E-Bike buying guide 2022
Everything you need to know about buying an e-bike
So, you’re interested in an e-bike? Great!
Now a common sight on our roads, e-bikes are helping people reconnect with the traditional pedal bike to use a cleaner, healthier type transport again, but using electrical technology to further, easier and faster.
Here, we’ve put together our definitive guide that aims to demystify the basics of the e-bike, and what you should consider when thinking about investing in one.
Ready? Let’s go.
How do e-bikes work?
E-bikes, also known as pedelecs, are like ordinary pedal-powered bicycles, but with an electric motor and battery fitted that provides assistance, reducing effort, and in lots of cases makes your journey faster.
The key word here is “assistance”. Unlike e-scooters, which work by engaging a throttle after an initial kick off, e-bikes offer powered pedal assistance, supplementing your effort that you put in each pedal stroke. This is where the term “electric-assist” comes from.
In the UK, e-bikes are governed by strict laws. The bike must be pedal powered, while the motor can deliver a maximum of 250W of additional assistance up to a maximum speed of 25km/h (15.5mph), after which it cuts out. For perspective, that’s about the same amount that a well-trained club cyclist might be able to generate for an hour, working as hard as they can using their legs alone.
In recent years, e-bike popularity has grown rapidly. Where once upon a time the only bikes that you’d find with electrical assistance were city bikes, now there’s a diverse market of electric-assist bikes, including:
Designed to be the versatile e-bike you can use for a variety of surfaces (roads or rougher bike paths), hybrids suit people looking for a flat-handlebar e-bike they can use for anything from a commute to a trip out in the country with the family. Some hybrid e-bikes are more suited to road riding, while others will have thicker tyres and a front suspension more suited to basic off-road trails.
Off-road trail blazers love the downhill, but what goes down must come back up, so a powerful motor can help you back up steep inclines ready to go again… and again! They look much like a standard mountain bike but with a fatter down tube generally housing an integrated battery (however models are available with removeable batteries).
Pioneered by brands like Brompton, folding e-bikes offer specially-designed motor systems to fit within smaller, lighter frames, and although these are sometimes less powerful, they offer a great alternative for those needing to take their e-bike with them on public transport, wanting to store it away under a desk at work, or neatly away at home.
Road e-bikes look much like a standard road bike with drop handlebars for a more streamlined riding position and they tend to be lighter in weight. Predominantly with integrated batteries, they can help you ride further and feel like the hills have flattened out.
An e-bike’s additional power can help carry heavy loads. Electric cargo bikes are often designed to either carry commercial goods or be fitted with seats for smaller children, to carry up to 250kg. Check out our electric cargo bike buyer’s guide for more information.
You may have come across these e-bikes described as e-road or e-MTB, and there’s some other niche categories such as e-gravel bikes. It’s not just city folk that like to have a little help along the way – you can find an electric bike for just about any type of riding, anywhere these days.
Fundamentally, the right type of e-bike for you will largely hinge on what you intend to use it for, for the majority of the time.
Hybrid e-bikes tend to come with the most variety of frame styles. Standard crossbar frames are available as well as a whole variety of step-through frames. Their dipping top tubes – or lack of top tubes at all - make getting on the bike much easier. If you’re carrying loads at the back, have a child seat fitted or find raising your leg to the horizontal tricky, a step-through e-bike makes life significantly easier.
You’ll find step-through frames called anything from a ‘mid’, ‘open’ or ‘trapeze’ to a ‘low step’, depending on how low the frame dips. Quite often step through bikes also have a much more upright, comfortable riding position.
Motor types - Frame and hub
E-bike motors come in two main forms – either fitted into the central structure of the frame (known as the bottom bracket area around which the pedals and crank arms spin), or in the hub of one of the wheels. There is no clear winner for which is best – rather, each has its own positives and negatives – but all do a good job.
A centrally or frame-mounted motor can directly measure how hard you’re pedalling with each pedal stroke. As a result, it can provide a set amount of additional assistance based on the effort you’re putting in yourself and the chosen assistance setting (more on that later in ‘Modes’).
The downside is that they can require more maintenance than hub motor systems thanks to the added stress placed through the drivetrain, especially for the very high-powered models.
