Choosing an Electric Bike - An Easy Guide

Choosing an Electric Bike - An Easy Guide

Choosing an electric bike can quickly become an overwhelming experience if you are new to cycling.

At Chic à Vélo we want to encourage people to cycle and help make the cycling experience more fun! In this article we cut through all the complexity and give you a simple guide to choosing an electric bike.

I've been cycling for over 20 years and running our leisure cycling holidays at our sister business, LoireLifeCycling, for 14 years. We have a fleet of electric bikes and traditional bikes and went through a long selection process when buying the electric bikes.

We don't sell electric bikes, and we are not affiliated to any manufacturers. So there are no product recommendations here. If we can help you choose an electric bike, then you might just want to try some of our great cycling apparel so you can 'look good, feel good and enjoy the ride' even more! It's early days for us at the moment, but you can sign up for our newsletter below and be the first to find out about our new products!

Why buy an E-Bike?

Choosing an electric bike (commonly known as an e-bike) is a great way to get into cycling as a fun leisure activity, and one that will also help your physical and mental health. You don't need to be super fit to start, and you will get fitter the more you ride.

I was sceptical at first, thinking that e-bikes were the lazy alternative to a traditional bike. Now I'm a complete convert and ride both an e-bike and traditional bike depending on my mood and where, and how far, I'm going.

Electric bikes:

  • make cycling accessible to everyone and have opened up cycling to a generation of people who thought their cycling days were over;
  • can be a great, environmentally friendly alternative to the car for short journeys;
  • enable you to cycle further than you would on a traditional bike; and
  • are great fun to ride!

What is an electric bike?

An electric bike provides assistance to your pedalling via an electric motor. Electricity comes from a removeable battery fitted to the bike. To recharge the battery, simply remove and recharge using a normal plug socket in your home.

An e-bike is simple to use - you pedal and you control how much assistance the motor gives you. On most electric bikes there is no electric power without you pedalling, so you are always putting in some effort!

When choosing an electric bike, companies have added lots of marketing spin to differentiate their products, but cut through the spin and they are simply a powered bike.

What does riding an e-bike feel like?

If you can ride a standard bike you can ride an e-bike!

An e-bike is heavier than a standard bike - the electric motor and battery account for this, but the powered assistance cancels out this weight disadvantage. The riding sensation may feel different due to the motor. An e-bike's motor can be located on the front wheel, on the rear wheel or as part of the pedal assembly in the middle (the crank). This affects how the bike feels when riding.

A motor on the front wheel gives you a slight pulling sensation, on the rear wheel you'll get a pushing sensation and in the middle you'll get neither. Whichever e-bike you choose, you'll get used to the sensation very quickly.

In terms of riding an e-bike, the only difference is at the start, when you switch on the power and set the initial assistance level. Then, as you ride you increase or decrease the level of assistance using a controller on the handle bar. On most models, the second you stop pedalling the motor stops assisting you.

The maximum assisted speed is also limited. On our e-bikes once you reach 26km/h the motor stops assisting you - so you'll never have the sensation that the bike is running away with you.

Choosing an e-bike - front wheel motors
A front wheel motor

What type of e-bike do I need?

When choosing an electric bike you need one that is going to make you smile so much that you keep cycling just for the fun of it!

And if you want to stay smiling, you need to search out a good quality brand using an established bike shop that can provide you with great aftersales support. My advice is don't buy a cheap model from the supermarket or the internet - the components are weak along with dreadful or non-existent aftersales support. As a guide, your minimum outlay for a quality electric bike will be around €1,300 (£1,100).

Ignoring the electric element for the moment. Pick a style of bike that you find comfortable to ride - just like you would for a standard bike. For example you might prefer a step-through model (so you don't struggle to get your leg over the saddle!) or a more upright riding position.

E-bikes come in all shapes and sizes and you need one that you feel comfortable on - there is no right or wrong answer. Remember, you can change out components like the saddle. Don't dismiss a bike if it feels great, but the saddle is uncomfortable - that's easy to fix.

Once you have picked a style of bike, then it's time to look at the e-bike specific choices you need to make. For me, there are three key things to think about:

Choosing an electric bike - How far are you going to cycle?

E-bikes are powered by a battery which on a ride could eventually run out of power - then the only power you have is your legs!

Batteries come with different power capacities - so some will give you 50kms of assistance before running out and others 80kms or even more. The further a battery lasts the more expensive the battery is. The distance you will get from a battery is also affected by the weight of the rider, the number of up-hill stretches you do and the amount of assistance you select on the controller.

You can upgrade batteries later on if you find you want to cover longer distances, or even carry a fully charged spare in your pannier (although they weigh a couple of kilos).

If you are going to be riding with other e-bikers, make sure you get a bike that covers the distance that the rest of the group can do, or your socialising may be curtailed when your battery runs out!

Choosing an e-bike - Where are you riding your e-bike?

If you'll be riding off-road on bridle ways and forest tracks you'll need an e-bike with chunky tyres. If you live somewhere really hilly then discount the e-bikes with the motors on the front wheel, as the wheel can spin and struggle with steep inclines. Also, with hillier terrain think about a more powerful battery as you will be using the assistance more.

For a more level terrain, with low to moderate hills, a motor at the front will be sufficient and may also be less expensive than a motor in the crank (middle).

Choosing an electric bike - Simplicity of controls

Every e-bike will have a control panel for regulating your speed and telling you how much battery you have left.

The electric bike I ride is the most simple. It has an on/off switch, a button for increasing assistance and one for decreasing assistance. It has two gauges showing the assistance level and battery level. I do 65km rides on mine and have never needed any other function! One great thing - my e-bike has a little USB charger plug, so I can charge my mobile phone whilst riding.

At the other end of the scale, some e-bikes have a small screen with lots of information and ways to regulate the bike's functions. Of course, the price goes up with the complexity.
The choice is yours, although even with all the cycling I do, I've never needed the extra complexity. Maybe keeping it simple is sensible.

A simple control panel

Choosing an e-bike - Useful extras

Bike manufacturers add all sorts of extras to their bikes to make them more appealing (and more expensive). Here are some of the useful extras that are worth looking out for:

  • An assistance setting for walking - when the motor makes pushing the bike easier;
  • USB slot so you can charge your phone whilst riding;
  • Front and back lights powered by the bike battery and controlled from the panel;
  • An integrated bike lock;
  • A rear rack, so you can hang bike panniers or a basket.

Buying an e-bike

Online retailing has been hard for independent bike shops. However, there is an upside. Those shops that remain are great at what they do - poor bike shops went out of business long ago.

So when choosing an electric bike, the best place to buy one is your local established bike shop. You'll find someone who knows what they are talking about, is interested and can provide great after sales support. Any good bike shop will let you try before you buy. If you are buying your first e-bike this is really important. You might pay more than an online retailer, but you'll be getting great advice. Better still, the bike will be assembled for you.

Top Tips when choosing an electric bike

  • Don't go too cheap. Supermarket specials look tempting, but after sales service is poor and quality low;
  • Choose a battery size that will last the distance. Get a powerful battery if you're of a larger build, or live in a hilly part of the world;
  • Think about the motor position (front, middle or back) - this can also affect the price;
  • Buy from your local independent bike shop - they are experts, so use their expertise;
  • Don't be confused by all the extras and complexity - keep it simple and keep this article in mind when you're choosing;
  • Above all - have fun!

Follow the journey!

Here at Chic à Vélo we are designing a range of stylish women's cycling clothing that would be perfect when you are on your electric bike. Launching in Spring 2023, you can follow the journey by subscribing to our newsletter.

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