Electric bikes (e-bikes) explained.

Including recommendations for use in hilly Sheffield

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‘Breeze Easily’ – July 2021 edition.

Note: This field is developing rapidly,  so I continually update this article. If you aren’t here already, always click on http://www.sheffieldcycleroutes.org/e-bikes/  for the most up to date version before you read on.

This article gives a general explanation and overview of e-bikes and their usage. It describes a wide range of e-bikes available for different purposes.

It is aimed both at people who are new to the idea and contemplating the purchase of an e-bike, and those who already have one and want to know more about its use and care.

Over the several years since our initial dip into electrically assisted cycling the author and his partner have come to find themselves using e-bikes as default everyday transport, valuing their convenience and fun factor.

We have found that in Sheffield, like the trams, a more powerful than average motor system will serve you best, hence the overall bias here towards good quality e-bikes with stronger motors and a good range of gears.

I think it is particularly important to consider spending a bit more to get a properly capable model if you are one of the many people that e-bikes are bringing to cycling fresh, without the physical and psychological attributes regular cycling imbue, and/or if you are choosing an e-bike to help overcome a physical deficit or to keep you cycling as you get older and appreciate the help they give compensating for weaker muscles/lungs/heart/dodgier balance etc!

The article also covers cycling resources generally in the hilly Sheffield area and beyond.

The Short version: After 8 yrs of everyday ‘Utility’ transportation (rather than leisure or fitness oriented use) on a few different e-bikes in Sheffield my partner and I conclude that:

For comfortable, reliable and breezy day to day e-bike usage around hilly 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 your currently costly journeys, saving fuel and running costs, parking charges or bus, tram and train fares. Like us, you may find yourself unexpectedly selling your 2nd vehicle, or even your first!

Do note however that the pandemic has resulted in a chronic shortage of bikes generally, and especially particular models, so expect to have to do some determined ferreting about online/on the blower to locate and/or reserve a bike!

And for the long version – read on….

Contents: (Just click on an item of interest to go straight to it)

  1. So what exactly is an ‘e-bike’?
  2. Why might I think of using an e-bike? What advantages do they have?
  3. But what about the cost? – how much should I pay, how might I finance it?
  4. Is it still a bicycle?
  5. So what isn’t a (legal) e-bike?  
  6. What type of e-bike will suit my needs (incl folding and Cargo e-bikes)? 
  7. Lighter weight e-bikes. 
  8. 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?
  9. But will it run away with me?
  10. What sort of gears do I need for Sheffield, and how should I use them on an e-bike?
  11. What sort of batteries do e-bikes have? – How far will it take me?
  12. How do I Charge and take care of my Battery?
  13. What Accessories do I need?
  14. How do I keep it secure?
  15. How should I care for/maintain my e-bike?
  16. Will I need Insurance or Tax 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, and who with? (including using 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 (hilly) Sheffield.
  23. Servicing and repairs locally.
  24. Guarantee?
  25. Second-hand?
  26. 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 or even none, if you want a good workout, through various levels right up to the top level, which provides 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. This makes e-bikes ideal for local/urban transport and commuting.

Note: Having exited the EU we 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;

  1. Aligning cycle speeds with traffic speeds on the increasing number of 20mph urban roads, obviating speed inconsistencies, the need for overtaking etc, meaning smoother flowing and less polluted roads.
  2. Enabling longer Active Travel journeys to be realistically undertaken by e-bike.
  3. 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? 

Convenience: E-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 e-bikes, urban journeys can be quicker door to door than other transport options.

Confidence: E-bike assistance gives you more confidence on the road, having the power and presence to be more part of the traffic flow. 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 and lanes, or via parks and quiet back roads you may currently be unaware of. This minimises the time you spend on or near traffic choked roads and rat runs.

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.

Health: Statistically e-biking helps you live longer and with better health due to the gentle cardiac exercise. Research says you breathe in less pollution cycling in traffic than when sitting in a vehicle. See this recent study: ebikes give a good workout

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. They know 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. This 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 ‘Long John’ 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 can help many people have the legs, lungs and confidence to get around their neighbourhood under our own steam, be they previous bike users or not. They lend regular bike users a bit of assistance to help deal with the challenges arising with age or injury, thus ensuring they can still do that cycle tour or keep up with fellow riders 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 now choose e-bikes for recreational rides up to 50 miles or more. They love the feeling of easily getting out and exploring their local roads, cycle trails and bridleways, and maybe even keeping up with their children and grandchildren!

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

E-bikes are cheap to run….  : After the initial outlay, the mile for mile cost of e-biking is favourable compared to other means of getting about. E-bikes can  carry 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, that’s one pound and fifty pence of mains electricity – in the process!

…and will Save the World!  Did you know that only 50% of vehicle pollution comes out of the exhaust pipe?

