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Which Electric Bike is Right for You?

Today’s E-Bike Wednesday Guest Article is brought to you by Dan Woodard. Dan designs and builds custom electric bikes. He quit his high-tech engineering job to follow his passion in electric bikes. Follow his blog where he shares his experiences.

If you have considered buying an electric bike, there are many configurations and options to choose from.. In this article I’ll focus in on some of the considerations that might make your decision easier.

Background on E-Bike Purchasing

There are many reasons why people choose to own an electric bike. There are folks who commute but don’t want to arrive all sweaty. They are capable of riding without assist but use their electric bikes as a car alternative.
Many people like to ride but are not conditioned to ride long distances. Some are getting older or have injuries that prevent them from riding far or often.

A growing number of people have completely replaced their cars with electric bikes. They use them to haul cargo and for all other transportation needs.

Which electric bike is right for you?

It depends on what you are going to use it for. Thinking about the above reasons and how they apply to you will help narrow your search.

There are many choices for electric bikes today with more and more coming onto the market. This is good for selection and price but not so good if you are a first time buyer trying to decide what all the options are. When considering your options there are many things you should think about.

Main Decision Points

Do you want to buy a complete electric bike or convert an existing bike. There are many advantages to buying a complete electric bike.. If there is a local bike shop that carries electric bikes, you can test ride to select the one that feels right for you. You will also have a place to take it when it needs service. If you buy one online, you will have to pick one without a test ride and either service it yourself or find someone locally. There are a growing number of shops that can work on electric bikes but it may take awhile for one to come to a town near you.

If you want to convert an existing bike to electric, there are many choices and technical details. Just like the growing number of compete bikes, there are a growing number of conversion kits to choose from, too many to list here. Also note, not all bikes are compatible with an electric conversion.

If you have a favorite bike and are mechanically inclined, electric conversion could be a good way to go. That is the path that I have taken. You can read more about that on my blog Electric Bike Building.

Converting an existing bike to electric can also be accomplished at select bike shops. That way you can use your favorite bike and not have to do the work yourself. This will require having a bike shop in your area that can do this for you.

Details, Details, Details

There are a lot of details, too many to cover in one article. I’ll be covering more of these electric bike details in the future. I’ll also go over the technical details about how they work and what each of the components do. If you have specific questions, leave a comment and I’ll try to answer.

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Are Electric Bikes Part of Our Future

Today’s E-Bike Wednesday Guest Article is brought to you by Elise Giddings. Elise is co-owner of Cycle 9 bike shop in Carrboro, NC, which specializes in electric assist, cargo bikes, commuting and city bikes.

Elise will be featured in one of our upcoming Commute By Bike Podcast, look forward to the series starting next week.

Electric bikes.They’re the buzz word of the bike industry lately.Will 2010 be their year? or will they burn quickly as a fad and fade out as in the past? As a rider and dealer of electric bikes, I’ve watched the offerings grow from small, obscure companies, to today with a plethora of options, including major bike manufacturers jumping on the wagon. I have to say I’m pretty impressed by the offerings. Clearly the industry thinks these are going to be big and small and large companies alike are gambling big bucks on developing products and getting dealers to support them.Will they hit it big? I don’t know, but here are a few of my thoughts on the question.

My first ebike

An electric-assist hub motor

I’ve been interested in electric bikes for many years. My first bike was a ZAP bike in the early 1990s that I shared with my significant other. It employed a roller that went against your tire to help propel you forward, and I used it to assist me on my 12 mile each-way commute across town.The roller system worked ok as long as the road was dry, and you stopped occasionally to adjust the pressure on the tire.The battery was a golf cart battery strapped to the rear rack, and if I spared it’s use to the hills only, it would last all the way to work and half way home before giving up the ghost. But it did provide just enough help for me conquer my commute, a large factor being the few extra minutes it saved me.
By contrast, today’s ebikes are so much better, they barely compare. With my current electric kit, I can easily ride 20 miles or more, keeping my speed at 15-20mph over hills, even with cargo! The kit works reliably rain or shine, and the battery is 3 times the capacity for the same size and weight as my original ZAP kit. But most importantly, the kit has allowed me to free myself from my car, addressing my concerns about peak oil, environmental degradation, and quality of life for me, my kids, and my community.

