Need to learn about e-bikes in general? Which electric bike is right for you? Here’s the Cargocycles guide to electric bikes – it’s by no means definitive but hopefully answers all your questions!

The Basics:

What is an electric bike?

An electric bike or e-bike is a bicycle with a built-in electric motor used for propulsion – it is not a motorbike and you don’t need a license. The motor runs off a battery that is built into the bike which you need to plug into a normal powerpoint to recharge. Batteries are removable so you can charge them inside, but most models also let you charge the battery while it’s mounted on the e-bike. A full charge takes around 4-8 hours depending on the size of your battery and your charger.


Can I ride in the rain or through puddles?

You can ride in the rain as e-bike motors are weatherproof rather than 100% waterproof – the odd puddle is ok, but you should not fully submerge your bike. If you clean your e-bike do not use high-pressure hoses or a pressure washer. We recommend you store you e-bike undercover or inside.


Pedal or no pedal?

Pedal assist or ‘pedelec’ eBikes are the most commonly sold in Australia. You still need to pedal, but the electric motor adds power to each pedal stroke – making hills easier to climb and generally you can use less effort so won’t need to break a sweat on the way to work. Some e-bikes come with a throttle so you don’t have to pedal at all – but these are limited to 200 watts in Australia  (see techie info below).


Can you ride an e-bike if the battery is flat?

As electric bikes are like regular bikes you can still ride them without the motor engaged – or if the battery becomes flat. Bikes are fitted with electronic displays on the handlebars which show battery levels. Even if the battery is totally flat, a bike’s built-in lights (on models with that feature) will still work.


Why get an electric bike?

Perfect for bike commuting if your journey is a little farther than you’d attempt on a regular bike, you are carrying a big load, you need to get places quicker or need some help with hills. Riding is easier on an electric bike and you can arrive without breaking a sweat – perfect for getting to work when you don’t want to have a shower when you get there. You can still choose to get some exercise on an e-bike – just select a lower level of assistance or ride without the motor.

If you have ever thought, ‘I don’t want to ride today – it’s too far/too hilly/there’s a headwind/I’ve got too much to carry’ – an e-bike may be just the thing to help you to choose cycling more often.

How far and how fast?

That varies for each bike. Motors provide support up to a speed of 25kph, but if you pedal faster or go downhill your bike will go faster. On a full charge you can expect to go between 30 to 150km – this huge variation in range is due to different factors like – the type of terrain you ride on – the age of your battery – model and weight of the bike (combined with rider weight); lighter bikes go farther, while electric cargo or box bikes have less range due to weight and poorer aerodynamics. – the level of assist you choose; you can select which level of assistance you need on your e-bike’s display, usually from level 1 – 4. You will go farther on level 1, and less far on level 4. If you help your bike by pedalling more, you will go farther.


When will I need to replace the battery?

Batteries last around 3 years or 500 – 700 full charges. Most batteries have a 2-year warranty.


Will I charge the battery by pedalling or by braking?

No, the technology does not exist at the moment to do this on e-bikes – if your electric bike motor was reversed to become a generator (where the energy of pedalling was converted into electrical energy to charge the battery) you would need to pedal furiously and strenuously – so it would be more efficient just to ride your e-bike like a regular bike! Regenerative braking (where the energy of braking is used to charge batteries) is new technology but is only available at the moment in electric cars. Considering the time you are actually applying your bike brakes is minuscule compared to your whole trip, the amount of energy you could use to recharge a battery would be minimal. Some energy is also lost while braking as friction or heat – so regenerative braking is pretty inefficient for e-bikes. The best way to charge your battery is still to plug it into a power outlet.


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