The other 50% is the toxic dust and microplastic particles that come off the brakes, clutch, tyres and the road surface itself? These are then wafted back up for you to inhale as the next vehicle passes and eventually washed to pollute the oceans. Electric vehicles (EV’s) will only rid us of the pollution from the exhaust, nothing else, and still take up a vehicle size footprint…

In contrast, e-bikes produce only a  fraction of these pollutants, and use only a fraction of the earth’s resources for their relatively tiny batteries. E-bike batteries weigh around 3kg, compared to 400 – 600kg (yes hundred) for an EV.

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  lighter transport duties in and around hilly Sheffield you will need to spend a minimum of £1000.

However, to get an e-bike that will comfortably and reliably cope with heavier daily utility use you should spend £1500 upwards. Spend £2000 – £2500 for a machine that will have the power, gears and battery capacity for really relaxed everyday and utility useage around Sheffield and beyond.

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.

Tip: Once you have committed to purchasing an e-bike, get the highest spec you can, even if it means a stretch money wise. Why? – because once you realise how much fun and how convenient it is you may find yourself using it more than you thought, and perhaps then wanting to increase your bikes’ capabilities and range. To upgrade the gearing or battery size on your existing e-bike is really expensive, so it is best to get that wider gearing or larger battery by buying a higher spec model at the point of purchase!

(You can’t increase the original level of motor power of an existing e-bike – legally.)

An e-bike replaces a car – not another conventional bicycle…

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

£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%)

Some organisations like cyclinguk  and britishcycling have discount agreements with retailers like Halfords.

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. These include 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, like 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 some schemes have recently removed the old £1000 upper limit. This makes 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 bikes RRP, depending which side of £50k salary you are. It also benefits your employer through reduced NI payments. One less attractive implication is that any benefits you have that might be salary based may be reduced proportionately 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, however his final salary based pension was reduced proportionately, for ever ….

Full details on all this can be found in the very clear Gov doc here

Note, whilst the scheme also has the attraction of reducing the hassle of choosing and buying an e-bike to a minimum, if you are prepared to put in some time yourself you will have a wider choice, and you 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.

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!). 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. 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 aftermarket power or speed modifications if buying a used bike. 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 UK 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  just like a moped. Good article on this from e-bike tips here

Note: The one area where the UK deviates from the EU is in allowing the fitting of a ‘Throttle’. In both the UK and the EU a powered ‘’Walk’ function – up to 6km/h – is allowed. (And is sometimes very useful, like when walking the bike up ramps) but in the UK an e-bike may also be fitted with a press button or twist grip throttle, provided it only works when the pedals are being turned, and assistance cuts out at 15.5mph .

6. What type of e-bike will suit my needs (incl folding and cargo e-bikes)? 

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. They generally 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’ unisex step through models (sometimes archaically marketed as Womens’ models) tend to have higher set handlebars and a more upright sitting position giving good control and visibility – ideal for urban duties, whatever your gender!

Other bike types:

Cargo Bikes:

e-bike power is particularly suitable for shifting heavy or bulky stuff in the guise of  electrically assisted Cargo bikes. Cargo bikes present a flexible and green option for ‘last mile’  Urban deliveries and  delivery/hire schemes are sprouting up in the UK using Cargo bikes. One manufacturer is offering direct rent/buy  options to businesses.

Bosch have even produced an extra beefy motor  for cargo bike duties.

You can ferry the kids to school in comfort, or legally carry a passenger, besides a car boot full of stuff, or a Christmas tree…

A 65Kg stuff or a (legal) passenger capacity ‘Cargo’ e-bike!!

Cargo models include the   Urban Arrow   and the amazing  Bullit.

Models that will also do passenger duties include the    Urban Arrow ,  Riese + Muller Multicharger , the Tern GSD or HSD , the kona ute and the cute Benno  bikes.

All these can be found locally at adifferentgear   (Previously Recycle bikes) here in Sheffield, where you also have the option to rent cargo bikes very reasonably for odd jobs, or to try them out before committing.

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. In most respects it replaces a small car, including carrying a small car boot sized pile of shopping!

Note: The Katu-E is now (2020) only available in its least powerful form, and therefore less suitable for serious work in hillier parts of Sheffield. However Cube do a similar model, the well reviewed  Compact Sport Hybrid – the Sport variant having sufficient oomph from the Bosch Performance motor and with 10 lowish gears (as opposed to the base 5 speed variant)

Folding bikes: 

Which folder you want depends on what it’s for – do you need lightweight multi modal personal transport, does it need to do everyday duties carrying stuff around utility/leisure duties as well?

However generally speaking, I guess people choosing a folding e-bike are more likely to be looking to use it as lightly laden personal transport rather than to perform heavy lifting utility type duties. As such, a less powerful model than the bikes generally described in this article may suffice.

Also, is it actually an access/storage space issue that is suggesting a folding or compact e-bike may be the best choice?….

The 20kg raleigh stow-e-way  is a reasonably capable and good value everyday folding bike. A friend of mine loves his and so did e-bike tips when they  tested it  . The same bike is also sold by Halfords as the Evo. (don’t forget UK cycling discount)

A major advantage is that it can be bought readily and locally, so you have backup if there are any warranty issues. It can be bought for £1275 or so, making for good value.