The oil problem

As bike commuters, we generally understand the benefits of biking versus driving.We know that biking is healthy for us.We know that driving uses lots of resources.We know that our resources are finite and our environment is being polluted. But when I really started looking into the numbers, I was shocked.You see, through a friend I learned about the problem of Peak Oil. Peak Oil ( is the concept that at some point the world will have reached the peak efficiency of oil extraction worldwide.That means that all the easily extracted oil will be used up, and the stuff that’s left will be more difficult, costly, and time consuming to extract. Many geologists argue persuasively that peak oil is at hand, but that we don’t realize it in the marketplace yet.And the recent disaster in the Gulf of Mexico just underscores that drilling for oil is risky and has lots of associated costs.

BP's Deepwater Horizon. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard

Once you dive into the consequences of a future of more expensive and declining supply of oil, all kinds of scary facts start popping out – oil is required for the production of plastics which are critical in the health care industry. It’s heavily embedded in the production and transport of our food supply. It’s used in the pharmaceutical industry, and will be required to manufacture and deploy solar panels, wind turbines, buses, bicycles and all the other elements of an
alternative energy future.
Yet, here we are, burning up oil by driving around. Over 60% ( index.cfm?page=oil_use) of the US oil supply goes to
transportation, much of it personal and short distance.The internal combustion engine uses only 20% of the energy contained in gasoline while the rest is wasted in inefficiencies. And most of the energy consumed in driving is to propel the car – a big, heavy, metal box – not us or our stuff.
Clearly, we need to change ( stop-driving-use-oil-wisely/) our paradigm about transportation if we’re going to have an effect on this problem. And the sooner we can do that, the better off all of us will be. Once I realized this, I thought the best place to start would be with myself. I’ve always been a casual biker, recreationally and for transportation. But I had a problem if I was going to ride my bike more, and it came in the shape of 3 small people.

The kid problem

You see, I had 3 small people under the age of 5 to take care of and not only did they need to be transported,but I needed to have the energy to deal with them. After a lengthy internet search, a cargo bike was selected to transport them. But I didn’t live super close to town, and there were some big hills in the way. I didn’t think I could do it. I could barely pedal the bike up the 1st hill out of the driveway.This is where the electric assist kit transformed this into a realistic solution.

Electric-assist Madsen bike = no car today

With my kit, I can pedal the bike even with 3 kids or a week’s worth of groceries, over 12 miles of hilly terrain. I can do it every day and it doesn’t take forever or leave me sweaty and exhausted. It’s become a realistic and competitive alternative to the car. And in fact, it’s become the preferred option most of the time as everyone enjoys riding the bike more than riding the car, especially Mom!

Setting up this bike actually was a life changing experience for me, so I started a bike shop to help other people realize their own dreams of using their car less and their bikes more. Electric assist has been a big part of this.We help a lot of people like myself who want to electrify cargo bikes.

But we also help a lot of commuters with distances of over 3 miles to go. Some people are even riding 20 miles each way, and the electric assist just makes this commute much faster and more do- able. Instead of bike commuting one day a week, they’re doing it 3 or 5 days. We’ve also helped people with disabilities, people who are out of shape, and people who just want to have more fun riding their bikes. It’s been a pleasure watching all of these people dust off bikes and leave their cars in the garage. In my book, anything that enables people to do that is worth doing.

