E-bikes offer an environmentally friendly, affordable, efficient, and fun way to get around. When it comes to choosing an e-bike, you have a number of designs to consider. This guide outlines all of the types of electric bikes available to help you choose which design is best for your style of riding.
In this guide, I explain the benefits and drawbacks of pedal assist (pedelec) vs throttle-controlled e-bikes as well as mid-drive vs hub drive e-bikes. I’ll also talk about battery capacity, placement, and range and more.
A Bit of Info About Electric Bikes
Electric bicycles, also known as e-bikes, are bicycles with integrated electric motors and batteries which are used for propulsion. Most e-bikes are governed to a top speed of 20 miles per hour (32 km/h). They get a range of 20-35 miles (32-56 km) per charge on average.
E-bikes have been around for over 100 years. Only in the past 20 years have they really taken off in popularity. These days, e-bikes make up the fastest-growing sector in the cycling industry according to the NPD group.
No matter what type of cyclist you are, you can find an e-bike to fit your needs. Folding bikes, mountain bikes, road bikes, fat bikes, hybrids, commuters, and more are all available in electric versions.
If you’re undecided as to whether or not electric bikes are for you, check out my pros and cons list.
Table of Contents- Types of Electric Bikes
When choosing an e-bike, you have a number of choices to make. A few of the most important considerations include:
- E-bike classes and controls- Pedal assist (pedelec) Vs throttle
- Pedal-assist sensors- Torque sensors Vs cadence sensors
- E-bike motors- Hub-drive Vs mid-drive, motor sizes, motor placement
- Batteries- Battery capacity, specs, placement, range, and technology
- Building your own e-bike- Choosing and installing a conversion kit, DIY batteries
- E-bike costs- Pricing and maintenance cost
Pedal Assist Vs Throttle Controlled E-Bikes
These systems determine how you control the power on your electric bicycle. There are three classes of e-bikes.
Class 1: Pedal Assist (Pedelec) E-bikes
Pedal-assist, also called Pedelec, only provides propulsion when you pedal. When you stop pedaling, the power shuts off. With this system, you pedal normally and the motor transmits power to the rear wheel to make the pedaling easier. Pedal-assist allows you to ride in high gears and up steep hills almost effortlessly. This is the most common type of electric bike.
Most class 1 e-bikes allow you to control the amount of assistance. For example, you may be able to push a button on the handlebar-mounted display to change between low, medium, and high assist. The higher the setting, the more assistance that the motor gives you.
In many jurisdictions, pedal-assist is the only type of e-bike that is permitted without a license. This is the case in much of Europe where pedal-assist bikes can’t provide power when you’re traveling over 25 kph (about 15 mph). In the US, most pedal-assist e-bikes can’t provide power over 32 kph (20 mph). Class 1 pedal-assist e-bikes are generally permitted anywhere that standard non-powered bikes are.
Pedal Assist Pros and Cons
Pedal-assist offers a number of benefits over throttle-controlled e-bikes. First, pedal-assist gets better range because your pedaling helps to power the bike along with the battery. Your battery will drain more slowly because it isn’t providing all of the power by itself. Pedal-assist also gives you more exercise because you have to pedal.
Another big benefit is that pedal-assist e-bikes are legal in more places. These bikes are usually treated the same as non-powered bikes.
Finally, pedal-assist feels more intuitive to most riders. There is a smaller learning curve. You just pedal and go. When you stop pedaling, the motor stops. You don’t have to learn how to use any new controls. Your hands are also free because you don’t have to hold the throttle. For this reason, pedal-assist is better for beginner e-bike riders.
The only real drawback to pedal-assist is that you have to pedal if you want to ride. You can’t just let the bike do all of the work for you.
Class 2: Throttle Controlled E-Bikes
Throttle controlled e-bikes work just like a motorcycle or scooter. When you engage the throttle, the motor propels the bike forward. You don’t have to pedal at all if you don’t want to. The throttle allows you to control the amount of power that the motor sends to the rear wheel. Many e-bikes have a throttle feature in addition to pedal assist.
In many places, including much of Europe, throttle-controlled e-bikes are not permitted. Sometimes they are only permitted with a license. For this reason, they are much less common than pedal-assist e-bikes. Throttle controlled e-bikes are more common in the US and Asia where the regulations are less strict.
Three styles of e-bike throttles include:
- Twist throttle- These work the same as a motorcycle or scooter throttle. You just twist a part of the grip toward you to increase power and twist it back to decrease power.
- Thumb throttle- This is a small paddle mounted near the handlebar grip that you push down with your thumb. The further you push it, the more power you get.