Going up the Raleigh ladder we have the well reviewed  motus kompact  – although you will want to test ride and ensure the combination of the entry level Active Line bosch motor and Nexus 7 speed gears suffice for your usual routes if they are hilly.

A high quality but heavy do anything everyday folder with good power for breezing the hillier parts of Sheffield would be the Tern Vektron  –  highly rated  here in its Q9 model form by e-bike tips, and available as the more powerful, wider geared S10 model which will prove easier in the hillier parts of Sheffield.

These are all around the 22kg mark, so hard work to carry far, but you may want to check out their various design formats that allow them to be wheeled when folded.

If leaping on and off busy  trains or lugging your bike up stairs etc you need lightness and especially compactness when folded, and nothing beats a Brompton if these attributes are needed.

Consider a genuine electric brompton but note that users have experienced issues, such as those noted by Brompton themselves , and some local users have had to have bikes replaced under warranty.

Here are great reviews comparing the electric and ‘acoustic’ Bromptons by Brilliant bikes

OR consider one of the Brompton conversions (but first buy your Brompton, and be sure it is a  6 speed model, and with the lower 44T chainring gearing option for hillier parts of Sheffield !)

See these 2 reports at electricbikereport 1  and electricbikereport2   for Brompton conversion reviews.

The latest light and efficient  cytronex brompton kit is well received at atob edition 127  and ebiketips

The sparticle  and nano Brompton conversions are solid well known performers. A friend loves his Nano converted Brommy, he and his wife both use it They value its ‘throttle’ function, and its use of everyday tool batteries.. He had his converted at popupbikes in Manchester

Woosh bikes produce the high value Rambletta folder and have just released what looks like a well developed and good value Brompton conversion kit  that fits straight into the front wheel, with smaller batteries in the pipeline.

If money is no object, and maximum utility is not a priority, consider the  top end low weight folders from gocycle, reviewed here  but note this will be less Sheffield friendly as power doesn’t kick in till the bike reaches 4 mph – potentially problematic on a steep hill start.

or from hummingbird – reviewed here Note that you’d need to consider  the 4 speed model for hilly Sheffield, and even then try to test it’s suitability for your routes/purposes.

If you want a semi folding compact(ish) car replacement type bike and  need to move your kids or loads of stuff around consider the very clever (parks on its backside!) tern hsd-p9  (Not to be confused with the heftier GSD model)

Rent the Tern hsd to try it or buy it locally at adifferentgear

BUT If it’s space or storage issues you are trying to address and you just want a good non folding but compact bike consider a cube compact-hybrid-sport , tested  here . It has clever ‘Speedlifter twist’ fold sideways handlebars – just add folding or detachable pedals and you’ve got a virtually 2 dimensional bike to park in a hallway, put on a vehicle bike rack, lay flat in a hatchback etc. eg: Cheap n cheerful folding ones: Decathlon folding-pedals

OR personally i’d go for better quality ones that come off completely for a real slimline result: Tredz.co.uk/.MKS-XP-Ezy-Removable (but means you have to remember to take them with the bike – just hang them on the bars when you remove them!) – good anti theft measure too! Both pairs have the legally required relectors fitted!

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.

Note 1: Bear in mind where you are planning to use and keep the bike. Not everyone will be able to lift a heavier e-bike model plus accessories up steps/on to trains etc. If for example if you are likely to be putting your e-bike on a train as part of a tour you may want to give serious thought to getting one of the lighter models.

Note 2: 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. With these storage or using dedicated train spaces and 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 bikes (‘racing’) and Gravel bikes (road+off road capable) with Drop handlebars, or more upright seated flat handlebar 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. Theyare 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. Thus they achieve greater assisted range than you might expect from their smaller, lighter batteries. Most 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.

Reviews of the Ebikemotion X35 M1 hub drive, clarifying its pros and cons here and here  , and the Fazua itself  here , and also the recent Fazua Update

Examples employing the Mid drive Fazua system include the Boardman bikes range – great value and only 16 kg all up – so only 12-13kg ish if you opt to use it without the removable motor and battery. Models like the hybrid have 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. Check out the classy locally produced Forme Thorpe E Road road bike, or maybe the kinesisbikes RANGE-Flat-Bar for a more hybrid multipurpose style, available locally at adifferentgear

Examples employing the Ebikemotion X35 drive system include the Orbea Gain range, the more leisure/fitness orientated islabikes e-ejanis or cannondale treadwell neo and the very high value ribblecycles range, offered in both Road and ? touring suitable  Gravel bike and hybrid versions, including the town friendly step-through . 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. They 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. (Derbyshire rides out from Sheffield and back consistently involve  a 1000ft of ascent for every 10 linear miles travelled!)

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!

Another local rider notes that the same system on the aforementioned 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. This  suggests that in its current incarnation at least, whilst great for leisure or maybe commute duties, it would make for hard work as a luggage toting 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. They  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. If access and/or storage at home is tricky, these more manageable bikes may suit.

