Electric models are usually very similar in appearance to a normal bike, and are used in the same way, with pedals that allow them to function when they are turned off.
But the key element is the motor, which is usually integrated into the frame or mounted out of sight on another part of the bike. Generally, these bikes will be able to tell when you are turning your pedals and power up the motor to give you a boost – allowing for a little extra power.
It’s also important to note that an ebike is definitively not the same as an electric motorcycle, despite the similarities. The key difference is that an electric bike is still largely moved around by pedal power, which also means that they are regulated like bikes rather than motorcycles.
Why would I want an ebike?
The most common reason for investing in an ebike is for getting to work, and they are likely to become an even more popular as the world emerges from lockdown and people look for new ways to commute.
Ebikes have a variety of advantages for those who are looking to cycle to work or around their cities: with the extra motor boost, you can go further and get there without feeling as sweaty or tired.
But they are increasingly being used by leisure or training cyclists too. Ebikes have picked up an entirely undeserved reputation for being indulged in by cheaters or lazy riders, but people are starting to realise that they can be of interest to very good cyclists, who might otherwise be spending lots of money on more traditional bikes.
Likewise, mountain bikers are increasingly using electric bikes to allow them to practise technical skills without using up all their energy and wiping themselves out. Previously, doing tricky descents to improve your handling skills might also have meant a tiring slog to the top of a hill – now, with an electric motor, a cyclist can be carried to the top and still have the energy to get back down again.
Of course, none of this means that you won’t be putting in any effort – indeed, various manufacturers now allow their ebikes to be finely tuned so that the motor will only help you as much as you want it to. It won’t get rid of the work, unless you want it to, but it could be enough to help you up a particularly dastardly hill or keep you up with the partner who would otherwise shoot off without you.
What are the rules on ebikes?
Ebikes are regulated a slightly more than regular models. But not drastically so: you don’t need a licence to have one, and you don’t need to pay road tax or go through any of the more burdensome paper work that comes with something like a car.
The real restrictions are added by manufacturers. In the UK, ebikes can only go up to 15.5mph – at that point, the motor cuts out, though you can obviously go faster than that using leg power, should you so wish. In other parts of the world, the maximum speed may differ.
What do ebikes do beyond having motors?
The extra boost you get when cycling along is the defining aspect of ebikes, and there are many that do that very simply. But numerous companies have used the additional technology in an ebike to add extra features, too. As such, some ebikes are now technological gadgets as much as they are tools for getting around.