Electric Bike vs. Regular Bike

Court

Administrator
Staff member
Hi guys! I'm moving some content off of the main site and into the most relevant categories of the forum. This post was originally made on September 3rd 2012:

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Electric bikes offer the benefit of increased range, decreased joint pain, and less sweat on hot days... they bring the benefits of being able to ride on sidewalks, cut through parks and store inside, which are not possible for mopeds and motorcycles. You also don’t need a license in many cases to ride an electric bike so it can easily substitute for a car in short range, lower speed scenarios.

The first thing people usually notice about electric bikes is their weight. While they’re not nearly as heavy as a motorcycle or moped, most ebikes still weigh in excess of 50 pounds and that’s pretty heavy compared with a traditional bicycle! The average mountain bike weighs just 25 pounds and road bikes weigh much less because they usually don’t have suspension systems. The weight of an electric bike makes it much harder to cary up stairs, load into a car or maneuver into a bike rack. It also makes it harder to simply pedal and stop…

I think the truth about ebikes is that most people don’t pedal them when they ride. Those pedals are really just there to save your butt if the battery runs out on the way home and create a safe, slow appearance. When you combine pedals with a speed limiter (set at 20 miles per hour on most electric bikes) you get a vehicle that is legally classified as a bike and thus enjoys many of the same benefits and freedoms such riding on sidewalks and bike lanes.

I bought my first electric bike when my knee started hurting from riding my regular bike.

I was riding my bike to and from work every day, just three miles each way, but there was a really long hill in the middle of the ride that took a lot of strength to finish. Even though I’m a fit person and could usually finish the hill without reaching physical exhaustion, I started experiencing a lot of pain in my Iliotibial band and on the outside of my knee. I was diagnosed with ITBS, “IT band syndrom” by a physical trainer and we concluded that my bike riding routine was the primary cause.

The repeated flexion and extension of my knee during the daily ride combined with my relative inactivity at the office, sitting in a chair at the computer, caused an imbalance in the muscular and tissue structure of my leg. The best thing for me would really walking to work but that would take too long and be uncomfortable with my laptop and documents. I could always just take the car but parking is a hassle, it’s expensive and it’s bad for the environment! The purchase of an electric bike solved all of this and even though it made me feel old and weak at first, I realized that it actually empowers me and is safer and more affordable than a gas powered machine.

In my opinion the limited speed and power of electric bikes makes them much safer than motorcycles or even cars in many situations.

When you’re in the mindset of riding a bike you act like a bicyclist and stay clear of heavy traffic and intersections. On my ride to and from work I cut through a park, cruise along a bike path and duck right into a parking garage that has a free covered storage rack! It actually takes me less time to get into work than driving a car because I don’t get caught in rush hour. And while I am exposed to a bit more exhaust fumes than I would be if I were in my car with filtered air conditioning blowing, I’m not breathing as hard as if I were on my regular bike and thus, it sort of nets out.

One other big advantage of electric bikes, or bikes in general, is that you can grab a drink or two with friends after work and then walk your bike home. This doesn’t work with cars, you just have to take a cab or get a ride instead. I find it refreshing and liberating to take this approach and I’ve found myself being more social than if I had taken the car to work. For people who may have lost their license due to age or a legal infraction, ebikes can really set you free.

When it’s time for a workout I still love riding my old fashioned bike and I’m able to do it in beautiful uncrowded places that fit my workout and physical needs. My electric bike really is more like a car for me than a bike and that’s a good thing. The real takeaway here is that higher powered electric bikes are a better fit for most riders when they realize when and how they use their bikes. I hope these thoughts help you discover the best fit for your commute because there is a whole range of bikes to choose from out there. Newcomers to the technology are usually disappointed after just a few short months of using a cheaper, lower powered solution and in some cases people give up entirely. This almost happened to me when I first started out and I lost a lot of money selling my first ebike used on Craigslist and then upgrading to a higher powered model.

