Buying an eBike can be a complicated experience, even if you have been buying bikes for years and are familiar with all of the different components, frame geometries, and bike types. If you aren’t familiar with those things, it can seem even more daunting. But let us help you break these things down into the things that matter, and the things you will probably want to consider when you make your next bike purchase.WHAT WILL YOU USE IT FOR?
Riding right? Yes, well beyond that, there are many bikes that serve many purposes and over time there have been many different new bike types that have been introduced in the last 5-6 years which serve only to confuse this matter more. Just to name a few:
Fixed Gear bike
Scrambler/Moped Style Bike
Road bikes, trikes, recumbent bikes, and gravel bikes typically attract a buyer that know exactly what they’re after to suit their specific purpose (Not to say you can’t own these for more than that of course). Cruiser bikes, scrambler bikes, and fixed gear bikes are big on style and fun to ride, but not always the “do everything bike”. They typically attract the buyer that either wants more than one bike, wants to score big in the style category, or wants a bike that is different than the norm. That leaves mountain bikes and commuter bikes and this is the type of bike that a majority of buyers gravitate towards. Can a commuter handle offroad? Can a mountain bike be ok for both trails and your daily commute? It usually comes down to components and frame geometry for these bikes. But as a general rule, mountain bikes usually have beefier suspensions, wider tires and knobbier tires, and a geometry that is designed to be able to take on steeper mountain terrain. Commuter bikes typically have narrower tires, more upright frame geometry, and less suspension or at least less travel in the suspension. Confused yet? It gets confusing because there are hybrids between all of these models as well because everyone’s bike needs are unique and manufacturers have honed into these niches with product offerings. But in general, you likely won’t have any issue on your commuter bike on light, flat, hardpacked offroad trails, and you won’t have a terrible time pedaling your mountain bike as a commuter, so don’t get too stressed about the choice. Let’s go through a few more sections and it may become clear
This seems like a funny question on a bicycle, but some ebikes are powerful enough to carry even heavy riders up steep hills without ever touching the pedals. Some people want the bike to feel like a regular bike with just a little bit of extra help, some people just want “MORE POWER!”. People usually know what category they fall into and there are ebikes for everyone depending on which. Generally, 250W of power is equal to one human’s typical pedaling power. So a 500W engine you won’t have to pedal all that much and at 1000W you will have to assist only on the steepest of hills depending on where the engine is mounted (another thing to think about?!?). The hill-climbing aspect of this is where the debate usually starts around the hub-drive vs mid-drive starts. Does a mid-drive do hills better? Is a 500W hub-drive the same power as a 500W mid-drive? Which do I need?
I’ll try and make this as easy as possible so that you can figure out for yourself where you think you will need to be for your bike choice.
Hills: Both hub-drives and mid-drives can handle hills easily, but watts to watts mid-drives are better for hills. A 500W mid-drive will carry more riders up hills easily than 500W hub-drives. So to tackle hills on a hub drive you will need about 3-6X the power you would need on a mid-drive to climb the hill the same way that a mid-drive would.
Maintenance: Mid-drives can create more ongoing maintenance of the drivetrain as the power from the motor is driven through the bike chain and derailleur. This can add up over time, especially if you break derailleurs and cassettes (rear gear cogs) with hard shifting under load.
Heavy-Rider (220lb+) Lots of Hills, Not much pedaling: You will be best on a mid-drive geared (has more than one gear) bike with 500W of power or more OR Hub-drive engines with 3000W or more (no gears).