- Push-button throttle- This is a simple on/off switch. When you push the button, the electric motor gives a constant amount of power. When you let go, the power cuts off. You can’t control the amount of power with this type of throttle.
There are a couple of drawbacks to throttle-controlled e-bikes. First, it doesn’t feel as natural to most riders because you don’t have to pedal. The controls are more like a motorcycle than a bicycle. One of your hands is occupied by operating the throttle. There is a bit of a learning curve.
The range is usually shorter as well because you are relying only on the battery to move you along. You aren’t helping the motor by pedaling. You’ll also get less exercise because you don’t have to pedal.
Some e-bikes come equipped with both a throttle and pedal assist. In some cases, you might have to push a button to switch from one mode to the other. Sometimes you can use the throttle while riding with pedal assist to give yourself an extra bit of power.
Class 3: Speed Pedelec E-Bikes
This class e-bike works just like class 1 pedal assist e-bikes. The only difference is the top speed. Class 3 speed Pedelec e-bikes can reach a maximum speed of 45 kph or 28 mph.
In many places, this class of e-bike is considered to be a motor vehicle. In this case, you’ll need some type of license to legally ride it on the road. Some places, there are no restrictions. Before buying a class 3 e-bike, be sure to check the laws where you plan to ride.
Torque Sensor Vs Cadence Sensor Pedal Assist
E-bikes equipped with pedal assist have sensors that tell the pedal-assist system when to engage the motor and how much power to apply to the rear wheel. There are two different pedal assistance sensor systems available: torque sensors and cadence sensors. Most e-bikes have either one or the other. Some have both.
Torque Sensor Pedal Assist
Torque sensors use a precision strain gauge to measure if you are pedaling and how hard you are pedaling. They measure the force that you are applying to the pedals up to 1000 times per second.
The sensor relays this information to the bike’s control system or computer. The computer then adjusts the amount of electric assist for you based on your pedaling power.
When you pedal harder, the motor’s output increases. When you pedal softer, the system reduces the motor’s power output. If you stop pedaling, the motor stops providing assistance.
Pros and Cons
This system feels very intuitive and smooth while riding. The reason is that torque sensors react more quickly to changes in the rider’s pedaling power. They almost change in real-time. The connection between the rider and the motor feels much more direct because of this.
Torque sensors are often found on higher-end e-bikes. In some parts of the world, torque sensors are required. The main drawback of torque sensors is the cost. The technology is much more advanced than cadence sensors.
Cadence Sensor Pedal Assist
Cadence sensors tell the motor to engage when you begin pedaling. The system works with a magnet mounted on the crank. Some cadence sensors can only tell if you are pedaling. Some can count the revolutions to determine how fast you’re pedaling. Cadence sensors cannot tell how hard you’re pedaling. This system is often found on lower-end e-bikes.
There are a number of different cadence sensor systems available. The most simple systems work like an on/off switch. When the magnet moves, the sensor tells the motor to engage. When the magnet stops, the motor cuts off.
More advanced cadence sensor systems can vary the power automatically based on the rate of pedal revolutions. For example, when you’re first starting out, the system might work at 100% power. Once you reach a certain pre-defined threshold the system may cut down to 50% power.
Many cadence sensor pedal-assist e-bikes offer several settings that allow you to adjust the amount of assistance. You can usually adjust this setting manually on the handlebar-mounted display.
Pros and Cons
The main benefit to cadence sensor pedal assist is that it is inexpensive. The technology is pretty simple. This allows manufacturers to offer pedal-assist on low-end e-bikes. This system also works well for people with knee problems because it takes very little pressure on the pedals to engage the system.
The main disadvantage of cadence sensors is that they make the pedal-assist feel less intuitive. The ride might feel a bit jerky or rough. This happens because the system can’t adjust as quickly to changes in your pedaling speed. Some systems cant adjust at all. They just provide a constant amount of power.
E-Bike Motors: Hub Drive Vs Mid Drive
Hub-drive e-bikes place the motor in one of the bike’s hubs. The motor propels the bike by spinning the wheel where it is mounted. This was the most common design when e-bikes were first introduced. It is also common on lower-end e-bikes. Most e-bike conversion kits use hub motors as well.
Mid-drive e-bikes place the motor in the center of the bike near the crank at the bottom bracket. These transfer power from the motor to the bike’s rear-wheel through the chain. This design is becoming increasingly more popular. You find mid-drive motors on all high-end e-bikes.
In this section, I list the pros and cons of hub drive motors (including front and rear hub motors), as well as mid-drive motors.