A further option for a lighter weight e-bike is the locally produced Juicy Roller  and Ticket . These are competent,  lighter and less expensive bikes for personal and leisure transport on less demanding duties and routes, but users can report that they may not feel as integrated/natural to ride as the mainstream mid-motor models or the newer types below, and they may be hard work with heavier utility loads.

Otherwise go for a beefier but heavier road bike with stronger support and bigger batteries – something like the Bianchi impulso e road or Giant Road-E 

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? Can I convert my own bike?

An e-bike system 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 as you pedal (Mid-drive). This type of drive is also called Chain, Centre or Crank drive. Mid-drives models 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.

Mid-Drive:

In our experience, and in the view of testers and users, the Mid-drive type, although more expensive, is generally more suitable for utility bikes being used in hilly areas. The electric motor drives through the bike’s gears as you pedal. This means that with the right gear selected the motor is kept running at its optimum speed. This uses the power more effectively and efficiently, particularly on steeper hills.

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.

Note that mid-drive motors offer varying degrees 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 a good idea to try riding any test bike with the power off to see how it feels if you plan to use it like this for any significant period.

Hub Drive: 

There are two types of hub motor. Geared and Gearless. The geared hub motor has planetary gears that step down the RPM of the motor to a much slower speed to drive the wheel.

These can be quite powerful, and may be fine for leisure and commute use around Sheffield.

The gearless hub motor directly connects to the wheel, driving it directly. This type is essentially ‘single geared’ and so as your own and the wheel’s speed drops on hills so does the motor power and efficiency. Fine for less arduous routes, but on longer climbs can become strained, inefficient and eventually overheat/cutout.

Hub drives broadly fall into two categories:  ‘Full time’ where the user may have the assistance switched on for sustained periods of time, more like a mid-motor user would. This type system will be relatively heavy, including a chunky battery of a similar capacity to a mid-motor system. The other is a more on demand ‘power-boost’ system brought into use less frequently and for shorter periods of time as and when conditions dictate, and so will have smaller and lighter components (motor/battery).

(See ‘Convert your own bike?’ section below for examples.)

Good article on the difference between Mid-drive and Hub motors  here .

Note: Power (Torque) claims for Hub motors need to be treated with care, and not be equated to mid drive torque figures as they will not have the same strength under load: See ebikereviewer  hub-motor-review-and-comparison

How Powerful a motor should I go for? – You need a powerful enough motor to meet your needs and make for safe and relaxed around Sheffield.  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 torque (assistance).

However most riders, particularly those using the bike’s potential to carry loads in hilly areas, really 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.

Currently that would mean choosing for example no lower spec than a Shimano 6100 series motor or the equivalent ‘Performance Line’ Bosch motor.

(Nm is a measure of Torque, the assistance that helps you. It is the motor’s pulling/accelerating/climbing power, expressed in Newton metres – hence ‘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.)

Motor brands:

You will often come across the strong and reliable Bosch  range of Mid drive motors in its various latest (Generation 4) iterations. The basic ‘Active Line’ offers modest power (40Nm) for general duties and leisure in flatter areas, the Active Line Plus a bit more oomph (50Nm)  for heavier/hillier utility use, and the Performance Line/Performance Line CX + Cargo Line (65 and 85 Nm respectively) 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 very gentle, and this can be an issue when trying to set off on a Sheffield hill, particularly if you are loaded.

The two Bosch Performance Line motors (Performance Line and Performance Line CX) and the Cargo Line motor offer two distinct advantages  over the less powerful Active Line and Active Line Plus variants for users in hilly Sheffield, or indeed out in such as the Peak district.

The Cargo Line is programmed to offer you mucho assistance as you set off with heavy loads, and the Performance Line and CX motors also help you set off easily with their ‘Sporty’ start up algorithm (but still retaining full and nuanced control) and their clever variable support level algorithm embedded in the ‘Sport’ assistance setting. (This algorithm is also called the ’emtb’ setting, emtb and ‘sport’ settings are one and the same thing.)

This algorithm automatically supplies variable assistance levels depending on your pedal pressure, from the ‘Tour’ level right up to the ‘Turbo’ level.

In practice this means that you can leave it in this setting and either pootle along with just light pedal pressures, or, if circumstances or the mood takes you, pedal harder and be given full power for the maneuver in hand (or hill, headwind etc)

So less distraction choosing levels, and easier and safer startoffs.

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.

e-bike tips have a good article comparing the major motor systems here , and Tredz bikes offer a good motor overview here .

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.

Convert your own bike?

There are moderately strong mid-drive kits to convert your own bike, e.g Bafang or Tongsheng motor powered kits from such as the well regarded  Woosh bikes. Whilst relatively inexpensive and capable these won’t offer quite the same experience of integration as the major systems, and the electrics may need good care to remain reliable.

Good value hub-drive kits are available from Woosh bikes and locally from ebikenow

(The author has just fitted a Whoosh bikes supplied Tongsheng 48V 250W TSDZ2 torque sensing mid drive kit to a friend’s MTB, and initial experience is very good, offering plenty of go and a good range.)