Light rider (under 220lbs) Lots of Hills, Not Much Pedaling: You will be good on a mid-drive geared (has more than one gear) bike with 250W of power or more OR Hub-drive engines with 1000W of power or more (gears or no gears doesn’t matter)
Heavy Rider, Flat Terrain, Not much pedaling: You will be good on a mid-drive geared (has more than one gear) bike with 250W of power or more OR Hub-drive engines with 750W of power or more (gears or no gears doesn’t matter)
Light Rider, Flat Terrain, Not much pedaling: You will be good on a mid-drive geared (has more than one gear) bike with 200W of power or more OR Hub-drive engines with 500W of power or more (gears or no gears doesn’t matter)
Heavy Rider, Likes Pedaling Still on Flat and Hills: You will be good on a mid-drive geared (has more than one gear) bike with 250W of power or more OR Hub-drive engines with 500W of power or more (with gears)
Light Rider, Likes Pedaling Still on Flat and Hills: You will be good on a mid-drive geared (has more than one gear) bike with 200W of power or more OR Hub-drive engines with 350W of power or more (with gears)
HOW NATURAL DO YOU WANT THE ENGINE TO FEEL?
This is an important question to ask because of how electric engines work. The amazing thing with electric engines is the amount of instant torque they can provide. It’s why all of the electric cars that are being developed now are breaking previous “in-class” acceleration records. This can be really fun when applied to ebikes as well, but it can also make the bike feel less like how a bike normally feels as the engine can propel you forward faster than you might want it to. This can make the bike feel unnatural. Some people like it, some people don’t. Ebikes usually use 3 different methods to tell the engine to kick in and start adding power:
Cadence Sensor: This is a magnetic sensor around the pedals that understands when the pedal crank is moving and the engine is powered every time the crank passes one of the magnets (usually 12 magnets in a full circle). The motor will supply power based on the power level selected by the user and it applies even power whether there is force on the pedals or not. Cadence sensors, because they don’t know how much force you are pedaling with, tend to not feel as natural as torque sensors
Torque sensor: Torque sensors are located in the bottom bracket where the crank attaches to the bike and can sense how hard you are pedaling and tell the engine to apply power naturally to help more gradually. Torque sensors are much more complicated pieces of technology and make the bike feel more natural when you pedal. Many high-end commuter, road, mountain and gravel bikes use torque sensors for the discerning rider that wants to achieve this natural feel. If this is for you, look for bikes with this feature.
Throttle: This is a direct input to the engine based on a twist or thumb-driven lever. The throttle allows the rider to use the engine without activating the pedals at all. This is not the natural way to ride a bicycle, but it sure is fun! But if this isn’t your thing, look for bikes without a throttle or ones where you can choose not to use it (most bikes with a throttle have this except for very high powered hub drives 3000W and higher)
Most electric bikes will have a mix of these things as well. Short story, if you want the most natural feeling bike make sure it has a torque sensor. If you like the feeling of speed and/or you don’t care about pedaling all the time then make sure you get a throttle.
For some riders the faster the better, for some there’s a certain point where you’re comfortable. But this should be something you consider when you’re looking for an ebike. Most countries have laws that prevent an ebike from going over a certain speed. Ebikes will be sold in certain classes (class 1,2 or 3) where the speed will be limited to the legal speed for your area. I am not an advocate of breaking laws, but I do like speed and that’s why all of Lyric’s bikes are designed to have the option to go fast. But all cars, trucks and motorcycles have the ability to go over the speed limit as well, it is up to you to obey the laws.
That being said, generally speed comes from power, and power on an ebike comes from watts, volts, and amps. As a general rule, higher numbers in all of these is better when you want speed, I will go into this in more detail in another article as there’s a lot behind this subject. Most ebikes being sold have battery voltage between 36 - 52volts and will have engines ranging between 250 to 1000watts (nominal rating). Above 1000W engines (nominal) you should be running higher voltage batteries 60+ volts with most in the range of 60-72volts and the daredevils going beyond this upper limit. Here’s a basic idea of speed for you:
250-350W: Basic helper engine and will top out around 20mph or 32kmh
500-1000W: Extra power, extra speed. Anywhere from 28-36mph or 45-58kmh. Enough to get a little scary
2000W-14000W: TONS of power, LOTS of speed. This is moped/motorcycle speeds of 45-90mph or 72-145kmh (depending on voltage/controller/etc)
WHERE DO YOU LIVE?
