Including recommendations for use in hilly Sheffield
This article gives a general explanation and overview of e-bikes and their usage and describes the range of e-bikes available for different purposes, with particular reference to everyday e-biking and to cycling resources generally in the hilly Sheffield area. Here, like the trams, a more powerful than average motor system will serve you best.
The Short version: After 7 yrs of everyday ‘Utility’ transportation on a few different e-bikes in Sheffield (as opposed to mainly leisure or fitness oriented use) my partner and I conclude that:
For comfortable, reliable and breezy day to day e-bike usage around Sheffield, choose a locally sourced upright-ish seating position ‘Hybrid’ style model with a Mid mounted motor (rather than one with the motor in one of the wheels). It should have at least 50Nm of motor power, at least 8 gears, and be fully kitted out with mudguards, lights and a pannier rack. Secure it with a properly serious lock or two at all times, including at home. Top up the battery little and often, and keep it well serviced.
You will find yourself using such a model 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, and, like us, you may find yourself unexpectedly selling your 2nd vehicle, or even your first!
And for the long version – read on….
Contents: (Just click on an item of interest to go straight to it)
- So what exactly is an ‘e-bike’?
- Why might I think of using an e-bike? What advantages do they have?
- But what about the cost? – how much should I pay, how might I finance it?
- Is it still a bicycle?
- So what isn’t a (legal) e-bike?
- What type of e-bike will suit my needs?
- Lighter weight e-bikes.
- Which type of electric drive system should I go for – Hub or Mid drive? And how powerful does it need to be for my needs?
- But will it run away with me?
- What sort of gears do I need for Sheffield, and how should I use them on an e-bike?
- What sort of batteries do e-bikes have? – How far will it take me?
- How do I Charge and take care of my Battery?
- What Accessories do I need?
- How do I keep it secure?
- How should I care for/maintain my e-bike?
- Will I need Insurance or Tax to use my e-bike?
- Do I have to wear special cycle gear?
- Should I arrange some training?
- Where can I go on my e-bike, and who with? (including using trains)
- Where would I find out more/see reviews about e-bikes?
- Where to see/hire/try/buy e-bikes in Sheffield and beyond.
- Recommended e-bikes for use in (hilly) Sheffield.
- Servicing and repairs locally.
- External links.
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, and you will find different types described as you read. 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, a battery and a controller.
You still need to pedal before the power cuts in, so it feels just like a ‘normal’ bike. On an e-bike 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.
Note: You have full control over the amount of assistance you want as you pedal. You can choose from low, if you want a good workout, through various levels right up to the top level, which will provide a very welcome ‘ just get me home it’s been a long day’ setting!
Most systems give you 3 or 4 levels of assistance to choose from, or indeed no assistance at all if you prefer, eg if you are running low on battery, or just want a good workout on the pedals.
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.
On Utility focussed bikes the 30% or so extra weight of the motor, battery, accessories etc, means you mostly find yourself happily bowling along at a nicely assisted 10-15mph, making e-bikes ideal for local/urban transport and commuting.
Note: As we exit the EU we will have the opportunity to consider increased max assisted speed limits on e-bikes.
Instead of the current EU 15.5mph cut off limit for assistance, we could for example align ourselves with the US, where e-bikes are typically allowed 750watt motors (vs EU 250w) and where 20mph has been the cutoff speed in the majority of states for years.
Faster, more powerful e-bikes would have obvious benefits;
- Aligning cycle speeds with traffic speeds on the increasing number of 20mph urban roads, obviating speed inconsistencies and the need for overtaking.
- Enabling longer Active Travel journeys to be realistically undertaken by e-bike.
- More power means more capacity for load and passenger haulage, improving e-bikes as a car and van alternative for suitable journeys/duties.
2. Why might I think of using an e-bike? What advantages do they have?
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, and research says you breathe in less pollution cycling in traffic than when sitting in a vehicle.
