Electric Bike Basics: What are They and Should You Consider Getting One?

December 5, 2017

Sick of driving around town in traffic? Me too! And although I haven’t stopped driving altogether, I’ve cut the soul-sucking time spent in my silly car by a lot by snagging a Radwagon from Rad Power Bikes. I’ve been commuting via electric bike for about a few years now and it’s been a complete game changer!

An electric bike can increase your fitness regimen, decrease your stress levels, and contribute positively to your overall quality of life – all while (possibly) helping you get to work even faster than your car currently allows. So let’s review the basics and help you assess whether an electric bike is worth considering.

A quick electric bike overview

Electric bikes come in many varieties, just like normal bikes. You can get the e-bike version of a mountain bike, cargo bike, road bike, among many other possibilities. Electric bikes are a fair amount heavier than a normal bicycle because of the addition of a motor and battery. Those are, of course, the key components that allow you to fly through town like a bionic human. Some electric bikes have rear hub motors while other manufacturers prefer mid-drive kits. Battery sizes can vary greatly as well.

You are likely be able to ride 10-40 miles from a single charge and it normally takes a few hours to fully charge your battery for another ride. Most e-bikes also have a top speed of 20mph as that is the maximum allowed by law almost everywhere. Some manufacturers make e-bikes that will go up to 28mph, although those might not technically be legal to ride in many parts of the country.

But aren’t electric bikes expensive?

E-bikes vary widely when it comes to cost. Most of the differences come down to the materials used on the actual bike. Many of the higher-end electric bikes have better quality components that contribute to better shifting, braking, weight, and a better overall ride.

Paying more money does not always get you a better product, however, so it’s important to do your research in order to find the best value. I have found ElectricBikeReview.com to be a phenomenal resource throughout my education and shopping process – especially when helping me think through finding a well-priced e-bike. I personally decided to purchase a Radwagon from Rad Power Bikes as it was the cheapest well-reviewed electric cargo bike on the market. That’s because I wanted to be able to tote my kids around on the back! Another strong consideration for me was the Yuba Spicy Curry Bosch which garners phenomenal reviews.

electric bike review

You don’t necessarily have to buy an electric bike from a manufacturer, either. You can save some dough by putting a kit on your existing bike. If you are particularly handy and already have a decent ride, consider making your own like my friend Carl! Some homemade e-bikes bikes will go 40mph (or even faster) for you extreme adrenaline junkies.

E-bikes are incredibly cheap to operate

While you might have just spent close to $2,000 to purchase your e-bike (or possibly even more than that), every mile you ride is putting massive savings into your pocket versus driving your car. The necessary electricity to charge them is minimal. In fact, the electricity costs of an e-bike are quite close to free. A general rule of thumb is that it costs $4 to power your bicycle for 2,500 miles of riding. That’s incredible! 

In addition to not having to fill up at gas stations, you don’t need a license to ride an e-bike around town. No insurance is required. There’s no annual tax bill for having an e-bike either. On top of that, the average repair costs of an internal combustion vehicle tip the scales strongly in the direction of electric bikes.

Bike shop visits are, on average, far cheaper than a visit to your car mechanic. I’ve ridden almost 1,000 miles on my Radwagon and have only taken my bike in for one initial tune-up at a cost of $63. If you want specific details on the full costs of e-bike ownership I suggest reading this article.

You don’t show up at your destination sweaty and smelly

One of the major reasons that people cite for not wanting to bike to work is that they’ll show up smelling foul and drenched in their perspiration. I occasionally ride my non-electric bike to work and I must admit that I’m a bit self-conscious of my sweat level on those days. I’m far filthier after an eight-mile ride on my road bike than when I ride my e-bike. I truly need a shower after riding my non-electric bike, however, when cruising along with a motor-powered bike, I only need to freshen up quickly in the bathroom. That’s a huge benefit.

Depending on the weather, your propensity to sweat, and how hard you ride, you can likely get away without showering once you arrive at your office if you are riding an electric bike. 

You’re still getting exercise with an e-bike

Many people assume that by riding an electric bicycle you’ll be giving up many of the physical benefits that come from riding a bike. That’s not the case. Since most electric bikes are primarily powered by pedal-assist, you are still getting a workout. The level of pedal assist that you choose definitely determines how intense that workout will be, though. Personally, most days I like to keep my pedal assist at level 1 (out of 5) and challenge myself physically – especially on my way home. You also have to consider the fact that many people just won’t get on a regular bicycle, but they will ride an e-bike. For those folks, the physical benefits are through the roof!

You can still work quite hard when riding an e-bike. You just get the amazing feeling of having bionic legs while you’re doing it. If you don’t like to hit up the gym or just don’t feel like you have the time, riding your e-bike is the perfect solution. A nice 20-30 minute ride gets your blood pumping and your muscles working all without having the time suck of driving to a nearby workout facility in order to make that happen. Seriously, I’m kind of against the mindset of driving to a gym to work out.

