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What is an Electric Bike?

Posted by EBC Support on

What is an Electric Bike? 

If you're brand new to electric bikes, check out this awesome video by Court Rye of Electric Bike Review and check out their website to learn more about electric bikes too!

 

Electric Bike Breakdown

An electric bike is simply a regular bicycle with a battery, motor, controller, computer, and switch integrated into the mechanics of the bike to offer an electrical assist and track performance. 

There are a few different modes of electric bike operation:

  • On-demand throttle-powered "twist-and-go" acceleration: This type of e-bike function allows the rider to send power from the battery to the motor on-demand when necessary. This is the same way a motorcycle works. When you twist the throttle, you go. No pedaling is needed in this mode.
  • Pedal assisted power: This option is included in every e-bike now as a standard mode of operation. There is a magnet sensor installed on the downtube and the crankset so that the bicycle controller will know when you start pedaling. After one or two rotations within a short period of time, the controller will tell the battery to send electricity to the motor and the motor will kick in. Some e-bikes have different levels of assist and some have just an on-or-off assist mode. This mode saves battery life and helps you ride further, but also lets you get exercise as your ride.
  • No assist, human-powered riding only: Every electric bike can be ridden just like a regular bicycle with the computer and battery turned off. This mode can come in handy if you ride your e-bike until the battery is depleted. The bike will still be rideable and you can go anywhere with it, but it will be a bit heavier than a normal bicycle. To preserve the overall battery life, smart riders keep their battery topped-off every day.

There are a few different modes of electric bike operation:

On-demand throttle-powered "twist-and-go" acceleration: This type of e-bike function allows the rider to send power from the battery to the motor on-demand when necessary. This is the same way a motorcycle works. When you twist the throttle, you go. No pedaling is needed in this mode.

Pedal assisted power: This option is included in every e-bike now as a standard mode of operation. There is a magnet sensor installed on the downtube and the crankset so that the bicycle controller will know when you start pedaling. After one or two rotations within a short period of time, the controller will tell the battery to send electricity to the motor and the motor will kick in. Some e-bikes have different levels of assist and some have just an on-or-off assist mode. This mode saves battery life and helps you ride further, but also lets you get exercise as your ride.

No assist, human-powered riding only: Every electric bike can be ridden just like a regular bicycle with the computer and battery turned off. This mode can come in handy if you ride your e-bike until the battery is depleted. The bike will still be rideable and you can go anywhere with it, but it will be a bit heavier than a normal bicycle. To preserve the overall battery life, smart riders keep their battery topped-off every day.

That's it. Electric bikes are very simple. However, there is a lot more to the inner-workings of an e-bike than you may be aware of. We decided to make an entire guide on this topic.

Ten Fast Facts about E-bikes

Before we go to the nitty-gritty, here are some interesting facts about the e-bike.

  • The first e-bike documented in United States patents was developed by Ogden Bolton Jr. on December 31, 1895. The bicycle ran on a 10-volt battery that can power 100 amperes max. The battery was installed to a hub motor placed on the rear tire.
  • E-bikes started to resurface during the 1970s energy crisis.
  • It was about a hundred years later when e-bikes became a fad. By 1993 to early 2000, e-bike sales went on a boom slowly replacing regular bicycles.
  • China tops the world in the market for e-bikes with Western Europe coming close in second.
  • E-bike, power-assisted, pedelec, power bike are some of the names coined to refer to electric bikes.
  • “Electric bike” was documented by eBay as the highest trending search in May 2016 scoring 108,734 clicks and 95,529 views.
  • Electric bikes also tops in sales among electric vehicles worldwide.
  • You can save around 25 gallons of gas if you use an electric bike for every 500 miles instead of your car.
  • Electric bikes can go the distance of 20 to 50 miles of a fully-charged battery.
  • According to a study, most of the places you go to for your daily errands and trips are well within 10 mile-zone from your house. These places such as malls and shops can be easily accessed by using e-bikes.

