Wednesday 31 December 2014

The complete guide to electric bikes

Summary: Electric bikes (e-bikes, pedelecs) can make it feasible for more people in more types of circumstances to achieve many benefits of cycling for transport - specifically where distance, hills, winds, loads or fitness are barriers. However, it's important to consider: if e-bikes are really the best solution, if so, what type of e-bike to choose, and how to best use it to maximise cycling's advantages while not unnecessarily eliminating some benefits (e.g. free exercise, improving fitness/health) or introducing new barriers (risk of theft, ongoing costs). As I don't own or use e-bikes, this post will primarily collate links to the most helpful guides and resources.

Superpedestrian Copenhagen Wheel

Related Posts:
> See the buying a bike and gear category of this blog.
> See the barriers and solutions category of this blog.

1. Understand e-bike disadvantages
- I'm aware of all types of e-bikes and can readily afford any of them, so if I thought the e-bike type most suited to me was a better way of extending my cycling access, utility, benefits or enjoyment, I would get one or at least try it. However, I don't need one and, in my case, any benefits are very limited compared to several obvious, significant disadvantages. Hence, there's no chance of me considering one until I'm at least 60 or my circumstances change massively.

- Anyone considering some kind of e-bike should familiarise themselves with the common disadvantages as there may be alternate biking solutions and the ultimate aim is to be using bikes more not less:

e-bike DisadvantageExplanation
Higher coste-bikes cost between $500 and $2000 more than conventional equivalents
Theft risk; Can't park as freely- The higher value of e-bikes mean the theft risk is higher plus their components are typically harder to secure with a single U lock.
- The elevated theft risk means you often can't freely park an e-bike anywhere like you can with an inexpensive conventional bike.
Requires chargingAn e-bike turns into a heavy, impractical bike when not charged and thus there is a dependency on regular access to power plus the time,effort and inconvenience of charging and monitoring charge level.
Range/time limitse-bikes have limited battery capacity and so all have a finite limit to power usage. Once this runs out they become heavy, impractical bikes.
Higher weighte-bikes add weight of around 5-10kg to a conventional bike. If you need to carry your bike or lift it then this is a possible issue. The higher weight also means e-bikes are significantly harder to pedal without electric assist.
Greater maintenance dependenciesConventional bikes can be fully maintained by a typical person who acquires the low-cost tools and skills. The electric and some drivetrain components of e-bikes will require specialist maintenance if they need repair or tuning.
Battery life and bike lifespane-bikes have special batteries that have a finite life and many are not designed for simple, self-service replacement at reasonable cost. This may mean that many e-bikes have much lower in-practice lifespans than conventional bikes.
Vendor dependenciesMost e-bikes use proprietary solutions that need part replacement, servicing or support by a single vendor. This creates a dependency on the vendor's continued existence and service-level.
Technology dependenciesUsing a smartphone, app or similar technology as the means of enabling, configuring and operating an e-bike sounds appealing but creates an extra dependency for using the bike. E.g. Always having a charged, suitable phone with bluetooth connectivity.
Less exerciseThe health benefits of building free, daily exercise into your means of getting around is the biggest advantage of cycling. e-bikes reduce the extent of this advantage so you'd have to choose a type that lets you limit when the electric assist is on to prevent this.
Less safee-bikes greater speeds (which are effortless and easily maintained) combined with greater weight make them less safe for both the rider, other cyclists and pedestrians. Speeds above 30km/hr are one of the biggest factors in cycling crashes and injury.
Additional regulationse-bikes can be subject to additional regulations on things like maximum power or speed, access to some cycling facilities and extra road rules.
Technical limitations (speed/power caps)e-bikes often have limitations built-in for safety or to meet the hardest regulatory constraints (often power/speed caps). This can mean that functionality and performance (e.g. climbing steep hills, going fast when safe) can suffer.
Not true sustainabilityDon't fall for the greenwash that electric bikes and cars are green and sustainable. Most of the issues with electric cars apply to e-bikes. See: IEEE Spectrum: Unclean at Any Speed

Elecric Bike Review: Electric Bike vs. Regular Bike
> Copenhagenize: The E-bike Sceptic

2. First explore and try feasible alternatives using conventional bikes
- There are feasible solutions to many of the issues that lead people to considering e-bikes. Given the inherent disadvantages listed above, it is recommended to consider alternate solutions to these issues that only require a conventional bike:

Reason for considering an e-bikeAlternative with a conventional bike
DistanceThe distance of your common trips does matter or you need good connections with public transport
Getting the most out of using bikes and public transport together
> See the lifestyle choices category of this blog
> See the access and urban freedom category of this blog
Speed and saving time> See the saving time category of this blog
Hills> How to maximise your cycling when faced with hills
Wind> How to deal with windy conditions and still get around by bike
Sweat> Solve the sweat problem without showers and changing clothes
Comfort> See the comfort category of this blog
Bike weight and efficiencyKey decisions that will help narrow down the most suitable bike to buy
The best existing design solutions for transport utility bicycles
Bike loadThe best existing design solutions for transport utility bicycles
Designing a better utility bike in developing cycling cities
OtherSolutions to common barriers to cycling
> The barriers and solutions category of this blog

