Electric bikes for Sheffield – FAQ


Updated Winter 2024 version

Electric bikes for Sheffield – FAQ’s.
If you are one of the many people who are contemplating the acquisition of an electric bike for everyday use in and around Sheffield, you may be feeling a tad bamboozled by all the jargon and options, and find yourself turning to local cycling organisations for answers.

Here’s a gallop, from an enthusiastic amateur, through some of the most frequently asked questions, based on 10 years or so everyday e-bike usage by myself and my partner, and a nerdy interest in all things e-bike.

Hopefully this will give you enough basic info to start off towards a considered choice, along with a surf of the local bike shops to discuss and try bikes out, and a good read of the best current online source of e-bike info: https://ebiketips.road.cc/

If you want, more detailed info can be found in my bigger e-bike article at https://www.sheffieldcycleroutes.org/e-bikes/

Q: What is a legal electric bike?
Ans: A legal e-bike has a 250 watt rated motor and the assistance it gives you must cut out at 15.5mph (after that it’s a normal bike that’ll go as fast as you can pedal it!) Most will have a ‘walk’ function that means the motor can help you when you are (only) walking the bike.

Any bike with a motor rated beyond 250 watts, is capable of assisted speeds beyond 15.5mph, or can be ridden with just the throttle* is technically a Moped, and is really not worth the (many) legal and liability risks if you are involved in an incident.

*NB Some UK bikes can be ‘type approved’ to have a throttle that will help you up to 15.5mph without pedalling ( wisperbikes ) These can be worth seeking out if your situation means that such a system will keep you cycling.

Q: What’s the difference between a bike with the electric motor positioned in one of the wheels and one where it’s in the middle of the bike?

Ans: Bikes with centrally mounted motors (aka Mid drive) are more powerful than those mounted in the wheel (aka Hub drive) and will get you up hills more readily. Bikes with mid motors also tend to feel more stable as the weight is in the middle and low down. For lighter duties – leisure and commuting – and for riders who enjoy putting in some effort a hub drive will be fine, for heavier utility work in hilly areas a Mid drive is best.

Q: How powerful does an e-bike need to be for hilly Sheffield duties?
Ans: The amount of power that an e-bike motor develops dictates how easily it will get you and your stuff up a hill, and when you are checking the specification on a prospective bike you will see power given given in Newton metres output (Nm) – basically the more Nm the motor gives you the less hard work you have to add to get yourself and all your stuff up a hill.

Mainstream e-bike motor maximum power outputs vary from around a gentle 40Nm up to a very strong 85Nm. (Even though all the motors are the same 36v voltage and 250w watt rating )

A 40Nm motor, whether a hub or mid motor, will provide enough assistance for light duty work for an average weight rider on the less hilly parts of Sheffield. For the hillier parts, and for more serious utility focussed Sheffield duties (a good shop, 2 panniers of allotment produce etc) a mid motor bike producing a maximum 50Nm will certainly be needed, and a bike with a max 60Nm or more mid motor is preferable,
particularly for heavier riders and duties like passenger carrying or trailer pulling. In our view one of the various ‘Cube’ models with the 75Nm Bosch ‘Performance Line’ motor is ideal for everyday utility use in Sheffield, having reserves of oomph for times when you are tired, the weather’s crap and just want to get home asap up that hill with all that stuff you’ve loaded up. (Other 60-85 Nm systems and makers are available!)

We think having plenty of oomph to call on also helps us to feel and act as more of an equal road user as well. You choose just how much or little of that available motor assistance you want at any given time by choosing from the different levels on the handlebar control unit.

Q: What do all the electric numbers mean?
Ans: Most e-bikes sold in the UK have 36v (volt) systems (motor and battery together). People often think the bike’s battery size number (400, 500, 625 etc) is about the bike’s power. It isn’t, that’s the Nm mentioned above.

These numbers actually denote the battery’s size or capacity, and therefore its range – how far a full battery will take you before it runs out. The battery’s capacity is measured and expressed in Watt Hours (Wh) – typically between 250Wh (on lightweight hub drive e-bikes) and 400- 750Wh on Mid drive urban workhorses. If you are going for one of the latter I’d recommend a 500Wh capacity minimum.

Q: How far will it get me on a charge?
Ans: You use around 5 – 20 of the battery’s Watt hours for every mile you are cycling with assistance. Just how much you draw from the battery depends greatly on factors like your own weight, the weight you are carrying, how well maintained your bike is (especially the tyres being properly inflated), hills, headwinds, how fast you choose to go and the temperature. (Lithium batteries won’t go as far on a charge when it’s cold)

So therefore as an overall generalisation, a battery will provide you with power for around 20 to 50+ miles, depending on how big it is – its capacity – and the assistance levels you choose (and the other dozen or so variables mentioned earlier) Choose a higher assistance level like Turbo too often and your battery will run down much quicker.

NB Disregard manufacturers’ super optimistic claimed range figures, they are based on a light rider riding on the flat in perfect conditions on the lowest power setting.

