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18 Things to Know Before Buying an Electric Bike

18 Things to Know Before Buying an Electric Bike

Okay, an electric bike isn’t a vehicle… or is it?  They’re getting faster and more powerful.  At some point the line between e-bike and motorcycle will blur.

While I love cars, I also love my e-bike so I just had to include this article here.

I bought my first electric bike 4 months ago (Summer of 2018).  Since then I’ve ridden it almost daily.

I bought a mountain e-bike but use it to commute to my office 2 to 5 days per week.  I also ride the trails with it.

While not cheap, this has proven to be one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.  However, looking back, here’s 17 things I wish I knew before buying it.

1. Electric bikes don’t cost much more than non-electric bikes

Let’s face it, today’s bicycles cost a lot of money.  When I was a kid, a $200 bike was expensive.  I remember a friend who got into touring in 7th grade spent something like $700 on a bike.  I thought that was astronimical.

Now you can easily spend $5,000+ on a bicycle, and it’s not an e-bike.

While the lowest cost e-bikes cost more than the cheapest regular bicycles, many electric bikes cost as much or less than expensive regular bikes.

In fact, you can get a great electric bike for $3,000 USD.  At $5,000, you’ll get something really good.

2. Know what you’ll use it for

Woman commuting to work on electric bicycle.

My situation when I ordered my e-bike was that I primarily did trail-riding.  The reason I bought an e-bike was so I could rip up mountain trails faster without exhausting myself.  Therefore, I bought an electric mountain bike.

Once I got it, I started cycling to my office (30 km round-trip).  I loved cycling to work instantly.  In fact, I use it for commuting more than I ride trails.

However, I don’t regret not getting a more road-friendly e-bike.  The reason is the mountain one rips along fast enough on the road so it works great.  I like being able to use it both on roads and trails.

Had I ordered a road electric bicycle, I’d likely have to shell out for a second one for the trails.

My point is err on the side of multiple cycling terrain options.  If you think you’ll ride on trails, get one that will do that because you can also use it on the road.

If you never plan to ride trails, get one better suited for roads.

You definitely want to avoid having to buy two of them unless money is no object for you.

Road vs. Mountain electric bikes – what’s the difference?

Mountain e-bikes have a gear system that makes going up steep terrain easier.  The downside is when going downhill on the road, you can’t reach a top speed as high as a road bike with a gear system designed for higher speeds on the road.

Mountain versions are designed for trails and rough terrain and include studded, fat tires, shocks – all the things a normal mountain bike has.

The road types can be both upright or the racing bicycle design.  I prefer upright because it’s way more comfortable.  I like speed, but I don’t like cycling hunched over.

In a nutshell, the differences are the same with electric bikes as they are with regular bikes.

3. The power kicks in only when you pedal

Electric bicycles don’t have a throttle.  The power assist only kicks in when you peddle.  If you don’t peddle, the bike doesn’t move.  This is a big distinction between electric bikes and motorized scooters.

4. They weigh a ton

Electric bicycles are not light.  The motor assist will get the bike moving.  I’ve not yet used the bike without a motor assist and have no plans to do so.  It’s way too heavy and no fun to ride.

5. Top speed matters a lot

All else equal, buy the e-bike that goes the fastest.  Once you get a taste of 25 km per hour, you’ll want it to 45 km per hour.  Get the absolute fastest electric bike you can afford.  Because mine is a mountain bike, the top speed is only 27 km per hour.  If you plan on using it on the road, get something that goes 35 km per hour or faster.

I thought mine went pretty fast until I saw other commuters fly by me on their OHM electric bicycles.  I checked out the OHM site and learned their bikes go up to 45 km per hour which is incredible.

6. Compare mileage per charge

The second most important feature to consider (after speed) is how far you can go on a full charge going at full boost.  You need to make sure that you can make it to your normal destination. Fortunately the bicycle storage room in my office building has outlets so I can charge my bike while I’m at work.

I’ve made it roundtrip on a single charge but it’s pretty much on fumes by the time I get home.  My house is at the top of a huge series of hills (we live on a mountain in North Vancouver), so I really don’t want to run out of a charge on the way home.

I recommend focusing on how many miles or km you can go at full boost.  If you’re like me, you’ll use full boost all the time.

7. You get a good workout

Just because you have an electric assist doesn’t mean you don’t get in a good workout.  What it means is you get to where you’re going faster and hills aren’t so brutal.  Since you must peddle, you do get a workout.  You can peddle fast and put a lot into it for a more intense workout or take it nice and easy.

I wear an Apple Watch and monitor my heart rate to assess my exercise.  When I commute on my electric assist bike, my heart rate fluctuates between two and three times my resting heart rate for most of the ride.  This is more rigorous than a fast walk.

8. They’re more fun than you’d expect

These bikes are a game-changer as far as I’m concerned.  I would never commute or ride mountain trails without it.  They’re so much fun because they take the grueling effort of hills out of the equation.  In fact, I enjoy going up trails more than down.  I like the power propelling me up steep inclines navigating roots, turns and rocks.

It’s also an amazing feeling to fly down the road at 30km to 40km on a bike.

