Electric bicycles (e-bikes) explained

June 2019 edition:

(This is a work in progress and constantly being developed and updated on more a less a daily basis, so do call by again soon!). The most up-to-date version is always here: http://www.sheffieldcycleroutes.org/e-bikes/

This is now a fairly full article, and is presented in sections so that you can pick out the particular information that you need, rather than wade through everything, and/or be able to delve further into specific aspects if you want to.

The contents list can be found a little further down.

It covers everyday e-biking, with particular reference to e-bike and cycling resources generally in the hilly Sheffield area, where, like the trams, a more powerful than average motor system is needed.

People are catching on to how e-bikes offer a viable, green and fun option for folk of all persuasions to be less vehicle dependent for appropriate journeys, however if you find yourself considering one, e-bike terminology and the range available can be bewildering!

Hopefully then this is informative both for the increasing number of people who are in the early stages of considering e-biking as an alternative means of transport, be that for utility or for leisure, and also for those well down the decision path and looking for more detailed information to inform a purchase.

Whilst this article gives an overview of e-bikes generally, it majors on the Utility type of e-bike, with luggage rack, mudguards, lights etc, my partner and I use for everyday urban duties and just getting around Sheffield quickly and conveniently –  journeys we used to make by car or public transport…

After 6 yrs on one or two different e-bikes in Sheffield, we have 2 Bottom Line recommendations:

– Buy an e-bike that is powerful, efficient, well equipped, reliable and pleasant to ride. You will enjoy and want to ride such a bike, and you will find yourself putting it to good and maybe everyday use.

– I recommend you consider buying locally if possible so you have expert advice and good after sales backup and servicing on your doorstep.

We have found that for an e-bike that ticks the above boxes in and around hilly Sheffield you will need to spend £1500 – £2000+

Yes – that sounds a lot for ‘a bicycle’, but don’t switch off here – we really need now to be thinking of e-bikes in the same ‘transportation costings’ bracket as cars, buses, taxis etc, rather than relative to ‘normal’ (unassisted) bikes.

An e-bike replaces a car, not another bicycle.

This is because you will find yourself using a good one to do many of the journeys you are currently spending a lot of money on in terms of fuel and running costs, parking charges, or bus, tram and train fares etc.

Think of e-bikes like this and they stack up very well – and even as you are recouping the initial outlay, your quality of life will be greatly enhanced!

Of course the relatively high cost is an issue, and studies such as Shared Electric Bike Programme which has included a scheme in Rotherham, the fledgeling e-bike hire schemes in say Derby, and the local Cycleboost  scheme offer possibilities for getting to use an e-bike without the cost of purchase.

If you decide to buy your own, consider taking up a dealer finance offer (sometimes 0%), use one of the Cycle to Work type schemes (see below), or use your own finance options to fund a good quality purchase.

CONTENTS:

  1. So what exactly is an ‘e-bike’?
  2. Why might I think of buying an e-bike?
  3. Is it still a bicycle?
  4. So what isn’t a (legal) e-bike?
  5. What sort of e-bike should I consider?
  6. But what about the cost? – how much should I pay, and how might I finance it?
  7. Which of the two types of electric drive system should I go for – Hub drive or Crank drive? And how powerful does it need to be for my needs?
  8. What sort of batteries do e-bikes have? – How far will it take me?
  9. Charging and Battery care
  10. What sort of gears do I need?
  11. How do I use the gears on an e-bike?
  12. Do brakes matter?
  13. What Accessories do I need?
  14. How do I keep it secure?
  15. How should I maintain my e-bike?
  16. Will I need Insurance to use my e-bike?
  17. Do I have to wear special cycle gear?
  18. Should I arrange some training?
  19. Where can I go on my e-bike? (incl trains)
  20. Where would I find out more/see reviews about e-bikes?
  21. Where to see/hire/try/buy e-bikes in Sheffield and beyond.
  22. Recommended e-bikes for use in Sheffield
  23. Service and repairs locally
  24. Guarantee
  25. Second-hand?

1. So what exactly is an ‘e-bike’? 

e-bikes – ‘EAPC’s (Electrically  Assisted Pedal Cycles) or ‘Pedelecs’ come in as many variations as ordinary bikes, but the type we use for utility and leisure duties around town are essentially just everyday sturdy upright sitting position bicycles built around an electric motor and a battery. You still need to pedal, but on e-bike systems, inbuilt sensors detect when and how much you push on the pedal and then the level of electrical motor power you have pre-selected is automatically added to your efforts. (normally you can choose from 3 or 4 levels of assistance, or indeed none if the mood takes you, or you are running low on juice or just want a workout.)

