Electric bike (e-bikes) explained.

(Including recommendations for use in hilly Sheffield)

August 2019 edition.  Note: I continually update this article, click on http://www.sheffieldcycleroutes.org/e-bikes  for the most up to date version.

This is now a fairly full article, and is presented in sections so that you can pick out the particular information that you need.

Contents:

  1. So what exactly is an ‘e-bike’?
  2. Why might I think of using an e-bike? What advantages do they have?
  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 type of electric drive system should I go for – Hub or Crank? 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. How do I Charge and take care of my Battery?
  10. What sort of gears do I need, and how should I use them on an e-bike?
  11. What Accessories do I need?
  12. How do I keep it secure?
  13. How should I care for/maintain my e-bike?
  14. Will I need Insurance to use my e-bike?
  15. Do I have to wear special cycle gear?
  16. Should I arrange some training?
  17. Where can I go on my e-bike? (including using trains)
  18. Where would I find out more/see reviews about e-bikes?
  19. Where to see/hire/try/buy e-bikes in Sheffield and beyond.
  20. Recommended e-bikes for use in Sheffield.
  21. Servicing and repairs locally.
  22. Guarantee?
  23. Second-hand?

The article gives an overview of e-bikes generally,  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, and, after 6 yrs on one a few different e-bikes in Sheffield,  my partner and I have two bottom Line recommendations: 

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

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

Experience suggests that for an e-bike that ticks the above boxes in and around hilly Sheffield you will need to spend either side of £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 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.

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 sturdy everyday upright sitting position bicycles built around an electric motor, battery and controller. 

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 you like, eg if you are running low on battery, 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 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 using an e-bike? What advantages do they have? 

Convenience: e-biking is a great Active Travel option in hilly, traffic choked cities like Sheffield, where they achieve good average speeds as you are not slowed down by hills. Such journeys, on e-bikes, can be quicker door to door than other transport options.

Confidence: You feel more confident on the road than when riding unassisted bikes, having the power and presence to be more part of the traffic flow, and e-bike users notice that even the odd bout of ‘weather’ doesn’t feel as discouraging as it usually does.

Better Route Choices: e-bike power flattens hills and shrinks distances, giving you wider route choices. 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 done on dedicated cycle routes/lanes, via parks and quiet back roads you may currently be unaware of, minimising the time you spend in or near traffic choked roads and rat runs.

Health: Statistically you live longer in better health due to gentle cardiac exercise. Research says you breathe in less pollution cycling in traffic than when sitting in a vehicle.

You can carry lots of stuff – even your kids to school! We are starting to see UK parents get the continental habit of cycling to school with their children, knowing that they both gain the health benefits, and are one less polluting car queuing up to park near the school. They will either cycle with them, or increasingly seat them on or in their purpose built Cargo type bike that they also use as general urban transport for a big shop or stuff that would previously have needed a car boot. (eg  Tern GSDRiese + Muller Multicharger ,  Urban Arrow which safely and legally carry two young children).

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 lend regular cyclists a bit of assistance to help deal with the challenges arising with age or injury. They can still do that cycle tour or keep up with mates on the Derbyshire day ride. For some people, having assistance might simply 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 asthma who recently achieved a 100 mile e-bike ride on his local lanes and trails! Cyclists, journalists, and even normal people have a tendency to get a bit polarised around ‘e-bike v proper bike’ debates – in fact it’s just Horses for Courses – use an unassisted bike when it suits your purpose/ability, and then an e-bike when it is better suited to your journey or needs.

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, maybe even keeping up with their children and grandchildren!

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 miles or more, door to door, for just a few pence.

You don’t need to look like a ‘cyclist’:  With electric assistance, you wear everyday clothing, plus waterproofs if needed, and arrive at your destination in a relaxed, non-sweaty state.

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 Cycle lanes is not mandatory in the UK, rather it is a choice if the cycle lane is convenient, safe to use and suits your needs, 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 for one hour’ 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. 

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 check that they meet legal requirements.

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 

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 ‘trapeze’ (see Cube bikes recommended below) or deeper ‘step through’ frame types are a great Unisex option 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 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! 

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

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 here in Sheffield, and delivery/hire schemes are sprouting up: 

rich_cargo_bike

My new 60Kg or a passenger capacity ‘Cargo’ 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’.

For (Drop handlebar) Road bikes and (Flat handlebar) Urban bikes, you can choose between a very lightweight ‘assistance on occasional demand’  e-bike like the locally produced       

Forme Thorpe E Road or  Orbea Gain   range, or go for beefier support from something like the Bianchi impulso e road or even add a lightweight assistance system like the excellent  Cytronex  system added to your own favourite bike. The Cytronex system features 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.

The same innovative Fazua removable motor and battery system on the Orbea can also be found in lighter weight urban/gravel style bikes, such as the  Boardman  e-bikes. These look to still be offering a good level of power (60Nm) ‘on demand’, albeit with smaller batteries so will need to be used without power/at lower assist levels more to extend the range on a charge, but being lighter this should be ok, particularly for longer leisure type rides with less shopping etc aboard.

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 older 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.

6. 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, however this will only be sufficiently powerful for the flatter routes around the city.

£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 utility work around hilly Sheffield. This is particularly important if you are heavy yourself, and/or 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. To get a bike on the scheme, your employer needs to have signed up to a provider – such as the Cycle Scheme or Evans Cycles’ Ride to Work scheme. If you’re self-employed, you can make use of the scheme if you’re set up in a way which means you’re technically employed by your own limited company. Alternatively, you can buy the bike and claim the VAT back via the business.