My favorite bikes usually have brushless hub motors rated at 350 Watts or higher. The top speed is still limited to 20mph but the power makes the ride much more satisfying and helps a lot with hills, wind and acceleration from complete stop at a light or stop sign. It also makes carrying groceries or supplies a lot easier and means you’ll use the bike more often. Check out my full list of electric bikes that’s sortable by price, power and weight.

Pros of Electric Bikes:
  • less hard on knees and joints than riding a traditional bicycle
  • won’t get hot riding up hills, won’t struggle riding in the wind
  • get to ride on sidewalks, through parks and in bike lanes
  • don’t need a driver’s license to ride in most cases
  • more upright seating position than traditional bikes can reduce back and neck pain and also gives the rider a better perspective to watch for obstacles and cars
  • cheaper and more environmentally friendly than driving a car, no insurance, no gas (1 mile on an ebike costs just about half of one cent!)
  • helps you avoid rush hour
  • can walk the bike if you’re in a state where driving would be irresponsible or dangerous
  • get fresh air and a friendlier vibe from pedestrians and other bikers, more social than driving
  • ebikes are harder to steal than traditional bikes because many require a key to operate and they are heavier to move
Cons of Electric Bikes:
  • heavier than traditional bicycles
  • more expensive than most mid-grade traditional bicycles
  • harder to move and carry up stairs
  • expensive battery replacement (lead acid lasts a couple years ~500 cycles, lithium ion lasts three to five ~1,500 cycles)
  • tires get flats easier because the bikes are heavy 50+ pounds
  • tires are harder to change, motors and controllers can cost more to fix than traditional bike tune ups
  • less of a workout than riding a bike
  • parking is usually easier and faster on an electric bike than with a car but may be harder than with a regular bike
 
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Court

Administrator
Staff member
Following are some of the original comments that were made on that post:

DENIS CARRUTHERS
Yes, there are pros and cons of electric bikes, but to me personally I ride my ebike very regularly because I actually enjoy it! I do not particularly enjoy riding a normal bike for any distance and consequently for many years I never rode a bike at all. I feel sure I am now getting regular (albeit it moderate) aerobic exercise pedalling my ebike, which surely has to beat getting no exercise from not riding at all?

COURT
I agree with you Denis, I’ve been cycling a lot more since purchasing an electric bike :)

FREDRIK HANSSON
Hmm.. so 6 out of 10 pros is if compared to a car rather than a regular bike. If you compare a car to a helicopter the car will be much better going to work with, right? And please, do NOT say that an electric bike is environmental friendly! The increased use of Lithium-ion batteries and neodymium magnets is a ticking environmental disaster and China is controlling 95% of the market which makes it even more problematic. Electric bikes is good for people with physical problems that can not ride a regular bike but in general there are no benefits other than laziness.

COURT
Thanks for sharing your opinion, some of your statements use broad strokes and feel emotionally charged. In my opinion there’s a range of benefits from ebikes, cars and helicopters. Lithium-ion batteries are more efficiently recycled today than ever before (most Best Buy stores accept them) and the reduction in localized pollution with an ever-improving electrical grid opens up new possibilities for solar and wind generated power vs. oil which is often produced in unstable nations using environmentally destructive processes. Everything that anything does has an impact… so be conscious of yours, I take care of my stuff and use it in a way that benefits my life while considering the impact it has on my community (including animals and plants). I am not perfect and certainly an ebike (just as a bat) can be used for pleasure with friends or to harm depending on the choices made by the individual wielding it.

FREDRIK HANSSON
Yes, it makes me upset with all the biased marketing that electric bikes get without being objective and see the reality. You say nothing about the cons an electric bike have compared to a car, why? No cargo space, only takes one person, rider gets wet when it is raining etc.. there are lots of cons taking a bike to work instead of a car but you only mention the pros which is common in articles about electric bikes. Recycling is getting better but that does not mean it is good, only 60% of lithium-ion batteries are recycled. Lithium is also mostly found in South America, manufactured in China and shipped to Europe and USA. Environmental friendly?

