E-bikes ( or pedelecs), 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. Over the last few years the diversity of electric bikes has skyrocketed and riders can now choose from a very wide range which includes electric road bikes, mountain bikes and gravel bikes.

To be legal to ride on roads in Australia e-bikes have to comply with ACT regulations.  ‘Motor-assisted pedal cycles’, which are not covered by this article, although still being bicycles, will power you without the need to pedal and are limited to 200 watts.  Whereas, ‘E-Bikes’, which require pedalling to activate the motor, are limited to 250 watts.  This is commonly expressed as 25 kph.

You might be thinking that 25 is slow, but experienced riders will tell you that a ride involving climbs and/or strong head winds is much more enjoyable when you can call on your e-bike to assist you.  Most modern e-bikes use a lithium-ion battery system.  If you are riding around town for a few hours you can probably recharge your battery using a main connected charger in a few hours.

However, the variables are many and as a result the size and nature of the battery, combined with the size of the rider and the type of riding occurring can all affect the battery.  The size of the battery can vary dramatically in both shape and weight.  For example, modern e-road bike batteries may only weigh a few kgs, whereas many city-style bikes have batteries weighing 10-15 kgs.  This variation in battery sizes, combined with the tyre of electric motor being used, can vary the range of a single charge from around 60 km for a heavy e-city bike to anywhere up to 150kms on an expensive, efficient, light e-road bike. 

E-bikes vary in quality and you get what you pay for from cheaply made e-bikes sold at places like Aldi, through to expensive bikes designed to allow riders to replace manual bikes with bikes that for all intents and purposes look and perform like a specialty bike with the added advantage of e support.

When this article was originally written several years ago it would have been true to note that 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.

However, there is now an emerging cohort of specialty e-bikes being produced around the world.  Whether they be road, mountain or gravel bikes, they are being produced using lightweight materials such as carbon and are utilising electric motors coming out of factories in places like the USA and Germany.  Brands such as Specialized from the USA are mixing their production facilities using Taiwan/China for their cheaper models and using in-house development and production to produce limited numbers of their high-quality bikes.  The pandemic raised the level of demand for e-bikes of all types and qualities and this has led to a shortage of supply, particularly at the high end.  It was reported in early 2022 that the waiting time in Australia for a Specialized Creo e-road bike was more than 12 months.

When looking for an e-bike check:  whether it’s designed for the Australian market – that is, does it meet Australian Transport Regulations about motor size;  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.  If you are looking to purchase from a source that does not have an established relationship with known brands or the bike brand offered seems to be unknown, check that the seller’s reputation and look for reviews of the bike you are considering.  

Be prepared to have to replace parts sooner or later and try to get an estimate as to the cost of items such as batteries, chains and chain wheels so that you are prepared when the time comes. Chains and chain wheels tend to stretch or wear out every 1600 km or so simply due to the extra force being applied to them by the actions of the electric motor.  If buying an e-bike second hand be aware that the battery might be reaching the end of its life and be prepared to purchase a new one.

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.

The proliferation of types of e-bikes has broadened the reason people ride them.  You will still commuters on them, but also:

  • Parents are using them to take children to preschool;
  • People with knee problems are being able to ride around Canberra on e-road bikes and climb hills without being hampered;
  • Former mountain bikers are returning to the trails on e-mountain bikes;
  • Riders are experimenting with the latest cycling fad of cross country riding using e-gravel bikes;
  • Riders that like to join road tours are able to do so using e-bikes; and
  • People who had retired from riding due to not being able to keep doing what they had always done, are now returning with e-bikes that provide the assistance they always needed.
  • People are becoming even more motivated to ride by economics; for example not having to pay exorbitant petrol prices and/or paying ever-growing parking fees.
  • There is also a distinct group of riders buying folding e-bikes for use in their caravans and RVs as transportable transport.

If you want to find out more about e-bikes, there are many good sources including Pedal Power.  One of Pedal Power’s members, Steve Ryan, has created a webpage called tour-de-mature.com which includes a section dealing with the types of bikes that are available, including a sub-section dealing with e-bikes generally.  He also is an e-road bike rider, so his webpage pays particular attention to e-road bikes including a comparison of many of the different brands and models available.