Electric bikes are the future! At Hargroves Cycles we’re getting more and more demand for – and more and more questions about – electric bicycles than ever before, so we’ve prepared this guide to help you get to grips with what’s what. At Hargroves we stock all kinds of eBikes, from step-through tourers and commuters with excellent luggage capacity, to urban-ready hybrids and full-on mountain bikes. Whatever your style of riding, there’s an eBike tailored to it.
Let’s first dispel an unhelpful myth: eBikes are definitely bicycles – you still have to pedal them. But with an electric motor topping up your efforts, they’re a huge benefit once the world starts tilting upwards. Whether you’re commuting to work, heading out for a weekend ride or even hitting the trails off-road, eBikes are easy – and great fun.
EBIKES AND THE LAW
Because the law considers them bicycles (except in Northern Ireland), you can ride eBikes anywhere you’d ride a traditional bicycle, wearing what you’d normally wear. The power boost kicks in as you pedal (there’s no separate ‘throttle’), and the assistance is limited to 15.5mph. Of course you can go faster but unlike in some other countries, beyond 15.5mph it’s over to you and your legs, because you won’t get any more help!
The assistance makes them ideal for stop-start urban traffic and really takes the sting out of hills, making them just as good for commuters who don’t want to get sweaty as those looking to boost fitness and mobility. Recharging is a simple case of plugging into a regular wall plug, as you would a mobile phone or laptop.
Northern Irish law is the exception, currently considering eBikes to be mopeds, and as a result you need a license, tax, insurance, a motorcycle helmet and even a DVLA registration to ride one there.
While eBikes offer the same simple freedoms as regular bicycles, you can expect various high-tech options. Better bikes offer several power modes, ranging from a battery-friendly gentle push to a powerful shove. Such modes really help you get the most in both performance and range. A good system will also have a clear battery life indicator – all the eBikes we sell at Hargroves Cycles do – with the most advanced incorporating these into a bar-mounted, computer-like head unit with extra functions.
There’s an obvious reason for needing a battery indicator – you really don’t want to run out of juice. Because of their motors and in particular the batteries, eBikes are considerably heavier than regular unassisted models. Under power they more than compensate for their extra mass – and offroad they can actually have an advantage in grip and suspension performance – but they’re significantly hard to ride without power.
Today’s systems are well capable of a whole day’s hard riding – or several days commuting – and are extremely reliable. Advanced models even have a ‘walk’ mode to aid pushing, too. If you want a good idea of the range you’ll get/need, Bosch, a leading supplier of eBike systems, offer a detailed range calculator here.
WHAT DO ALL THE NUMBERS MEAN?
There are two main measurements to look out for when choosing an eBike: the wattage and the watt-hours. The wattage tells you how powerful the motor is. The watt-hour number, meanwhile, basically says how big the fuel tank is.
Figuring out the other specs can sometimes feel like a job for an electrician, but it’s actually not that complicated. You just need to know what the units actually mean. Here’s a quick overview.
Watts (W) – This shows the maximum continuous power a motor can give, though short-burst peak power may be higher. 250W motors (the UK legal maximum) are common.
Watt-hours (Wh) – This tells you how much energy the battery can supply for one hour: a 500Wh battery puts out 500 watts before going flat after exactly 60 mins. Connected to a 250W motor, it will last two hours. (Note, this is two hours at full power – which you are highly unlikely to ever be able to use, and in the real world the flow varies hugely and battery life is far longer).
Amp-hours (Ah) – This is another measure of energy supply. To convert to the more common watt-hours, multiply amp hours by the voltage of the battery.
Voltage (V) – Voltage is a little like horsepower, though legal limitations mean there’s not actually much call for variation. 36V is common, with 24V at the lower end and 48V emerging at the higher.
Newton Metres (Nm) – This tells you how much twisting force (torque) the motor generates, which you feel in how strongly it can accelerate. More torque means stronger acceleration – and with it, higher battery drain. 75Nm is a common benchmark to look out for.
WHICH ONE’S RIGHT FOR ME?
Looking for a high-value bargain with great spec? The Cube Cross Hybrid One 500 (£1,799) features the very efficient 2018 Bosch Activ Line Plus 50Nm motor and a 500W battery. It also has hydraulic disc brakes, an excellent feature on eBikes, given their extra weight.
For a bit more power and serious all-round usability, we love the Cube Reaction Hybrid HPA Pro 500 (£2,199). This gets the 75Nm Bosch CX motor, a semi-integrated 500W battery for smooth looks, and big knobbly Schwalbe tyres for grip and comfort on all surfaces. The quality drivetrain is 10-speed Shimano.
For serious trail use, there’s little more capable than Specialized’s Turbo Levo FSR 6FATTIE /29 (£3,500). A 650b ‘Plus’ bike that’s fully compatible with 29in wheels, it offers 150mm full suspension, huge 2.8in-wide tyres, a high-end drivetrain, massive 200mm disc brakes, and stealthy looks. With a built-in power meter (to measure your own efforts versus the motor), a bar-mounted mode switch and app-based connectivity for your phone, it’s right out there on the cutting edge.
Check out the range of electric bikes at Hargroves Cycles, and don’t be shy about giving us a call to help understand the numbers.