COURT
I’m focused on ebikes because that’s what this site is about. I do compare cars and other vehicles on occasion but could easily run into scope creep and overwhelm readers who are here predominantly for ebikes. I am not a marketing agency, I do independent reviews. If we’d like to see more Lithium batteries recycled it is within our power to encourage friends and family to identify and execute drop off at places like Best Buy. I do not condemn South America, China or other nations who produce Lithium products as my insight into their culture is limited. Instead, I value our business relationships which foster peace and tend to usher in safer working environments and higher wages as local economies develop.

ANDREA
For cargo you use panniers, baskets and/or a pull behind trailer. For rain you use a raincoat, poncho, rain suit… If you are only one person you are not pulling around 3 empty seats like in a car. If there is another person – get them a bike too. Cars use SLA batteries that also require replacement and disposal… As far as being lazy, many people, like myself, are unable to ride a non-e assist bicycle. With the e-motor I am able to get exercise without hurting myself, I am able to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine as well as the beautiful scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Where exactly is the downside?

TEKNIGHT RIDER
First let me say thank you Court for all your hard and valuable work. I have learned so much in one really late night. ;-) I’ve traveled to several conventions, so nice to Austin TX again, too.
Anyway…My Questions….
1. Being from Salem, Oregon…I was wandering how an eBike would hold up if it happened to rain or get wet?
2. And would the Bosch Mid-Drive be better than say a rear hub motor from Easy Motion?
I”m big guy 6′-5″ 300lbs. and am hoping to get more exercise, too (but could really see the fun in an eBike as well…where it would be nice to ride to work without becoming a sweaty pig). ;-)
I’ve had a 1987 Schwinn Sierra w/23″ frame…and had just recently bought a new Trek Marlin 5 for my adult daughter (and it is fast with those 29″ tires…things have changed a lot). So now to keep up with her, I was thinking about a Trek DS 8.5 w/22.5 frame as my old Schwinn really does hurt my hands from my seat having to be so high compared to my handle bars. (I just changed my grips to some Bontrager Stelite Elite Grips…and that has helped a little, but by the time they get me a higher handle bar and change my cables and everything…it will be expensive on the ole girl).
So now, after discovering eBikes and reading several of your reviews on Easy Motion, Kalkhoff, and Haibike…now I’m seriously considering an Easy Motion EVO City or EVO Cross. I think I would like the bike to keep going if I stopped peddling for a lil’ while (so I think I’d like rear hub motor), and I like the way the Easy Motion’s look like a regular bike (probably more the Cross than the City). But the city has all the fenders & rack that I was going to put on a new Trek DS 8.5, too. Kinda of wish there was a frame of the Cross with all the stuff from City on it.
Well, thanks again for you do…it has been super helpful to a detailed guy like me. (PS after your tests…would would you think would be best for a big guy and being more upright?…the Cross w/22″ or a City w/21.5″)