Note: You have full control over the amount of assistance you want as you pedal, from none, if you want a good workout, through various levels right up to the sometimes very welcome ‘ just get me home it’s been a long day’ setting! It’s up to you.
You can carry lots of stuff – and 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 GSD , Riese + Muller Multicharger, Urban Arrow or similar ‘box in front’ style cargo bikes such as these at the Dutch Cargo Bike shop or by Cube 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!
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!
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.
E-bikes are cheap to run and Green! : 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.
Should you wish to, you could use an e-bike to assist you on your journey from Lands End to John O groats and use just £1.50’s worth – yes, one pound and fifty pence of mains electricity – in the process!
Did you know that only 50% of car pollution comes out of the exhaust pipe, the other 50% is in fact the particles that come off the brakes, clutch, tyres and the road surface itself? This is then wafted back up for you to inhale as the next vehicle passes and eventually washed into the oceans. Electric cars will only rid us of the exhaust pollution, the rest stays the same.
E-bikes produce only a fraction of these pollutants, and use only a fraction of the earth’s resources for their relatively tiny batteries – 2 or 3kg in weight compared to 4 – 500kg for an EV.
There is increasing interest in the benefits e-bikes bring to us and to the planet, and studies like this one and the Shared Electric Bike Programme which include a project in Rotherham are enlightening.
3. But what about the (high) cost? – how much should I pay, and how might I finance it?
Experience suggests that to get a basic e-bike for general but light transport duties in and around hilly Sheffield you will need to spend a minimum of £1000, however for an e-bike that will comfortably and reliably cope with daily/serious utility use you should 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 conventional bicycle…
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 if you are heavy and/or loading it up.
£1500 – £2000+ will buy you a more natural feeling and efficient Mid 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. Hire one from a local bike shop to see if it meets your needs (see list below), or or get together with family, friends or neighbours and buy shares in a ‘multi-user’ one. .
If you decide to buy and want to spread the costs so as to afford a good model, check out dealers and retailers 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 (and accessories) on the scheme, your employer needs to have signed up to a provider – such as one of the independent ‘middlemen’ like Cycle Scheme , or retailers like Evans Cycles’ Ride to Work scheme (other retailers offer the scheme), or now direct to the manufacturer, as in the Electric Bike Access scheme just launched by the owners of Raleigh/Haibike and Lapierre brands. Employers can also sign up to schemes with longer payments times as well as high limits, such as the greencommuteinitiative .
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 C2W scheme has worked really well for promoting the use of unpowered bikes, and many schemes 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.
Note: C2W is a ‘Salary sacrifice’ scheme, meaning monthly payments are taken from your pay before tax is deducted, which benefits you to the tune of 32 – 42% reduction in the bike and kit’s RRP, depending which side of £50k you are, and your employer through reduced NI payments. One less attractive implication is that any benefits that might be salary based may be reduced in accordance with the amount being ‘sacrificed’ monthly as bike payment. For example this author was unexpectedly lucky enough to be offered early retirement during the payment period, and his final salary based pension was reduced proportionately ….
Full details on all this can be found in the very clear Gov doc here
The scheme also has the attraction of reducing the hassle of choosing and buying an e-bike to a minimum, but if you are prepared to put in some time yourself you will have a wider choice, and may well find a model to suit you at an overall discount similar to that this scheme offers……
4. 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.
5. 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
6. What type of e-bike will suit my needs?
What type of e-bike will suit my needs?
For reliable everyday utility use, buy an e-bike that is powerful, efficient, reliable, feels manageable and pleasant to ride and is equipped for your purposes. Utility 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, and so are better able to be adjusted for multiple users with different rider/saddle heights.
The deeper ‘Dutch style’ step through models (sometimes archaically marketed as Womens’ ) tend to have higher set handlebars and a more upright sitting position giving good control and visibility – ideal for urban duties, whatever your gender!
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!