Hub Drive Pros
- Less maintenance- All of the motor components are sealed inside of the hub. Because the system is enclosed, there is nothing for you to maintain. Hub motors don’t connect to the bike’s drive system so they don’t put any additional stress on the chain or shifters.
- Redundancy- Hub motors work independently from the drive system on your bicycle. This means you could still ride home even if your chain broke. If your hub motor fails, you can still ride normally by pedaling. You basically have a backup drive system if one fails.
- Less mechanically complex- There are two types of hub motors: geared and gearless. Gearless hub motors have no moving parts inside other than the bearings. There is really nothing mechanical that can wear out. Rust or worn out bearings are the only things to look out for. Other than that, these motors can last pretty much forever. Geared hub motors, on the other hand, use internal planetary gears to reduce the RPMs of the motor. Over time, the gears can wear down and eventually strip. These are a weak spot that will eventually cause the motor to fail. Having said this, geared hub motors are still less mechanically complex than mid-drive motors.
- Easy to replace- When the motor eventually dies, you can easily swap it out for a new one.
- Cheaper- Hub motors are mass-produced. The designs have also remained unchanged. They are also not bike specific. Any hub motor works on pretty much any bike. For these reasons, prices are low.
- Can be retrofitted to most bikes- You can convert pretty much any bike into an electric bike by installing an e-bike conversion kit. These almost always use a hub motor.
Your drive system may last longer- If you’re using a throttle, your drive system will sit idle while you use the motor. Your chain, cassette, and chainrings don’t wear while they’re not being used.
Hub Drive Cons
- Hub motors only have one gear ratio- This means you can’t change the motor’s gearing to help you up a steep hill or cruise faster on flat surfaces. Ideally, you would choose a higher torque gear for climbing and a faster gear for cruising on flat roads. This is is the case with almost all hub motors.
- Less efficient- Because of the lack of gears, you don’t have as much control over the RPM of your motor. You can’t shift to a higher torque gear to climb a hill. You end up depleting your battery faster.
- Harder to change tires or repair flats- To remove the wheel, you’ll need to disconnect the motor. The wheel is slightly harder to work with due to the added weight of the hub motor. It’s also more fragile.
- Heavier- Hub motors typically weigh more than mid-drive motors.
- The ride may be rougher- The weight of the motor is unsprung. By that, I mean that your bike’s suspension system doesn’t hold the weight of the motor. This can reduce the efficacy of your bike’s suspension system. The added weight of the motor in the wheel can make bumps in the road feel a bit rougher as well.
- Can limit component choices- Due to the added width of hub motors, you limit your choices of cassettes. Usually, 7 speed is the largest you can fit.
Hub motors usually use cadence sensors or a throttle instead of torque sensors- When it comes to controlling the power to the wheel, cadence sensors are a bit less intuitive than torque sensors. They often feel jerky and a bit rough.
- The bike can become unbalanced- Hub motors put a lot of weight on either the front or rear of your bike. This can make the bike front or rear heavy.
Front Vs Rear Hub Motors: Pros and Cons
Hub motors can be installed in either the front or rear hub. Each setup has its own set of benefits and drawbacks.
Front Hub Motor Pros
- Front hub motors help distribute weight better- Most bikes naturally have more weight on the rear. Installing the motor in the front hub can help balance the bike. This can improve ride quality.
- Front tires generally get fewer flats- You won’t have to disconnect the motor and remove the wheel as often. Repairing a rear flat will be easier without the added weight and complexity of the motor.
- Better parts compatibility- The motor is completely separate from the drive system. This reduces the likelihood of encountering compatibility issues. Particularly with the cassette.
Front Hub Motor Cons
- Usually limited to throttle-controlled- Because they aren’t connected to the drivetrain, front hub motors usually don’t offer pedal assist. There are exceptions to this. For example, the Brompton folding e-bike has a front hub motor that offers pedal assist.
- Problems with traction- Because most of a bicycle’s weight sits on the rear wheel, you can easily lose traction on some surfaces. You might burn out if you give it too much power.
- Can damage the fork and headset over time- Forks aren’t quite as robust as rear dropouts. A front hub motor can put additional stress on the forks and can damage them over time. For this reason, it’s best to limit the front hub to 750 watts or less. The constant pulling can also put more stress on the headset. You might need to grease or replace it more often.
Rear Hub Motor Pros
- Better traction- More weight sits on the back of the bike. You won’t burn out while accelerating hard.
- Compatible with pedal assist and throttle- Rear hub motors often offer both drive systems. You can usually switch between the two with a button.
