Ebikes – What are Electric Bikes? How do they work?

If you enjoy the fitness benefits of cycling but dread all those hills that torment every trip to the park, you might be interested in an ebike, or electric bike. These miracles of science come with propulsion systems that aid the pedaling process for easier, smoother and faster rides, but what are electric bikes and how do they work?

In addition, what kinds of ebikes are currently on the market? What accounts for their variations in price and speed? Here’s a quick guide to understanding your new favorite ride.

What are Electric Bikes?

The Mechanics of An Electric Bike

There are two basic types of ebike, and each one comes with its own pros and cons.

The pedelec offers pedaling assistance via a motorized system hidden in the bike’s hardware. It can help you speed up over flat terrain, slow down during a hill descent etc. It calculates things like pedaling force and overall bike speed to determine when you need an extra boost.

Unfortunately, the system isn’t foolproof, and there have been Matrix-like reports of pedelec bikes misinterpreting the data and acting with their own will. They won’t buck you off the seat or anything as drastic, but if you’re, say, peacefully cruising down the road when your bike suddenly decides to stop helping, you may wind up expending more effort than if you’d been riding a non-motorized model in the first place.

The twist-n-go bike is one where you deliberately trigger pedaling assistance via twist grips or on/off switch. It saves you the trouble of your bike deciding to act out I, Robot in the middle of a ride, but as a non-automated system, it also requires much more work on your part.

On the plus side, you’ll never waste power or battery life, so twist-n-gos will last longer than just about every other ebike model. They’re also the kind touted by environmental activists for their eco-friendliness.

Understanding The Controls

Depending on the size, price and overall construction of your e-bike, your model may come with either a “hub motor assist” or a “crank motor assist” .  These are located on the front wheels and pedal areas, respectively, and they’re responsible for giving the bike its juice.

Once upon a time, hub and crank motors had their own advocates claiming their models were the best, citing things like noise levels and basic maneuverability.

Technology has progressed to the point where these arguments are mostly moot, because assistance-wise, they’re pretty much indistinguishable . The only reason you might prefer one over the other is for aesthetics.

To Battery or Not To Battery

All electric bikes run on batteries, so if you want to make wise consumer decisions, you’re going to need to understand how they work and what your options are.

The two biggest types of batteries are nickel-based or lithium-based, the former offering cheaper prices but the latter promising a longer life and more energy per kilogram. Their power can be measured in both Ah (amp hours) and Wh (watt hours).

When it comes to batteries, you should think about terrain first and foremost. Do you pass a lot of hills on your way to uni? Do you expect to consume a lot of processing power going over rough granite and uneven sidewalks?

If you expect to put the hurt on your e-bike on a regular basis, lithium batteries are a safer bet for a long-lasting motor. On the other hand, if you anticipate a lot of maintenance anyway, replacing cheap nickel batteries won’t be that much of a problem and will cost you less upfront.

Buying An Electric Bike

Ready to take the plunge and ride in style? Here are a few considerations before dropping your hard-earned money on an ebike.

  • Price. Sophisticated models can easily set you back thousands of dollars, but if you don’t need LCD navigation systems and Bluetooth capabilities, simpler ebikes can be found for anywhere from $1500 to $4000.
  • Hardware. As mentioned above, there are several choices you can make between battery types, motor types, pedaling systems etc. There are also gears to consider; if you amp up your gears too much, you won’t leave much room for your pedaling motor.
  • Versatility. It’s a common joke that even a broken ebike is still a bike, much like how broken escalators are still stairs. But that isn’t quite true: If you’re riding a new, technologically heavy model, losing the electronics can mean losing all pedaling power over the ebike. If you’re cycling to work one morning and your battery suddenly dies, can you still finish the ride? Or will your bike become a useless lump of metal?

The Sum Of All Things

E-bikes come with pedelec or twist-n-go motors. These may be located on either the wheels or the crank. Batteries are important, so choose wisely between nickel and lithium depending on your budget, required shelf life and personal pedaling needs, and don’t make any foolish decisions when buying your first ebike.

Does that cover it? Are you ready to hit the road?

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