Would it be “better” if these people were able to bike under their own power without th
e assist? Maybe. But consider again this fact.The energy used by a typical electric bike is about 15 watt-hours (wh) per mile.The energy used by a typical car is 1,580 wh per mile.That means that you can ride your electric bike for 20 miles and use less energy than it would take to drive your car 0.25 mile.That’s a pretty startling statistic.

The adoption of electric bikes

Over the past 20 years, electric bike technology has made huge strides to where it is generally reliable and easy to use.This is not to say that everything out there is quality – there are still a lot of low quality and low powered bikes out there. But companies manufacturing the bikes and kits have started paying attention to what consumers want and I think we’ll see considerable weeding out of the stuff that is not worth it.

One of the biggest barriers to electric bikes in the marketplace that I see today is actually the reluctance of independent bike shops to take them on.Your local bike shop employees are probably dominated by hard core bike enthusiasts who wouldn’t consider an electric bike for themselves, and so are not very interested in selling them. I’ve also seen considerable reluctance on the part of mechanical staff to be interested or even willing to work on electric bikes, simply because it’s something pretty different than what they’ve seen before.The door has been left open for new specialty shops focused on electric bikes to pop up, and also for big-box retailers to get into the market.These retailers, in combination with the internet, have served to grow the market considerably.As the products increase in quality (and thus decrease in maintenance and support), and as consumer demand grows, I think local bike shops will come around.This would be a great thing, because local shops will always be the best place to get the service and support that bikes of all types need.

So, will electric bikes become a big part of the bike industry? My answer is, I sure hope so. The potential they have to encourage and enable people to ride more is huge. Both hard core riders who commute longer distances or are aiming for the car-free lifestyle, and for casual riders who would ride more if it was easier and more convenient. And riding bikes is good for our souls, our communities, and our planet.

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E-Bikes on ABC's Good Morning America

This article is part of our on goingE-Bike Wednesday series.  Every Wednesday we will be touching on something in the electric bike industry in hopes to clear up any e-bike questions or concerns you have.

In honor of National Bike to Work Day the well received, Good Morning America, had a special on electric bikes.

No carbon footprint, no emission, and no noise

A couple notes that was mentioned and I would like to talk about. The above facts were listed and my response is : “Well, not exactly.”

Carbon footprin.  – Riding a bicycle has far less carbon footprint than most modes of transportation..  Creating a bicycle, feeding the human engine and upkeep of a bicycle is financially less than an automobile, but the footprint is much smaller – but there still is a footprint.  There’s a footprint in all we do, but that’s a rant for another post.

No emission – There is no emission from the bicycle but there needs to be some measurement of the electricity it takes to charge the system.

What I mean to say is..

Riding a bicycle is a very green thing to do, an electric bike isn’t as green but a very large step or leap forward compared to other means of transportation.  I don’t want everyone to have construed thoughts on buying an electric bike. I most likely have opened up a can of worms.  As bike commuters we tend to be more eco friendly than most, that may not be the reason you have chosen a bicycle for transportation but for some it is.  It keeps me out of my car for trips under 5 miles if possible..  In a perfect world, I would like to see a fully self charging electric bike system.

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E-Bike 101

A guest article by James Thomas of BicycleDesign.

If you visit cycling websites on a regular basis, you have probably noticed at least a few references to electric bikes lately. New e-bike designs have been popping up in greater numbers at the various bike tradeshows, and electric bikes from companies like Lexus and Volkswagen have been getting a lot of attention from the mainstream press.  As the category continues to grow here in the US, I expect that we will to hear a lot more about e-bikes. Holland, a country that is already known for high rates of transportational cycling, has experienced an e-bike boom in recent years. In 2009, Dutch bike shops made more money from e-bike sales than city bike sales and today, e-bikes account for a quarter of all bicycle sales in Holland by some estimates.

For the most part, the e-bikes that are currently on the market can be divided into three basic categories; throttle assist, pedal assist (pedelec), and throttle only. I’ll go ahead and make it four categories to include the various add-on systems that allow for the conversion of any bike into an electric one. In this post, I will briefly discuss the different categories of e-bikes that you have probably been hearing a lot about lately.