Under UK law that assistance has to electronically cut out above 15.5mph, but you can then pedal faster than that under your own power, just as on a normal unassisted bike.

In practice the 30% or so extra weight of the motor, battery, accessories etc, at least in the case of the heavier Utility focussed bikes, means you mostly find yourself happily bowling along at a nicely assisted 10-15mph, making e-bikes ideal for local/urban transport and commuting.

2. Why might I think of buying an e-bike?

Conveniencee-biking is a great Active Travel option in hilly, traffic choked cities like Sheffield. Here they achieve good average speeds as you are not slowed down by hills. On such journeys, e-bikes can be quicker overall than other transport options, speedily delivering you door to door.

Confidence: We feel more confident on the road than we do on unassisted bikes, having the power and presence to be more part of the traffic flow, and we find that on e-bikes even the odd bout of ‘weather’ doesn’t seem as discouraging.

Better Route Choices: e-bike power flattens hills and shrinks distances, giving you wider route choices, so you can choose to avoid busy polluted main routes and streets whenever you wish, regardless of distance and terrain. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much of your journey in and around your area and the city can be completed on dedicated cycle routes and lanes, through parks and on quiet back roads you may currently be unaware of, minimising the time you spend in or near traffic choked main roads and rat runs. (see section 19 below for route planning and mapping tools and details.)

Health: Statistically you will live longer and better due to gentle cardiac exercise, research even shows that you are breathing in less pollution when cycling in traffic than when sat in a vehicle.

Equality : e-bikes give everyone the legs, lungs and confidence to get around their neighbourhood under their own steam, whether previously bike users or not, and are a godsend to regular cyclists looking for a bit of assistance to help deal with the challenges arising with age and /or infirmity, but aren’t ready to hang up the cycle clips. They can still do that tour or keep up with mates in the Derbys day ride. For some people, simply having assistance might mean the difference between being able to use a bike or not.  I have a previously non cycling friend with a chronic back condition and asthsma who proudly achieved a 100 mile e-bike dayride around his local lanes and trails recently!

Fun: Often those who would not or cannot normally cycle any significant distance on an unassisted bike, if at all, now choose e-bikes for recreational rides up to 50 miles or more and love the feeling of easily getting out and exploring their local roads, cycle trails and bridleways.

Economy:  After the initial outlay, the mile for mile cost of e-biking is favourable compared to other means of getting about, carrying you and any amount of shopping or stuff up to fifty (and sometimes more) miles, door to door, for just a few pence.

You don’t need to look like a ‘cyclist’:  Because of the assistance helping you along, you can wear everyday clothing and arrive at your destination in a relaxed, non-sweaty state.

You can carry loads of stuff!

3. Is it still a bicycle?

Yes. Despite the welcome benefit of this assistance to waft you along, e-bikes are legally classed as bicycles, so you can use the many cycle-only cut throughs, cycle lanes, bus lanes and ‘shared use’ pavements to speed up your commute or shopping run, avoiding traffic queues and busy roads, and all with no parking hassles on arrival.

NB: The use of designated Cycle lanes is not mandatory, rather it is a choice if the cycle lane is convenient and safe, but do remember that you are a road user just like any other, so as long as it is safe to do so, cycle within the law and in accordance with the specific rules for cyclists in the Highway code . This will keep you and other road users safer and better tempered.

4. So what isn’t a (legal) e-bike?

The UK legal rated ‘nominal’ or continuous power limit for a standard e-bike system (for public highway use) is 250 watts (peak power can be twice this or more – as much as a pro cyclist in fact!), and the maximum assisted speed allowed is 15.5mph. More than 250 watts nominal power or 15.5mph assisted speed and it ceases to be legally classed as a bicycle and effectively becomes a moped, requiring a relevant licence, vehicle registration, helmet wear, insurance etc, and penalties for illegal acts committed on such a bike would then apply to your vehicle licence.

Speed or ‘S’ Pedelec e-bikes like this look the same as legal ones, but top out at 28mph due to more powerful motors and different gearing. You can buy one in the UK, but it needs to be registered/insured/taxed etc etc just like moped. Good article on this from e-bike tips here

In practice, all e-bikes sold by mainstream UK retailers for use on the public highway are legal, just be careful to check there has been no power or speed modifications if buying a used bike, or  if buying a bike or a DIY system via the internet that they meet legal requirements.

5. What sort of e-bike should I consider?

Buy an e-bike  that is powerful, efficient, reliable, feels manageable and pleasant to ride and is equipped for your purposes. Most e-bikes are relatively heavy at 18 – 25 kg, but pricier ones have a better quality frame and cycle parts, and so are easier and more pleasant to ride with the assistance switched off or using lower levels of assistance when you choose to.