E-bikes present a flexible and green option for ‘last mile’ Urban deliveries
With models like the Tern GSD , Riese + 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…
(My new 60Kg or a passenger capacity ‘Cargo’ e-bike!!)
e-bike power is particularly suitable for shifting heavy or bulky stuff in the guise of Cargo bikes like the s-cargo or the amazing Bullitt , or the more conventional but super useful Tern GSD or HSD , and the cute Benno bikes, all of which you can hire and buy from A Different Gear (Previously Recycle bikes) here in Sheffield.
delivery/hire schemes are sprouting up in the UK using Cargo bikes.
Bosch have even produced an extra beefy motor for cargo bike duties.
Other bike types:
On the folding bike front, Raleigh Tern and Brompton are now producing lightish folding e-bikes, and various kits are available to electrify your own Brompton – see Electricbikereport for reviews of 5 of them.
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, so for example if you are likely to be putting your e-bike on a train to go touring you may want to give serious thought to getting one of the lighter models.
Electrically assisted Mountain bikes (e-mtb’s) are also now popular, and whilst most retail models are road legal (ie standard 250watt motors) more powerful machines can legally be used off road on ‘private land’.
Electrical assist is also well suited to Tandems, to Recumbents, and to those cycles adapted for users who have particular needs beyond a usual bike.
NB: 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.
7. Lighter weight e-bikes:
Not everyone needs or wants an e-bike just to do everyday utility duties, and an increasing number of manufacturers are offering much lighter weight Road (‘racing’) and Gravel (road+off road capable) bikes with Drop handlebars, or more upright seated Urban and fast commute bikes.
These bikes weigh around 12 – 18kg or so in total, rather than the 20 – 25kg of full fat e-bikes, and are kitted out with differing contact points (saddles/handlebars etc) and different gears, wheels and tyres to suit their purpose – be that fast road use, exploring tracks and bridleways or urban/commuter use respectively.
These lighter models offer you the possibility of choosing to cycle with low levels of assistance or just ‘as and when needed’ rather than dialling in frequent and/or meatier assistance as you are likely to do on a heavier e-bike, so achieving greater assisted range than you might expect from their smaller, lighter batteries. All presently use either the innovative and strong (60Nm) Fazua removable ‘mid drive’ motor and battery system, or slightly less powerful (40Nm) Ebikemotion X35 fixed rear wheel ‘hub drive’ system.
Examples employing the Mid drive Fazua system include the Boardman bikes range – great value and only 16 kg all up – so only 13kg ish if you opt to use it without the removeable motor and battery – models like the hybrid has fittings for mudguards, a luggage rack, has sturdy tyres, a good gear range and a removable battery for easy charging or using a second one to extend your range. Or check out the classy locally produced Forme Thorpe E Road .
Examples employing the Ebikemotion X35 drive system include the Orbea Gain range, the cannondale treadwell neo and the very high value ribblecycles range, offered in both Road and ? touring suitable Gravel bike and hybrid versions. Note however that on the ebikemotion system the main battery is not removable, the charger is small and compact so good to take with you, but on the other hand you’ll need to be somewhere where you can plug the whole bike in as you can’t remove the battery and take it inside to charge.
Either way, with their smaller, lighter motors and batteries and absence of motor ‘drag’ present on mid motors when the motor is off, these systems can more easily be ridden without power, or with lower levels of assistance, extending the range per charge. Such bikes will suit moderate riders looking to extend their mileage/time out on the bike, and may also better suit older experienced cyclists looking for less overall weight and a judicious level of assistance as and when required, or even those who prefer to be a little covert about their use of an electrically assisted bike!
Range wise, a local user reckons to comfortably get around 55 miles out of his Ebikemotion powered Orbea road bike on a hilly Derbyshire outing.
Another local notes that the same system on the Cannondale Treadwell makes for a nice light leisure oriented e-bike that feels great to ride on moderate terrain with assistance on or off, but that struggles to give sufficient support on significant hills, suggesting that in its current incarnation at least, it would make for hard work on a utility bike around Sheffield.
Need extra juice for longer rides with these small battery systems, and ? even goTouring?