The have worked really well for promoting the use of unpowered bikes, and the govt have recently removed the old £1000 upper limit, making the purchase of a good quality e-bike or one of the more costly cargo style bikes a reality. 

Employers can also sign up to schemes with long payments times and high limits, such as the  greencommuteinitiative .

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

An e-bike consists of a bike with a fitted Battery, Controller and electric ‘engine’ – the Motor.

There are 2 main types of these;  either small electric motors in the front or rear wheels (Hub drive) and those with the electric motor positioned down in the frame and putting their power through the pedal axle (Crank drive) this type of drive is also called Chain, Centre or Mid drive. Mid drives are generally more expensive as the bike is specifically built around them.

To help you decide which is best for you, consider what you want the bike for and where you are going to use it. 

Our e-bikes are the Mid drive 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 Mid 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, and 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 this here 

Torque = pulling/accelerating/climbing power, expressed in Newton metres – ‘Nm’. Legal 250w e-bike Hub and Crank drive motors can produce varying levels of torque. Hub drives produce around 30 – 60Nm, 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 with a bit of effort using a mid 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 often come across the strong and reliable bosch-ebike range of Crank drive motors in its latest various iterations. The basic ‘Active Line’ offers modest power (40Nm) for general duties and leisure in flatter areas, the Active Line+ a bit more oomph (50Nm)  for heavier/hillier utility use, and the Performance Line/Performance Line CX (60 and 75 Nm) for heavy duty use/super relaxed riding in and around Sheffield. Shimano offer similarly rated and very efficient/reliable motors – currently the e5000 (40Nm) and e61000 (60Nm). Yamaha/Giant (same motor, different control system) and, less commonly,  Brose,TranzX and Bafang Crank drive motors are all capable and reliable. 

e-bike tips have a good article comparing the major systems here .

These motors are found in premium models, along with high quality, reliable cycle parts, and all variants of 50Nm or more will 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 speed 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 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. How do I charge and take care of my battery?

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 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, and how should I use them on an e-bike?

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. 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 electrical 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 more) with a reasonably low first gear is needed in really hilly areas.

It is important to use the gears sympathetically and change down to lower gears when loaded, on hills or cycling against a headwind, This keeps your legs working at a reasonable lick, reducing strain on the motor, 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 battery power and maximises the mileage available from each charge. 

11. 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 ideally with good fitted LED lights, powered by the main power battery or sometimes a front wheel dynamo. If these items are absent on your chosen model get some fitted at purchase, and get a pannier or two to go on the rear rack to make carrying stuff convenient, much safer than in a backpack.

12. 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 such a manner that it really 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, will 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 – 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. 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 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.

So that’s 2 locks minimum!

If im leaving it in a ‘dodgy’ area or for a length of time I will also take a minimum 10mm thick link 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, 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, like the Oxford-Shackle-14-Gold-Sold-Secure-U-Lock

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 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(s) you have.

13. How should I care for/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 (to 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 don’t have to go to the expense of a complete new motor.

14. 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

Membership of Cycling UK is strongly recommended for excellent cycling specific legal advice and support in the event of an incident, for reviews re bikes and gear etc, £10 Million third party insurance cover, 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.

15. Do I have to wear special cycle gear?

No. Everyday clothing is fine, although a good cycle specific 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 we personally make based on road and weather conditions.

16. Should I arrange some training?

Whilst not a legal requirement, a session or a course with a professional trainer will  help most cyclists feel more confident and keep safe on the road, particularly those who have been away from cycling for a while, or learning for the first time. 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, they can show you straightforward techniques you can use to minimise the risks when cycling.

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

17. Where can I go on my e-bike? (Including using 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 planning and navigating journeys near and far, or check out Google’s bicycle mapping and cycle planning

A further smartphone option is an annual £20 ish 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 

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. 

18. 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. 

19. Where to See, Hire, Try, and 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.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-sheffield/

(Online):

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

http://wooshbikes.co.uk/

https://www.kudoscycles.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.

20. Recommended e-bikes for use in Sheffield:

Mid-price choices locally could be something like the Raleigh Motus  –  the basic and Tour models for light riders/use, or more powerful and better geared Grand Tour models for heavier/hillier duties.These can invariably be found at good discount rates with a bit of searching, but as I said before – it is good to buy local!

The Halfords Crossfuse with similar capability to the Motus looks good value if you can negotiate the ‘extras’ like lights, mudguards and a rack fitted to most other models.

Note that Halfords and Raleigh have teamed up to launch what appears to be the entry level Motus models badged as the Raleigh ‘Felix’, which may at least make it easy to get hold of.

The new Shimano powered Volt Regent looks like a particularly strong and comfy step- through at the price.

Cube bikes such as the relaxed ‘sit up and beg’ style Cube Town sport or 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 in Sheffield 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.

Check out less expensive but reputable makes online, e.g. the Kudos or 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!

My old Woosh being a van!

21. Servicing and repairs locally:

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

22. 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. 

23. 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.

If you have any questions, comments or would like to share your experience of e-biking, mail me at:

ebikes@sheffieldcycleroutes.org

One thought on “Electric bike (e-bikes) explained.

  1. This is absolutely brilliant and inspiring. Thanks Richard. It’s my ambition to ditch the car and I couldn’t see a way with a toddler before…

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