Elements of E-Bikes

| Greg Hodges

Times are changing. The old ways are dying. It’s a new dawn and a new savior for the city has come.

No, we’re not talking about Batman, though we are talking about something made super by its tech. The title gives it away, but of course, we’re talking about e-bikes. If you’ve ridden a major trail during commuting hours or watched the bikes zipping by in any city then you have likely seen e-bikes as a growing part of the cycling milieu. What’s causing this change and more importantly what separates the fever pitch of brands and styles exploding onto the market? Can more choices and more specific purpose e-bikes actually make biking simpler for more people?

Besides the brand on the downtube, what makes the plethora of e-bikes different from one another? To start with there are categories: commuter e-bikes, road e-bikes, and mountain e-bikes. These commercial models differ significantly from the simplistic hybrid ones owned by the multi-billion dollar bike share companies owned by Uber and Lyft. Within those styles, e-bikes are regulated within the US in three legal classifications that limit the speed and use of e-bikes.

The most common is the Class 1 pedal-assist, that is you pedal and the bike assists, e-bike. Class 1 e-bikes are limited to 20 mph with assistance, above that speed the motor cuts assistance – though strong riders can push the bikes faster. Class 1 e-bikes typically have the longest range of e-bikes allowing 60-100+ mile ranges on eco mode. Class 2 e-bikes are less common than Class 1, but they have throttles to allow the bikes to move fully under the power of the motor and battery. Because of that they have lower ranges then Class 1s and are restricted from some trails. The final classification, predictably called Class 3, has a maximum speed with an assist of 28 mph, and more powerful motors. Class 3 bikes are the rarest due to tighter restrictions that ban them from sidewalks and shared-use paths. In many cities this makes Class 3 e-bikes function more like a slower motorcycle as they can’t use the many of the best bike routes.

We’ve gone over the basics, now let’s get into specifics. The most popular e-bikes in the US are the dockless bike-share options that populate city streets. These options are designed to be as cheap as possible; consequently, they have a couple of features that set them back from other options. One is that rather than measuring torque when applying power to the bike, these e-bikes measure how slowly the pedals are moving. The theory being slower rotating pedals means the rider is likely working harder to move up a hill and wants the bike to provide more power. This is good for going uphill but makes the bikes jerky when accelerating and makes the assist feel less natural than the other options. The other surprisingly big downside of these bikes are the airless tires. These tires roll well enough and they are by far the easiest solution to keeping bikes out on street corners for months with minimal maintenance, but they don’t provide the comfort of traditional pneumatic tires.

As already alluded to, the least common type of e-bike is the Class 3 since they are more strictly regulated, though they do have significant utility. Topping out at 28mph with assist Class 3 bikes can keep up with traffic better than Class 1 and Class 2 as well as get to a destination faster. The brand we carry with Class 3 bikes is Swiss e-bike savant Stromer. Stromer is unabashedly an e-bike. The company seems to revel in making their bikes appear as powerful as they are. Another plus for Stromer is using a hub-based motor allows the battery to be recharged while braking which evens out some of the strain put on the bike by long climbs. The downside of the Class 3 bikes is that they are restricted from shared-use trails and sidewalks, though they are still welcome on roads and bike lanes.

The mainstay of the e-bike revolution, the Class 1 e-bike is simple, fast, and common. Class 1 bikes are limited to 20 mph with assist, but importantly are welcome just about everywhere that a regular bike is. Brands we stock that are Class 1 e-bikes either use Shimano STEPs or Bosch drive units rather than a proprietary system like Stromer. This can have advantages, particularly with the Shimano system, in that the parts needed to service them are widely available. Dutch cycling brand Gazelle makes good utilitarian e-bikes using both Bosch and Shimano drive units. Their traditional style and ease of adjustment make them perfect for short commutes or for an older enthusiast wanting maximum comfort.

The final and probably most interesting brand of e-bike we carry is BMC with the Alpenchallenge AMP. A fully carbon fiber frame based on their incredibly successful urban Alpenchallenge line, the AMPs weigh in at a stunningly light mid-thirty pounds for a fully set-up e-bike. Considering most other similar e-bikes weigh between 50 and 60 pounds, it is quite a feat that means the bike is easier to put on car racks or carry up stairs.. The bike also has a much more performance ride, taking turns more confidently as well as accelerating quickly and under control. Three different versions of the bike exist to cover various needs: a sport version for keeping up with a group ride or getting somewhere quick, a cross version for when the route between point A and point B isn’t always smooth tarmac, and a city version that comes with cleanly integrated lights and fenders.
If you’re looking for a bike to commute or you want to keep up with a group faster than you, or you just want a bike to have fun on then maybe an e-bike is for you.

If you have more questions you can visit, call, or email us. We’re excited by e-bikes and what they mean for the future of cycling.