This might seem like a strange question, what would that have to do with what kind of bike you buy? Well, if you are new to eBikes and have never ridden one let alone tried to pick them up, you might be surprised how heavy they can get. Some ebikes also take up a bit more room than a traditional bike as some can be wider or longer. Weight and space can be a big factor in your decision if you live in a 4th-floor walkup, have a smaller space to store a bike, or need to mount your bike to the roof of your car. There are many folding bike options as well as bikes that try to keep the weight low. High-end mountain, road, and gravel ebikes will all have a lower weight than some of the dual battery, fat-tire bikes you see. There are even bikes that are sold with both front and rear hub engines which add a significant amount of weight to your bike. For those speed demons, it’s hard to avoid a heavy bike in the 3000W or greater category as both the engine and the battery get much heavier.
It probably isn’t your primary decision criteria, but something to keep in mind when you are shopping. The battery and engine end up roughly half the weight of the bike so the more you tend to increase these the heavier the bike will get.
DO YOU WANT A LEGAL EBIKE?
You either immediately thought “Yes!” or “Who Cares!” when you read that heading. I have a hard time denying which side of the fence I am on, but I respect that there are 2 viewpoints and there is merit to both. For the people that love speed, in order to ride the bike that you want to ride you will end up with an eBike that doesn’t legally fall into one of the classes of eBikes. This is easy in Europe where the maximum watts is 250, fairly easy in Canada where it is 500W, and still happens throughout the USA where it is 1000W. Anything above that range is usually labeled for “offroad use only”.
Legally it is still acceptable to limit bikes through the controller software to ensure that the maximum speed is not exceeded. This is usually the case when this class of vehicle is sold with engine/battery/controllers that are greater than the legal limit. Many of the bikes that Lyric sells have both legal and offroad setting so that the user can choose what level of speed and power they want to access. We prefer that bike companies make their customers aware and give their customers this choice when it is a potential option. If you are concerned about whether the bike you are buying might not fit within your local area’s laws your bike shop or online distributor should be able to tell you. If you are confused, reach out to us and we’ll help you figure it out too, even if it isn’t our bikes.
The best advice is to make yourself familiar with your local laws, it is different by country, state, and sometimes even in certain areas in certain cities (eg. some parks ban the use of electric bikes). So it is best to know how you might be limited before you buy,
HOW MUCH DO YOU WANT TO SPEND?
We have dedicated a more detailed article to the cost breakdown of bikes in our blog, if you want to understand further how these machines can cost as much as they do it might be worth it for you to check it out. Overall, bikes are a sum of a lot of parts and electric bikes have quite a few more parts than a traditional bike and expensive ones at that. Needless to say, it is challenging to make a low-cost electric bike especially when the motor and battery can be upwards in the amount of 75% of the cost of low-cost bikes.
There are good options anywhere from $1000 up to $20,000. We don’t recommend anything below the $1000 range as there start to be too many corners cut in the durability of the many parts of the bike that you may not be saving much too far down the road. Here’s a quick summary of what to expect in each price range:
This is just an idea and it shows that as cost increases the size of the battery, engine and controller usually increase and these need to be mated with more powerful brakes so that you can slow the faster bikes down. There’s exceptions to all rules and I am providing this to give you frame of what to compare your short-list of bikes against. You can pay more for well-established brands, custom designs, and specific products that you may find value in (eg. cool pedals!) that others don’t.
HOW TALL ARE YOU?
If you are either fairly short or fairly tall you will have already noticed that the ebike industry is a little behind right now in servicing your needs. A large majority of the frames that are being manufactured and sold are from China where the culture there doesn’t build different bike frame sizes. These frames are prevalent in the bikes you can find in the North American and European market from Juiced, Ariel Rider, Himiway, Biktrix and the like. Some of the more well known brands like Trek, Specialized, and Giant have different frame sizes on offer but they carry with them a higher price tag for the recognized name.
As the industry matures, there will be more options offered for short and tall riders. Lyric has some frames in design as we speak for you so stay tuned here for those bikes when they are available.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of the things you will probably be thinking about, Send us a note at email@example.com and we’d be happy to help out when you are looking to choose your next bike.