Electric Bike Inner Workings

Now, let us look into the technical aspect of the electronic-bike. You can get a ready-made e-bike in the market. You can also choose to convert your regular bicycle, if you have one, to an electric bike. Here are the things that you need to look into when getting an e-bike.

Motors

If you want to buy an e-bike, you should think about what type of motor suits your needs and preferences. There are different types of motors specifically categorized depending on the area where they are mounted.

  • Hub Motor

The hub motor is practical and functional. It is usually mounted on the wheel at the front or rear. It is typically the most common type that you see on most e-bikes. The hub motor usually only has one gear. It can run smoothly on flat areas such as cities. If you are looking for cruiser bikes or commuter bikes for short trips, you can do with the simplicity and practicality of hub motor e-bikes.

But, the hub motor is not intended for hilly and sloping areas. Some very powerful hub motors with powerful torque were recently designed to be able to run even on hills. But, don’t push your bike torque to the maximum level with a hub motor or you might break a frame. This is rare, however.

Among hub motors, direct drive motors are becoming standard. Alternating currents go through the stator windings which are attached to the axle to rotate the hub in Brushless DC (BLDC) machines.  Modern designs conceal the BLDC by placing the motor in the wheel hub. Meanwhile, a carbon brush provides currents to the windings through a commutator plate in DC hub motor. The windings are inside the hub spinning while the magnets are attached to the axle in the motor.

Pros and Cons of Direct Hub Motor

E-bikes with hub motors look sleek and clean. The hub conceals the parts so that there are no external mounts needed to support transmission.

Some older hub motors are large and heavy compared to their power output. These older versions can slow down your e-bike to a drag. New hub motors, such as BionX, have improved designs that made the motor narrow and light by increasing the diameter of the motor to increase the speed between windings and magnets. 

Older designs of hub motors are set as mechanically engaged for regenerative or regen braking. While this could mean savings in battery power, regen braking in bicycles could add to reversal torque even when you are not using it which is quite a drag to your otherwise smooth ride.

Another option that hub motor enthusiasts recommend is the geared hub motor. The geared hub motor has gearing that reduces the speed of the wheel from the power output of the motor. Unlike the direct drive hub motor, the geared hub is wider but is smaller in radius. It is also more light-weight. It has also removed regenerative braking to allow the wheel to spin when you opt to turn off the motor.

Pros and Cons of Geared Hub Motor

Geared hub motors are efficient. However, owners usually complain of the “noise” and the expensive maintenance. This is due to the number of moving parts of geared hub motor. Most geared hub motors also run on single speed.

  • Mid-drive motor

You can find mid-drive motors installed in the middle portion of the bike. They are fitted at the bottom of the bracket or the portion where the crankset is attached to the bike frame. The placement offers the bike stability and efficiency. The placement also distributes and multiplies the power of the motor using existing gears. Directly attached to the drivetrain and placed near bike sensors, mid-drive motors also offer better performance and torque compared to hub motors.

Mid-drive motors are ideal for rides on hilly terrains. It works best on single speed as well as geared speed moving the chain and delivering more power and range. It is also ideal for full-suspension designs such as off-road e-bikes. If you live in an urban setting, you can go for the 250W mid-drive motors. For off-roads, you can opt for the 750W mid-drive motors.

The assembly of mid-drive motors is made easy for part maintenance and replacement. If you have a hub motor, you would have some difficulties even changing a flat tire since the motor is mounted on the wheel.

However, mid-drive motors tend to be noisy due to the number of gearing especially with increased RPM. Mid-drive motors also tend to put more strain on the drivetrain. If you do not have electronic sensors, your e-bike drivetrain parts become vulnerable to wear and tear. Gear shifts are also necessary in order to make smooth climbs or accelerations. This is due to the design of mid-drive motors which connect to gears before the wheel while hub motors connect directly to the wheel.