On the Fazua system you can take a (1.38kg) spare battery along to swap out when needed.
On the X35 system, an additional range-extender-battery pack which tops up the fixed main battery may be taken along for a longer ride.
It is worth considering whether these bikes may be a good ‘e’ choice for touring, given that it will be more portable when using narrow cubicle style ‘hang up on a hook that won’t take larger tyres or wide handlebars’ train spaces, heaving it into B+B’s etc…..or even to carry/store at home if your storage solution is a tricky one….
(For a good example of a longer ride on this type of e-bike see Laura’s e-bike LeJog , incl a 120 mile day in 45mph headwinds!)
8. Which type of electric motor system is best for a utility bike in Sheffield – Hub motor (in one of the wheels) or a Mid motor (in the frame)? 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 (Mid drive) – this type of drive is also called Chain, Centre or Crank drive. Mid drives are generally more expensive as the bike is specifically built around the motor.
To help you decide which is best for you, consider what you want the bike for and where you are going to use it.
In our experience, and in the view of testers and users, the Mid drive type is much the best choice for utility bikes being used in hilly areas as the electric motor drives through the bikes gears as you pedal, so 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, particularly on hills.
Hub motors however are essentially ‘single geared’ and so as your own and the wheel’s speed drops on hills so does the motor power and efficiency, and on longer climbs will become strained, inefficient, and even overheat.
Our current 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.
Good article on the difference here .
Torque = pulling/accelerating/climbing power, expressed in Newton metres – ‘Nm’. Legal 250w e-bike Hub and Mid drive motors can produce varying levels of torque. Hub drives produce around 30 – 60Nm, Crank drives 40Nm up to as much as 100Nm or more, 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. Most riders, particularly those 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 and upwards will serve you well.
You will often come across the strong and reliable Bosch range of Mid 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 (63 and 75 Nm) for heavy duty use/super relaxed riding in and around Sheffield.
Note that these Bosch motors have different starting characteristics (from a standstill). For example Bosch describe the basic Active Line’s starting characteristics as ‘Harmonius’ – which in practice means gentle, and this can be an issue when trying to set off on a Sheffield hill – particularly if you are loaded. The more powerful motors, Active+ and Performance/Performance CX, are programmed to offer progressively more ‘oomph’ straight away on your first push of the pedal, so making for an easier and safer getaway!
Shimano offer similarly rated and very efficient/reliable motors – currently for urban/tour use the e5000 (40Nm), e6000 (50Nm) and e61000 (60Nm), and for MTB’s the e7000 (60Nm) and e8000 (70Nm), however you might want to check if the slight delay on pressing the pedals on the e6100 before the power comes in that one reviewer noted suits you.
Giant utilize the proven Yamaha motor in both 60Nm and 80Nm formats to suit their urban and trekking style bikes, although the utility focussed ‘Entour’ models have the high mounted battery, and it appears you need to buy the premium ‘DailytourE+1’ model to get neccessary 8 hub gears for Sheffield.
Brose,TranzX and Bafang Crank drive motors are all capable and reliable.
These mid 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 , but these wont offer the same experience of integration as the major systems, and may be less reliable electrics wise.
Hub drive models like the locally produced Juicy Roller offer a lighter and less expensive means of personal and leisure transport for less demanding duties and routes, but users can report that they do not feel as integrated/natural to ride.
Another option is to add a lightweight assistance system like the excellent Cytronex system added to your own current favourite bike. The Cytronex system also features a more on demand ‘power-boost’ facility, rather than full time power, but with a ‘Hub drive’, this time in the front wheel.
Note 1. Mid drive motors offer a degree of ‘motor drag’ – that is because you are pedalling ‘via’ the motor, and so you are turning the internal cogs and widgets of the engine even when the assistance is switched off. Of course this is irrelevant when you are using the power, but it does mean you will find yourself having to make a bit more effort than on an unassisted bike if you are pedalling with the power off, ie over the 15.5mph legal assistance cut-off point, or if you have switched off to extend the range.