The excellent lightweight and reliable  Cytronex system features a more on demand ‘power-boost’ facility, rather than full time power, and will be well suited to converting more nimble commuting and leisure cycles, including the road bike tested by e-bike tips here

Note: 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 really need an 11-34 tooth range cassette (rear gear cluster) as a minimum for hilly Sheffield use, and an 11-36 tooth cassette will make life noticeably easier. 10 and 11 speed models can offer a more ideal 11-42 tooth range, or even 11-46 for a really low 1st gear 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.)

Note: Do try and avoid the e-bike trap of letting the motor do all the work in high ‘lazy’ gears, even unwittingly.  It is important to consciously use the gears sympathetically and change down to lower gears to keep your legs turning well when loaded, on hills or cycling against a headwind.

Keeping your legs spinning at a reasonable lick significantly reduces strain on the motor and the draw on the battery, so change to a lower gear promptly, just as you would on an unassisted bike when you are making life easier for your own leg/lung ‘motor’!

Using the gears sympathetically and changing down to lower gears when loaded, on hills or cycling against a headwind keeps your legs working at a reasonable lick makes  the most of the battery power, maximising the mileage available from each charge and therefore the overall longevity of your expensive battery.

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

(Note that larger capacity (Wh) batteries only mean 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 most usual 36 volt electric motor x the number of Amp hours (Ah) the battery holds. So for an easy example a 36 volt system 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. All these 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 so how far it will take you.

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, thus eking out the battery.

(You choosing to pedal vigorously at energy hungry moments like accelerating or hill climbing will help increase the range nicely!)

Bosch have a helpful ‘Range assistant’ here but it’s a bit optimistic for Sheffield’s hillier routes! You can halve these predicted figures if you are a heavy rider and/or loaded.

250Wh, 300Wh, 400Wh  and 500Wh batteries are the most common sizes, and even bigger ones are becoming available, and they are increasingly becoming ‘hidden’ by integrating them into the frame to a greater or lesser extent. There is now a trend towards even more discrete internally housed ‘tube’ type batteries, streamlined into the frame – essentially the same thing as the original external or frame mounted type but repackaged and hidden away in the tube going from the front of the bike down to the motor/pedals.

Battery warranties/eventual life expectancies are based on the overall number of charging cycles performed. They also deteriorate with age and use (giving fewer miles per charge) and are expensive to buy as an aftermarket purchase.

Bosch batteries say the cells they will use will still have a capacity of at least 60% after two years or 500 charge cycles (depending on which happens first):and could give usable service for as long as 10 years.

Accordingly it makes sense to go for the largest one you can at the time of purchase (say a 400wh rather than a 300wh, or a 500wh if possible.)

Unfortunately this mostly  means buying a more expensive model of a given range, or you may be able to negotiate a battery uplift on purchase.

Good overview from Cycling UK here and from also from electricbikereport

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. Most batteries are removable but can be charged on or off the bike, and in any case do charge best at around room temperature.

The time taken varies, depending on the power (number of Amps) 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.

Good quality Li-ion batteries are safe and can be long lasting, and whilst the internal Battery Management System (BMS) will always prevent immediate damage from overcharging or flattening, they do not like to be stressed by being either left flattened, or excessively charged. They last longest if kept working at between 20% to 80%of their capacity most of the time. (One study suggests that you choosing 80% as the charge limit can double your batteries life!)

Unlike older battery types, Li-ion batteries  have no ‘memory effect’ and can be part charged for an hour or two as often as you like without reducing the battery’s overall life, making it easy to keep it around ¾ full. (One way to do this is to stop charging a little after the 5th of the usual 5 lights on the battery starts its charging flash, unless you particularly need a 100% charge for a long ride.)

They don’t like to be left sat on charge once they have reached full (100%) charge, so unless you have a big, empty battery and a 2amp charger that means overnight charging may stress the battery unnecessarily.

If yours is going to be out of use for more than a week or two the advice is to store it somewhere coolish at around 1/2 charge (say 3 out of the 5 lights on the battery lit) and top it up just a little  every few weeks to maintain this level of charge.

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

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 (particularly being left uncharged). The more expensive mainstream ones on all good quality e-bikes should last for at least 5 years or significantly 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.

If your battery is getting old and tired it may be worth checking out a re-cell from such as https://ebikebatteries.co.uk/

Want to charge using 100% Green electricity?

If you own or are thinking of buying an e-bike you might be thinking about minimising your carbon footprint.

If so, there are currently (pun intended) only 3 truly 100% green electricity providers, as opposed to those who claim to be, but who are actually buying cheap ‘carbon credits’ to justify their misleading headlines.

They are:  Goodenergy     Greenenergyuk  and  Ecotricity

Greatebike.eu recommends a few tips for extending the life of your e-bike battery.