Consider the best frame type for your purposes. The unisex ‘trapeze’ (see Cube bikes recommended below) or deeper ‘step through’ frame types are great for hopping on and off around town and usually offer more adjustability of saddle height  than the more usual ‘crossbar’ style frame, so better able to be adjusted for multiple users with different rider/saddle heights.

Our own small wheel ‘Butchers bike’ style Orbea ‘Katu’ is proving ideal for shared use by differing height riders who want to a nimble, versatile ‘do it all’ urban e-bike that in most respects replaces a small car, including carrying a small car boot sized pile of shopping!

e-bike power is particularly suitable for shifting heavy or bulky stuff in the guise of  ‘Cargo’ bikes like the  s-cargo that you can hire from Recycle bikes.

rich_cargo_bike

With models like the Tern GSD and  Riese + Muller Multicharger  you can even ferry the kids to school in comfort, or legally carry a passenger, besides a boot full of stuff or a Christmas tree…

………my next e-bike!

Electrically assisted Mountain bikes (e-mtb’s) are also now popular, and whilst most retail models are road legal (ie 250watt motors) more powerful machines can be used off road on ‘private land’.

On the Road bike front, riders can choose between a very lightweight ‘assistance on occasional demand’ e-bike like the Orbea Gain range, call on beefier support from something like the Bianchi impulso e road,or even add a lightweight assistance system like the excellent Cytronex  system to your own favourite bike. THe Orbea and Cytronex feature a more on demand Hub drive ‘power-boost’ facility, rather than full time power, and this may better suit experienced cyclists looking for less overall weight and a judicious level of assistance.

On the folding bike front,  Raleigh  Tern  and Brompton are now producing lightish folding e-bikes, and Nanoelectric convert existing Bromptons well.

Bear in mind where you are planning to use and keep the bike, as not everyone will be able to lift a heavier e-bike model plus accessories up steps/on to trains etc.

Be aware that the few remaining old style  e-bikes with batteries mounted between the seat post and the back wheel are a bit longer overall, so storage or using dedicated train spaces, lifts etc can be an issue.

  1. But what about the (high) cost? – how much should I pay, and how might I finance it?

Just as with ordinary bikes, you should avoid cheaper ones as they tend to be underpowered, hard to ride and (usually the electrics) will let you down and it will end up abandoned in the shed.

Well made, reliable models like the Hub drive EBCO UCR-20 start around £999. This will only be sufficiently powerful for light duties and the flatter routes around the city, but qualifies for the standard Govt sponsored Cycle to Work (C2W) scheme.

£1500 – £2000+ will buy you a more natural feeling and efficient Crank drive e-bike with high quality parts and equipment, and it will have more oomph for around hilly Sheffield, paricularly for regular and utility useage. This is particularly important if you are yourself heavy, and/or you will be loading up with stuff.

Whilst day to day running costs are miniscule compared to a vehicle, this is a significant initial outlay, so maybe have a spin at a trail centre to see how an e-bike feels, or borrow one for a trial period through the Govt/Council funded Cycleboost scheme, or hire one from a local bike shop to see if it meets your needs (see list below).

If you decide to buy and want to spread the costs so as to afford a good model, check out dealer’s payment schemes (sometimes 0%)

Check if your employer has signed up one of  the Govt funded Cycle to Work (C2W) scheme providers. These have worked really well for promoting the use of unpowered bikes, but most have an upper limit of £1000, however employers can sign up schemes with longer payments times and higher limits, such as the  greencommuteinitiativeto enable better more powerful crank drive e-bike purchases, or can themselves raise the £1000 C2W threshold by obtaining a standard consumer credit licence to cover their business. See this Dept for Transport guidance

7. Which of the two types of electric drive system should I go for – Hub drive or Crank drive? and how powerful does it need to be for my needs?

Consider what you want it for and where. There are 2 main types of e-bike, those powered by small electric motors in the front or the rear wheels (Hub drive) and those with the motor positioned down in the frame and working upon the pedal axle (Crank drive) – this type of drive is also called Chain, Centre or Mid drive.

Our e-bikes are this latter type, and we use them as everyday transport for short, often well-loaded utility journeys to work, the shops, the allotment and for social visits in hilly Sheffield.

In hilly areas a Crank drive type is much the best choice, as the electric motor drives through the bikes gears as you pedal, and with the right gear selected the motor is kept running at its optimum speed and ‘torque’ (see following para) so is using the power more effectively and efficiently, especially on hills. Hub motors themselves are essentially ‘single geared’ and as your speed drops on hills so does the power. Good article on pros and cons for each drive system here .

