Buyers Guide

Chapter Four

Which Type of Electric

Bike Do I Need?

Now that you have a better sense for what makes electric bikes unique and why people around the world are increasingly turning to them as their vehicle of choice, it’s time to start focusing more on the bikes themselves—how they work, how they’re designed, and what they’re capable of.

This section will outline some of the specific details that make one electric bike different from another so that you can eventually select the electric bike that’s right for you.

Electric Bike Classifications

Currently, electric bikes fall into three broad classes, and while these categories have been created largely as a way of helping lawmakers figure out how to approach the growing influx of electric bikes, they also provide a nice way of sorting electric bikes according to factors such as speed and power. The three primary classes of electric bikes are:

Class 1: Pedal Assist - Pedal assist electric bikes, also commonly referred to as “pedelecs,” are equipped with electric motors that only work while the bike is being pedaled, and that are activated by some sort of pedal action sensor designed to detect when the bike is being used. In the United States, pedelecs are limited to 20 mph and cannot use motors that exceed 750 watts.

Most pedal assist ebikes allow riders to select the degree of power provided by the motor, enabling them to tailor the performance of the bike to fit their specific needs and geographies. A rider may adjust her level of motor assistance, for example, going from low to high and back to low again, as her commute to the grocery store carries her initially across flat ground, up a hill, and then back onto flat ground again.

Pedelecs are good, flexible electric bikes perfect for all-around use, and are a particularly good option for those seeking the convenience and experience of a bicycle, but who know they’ll be using a relatively high degree of motor assistance every time they ride.

Class 2: Power on Demand - The key difference between power on demand electric bikes and pedal assist electric bikes is that power on demand bikes allow riders to activate and control the motor, regardless of whether or not they’re actually pedaling. Most power on demand bikes give riders full control of the motor by using a throttle, button, or trigger located on the handlebars; some models may also include a pedal activator as well. As with pedelecs, power on demand bikes are limited to 20 mph and 750 watt motors.

Power on demand bikes tend to offer an especially wide range of riding options since riders can choose precisely if and when the motor kicks in, as well as how much power it provides when it is in use. Cyclists using this type of bike can go anywhere from fully human-powered pedaling to fully motor-powered riding, and anywhere in between. For this reason, power on demand bikes generally give riders more control over their riding experience than any other type of electric bike.

Perfectly straddling the worlds of conventional bicycles and motorized vehicles, power on demand bikes are an ideal option for those who want the best of both worlds. They are very often the electric bike of choice for people who are looking for a way to ease into cycling, or who are interested in a way to control and gradually increase or decrease their level of physical exercise while riding. Power on demand bikes are also great for the all-around generalist, making it possible to go on a physically strenuous bike ride one day and then a quick and easy commute the next, all on a single vehicle.

Class 3: Speed Pedelecs - Speed pedelecs, sometimes called “S-pedelecs,” are very similar to normal pedelecs in terms of their basic operation, with the important distinction that speed pedelecs make it possible for riders to combine the power of their legs with the power of the motor to achieve speeds greater than 28 mph. S-pedelecs lack a throttle but can be equipped with a motor rated at up to 750 watts for pedal assist purposes only.

Obviously, speed pedelecs are the best option for riders interested in achieving higher speeds than those typically generated by most electric bikes. However, it’s a good idea to double check the laws in your specific location before using a speed pedelec since some jurisdictions view the faster-traveling s-pedelecs as full scale motor vehicles requiring special registration and a driver’s license. In some places, s-pedelecs are restricted from bike lanes and paths, while regular pedelecs and power on demand bikes are not.

When attempting to figure out which type of electric bike is right for you, it’s important to think about just what it is you’re trying to get out of your cycling experience. Are you looking for a low-impact way to get back into shape? Are you trying to find a bike that will allow you keep up with your grandchildren or a faster-cycling partner? Will your bike be used primarily for leisure or for practical everyday needs such as running errands and making daily commutes to and from work? Do you want the option of a physically challenging bike ride, or are you specifically looking for an affordable, easy to use, fully motorized mode of transportation? Will you be spending a lot of time riding up and down steep hills? Will you regularly be facing headwinds or other obstacles?

The answers to these questions, along with your understanding of the basic types of electric bikes currently being built, will help point you in the right direction as you begin searching for the perfect electric bike.

Chapter Three

Why Choose an

Electric Bike?

There are a number of reasons why a cyclist—whether beginner, expert, or somewhere in between—might choose to ride an electric bike. This section will cover three of the most important factors to keep in mind when deciding whether or not an electric bike is right for you.

Electric Bikes Save Time and Money

Increasingly, people around the world are turning to electric bikes as an effective solution for their day-to-day transportation needs, which might include such trips as commuting to and from work or school, grocery shopping, short errands, or going out for social events.