Biking helps you feel more in touch with your town

If you’re riding around in your car and get upset about all the other cars that are holding you up, just remember: you aren’t in traffic – you are traffic. And I don’t know about you, but being a cog in my town’s traffic nightmare is stressful. I feel helpless, stuck, and annoyed.

Biking around town lifts my eyes up and helps me to see all the things that I love about the place that I live. The leaves changing colors and the old brick buildings. The bungalows and the parks. These are things that I barely notice when I’m driving by in my car. On my bike though, I’m viscerally reminded of how cool my town is and of the natural beauty this world has to offer.

Electric bikes are environmentally friendly

My decision to start riding an electric bike as my primary mode of transportation was mainly focused on two factors: having fun and cutting costs. But the environmental benefits are undeniable. Cutting down on your usage of fossil fuels is always good. You might even be able to eliminate a car from your driveway altogether because of your increased e-bike usage!

And maybe a bike isn’t the silver bullet to the idea of eliminating a car from your life. But carpooling and rideshare apps can be the perfect supplement. And if you can ditch a car from your life, the environmental and societal impact is massive. Our personal vehicles emit nearly 20% of US emissions!
electric bike review

E-bikes = efficiency

If you’re into efficiency, then e-bikes are likely to resonate with you. Like I just stated above, you really might be able to eliminate a car from your life as your reliance on your electric bike increases. I’m personally not quite at that point, but I’ll keep you up to speed on my progress. It’s my desire to cut our family’s automobile ownership in half in the near future.

I’m not necessarily an efficiency freak, but I do love to optimize my time, energy, and money use. My electric bike makes me pretty happy on those fronts since I’m getting a workout on my ride to and from work all while cutting down on my commute time. Wait, for real? Yes! My commute takes less time when I take my e-bike than when I take my car. If that’s not a huge check in the e-bike column I don’t know what is.

Interesting tidbit: the average speed of a car around town is 18 mph while the average speed of an electric bike is 15 mph. So keep telling yourself how much quicker you are getting places in your car, but it’s likely not true if you live in an urban environment.

Reasons not to purchase an electric bike

You might have some serious reservations – and some of them are likely even legitimate.

  1. You would have to finance the purchase. Do not go into debt to purchase a bike. This is a major purchase that requires the layout of a lot of money at one time. If an electric bike sounds like it would fit your lifestyle, save up for it.
  2. Your commute is way too long. You might be able to get enough use out of one to justify the purchase even if you can’t use it to kill your car commute. But if you have an extremely long drive every day, an e-bike might not be for you.
  3. You are already riding a regular bike like a boss. If you have a really short commute or are already an avid biker, don’t bother jumping on the e-bike train. Keep up the good work!

The Bottom Line:

Some people have disparaged e-bikes quite a bit saying that they are only for lazy bike riders. I have to disagree. My e-bike has proven to be the perfect motivator to hit the streets. And it’s even increased how often I get out on my road bike too! My electric bicycle has helped me find a new rhythm that’s been great for my lifestyle, health, and finances.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

8 comments on “Electric Bike Basics: What are They and Should You Consider Getting One?

  1. I have the same bike and same exact setup as you. No matter how hard I try to explain e-bikes to people they still don’t get how e-bikes could transform transportation as we know it. I wish I could do 30 mph on my bike.

  2. That’s awesome, Brad. Always pumped to meet a fellow Radwagon rider. I had a neighbor chasing me down in their car just yesterday to find out more about the speedy bike I was riding. He was sold after a 5-minute discussion, haha. Also, seeing the electric scooter craze hit California, it makes me wonder why those folks aren’t just buying their own or considering e-bikes for themselves. E-bikes really could be a huge part of the solution to our transportation problems in this country if we would only tout the benefits more.

  3. I am totally sending this post to my dad. He just bought one and is promoting them all over the place. I road it up a very large hill with little effort and thought to myself, “This is a game changer for the entire world. Entire cities could function without cars.” My husband and I both live within two miles of work and now we have to seriously consider getting rid of one of the cars once our children don’t need car seats any more. It’s so exciting! Thanks for doing a run-down on the details for curious people.

  4. E-bike is a big thing around Vietnam, especially in Hanoi. People, especially those are residing in busy central streets loved it. It efficient and sustainable, also it doesn’t take up a lot of spaces in your garage. If you take care of it, the only few things you need to replace (maybe annually, depends on how much you use it) are the tyres and the battery. I owned one myself, and I find it is easy to use. If you like a big engine, incredible speed – this is not for you. If you are going green and living in a busy, crowded urban area, but the public transport sucks – yep, this is a great investment.

  5. François Jul 10, 2019

    I was an avid cyclist until due tu my age, I started to have serious problems in my knees. Because I stoped clycling I have put on a lot of weight. I just bought an e-bike (a pedalec) and as you say, the health benefits are huge. Besides, I am happy to cycle everywhere I go again. It is as if my knees were healthy again.