Q: What gears do I need for Sheffield?
Ans: When it comes to gears, you have a choice of Derailleur (open cogs at the back and a long arm that moves the chain up and down the cogs) or ‘Hub’ gears (the cogs are contained in the middle of the back wheel and changing happens inside). Derailleur gears can have the widest range (Low – easy, to high – fastest) of the two, but Hub gears have the advantage of low maintenance, and they can be changed at a standstill. Great for urban use. For lighter duties in less hilly areas, 7 (hub or derailleur) gears will just about do, but for more serious work or terrain, you will need at least 8, and preferably between 9 and 11. This is because the wider range gearsets will include lower (easier) gears that you will need for
steep hills.

The exception to this is the ‘made for e-bike’ 5 speed hub gear produced by Shimano specifically for these bikes. It is often paired with the 75Nm Bosch ‘Performance Line’ motor which has sufficient power to cope with its narrow gear range, and with the relatively new ‘Gates’ carbon Belt drive instead of a conventional chain, and which needs no oiling! (Gates belt drive is becoming available on an increasing number of other Hub gear bikes).

Q: Which type of bike is best for Sheffield, and how much should I pay?
The best bike is the one that most suits your purposes.

You should buy a ‘known’ make from a reputable source with a good quality system, ideally from a local bike shop – great for backup and service. If you do end up buying online, do research who locally will be willing and able to service and mend your particular choice of system.

(Basically if you go for a Bosch or Shimano powered bike you will be OK for local servicing, and Giant, Decathlon and Halfords have their own service centres for the systems they use.) You will need to pay no less than about £1500 for a basic low power everyday hub drive bike with no ‘extras’ like mudguards and lights, and to get a Mid drive bike with good oomph and all the trimmings you will need to spend £2500 upwards. Not an insignificant sum, but ours are a car replacement so massively cheaper overall, as well as much more fun.

To reduce the cost impact, look out for 0% deals, or consider using the government’s Cycle scheme or the greencommuteinitiative .

(Right now however – early 2024, premium e-bikes are being heavily discounted due to overstock!)

Bear in mind e-bikes are heavier than normal bikes, a typical Mid drive Hybrid – crossbar or step through style – will weigh 20-25kg, difficult to lift up steps and generally just more hefty and bulky than ‘acoustic’ (normal) bikes.

Type wise, you might want a fairly standard Hybrid everyday bike that will do most things – getting shopping in some panniers, a run to the pub or a chums, longer leisure rides on a variety of surfaces – whatever! This can be the more usual high crossbar type, or increasingly the more accessible medium or really low step through configuration – great for stiff hips and for leaping on and off in town.

Lighter (17-20kg) hybrid style e-bikes, usually based around less powerful systems are becoming more common, and may fit the bill for lighter riders and less heroic duties. Cargo bikes come in all sorts of fun and practical shapes and weigh even more. They have greater capacity for a small car boot’s worth of stuff or a passenger or two on the school run, but you’ll need to think about your parking arrangements carefully!

You might want a Folding e-bike ‘cos your storage is limited or you use public transport a lot as part of your journey.

There are some great Compact (20” wheel) bikes that will do all the urban stuff a Hybrid will do, but take up less parking space and are really nippy around town. They would fit on a train (free) more readily, are very adjustable for multiple users and tend to be a steadier ride than folders on the whole.

There is more detail on these, including examples, in section 7 of the bigger article (see link at start).

Q: How do I stop it getting nicked?
(Short) Ans: Use a minimum of 2 locks, both out and about and at home, one being a Gold or preferably Diamond rated ‘D’ lock attached to a cycle stand or similar and through the wheel and frame, the other could usefully be a key operated ‘Frame’ lock that is fixed to the bike, locks a bar through the back wheel and can have an additional chain looped round something and plugged into it. Altogether, too much hassle for the average bandit. Never, ever leave it unattended. More on the topic of storage and security in section 18 of the bigger article.

Q: What’s all this stuff about electric bike and scooter fires at the moment (2023/4)?
Ans: The significant amount of stored energy in a Lithium battery is kept in check and safe, particularly during the charging process, by a complex Battery Management System (BMS). The dedicated charger provided when you buy a good quality bike is matched to that system’s battery and talks to it as it charges it, ensuring a safe level of charge, and activating fail safe systems to shut everything down if it detects a problem (e.g. a failing battery cell).

Unfortunately, there has been a proliferation of poor quality e-bikes and the kit to convert bikes to electric power on t’internet recently, e.g. the kit being used by the delivery riders you see zooming around without pedalling.

As well as being illegal (see Q1 above) these bikes are using cheap, poorly built batteries and chargers, often not as a matched pair. This is the kit that catches fire. Your proprietary system on a mainstream bike will be just fine (Bosch, Shimano etc).

Richard Attwood. 2024.

12 thoughts on “Electric bikes for Sheffield – FAQ

  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…

    1. E bike is a new way for commuting. It is friendly to our live environment. I got one electric bike from eskute.co.uk, which really helps me

  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.

  6. An E-bike for commuting and shopping in Sheffield is fantastic, in all weathers if you have good waterproofs. I’ve put almost 6000 miles on my current (hub motor) one commuting to work as a GP and doing the weekly shop.

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