Using an electric bike for this type of daily travel can help riders save time and money in a number of ways, including the following:

Electric bikes allow riders to save time by using bike lanes and paths instead of sitting in traffic in a car or waiting for public transportation.

Locking an electric bike to a bike rack immediately in front of your destination is faster, cheaper, and more convenient than parking a car in expensive, crowded parking lots that may or may not be located close to your actual destination.

Depending on where you live, electric bikes may help you save money by allowing you to avoid tolls or other car-related fees.

Recharging an electric bike battery is significantly cheaper than filling a car with gasoline or paying to use public transportation.

The costs of repairs and general upkeep for an electric bike are far less than the costs of maintaining and repairing a car.

On average, an electric bike allows you to go much further for much less money than any other form of transportation. In fact, one study found that an electric bike can travel as far as 500 miles on just $1—roughly 100 times further than a car or public transportation, and 35 times further than a hybrid car.6

Electric Bikes Contribute to a Healthy Lifestyle

Whether it’s used as a vehicle for your daily commute or more specifically as a means of working out, an electric bike helps contribute to a more fit, active, and well-balanced lifestyle.

Introducing an electric bike into your regular travel transforms your daily commutes into an opportunity for some light physical activity and a chance to catch some fresh air. Electric bikes are particularly well suited for daily commuting since the motor assistance helps eliminate challenges such as steep hills and headwinds, and creates a smoother, less demanding cycling experience. By using an electric bike, commuters no longer have to worry about arriving at their destination feeling tired, sweaty, or worn out—the bike’s motor takes care of the overly strenuous portions of the ride while still allowing you to mix some physical exercise into your daily routine.

Along with using an electric bike for day-to-day transportation, many cyclists use electric bikes specifically as a means of working out and becoming more fit. Electric bikes offer riders a high degree of control over the level of physical exertion required to ride, making them particularly helpful for anybody who would like to become more fit, but who may need to gradually and carefully ease into increased physical activity. Electric bikes, therefore, may provide an especially helpful way to exercise for those who fall into the following categories:

recovering from an injury or illness,

looking for a low-impact workout,

elderly cyclists,

people who are new to working out,

returning to physical activity after a prolonged period of inactivity.

The third main reason why people choose to ride electric bikes is the comparatively small environmental impact they make. Most immediately, the fact that electric bikes require no gasoline or oil, emit no pollution while being operated, and require only a small amount of electricity to recharge a battery make electric bikes an attractive option for environmentally conscious travelers.

In fact, the small environmental footprint of electric bikes has gained increasing attention in recent years as researchers from a variety of fields begin studying the ways these bikes might fit into efforts to make cities and communities more eco-friendly and sustainable. An article published by Scientific American, for example, reports that “transportation experts say ebikes—along with electric cars, light-rail trains and more pedestrian-friendly cities—could become one of the primary drivers of cleaner air and reduced global greenhouse emissions across much of the urbanized world.”7 The same source also noted that “the bicycle is an enormously efficient vehicle" and that ebikes emit ten times less carbon dioxide when compared to an electric car, once electricity sources are taken into account.


While there are any number of reasons that a particular cyclist might choose to ride an electric bike, three of the most important ones to take into consideration are the ways that electric bikes can help save time and money, the ways they help contribute to a healthier lifestyle, and the fact that they represent an environmentally friendly mode of transportation. At the end of the day, however, many cyclists choose electric bikes simply because they’re fun to ride. Perhaps one of the most important reasons for choosing an electric bike, then, is that they make it possible for people of all ages, skills, fitness levels, and abilities to enjoy the pure pleasure of riding a bike.

6 “The Power of $1 for Transportation,” EVELO, Accessed 3 January 2019.

7 “Can E-Bikes Displace Cars?” Scientific American, Accessed 3 January 2019.

Chapter Two

What Makes an

Electric Bike Unique?

For many people, the thing that makes an electric bike particularly intriguing and exciting is its status as a unique type of hybrid vehicle, effectively straddling the worlds of leg-powered bicycles and motor-powered vehicles. This combination helps make the electric bike especially helpful, appealing, and accessible to a diverse range of riders.

While electric bikes share many similarities with both conventional bicycles and motorized two-wheeled vehicles, they are ultimately in a class of their own. In this section, we’ll explore more thoroughly just what it is that makes an electric bike unique, especially when compared to other types of vehicles.

Electric Bikes vs. Conventional Bicycles

As mentioned in the Introduction, electric bikes are, in the most basic and simple sense, defined as bicycles with the added feature of an electric motor. It is this motor that makes an electric bike different from all conventional bicycles, and it is also the feature that enables electric bikes to offer users a different type of riding experience than that of a conventional bicycle.