TEKNIGHT RIDER
Thanks so much again for everything Court (and for those water & maintenance related links, too…VERY helpful).
Today I discovered the TREK XM700+ I hope you’ll have a review on that soon…I rode its lil’ brother the Trek Conduit+ down at Scott’s Cycle. And it was not bad at all (even though I know nothing about Shimano’s Systems). But the Conduit+ without any front suspension…I just thought it was a lil’ harsh riding…where the Trek XM700+ uses a BOSCH system with a lil’ Bontrager mono shock on the front…they will have one in a few days). Plus, these new eBikes from Trek come in LOTS of frame sizes…on the XM700+ as big as 23.6″…so this may be my new ride. ;-)
Late this afternoon, I went and rode an eMotion Nitro City, and a demo Cross…every lil’ thing you mention in your reviews are EXACTLY right on money!!!
So, after riding the 19.6″ frame of the Nitro City…I’ve now learned frame size doesn’t necessary mean all that much until a person actually sits on a bike and rides it. For me, it’s really more about the handle bars and their height in relation to the seat (and like your reviews said…the eMotion handle bars are shorter than others, too). Plus, I will have to say that I liked the better 30 Speed Shimano XT components that were on the Nitro City (almost seems like for the price eMotion should put the better XT components on all their bikes…just my two cents for an eMotion Factory Rep). ;-)
The handle bar on the Nitro City was straight and much higher (compared to the Cross), but the other surprise was that the Nitro City really didn’t seem all that much more powerful to me. I mean, I could tell it could go faster but not much difference in my humble opinion. I really liked its looks, BUT the big problem was that my heal and shoe side would hit it’s wider frame and that permanent kickstand that it has…so that is a no go…plus it was a lot more money anyway ($3,700 on Sale), which was a great price from $4,400…so if a person wants one from Eugene Oregon (they’ve got one). :)
The Demo Cross they had did not ride correctly at all (it was actually braking itself in the rear, so something was wrong with its motor or something). It was not at all like the two other Crosses I’d ridden (2 in Portland & anther new one in Eugene, too).
I hope to ride the Trek XM700+ soon (I think I will be forgetting about the accelerator real quick). ;-) As the more eBikes I test the more I see what you mean about Mid-Drives…I don’t see myself wanting to get out of the assist modes or using it like a Moped as much as I had initially envisioned. ;-)
Thanks again for all you do…it is greatly appreciated!!!!!!

COURT
Cool! It’s awesome to hear that the reviews matched your experience, I try to be thorough but constructive and also keep it entertaining. It’s interesting to read your comment about the bars, adjusting fit and the motor power thing on the Evo vs the Nitro… I agree that the upgraded motor just doesn’t feel like a whole lot extra power. Good luck finding the bike of your dreams, the Trek sounds promising and I’ll keep an eye out to review those in the future :D

JEROME
Thank you for the article it was informing. I am a big guy 6 feet and over 330 pounds. I need to bike because of arthritis in both knees and ankle. My question I am struggling with deciding between the bionx 500 conversion kits vs. the trek xm700+. The trek 2016 model is in and cost more than the bionx 500 with less power as well 350 vs. 500. I am looking to commute to work taking the scenic route which would add 10 miles to a 3 mile ride or longer depending on how far out I go. The extended distance does include some serious hills that I definitely can not do own my own power. I test rode both and feel both will suit my needs but due to the regeneration of the bionx 500 d I was leaning in that direction also it is several hundreds dollars cheaper. Also I am trying to wrap my head around the whole cheating thing vs. hard work and just pedal through and get better.

COURT
Hi Jerome! Great questions, I think both motor systems from BionX are great and they do both offer regeneration (all of BionX motor kits do). I was surprised to hear you say that the 500 D was cheaper, sounds like a good deal! Keep in mind if you get a kit you also need a battery and that could add to the price, installation can also be time consuming or cost more if the shop does it. Some of the Trek ebikes come with BionX preinstalled, I also really like the bikes from OHM and they have the D-Series installed which would give you more power for climbing. You are taller and heavier than me and I’ve heard that over 200 lbs it’s best to step up to larger 500+ watt motors so again, the D-Series sounds perfect and it’s better at dealing with heat as well. Hope this helps! In no way do I feel like ebikes are “cheating”. That’s like saying that typing with a laptop vs. a typewriter is “cheating” when really it’s just improving how fast you can type and reducing carpel tunnel. Ebikes are great for people who have knee pain (like me) or want to commute further or just reduce how hot they get while riding. You don’t have to use the motor… you can still pedal like normal but having the option for extra help means you will tend to ride more often and go further. It saves gas, reduces traffic congestion and exposes you to friendly people in the community… bicycles are great and ebikes are just fancy bicycles with more versatility :)

ADAM
Hi Court, Thanks so much for all of the great info. I live in a rural community about 1.5 hours by car from the nearest electric bike shop. I’m concerned about my ability to do on the road repairs or to get the bike fixed if broken. My wife and I live in northern New Mexico and are looking for bikes we can ride in the country on mostly paved and some gravel roads. Any models you would suggest or other advice? Thanks!!!