While I biked a lot as a kid, I was never a cyclist.  Now with electric bikes, I ride all the time.  It’s my favorite way to get in some cardio exercise.

9. They are the ideal way to commute to work

Never in my life did I think I’d commute 30km roundtrip to my office.  3 years ago I met a guy in our neighborhood who told me he cycled to work downtown.  I was amazed.  It seemed so far for me.  That conversation stuck with me, but I wasn’t going to do it with a regular bike.

I then met a guy who had an electric bike.  He let me try it.  It was incredible.  I ordered one that day.  He too cycled to work the same distance as me.

As soon as my e-bike arrived, I hit the trails and started cycling to my office.  I get way more exercise and the fresh air is a bonus, especially in the Fall and Winter when I don’t go outside all that much due to rain and unpleasant weather.

We’re fortunate in Vancouver to have plenty of dedicated bike lanes.  It makes it so much easier and safer.  I stick to those most of the way.  I see dozens, if not hundreds of other cyclists commuting daily.  It’s really catching on.  And yes, I see more and more e-bikes on the road.

10. Test ride several models – up hills if possible

I didn’t test ride any e-bikes.  I ordered the same one my buddy has.  However, if I were to do it again, I would probably go to a few bike stores and test ride a few to get a sense of what I need and want.  Fortunately, I love the one I bought (Specialized Levo), but I think it’s prudent when spending this much money to test ride a few models first.

11. A mounted data screen is super handy

Speedometer on electric bike.

While my Specialized Levo has Bluetooth connectivity an app, it doesn’t have a mounted screen to see how fast and far I’m going.  I can check all that in the app, but it would be nice to have it on my bike.  I’ll probably either buy a mounting kit for my smartphone or buy a small speedometer for my bike.  I think seeing my speed will inspire to me to put even more effort into it.

12. People will stop and look and even ask you about it all the time

I don’t buy anything for this reason, but electric bikes are still a novelty so people will ask you on the street and in the trails about your bike.  I don’t mind; in fact I like it.  I think it’s an amazing evolution in bicycles so I like telling people about it.

13. Don’t kid yourself, you’ll use full power pretty much all the time

I only ride on full boost power.  I still put a lot of effort into peddling; it’s just with full boost I go faster.  Frankly, I don’t understand why people wouldn’t use full boost unless by necessity to preserve battery charge for the ride.

They really do make cycling up the steepest hills not a problem

I live in an area where there are brutal hills.  It’s the North Shore mountains just outside of Vancouver.  While it takes some effort with the full boost on to climb the hills, I’m not exhausted or winded.  The motor propels me up the hill without having to put too much oomph into it.

Where I really like going uphill is on steep trails.  I put it in the highest gear and it powers up really steep inclines unbelievably well; so much so that it’s actually more fun to go up than down.

14. They’re quiet (not like a motorcycle)

You can hear the motor purr away but it’s not loud like a motorcycle.  It’s very quiet.  Most people wouldn’t know it’s an e-bike unless they see the lights on the frame or if you have a model with a more prominently mounted battery.

You don’t have to worry about making any noise with these. They’re remarkably quiet.

15. They have multiple gears but fewer than non-electric assist bikes

You don’t get 21 gears.  You don’t need that many.  I believe I have 8 gears all on one front sprocket.  It’s more than enough, although I could use a couple lower gears so I can go faster on flat terrain.  With the motor assist, you don’t need so many gears because the motor takes care of the hills.

16. If buying online, ask where you can take it for repairs (especially regarding the motor/battery)

You can buy all kinds of e-bikes online, but be sure to ask where you can take it for repairs and servicing.  I have a repair shop I go to that doesn’t sell my model so they will not work on the motor or battery, but will work on everything else.  For any motor or battery repairs, I’d have to check where to go (I’m not even sure, but so far I’ve had no issues with the motor or battery).

17. Unless you buy additional batteries, they aren’t ideal for long-haul touring

Most e-bikes won’t go further than 50km if you use quite a bit of boost.  I get 30Km on a charge using the full boost.  That’s not all that much of a ride if you’re into touring.  Therefore, you may need to invest in a few batteries if you want to do 100+ mile rides, or else be judicious about using the electric assist.

18. The jury is out whether they’ll save you money by not driving to work

At first I thought I’d save money since parking downtown is expensive as is gasoline.  However, I don’t think I will when taking the cost of the bike into account.  I spent over $6,000 on my bike.  Parking downtown costs $15 per day and gas costs maybe $10 per day.  That means when I bike to my office, I save $25 per day.

That means I’ll make up the cost of the bike after commuting 240 days which is probably 2 years.  I don’t cycle every day, so 2 years is about right.

However, annual bike repairs and servicing costs several hundred dollars.  Which means I may pay off the bike after 2.5 years of commuting.  If I keep and use this bike for 5 years, then it is a money saver… but I’m not there yet, so I don’t know.

That said, if I got rid of my car altogether, I would save a ton of money quickly.  But, I’m not getting rid of my car because I like it and enjoy driving it.

So, if you can get rid of a car cycling to work, you’ll save a lot of money.  If you don’t, the savings aren’t going to be substantial and you won’t enjoy them for one to three years.