Electric bikes are built in one of two ways: they are either designed specifically as electric bikes and feature built-in electric components, or they are conventional bicycles that have been converted through some sort of modification. In either case, there are many similarities between electric bicycles and conventional bicycles. Many ebikes feature commonly used bicycle components such as standard-sized wheels, tubes, stems, handlebars, forks, seats, and multi-geared drivetrains comprised of standard-sized cranks, pedals, chains, and derailleurs. Other components, like tires and brakes, are usually ebike-specific in order to accommodate the additional loads and wear. This makes it relatively easy to find replacement parts and to make basic repairs. It also makes the transition from a conventional bicycle to an electric bicycle smooth, natural, and effortless—it is, in the end, simply riding a bike, but now, with the added benefit of power on demand.

The purpose of adding a motor to an electric bike is to give riders an additional source of power. Most electric bikes allow riders to control when the motor kicks in and how much power it provides. This makes possible a wide scope of riding options ranging from fully leg-powered pedaling, a combination of pedaling and motor assistance, and fully motorized riding, allowing the cyclist to fine tune their riding experience to meet their specific needs and demands. With an electric bike, for example, elderly or inexperienced cyclists can confidently head out on rides knowing that if the terrain becomes too difficult, or if they start feeling tired or worn out, they can rely on the motor to help them get back home. Similarly, an electric bike can be helpful to a person trying to get back into shape, allowing them to gradually transition from lighter, primarily motor-assisted workouts to more intensive workouts that rely less and less on motor-generated power. Urban commuters might also use the motor to help them pedal up hills without breaking a sweat, so they can arrive at the office clean and ready to work.

Along with providing a specifically tailored riding experience, the added components of an electric bike also introduce some differences from conventional bicycles in terms of overall cost and specifications. Electric bikes tend to be more expensive than their conventional counterparts, thanks to the extra components included on an electric bike. They also tend to be heavier and bulkier, which can mean that transporting an electric bike can become more difficult than transporting a conventional bike. The added weight and bulk of an electric bike also means that pedaling it without any motor assistance may be more challenging than pedaling a lighter weight, more conventional bicycle.

In the end, both conventional and electric bikes have pros and cons to them. If you're looking for a bike that offers power-on-demand and can make it easier to ride further and more frequently, an electric bike may be a good choice for you.

Electric Bikes vs. Motorized Scooters

Electric bikes are sometimes confused with motorized scooters, mopeds, and small motorcycles, and while each of these represents a different type of motorized two-wheeled vehicle, there are some key differences between them that need to be highlighted. The primary features making electric bikes unique from all other motorized two-wheeled vehicles are:

• Pedals. As discussed above, the electric bike’s status as both bicycle and motorized vehicle is really what makes it such a unique way to get around. The fact that an electric bike has pedals that can be used either exclusively or in combination with the motor is one of the things that makes electric bikes different from motorized scooters, or motorcycles, all of which have no pedals and are powered exclusively by motors.

• Speed and Power. Typically, the motors used on electric bicycles are less powerful than the motors used on motorized scooters, mopeds, or other similar vehicles. In the United States, the majority of electric bikes utilize motors that generate between 250 and 750 watts, and that have a maximum speed of around 20 mph when being used in motor-only mode (of course, an electric bike can go faster than 20 mph depending on how hard the rider is pedaling). Motorized scooters and mopeds, on the other hand, travel around 30 mph and utilize more powerful motors. These distinctions in speed and motor capability have a direct impact on the legal statuses of these different vehicles, which brings us to the final key difference between electric bikes and other motorized two-wheeled vehicles.

• Legal Status. In general, the federal definition of an electric bike is more similar to a conventional bicycle than a motorized scooter, moped, or motorcycle. That means that in most cases, an electric bike can be ridden in bike lanes, on bike paths, and can be locked up to bike racks as if it were a regular bicycle. In most cases, riders are not required to have a driver’s license to operate an electric bike and are not required to obtain any special licensing or registration for their electric bikes. Conversely, motorized scooters, mopeds, and motorcycles are all generally classified as motor vehicles that require a driver’s license, registration, and are allowed only on the street. It’s important to note, however, that the specific laws, rules, and guidelines governing electric bike use may vary across states and municipalities. Before you begin riding an electric bike, it’s a good idea to check out the laws in your specific location.

Electric Bikes vs. Cars

Electric bikes represent a possible alternative to traveling by car, especially for those who live in urban settings or who might be looking for a different way to travel shorter and more frequently traveled routes. Obviously, cars can travel at much higher speeds and are capable of covering much larger distances than electric bikes, but as a means of traveling across smaller distances and at slower speeds, electric bikes offer a few unique possibilities.