Torque = pulling/accelerating/climbing power, expressed in ‘Nm’. Legal 250w e-bike Hub and Crank drive motors can produce varying levels of torque.  Hub drives produce around 30 – 40Nm, Crank drives 40Nm up to as much as 100Nm, similar to a Ford Fiesta! These levels are set by the manufacturer when the motor is built.

How Powerful? In our experience in hilly Sheffield, a rider using an e-bike for relatively light duties like commuting and is not themselves very heavy will manage most gradients ok with a crank drive system delivering a minimum of 40 Nm of assistance. A heavier rider, particularly one using the bike’s potential to carry loads, will need a minimum of around 50 Nm. If you plan to really load up, tow a trailer, or would just prefer a really relaxed ride where your journey involves proper Sheffield hills, 60Nm upwards will serve you well.

You will mostly come across the strong and reliable bosch-ebike Crank drive motors in its latest various iterations. The basic ‘Active Line’ offers modest power (40Nm) for general duties, the Active Line+ a bit more oomph (50Nm)  for heavier utility use, and the Performance Line (60 odd Nm upwards) is great for heavy duty use/super relaxed riding in and around Sheffield. ShimanoYamaha/Giant (same motor, different control system) and, less commonly,  Brose, TranzX andBafang Crank drive motors are all capable and reliable. e-bike tips have a good article comparing the major systems here . These are found in premium models, along with high quality, reliable cycle parts, and all of will generally be suitable for heavy duty/hilly use. Shimano even offer Di2 electronic gear operation as they try to woo a whole new cycle public. There are moderately strong crank drive kits to convert your own bike, e.g: Bafang motor powered kits from such as  Woosh bikes , electric-bike-conversions  Panda plus others.

Note that although often assumed, in real life there seems to be little to gain from the odd model that ‘regenerates’ electric as you freewheel, all of which are Hub drive anyway.

8. What sort of batteries do e-bikes have? – How far will it take me?

e-bike’s Lithium-Ion batteries come in different sizes. Their size or capacity, and so how far they can take you, is expressed in Watt Hours (Wh), arrived at by multiplying the usual 36 volt electric motor x the number of Amp hours (Ah) the battery holds (So a 36 volt motor with a 10Ah battery makes for a 360Wh battery – ie: 36(v)x10(Ah) = 360Wh,

You consume around 5 – 20 of the batteries watts (Wh) for every mile you are cycling with power, depending on  factors like your own weight, the weight you are carrying, how well maintained your bike is (especially the tyres being properly inflated), hills, wind direction and the speed  you want to go will all make a significant difference to the level of assistance you choose to select and therefore the amount of battery power you use and how far it will then take you.

(You pedalling vigorously at energy hungry moments like accelerating or hill climbing will increase the range nicely.).

250Wh, 300Wh, 400Wh  and 500Wh batteries are the most common sizes, and even bigger ones are available.

So a battery will provide you with power for around 20 to 50+ miles, depending on its size, the assistance level chosen and how willing you are to cycle with the power off or on a low setting for the easier parts of the journey to eke out the battery.

You might choose to specify a larger Wh battery if available when buying to improve range/time between charges, but battery capacity is expensive, so having bigger batteries pushes up the overall price of the bike.

(Note that larger Wh batteries only means longer range, not more power or speed!)

9. Charging and Battery care:

Lithium-ion batteries will give their best if used and charged regularly. Charging is via the mains charger and cable specifically supplied for your battery and is straightforward. The time taken varies, depending on the power of the charger, and ranges from 4 – 6 hrs for a full charge, but the good news is these batteries take charge fastest from low, so are 50-80% charged quite quickly if you need a top up. Most batteries can be charged on or off the bike, but charge best at around room temperature.

Lithium batteries prefer to be working at between 1/4 to 3/4 of their capacity most of the time, and don’t like to be either flattened or left on charge for long once full. If yours is going to be out of use for a good time the advice is to store it somewhere cool at around 1/2 charge and top it up just a little up every few weeks.

They are temperature sensitive, preferring to be parked in the shade rather than full sun if possible, and must never be allowed to freeze. (Something to bear in mind if your bike lives in a shed or parked out overnight anytime)

Range drops with lower temperatures, so you might consider buying your battery a cosy  Neoprene Jacket to maximize the range in colder weather (good for absorbing knocks too)

Lithium-ion batteries, particularly cheaper ones, can pack up after a year or two at worst if misused (that includes not being used and left uncharged). More expensive ones should last for 5 years or longer if used fairly frequently and kept reasonably well charged, but all will gradually lose their capacity and therefore range as they are used and as they age.

