Electric-assisted bicycles, pedelecs, electric bikes or e-bikes – whatever you choose to call them – have experienced a surge in popularity in recent years. By adding an electric motor to the humble bicycle, they make it easier to ride up hills or into a headwind, help older riders stay mobile and ensure that commuters don't arrive at work a sweaty mess.
With prices ranging from $1,500 up to around $10,000, there are models to suit many different riding styles. Our guide will walk you through how e-bikes work, the different types that are available and how to compare electric bikes to find one that's right for you.
Compare some of the best electric bicycles
What is an electric bicycle?
An electric bike is a bicycle with an integrated electric motor powered by a rechargeable battery. Its aim is to help you ride further and faster with less effort.
Most models work by providing assistance to each pedal stroke as you ride. This is known as a pedelec or pedal-assist system and ensures that, although you're still exerting yourself, the motor takes some of the effort out of pedalling. Though much rarer, throttle-based systems are also available.
Modern e-bikes are starting to look more and more like traditional bicycles. Aside from the obvious inclusion of a motor, the other key differences you may notice are the extra weight that e-bikes carry – most models are 20 kilograms and up – and the use of tough frames, reinforced forks and components designed to handle the extra bulk.
Why should I consider an electric bicycle?
There are several reasons why an electric bike could be a smart purchase:
- You want to go further and faster. The assistance of a motor helps you travel longer distances and at quicker speeds.
- You need help getting up hills. If you live in a hilly area, the thought of tackling those steep slopes using pedal power alone can be daunting. An electric bike can give you the assistance you need to climb hills and keep on riding.
- You want to commute to work in comfort. One of the downsides of riding an ordinary bicycle to work is arriving as a sweaty, smelly mess. An e-bike allows you to arrive at work in a more presentable state.
- You want to feel more comfortable riding in traffic. An e-bike can help you keep pace with traffic and take off more quickly from intersections, ensuring that you feel more comfortable on the road.
- You're not as mobile as you used to be. If you're recovering from an injury or simply getting on a bit, cycling with the assistance of a motor could give you the extra boost of power you need.
Who shouldn't consider an electric bicycle?
- Electric bicycles are expensive. With entry-level e-bikes starting at $1,500 and fancier models pushing up towards $5,000 and beyond, you'll want to be certain that this type of cycling is right for you.
If you're fit and healthy and you want to get the full workout that riding provides, you'd be better off saving your dough and sticking with a conventional bike.
What types are available?
There are several varieties of electric bike to choose from, with each designed to suit a different riding style or purpose:
- Commuter e-bikes. Also known as urban e-bikes, these are the most popular form of e-bike and are right at home on city streets and bike paths. They regularly include racks for carrying bags and other goods as well as features that allow you to ride them in everyday clothes (e.g. chain guards to stop your pants getting greasy and pedals that suit regular shoes). They are also easy to use and maintain.
- Road e-bikes. A fairly recent phenomenon, these combine motorised assistance with the sleek and aerodynamic design of a road bike. Frames are usually aluminium or carbon fibre and use hydraulic disc brakes to stop. The tyres are usually wider than those on an ordinary road bike for extra comfort and traction.
- Mountain e-bikes. Sometimes referred to as eMTBs, these rugged bikes are for those wanting to head off-road and hit the trails. Available in hardtail and dual-suspension models, they offer wide tyres and other beefed-up parts to cope with the rigours of off-road use.
- Cargo e-bikes. Usually fitted with large racks, baskets or cargo beds, these two-wheelers are the load-lugging workhorses of the e-bike world. You can use them to commute to work as well as carry a load of shopping, your pet or whatever else you need to move from A to B. Some are even available as three-wheeled trikes for extra stability.
- Foldable e-bikes. These bikes are for those with limited storage space or who may need to take their bike on public transport. They have smaller wheels and typically feature fewer gears than other models.
Like electric bikes, petrol-powered bikes have built-in motors, but unlike electric models, they run on petrol. Petrol-powered bikes are banned in several states around Australia including NSW and Queensland. If you're considering a petrol-powered bike, check the regulations in your state before making any purchases.
How to compare electric bicycles
There are plenty of factors to assess when comparing electric bicycles, so make sure you consider the following:
Which electric bicycle is best for me?
To find the best electric bike for you, you'll need to consider exactly what you want in an e-bike and then use this knowledge to compare the available options.
To help make it easier, we've outlined the pros and cons of five popular electric bikes in the table below:
|The good||The bad|
|Scott Genius eRide 710|
|Dyson Hard Tail Evo|
|Kalkhoff Jubilee Advance I7|
|Electra Townie Commute Go!|
|Gazelle CityZen T10 HMB|
Electric bike riders must comply with the same road rules as ordinary bicycles, but they're also subject to power and speed limits.
In Australia, two power requirements apply:
- A pedal cycle with a throttle-based motor system must not have a combined power output of more than 200 watts.
- On a bicycle certified as a "Pedelec" (this means it must comply with European Standard EN 15194: 2009 or EN 15194:2009+A1:2009: "Cycles – Electrically power assisted cycles – EPAC Bicycles"), the motor's maximum continuous power output cannot exceed 250 watts. You'll need to pedal to start the motor and keep it running, but some models include a start-up mode where the motor powers the cycle up to 6 km/h.
Motors are also limited to 25 km/h and will cut out once you reach this limit. Regulations and requirements vary slightly around Australia, so it's worth checking the rules that apply in your state or territory.
If you're thinking of buying an electric bicycle, start comparing e-bikes today.
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