- More sporty ride feel- For whatever reason, it feels better to be pushed by the rear wheel rather than pulled by the front wheel. Maybe this is why almost all sports cars are rear wheel drive.
- Easier on the frame- The rear dropouts are much stronger than the fork. You don’t have to worry about wear and tear on the fork and headset.
Rear Hub Motor Cons
- Slightly harder to fix flats- The rear hub ties in with the bike’s drivetrain. This can make repairing flats a bit more complicated because you have to deal with the chain and motor.
- Compatibility issues- Due to the width of the hub, you limit your cassette options with most models.
- Worse handling- Rear hub motors unevenly distribute weight in the rear of the bike. Particularly if the battery is mounted on the rear rack.
Mid Drive Pros
- You can use the bike’s gears- This is the biggest benefit of mid-drive motors. The motor sends power to the rear wheel through the same chain that you use to pedal. This means you can gear down to climb a hill and gear up for speed on flat surfaces. This allows you to tackle more varied terrain more easily. For this reason, mid-drive motors are better for off-road use.
- More efficient- Having the ability to change the gear ratio means you can keep the bike in the ideal gear for the terrain you’re riding. This helps you save power and improves range. For example, it doesn’t make sense to run at a high RPM on a flat surface. You can gear up so your motor isn’t working so hard.
- More torque- Shifting into a low gear allows you to power up steep hills or accelerate quickly from a stop.
- Longer lasting- Mid-drive motors don’t have to work as hard because they can take advantage of the bike’s gears. This means they are less likely to overheat on steep hills or burn out from extended use.
- Better weight distribution- Having the motor mounted in the middle of the bike distributes weight more evenly over the front and rear wheels.
- Smaller and Lighter- Generally speaking, a mid-drive motor weighs less than a hub drive motor. They are physically smaller as well.
- Easier to change and repair tires- You don’t’ have to deal with a heavy and fragile motor in your hubs when removing your wheels to change the tires or repair a flat. You don’t have to disconnect the motor either.
- Greater parts compatibility- You can use whatever rims, hubs, spokes, brakes, and tires that you want. You aren’t limited by the odd-sized hub motor.
- Most mid-drive motors use torque sensors- This makes your pedal assist smoother and faster to respond.
- Stealthier- Because the motors are smaller and lighter, they can be integrated into the e bike’s frame. This way, many people won’t even realize that your bike is electric when you speed by.
Mid Drive Cons
- Mid-drive motors are hard on your bike’s drivetrain- While casually cycling, the average person puts out about 100-150 watts of power. During a hard sprint, you might put out 250-300 watts. A mid-drive motor can run at 250-750 watts continuously. That’s the equivalent of having a pro cyclist hammer on your pedals as hard as they possibly can all day. Cheap cassettes and chains can’t put up with that much stress. You’ll probably end up going through more drive parts. Most e-bikes come with premium chains that are built for strength. Belt drive e-bikes are also available. This solves the problem but comes at an added cost.
- More expensive- Mid-drive motors are mostly found on higher-end electric bikes. One of the reasons is that they can’t be mass-produced as easily because they are generally designed for specific bike frames. Often times the motor is built into the frame. The technology is also a bit newer than hub motors.
- More complex- Mid-drive e-bike motors have more moving parts than hub drives. This means there are more points of possible failure. The added complexity can reduce reliability.
- Mid-drive e-bike motors are usually built into the frame- This looks cool but makes the motors harder and more expensive to repair or replace if something fails. You can’t easily swap out the motor like you can with a hub drive.
- You can’t shift gears while under power- The torque of the engine will damage or break the chain. Some e-bikes have a button on the handlebars that momentarily disconnects the motor so you can shift. Otherwise, you’ll have to let off the throttle and pedal when you want to shift gears.
A Note About E-Bike Motor Size
Electric bike motor sizes are measured in watts. The more watts, the more powerful the motor. The most common sizes are 200w, 250w, 350w, 500w, 750w, and 1000w. Larger motors in the 1100-1500 watt range are also available. One thing to remember when choosing a motor is the bigger the motor, the bigger battery you’ll need to power it.
Before choosing a motor size, you’ll also want to read up on the local laws regarding electric bikes to find out if there is a motor size limit where you live. For example, in much of Europe, China, and Japan, e-bikes are limited to 250w motors if you want to ride without a license. In the United States, most places limit e-bike motor size to 750w.
Having said this, in many places laws regarding e-bikes aren’t really enforced. If you obey the rules of the road, your chances of getting pulled over and ticketed for riding an overpowered bike are slim. Most police officers couldn’t identify the size of an e-bike motor by looking at it unless they look at the sticker on the side. Of course, it’s always best to obey the law.
