A Quick Quide To Buying an E-BikeSeptember 8, 2022
If you’re new to e-bikes, the sheer range on offer can be mind-boggling. So how should you go about choosing the right bike for you? Today we’ll aim to guide you through the maze of buying them with a few simple bits of advice from people who have been riding e-bikes for years…
Do Some Testing
If you don’t have a friend that can lend you an e-bike for a short while why not seek out your closest specialist dealer, by which I mean a dealer who stocks a good selection of e-bike brands. Definitely ring first to ensure that they’ll be ready to devote some time to you and have bikes ready to try. then if you do decide to buy from them the backup of a local dealer is invaluable, especially in the event of anything going wrong. They’ll also be able to carry out any modifications or servicing you can’t do yourself.
Alternatively, attend a local e-bike event. These offer an excellent opportunity to try several different electric bikes in one visit and to talk to experienced electric bike dealers and users. Most of these events are free to attend and include a test track where you can try the bikes. Beginners are especially welcome.
Another option is e-bike hire firms (like the ones causing problems in Central London) this offers you a chance to ride for several hours, usually on car-free trails in the city and surrounding countryside.
If however, you’ve taken test rides at the dealers close to you and still don’t think you’ve tried the right bike, it might be time to cast the net wider. After some test-rides you’ll probably now have a better idea of what you want from the bike, so you can draw up your own short-list. Then, you can either seek out dealers who stock those specific bikes – more travelling – or contact the manufacturer or UK distributor. They may well be able to suggest either a dealer or some other opportunity to test ride.
If for whatever reason you’ve not been able to go and test ride bikes, buying by mail order remains an option. Most suppliers now send their bikes almost fully assembled in large boxes, so all you need to do is add the pedals and secure the handlebars. One tip: don’t try to lift the bike out of the top of the box. Instead, cut away one end and roll it out. Much easier! Some even deliver in person instead.
The reason for suggesting test rides as the very first step is simple: no amount of research can substitute for first-hand experience riding several different e-bikes. Your preferences may not be the same as mine or another reviewer’s and only you can decide what works for you.
Test Different types
A bike with ‘torque sensing’ control. This means that rather like power steering on a car, the electric assistance amplifies any effort you put into the pedals, making you feel like you have superhuman legs. This type feels just like a normal bike, but with a tailwind. You do need to be putting some effort (which generates torque, which the sensor measures) through the pedals, though, before you’ll get any assistance from the motor. So you can’t just sit there and let the motor pull you along: instead you’re definitely going to be getting some exercise but without the strain. Often favoured by people who have done a fair bit of unassisted cycling, or those looking for fitness benefits from their electric ride.
A bike with ‘rotation sensor’ control. This means that the motor, when it kicks in, does so at a set level, and it continues until you stop pedalling or squeeze the brakes. It’s the rotation of the pedals which controls when the motor operates. You don’t have to be actually putting an effort into pedalling, you can just be waving them round. Many of these bikes also have a throttle, so you can just sit there and be pulled along, ideal as a ‘get me home’ mode if you run out of puff. You can pedal too, of course, and get quite a workout, especially if the motor assist is set at a low level – but this can take a little discipline! This type of machine is available at all price points.
This is the key distinction in how bikes operate, and the ride sensation is so different between the two that I really would recommend trying both. If not, and you don’t try the type which grabs you, you’ll be really missing out. It’s always puzzled me, incidentally, why no manufacturer has a model which offers both modes, so the user could switch between them. Maybe one day they will.
Consider Buying Second-hand
Buying e-bikes second-hand can be a good way to test the waters at an affordable price, but I’d hesitate to go down this route unless you have some experience with e-bikes or a knowledgeable friend who can help. With enough research, you may well be able to pin down the approximate age of a bike from just a picture. Much over two years old and you’re likely to have to factor in the cost of a new battery before long as the original may well have lost a good part of its ability to hold a charge. Check that compatible replacements are available before you even contact them.
If you have a valued existing bike, it may be a good idea to add an electric assist kit to it, rather than buy a whole new bike. This is especially the case if the bike is unusual in some way or modified, so a direct electric replacement may not be available. Kits are available at all price levels, with both torque sensing and rotation sensor controls, and as either crank drives or hub motors. We’ve reviewed several in the magazine. Again, please do test ride both types first – then choose which you want in kit form.
Most of the electric kit suppliers now prefer to work through dealers, who supply the kits and fit them – and then provide service and warranty support. And the best news is very few bikes can’t be successfully converted provided you are technically minded and confident.
I hope this information is useful to someone. It really is a case of trying and testing at least one kind of e-bike before you fork out money on it as it can be rather a pretty penny.