e-bikes: a Personal View!
14 November 2023
I've been a long-term user of ‘conventional’ bikes (completely powered by the physical output of the person) starting with 10-speed (5-speed cassette with double chainring) road bikes in the 1980’s, to the ultra-light time trial and road bikes with more efficient ways to change gear, minimise the rider’s and bike’s wind resistance, reduce rolling resistance through improved tyre technology (and so on).
My first awareness of e-bikes was negative. I saw the headlines about Belgian rider Femke van den Driessche, who was found to be cheating using an electric motor during the 2016 U-23 cyclo-cross world championships (she afterwards denied knowing her bike had a motor, but the UCI found against her; she was stripped her of her titles and handed a 6-year ban).
Despite this I was intrigued by how the motor was hidden from view, which led me to discover the amazing improvement in this technology. I have both positive and negative views of them. Here is an example of a very conventional-looking e-bike available commercially.
One thing that stands out about the e-bike is it offers a great way to enjoy cycling with the reassurance it can offer a little help, when needed, to tackle hills/headwinds or compensate for your lack of fitness. One thing to make clear: these bikes are there to assist rather than completely take over. They vary in ways they apply the assistance; the best react to the resistance encountered during the ride, others have power manually induced.
In the UK, e-bikes ridden on a public highway must conform to current legislation for ‘electrically assisted pedal cycles’ (EAPCs). These state (Nov 2022):
‘An EAPC must have pedals that can be used to propel it. It must show either the power output or the manufacturer of the motor. It must also show either the battery’s voltage or the maximum speed of the bike.
Its electric motor must have a maximum power output of 250 watts, and should not be able to propel the bike when it is travelling more than 15.5mph.
If a bike meets the EAPC requirements it is classed as a normal pedal bike. This means you can ride it on cycle paths and anywhere else pedal bikes are allowed.’
‘Range anxiety’ may put some people off investing in an e-bike. The added weight to contend with (battery + motor) will limit how far and fast the ride can be, or how many hills it can take in when in ‘assist’ mode.
That said, many ‘commuter’ e-bikes are capable of going much further than this on a single charge. The Qwic Premium MN7vv, which is hugely popular in the Netherlands as a daily rider, has a range of up to 130 miles in the lowest power assist mode (ideal for flatter cities), or up to 50 miles with maximum assist.
With these sorts of ranges, you only need to charge the battery up once or twice a week. Most batteries for e-bikes are removable and can be charged at work from a 3-pin standard socket. 6 hours of charge would usually give at least 80% of the capacity.
Whether you're for or against e-bikes, they still offer eco-friendly transport that has allowed people improve their cycle fitness gradually with the reassurance of having assistance available when needed. They've introduced people who may have not ventured into cycling a way to experience the freedom of cycling, or to get fitter during their daily commute, rather than adopting a fully-motorised alternative such as a moped.
The choice of e-bike should be determined by your budget, intended use and the availability of the cycle/spares/ease of repairs and reputation of the brand you go for. Cycling magazines are doing more and more reviews to help you decide which model is best for you. The added cost of special repairs, replacement batteries and varied charging times can be a turn-off; however, cycling in general has developed into an expensive sport.
The sport of cycling has many branches whether commuting, racing, touring or leisure and has led to a lot of interest in companies to tap into this growing market by developing the e-bike sector. It definitely has a place in the world of cycling and as battery/motorised technology improves so will it become more attractive. Would I ever like to see e-bikes in the racing world*, such as their own Tour de France? Absolutely not!
[* Ed: they already are! Tom Pidcock was crowned e-MTB World Champion in 2020.]