COURT
Hi Adam! Glad you’re enjoying the site… I’d love to help but there are so many variables here including your height, weight and budget. If I were in your position, even though it sounds like a long drive, I’d probably visit the local ebike shop to do some test rides because they might set it up for you properly and offer ongoing repairs as a part of the purchase. If you go and feel pressured or like there just isn’t the right bike for your needs then use EBR to explore more options and maybe get one online to be shipped. You might know more then and have a better time searching or asking for feedback in the forums Q&A section here.

ELSEVER
Hello. If i ended electric can i use this regular bike? Electric bikes can use regular bike?

COURT
Hi Elsever! Yes, nearly every electric bike I have tested can be pedaled just like a traditional unpowered bicycle. This is useful if you run out of batteries or decide you just want to carry less weight (some ebikes let you remove the battery pack). When you are choosing an electric bicycle to buy I would consider how many gears it offers if you plan to pedal without the electric power, some ebikes only offer one gear and this is less comfortable with more weight. Electric bikes tend to be heavier than normal bikes because of the motor, controller, wires and displays and the battery but sometimes the frames are also heavier to be strong. I hope this helps!

BIKERJOHN
An interesting article but a faulty idea expressed can make a point which seems too limiting. Such is the situation with this statement: “I think the truth about ebikes is that most people don’t pedal them when they ride. Those pedals are really just there to save your butt if the battery runs out on the way home and create a safe, slow appearance.” I don’t want to be disputatious, but that is really a broad brushed statement. Statements like that can have an effect of justifying the ignorance of typical bike club elitists. Here is a link to a forum blog where you can read some comments from non-electric cyclists which express a somewhat close-minded perspective about e-bikes.
The reality is that there are more cost-effective alternatives (with more features built in) for electric vehicles that one can just sit on and not pedal such as the Daymak scooters. Actually, I think the truth about ebikes is that most people will find they can commute a distance quicker and safer, using as much or as little effort as they choose to use. When compared to commuting on a bike without a motor, The ebike is superior with regard to a variability of effort while maintaining maneuverability and a greater margin of safety. Here is an interesting link from an article on the perspective of a more traditional bike commuter.

COURT
I agree that bicycles and electric bikes tend to be safer because they can be used on trails and sidewalks vs. riding in the street with cars. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and those links :)

TODD NELSON
I second the assessment of a faulty idea expressed in the opinion “I think the truth about ebikes is that most people don’t pedal them when they ride. Those pedals are really just there to save your butt if the battery runs out on the way home and create a safe, slow appearance.”
Is that an opinion based on personal experience, observation or an assumption? I’d be really interested to know if there has been a reputable study done to support that opinion. Bikerjohn makes the point of how enabling an ebike is for commuting. Another important pro that you missed is that an electric assist can “level the field” for someone who would like to ride with others but struggles to keep up or can’t muster the endurance. It can help physically limited or rehabilitating cyclists gain strength and endurance while cycling with others, motivating them more to get in shape. Your opinion expresses an unfortunate bias of those who are looking for a way to take it easy. Please don’t associate it with the benefits of electric bikes without stating an equally, if not more significant benefit of enabling people to get in shape in a fun way.
Further, to suggest that pedals are merely to “create a safe, slow appearance” reflects a serious bias against human-powered transportation. Pedals make bicycles, including ebikes, what they are.
Also, bicyclists should not ride on sidewalks. It is not safer. Sidewalks are dangerous for bicyclists at intersections and for pedestrians who are not expecting a fast-moving bicyclist, especially when stepping out of a doorway or coming around a blind corner. In many areas, bicycling on sidewalks is a violation of local ordinance. Biking on streets is safer than sidewalks and some bike lanes. Ebikes actually make it easier to bike on streets with traffic for anyone who is a competent vehicle operator, familiar with the rules of the road.
**Check out this link, especially the fifth section, “Wouldn’t you just be safer biking on the sidewalk?”**