Manufacturers are reducing this resistance with each new iteration of motors, but it is essential to try any test bike out with the power off if you plan to use it like this sometimes.
Note 2. Although often assumed, in real life there seems to be no real gain from the odd model such as the Elby that ‘regenerates’ electric as you freewheel, all of which are Hub drive anyway.
9. But might it run away with me?
No – A good quality e-bike leaves you in control at all times – you choose how much assistance you want (if any) before you even start pedalling, and it only starts to help when you pedal, and even then sensors mean that assistance is only added in proportion to how firmly you push on the pedals.
Assistance stops as soon as you stop pushing the pedals or apply the brakes, and you can alter how much it helps you pedal using the handlebar control whenever you want to, even on the move.
That said, it is however sensible to take some time away from busy areas to familiarise yourself with the assistance that e-bikes offer you, and local groups like Pedalready offer introductory courses to help you find out how to ride an e-bike to best effect.
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 or 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 with a reasonably low first gear is needed in hilly areas.
So that is at least 8 gears for a Derailleur model, and minimum 8 for a hub geared model.
Interesting comparison of the gear types here
As regards Derailleur gears, 8 and 9 speed geared bikes need an 11-32 tooth range cassette (rear gear cluster) as a minimum for hilly Sheffield use, and an 11 or 12-34 or 36 tooth cassette will make life considerably easier. 10 and 11 speed models can offer an 11-42 tooth range, or even 11-46 for a really good gear range to tackle stupidly steep hills in comfort.
Hub gear wise Shimano ‘Nexus’ 8 speed is ok for Sheff, but the 7 speed will be hard work, offering a 244% gearing range, equivalent to an 11-27 tooth 7-speed (cog) cassette. Thus with a typical chainring and rear hub sprocket combination of 40/19 the bottom gear is a high 36 inches, enough only for modestly hilly terrain, and the top is a nicely functional 88 inches. The Nexus Inter-8 hub has all the same benefits but with an extra gear for a wider 307% range, equivalent to an 11-34 cassette, so better for hillier terrain, although some of the gear steps are a little wider as a result. The same 40/19 ratio gives a bottom gear of 30 inches and a top of 92 inches. With rear sprockets of up to a max of 22 teeth fitted to the hub 1st gear can be made as low as 26 inches, great for steeper hill territory. (thanks to Edinburgh cycles for those details.)
Shimano’s ‘Alfine’ 8 speed hub is the premium option – same gearing as the Nexus but stronger for e-bike use and a more user friendly trigger action. (An Alfine 11 speed is – rarely – also available on a few expensive models.)
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 sort of batteries do e-bikes have? – How far will it take me?
(Note that larger Wh batteries only means longer range, not more power or speed!)
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 choosing to pedal vigorously at energy hungry moments like accelerating or hill climbing will help increase the range nicely.).
250Wh, 300Wh, 400Wh and 500Wh batteries are the most common sizes, and even bigger ones are becoming 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.
12. How do I charge and take care of my battery?
Charging is via the portable mains charger and cable specifically supplied for your battery and is straightforward, just like your phone.
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.
They will give their best if used and charged regularly, 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 at least 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.
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 centre or side 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.
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 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 cargo style 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
In addition to the nurses lock, I use a hefty super high value planetx. u-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 Planet X or 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 etc. In addition to the nurses lock, I use the hefty super high value planetx. D-lock previously mentioned, or 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 or less, but all locks can be cut with an angle grinder and cutters, 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, which is just as well as my Bosch one is currently around £300 – £600 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 when you park…….
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.
15. How should I care for/maintain my e-bike?
E-bikes, particularly those in daily use around hilly Sheffield, will require regular maintenance to maintain efficiency and reliability. In practice that means:
- Keep your tyres inflated to the recommended pressure (Around 60psi is usual for a town bike)
- Keep your chain well lubricated – especially in wet conditions.
- Service it yourself/have it serviced by a qualified technician a couple of times a year.