Tip 1 – Try not to discharge the battery below 20%. Deep discharge makes the battery too difficult to use and reduces its capacity in future. A lithium battery starts to oxidise, which has a negative effect on capacity as well as battery life.  In the case of switching off (e.g. in winter), it is recommended that the battery be fully charged at least once every 90 days.

Tip 2 – Do not charge the battery immediately after riding. The battery should cool down before charging.  If we start charging a heated battery, it will not be able to cool down at all, and degradation will be much faster.

Tip 3 – Do not fully charge the battery if it is not necessary. When charging the battery above 80% of its capacity (around 40V), the internal resistance of the battery increases, the battery heats up more and this significantly accelerates the degradation process.

Tip 4 – Avoid extreme temperatures. High temperatures and frost affect performance and shorten battery life. Never store the battery outside where it will be exposed to temperatures below 0ºC. Similarly, we recommend not storing the battery at temperatures above 30ºC.  Furthermore, avoid long parking under direct sunlight.

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. If these items are absent on your chosen model get some fitted at purchase, and get a good quality pannier bag or two to go on the rear rack to make carrying stuff convenient, much safer than in a backpack.

Additional high intensity flashing lights are highly desirable at night and in low sun conditions where drivers vision is compromised.

In my experience it is best to keep to simple and reliable proven products like  This . The rear light is particularly critical I think, and the effective Smart Superflash will  run for ages on rechargeable AAA batteries.

USB rechargeable lights like this Moon Fr and rear are versatile (can be helmet mounted  for higher level visibility) and fine secondary lights, but often end up very low on charge when you actually come to use them unless you are in a charging routine whilst at your PC etc…..

Vehicle Cycle Rack:

You may wish or need to transport your bike to the start of your ride. If so you wil need a good quality cycle rack for your vehicle, such as those available from https://www.roofbox.co.uk/bike-carriers/

Mirror:

I would not be without a rear view mirror – whether mounted on your handlebar, helmet, frame or wrist they allow you to monitor what/who is going on behind you, helping you decide if and when you need to take pre-emptive action like moving in to the primary position or ‘taking the lane’.

NB – I subscribe to the view that using a mirror should not be a replacement for also looking round over your shoulder to check what’s going on behind you – eg when pulling out round parked cars or moving out to take the lane. I think it probably helps for a driver to see the face of the human being on the bike!

I use a mirrycle-mountain-mirror

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 Frame or ‘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 would 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 – buy them together at Decathlon:Defender-bike-frame-lock and Plug-in-chain-bike-lock-for-the-defender-frame-lock  (Also available at hollandbikeshop.)

In addition to the nurses lock and plug in chain combo, I use a hefty super high value  planetx. D-lock

So that’s effectively 3 locks minimum!

If im leaving it in a ‘dodgy’ area or for a length of time I might also take a minimum 10mm thick link chain/padlock combo, something like the:Oxford-Chain10

So 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, and certainly for say locking up in an outbuilding 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 equivalents. Use this in such a way that 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. 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-D-Lock

More examples tested here

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 Sheffield’s 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, depending on capacity, but it has a reasonably secure key locked mount. The new  ‘hidden’ tube type  battery may be more secure still. Of course you could take hour battery with you when you park, as long as you have your key with you…….

Storage: Lastly I’m guessing most thefts are from home, where people who want to have watched it/you and your routine. Here the best advice is to keep it inside a secure garage or even the house if possible, maybe using a Bike-lift . Alternatively, go for a secure outdoor storage option like the compact trimetals  , or asgardsss bike storage if you need more room, combined with a ground or wall-anchor , and lock it to that with the 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:

  1. Keep your tyres inflated to the recommended pressure, and no less that the minimum pressure given on the tyre wall.  (Note the trend to larger width and volume tyres on e-bikes, for which lower tyre pressures are in order)  See this  Schwalbe tyre pressure chart

My favourite current choice of high value all round safe, nippy  and comfortable tyre is the Schwalbe-marathon-gt-tour-hs485-tyre

  1. Keep your chain well lubricated – especially in wet conditions, and check it with a chain checker periodically. (It may need replacing after just 500-1000 miles of heavy use if you want to preserve the rest of your drivetrain.)
  2. Service it yourself/have it serviced by a qualified technician a couple of times a year.
  3. Have your system (Motor/Battery/Controller) ‘plugged in’ and updated annually by a bike shop that has the relevant accreditation – just like the updates for your mobile phone or PC. (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 – see servicing section 23 below.)

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 bearing 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.

In the interests of the environment and your skin, you might consider using Green-oil – which I have found effective.

(See also Section 23 below for local servicing)

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 or 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. It’s 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 the end of the line of text for that train, and then on the cycle symbol to find out the cycle policy for that particular train.)

More on Train Operating Companies (TOC’s) individual policies here  and this further info from Sustrans and Plusbike

For more info about bike-rail in Sheffield click here .

Note that Scotrail  tends to be more clued up re bikes (many trains have 6 spaces).