Throttle powered assist e-bikes

The simplest, most straightforward ones on the market. These bikes can come as singlespeeds or with multiple gears. Basically, the rider pedals and shifts as he or she would on a regular bike, but there is a hand operated throttle to provide power from the electric motor when necessary. These bikes are versatile because they can be propelled by the rider only, the motor only, or any combination of the two. The majority of throttle-operated e-bikes have a flat battery pack that is located in a specially designed rear rack and a motor in the rear hub. When you reach your destination, the battery pack can be easily removed from the bike for charging.  Pedego is a good example of a company that makes throttle assist e-bikes in a range of styles.

Pedelec, or pedal electrics

Also referred to as “pedal assist” bikes. With a pedal assist bike, the motor starts contributing to the bike’s motion as soon as the rider starts pedaling. As the rider pedals faster, the power from the motor also increases (until it reaches a preset max speed) effectively amplifying the human power. On a pedelec, the rider has to pedal in order to propel the bike, but the motor provides assistance to allow him or her to cover more ground at a faster pace. The Sanyo Eneloop is one electric assist bike that has been getting a lot of attention lately. That bike features -loop charging’ which means that the battery recharges as the bike is ridden. I had the opportunity to ride an early version of the Eneloop at Interbike last year, and you can read my impressions of the bike here. It is worth mentioning that there is overlap between the throttle operated and pedal assist categories. Some of the iZip bikes from Currie Technologies for example, allow the user to easily switch between throttle and pedal assist modes.

Throttle Only

The third category that I mentioned is “throttle only” for lack of a better term. These are the “e-bikes” on the market that are not really bicycles at all (the YikeBike and the Volkswagen bike that I mentioned earlier are examples that have received a lot of press attention). These e-bikes don’t even have pedals, so they would be better classified as electric scooters. So, you might wonder” why are they referred to as e-bikes? A lot of it has to do with marketing and legal definitions of the term. In many countries, e-bikes can be operated without a license or helmet (unlike an electric scooter or moped), so manufacturers would rather have their vehicles classified that way. As the e-bike category matures and groups representing manufacturers and users debate regulations, hopefully the definitions will become clearer. For now though, don’t be surprised to see mentions of e-bikes that are really just electric scooters in disguise.

E-Bike Conversion Kits

Retrofit e-bike conversion kits come in a variety of types. Systems like the ones available from BionX, with motors that range from 250 to 500 watts, can turn almost any bicycle into a powerful, long-range e-bike. Other kits, like those from Cytronex, and Freedom E-bikes use smaller and lighter batteries to provide just a boost of electric assistance when needed. As battery technology improves, I expect that we will see a greater variety of e-bike conversion kits that are easily to install and remove when not in use.

This post has just scratched the surface regarding the different types of e-bikes, but there is a lot of good information available on the web. The GOOD blog recently posted a helpful article titled “Choosing the Right Electric Bicycle” and forums like Endless Sphere and sites like are consistently good sources for electric bike information. Of course, as e-bikes continue to grow in popularity, you will also see them mentioned more often at my blog, Bicycle Design, and here at Commute by Bike. Even if you don’t feel like an e-bike is in your future, it is definitely an interesting category to keep an eye on.

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New Category : E-Bikes

E-BikeYou’ll be seeing a new category added to Commute by Bike, “E-Bikes.”

We have talked about e-bikes several times in the past and it is always a hot topic for comments. This sector of the cycling industry has been growing weekly with new bikes.  Now, large mainstream media outlets have been featuring the benefits for e-bikes for alternative transportation.

Once a week we will be featuring E-Bike Wednesday. Employing industry insiders with guest articles, interviews and sneak peaks.

We encourage you to give us comments and feedback. If you see something interesting, leave a comment, tweet us or email.

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