When people visit one of our shops for the first time or find Propel through videos on YouTube they generally have a lot of questions about electric bikes. Below are our answers to some of the most common questions we hear, in the hopes we can help you make the best of your eBike experience.
Let’s dive in!
- What is an electric bike and how does it work?
In its most basic form, an electric bicycle (or eBike) is a bicycle. It has pedals, wheels, handlebars, etc. You pedal it, just like a non-electric bike. Where it differs is that it has an electric motor and a battery which provides power and helps make riding less exhaustive.
There are two different ways power is delivered to the bike. In the most rudimentary form, some eBikes have a throttle, located on the handlebars, which you twist to give the bike a boost, similar to a moped or a motorcycle.
The second, more common method of activating power is with a technology called “pedal assist.” As you pedal the bike its motor provides electric assistance, enabling you to ride farther and maybe even a little faster than you normally could on a non-electric bike.
At Propel, we only sell pedal-assist eBikes. What we love about pedal assist is that it retains all of the principles of riding a traditional bike. You have to pedal to ride it, plus you’re still getting a good amount of exercise. It’s a seamless combination of your power output and the bike’s ability to assist you.
Ex. of throttle eBike trigger
- How long does the battery last?
Different bikes come with different batteries, but as a general rule, most batteries are going to last somewhere between 20 to 50 miles. If you want to learn more about batteries and range, check out this post on Bosch battery range.
Some bikes have two batteries so you can effectively double your range. Whether or not a dual-battery eBike or an upgrade is right for you depends on a few factors, from how far you ride regularly to whether your route is hilly or flat. You can learn more about dual batteries and upgrades here.
Your range will vary depending on several factors, including the terrain, how much weight is on the bike (rider+cargo), and the assistance level you’re using. Using higher levels of assistance will always drain your battery faster, along with riding on rougher terrain or against a strong headwind. The range for throttle-activated eBikes will depend on how much the throttle is used.
Charging the battery works similarly to a laptop or cell phone: you just plug it into a wall outlet and it usually takes about two to four hours to reach a full charge. To get the most out of your battery, check out these 5 tips on Battery Care.
- How fast do eBikes go?
Most electric bikes in the U.S. support a rider up to 20mph, while in Europe and some other places they’re limited to 15.5mph, and in Japan around 12mph. Some eBkes in the U.S. can support a rider up to 28mph.
Then there are throttle bikes that behave like motorcycles and go faster than what may be legal or safe.
- Are they legal?
Generally speaking, the electric bike industry is still in its early days, so a lot of these laws are catching up with the technology after it’s introduced. In the U.S., oftentimes the legality of an eBike depends on which class it falls under.
- Class 1: A pedal-assist eBike, without a throttle, capable of supporting a rider up to 20mph.
- Class 2: A throttle-activated eBike capable of going up to 20mph, or throttle-activated up to 20mph + pedal assist up to 20mph or 28mph (depending on the manufacturing build)
- Class 3: A pedal-assist eBike, without a throttle, capable of supporting a rider up to 28mph.
For the most part, you can ride an electric bike anywhere you can ride a traditional non-electric bike, with some exceptions, such as many mountain bike trails and certain bike paths. It is worth mentioning that Class 1 eBikes are the only eBikes permitted in National Parks. Class 2 and Class 3 eBikes are prohibited.
For up-to-date information on laws and regulations by state, we highly recommend visiting the Policies and Laws page at peopleforbikes.org.
One great and close-to-home example of laws catching up with technology happened in 2015 when we opened a shop in Brooklyn. We were fined $25K for selling eBikes! The legality of eBikes in New York City was an ongoing debate for years before the state formally legalized them in 2020.
Want to know more? Hear the story from our founder, Chris Nolte: https://bit.ly/3s3F8Lv.
- Do I need to wear a helmet?
Certain places require helmets for all bike and electric bike usage, so it might be a good idea to look up the laws where you plan to ride. There are several places, including California, that require helmets for bikes that go up to 28mph (Class 3). Otherwise, no, most eBikes don’t require you to wear a helmet, although we usually recommend it. It’s really up to you and what makes you feel the safest and most comfortable.
While we’re on the topic of helmets, have you seen Why don’t the Dutch wear helmets?
- Do I need insurance?
You do not need insurance in the way that cars require insurance.
However, you may want to consider getting insurance to cover the bike in the event of theft or damage. It’s an expensive purchase–an investment for most people–and if you rely on it for commuting or getting your kids around town, having it stolen or damaged can be a real bummer.
One company that we recommend is Velosurance. You might also want to check with your homeowners, renters, or auto insurance regarding coverage of bicycles from theft or damage. Some of these companies have an exclusion for anything that includes a motor, so when you discuss coverage for an electric bike, get it in writing if they say they will cover it and for what amount.