Below, I’ll outline a few of the benefits and drawbacks of the more common motor sizes.
- 250-watt motors- These are the standard in much of the world. 250-watt e-bike motors work great for shorter rides of 10-15 miles. On a flat surface, they reach a top speed of around 20 mph. These work great with pedal assist but are a bit underpowered for throttle control. Steep hills can be a challenge due to the lack of power. One benefit of having a smaller motor is that they use less power. You can get away with a smaller, cheaper, and lighter battery. This motor size works great for exercise bikes because they don’t do all of the work for you.
- 350-watt motors- This motor size offers a nice extra boost of power over 250w e-bikes. The extra power helps greatly with climbing hills. This size is also a good choice for heavier riders. 350w e-bikes are still a bit underpowered for throttle control. You’ll have to pedal when climbing hills.
- 500-watt motors- This motor size is a great choice for longer journeys of 20-40 miles where you plan to encounter some serious hills. They also work well for commuting. You’ll still have to pedal uphill but you probably won’t break a sweat. Heavy riders will also benefit from the extra power. A 500-watt motor should be able to reach a top speed of around 28 mph. These work great with pedal-assist or throttle controls. The drawback is that you’ll need a bigger and more expensive battery if you want a decent range.
- 750-watt motors- This motor size provides some serious power. Enough power to haul you up most hills without pedaling. These are great for those who need performance. They are also powerful enough for off-road riding.
- 1000+ watt motors- These usually require some type of license to ride. In many parts of the world, they are illegal. With over 1000 watts of power, you can ride your bike basically like a moped. You don’t have to pedal if you don’t want to. These are great for riding at high speeds or riding through very hilly places.
One thing to remember is that you don’t need to use all of your bike’s power all the time. It’s nice to have some extra get up and go when you need it. Your motor will probably last longer as well because you aren’t running it at full speed all the time.
Electric Bicycle Batteries
The battery is probably the most expensive component of your e-bike. In some cases, the battery alone costs as much as the rest of the bike. There are two types of e-bike battery technologies available: lithium and lead-acid. When selecting a battery, you will want to consider the capacity, cost, lifespan, weight, and time it takes to charge. In this section, I’ll outline each to help you decide.
Lithium Vs Lead Acid Electric Bike Batteries
- Lithium E-Bike Batteries-These days, almost all e-bikes use lithium-ion (Li-Ion) or Lithium Polymer (LiPo) batteries. These are the same battery technologies that are used in phones. The battery packs are made up of many cells. Lithium e-bike batteries usually last 500-2000 charge cycles before they need to be replaced. Charge times usually range from 4-6 hours. Some lithium batteries offer a quick charge option where they reach 80% of capacity in just over an hour. Lithium batteries are pretty light at just 5-8 pounds. Expect a range of about 20 miles (32 km) from a battery of this size. Unfortunately, lithium batteries expensive at around $500-$800. They often cost as much as the rest of the bike.
- Lead-Acid E-Bike Batteries- Some lower end or older e-bikes use lead-acid batteries. This is the same battery technology that is used in car batteries. These batteries are significantly larger than lithium options at around 30-40 pounds. Lead-acid batteries also don’t last nearly as long. Most need to be replaced after 200-300 charge cycles. Charge times range form 5-8 hours. No quick charge option is available. Lead-acid e-bike batteries cost around $150. Even though lead-acid batteries cost much less than lithium, they can cost more in the long run because they need to be replaced about 4 times as often.
E-Bike Battery Capacity
One of the most important e-bike battery specifications to consider is battery capacity. This determines the range you can get out of your e-bike. The best way to measure battery capacity is in watt-hours (Wh). Watt-hours basically tells you how much energy your e-bike battery can hold. This allows you to compare different batteries apples to apples.
Usually, the battery’s watt-hours will be listed in the bike’s specifications. If you need to calculate the watt-hours by yourself, simply multiply the volts by the amp hours (Ah). These measurements are always given. For example, you have a 24-volt battery with 20 Ah, you get 24 x 20=480 Watt-hours.
Once you know the battery’s watt-hours, you can compare different batteries directly. For example, maybe one bike has a 500 Wh battery and another has a 200 Wh battery. You know that the 500 Wh battery will offer more range because it holds more energy, assuming everything else is equal.
A good way to think about watt-hours is the number of watts that the battery can run at continuously for 1 hour. For example, a 500 Wh battery can run at 500 watts for 1 hour. The same battery could run at 250 watts for 2 hours. This will give you an idea of how long your battery will last depending on the size of your e bike’s motor.