Note: e-bikes are relatively heavy, some are quite long, and there is a fashion for chunky tyres and also wider handlebars. All this means it can be awkward to get some e-bikes into the often meagre bike spaces on some trains, and be aware of trains where you have to hang your bike up by its front wheel on a hook ie: Cross Country (XC) voyagers,  Class 800 trains in use on LNER, Great Western Railway (GWR), Hull Trains, some Transpennine trains (TPEX) and coming soon to East Midlands Railway.(EMR)

(Although Conditions of Carriage generally prohibit motorised two-wheelers, this refers to fossil-fuel powered bikes that are an obvious safety hazard on a train, not e-bikes.)

TIP:

  • You can reduce the weight by taking the battery off the frame before hanging it.
  • You may want to take a simple cable lock along to lock your bike to something/the wheels together so you feel confident to leave it unattended. (Provided it is not blocking someone else’s bike in said meagre space!)
  • Don’t even think about charging your bike on a train – the electrics wont cope!

All in all, something to think about if you are considering any significant train based usage and so hoiking the bike about and up on to hooks, in which case you may look for a more diminutive or even a folding model, as these are universally allowed.

(Or maybe book ahead for assistance with your bike from train staff??)

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, but note that , just as with ‘normal’ bikes, specific brands will only be available at particular dealers. (for example my favourite high value brand ‘Cube’ is only available locally at J E James, although you can of course buy online form further afield, and if you want a particular model may have to do so, as e-bikes are made in relatively small batches, and dealers run out of specific models!)

Hiring:

https://www.jejamescycles.com/bike_hire

http://russellsbicycleshed.co.uk/

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

https://www.cyclepenistonecic.com/bike-hire

http://www.adifferentgear.com/

And city hire schemes are taking off: 

Eg: https://londonist.com/london/transport/ranking-all-of-london-s-hire-bikes

Buying: (Don’t forget your Cycling UK 10% discount at Halfords)

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://www.cyclepenistonecic.com/

http://www.adifferentgear.com/

http://www.syebc.co.uk/

(Online):

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

http://wooshbikes.co.uk/

https://www.kudoscycles.com/

Generally speaking 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 close access to advice, follow up, warranty repairs and specialist service.

22. Recommended e-bikes for utility use in Sheffield and environs:

(Please note that due to the recent proliferation of e-bike models and dealers it is not possible to keep an up to the minute track of  who sells what, so you may find some of these references out of date.)

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, rather thasn the 8 speed, which leaves you with a challenging 1st gear for some of Sheffield’s hillier parts!

I find the Raleigh website short on detail and even confusing, Tredz have a good summary of the Raleigh range, ande-bikeshop  have a useful table giving different model features.

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 and British cycling  10% member discount!

The 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.

Haibike Trekking models may suit, and Lapierre offer a range of suitable models.

A Different Gear  (Previously Recycle bikes) in Sheffield sell and service e-bikes, and their Cargo bike range may be a good fit for your needs.

Giant bikes offer includes the well priced women specific Amiti and Explore crossbar models at their female friendly Sheffield outlet.

Derbys firm Forme  offer some great e-bike options, as do Trek  (good female friendly shop at Deepcar)

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. and Woosh offer good support if you are having a go at using one of their kits to convert a bike yourself.

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(ish) 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-iridiumnblack-2020-easy-entry/   (good value versatile unisex all purpose powerful ‘step through’ bike for town/touring.)

Or in ‘Trapeze’ frame form: https://www.cube.eu/en/2020/e-bikes/tour/touring-hybrid/cube-touring-hybrid-pro-500-greynred-2020-trapeze/

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 – less powerful and smaller battery but still good for relaxed urban use.)

Or the powerful and nippy, more urban focussed compact one size fits all version: https://www.cube.eu/en/2020/e-bikes/urban/urban/compact-hybrid/cube-20-compact-sport-hybrid-bluenred-2020/

Also:

https://www.orbea.com/gb-en/ebikes/leisure/optima-comfort/cat/optima-comfort-30

 https://ebiketips.road.cc/content/reviews/electric-city-bikes/volt-regent-1915

 http://recyclebikes.co.uk/shop/gepida-turisind-1000-alfine-8/

https://www.trekbikes.com/gb/en_GB/bikes/hybrid-bikes/electric-hybrid-bikes/allant/allant-7-lowstep/p/30464/?colorCode=bluedark

 https://voltbikes.co.uk/e-bikes/classic/swift

– https://moustachebikes.com/en/electric-bikes/friday-28/

http://www.syebc.co.uk/bikes/bergamont-e-horizon-6-wave-500-2020

23. Servicing and repairs locally:

Use an accredited local e-bike service centre, e.g:

A different gear – example e-bike service menu:  https://www.adifferentgear.com/servicing-and-repairs

 JE James

Tonybutterworths

Or go for a  Mobile service

24. 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 really long time.

25. Second-hand?

Sophisticated modern e-bikes need the same level of expert care as other ‘vehicles’ on the road, and should ideally have the same level of service history.

Buying e-bikes second-hand can be risky because of battery/electrical issues and potentially higher general wear and tear.