3. Recent news articles about e-bikes, their growing popularity and the reasons
- The most salient, recent news articles on e-bikes are a helpful way of getting a general understanding of the circumstances in which e-bikes have proved to be most useful and advantageous. Reviewing the most recent articles also advises you of the latest technological developments and options which is critical for the fast-evolving e-bike market. Older e-bike technologies and types tend to fade out of style and support rapidly.
> CityLab: The Coming Battle Over Electric Bicycles
> CityLab: In Defense of the Electric Bicycle, from the Bottom of a Steep Hill in San Francisco
> CityLab: Articles tagged "electric bicycle"
> NY Times: E-Bike Sales Are Surging in Europe
> The Guardian: Smart e-bike: futuristic-looking and shiny, but how practical?
> Grist: What can China teach us about electric bikes?
> Gizmodo: Is the US Poised for an E-Bike Revolution?

4. Useful general guides on e-bikes to aid decision making
- Below I'll collate the most useful general guides on e-bikes that help individuals make decisions on their utility, suitability and selecting the best type.
Electric Bike Review: Guides
> Electric Bike Report: Guides
Electric Bicycle Guide
> Mr Money Mustache: Electric Bikes - Gateway Drug to Bike Commuting?
> RideOn: E-bikes buying guide
> Bicycles Network Australia: Expert Round Table - Buying an E-Bike Part 1

5. Useful specific guides on e-bikes to aid decision making
- Below I'll collate the most useful specific guides on e-bikes that help individuals make decisions on their utility, suitability and selecting the best type.
> Electric Bike Review: Guides
Electric Bike Review: What is an Electric Bike?
> Electric Bike Review: What Are Electric Bike Classes and Why Do They Matter?
> Electric Bike Review: What’s the Difference Between Electric Bike Motors?
Elecric Bike Review: How to Choose an Electric Bike
Elecric Bike Review: Electric Bike Terminology
> Electric Bike Review: Insurance for Electric Bikes
> Elecric Bike Review: Electric Bike vs. Regular Bike

6. Professional, comprehensive e-bike review sites
- Review sites with actual product tests, sufficient details and videos for a large number of recent e-bikes can be hard to find. I will list the best of them below.
Electric Bike Review: Top 10 Electric Bikes
> Electric Bike Review: All Reviews
> Electric Bike Review: Compare Electric Bikes

Electric Bike Review: Compare Electric Bikes

7. About "Copenhagen Wheel" e-bike conversions (inc FlyKly, etc)
- "Copenhagen Wheel" solutions have all of the e-bike components in an extra-large hub that is integrated with the rear wheel. This enables most conventional bikes with standard 700C wheels to simply be converted to e-bikes by replacing the conventional rear wheel with a "Copenhagen Wheel".
> CityLab: If an Electric Bike Is Ever Going to Hit It Big in the U.S., It's This One
> Superpedestrian
> Superpedestrian Support
> Electric Bike Review: Superpedestrian Copenhagen Wheel Review
> Electric Bike Review: FlyKly Smart Wheel Review
> Electric Bike Review: Electron Wheel Review

8. An e-bike I'd consider if I was going to spend around US$3,000: Vanmoof Electrified
- If you don't need to worry too much about theft or damage risk, have sufficient money and are after thoughtful design, then the single manufacturer I'd recommend is Vanmoof. I have no connection with them, nor have I ridden any of their bikes yet, but I have reviewed their design choices and philosophy and think they are masters at optimising utility-driven function and form. See: The best existing design solutions for transport utility bicycles

- Hence, though I haven't ridden their e-bike - the Vanmoof Electrified - I am confident that if you are going to spend around US$3,000 on a bike, you should consider it. The best review I've found of it is here: Electric Bike Review: Vanmoof Electrified 3 Review

Vanmoof Electrified

9. Australian e-bike vendors and accessible solutions
- Below I'll compile a list of e-bike vendors and solutions available directly in Australia or which readily ship to and support Australian customers.
> Urban Bicycles - Vanmoof 10 Electrified
> Bicycle Exchange: Electric & Power Assisted Bikes
> Electric Bikes Network
> Velo Cycles
> Urbanmover

Further Info:
About e-bikes
Electric Bike Review: Guides
Electric Bike Review: What is an electric bike? (YouTube)

Electric Bicycle Guide
> Who can use an electric bicycle?

Electric Bike Report

Electric Bikes World Report

e-bike advantages and disadvantages
Bicycle Innovation Lab: Electric Bicycles
Quora: What are the advantages and disadvantages of an electric bicycle versus an ordinary bicycle?
Situp Cycle - The Electric Bike Debate
IEEE Spectrum: Unclean at Any Speed

e-bike reviews and comparisons
Electric Bike Review

Electric-Bikes: Electric Bicycles - Best Buys in Complete E-bikes

e-bike blogs
Sexy e-bikes

Specific e-bike types
"Copenhagen Wheel" types
Superpedestrian Copenhagen Wheel
> Flykly Smart Wheel

Portland State University: e-bike Research