10. What sort of gears do I need?

Like normal bikes, e-bikes either have enclosed low maintenance ‘Hub’ type gears in the back wheel (handy because you can change gears at a standstill) or open derailleur gears (greater mechanical efficiency than hub but more maintenance). Cheaper bikes have 7 speeds, up to 11 on more expensive models. With the exception of the Yamaha motor, they all have just a single front chainwheel, as the assistance obviates the need for lots of gears. Both gear types are fine if properly serviced, but either way a decent range of gears (8 or preferably more for hilly areas ) with a reasonably low first gear is needed in really hilly areas. On more expensive bikes you may find the bombproof Rohloff hub gear system, and on costly cargo bikes the Enviolo ‘stepless’ system – both excellent but outside the scope/budget of this article. Unusually,  the Kudos Sonata/Rapide model has 30 gears – a triple front chainset and 10 speed rear gears – so whilst it is a hub drive model it will have very low gears may have good if steady hill climbing capability. It appears to be good value given the high quality parts, so maybe worth a look/try for lighter duties.

11. How do I use the gears on an e-bike?

It is important to use the gears sympathetically and change down to lower gears when loaded, on hills or cycling against a headwind, keeping your legs turning at a reasonable lick,  just as you would on an unassisted bike when you are making life easier for your own leg/lung ‘motor’.

This makes  the most of the power and maximises the mileage available from each battery charge.

12. Do brakes matter?

Well yes, and the traditional rim brakes will stop an e-bike adequately, but we have found that on a heavily loaded e-bike in Sheffield, the brake blocks and the wheel surface can wear down pretty quickly, so we prefer the powerful, weather proof disc brakes now found on many e-bikes. Both the more usual  hydraulic type, and cable actuated budget ones will stop you well, the former with less effort and maintenance.

13. What Accessories do I need?

Actually in our view these are essentials: Go for a bike all kitted out with a rear pannier rack, mudguards, a strong stand and with good fitted LED lights, the latter powered by either a front wheel dynamo or the main power battery. If these are absent on your chosen model get them fitted at purchase. Budget for a pannier or two for the rear rack to make carrying stuff convenient, and safer than in a backpack.

14.  How do I keep it secure?

This is an issue whatever we ride, but personally I try to hold with the view that, although it is my primary means of transport, it is just a bike, to be used whenever, and just locked up in a manner that really means it is too much trouble/risk to nick!

That said, and whilst I haven’t checked the statistics on this, I suspect it may be worth considering what sort of e-bike you use in riskier areas like town centres – I think it is pretty evident that thieves, presented with a parked ‘boring’ Utility bike, and a sexy e-mtb, wil go for the latter, not least as it is possibly easier to sell on.

At the end of the day ours are insured on our house policy – other stand alone ones like ETA are available – might sound expensive but it is effectively my ‘car’ so what would I have to pay to insure that against theft?

I’m a big fan of the modern incarnation of the ‘nurses lock’ – the frame mounted lock that basically puts a bar through the wheel. These are standard on some models, and can be retrofitted if not. Choose one that has a plug-in  chain option and get a chain to suit – ideal for quick, flexible and convenient  shop stops and a good start for longer stops, and given my bike and customary pannier contents weigh in at about 30kg it will be difficult to waltz off with if one wheel is locked. Something like the AXA-defender-rl-frame-lock  and  AXA-plug-in-chain-lock

I also use a Sold secure Silver ‘main’ lock: Abus Steel-O-Flex/GRANIT-Steel-O-Flex-1000   OK its only Silver security level, but I like that it is flexible and looks a bit of a monster to attack, and it is additional to the nurses lock.

So thats 2 locks minimum!

On the odd occasion i’m  leaving it in a ‘dodgy’ area or for a length of time I will also take a 10mm chain/padlock combo, something like the  Oxford-Chain10  , so 3 locks in total! – basically enough to make a thief look for an easier option.  The good news is that being an e-bike, all this weight is not an issue, so you could even go for a motorbike type like the MAMMOTH-1-2M-SQUARE-CHAIN-LOCK

The experts say the best cycle lock is a sold secure Gold level D or U lock, (same thing), like the well known Kryptonite New York or good value Oxford equivalent Oxford-Shackle-14-Gold-Sold-Secure-U-Lock, used in such a way it is hard to attack – all the lock filled by the frame/wheel/item you are locking too, off the ground, lock mechanism pointing down etc.

So as you can see these days you can buy a couple of really good locks for around £100, just half of the ‘10% of the value of the bike’ formula often promoted. However, whilst not an event I’ve heard of locally,  all locks can be cut with an angle grinder, and I reckon the nurses lock adds a good degree of awkwardness in that case.