A hub motor mounted to the rear wheel sees your effort transferred through the pedal action to the rear wheel, where sensors detect your input and provide assistance. These types of motors are popular especially on road e-bikes and stylish city e-bikes, thanks to their lower weight and svelte design.
A rear hub motor can also be designed into an e-bike with less cost, because the central part of the bike frame doesn’t need to be engineered around it in the same way as a frame-mounted motor. This often leads to reduced manufacturing costs, and therefore leads to better value to the rider.
Plus, the rear structure of a bike frame is normally the strongest, while the majority of a rider’s weight pushes down through the rear wheel, adding traction, which can be a benefit in more slippery conditions.
Check out the rear hub motor-powered Pure Flux One now
Front hub motors are different in that they aren’t directly attached to the pedalling drivetrain, instead relying on being ‘pushed’ in order to activate and add their own assistance. This sometimes gives the impression that they’re pulling the bike along as you pedal. This kind of motor is more commonly found on cheaper e-bikes.
E-bikes can come with different gear systems - derailleur or hub. Derailleur systems are much more common, but each comes with its own pros and cons.
A derailleur gear system is what most of us are used to seeing on an average bike. This is where you change gear by using a derailleur to physically move the chain to an easier or harder gear. In a hub gear system, everything is hidden away and your gears are selected internally.
In everyday life, derailleur systems can offer more gearing options and are easier to fix if something goes wrong. Hub gears are lower maintenance and tend to last longer because they're protected from the elements.
Along with an e-bike’s motor, the drivetrain contains the parts that push and pull you along. For many e-bikes this will mean a chain, cogs, and as discussed above, potentially a derailleur that may or may not help you change gear.
An alternative is a belt drive mechanism, where instead of having a chain (which can get grimy easily and then dirty your clothes) you have a belt. This may involve a single or multiple gear system, but not a derailleur.
With a belt drive there’s no chain to oil and you can ride about 500 miles before it even needs tightening, so it’s a very clean and low maintenance system if bike DIY is not your thing!
Check out the low maintenance, belt-drive powered Pure Flux One now
Battery technology is developing quickly, and in the past few years some manufacturers have managed to downsize their batteries so that they fit inside the frame itself, or clip into a cavity within the frame. Meanwhile, others are squeezing more and more power out of the tried-and-tested exterior battery design.
Battery dimensions largely depend on its use – for enthusiasts like mountain bikers and road cyclists, a smaller battery that has been wholly or partly integrated into the frame is often desirable for performance and aesthetic reasons. Urban commuters are arguably better served by a more functional, larger design that attaches outside the frame or, as is often the case, into custom pannier racks (these are often cheaper to produce too, without compromising quality).
The ability to remove a battery can also make charging easier and more convenient, and boost your e-bike’s security when parked up. Or if you can only store your e-bike somewhere that has no power available, a removeable battery is essential.
You may see variations on this theme, but battery capacity and speed of recharging should be top considerations. If you need to complete longer journeys or you know that you’re going to rely upon pedal assistance more heavily thanks to living in a hilly area, a larger capacity or fast-charging battery (or an e-bike that offers swappable or extendable battery packs) will appeal.
Battery capacity is generally measured in amp hours, and the higher the number, the bigger its capacity and potential range.
Note: Battery capacities drain over time and use, as well as in very cold conditions (although lithium-ion battery technology, on which the vast majority of e-bike batteries are based, is constantly improving to mitigate this). Look for batteries from reputable companies, and which carry a warranty.
Motor and battery systems combine to work together. Popular and renowned manufacturers from the cycling and electronics industries share this market, sometimes collaborating to develop new systems. These brands include specialists Shimano, Ebikemotion and Fazua, and more mainstream names like Bosch, Sony and Yamaha. Remember that electronics and built-in frame mountings for electronic parts are very rarely cross-compatible, so you’ll need to stick with your system once you’ve chosen your e-bike.
E-bike motor systems usually come with a selection of power settings. Arbitrarily, these can be set to low, medium, high, plus some kind of ‘max’ setting, although this varies between motor systems and models. Some may have only two settings, while others might have as many as five or more.
Ultimately, we don’t think that the number of modes should concern you too much – as long as you can easily switch between modes on the go using a control interface, then you can choose what you need, when you need it. Experience is the best teacher in terms of knowing what works best for you on a day-to-day basis – many even find that they rarely need to use their e-bike’s ‘max’ setting, instead using a lower power mode for much of the time.
