An electric bike is worth considering for all sorts of reasons: they're fun to ride, easy to use and are an ideal alternative to short car journeys.
Gone are the days when electric bikes are cumbersome, overweight and badly built. Modern designs look good, perform well and are available in a large choice of models - including lightweight folding bikes, rugged mountain bikes, sports hybrid bikes, and everything in between.
Electric assisted bikes are classed as pedal cycles by law - which means they can be riden without a driving licence and without tax, insurance or MoT certificate. Anyone can ride one, so long as they are at least 14 years old.
They are the cheapest form of motorised transport you can buy and run - and with the price of petrol increasing all the time, there has never been a better time to find out more about how an electric bike can benefit you.
Electric assisted bikes are ideal for journeys to the shops, commuting to work or just for pleasure. If you are considering purchasing a bike for commuting to work, it may be worth looking at the cycle to work scheme and the tax exemption which is available.
What types of bikes are available?
There are a number of different electric bike vendors and suppliers in the UK. The best known are Giant, Urban Mover and Powabyke, all of whom have a UK wide dealer network where you can try out the bikes and find out which one suits you the best.
There are different styles of electric bikes available - everything from small, lightweight and compact folding bikes through to rugged mountain and sports bikes.
You can even buy an electric bike that looks like a moped! To be fair, most of these are not particularly good - they're too heavy and cumbersome to easily use as a bike, but they can be good for people who are going to ride on flat roads (i.e. no hills!) and who will appreciate the step-through design.
What are the rules for electric assisted bikes?
Electric bikes or 'Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles' are road legal, but there are rules to cover them. The bike must have functioning pedals. The maximum power output is 200 watts. The rider must be over 14 years. The maximum speed is 15mph. The bike including battery must not weigh more than 40kg The electric bike must conform to normal bicycle construction.
In law an electric bike is regarded as a bike and therefore you do not need a MOT, tax, insurance or a safety helmet, although it is recommend that you do use a safety helmet for your own protection.
If your bike does not conform to the regulations you could face prosecution for driving an un-roadworthy motor vehicle without tax, MOT and insurance.
How do electric assisted bikes work?
There are several different ways in which an electric assisted bike can work, this depends on the design of the bike and these are:-
How to choose the right bike
There are many different styles of electric bikes to choose from. When choosing a bike, consider the following information to help you make the decision - style of bike, cost, type of terrain and do you need gears, range required and does the bike conform to the regulations?
Gears or No Gears?
Some electrically assisted bikes have gears and some do not. Which is right for you depends on the type of cycling you are planning to do.
If you plan to let the electric motor do all the work, gears aren't going to make any difference at all - the gears typically work for the pedal power and not on the motor itself.
Gears work well, however, if you are using the electric assisted bike in a hilly area, want to go faster than the motor will allow (15mph) or if you want to get some exercise when using your electric assisted bike.
What types of batteries are available?
Lead Acid - These are normally fairly heavy, take longer to charge and are fitted to cheaper bikes.
NiMh - Have double the life of lead acid, are half the weight but are more expensive to buy.
Lithium-ion - They are 4 times lighter than Lead Acid, cost about the same as NiMh and takes 4-6 hours to charge.
Lithium Polymer - These are fairly new batteries, but have several advantages including extending the range, much lighter, can be different shapes so it can be fitted better to the bike shape and long battery life.
What range can I expect?
You need to check with the manufacture the range for each bike, but typically you're looking at a range of between 10 and 25 miles.
The range can be different depending on the type of battery, the weight of the bike, weight of rider, terrain, temperature, weather conditions and whether you're letting the electric motor do all the work or if you are pedalling alongside using the motor.
How can the batteries be charged up?
The batteries can normally either be removed from the bike or left on to charge; the batteries are normally locked into position with a key.
Should the motor be at the front or rear?
On most of the cheaper bikes the motor is fitted to the front wheel the main disadvantage is lack of traction, this may cause problems in both wet weather and if you are going up hills. If the motor is fitted to the rear wheel it will give you better balance and traction especially in wet weather or going up hills.
How much should I pay?
You can buy a basic electric bike for as little as £200, or for as much as you can afford!
At the lower end of the cost range, you'll be looking at a comparatively heavy bike with budget components and probably only one gear: great if you're planning to use your bike for a few short journeys on fairly flat ground, but if you are looking for a better quality bike for longer distances, you're best spending a little more.
Budget brands include Sakura, Powabyke, Thompson and Powacycle, all of whom offer low cost Chinese built bikes with prices ranging from around £200 to £550. They have a nationwide network of dealers for local support.
Quality brands include Urban Mover and Giant. Prices start at £550 and again, they both have a nationwide network of dealers providing local maintenance and support.
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