To Buy or Not to Buy: Are Electric Bikes Really Worth It?
Cycling expert Zaal Rottunda takes you through everything you need to know when considering purchasing an electric bike.
Like it or not, electric bikes are growing in popularity and are here to stay for the long haul as part of the portfolio for the sport of cycling. While they remain a polarizing and contentious issue, there is no denying the impact that the emergence of electric bikes, and more specifically pedal-assist electric bikes, has had on the industry. The rise of “e-bikes” has been such a noticeable needle mover that the majority, if not all, of the biggest bicycle manufacturers offer some sort of electric-assist model.
With so much subjective feedback about e-bikes and their benefits, drawbacks, and outside impacts, it can be hard to get the answers you’re looking for before your next big purchase. Because of some tricky grey areas surrounding the differentiation of electric bikes and scooters, we are going to avoid confusion by only discussing bikes that require user input or are “pedal assist.” So, with that, let’s start with the basics.
Yes, You can Still Get a Workout
One of the biggest criticisms levied early in the dawn of the first electric bike, was that it gave riders an easier workout and, to some, felt quite akin to “cheating” the challenge of any particular ride. This narrative typically surrounded the sport-cycling community as opposed to the commuter community, but the point to be made remains the same: you can get one heck of a workout on an e-bike.
Whether you’re on an electric mountain bike, road bike, or commuter, you are in complete control of when you activate the motor, and often you have the ability to adjust how much power or assistance you receive from the motor. I distinctly remember my first thoughts when taking a test ride on my first pedal-assist e-bike, which happened to be a full-suspension mountain bike. My feeling was that the ride was considerably harder than anticipated. Despite the supple suspension and more than capable Bosch electric motor, I was still getting quite the workout. The workout came not only from maintaining momentum, but also just by the sheer fact that I was riding at an accelerated speed and therefore working much harder. With the ability to dictate the difficulty of any given ride, the result is a very welcomed extended range in riding, which allows riders to extend the length of the ride by three times or more!
Types of Electric Bikes
As mentioned above, there is an electric bike for just about every discipline of cycling, from road cycling to downhill mountain biking, with some exceptions of course. Perhaps the most universal are the commuter or hybrid electric bikes, which are heavily relied upon by urban commuters and anyone with an electric bike as their primary transportation method. More recently, bike manufacturers like Trek, Cannondale, Specialized, and even boutique brands like Pinarello have added high-end electric road and mountain options to their catalog. The results of these industry giants wading into the e-bike waters has been phenomenal for riders. This has led to a drastically increased quality and range of bikes in a relatively short time frame.
Who Needs an Ebike?
The answer is, anyone who wants to ride more than they are riding now! Whether you ride already and want to increase your mileage, or if you haven’t ridden in years due to injury or other setbacks, an electric bike can totally redefine or revive your cycling passion. Personally, I have known quite a few people who were taken out of the sport due to injury or even old age, and those same friends were given the confidence and capability to ride again as much as they wanted to and more.
This isn’t to say that they didn’t have a workout on their rides, as often is the assumption. Take for example a friend of mine with a severe hip injury that manifested in extreme groin fatigue and unbearable pain that would occur as a result of hill climbs of any significance. Coming from a lifetime of cycling and being a skilled and athletic rider, the transition to these stunted painful rides was heartbreaking. All that it took was a bit of assist on the climbs, some times more than others, to get this same friend riding more than he ever had in his life. Regardless of what you think of e-bikes and its importance to the sport of cycling, I think we can all agree, getting more people back on bikes is pretty cool.
Let’s Duke It Out: Electric Bike Pros & Cons, & Other Important Notes
- They Can Replace Driving: Depending on where you live, electric bikes can offer an excellent alternative to other more environmentally harmful methods of transportation. Following the rise in remote work and learning, many of us have changed our daily commutes and may now be in the best place we’ve ever been to finally ditch the old clunker for a sweet new electric steed.
- They Keep Getting Better: Over the years e-bikes have evolved from clunky “franken-bikes” that weighed more than their worth in gold, to sophisticatedly designed high-performance machines that deliver the same performance as their purely mechanical counterparts. Add to that the ever-slimming battery designs, constantly improving battery run times, and motor capabilities, it will soon be hard to distinguish electric from non electric bikes. In addition to the aesthetic improvements that follow each new generation of e-bikes, more bike companies are expanding their involvement and catalog to offer both pedal-assist and throttle options, meaning more riding opportunities to the physically impaired or anyone with limitations keeping them from riding to their fullest.
- THEY’RE FUN: I’ve been fortunate during my career in the cycling industry to spend quite a bit of time on electric bikes, riding the best and the worst the category has to offer. What I can confidently say is this: electric bikes are fun. Period. There is a lesson that everyone learns pretty early on as a child and that is if something is good, more of it is better. That rule doesn’t end when we start discussing cycling, and if you had fun on your 15mi ride through a gorgeous mountainside singletrack, chances are you’ll have even more fun on the 30mi ride you could have had on an electric bike.
- They’re Not Cheap: Most likely, if you’ve looked into buying an e-bike, you’ve been hit with the cold slap of reality that is the price tag of an electric bike. You may ask yourself, why is it that they’re almost as expensive as your first car? That’s because they can very easily replace your car! Unfortunately the promise of potential savings from your new life sans automobile may not shield you entirely from the pain of the initial purchase. We therefore suggest you save up and don’t buy something you’ll end up needing to endlessly work on.
- Trail Access can be Tricky: As electric bikes become more and more commonplace, their acceptance and resentment is growing. A large part of the argument against them is the dual threat of the increased weight and potential speed, which could result in more severe injuries and potential trail damage. As a result, you’ll need to be sure that where you are riding your e-bike is an area where ebikes are authorised. If not, you could be ticketed or worse, your bike could be impounded.
- They’re Hefty: Despite the constant upgrades to design, both mechanically and aesthetically, no manufacturer has been able to escape the issue of an electric bike’s weight. Oftentimes boasting lithium ion batteries, rear hub drives, and stout and capable exterior motors, perhaps the only real drawback is the weight. Therefore, you’ll want to cancel any plans you had for roof mounting your e-bike, unless you have some serious overhead lifting strength. An electric bike typically weighs a minimum of 40 lbs, excluding folding bikes.
Electric bikes certainly aren’t for everyone, and that’s fine, because bikes are for everyone, and anything that helps more people ride is undoubtedly a good thing. With a constantly improving platform being refined and reimagined by industry giants, the e-bike scene is definitely one that has something for all. I strongly encourage you grab some friends and demo a few e-bikes before letting anything else influence your opinion on them. If you have any questions about finding the right e-bike for you and your needs, please don't hesitate to reach out to me or one of my fellow Cycling experts here at Curated. Happy trails!