Should you buy an electric bicycle?

Just as there is a lot of innovation and progress in the world of electric automobiles, there are plenty of changes happening in the electric bicycle sphere, too. A few years ago, electric bikes were just standard bicycles with an electric motor and battery pack added. Today’s electric bikes are sophisticated, purpose built machines designed from the ground up to function properly.

Boris Mordkovich is the CEO & co-founder of EVELO Electric Bicycle Company. He says lots of people are asking the question, “Should I buy an electric bicycle?” Recently he talked with Tree Hugger about that question. Here’s what he had to say.

Can you still get exercise on an electric bike?

“People get electric bicycles specifically because they want to exercise more and be more active. The electric bikes makes riding accessible for the 99% of the population who are not regular cyclists already. For some people, it’s the fear of hills or going away far and not being able to come back easily that keeps them from cycling. For others, it’s the health limitations, age or athletic ability. For many people who are thinking about commuting, it’s the inconvenience of arriving to their destination sweaty.

“The question for those people then becomes: is it better to use a hybrid electric bike that allows you to pedal as much as you feel comfortable or just continue to use other modes of transportation that they were using before, primarily cars. Once you make it easy for people to ride – regardless of where they live or their physical ability – you find that people start biking regularly because they always know that they can safely reach their destination, even if it’s hilly or they are tired. Remember that they are still pedaling the entire way – but they adjust how hard or easy they want that to be.

“I’ve seen a lot of feedback from people for whom electric bikes became a gateway to cycling in general. They may initially use the electric bike with a lot of assistance from the motor, but as they build up their strength and stamina, they reduce the level of assist or turn it off completely.”

Are electric bicycles difficult to carry up stairs?

“Electric bikes are heavier than their traditional counterparts. There’s no way around it. To understand the difference, you can imagine a regular mountain bike that weighs around 30 pounds. Then you’d have to add a motor, battery and controller that would add up to another 30 pounds or so, so the complete package would be around 60 pounds.

“However, there are a few ways to get around it. One trick works great if your electric bike has a throttle. When you’re going up the stairs, simply position the bike in the direction that you are walking and use the throttle gently – as a result, the bike will almost climbs the stairs itself, with a little guidance from you.

“Another trick is to remove the the battery from the frame. It takes a second and reduces the weight of the bike by almost 10lbs – in which case the difference is much less noticeable. We’ve also seen a lot of people keep their electric bike in the building’s basement or storage room – just removing the battery and taking it upstairs for charging. So while the extra weight is certainly there, there are ways to get around it.”

Is it better to buy a complete bike or make one?

“Besides saving countless hours figuring out and building an electric bike? Absolutely! One of the key benefits is that ready made electric bikes are designed from the ground up. That means that all the bike components, electric and otherwise, are made to work well together. Everything was tested before it was packed in a box and shipped to you. Even frames are made to carry the wiring inside of the frame tubes, making the bike a lot more waterproof and elegant.

“On top of that, if you ever encounter any problems, you will have dedicated support department to turn to. Whereas when you build a bike from multiple components, it can be very hard to avoid getting the runaround. Electric bikes are still a fairly new product and while the maintenance required is fairly small, things can still go wrong. Being able to call a customer service toll free number and get answers to your questions 7 days a week is very helpful.”

Do electric bikes breakdown more often than a regular bike?

“Electric bikes do not break more often than their traditional counterparts. On a typical electric bike, 80% of all of the components are standard bicycle components anyway – remember it’s still a bike.

Most of the components that make up the electric part are fairly maintenance free nowadays. There aren’t a lot of moving parts in an average electric motor. The modern brushless motors can have very few parts that can wear out (such as brushes on the older brushed motors). The batteries from good quality manufacturers such as Panasonic, Samsung, and others, can last for years with just a bit of care. “On a good electric bike, the electric part may just outlast the bike part.”

Mordkovich recommends that anyone considering the purchase of an electric bicycle try one first. Most bike shops that sell electric bikes will have demonstration models available and will also be able to answer your questions about warranties, battery choices and software options.

But be warned. Riding an electric bike can be like driving an electric car. The experience can be addictive!