Electric Bike FAQ

Basics

Electric bikes, also called eBikes, assist riders using power provided by an integrated motor and battery. Compared to traditional bikes, eBikes provide faster, easier commutes, near-zero emissions, and an enjoyable ride. When compared to traditional bikes, eBikes allow riders to travel longer distances in a shorter amount of time. The added range and electric-assisted pedaling can help replace car trips, ease commutes to work or school, and bridge the gap between public transit and home or your next destination.

Charging times will vary based on the size of the battery, but, generally, it will take 3-5 hours to fully charge an eBike battery using a standard 120-volt outlet typical in most homes and businesses. The charger is supplied with the bike and sometimes the battery can be detached and charged without having to carry the whole bike indoors. Charging with the help of  an extension cord is also fine.

An eBike usually operates in a pedal-assist mode, where the motor provides an extra boost while the rider pedals. Some eBikes have a throttle that can be used for operation in fully electric mode, without pedaling.  A third option is fully manual mode, where the motor is not used at all. In case the battery charge is depleted, the bike can be operated in manual mode,  just like a standard pedal bike

On flat terrain with a low assist level, many eBikes can travel for more than 50 miles on a single charge. However, 30-50 miles is a reliable average. Some models also accept an extra battery for added range. It’s recommended that new owners test battery life on shorter rides to better gauge long-distance endurance.

Various different styles of eBikes are on the market, including city/commuter, cargo, folding, and even three-wheeled bikes. Step-through bikes, without a top frame tube, can provide easier mounting and dismounting. Specialty road, mountain, and tandem bikes are also available.

The US recognizes three classes of eBikes: Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3. The differences between these classes include whether power is provided only when pedaling or controlled by the throttle and the top speed at which the motor can assist the rider (20 MPH or 28 MPH). The differences are summarized in the table below.

Type

Power

Top Speed

Class 1

Pedal-assisted

20 MPH

Class 2

Throttle Controlled

20 MPH

Class 3

Pedal-assisted

28 MPH

 

In general, eBike motors are required to be 750 watts or less. Additionally, riders under the age of 17 are usually required to wear a helmet while riding any eBike, and Class 3 bikes can only be legally ridden by those 16 and older. eBikes mostly have 20, 22, or 26 inch wheels. Other uncommon wheel sizes may also be available in the market. 

Economics

eBikes vary widely in costs based on sizes, specs and capabilities. The prices can range from $500 to $5,000 with the reasonable ones coming in around $1,000-$3,000.

When compared to traditional bikes, eBikes allow riders to travel longer distances in a shorter amount of time. It’s also easier to carry items like groceries etc. If traditional car trips like commutes, grocery shopping, etc. can be replaced by eBikes, then it can save a substantial amount in fuel costs. Due to the relatively small battery, the cost of charging an eBike is almost negligible. Finally, the increased bike trips, even with some assist, can have a positive impact on health and help reduce healthcare costs.

Maintenance

When compared to traditional bikes, eBikes have a motor, battery, and some wires. While traditional minor maintenance is needed for the wheels, brakes, gears, etc., the battery might lose capacity over five or more years and eventually need to be replaced. The good eBikes come with a battery warranty period. The electric motors are usually very robust and rarely need maintenance.

Environment

If traditional gasoline powered car trips are replaced by eBikes, there is definitely a reduction in the amount of greenhouse gases emitted. Even when replacing electric vehicle trips that are not powered by carbon-free electricity, there will be a greenhouse gas reduction as eBikes are more efficient.

Using an eBike

Because eBikes are more expensive than their non-motorized counterparts, they can be targets for theft. The best strategy is to keep your eBike secured in a locked home, access-controlled building, or bike locker. When this isn’t possible, leave your bike in a well-trafficked location for as short a time as possible. Also, invest in a strong U-lock or chain lock that encloses the frame and back wheel, along with a secondary folding or cable lock for the front wheel. Removing the front wheel and locking it with the back wheel works when using a single lock.

When possible, remove your battery and take it with you. Finally, consider getting insurance for your bike in the event it is stolen and make sure to record your serial number in case it is recovered.

If you haven’t ridden a bike very often on public roads, the first step is to become familiar with the basics of signaling turns, navigating intersections, and passing other riders. The League of American Bicyclists has extensive resources on the Smart Cycling section of their web site (https://bikeleague.org/ridesmart). 

Among the important differences for new eBike riders is the eBike’s speed and weight. Although road cyclists often travel at 20 mph or more, casual riders usually do not. Therefore, it’s important to understand that you may have less time to react than you are used to, and traffic may not expect you to be traveling at these higher speeds. In addition, eBikes usually weigh about 20 lbs. more than a traditional bike, so the process of mounting and dismounting will be somewhat different, and braking may take longer despite having stronger disk-style brakes.

Many local transit authorities allow eBikes to use the on-board bike racks. However, keep in mind that eBikes often weigh in excess of 50 pounds and will need to be lifted by the rider. eBikes are also welcome in many trains. However, some transit authorities may prohibit them and have restrictions on weight and tire size.

As eBikes become more common, transit agencies around the country are updating their policies. Check with your local transit authority to understand where and how eBikes can be used on buses, ferries, and trains.

Generally, Class 1 and Class 2 eBikes are allowed on all types of paved trails, including Class 1 (paved, separated bike paths). Class 3 eBikes are not allowed on Class 1 bike paths. Riders should remember that the speed limit on all Class 1 trails is 15 miles per hour. 

In most state parks, Class 1 and Class 2 eBikes are allowed on paved and unpaved trails where traditional bicycles are allowed, but riders should consult park rules before visiting.

In national parks, eBikes are treated like motorized vehicles and are allowed in the same areas and on the same trails used by motorized vehicles. The U.S. Forest Service has about 60,000 miles of trails that are open to Class 1, 2, and 3 eBikes. On Bureau of Land Management (BLM) trails, local land managers set rules on eBike use.

eBikes may not be allowed on unpaved trails and sometimes rules in county parks vary by location.

Incentives

Utilities, counties, Community Choice Aggregators, etc. sometimes offer rebates of various types on electric bikes.