An e-bike should come with a handlebar or (in some cases) a frame-mounted control unit, while others feature smartphone apps that can offer this, as well as metrics that can tell you your mileage, track your use and even offer tips on how to get better range, as well as run system diagnostics and firmware updates. This control unit (and app) will also indicate how much battery you have left at any given time, while some can dynamically predict what range you have left.
Much like when you drive your car, e-bike range depends on how you ride it, so claimed ranges by manufacturers should be taken with a pinch of salt. If you ride it in its most powerful mode all the time, then you’ll drain the battery much faster, while hilly terrain will also likely cause the motor to provide more assistance more of the time too, depending on the mode you have it set in.
As we’ve mentioned, some systems feature companion apps that can give you an insight into how to get the most range. But, ultimately, your potential range is a simple equation of your battery capacity, the motor’s power output, and how you ride it.
Note: It’s worth noting that some e-bike brands claim very high ranges, but these are often unrealistic and are based on favourable conditions (e.g. a very light rider riding on a perfect surface on the lowest power setting). Pure e-bikes are extensively tested, and our quote ranges are achievable in typical conditions.
One of the few downsides of e-bikes is the additional weight the motor, battery and electronics bring compared to an ordinary bicycle. This means that, although you can ride them with the motor system off, it is more difficult than it would be without those parts.
E-bikes can weigh anywhere from around 10-11kg (for a specialist high-end road e-bike), up to around 25kg in the case of large hybrid e-bikes. In the latter case, this can make carrying them around – onto trains, for example – quite challenging. That said, added weight and ‘sturdiness’ can make navigating potholes and poor road surfaces a bit easier. Foldable e-bikes, like the Brompton Electric folding bike, stand out because they are designed to be portable thanks to their collapsible design and lower weight (around 16-17kg with the battery attached). However, the smaller wheels and design means that ride quality is generally not as comfortable for longer journeys.
You can also find full size e-bikes, such as the Pure Flux One, with competitively light total weights too, without the downsides of small wheels. Check out the Pure Flux One now.
Build quality and reliability
More established than e-scooters, with more regulations and standards that underpin overall designs, e-bikes can generally be relied upon to provide good standards of build quality (as long as they meet these regulations!) and reliability.
However, there are some pitfalls worth watching out for and avoiding.
Online shopping outlets like eBay are peppered with seemingly fantastic deals on e-bikes, with claims of the same (or even ‘derestricted’) performance and cheaper prices. These should be avoided, as the manufacturers are not necessarily producing or sourcing their frames and components from reputable places, while any warranties given are likely to be limited, at best.
Unbranded e-bikes are also to be treated with caution, as are unbranded motors and batteries. All e-bikes should be capable of being ridden in the rain without issue, but cheap electronics can at best be faulty, and at worst dangerous for obvious reasons.
You may also be tempted into buying second hand. Although second hand e-bikes have their place, you risk buying an e-bike that might have hidden, unprovable-until-it’s-too-late issues (such as a degraded battery and/or faulty motor, plus worn out mechanical parts) that are no longer covered under warranty and need replacing.
Cost and value
Compared to a similarly equipped ordinary bike, e-bikes tend to be more expensive thanks mostly to the inclusion and cost of the motor systems and electronics.
This cost will largely change due to a few factors, which boil down to:
✔ Motor specification ✔ Battery capacity (plus addition of an extra battery) ✔ Mechanical components (the non-motorised parts) ✔ E-bike manufacturer reputation ✔ Frame material
However, although e-bikes might seem expensive, often costing several thousands of pounds, it’s important to consider this against the cost of your current commute or travel habits. Do you spend much of that money each year already on public transport, or on fuel and congestion and parking charges for your car, for example?
Often, when totting up the realistic costs of each, an e-bike can work out significantly cheaper than other motorised transport over a period as short as a year, while there are a host of benefits to being outside in the fresh air and staying relatively active too.
Which is best? Try before you buy
Although there are many e-bikes out there to suit many different types of usage, the best way to work out which model is for you is to analyse what you’re going to use it for, how often, and where, then decide which of the features are most important to you – balanced with your budget.
Give us a call on 020 8080 3448 for a no-obligation chat with one of our experts!
Once you’re browsing our range of e-bikes, if you have any further questions you can get in touch with us via our contact us page.