Voltage is described as the ‘force’ or ‘pressure’ of electricity. Electric bike motors are designed to work within a specific voltage range. Common e-bike voltages include 24v, 36v, and 48v. 52v is now available. Higher voltage e-bikes have better performance. Your battery needs to deliver power in the voltage range of your motor.
For more technical info on e-bike batteries, check out this excellent guide from ebikekit.com.
Amps and Amp Hours (Ah)
Amps are a measurement of electrical current. Amp-hours is the number of amps your battery can sustain for 1 hour. Most e-bike batteries are either 6, 10, or 20 amp-hours. This number will be listed in your battery’s specs.
To make sure a particular battery is compatible with your bike, you’ll need to look at the specs of your bike’s controller. This component controls the amps that are allowed to travel between your bike’s battery to the motor. It essentially limits the max power and speed of your bike.
One of the most important specifications to consider when shopping for an e-bike is the range you can get out of the battery. This is the distance you can travel on a full charge. Most e-bikes have a range of 20-35 miles before they need to be recharged.
E-bike manufacturers love to exaggerate the range. In the marketing material, they often tell you the range you can expect under ideal conditions. In the real world, your range will be significantly lower. E-bike range depends on the following factors:
- Battery capacity- The more energy that the battery can hold, the longer the range.
- Motor size- Larger motors use more energy to power. The average e-bike motor is 250 watts. Motors over 1000 watts are available. A 500w motor will deplete a 500 Wh battery in 1 hour if it is run at full power. Of course, you don’t have to use all of the power available. Higher voltage motors use more power than lower voltage motors.
- The weight of the rider, bike, and gear- The lighter the payload, the longer range you’ll get.
- Age of the battery- Batteries degrade over time. A brand new battery offers a better range than a battery that has been charged and drained 1000 times. Because of this, you need to be careful when buying used batteries.
- The speed you want to travel- The faster you go, the shorter your range will be. This happens because wind resistance increases as your speed increases. For example, your range might be 30 miles if you limit yourself to 10 mph. If you want to ride 20 mph, you might only get 15 miles of range.
- Tire type and pressure- Hard and narrow road tires have less rolling resistance. They offer better range. Wide off-road tires have more rolling resistance. They take more energy to keep them rolling.
- Grade of hills and road conditions- Rough roads and steep hills will reduce your range. They take more energy to ride.
- Temperature- Batteries drain faster in cold weather. If the outside temperature is below freezing, you’ll probably see a reduction in range. During the winter, it’s a good idea to take your battery indoors with you so it doesn’t get too cold.
- Wind- A headwind creates more air resistance that your motor has to overcome. You’ll use more power and your range will decline.
- Bike geometry and your riding position- An aerodynamic riding position allows you to achieve a greater range because your body creates less drag. An upright riding position causes more drag and reduces range. Your riding position is particularly important at speeds above 15-20 mph. This is when aerodynamics really start to matter.
- Whether you’re using pedal-assist or a throttle- Pedal-assist e-bikes have greater range because the motor isn’t doing all of the work. Your legs are helping as well. With a throttle, the motor and battery do all of the work. This takes more energy and reduces your range.
- The mode that the bike is set in- Most e-bikes offer a range of settings. For example, maybe a sport mode offers faster acceleration. An energy savings mode could limit speed and acceleration to save power.
E-Bike Battery Placement Options
The battery is probably the most expensive and most fragile component on your e-bike. It’s also heavy. You want to mount your battery in the safest place where it is unlikely to be damaged during an accident. You also want to consider the weight. The bike should be balanced so handling doesn’t suffer. A few options include:
- Down tube mounted battery pack- These batteries mount to the water bottle attachment points on the down tube. It places the weight centrally and fairly low to the ground. This keeps the bike balanced and keeps the center of gravity low. The frame and cranks provide some protection for the battery in the event of an accident. Down tube mounted battery packs are also visually appealing. This is probably the most common e-bike battery placement location these days. Particularly on mid to high-end e-bikes. Some manufacturers partially integrate the battery into the down tube.
- Rear cargo rack-mounted battery- This is a common mounting point on lower-end e-bikes. Probably because it’s easy and there is plenty of space for a large lead-acid battery. The drawback is that cargo rack mounted batteries raise your center of gravity and make the rear of the bike very heavy. This can hurt handling and make lifting the bike awkward. The battery also takes up much of your luggage space. Some e-bikes have a welded-on rear rack for the battery.
- Triangle bag mounted battery- Inside the triangle is probably the best place to mount your battery. A simple option is to simply store your battery in a bikepacking style triangle bag. These attach to your bike’s triangle tubes with velcro or straps. The battery simply sits inside. The bag closes with a zipper.