I also hold to the idea of parking it in a public, well lit place.  Better still safely in the Hub at the main station if it’s anywhere near my destination. (Fob for life from Russell’s bike shop at station.)

Up to now there doesn’t seem to be a trend for trying to nick batteries, just as well as my Bosch one is £650 minimum to replace, but it has a reasonably secure key locked mount, and the new ‘hidden’ tube type may be more secure still. Of course you could take it with you…….

Lastly I’m guessing most thefts are from home, where people who want to have watched it/you and your routine, so best advice is keep it indoors, or use a ground or  wall-anchor   in your Trimetals type secure bike store/shed/garage, and lock it to that with that super lock you have.

15. How should I maintain my e-bike?

The majority of the Care regime is just the same as a bike, ‘cos that’s what it is. So that means keeping the chain oiled, tyres inflated (around 60psi is usual for a town bike), gears adjusted and brakes working correctly.

In addition, particularly during the warranty period, an e-bike will need at least an annual service with a shop/service centre accredited to work on your system. They will be able to check the system over and plug it in for a firmware update, just like a PC or Mobile phone operating system, ensuring it has the latest and most secure programmes.

Caution: Never use any sort of pressured water, even a hand sprayer or hose, when cleaning around the motor and battery. Why? Because electrics are, well, electrics, and the mechanical seals on even the best systems are only splash proof and won’t prevent water seeping into the the  bearings around the pedal axle. The good news is that bearing repair kits  are becoming available, so if you do have an (out of warranty) issue you dont have to go to the expense of a complete new motor.

16. Will I need Insurance to use my e-bike?

No, it is not a legal  requirement, but 3rd party liability insurance isn’t a bad idea for any road user. This may be a feature of any cycle Insurance you take out, and/or is a perk of the inexpensive membership of Cycling UK  which is also strongly recommended for excellent cycling specific legal advice and support in the event of an accident, tips/reviews re bikes and gear etc and significant discounts at major retailers such as Halfords. (So for example at the time of writing that could be £160 off a Carrera Crossfuse so well worth the £3.88 a month subscription.).

For insuring the bike cover itself, we have added cover via our house contents insurance at no additional cost, but this varies from company to company.

Separate dedicated and comprehensive e-bike cover is now available from lots of insurers, such as  ETA  which gives reassurance both when parked and also offering ‘rescue’ out on the road.

17. Do I have to wear special cycle gear, or a helmet?

No. Everyday clothing is fine, although a good cycle jacket will help on those occasions when you need weather protection, and they tend to be brightly coloured and reflective. We do however prioritise reasonably bright clothing and choose to have the inbuilt bright bike mounted lights switched on both day and night, a la Volvo. Hi-Viz wear is optional, but recommended at night.

Helmets: Being classed as a bicycle, helmet wearing is not mandatory on e-bikes. It is a matter of choice and is a judgement that we personally make based on road and weather conditions.

18. Should I arrange some training?

Whilst not a legal requirement, a session or a course with a professional trainer will certainly help you to feel more confident and keep safe on the road, particularly if you have been away from cycling for a while. They will show you the correct positioning, signalling etc. Whether you just want to travel to the shop on a quiet backstreet or make a long commute along busy roads and junctions, there are straightforward techniques you can use to minimise the risks when cycling.

Locally Pedal Ready offer a range of free Road Confidence courses or one to one sessions specifically tailored to the use of e-bikes.

19. Where can I go on my e-bike? (Incl trains)

e-bikes give you the option of choosing the quietest and most pleasant routes around towns, regardless of the hills, and enable you to travel longer distances for leisure rides. Use your local council cycle map to discover these routes, ask a friend who cycles regularly to show you some, book a session with a local cycle trainer  ie to show you a good commuter route to your workplace.

For local journeys and commuting ask if any members of your local cycle campaign group Cyclesheffield  can recommend or show you routes. Both local and longer routes can be found on  Sheffield Cycle Routes and Resources , or check out the local Cycling UK  group.

Both for local route options and also for planning longer adventures see the Sustrans network and try an AA style route planner like Cycle Streets for journeys near and far, or check out Google’s bicycle mapping and cycle planning .

A further PC and smartphone option is an annual £19.99 subscription for the Ordnance Survey UK mapping, where you will find the major Sustrans cycle routes clearly marked on the Explorer series

The Trans Pennine Trail has adopted a policy that welcomes e-bikes and is encouraging businesses alongside the trail to offer charging facilities.

Distance is no barrier – I recently met a 70 yr old who had just cycled from Lands End to John o’ Groats in less than 2 weeks using an everyday e-bike with no problem.

