sale often some years on, I really couldn't say that any brand sticks out as being more reliable than the other. All are reliable, provided they're looked after by the ebike owners and not subjected to abuse etc.

Which front or rear motor is better?

Again, I don't really believe there is much of a difference between the main players - most motors perform well and are reliable - again dependent on the owner looking after them.

For example, if you ride your front or rear wheel motor through deep water (small brook/puddles/flooded road), it will usually fail. You also need to be careful of riding steep hills in a relatively high gear which can lead to the motor failing/burning out.

Even though you're riding an ebike, you must where possible reduce the overall and prolonged strain on both front and rear motors by always ensuring your riding in lower gears when tackling hills thus giving some relief to the motor which will be under considerable pressure.

An example of what I'm talking about - We had a lovely customer who purchased a front wheel motored ebike from us. The ebike and motor being from a quality brand. Our customer managed to wear out the front motor in less than a year and we covered a replacement under warranty. It struck us as unusual for this was/is a powerful front motor and the lady in question didn't live in a hugely hilly area, but there is one long hill just outside her home.

When we returned the ebike to her, we got talking about riding the hill outside her home. What become apparent was she was never actually changed gear. She didn't know how, and when she'd tried she found it too difficult. Therefore, she remained in the one gear, the highest gear, which mean that her bike regardless of whether she was riding on flat surfaces, hills or down hills always remained in a higher gear.

I showed her how easy it was to change gear and advised her of the importance of regularly changing gear as conditions demand. Since then, we've had no problems with the motor.

An easy trap to fall into with ebikes is to not change gear enough as the motor will always take the strain and stress. Even though you're riding an ebike, you should always be changing gear to adopt to the changing conditions. By doing this, you will significantly reduce the potential for motor failures or other problems.

What is a 'walk assist' mode on an ebike?

Most quality ebikes will come with a walk-assist mode. This is quite a nice feature that allows you to avail of assistance while pushing your bike up a hill when you're unable to cycle it. For example, in a pedestrian area of a town centre.

Great for when your ebike is loaded up with cargo or shopping and you're finding it heavy going pushing the bike. Just click on the walk-assist mode and you can relatively effortlessly walk alongside your ebike.

The walk-assist mode can also be used to start you off without the need for pedalling. However, it only can achieve a maximum of 2mph in order to comply with the UK's ebike regulations.

Hopefully you've found this introduction to buying an ebike useful?

My aim with this feature is to keep it as basic as possible, while still giving you the answers to most frequently asked questions. If there's any questions you still have, please feel free to post them in the comments section and I will do my best to answer them.

Thanks for reading.

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