In the last few years, you can’t help noticing that eBikes have arrived in Canada and the numbers are growing. Most of us have wondered what the difference is and if we should buy an eBike one day.
Europeans adopted them sooner than we did, using them as an efficient, low-cost way to do many things a car did—often faster, and with less effort and cost. All sorts of eBike designs enable riders to carry packages, groceries, and children about town and into the countryside.
Delivery services in Ontario have been quick to see the benefits of eBikes; maybe you will see reasons for yourself and make a purchase. They offer a great alternative to the classic bicycle experience and actually are attracting new riders and extending the years seniors can enjoy this pastime.
I have been following my partner Teresa’s quest to find a new electric-powered bike; she rented one on our Holland cycling tour last May and loved it. Currently, we are looking at websites, visiting bike shops, and testing out eBikes of all sorts of designs, sizes and prices.
It does get overwhelming. Let me help you sort out this fascinating new means of bike riding, from the leisure-wheelers crowd to MTB “commandos.”
What is an eBike?
In Ontario, as defined by the Ontario Gov., an eBike (E-bike, ebike) must have pedals that move the bike with leg power. It is not an electric scooter, moped or motorcycle. The motor has a max speed of 32km/h and no more than 500 watts of output. There are limits for wheel sizes, weight… you get the basic idea.
An eBike is a power-assisted bicycle. The concept is that cyclists pedal as they would on a regular bike and the motor engages when needed. Electronics in the bike sense the pedalling activity (and braking) and aid with turning the wheels. Using a handlebar-mounted control, the rider chooses how much extra power (torque) they wish to add to their pedalling: more on an uphill or to speed away, less or none on a downhill or flat stretch.
Some designs let you coast and throttle the motor speed without pedalling. This makes the going easy, but will seriously limit your range and could cook your motor if used often or inappropriately.
There are many reasons cyclists are buying eBikes and a few reasons you might not. Let’s assess if an eBike could be a consideration in your life. Then I will get into specific bike designs and the difference between a rear-hub and a mid-drive motor in my next article.
Reasons to Buy (or Maybe Not)
1 Fitness – It might seem like a cheat to use a motor, but studies have found that riders are staying fit using eBikes. The perception is that you are not pedalling as hard and this is true, but you will be exercising and often in the end almost as much.
It seems eBike owners like their bikes and want to get their money’s worth. So they tend to go farther and ride more often.
If you pedal faster or zoom down a hill more than the maximum 32km/h the motor cuts out and it’s all leg power. Now you’re putting in all the effort and getting the exercise.
Mountain bike riders can keep their efforts at a more steady rate cranking on the trail. This reduces moments when they may overdo it. Or they may wish to push harder and go faster with the added help of a motor.
2 Less Strain – Motor assistance helps reduce strain on muscles, joints, and your heart. If you are new to cycling, the first few rides will not wear you out. Less recovery time is needed—if at all—until the next outing.
Hills will be easier to climb, so you may do steeper, higher, or more hills than before.
If you ride to work, eBikes get you there faster and not all hot and sweaty.
If you have saddlebags or haul a trailer, some of the load is offset by the motor. You now can carry more.
As we age, eBikes have extended the age one can continue to cycle and give those with reduced mobility a new means of travel.
If you ride too far, get hurt, get lost, are running late or you are bonking out after a long day, just give it some “electric gas” to get you back.
For most MTB riders steep uphills are no fun. We do them, but in your senior years your knees and back will thank you for that extra push.
Those MTB riders who love Downhill runs can benefit from an eBike to get them back up the hill without getting winded.
3 Go Farther, Faster – Though there is a speed limit on an eBike, your combined pedal+motor average speed will likely be faster. Hence you get around in less time or go farther afield. Errands, deliveries, shopping, picking up the kids all get easier.
Long Rail Trails become more manageable. Bikepacking adventures cover more terrain and/or become grander. You will see more sights on your rides and discover new routes and places, and will start planning future rides with a wider scope in mind.
Also, if the weather turns sour, an eBike can get you back to a shelter or homebase sooner.
4 Keeping Up – Your husband or cycling mates may be outriding you these days. An eBike can help you stay with the group to enjoy their company and not have them wait for you. Now everyone is happy.
And if you have given up catching up with the pack, an eBike can bring you back into the fold.
5 Weight – When you add a motor and a big battery, eBikes start to get heavy and they need a more robust frame, larger wheels. It all starts to grow proportionally. No problems when the motor runs, but if the battery dies, you will definitely feel it climbing.
There are lighter, sleek sporty road race eBikes that try to keep the weight down. But most models I have ridden are the city upright style and feel more clunky and not as nimble to manoeuvre as what you have been used to. That weight does keep them firmly planted on the ground.
Also, consider lifting your new eBike on a rack, into the car trunk, or up the stairs into your home. Will this be an issue?
6 Cost – They’re cheaper than a car, but at the same time more expensive than many regular bicycles. A decent eBike is $3000 or more to own. Better ones with larger batteries to ride farther or haul cargo can be double that price.
An added cost is a good lock, for your shiny new toy. Bring the bike inside, sleep with it, just don’t let thieves nab it.
On the other hand, the cost per kilometre is small compared to a car when you consider the cost of purchase, repairs, gas, insurance and parking. Urban trips are often faster to travel in this eco-friendly way. (It also removes one more car from our congested roadway.)
As the cycling industry evolves and the public is more accepting of this new-fangled electric two-wheeled mode of transport, eBikes can only get better, and more reliable.
They’re not a new concept—there have been electric bicycles out there for decades. But with the advent of lighter, more powerful batteries and motors, things are moving along (pardon the pun).
Electronic integration with your pedalling cadence that ties in with your smartphone can give you stats and custom settings to enhance your rides more than ever. Amazing!
Prices have come down with more brand choices. It now seems everyone is making them. Do your research, visit bike shops, and do some demo rides.
With that said, bike stores tell me they are still experiencing a supply shortage, so not all models and sizes are out there. You may have to order one and wait.
Still, these are exciting times in Bikeland! Consider your reasons to buy or not and I’ll let you know more in part II about the types of bike designs, motors and options available in the eBike world.
Starting looking around – Dan Roitner
Now read eBikes Part 2: How Do They Work?
And many thanks to the staff at Gears, Amego and Sweet Pete’s bike shops in Toronto for their help and the opportunity to test a few eBikes.