Leg-Powered Transportation. Electric bikes offer the unique possibility of combining some level of physical activity with your day-to-day transportation, helping contribute to a more active and fit lifestyle.

1. Eco-Friendly Travel. Since electric bikes use small, highly efficient, rechargeable electric batteries instead of gasoline, riding an electric bike can be an environmentally friendly way to travel, reducing fossil fuel consumption and helping to decrease pollution from automobile emissions.

2. Cheaper Travel. Electric bikes can help riders cut back on the amount of money spent on gasoline and overall upkeep—in general, electric bikes are much cheaper to repair than cars, and replacement parts tend to be cheaper as well.

3. For urban commuters, an electric bike may provide a more convenient way to travel, allowing riders to use bike lanes instead of waiting in traffic, lock up at bike racks instead of paying expensive parking fees, and allowing for the additional flexibility of walking the bike on the sidewalk or using it in tandem with public transportation. With many urban environments gridlocked during rush hour, commuting by ebike can often times be faster than driving.5

When compared to other commonly used vehicles, the electric bike clearly occupies a unique position as a vehicle that is simultaneously people-powered and motorized. The combination of a conventional bicycle drivetrain and a rechargeable electric motor makes electric bikes particularly flexible, accessible, and capable of being tailored to the specific needs, demands, and lifestyles of its unique riders.

5 “Data From Millions Of Smartphone Journeys Proves Cyclists Faster In Cities Than Cars And Motorbikes,” Forbes, Accessed 3 January 2019.

Chapter One




An electric bicycle is, first and foremost, a bicycle. It uses the same designs, geometries, and components as any other bicycle, but also includes an added electric motor. This is fueled by a rechargeable battery, which gives riders an extra boost of power and ultimately provides a smoother, more convenient, and less strenuous cycling experience. By eliminating many of the obstacles that keep people from cycling—obstacles such as headwinds, steep hills, and bike commutes that leave riders tired, messy, and sweaty—electric bikes help make the freedom, exhilaration, and satisfaction of cycling available and accessible to a wide range of potential cyclists.

The idea of creating an electric bike has intrigued cyclists since the late 1800s, when several American inventors experimented with the possibility of combining the potential power of electric motors with the simple mechanics of the bicycle. It wasn’t until the technological advancements of the 20th and 21st centuries, however, that this idea finally became a viable reality. With lightweight motors, high efficiency rechargeable batteries, smoothly shifting drivetrains, and huge advances in bicycle components, today’s electric bikes provide a way for cyclists of all ages, fitness levels, and physical needs to enjoy the benefits of cycling, whether it’s a leisure ride, a workout, or part of a daily commute.

For many, electric bikes are an attractive alternative to both conventional bicycles and traditional automobiles, providing an environmentally friendly, fun, efficient, and convenient way to travel.

The Growing Popularity of Electric Bikes

Electric bicycles are becoming increasingly popular throughout the world, as more and more people look for efficient, affordable, and eco-friendly modes of transportation. In recent years, electric bike use has skyrocketed in Asia, most notably in China, which has established itself as the world leader in electric bike use. There are now an estimated 200 million electric bikes in China, with millions more added every year.1

The explosive expansion of electric bikes in China has helped spur similar growth in other parts of the world. In Europe—the second largest market for electric bikes—electric bicycle use has been steadily on the rise. In 2006, there were approximately 98,000 electric bikes sold throughout Europe. A decade later, this number had risen to almost 1.7 million in annual sales.2

Electric bikes are also gaining increasing popularity in the United States, where ebike sales rose sharply from about 70,000 in 2011 to over 263,000 in 20173, and the growth is likely to continue accelerating.

The dramatic improvements in electric bicycle technologies and capabilities, as well as the rapid growth in the popularity of electric bicycles in recent years, have all made the prospects of owning and riding an electric bike particularly exciting. Whether they’re used by people looking for a low impact way to get back into shape, older cyclists seeking a more accessible way to enjoy leisurely bike rides, urban professionals attempting to simplify their daily commutes, environmentally conscious travelers hoping to decrease their emissions footprints, or anyone in between, it seems increasingly likely that “electric-assisted bicycles will change how people think about bikes.”4

1 “Nation plans tougher safety standards for e-bikes in new guideline,” Global Times, Accessed 3 January 2019.

2 “Number of electric bicycles sold in the European Union (EU) from 2006 to 2016,” Statista, Accessed 3 January 2019.

3 “Report: U.S. e-bike sales doubled in last year.” Bicycle Retailer, Accessed 3 January 2019.

“Number of USA electric bike importers jumps 340% year-on-year, suggests industry analyst,” Cycling Industry News, Accessed 3 January 2019.

4 “An Electric Boost for Bicyclists,” The New York Times.

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