Ebikes - what to look for
Popular throughout Asia, it was estimated that in 2010 there were over 120 million e-bikes in China. Electric bikes are now becoming more popular throughout the USA and Europe for a number of reasons as people try to economise and become more aware of the damage to the environment that fuel emissions cause. It is thought there were 700,000 electric bikes sold in Europe in 2010.
In different countries, the legal requirements are slightly different, but as long as your electric bike adheres to the legislative rules applicable to your country, it is usually classed as a power-assisted bike and does not need the usual road tax, insurance and licence requirements. Different countries are considering the classifications of the e-bikes, with some allowed to travel in bicycle lanes, others not. There is often a legal age requirement for riding these bikes.
With no fuel costs other than the electric charging, this is a means of transport that is ideal for regular short journeys. Commuters can get to work quickly and easily without arriving feeling sweaty or ideal for those who are not agile enough to pedal a normal push-bike for very far. Perfect for those who still need a means of transport, but don’t have a car. With Governments introducing Ride to Work initiatives to reduce pollution, congestion and fuel consumption, the electric bike is becoming much more popular, particularly in big cities where commuters cause problematic traffic congestion and parking problems.
The electric bikes come in a range of styles and prices, from some that look like small motorbike scooters, not unlike a Vespa or Lambretta, the Sakura, for example is often mistaken for a moped and others, known as hybrid bikes, are similar to a regular mountain bike where the rider can pedal for most of the journey and draw on a little motorised help when the terrain gets too tough or the journey is too long. Some bikes have a wide range of gears.
The electric bikes are sometimes known as e-bikes or electric scooters. They come in a range of budgets, starting at around US$500 and ranging up to US$3,000. They are ideal for pensioners who are agile enough to be able to ride a bike, but unable to pedal far. The advantage of these bikes over the more traditional electric mobility scooter with 3 or 4 wheels is that they can go on the road. The problem with mobility scooters is that they need to be on the pavement and the rider needs to be constantly looking for dropped kerbstones when planning their route. The electric bike has a longer range between charges and can go faster.
Electric bikes in many parts of the world are classified as bikes rather than motorised vehicles and so do not come under the legislation that governs vehicles. They are easy to maintain and require regular charging and a service of a few parts to check on wear and tear on tyres, brakes and lights.
The benefit of the electric bike is that most can be classed as zero-emission vehicles. The small size of the battery means that may are eligible for solar-powered charging.
Some electric bikes require no pedal-assistance at all and will comfortable accommodate a journey of around 15 miles before they need re-charging. This is dependent on the terrain and riding conditions, steep gradients and strong winds can hinder the efficiency. These are ideal for people who need a means of transport but may have limited agility. Other bikes are designed for more agile riders and the pedal assistance recharges the battery.
The bikes come in a range of styles, including three-wheeler versions and can have accessories such as baskets or storage boxes to be able to carry a small amount of luggage. Some electric bikes can also be folded, ideal for camping trips. The e-bikes can be made to be very lightweight, making them ideal for easy transportation. Although some bikes reach only a limited speed, you should wear a protective helmet. Fit a bell or horn to warn people that you are approaching, as these bikes are silent and make no engine noise. For additional safety, wear high-visibility clothing. As with all moving vehicles, check the bike regularly to ensure that lights, indicators, brakes and tyres are fully functioning.
You do need to be aware of the mileage range of your bike, as at the moment, the lack of recharging stations in many countries is problematic. The British Government has introduced a Park and Charge scheme, which provides secure parking bays for electric bike users with charging stations and more of these are being planned for the future. Government incentives could help cover up to 50% of the cost of providing a park and Charge facility. Battery technology continues to become more advanced with the lithium ion batteries allowing a maximum range between charges. You might want to fit devices that warn when the battery charge is running low (although you will have a gauge on your dashboard to show this), or fit a computer that shows the mileage. To secure the bike, you may want to buy a secure locking device to protect against theft.
For those who have a little technical know-how, it's easy to convert your bike into an electric bike by adding the component parts.
The electric bike can also be used as a cargo vehicle as an efficient way to transport heavy loads over small distances where traditional pedalling would be too tiring.