15 questions to ask before buying an e-bike

e-bike with flat battery

There’s a quiet revolution happening on UK roads. Without the benefit of the government subsidies, costly charging infrastructure and advertising on which the success of electric cars relies, sales of e-bikes are soaring.

Ride 100 metres on one and you’ll quickly understand why. E-bikes don’t need costly charging infrastructure, dramatically extend riding range, and they’re masses of fun to ride.

How heavy is an e-bike?

E-bikes come in all shapes and sizes. For example, the Brompton electric folding bike tips the scales at 15.6kg. By contrast, the Babboe Curve electric cargo trike weighs in at 73kg. There’s no escaping the fact that e-bikes are heavier than conventional bicycles. However, electric bikes aren’t intended to be ridden without assistance from the electric motor, so you’re unlikely to notice the extra weight unless or until you have to carry it up stairs. Or you break down.

Luckily, you can get breakdown cover for e-bikes and trikes for only £24 per year.

How fast is an e-bike?

An e-bike motor will help you reach just over 15mph. This doesn’t mean you can’t faster – it’s just your legs will need to work harder. If your e-bike motor is more powerful, in the eyes of the law it’s a motorcycle (see below).

Which e-bikes are legal?

UK e-bike law might be easier to navigate if there was a catchy name for road-legal electric bicycles. As it is, the officially recognised acronym EPAC (electric power-assisted cycle) hardly trips off the tongue. In simple terms, if your cycle has pedals and an electric motor of no more than 250 watts that cuts out once you’re travelling at 15.5mph (25 km/h), then in the eyes of UK law it’s a bicycle, or to be more precise, an EAPC (electrically assisted pedal cycle). It’s important to remember that the 250W figure refers to the power of the motor and not the battery.

An e-bike with a motor over 250W, or that doesn’t cut out automatically at 15.5mph, is a motorcycle. Some of these e-bikes might look indistinguishable from the EPACS described above, but their higher performance is usually an obvious giveaway. People have been known to fit official-looking 250W stickers to their over-powered e-bikes, but the police are wise to this. When there’s doubt, the e-bike can be confiscated at the roadside and sent for testing.

woman riding e-bike

How much are E-bike servicing costs?

In general, e-bike motors don’t need servicing. For example, the Bosch motors fitted to many models of e-bike are sealed for life and if kept dry will do over 50,000 miles (80,000km) without problem. You might find the heavier weight of the bike means you go through a few more consumable items. Luckily, brake pads and tyres are relatively inexpensive items to replace.

How much does it cost to recharge an e-bike?

No simple answer to this one as there are multiple factors to consider such your electricity rate, battery size and its age.

Take your e-bike’s battery capacity (Wh) divide by 1,000 to get the kWh (kilowatt hours). If you multiply this figure by the kWh rate you’re paying your electricity supplier you’ll get the price of a full charge. Assuming the battery is completely empty and you give it a full charge.

For example, if the rate you pay is £0.27 per kWh and your battery is rated at 500Wh, it will cost a tad over 13p for a full charge.

What if my e-bike breaks down?

We launched the UK’s first Cycle Rescue service 30 years ago and include it with every cycle insurance policy of ours. Alternatively, we sell it as a standalone service for £24 per year. If your e-bike or electric cargo bike suffers a puncture, mechanical issue, or even a flat battery, we can send a recovery lorry to rescue you.

How long does an e-bike battery last?

E-bikes use the same type of battery as smartphones and laptops so you’ll know from experience that as they age, they need to be charged more frequently. In terms of how long a single charge lasts, it depends on the capacity of the battery, how it’s being used and its condition.

Is there a fire risk with e-bike batteries?

According to the London Fire Brigade: “Many of the fires we are seeing involve batteries which have been sourced on the internet, which may not meet the correct safety standards. We know that lithium-ion batteries are susceptible to failure if incorrect chargers are used, so it’s important to always use the correct charger for the product and buy an official one from a reputable seller.”

Only buy aftermarket lithium ion batteries from a reputable supplier and always use the correct charger to minimise the risk of the battery overheating.

How far can I ride with an e-bike?

The range of your e-bike on a single charge will vary according to many factors – not least how much assistance from the motor you use. In other words, you can conserve your battery and thereby extend your range by doing more of the pedalling yourself. The most powerful e-bike batteries can deliver as much as 80 miles of range.

Do I need insurance for my e-bike?

E-bikes are expensive to replace and attractive to thieves. Every ETA insurance policy includes theft & accidental cover, no-quibble battery theft cover and Cycle Rescue breakdown cover plus many other benefits. Read a full list of everything we include as standard.

Who can ride an e-bike in the UK?

You don’t need a licence, vehicle tax or insurance to ride an electric bicycle, but must be over 14 years old.

Will I still get exercise?

E-bikes allow you to choose the level of assistance from the motor so it’s up to you how much effort you put in. It’s not like riding a motorcycle – you’ll still have to pedal.

Are e-bikes more likely to be stolen?

Thieves target e-bikes so it’s a good idea to protect yourself with a good cycle insurance policy.

What happens if I get a flat battery?

We launched the UK’s first Cycle Rescue service 30 years ago and include it with every cycle insurance policy of ours. Alternatively, we sell it as a standalone service for £24 per year. If your e-bike or electric cargo bike suffers a puncture, mechanical issue, or even a flat battery, we can send a recovery lorry to rescue you.

e-bike flat battery

ETA Cycle Rescue safeguards against breakdowns – including a flat battery

Can I turn my bicycle into an e-bike?

Yes. For almost as long as there have been bicycles, people have been adding motorised assistance. For example, the French Michaux-Perreaux steam velocipede of 1868 pre-dates the first safety bicycle by almost two decades.

Modern electric motors and lithium ion batteries have made motorising your bicycle much easier.

Many riders who want to retrofit an electric motor opt for kits made by Bafang. The kits are available with either hub or mid-drive motors are good value for and easy to fit. However, be aware that many are too powerful to comply with UK law.

The ethical choice

The ETA was established in 1990 as an ethical provider of green, reliable travel services. Over 30 years on, we continue to offer cycle insurance , breakdown cover and mobility scooter insurance while putting concern for the environment at the heart of all we do.

The Good Shopping Guide judges us to be the UK’s most ethical provider.

 

Comments

  1. John Davidson

    Reply

    Interesting article.

    With regards to the calculation of the cost of recharging the battery – I’m not an electrician or expert in kWh, but don’t you need to multiply your calculation by the number of hours you are charging it?

  2. Howard Cheesman

    Reply

    Great article.
    I would just add that if it is possible you should buy from a local retailer. If they are worth their salt they will be there for you for any problems or questions you have, make adjustments and be able to source parts and extras. And most importantly to service the thing and they need servicing believe me.

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