Trains: Widen your range, go all Inter-City, or give yourself a head start on a day ride by putting your bike on a train. Its free, but check on the National rail   website whether the train operator you will be using requires you to  book a bike space ahead or not. (Choose your train, click on ‘details’ at end of the line of text for that train, and then on the cycle symbol to find out the cycle policy for that train.) – see more info on this from Sustrans and Plusbike

Train operators are happy to carry e-bikes but ask that you do not charge your e-bike battery on the train.

For more info about bike-rail in Sheffield click here , and do note that it can be awkward to get a heavy e-bike up on to those ‘hook you hang your bike off by the front wheel’ systems some trains have.

20. Where would I find out more/see reviews about e-bikes?

The e-bike market is opening up fast lately, and if you are curious about or considering buying an e-bike check out publications like eBikeTips , a very current online magazine often drawn upon in this article,  A to B magazine , and online forums like Pedelecs . All offer general discussions about e-bikes, plus news and reviews of e-bikes.

21. Where to see/hire/tryand buy e-bikes in Sheffield and beyond:

Several bike shops in our area are now hiring, selling and servicing e-bikes.

Hiring:

https://www.jejamescycles.com/bike_hire

http://russellsbicycleshed.co.uk/

https://www.langsettcycles.co.uk/

And city hire schemes are taking off:

https://www.ebikesderby.com/

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/nov/27/electric-bike-sharing-company-lime-launch-uk

Buying:

https://www.decathlon.co.uk/C-811556-electric-bikes

https://www.jejamescycles.com/bikes/e-bikes.html

https://www.langsettcycles.co.uk/

http://www.halfords.com/cycling/bikes/electric-bikes

http://www.giant-sheffield.co.uk/gb/e-bikes

https://www.evanscycles.com/electric-bikes_c

https://tonybutterworths.com/

http://recyclebikes.co.uk/product-category/electric-bikes/

(Online):

http://www.lincolnbikes.co.uk/Ebikes/Electric.html

http://wooshbikes.co.uk/

https://www.kudoscycles.com/

https://www.emubikes.com/

Generally I would recommend that you really try to buy one from a localish dealer, and/or one who is a BEBA (British Electric Bike Association) member. The ‘e’ part of e-bikes can be complex, and you benefit from advice, follow up, warranty repairs and specialist service.

22. Recommended e-bikes for use in Sheffield:

Mid-price choices locally could be something like the Motus Tour or more powerful and better geared Motus Grand Tour models for heavier/hillier duties from the well regarded Raleigh range. The Halfords Crossfuse with similar capability to the Motus Tour looks excellent value.

Cube bikes such as the relaxed ‘sit up and beg’ style Cube Town sportor the sportier/fast commute Cube Touring Hybrid  have always been an especially high value way into Bosch powered e-bike action, and my current one has served me well for 2000+ miles. (Both links show the ‘Trapeze’ style frame – a sort of half-way house between the standard crossbar frame and the deep step through type – best of both worlds in my view – accessible for all sorts of shape and size riders but still a strong efficient frame.) Cube also make a ‘Cross’ model. I’m not sure how ‘offroad’ it is spec-wise beyond having knobbly tyres, but it does have suitable mudguards for those tyres, also lights, and fittings for a rear rack, so will be a good Utility bike with light trail capability.

Recycle bikes sell and service ebikes, and their Gepida Alboin, in trapeze or diamond frame, is a useful combination of the excellent Shimano Alfine hub gears (a worthwhile step up from the Nexus hub with more positive shifting) and nicely strong ‘Performance Line’ Bosch motor, an ideal partnership for Sheffield.

Check out less expensive but reputable makes online, e.g. the Kudosor Woosh bikes mentioned above, both offer basic but good value well equipped bikes, and reasonably priced (£300 ish) replacement batteries. I have in the past used a  Woosh e-bike for local/utility duties, bought online, and which has performed well enough, if not as refined as more expensive ones, and mine continues to give good service towing a friends trailer full of gardening tools around.

22. Service and repairs locally:

Use an accredited local e-bike service centre, e.g.: Recycle Bikes or JE James or Tonybutterworths

23. Guarantee:

On a mid to higher price bike look for a minimum 2 year guarantee on the battery and electric motor, and you might wish to take into account the price of a second or replacement battery if you are considering keeping the bike a long time.

24. Second-hand?

Buying e-bikes second-hand can be risky because of battery/electrical issues and potentially higher general wear and tear. Unless you are very confident around e-bikes, go for one of the many good new e-bikes out there suitable for different pockets and/or use a finance option.