- Seat tube mounted battery pack- The battery mounts to the water bottle attachment points on the seat tube. This is very similar to mounting the battery to the down tube. The weight of the battery sits near the center of the bike. This helps with balance and handling.
- Backpack- With this option, you simply carry the battery on your back in a backpack. A wire runs from the backpack to the bike. This works well if you ride a full suspension e-bike that can’t accommodate a battery in the triangle because of the shock absorber in the middle of the bike. The biggest drawback to this system is that you have to wear a backpack. This gets uncomfortable fast. The battery can also get hot which will cause you to sweat. In my opinion, this is the worst e-bike battery placement option.
A Note About Electric Bike Conversion Kits
If you’re on a tight budget, your best option is to install an electric bike conversion kit on your existing bike. This way, you’re not buying a whole new bike, just the components that you need.
Several different styles of e-bike conversion kits are available. You can choose from front or rear hub motors as well as mid-drive. You can choose from pedal assist and throttle versions as well.
After deciding on the design you want, the easiest option is to buy a complete kit. These usually cost about $200-$300 and include everything you need to make the conversion with the exception of the battery.
Electric Bicycle Conversion Kits Include:
- Electric bike motor- Hub motors usually come fully built into a wheel. Sometimes a tire is included. Mid-drive motors usually come with crank arms and pedals.
- Motor controller- This is the e-bike’s computer. It tells the motor what to do based on the input from all of the bike’s electric components as well as your inputs from the handlebar-mounted display. It also controls the power from the battery to the motor.
- Handlebar-mounted display- This is the screen that tells you information about your battery status, speed, and settings. They are usually LED or LCD screens.
- Throttle- This will be a twist or thumb style throttle that you mount to your handlebars to control the power to the motor. If the kit only has pedal assist, you won’t have a throttle.
- Pedal-assist sensor- This piece mounts near the crank. It tells the motor your cadence so it knows how much to assist you. Not all e-bike conversion kits offer pedal assist. Some just have a throttle.
- Freewheel or cassette- If you’re buying a rear hub motor, a compatible freewheel or cassette is usually included. If you’re buying a front hub or mid-drive motor kit, you can use your existing freewheel or cassette that is already on the bike.
- Brake levers with safety switches- Most e-bike kits come with a new set of brake levers that include switches that automatically shut the motor of when you apply the brakes. This is a nice safety feature. You don’t need these to use the bike but they are legally required in some places.
- Torque arm- This is basically a brace for your dropouts to protect them from the additional torque that the motor produces. It’s a metal piece that just bolts on. You need this because e-bike motors apply much more torque than normal cycling.
- Installation hardware- Complete kits include all of the bolts, washers, nuts, zip ties, etc. that you’ll need to install everything.
- Manual- This includes installation instructions.
These kits are fairly easy to install. The job takes just a couple of hours if you’re comfortable working on bikes. For the most part, it’s just a matter of mounting the parts and plugging everything in. If you’re like me and you’re not much of a mechanic, the job will probably take most of an afternoon.
A Note About Batteries for Electric Bicycle Conversion Kits
Most e-bike conversion kits don’t include the battery. The reason is that many riders want to choose their own battery size for the range they desire. A battery costs an additional $200-$500 depending on the size and quality.
E-bike motors have a voltage range that they are designed to work within. More powerful motors require higher voltage batteries. Make sure you buy a battery with the proper voltage. The most common e-bike voltages are 36 V and 48 V but you’ll find batteries with everything from 24-72 volts. You’ll want to consider the amp hours as well to make sure your battery is compatible with the controller. The e-bike conversion kit manual will usually tell you the specifications you need to look for in a battery.
Building Your Own E-Bike Battery
If you’re comfortable working with electronics, you can build your own lithium e-bike battery. If you already have the required tools, you could save a considerable amount of money this way. You could probably build an average-sized battery for around $150. That’s around half the price of a pre-built battery. As an added benefit, you know your battery is built right and with high-quality components if you build it yourself.
Building an e-bike battery involves connecting individual 18650 lithium-ion cells into a large battery pack. These are the same cells that are used in electric cars like Teslas as well as many laptops and other electronic devices.
Things You’ll Need to Build Your Own E-Bike Battery Include:
- 18650 cells- These cost $3-$4 apiece. You’ll need around 30 for an average-sized battery. Try to choose cells from name brands like Samsung or Panasonic. They are the safest, longest-lasting, and most reliable.
- Nickel strip- This is the material that connects the batteries. Make sure you get pure nickel strip, not steel coated nickel strip.