Bosch and Shimano are popular brands that offer mid-drive motor e-bikes featuring automatic gear shifts and varying levels of support for off-road enthusiasts.

  • Friction Motors

Friction Motors are old school but very convenient. They are easy to mount on any type of bike. Friction motors use the power to a roller which is in friction with the tires of the bike. The roller is attached to the shaft of the motor or to the actual motor. The roller adheres to the tires and if the roller rotates, the tire propels forward, in turn. These motors are usually mounted on the rear wheel or attached to the seat post.

Friction motors have a number of downsides. This is why many e-bike enthusiasts would prefer hub motors or mid-drive motors. Sadly, friction motors are less efficient compared to the latter two. Friction motors do not provide enough power to run the e-bike efficiently. With prolonged use, the tires get easily worn out due to constant rubbing and scraping with the rollers. Once the motor gets wet, the friction between rollers and tires also diminish. If the friction declines so will the efficiency of the e-bike. Friction motor e-bikes would be a practical choice for kids to use during the summer.

Batteries

Batteries are an essential part of e-bikes. They are your power source aside from your manual power. If your battery is of low quality, then expect problems with speed and efficiency. Batteries are typically rechargeable by connecting the battery to the main electricity lines or to charging stations along the way using chargers. There are different types of batteries that you can get in the market depending on the voltage, amp hours, number of charging cycles and weight. Among the common battery systems are nickel-cadmium or the NiCad, sealed lead-acid or the SLA, lithium-ion polymer or the Li-ion and the nickel-metal hydride or the HiHM.

SLA and Lithium batteries from X-treme are durable and long-lasting. They efficiently run on hills and rough terrains. But, you have to make sure all the other parts are compatible with your battery before buying one.

The first question that you should consider when getting a battery is how many volts do you require for your trips? The voltage determines the wattage produced to run your motor. Battery voltage for e-bikes ranges from 24-volts to 72 volts. The battery works well with the controller and motor for more efficiency. Thus, the battery must complement with these two parts for rides best performance at the least power.

Another feature of e-bike batteries that you should check out is the Battery Management System (BMS). This system manages the amperage that you can squeeze out of your battery. For high performance, you can choose a 48-volt battery that can crank 50 amps through your BMS. This can give you around 2400 watts to power your motor. BMS helps maintain the life of your battery. If you do not set a limit to the amperage, battery life expectancy tends to shorten overtime. This is because high amounts of amps tend to heat the battery overtime.

The battery capacity is an important factor when getting an e-bike. You want to make sure the battery has enough power to help get you to your destination. E-bikes that feature regen braking also help save battery power. Typically, an e-bike battery needs an average of 8 hours to be fully charged. There are recent innovations that allow shorter charging time.

You can search through the Parts/Accessories section of the Electric Bike City website for batteries, battery replacements and chargers.

Controllers

Controllers for your e-bikes come very handy for a variety of reasons. Basically, controllers scale the power released by the battery pack to the motor. A controller is connected to the battery, the motor and the throttle for your e-bike. It coordinates the different parts to ensure that the e-bike is operating smoothly.

High performance e-bikes usually have sensors that can help in increasing, decreasing or limiting the power released from the battery based on your pedaling. But the addition of sensors also requires intricate operation of your controllers. In time, you will get a hang of the overall system.

First, your controller must complement your battery as well as the other parts. The controller sets the amount of amps that the battery will release. Sine wave controllers are highly efficient. It cranks out high amounts of amps from your battery but runs smoothly and quietly. But, they are also expensive.

There are basically two types of controllers. The first one is the controllers for brushless DC machines. E-bikes with this type of controller usually have Hall sensors to send inputs on speed and angle measurement. The controller aids in the function of the sensors and the required force to initiate the propulsion of the wheel and run the e-bike.

Another type of controller is the controller for brushed motors. They do not require Hall sensor inputs. These open-loop controllers can handle a number of voltages. They are also cheaper and simpler. But, they are less efficient.

