Many articles are written about the technical side of electric bikes. Battery size and capacity, engine type and power output - all these things are undoubtedly crucial to know when selecting an electric bike. However, I have noticed that many people wonder about the practical side of using an e-bike. How does it feel to ride uphill? Is it difficult to handle the battery? And what about the safety of the e-bike itself?
In this article, I will try to move aside from technical aspects and describe my personal electric bike experience.
I have been using my electric bicycle almost every day for more than a year now. The bike I use is a converted city bike, with a 250W rear wheel hub motor and 36V 8.8Ah battery. There is nothing fancy about the bicycle. However, I can safely say that such it has everything you need for everyday urban commuting.
Let's be honest; there is little joy in riding uphill using a regular bike. In fact, I am convinced that most people consider purchasing an electric bike for a simple reason that riding uphill every day requires too many efforts. I live in Tampere, so the struggle of cycling uphill is an everyday problem. My 250W electric bike has been dealing with hills perfectly so far.
Your uphill experience will be affected by many factors, such as engine type, battery characteristics, slope steepness, bicycle weight, your overall physical condition, etc.
From my experience, 250W is just enough for smooth everyday city commuting. Moreover, it is a road-legal standard, which means there is no need to purchase insurance or invest in anything other than the bike itself.
However, that is my experience, and the best way to figure out which e-bike you need is taking one for a test-drive.
Maybe I am lucky, but none of my bikes have ever been stolen. However, none of us is protected from bike thieves. I have always followed a few ground rules that could be the reason why my bikes are still safe and sound. Here are some of the principles.
First of all, it is worth investing in a proper bicycle lock. I would recommend purchasing a chain or foldable lock. In most cases, these locks are almost impossible to deal with unless special tools are used. Avoid getting a cheap cable lock, since those can be cut in a matter of seconds. Feel free to read this article about locks.
Next, make sure to leave your bike in a designated parking, hidden behind other bicycles, especially if you have an expensive electric mountain bike. This way your e-bike will not attract too much attention, thus decreasing the risk of being spotted and stolen. Also, bike parking places are usually located in areas with high traffic or near houses. Cutting or otherwise removing lock is problematic in such conditions.
I usually lock my bike in storage inside the house I live in.
When I have to leave my bike in a random spot, I try to take the battery with me. In most cases, they are very mobile and can easily fit into a backpack.
If bicycle safety is a primary concern for you, check out the numerous anti-thief tools for bikes.
My battery is attached to the frame of the bike and can be easily removed using an individual key. Although it is relatively heavy, the size makes it mobile and easy to carry. Upon arriving at a destination, I usually pick the battery to charge if it’s empty or to prevent it from discharging during cold weather.
Battery travel distance is affected by lots of factors. If you want to investigate this matter in more details, then check out this article on electric bike batteries.
From my experience, 36V 8.8Ah battery is a perfect match for a 250W engine. On average, I travel from 10-16 km on a daily basis, and the battery has dealt with these distances perfectly. Considering how easy it is to charge a battery from a regular 220V socket, I have rarely found myself in a situation when the battery is discharged, and there is nothing to do about it.
However, there were a few occasions when I wished the battery was a bit more powerful. My motor is gearless, which means it generates resistance when a battery is disconnected or discharged. Going uphill with an empty battery and gearless engine is troublesome.
Also, in the wintertime, it is especially important to pay attention to battery charge, since low temperatures increase the discharge rate. Again, travel distance is affected by numerous factors, but the rough average is 30-40 km on a single charge for a 300Wh battery.
If your situation is different and you need to travel 30+ km one way or there is no easy option to recharge the battery upon arriving at a destination, make sure to check the compatibility of the battery and engine carefully.
This is probably the most satisfying benefit of having an electric bike.
Before getting an electric bike, I have been using a car and public transport as primary means of transportation. Now, I do not spend money on gas and parking, or monthly bus passes. Car inspections, road taxes, and maintenance fees are in the past too.
To be more specific, monthly savings count in hundreds, yearly - in thousands.
Even though the winter is gone now, I believe it is worth writing a line about wintertime cycling, especially since we live in Finland. An electric bike is quite a bit heavier than a regular one, which means it is more likely to slip. My bike has a rear wheel engine, which is more likely to cause slipping when riding on ice. It took some time to learn how to operate the bike to prevent it from slipping. Pretty much all you need to do is adjusting the assistance and acceleration level in a right way. If your engine accelerates and goes from 0 to 100% power level instantly, you will be likely to slip and drift.
By using a medium engine assistance level, you will keep control over the motion of the bike. Also, remember that front wheel drive behaves better in slippery and icy conditions.
Keep in mind that electric bike is still a bicycle, so following normal winter cycling rules (decreasing the speed while turning, using winter tires, etc.) and you will be okay.
An electric bike is a diverse and complex system; each bicycle has own behavior and way to operate. If you are just thinking about getting one or have spotted a particular e-bike model, make sure to evaluate your situation, think about pros and cons of the bike and, if possible, take it for a test-drive.