CHERYL ALLEN-MUNLEY
Love my EBike – It is liberating to bike wherever I please. I can zoom down valleys without dreading the climb on the other side. I can take streets named Pleasant View without worrying about the climb and being actually able to enjoy the view. I can go grocery shopping without worrying about lugging the weight back home. Since I bought my Ebike, my cycling miles have more than doubled. One caution, with the additional speed and weight, a helmet is a must. Lots of attractive helmets at bandboxllc.com

COURT
Hi Cheryl, you’ve made a bunch of great points about how enjoyable and empowering electric bicycles can be. Thanks for the link to BandBox, those are indeed some very cool helmets :D

LYNN MARIE
I have the Pedego Interceptor which I love but it is heavier than a regular bike. These bikes are for those of us who are shorter. I.E. 24″ wheels. I love that when there is a hill, I’m able to adjust pedal assist to help me power up the hill with ease and with the throttle, I don’t have to pedal at all. Sometimes I do just to keep the appearance of pedaling or to keep aerobic. At the end of, what I’d consider, a long ride; I am never exhausted like some people with regular bikes are. I feel fine and always am able to enjoy the environment because I don’t need to put so much effort into the biking part of the experience. All in all, I’m happy with my bike and hope to have the same one for years to come!

AL
i agree. i have the ridge rider i do get flats from road debris . do you?

LYNN MAGENHEIMER
NO, I have not gotten a flat but i have two types of tire reinforcements installed in the tires.

TERRY V
Hi, Just wondering if a Bosch CX mtb set on Eco mode would be a close speed/power to riding with my fit mtb friends? Or would I still be faster on the climbs with 50 lb pedal assist bike?

COURT
Hi Terry! My experience riding with the lower levels of assist using the Bosch Centerdrive has been that it’s much easier to slow down and wait for friends or take it easy than it is to accidentally go too fast. The drive system measures rear wheel speed, pedal cadence and torque so if you decide don’t push as hard you won’t get as much power and that means you’ll ride or climb slower. However, if you wanted to keep up with your friend on a difficult trail I think the two lowest modes of assist would work out (especially if you’re active) because it’s still going to require effort and balance to ride but the exhausting strain and cardio overload that usually comes with prolonged climbing will be much lower. I hope I understood correctly and that this answers your question? Feel free to clarify :)

JACQUES
I am 67 years old and 6’4″ and 250 lbs. NEED TO MAKE THE CHOSE BETWEEN A GIANT’S QUICK-E+ OR A TREK’s DUAL SPORT +. NEED YOUR EXPERTISE.THANKS

COURT
Hi Jacques, I like that the Giant electric bike comes with fenders, a rear rack and lights… The Trek Dual Sport doesn’t offer the same features which could come in handy at night or if it’s wet outside. The only trade-off is if you don’t need those accessories. I do like the Trek ebikes and the Dual Sport might be more comfortable with the front suspension. I hope this helps guide you… I believe that both models come in several sizes for a good fit at least :)

JUDY BURGERE
Hello,
I think the e-bikes are really fun to ride. I am 5′ 3″ 156 pounds and 68 years old. I want a pass through bike that’s ez to get on and off. I want a lighter bike but really don’t want to spend more than $2500. Can I use my regular bike seat on an e-bike? What bikes would you recommend?
Thanx for your time and consideration.
Judy

COURT
Hi Judy! I believe that Yes, you probably can use your existing seat on most electric bikes. These new ebikes share a lot of similar hardware from regular bicycles and are easy to upgrade and adjust. One product that comes to mind, is the Elby City or OHM City, which both have the step-thru design and some very nice components. I just filmed the OHM City but have not posted it yet… keep an eye out in the coming weeks! This is just one idea, you could also post in the EBR forums and ask for advice from other riders and maybe the moderator, Ann M, will help you out too :)