- Have your system (Motor/Battery/Controller) ‘plugged in’ and updated annually by a service that has the relevant accreditation – just like your mobile phone or PC updates. (Not a big deal – in practice there are a few bike agents locally that offer this service, and could do it either as part of one of your bi-annual services, or as a stand alone option)
Note that e-bikes, being heavy and having more power than normal cyclists develop, will get through bicycle consumables like disc brake pads, chains and cassettes (rear gear clusters) about twice as fast as unpowered bikes, but don’t worry, you don’t have to spend a fortune on these, as basic everyday versions will do fine.
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, so for example won’t prevent pressured water seeping into the the bearings around the pedal axle. (Normal riding in rain etc will be fine.)
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.
16. Will I need Insurance or Tax to use my e-bike?
No, being classed as a bicycle, insurance of any kind is not a legal requirement for electric bikes.
Saying that, 3rd party liability insurance isn’t a bad option 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 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.
Being bicycles, and having no emissions, e-bikes are not subject to any sort of tax.
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. Where can I go on my e-bike, and who with? (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.
Sheffield now has a dedicated e-biking leisure group you could join for rides.
Both for local route options and also for planning longer adventures see the Sustrans network’s excellent new OS based collaboration national cycle routes map , 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 £23.99 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 .
Note: e-bikes are relatively heavy, some are quite long, and there is a fashion for chunky tyres and wider handlebars. All this means it can be awkward to get some e-bikes in to the sometimes meagre bike spaces on some trains, or up on to those ‘hook you hang your bike off by the front wheel’ systems that some trains have. Something to think about if you are considering any significant train based usage, in which case you will look for a more diminutive model.
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, Try, and Buy e-bikes in Sheffield and beyond:
Several bike shops in our area are now hiring, selling and servicing e-bikes.
And city hire schemes are taking off:
Buying: (Don’t forget your Cycling UK 10% discount at Halfords)
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 utility use in Sheffield and environs:
Mid price, mid-drive choices locally could be something like the Raleigh Motus – the basic Motus and Motus Tour models for light riders/use, or more powerful Grand Tour models for heavier/hillier duties around Sheffield. Note however that if you want a hub gear (see section 10 above) all models sadly only offer the narrow range 7 speed nexus hub gear.
The Halfords Crossfuse with similar capability to the basic 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 the Raleigh Felix and more Sheffield suited Felix plus , which may at least make it easy to get hold of, and of course you benefit from the Cycling UK 10% member discount!
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 Town sport or the sportier/fast commute/touring Touring Hybrid and the funky urban tool Compact Sport Hybrid have always been an especially high value way into Bosch powered e-bike action, and my own 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. The compact-sport-hybrid looks like a great one size fits all machine for general urban duties.
A Different Gear (Previously Recycle bikes) in Sheffield sell and service e-bikes, 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, stronger and with more positive shifting) and nicely strong ‘Performance Line’ Bosch motor. Their Turisind model gives you a good upright, step through ‘Dutch’ style town bike.
Check out less expensive but reputable makes online, e.g. 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 e-bike being a van!
Here are a few current ideas for the sort of Hybrid’ and Dutch style’ super comfy/easy access (mostly step through) but still very capable sort of bike that should work well around Sheffield:
https://www.cube.eu/en/2020/e-bikes/tour/touring-hybrid/cube-touring-hybrid-pro-500-greynred-2020-trapeze/ (good value all purpose powerful bike for town/touring.)
https://www.cube.eu/en/2020/e-bikes/urban/comfort/town-sport-hybrid/cube-town-sport-hybrid-one-400-blackngrey-2020-easy-entry/ (£800 cheaper than 500 model and less capable overall but still good for urban use.)
23. Servicing and repairs locally:
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 really long time.
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.
26. External links:
External links: Here you will find a wealth of information about e-bikes and all matters related…
Non UK, these also offer good generally applicable advice/tech info..:
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, where examples of particular brands or companies are given in the links, 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: