Electric Bike Buyers Guide & eBike FAQ [2020]

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Buying an electric bike is a big decision and can be overwhelming when you are not used to all of the lingo. In this electric bike buyer’s guide we will cover everything you will need to know about eBikes. If we’ve left anything off our FAQ, please leave your questions in the comments section and we will add them to the list!

What are electric bikes (eBikes)?

Simply put an electric bike (or ebike) is a regular bicycle with a battery pack that powers an electric motor. Electric bikes generally have 2 modes: pedal assist and full throttle. Pedal assist is when you pedal your bike as you normally would, but the electric motor kicks in to make each rotation make you go further. 

Pedal Assist Modes

Typically, an ebike will have multiple pedal assist levels:

  • Level 0: Pedal assist is turned off and you can pedal your bicycle unassisted as you would any other bike
  • Level 1: For every rotation of the pedals the motor accelerates just a little bit giving the rider a small boost in speed
  • Level 2: The motor accelerates each pedal rotation by 2x
  • Level 3: the motor accelerates each pedal rotation by 3x
  • Unlimited Mode/Throttle Only: Instead of pedaling you can use the bikes throttle to accelerate. Top speed can only be reached in unlimited mode and is determined by the power output of the bike. 

Each eBike has different levels of pedal assist, but they all function on the basic principal of the higher the level the more power the motor gives to each pedal rotation. Using pedal assist will allow you to get more range out of each battery charge while using throttle only will drain your battery faster and you will get reduced mileage out of each charge.

Pedal assist electric bike infographic

[Source: https://www.evelo.com/electric-bikes-101/]

How fast can electric bikes go?

The average speed of an electric bike is 20-28 mph. Typically top speed can only be reached when you are using throttle only mode. Throttle only mode is when you are not pedaling and only using the throttle to engage the motor to accelerate your bike. You do not need to pedal in full throttle mode because you will be powering your eBike like a motor cycle or dirt bike. 

Each state has unique laws on eBikes and the speeds they can travel so be sure to check your local laws before selecting the best bike for you.

How do you pedal an electric bike?

You pedal an electric bike just like you would any other bike. The only difference is when pedal-assist mode is engaged each time you pedal the electric motor adds power giving you an extra boost of speed. For some people pedal-assist doesn’t feel natural, it feels like you are being propelled forward.

There isn’t necessarily a learning curve with pedal assist, but it is something that you have to get used to. Experiment with different levels of pedal-assist to find the mode that is right for you.

Benefits of electric bikes vs regular bikes

A more enjoyable ride
With an eBike you get all the joys of riding a bike with a little extra umph. You no longer have to worry about if you can make it up that big hill!
Commuting to work
Most eBikes have a max speed of 20-28 miles per hour, that means that if you live within 15 miles of your home it will take you just about the same amount of time to get to work as a car would.
Carrying cargo is a breeze
Most electric bikes have some sort of cargo space where you can place groceries or small items you pick up after a quick run to the store. The motor allows you to not have to worry about the extra weight.
Great exercise
Even though an eBike uses an electric motor doesn’t mean you do not get a good work out. Brigham Young University recently did a study that showed eBikes provide an “excellent form of aerobic or cardiovascular exercise, even for experienced mountain bikers who regularly engage in this fitness activity.”

Are electric bicycles legal?

In 2002, a feral law was enacted that defines electric bikes as “a two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 h.p.), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 mph.”

In most states, the state law will be aligned with the fedal definition of an electric bike, but there are variances from state to state. Some states for example it is legal for eBikes to reach speeds of 28 mph. 

Check out your local electric bicycle laws here.

In 17 states you are required to have a license in order to ride an eBike. Some states put restrictions on whether or not you are allowed to ride your eBike on the street and/or bike lanes. 

States also have specific laws on whether or not you need a helmet to operate an eBike. The easiest and safest solution is to just make sure that you’re always wearing a helmet while riding your bike. 

State and feral laws may change on a whim which is why it is important to check your local eBike laws regularly. 

Do I need a license for an electric bike?

In 2020, 17 states have local laws that require you to have a license for an electric bike. In these states eBikes are classified as a different type of vehicle. As electric bikes become more popular we expect state laws to change around needing a license in those states. The environmental benefits and savings on transportation costs are major reasons why state legislators are believed to be updating their laws.

Why are electric bikes becoming popular?

Electric bikes have been gaining in popularity since 2017. Many things have caused a spike in popularity for eBikes, below are a few of the main reasons

Environmental concerns

eBikes have zero emissions and thus has a no environmental footprint. Using an electric bike cuts down carbon transmission by 0.21 metric tons CO2 per year. Electric bikes use long lasting electric batteries to power their motors which are less hazard to the environment than gas powered motors. 

Commuting to work

Commuting to work on a bicycle saves you money on gas, insurance, and maintenance. With an electric bike that reaches up to 28 mph you can pretty much get to work as fast as you would in a car in you are traveling on local roads. Electric bikes require very little to maintain, only need to be serviced every year or two, and flat tires are much cheaper to repair. 

COVID-19 and quarantine

When COVID-19 hit in 2020 the entire world was put under quarantine and people were itching for a safe and fun activity to help with exercise and getting out of the house. Electric bike sales soared during this time and many new companies started producing their own eBikes to help supply the demand. 

Popularity of electric cars

With the help of Tesla and other automobile manufacturers electric car sales have been on the rise since 2017. As electric cars gain more traction and begin to replace gas powered cars we expect that the use of electric bikes will follow the same trend.

They are fun

Electric bikes are both practical and fun. They are more cost effective than other modes of transportation, have zero carbon footprint, are a great source of exercise, and are just plain fun! Many eBikes are able to be ridden on bike trails, the street, and off-road making it the best form of multi-purpose transportation. 

How much do electric bikes typically cost?

As with most products, cost depends heavily on the model of ebike and features it is equipped with. We have broken down the different levels of eBikes into introductory, mid-range, and high-end models to better show the difference in cost between electric bikes.

Low end or introductory level electric bikes:

  • Cost between $600 – $1,500
  • Various styles (mountain bike, foldable, cruiser, step-thru)
  • Do not feature a lot of extras, but are great for beginners looking to get into eBiking

Mid-range level electric bikes:

  •  Cost between $2,000 – $3,000
  • The design of mid-range eBikes are usually more stylish (cooler paint options, unique frames, higher grade tires)
  • Numerous extra features:
    • Headlight/brake lights
    • Turn signals
    • Crash detection
    • Hydraulic  brakes
    • Built-in cargo racks
    • Premium hand grips
    • Front/read suspension systems
    • Mobile apps

High-end level electric bikes:

  • Cost $3,000+
  • High-end electric bikes are made from higher quality materials, feature designer level style, and may be manufactured by a well-known brand such as Audi
  • Feature wise: higher-end models usually have the same extras as the mid-range models. You are paying more for the brand and/or specific design of these bikes.

Can I convert my regular bike into an electric bike?

Yes, you can convert most bikes into an electric bike, but in some cases it will cost you just a much as a new eBike. I will do a complete breakdown of the costs to convert a bike to an electric bike below, but in short you can expect to pay $500 – $1,000 if you already have a bicycle.

In order to convert your bike into an electric bike you need 3 main components:

Bicycle (Cost: $0 – $1,000 depending on the bike)

If you don’t already have a bike, you of course, will need to buy one. Not all bikes can be converted into an eBike, so make sure you do some Googleing beforehand. If your bike is some sort of specialty bike with an odd frame or weight, you may run into difficulties. If you have a standard run of the mill bike you will be just fine.

If you are looking for a bike to convert to an eBike here are some good options:

Battery (Cost: $250 – $500)

In order to power the bike’s motor it will need a battery as an energy source. The higher the voltage on a battery, the faster the bike will travel. The most common voltage of an eBike battery is 48V (up to 28 mph). The higher the amp hours on the battery (Ah) the longer the batter will last before needing to be charged. A standard capacity on most eBikes is 10Ah which is enough juice to cruise around town.

Good battery options:

 Electric Bike Conversion Kit ($250 – $500)

Once you find a battery for your bike you will want to buy an electric bike conversion kit. Electric bike conversion kits come with the following main components: motor, wheel, controller, LED display, pedal assist system (PAS), and all of the wires and cables to connect everything. The main factor that effects the price of an ebike conversion kit is the power of the motor. 

The most important thing to look for in a motor is its power output. A typical street-legal ebike is going to have a 750W or 1200W motor and have a speed of 20 – 28 mph. Just remember that if you get a bigger motor with more power you will drain your battery faster and be able to travel a shorter distance. Be sure you pick the right balance between your battery size and motor power. Motor placement (rear hub, front hub, and mid-drive) is also worth considering because it will drastically change the way your ebike feels when riding it.

Good electric bike conversion kits:

New eBike vs eBike conversion kit

A question we get asked a lot is “Should I buy a new eBike or an electric bike conversion kit?” The answer really depends on whether or not you already have a bike that you like or not.

If you don’t already have a bike to convert or are not savvy with tools then we recommend that you find an entry level eBike that you like. The price difference is really only a couple hundred dollars and you won’t have to deal with the hassle of converting the bike to electric.

If you already have a bike that you love and are handy with tools then we recommend that you purchase a conversion kit and trying doing it yourself. It is not a simple process, but there are tons of resources and how to videos on YouTube.

Read our guide on the best electric bike conversion kits and how to install them.

What different types of electric bicycles are there?

Ebikes come in all different shapes and styles. Some bikes go the more traditional route and look like typical mountain or BMX bikes while others take on more of a motorcycle or beach cruiser appearance. Every ebike is different and may be better for certain scenarios. Make sure you find an ebike that meets your specific needs. 

EMTB electric mountain bike

Popular Mountain eBikes

Super-73 s2 ebike

Popular BMX/motorcycle style eBikes

Radwagon 4 ebike

Popular cargo/commuter eBikes

Looking for more eBike options? We have you cover with this list of the Top 7 Coolest eBikes on the market!

This site uses affiliate links which means that I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

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