A guide to buying your first e-bike

Socially distanced travel is the new fashionable way to commute. Could an e-bike improve your commute? We run through all the questions that matter as you weigh up the pros and cons for buying your first electric bike.

Socially distanced travel is the new fashionable way to commute. Could an e-bike improve your commute? We run through all the questions that matter as you weigh up the pros and cons for buying your first electric bike.

Chris King
From the Home team
minute read
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Posted 19 JUNE 2020

What is an e-bike?

An e-bike or electric bike is a motor-powered bicycle. They look similar to a conventional bike, but feature a motor and a battery to help power your pedalling.

They’re sometimes known as electrically assisted pedal cycles (EAPCs) and must:

  • have pedals for propelling
  • not assist you when travelling more than 15.5mph
  • not exceed 250 watts of power

How much does an e-bike cost?

Like traditional push bikes, e-bikes are available across a broad price range. You can expect to pay around £600 for a basic model and anything up to £10,000 for a top-of-the range bike.

What speeds can e-bikes reach?

By law, electric bicycles mustn’t assist your pedalling when travelling more than 15.5 mph. However, you may be able to pedal faster than this and within the legal speed limit, just don’t expect any help from your motor at that point.  
You can view your speed on the control unit on the handlebars of an e-bike. 

What range will an e-bike cover?

The average e-bike will cover between 20 to 35 miles on a single full charge, but some manufacturers promise much longer distances.

The figures may seem broad, but there are many factors that can affect the range, including the weight of the rider and any other load on the-bike. The terrain you’re riding on and the weather can all play a part, too. The amount of help you choose to get from the motor also affects the distance that the bike will remain charged for.

E-bikes allow their rider to choose a power level from the motor, using a control unit. ‘Low power’ or ‘eco’ modes will give you the least help but last a longer distance. ‘Turbo modes’, although useful when riding up steep hills, will provide the most power and empty your battery faster.

You’re never really caught short on an electric bike as you always have the option to pedal, even with a flat battery. If you’re travelling particularly far, you could also try carrying a spare battery.

How heavy are e-bikes?

The weight of electric bikes can be anything from 10kg to 25kg. Typically, electric bicycles are heavier than conventional bikes because of their batteries. 

Why do e-bikes vary so much in price?

Expensive e-bikes will typically be made of higher quality parts than cheaper models. You can expect the following advantages from an e-bike with more expensive parts:

  • battery – higher charging capacity and a longer lifespan
  • motor – greater power output and well-balanced positioning
  • frame – lighter materials (typically carbon-fibre) that absorb road vibration
  • electronics – sophisticated control units and improved wiring
  • brakes – improved stopping power, high quality levers and hydraulic function
  • wheels – hard-wearing and more resilient so you should get fewer punctures

What is the cheapest way to buy a new e-bike?

There are a number of schemes available to help spread the cost of an e-bike. After tax breaks and monthly payments, you could save up to 42% on the purchase price.

You can check with your employer if they’ve signed up to a scheme already, or find more details about registering on cycle-to-work-scheme websites:

What types of e-bikes are available?

There are several types of e-bikes available for use in a number of different situations. The different types of e-bike include:

  • electric hybrid bikes – part mountain bike, part road bike, with a battery-powered motor
  • electric mountain bikes – also known as eMTBs, they’re designed to be taken off road, with the manufacturers having given extra attention to suspension
  • electric road bikes – ideal for the road and built for speed
  • electric folding bikes – can be taken on public transport thanks to their space-saving folding design
  • women’s electric bikes – bikes with slanted top tubes for easy mounting and other frame variations are available across all types of e-bikes

How suitable are e-bikes for commuting?

Whether an electric bike will suit your commute will depend on the distance you need to travel, the availability of safe and secure parking, and your budget.

With their impressive electric ranges, low running costs and affordable cycle-to-work schemes, e-bikes are a worthy commuting option for most people. In some cases, for some people, they could end up cheaper and more convenient than taking public transport or driving a car to work.

The Government has pledged £2 billion towards creating more space for cyclists and pedestrians as it aims to double the number of walkers and bicycles commuting to work.

How much does it cost to run an e-bike?

Before you buy an e-bike, you should consider the cost of charging. This will vary according to the capacity of your battery and your electricity tariff.

Regular servicing will help to keep your e-bike in top condition. A service should cost around £30 to £50. If you use your bike regularly, perhaps to commute to work, a service every two to three months should be enough. If you use your e-bike less often, maybe once or twice a week, a service every six months should be fine.

How much do e-bike batteries cost?

If you’d like to buy a spare battery or need a replacement for any reason, you can expect to pay between £375 and £600, depending on the manufacturer and capacity.

Although the parts are expensive, you’re unlikely to need a replacement battery for a long time as they typically last around 700 full charges before suffering a significant drop in capacity. Some particularly sophisticated bikes can manage power use to allow a battery to maintain a high capacity for 1,000 full charges.

What else should I look out for when buying an e-bike?

There are two main types of motors on electric bikes:

  • hub drive motors – usually cheaper and found on the wheels of the bike. Suitable for commuting and riding on flat roads, although the pulling motion from the front tyre, or pushing from the back tyre, can feel unnatural.
  • mid-drive motors – located between the pedals, they usually offer a more balanced weight distribution. Ideal for off-road riding.

E-bikes use sensors to decide how much power to deliver to the motor. There are two types:

  • torque sensors measure how much power you’re putting into the pedals
  • cadence sensors measure how fast you’re pedalling

Better quality e-bikes will usually feature both types of sensors.

How do you charge an e-bike?

The charging progress might vary between different e-bikes, so it’s important to read the manual for your model.  
You’ll probably need to give your battery a 24-hour charge before using your bike for the first time. Then your next charge should take three to eight hours.  
Simply remove the battery from your bike and attach it to the charger provided. It’s best to do this indoors because charging in cold temperatures runs the risk of reducing battery capacity. Once charged, leave the battery for ten to 15 minutes before reattaching it to the bike. 
Try to keep the charge level above 25% at all times and to recharge within 24 hours. 

Where do I find the charge level of my battery?

Most e-bikes come with a control unit where you can view the charge level of your battery. Some models may include LED lights on the frame to indicate battery life. Also, apps are available that can give you updates on your phone.

Can I ride an e-bike on the road?

All electric bikes that meet electrically assisted pedal cycle (EAPC) requirements are classed as pedal bikes and can be used on the same cycle paths and roads as conventional bicycles.

Rule 64 of the Highway Code says you must not cycle a pedal bike on the pavement.

How can I keep my e-bike secure?

You can keep your e-bike secure by following a few simple tips:

  • register your bike with the national cycle database
  • lock both your frame and tyres to an immovable object
  • leave the e-bike in a public place that is covered by CCTV
  • note down your frame number - it’s usually found under the e-bike, between your pedals
  • remove the control unit on your bike and take it with you
  • use a GPS tracker - many e-bike manufacturers fit the devices as standard
  • keep your bike lock off the ground to prevent thieves from breaking them with a blunt object
  • whenever possible, bring the e-bike indoors when you’re not using it

Can children ride e-bikes?

By law, an electric bike can only be used by children aged 14 or over.

How can I insure my e-bike?

E-bikes aren’t cheap and although you’re not obliged to insure them by law, you may want to add them to your home insurance policy.

If you prefer more comprehensive cover, a dedicated cycle insurance policy may suit your needs.

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