E-Bike Designs

E-bike designs range from ready-made e-bikes, assembled custom-made e-bikes to DIY assembly e-bikes. E-bike assembly kits are available if you want to do the assembly of parts yourself. Or you can buy the parts piece by piece making sure each part is compatible with the other. You can get DIY manuals such as our assembly manual for the X-treme Alpine Trails, Sierra Trails, and X-Cursion. If you are not up to the task, you can have a certified bicycle mechanic. As a general rule, it is always wise to go for high-quality e-bikes especially for beginners. Initial costs may be steep. But, safety and convenience is your top priority.

Among the e-bike designs that we also recommend is the folding e-bikes. The Cyclamatic CX2 Bicycle Electric Foldaway Bike is among our top choices. You can literally fold the bike frame for space-saving measures. The Prodecotech Mariner and Genesis e-bikes also come in folding designs. If you have worries leaving your bike outside, you can fold this e-bike and bring it along inside your workplace or your house.

Electric cargo bikes are also very practical when transporting heavy stuff without the need of a larger vehicle. You can run the bike on electric motor or pedal-assist mode rather than no-assist as with regular bikes. We have catalogued the Bat-Bike Expedir Electric Cargo Bike and the PFIFF Carrier 20/26 Bosch Cargo Electric Bike with options to place your cargo at the rear side or the front side respectively.

Some e-bikes also look like mopeds. They have speedometers, front and rear lights, and plastic cladding. But, they run on 200watt motors commonly found on e-bikes. Electric mopeds from X-treme are also trendy and top of the line.

E-bike Economy and Costs

An e-bike initially costs below $10,000 dollars from cruisers to cargo bikes. Bikes that cost $10,000 are high performance bikes. But you can always settle for less but still efficient.

For cruiser bikes, price ranges from $1,500 to $8,000. Mountain e-bikes, road e-bikes and city e-bikes cost about the same as cruiser bikes. But you can get more expensive bikes of these types. You can also get cheaper e-bikes such as folding e-bikes.

Additional costs in owning an e-bike are charging costs. This will typically be added to your electricity bill. However, you can save on fuel if you use an e-bike instead of a car within an 18-mile to 20-mile range. The costs of maintenance of e-bikes are lower compared to maintenance of used cars at the same price.

Maintenance and tune-ups are also required to ensure a safe and smooth ride. Maintenance includes tune-ups, repair and replacement of parts and brake and drivetrain adjustments. Most of the time, you can do the maintenance yourself. Costs are incurred if replacements are necessary.

E-bikes wear faster, however, than regular non-electric bikes. E-bikes tend to be used more often at longer distances compared to regular bikes. Electronic parts are also vulnerable to damage due to elements.

Legal Concerns of E-Bikes

E-bikes are generally classified by law as bicycles. In the United States, federal laws cap e-bike motors to 750 watts and at 20mph without the need for registration, insurance and driver’s license. At 30 mph, your e-bike should be duly registered and insured especially for fast e-bikes. If you plan to use your e-bike on bike paths, you will have to turn off your motor and pedal. You would also have to slow down to a gentle pedal for safety. Some states do not allow e-bikes on bike paths.

In United Kingdom, pedelcs and hand throttles are allowed but the speed caps to below 20mph. The European Union basically has similar laws with the United Kingdom. The watt limit falls below 750 watt in these areas.

In Canada, hand throttles that run on 500 watt motors are allowed to run up to 20 mph. In Australia, hand throttles and pedelecs are also allowed to 250 watt motors below 20 mph.

If you are planning to have an e-bike, it is best to do some research on local laws governing certification, registration and operation of e-bikes to make sure which ones are road-legal in your area.

That's it. Electric bikes are very simple. However, there is a lot more to the inner-workings of an e-bike than you may be aware of. We decided to make an entire guide on this topic. 

When you're ready to learn about the inner-workings of electric bikes, read our guide How do Electric Bikes work?


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