General Note:. Unless otherwise stated, brands/models/dealers are mentioned here because of familiarity whilst reading around the subject, their locality, or their likely good value and suitability for use in our area, rather than a personal recommendation, and, as they say, in examples of particular brands or companies in the links given, other brands are available….

So go on – free your wallet and your spirit and give e-biking a go, but research well and then see/try bikes and dealers out for yourself.

Richard Attwood. Sheffield.

Note – I continually update this article, so if you copy it or part of it please include this url – http://www.sheffieldcycleroutes.org/e-bikes/

3 thoughts on “Electric bicycles (e-bikes) explained

  1. Thanks for this very informative article but I wonder if, given that e bikes are fairly expensive and bike theft is rife in cities, you have any suggestions re securing bikes when away from home?

    1. I use two locks, and make sure your bike is locked far away from places of high footfall. Remove your lights too, and try not to leave your bike locked up in the city past 5pm…

  2. Re security – yes this is an issue whatever we ride, but personally I try to hold with the view that, although it is my primary means of transport, it is just a bike, to be used whenever, and just locked up in a manner that really means it is too much trouble/risk to nick!

    At the end of the day it is insured on our (AA) house policy – other stand alone ones like ETA are available – might sound expensive but it is effectively my ‘car’ so what would I have to pay to insure that against theft?

    I’m a big fan of the modern incarnation of the ‘nurses lock’ – the frame mounted lock that basically puts a bar through the wheel, and
    I fit one that has a plug in chain option – quick, flexible and convenient for every shop stop and a good start for longer stops, and given my bike and customary pannier contents weigh in at about 30Kg it will be difficult to waltz off with if one wheel is locked.

    http://practicalcycles.com/products/243977–axa-defender-rl-frame-lock.aspx
    and
    http://practicalcycles.com/products/243983–axa-plug-in-chain-lock.aspx

    I also use a Sold secure Silver ‘main’ lock:
    https://www.abus.com/uk/Mobile-Security/Bike-Safety-and-Security/Locks/Steel-O-Flex/GRANIT-Steel-O-Flex-1000

    Ok its not Gold security level, but I like that it is flexible and looks a bit of a monster to attack, and it is additional to the nurses lock.

    If im leaving it in a ‘dodgy’ area or for a length of time I will also take a 10mm chain/padlock combo, something like this:

    https://www.tredz.co.uk/.Oxford-Chain10-Sold-Secure-Pedal-Cycle-Gold-Chain-Lock-With-Padlock_64408.htm?sku=189427&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=google_shopping&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI0f-Uhcr63wIVqp3tCh3VmAKqEAQYBCABEgIimfD_BwE#

    So 3 locks in total! – basically enough to make a thief look for an easier option.

    The experts say the best cycle lock is a sold secure Gold level D or U lock, (same thing), like the well known Kryptonite New York or good value Oxford equivalent, used in such a way it is hard to attack – all the lock filled, off the ground, lock mechanism pointing down etc.

    https://www.tredz.co.uk/.Oxford-Shackle-14-Gold-Sold-Secure-U-Lock_88736.htm?sku=304878&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=google_shopping&gclid=EAIaIQobChMItc6xoNX63wIVhZztCh3TJAL_EAQYASABEgKi-vD_BwE#

    The good news is that being an e-bike, all this weight is not an issue, so you could even go for a motorbike type:

    https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/MAMMOTH-1-2M-SQUARE-CHAIN-LOCK-THATCHAM-APPROVED-MOTORCYCLE-CAT3-SECURITY/303033635596?_trkparms=aid%3D222007%26algo%3DSIM.MBE%26ao%3D2%26asc%3D20160323102634%26meid%3Dec9cbd1ac78842fa90b35973b418dd6d%26pid%3D100623%26rk%3D3%26rkt%3D6%26sd%3D162181277117%26itm%3D303033635596&_trksid=p2047675.c100623.m-1

    As you can see these days you can buy a couple of really good locks for around £100, but all locks can be cut with an angle grinder, and I reckon the nurses lock adds a good degree of awkwardness in that case.

    I also hold to the idea of parking it in a public, well lit place. Better still the Hub at the station if its anywhere near my destination.

    Up to now there doesn’t seem to be a trend for trying to nick batteries, just as well as my Bosch one is £650 Minimum to replace, but it has a reasonably secure key locked mount, and the new ‘hidden’ tube type may be more secure still. Of course you could take it with you…….

    Lastly Im guessing most thefts are from home, where people who want to have watched it/you and your routine, so best advice is keep it indoors, or use a ground or wall anchor in your Trimetals type secure bike store/shed/garage, and lock it to that with that super lock you have!

    Any more advice anyone?

    Richard

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