Electric Dreams? The Lowdown on Power-Assisted Bicycles

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We’ve all heard the term ‘electric bikes, ‘e-bikes’ or ‘power-assisted bikes’; but what exactly are these cycles all about – and why do some people ride them instead of regular bikes? We asked Simone Annis of Switched On Cycles to tell us more.

About e-bikes

Electric bikes, like normal bikes, come in all shapes and sizes – folding bikes, commuter bikes, townie style bikes, wheel kits to retrofit onto existing bikes and many more. To be legal to ride on roads in Australia e-bikes have to comply with EU standards.  In short, bikes need to be rated at 250 watts or less and have a Pedalec system. This means that you have to pedal to make the bike work and it has to work like a bicycle (not like a motor bike with pedals stuck on).

E-bikes are speed limited by law to 25kms an hour. Now as a cyclist you might think, “ha! I can do that speed on my road bike”, but the difference is that with an e-bike you can do that speed going up hills, as well as down, and for most people it raises their average speed to 25kms an hour.

Most modern e-bikes use a lithium ion battery system.  A standard 10amp hour battery does between 30 -50kms on a single charge (depending on variables such as the weight of the rider, terrain, speed etc) and takes 5 hours to recharge from empty. Battery life varies between 400 – 1200 charges.  A general trend we’ve noticed is that the more regularly a rider rides and recharges the battery, the longer the life of the battery.

E-bikes vary in quality and you get what you pay for from cheaply made e-bikes designed for a domestic Chinese market to ultra chic, but often over priced and specified European designs.   The components on all e-bikes, regardless of price, mostly come out of the same factories in China or Taiwan. For example, Suzhou Bafang Motors produces around 1,000,000 e-bike motors a year which are exported (and re-branded) all over the world, have factories in China and the Netherlands and as such, like Shimano, have a hierarchy of models.

When looking for an e-bike check:  whether it’s designed for the Australian market;  if there’s a reasonable warranty and back up service; if parts are available and at what price – replacement batteries can cost almost as much as a bike.  Check that the seller has been around for awhile as we’ve seen many fly by night operators come and go. Be prepared to have to replace parts if you buy something cheap. If buying an e-bike second hand try to determine how much work the battery has done and whether it’s been charged at least once every six weeks.

So who rides e-bikes?

There’s no such thing as a typical e-bike customer but there are some common reasons why people choose e-bikes over normal bikes;

To use a bike for transport, rather than as a form of recreation. Commuters may not want to sweat, change clothes or have to shower at work. These people are often already cyclists, but may also want to get to work faster, or feel that their commute is too long or too hilly to do every day on a normal bike. For example, one of our customers has a 60km commute that she does 2 days a week on a normal bike and 3 days a week on an e-bike.  E-bikes are also great for pulling trailers to drop off kids on the way to work.

  • Some people want to get riding, or keep riding, but have issues which stop them riding a normal bike. Our customers include people with lung transplants, one leg, chronic fatigue, back and knee injuries, heart conditions and a whole range of other conditions which stop them riding a normal bike. Our customers also include people who are getting back into fitness, but feel they are not yet fit enough to ride a normal bike. Our bikes let them choose what level of support they require, depending on how they are feeling. For example, we have a customer who at 92 has got back on a bike after stopping riding at 65 when he developed a heart condition.
  • There’s a distinct group of people who buy bikes from us because, while they enjoy riding as a socially related activity, they can’t keep up with their kids, wife or husband.
  • We have customers who are motivated to ride by economics; for example not having to paying parking fees and we have many customers motivated by environmental reasons who use an electric bike for transport or in place of a second car.
  • There’s a distinct group of older riders who buy folding e-bikes for use in their caravans and RV’s as transportable transport. Many of these riders want to recapture the sense of fun and freedom they remember having when they first jumped on a bike as a kid – that wind in the hair feeling.

On occasion, we’ve had a comment from cyclists that e-bikes aren’t real bikes and e-bikes riders are not real cyclists. In reply we mirror Pedal Power’s philosophy; we want to encourage anybody to ride any bike, anywhere, anytime and many of our customers would have never previously considered themselves cyclists.  In the words of one of them:

“My electric assist bike is a great asset as it allow me to keep up with my husband and friends around town and on tours. It has allowed me to keep riding and carrying loads,” said Julia Widdup who has had her pedelec bike for nearly three years. “It makes riding a pleasure.”

To see more on the rules and regulations around e-bikes check out this page.

Switched on Cycles are the ACT and region’s electric bike specialists, operating since 2009. As well as importing mid-priced good quality bikes designed for Canberra, they also service, repair and customise electric bikes. They offer a free two day trial for their complete product range (including kits to retro fit to your existing bike) or a 7 day trial for $50 which they give you back if you buy a bike from them. For more information visit their website www.switchedoncycles.com.au, facebook page or call 62626234 or 0450960545. 




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1 Comment

  1. Richard Horobin 22/02/2015 at 4:38 PM - 

    Here’s a recent article on take-up of e-bikes around the world.
    In recent years electric cars have received a great deal of press coverage, but globally electric bicycles outsell electric cars by a wide margin. About 112,000 electric cars were sold worldwide in 2013. By comparison, something in the region of 40 million e-bicycles were sold worldwide in 2013. In China, there are more electric bikes than cars on the
    road. The global pattern for sales of e-bikes in 2013 has China in first place, at about 32 million, followed by Europe at 1.8 million, and Japan at 440,000. The U.S. had sales of an estimated 185,000 e-bikes.

    My friends who have friends working in China say that they re-charge at work.

    btw: Average speed of a Beijing cyclist is 15 km/h. I think we rush too much.

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