Having said that, if you have the chance of a particularly promising used e-bike, here are some pointers: (Work in progress)

  • Does the bike you are considering have a documented service history? Ask for a recent service report showing that the electrical drive system is in good working order; eg: service receipts for electrical system service/diagnostics, showing battery condition and history of system software updates.
  • What is the recorded mileage on the handlebar display odometer readout? (Has the mileage counter had a reset at any point? – eg if the motor has been replaced under warranty – not uncommon.)
  • Does it match the bike’s appearance?
  • Does it have the correct (original) charger and does it work ok when connected to the battery?
  • Does the outer handlebar controller work OK, scrolling through power levels etc.
  • Ditto the display.(usually separate and in the middle of the handlebars.)
  • Are there any fault codes showing in the display?
  • Does the battery take a full charge? (all lights glowing until they go off at full charge.) Is it the original battery? – If so how old is it (age of bike unless replaced)/how many miles has it done? (see odometer). Has it been maintained at a reasonable charge level (and not left flat for any time). Range naturally decays over time and with mileage covered, but a good quality battery should easily last 5 years+

Ideally the seller will have a recent service record which will include battery condition/usage history and number of complete charges so far (good quality ones will do at least 500)

It is worth checking out replacement battery cost for the model in question, it will be of the order of £300 – £800 – so this really needs to be taken into account when considering what you are prepared to pay, especially if you can’t be given good evidence of age/mileage/service history.

You could consider, with the seller’s agreement, having a prospective used e-bike purchase looked over/a diagnostic report performed by a local authorised dealer or mobile service. (See section 23 above.)

External links: Here you will find a wealth of information about e-bikes and all matters related…

UK: 

https://ebiketips.road.cc/

http://www.atob.org.uk

https://www.pedelecs.co.uk

Non UK, these also offer good generally applicable advice/tech info..:

https://electricbikereport.com/

https://bicycle-guider.com

Disclaimer: The information and opinions here are those of an enthusiastic amateur.  I have first hand experience of some of the subject matter, but many of the brands/models/dealers mentioned here are based on reading reviews, hearing other people’s experience, and generally reading around the subject. I have no links with brands, and receive no financial rewards, but hopefully have the intrinsic reward of helping more people to become e-mobile!

Always consider professional advice re the appropriate model for your needs, and for its correct sizing, setup and ongoing maintenance.

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

10 thoughts on “Electric bikes (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…

  2. Thank you for a terrific, thorough and very informative article.

    Just one question if I may.

    I have “homed in” on the Raleigh range. Are the Raleigh Felix and Raleigh Motus identical in all but name?

  3. Most of the Ancheer bikes that I have seen are mostly foldable. I know someone who had a foldable bike and it lasted less than a year. And they weigh less than 200 pounds. They look very small for my height. 5′-10″

  4. I prefer hub drives myself,having tried a crank drive i could not manage the hills and stalled halfway up ,the issue with crank drives is they are very dependant on how hard you pedal,i found as soon as i started to struggle uphill as my peddling rate slowed the motor assistance reduced ,i think for less fit riders hub drives are better.

    1. Hi Richard.
      It is good to hear you are getting about on whatever e-bike works best for yourself!
      As regards the hub/mid drive debate – as Markogts has said in his reply to you, the issue here is gears – or lack of, and also the differing nature of the assistance these two systems supply.
      See section 8 of the article for further clarification, but note that it is universally accepted that mid motors have the advantage of the electric motor itself being kept at its optimum working speed by the use of lower gears even as the overall speed of the bike decreases on hills. The hub drive does not – its motor speed being dictated by the speed of the wheel.
      This is why I stress in section 10 that a bike being used for utility duties in hilly parts of sheffield needs at least 8 gears, preferably more, and going down to a good low first gear for climbing.

      On my utility bike the biggest sprocket (of 10) on the rear cassette has 42 teeth, on my e-MTB it has 46 – so giving as nice low gear for efficient climbing on steep hills, cycling with a brisk cadence and at what is basically not much than a fast walking pace – but one that is very efficient power consumption wise – for me and the battery!
      Lastly – you accurately describe the difference in the type of assistance they give – Hub drives just give you all of what they have, regardless, whereas mid drives, particularly the more sophisticated ones, use sensors to calculate how much to help you, and yes as you say – one of those parameters is how hard you are pushing on the pedals.

      This makes them more nuanced and more efficient in use, but it does mean you need to
      a) select a higher level of assistance as the road steepens (and have a good strong motor to call on) and
      b) move down through the gears to help the motor do its job strongly and efficiently.
      Just treat the motor as you would your legs!

  5. Question about the batteries please. Are they fixed in the bike frame or removable for charging. My concern is that where I store my bike I do not have a power socket. If they are removable then there is no problem.

    1. Hi Ken – almost all models have removeable batteries – it is better to charge batteries at room temp if you can anyway, and indeed have ther added security of this very expensive part of the bike safe indoors if you park outside/in a shed etc.

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