- Spot welder- This machine welds the nickel tape to the batteries. You can buy a low-end Chinese made spot welder for around $100-$200.
Battery management system (BMS)- This is an electronic device that you connect to your battery that protects the battery cells and your charger.
- Voltmeter- To measure the voltage of each battery to ensure that they are up to spec.
- Hot glue gun and glue- To glue the batteries together so they stay in place.
- Soldering iron and solder- To solder on BMS wires.
- Electrical connectors- For connecting wires.
- Shrinkwrap and foam padding- For protecting the battery once it’s finished.
- Heat gun or hairdryer- For applying the shrink wrap.
To help you out, check out this guide to building a DIY Electric bike battery from Ebikeschool.com.
How Much Do Electric Bikes Cost?
These days, there are dozens of companies manufacturing e-bikes all around the world. Between the increase in popularity and competition over the past decade, prices have decreased considerably. These days, you can find an e-bike on almost any budget.
The cheapest option is to build your own e-bike from a conversion kit. You can buy a decent hub drive kit for around $200 and build a battery for about another $150-200. If you don’t already have a bike, you could pick up a decent used one for around $100 or less.
If you’re willing to put in some work, you could build yourself a quality e-bike for around $500. The problem is that you can really only hit this price point if you already have the tools you need.
If you want to buy a pre-built e-bike, there are three main price tiers to consider:
- Low-end e-bikes start around $600- These models are usually made by Chinese companies and are sold online. They use mass-produced hub motors. These work well and are fairly reliable. The problem is that the components used on these bikes are low end. Performance and reliability can suffer because of this. The battery quality might also be questionable. If you’re looking for an e-bike for casual use, these low-end models work just fine.
- Mid-range e-bikes go for around $1200-$2000- This is the sweet spot in terms of value. In this price range, you’ll get a mid-range bike with reliable components that will perform well and last. Most mid-range e-bikes use a chain drive and derailleur drive train with a hub motor. E-bikes in this price range make excellent commuters. They are reliable enough for heavy use and affordable enough for most commuters’ transportation budget.
- High-end e-bike options start around $3000 and from there the sky is the limit- In this price range, you can get all the bells and whistles you want including an internal gear hub, a mid-drive motor, belt drive, built-in lights, large high-quality battery, and more.
A Note About E-Bike Maintenance Cost
Maintaining an electric bicycle is significantly more expensive than a non-powered bike. For the most part, e-bike maintenance is the same as a regular bicycle in terms of the type of labor involved. The difference is the frequency of maintenance and the type of parts you have to buy.
The biggest expense you need to factor in is a new battery every 1-3 years. This will cost you $250-$800 every time depending on the size and type of battery your bike uses. Exactly how often you need to replace your battery depends on how often you ride, the conditions you ride in, and how well you care for your battery.
Most e-bike batteries last between 500 and 1000 charge cycles before the performance begins to decline. Assuming a new battery costs you $500 and lasts 2 years, you end up paying $250 per year or about $20.83 per month.
Another added expense of e-bikes is that you’ll probably have to do standard maintenance and replace consumable parts slightly more often. The reason for this is that people tend to ride further, faster, and rack up more miles on their electric bikes than they do on non-powered bikes. The higher average speed of e-bikes also causes faster wear and tear on certain components like tires, chains, and brake pads. This equates to more frequent maintenance.
Yet another added cost is that you’ll need to use higher-quality replacement parts. For example, e-bikes usually require stronger, higher-end chains due to the added torque of the motor.
Cheap chains work find under human power but a 750-watt motor will break them quickly. You’ll also need tires that are rated for high-speed use. The manufacturer will usually indicate if tires are suitable for e-bikes. These tires cost a bit more.
You can do the maintenance work yourself with a few simple tools and a bit of time or pay someone to do it for you. If you take your e-bike to a bike shop, expect to spend $75-$100 in labor every 1000-2000 miles that you ride. You’ll also have to consider the cost of parts.
Final Thoughts About The Types of Electric Bikes
Electric bikes are becoming a major part of the cycling industry. In some parts of the world, they account for up to 50% of new bikes sold. E-bikes are incredibly popular among commuters, casual riders, older riders, and those who ride for exercise.
When it comes to choosing an e-bike for your style of riding, you have a number of decisions to make including hub drive vs mid-drive, pedal-assist vs throttle, motor size, battery size, and more. The options are overwhelming. Hopefully, this guide helps you with your decision.
If you’re still not sure if e-bikes are for you, check out my pros and cons list
Do you ride an electric bike? Share your experience in the comments below!
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