- How much do they cost?
You might find an electric bike out there for as cheap as $600, but it’s likely not going to hold up very well, or even be that safe to ride. And if it breaks or loses a part, finding a place to repair it is not going to be easy.
Most of the bikes we offer at Propel range from $3K to $6K, but they can go all the way up to $15K with all the bells and whistles. “That’s more expensive than my first car!” is a common phrase we hear. You might be wondering how someone would even consider spending that much money on an electric bicycle, which most people would regard as just a bicycle with a motor thrown on it, but they can be so much more than that.
In our experience, when people invest in a purpose-built electric bike of this quality, they’re not thinking of it as buying an expensive bike, but as a car alternative, and in some cases, a full-on car replacement.
Further, some features can make an eBike even more expensive but often pay for themselves in the long run. A belt drive is more expensive than a chain, for example, but will result in fewer maintenance costs over time. An internal gearbox will also increase the overall cost but should result in less cleaning and fewer tune-ups.
Want to know more about pricing? We break down the costs of an eBike here.
We can pretty much guarantee that even if you opt for one of the more expensive bikes, it’s going to be less expensive compared to owning and driving a car.
- What types of eBikes are out there?
For almost every non-electric bike out there, there’s an electric variant. There are electric folding bikes, commuter bikes, mountain bikes, road bikes, cargo bikes, and more. Pretty much any bike you can think of probably has an electrified version out there.
One style of eBike that seems to be growing in popularity is the hybrid-style eBike. This go-anywhere, do-anything style of eBike is capable of riding on different types of terrain, making them great for commuting, exercise, and play. Most people want to ride on the street, but like having the option to go exploring on some off-road trails if they are feeling adventurous. Please note, hybrids are not recommended to take on any “real” rough mountain bike trails, but it’s a well-rounded choice for a well-rounded rider.
- How much do electric bikes weigh?
Most electric bikes weigh between 40 and 60 pounds. Some can weigh more if they have additional features or batteries. It also depends on the type of bike, as electric cargo bikes can weigh upwards of 80+ pounds.
When it comes to riding these bikes, weight shouldn’t play a major factor in your decision to buy one, as the electric assistance ensures even the heaviest of eBikes don’t have much of an impact on your ability to ride.
Weight becomes much more of a factor when considering how and where you’re going to store your eBike when it’s not being ridden. Do you have to climb multiple flights of stairs to get your eBike safely into your apartment? To avoid straining your back, maybe you’ll need to consider a lighter bike, or, even better, you have a (very secure) garage or some other outdoor/first-floor storage options.
Some electric bikes are light enough to carry up the stairs, other electric bikes are heavy enough to leave parked at the bottom of the stairs. Watch our video on how to lock your electric bike to learn more about how to safely store your eBike outside.
Transporting your eBike by car? Make sure you have a robust enough bike rack. Learn more about racks specifically designed to carry eBikes through this handy guide.
- How much maintenance do they require?
Most electric bikes don’t require much more maintenance than non-electric bikes. If you’re riding faster or going up and down hills pretty often, you’re likely to find that your brake pads may need replacing sooner than if your commute was mostly flat, for example.
On an electric bike, you might find that the drivetrain may wear out a little faster, meaning you might need to replace the chain a little bit sooner than you would need to on a non-electric bike. And in that case, as mentioned before, many people opt for a belt drive and an internally geared hub, a setup with significantly longer maintenance intervals.
Most traditional bike shops will be familiar with most of the maintenance required on an electric bike, as it’s often the same or similar to a traditional bike.
Some hub motor electric bikes can require more maintenance when they have a motor in their rear wheel and some of the wirings can make those jobs more of a challenge.
This is just one of the reasons why we only sell eBikes with mid-drive motor systems powered by Bosch eBike Systems. When there is any service or maintenance required, we know how to support our customers and if we need anything from the company (from replacement parts to knowledge and support) we know Bosch will be there for the life of the bike.
If you’d like to know more about why we chose to exclusively work with Bosch, a relatively recent decision, check out this video:
Outside of the traditional bike maintenance (e.g. tires, brakes, drivetrain, etc.), the motor system might occasionally need software updates–which you can get at any Bosch-certified dealer. Like a cell phone battery, your bike battery will gradually lose some effectiveness over time, but it should not be very noticeable. If you notice anything unexpected with your battery, you can reach out to Propel for troubleshooting help.
Any more questions?
If you have more questions about electric bikes, we highly recommend continuing to explore our website or checking out our Youtube channel, Propel. And if you need help finding an eBike, please feel free to reach out. Our Matchmakers will be happy to help, just fill out this contact form here!