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E-Bike Basics

Photo by Galen Crout on Unsplash

There’s an electric bike for every type of rider, every budget, and every possible pedaling scenario. There are family e-bikes with extra seats or cargo boxes for bringing the kids in tow. Cargo E-bikes with plenty of storage for running errands or commuting. Cruiser e-bikes for taking advantage of all the social benefits of riding without the hassle of driving and parking. And, yes, there are performance road and mountain e-bikes for hammering out the steep mid-ride climbs or long distances on an ambitious ride you might otherwise shy away from due to injury, disability, age or fitness level. The variety might be overwhelming, but if you’re looking for an e-bike, you probably already know where you want to ride and what your main use will be. The tricky part comes down to functionality of the bikes—the class, the battery range and, of course, the price.

E-bikes, as the name implies, are electric powered bikes—a more accurate description is that these bikes have a rechargeable battery that assists the rider allowing for less effort when pedaling. Some bikes also have a throttle, which can propel the bike without pedaling. Electric bikes often look like an everyday bicycle and can pedal and handle just like a regular bicycle (although they are often heavier thanks to the added motor, battery, and controls). These bikes make long distances, hills and heavy loads more manageable allowing for a greater range with less effort.

It’s important to be aware of laws regarding where you can ride e-bikes. It’s generally accepted that you can ride e-bikes on the street, but local regulations might limit your ability to ride these bikes on trails or bike paths. You can find out more about regulations in your area at People For Bikes, which tracks local e-bike regulations and advocates for e-bike friendly legislation.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

What to know when buying an E-bike:

Pick your category: Choose from commuters, family bikes, cruisers, folding bikes, or performance road and mountain bikes

Pick your class: E-bikes are categorized by class relative to how the motor powers the pedals and the maximum assisted speed.

Class 1: This category of e-bike features pedal assist (ie: the motor kicks in) only when you’re pedaling. They do not have a throttle and have a maximum assisted speed of 20 mph.

Class 2: This category of e-bike has a maximum speed of 20 mph, but it also features pedal-free throttle-assist (a nice feature when you’re starting off with a heavy load).

Class 3: This category is like class 1 with a solely pedal-assisted motor and no throttle, but the maximum assisted speed increases to 28 mph.

Understanding E-Bike Batteries, Motors and Controllers

Motors: E-bike motors range from 200 watts to a maximum industry standard of 750 watts. The higher the battery power, the more powerful the bike and the more weight it will be able to pull. But also know that you’ll be using more battery power with the higher horsepower, so choose wisely.

Batteries: E-bikes are equipped with either an internal or external battery. An internal battery is nice for security and allows space for your water bottle or a small bike bag. External is easier for repairs or replacing your battery. Other things to consider when it comes to the battery is the range of the battery and how long it takes to charge. Know that batteries have a lifespan of how many charges they can take, from 100 for a budget SLA battery to 800 for a more expensive (and much more common) Lithium battery (Bonus: Lithium batteries are also lighter). Battery life and charging time are both something to consider and ask about when buying an UnNew e-bike.

Controllers: The controller is on the handlebars and allows you to adjust the amount of pedal-assist, this often is presented in a range from 1–5. Some bikes also have a throttle as part of the controls, which allows you to accelerate without pedaling.

E-bikes are definitely here to stay and we’re psyched about it! They allow cyclists more freedom in range, load weight and passengers. There’s no time like now to try out an e-bike and join in on the fun.

Annie Fast writes about winter sports and outdoor adventures from her home in Bend, Oregon.You can read more about her and her work at

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