Electric bikes (e-bikes) explained.
(Including suggestions for use in hilly Sheffield)
‘Breeze Easily’ – June 2022 edition.
This article arose from the author and his partner often being asked about their electric bikes back when they were a less familiar sight, and deciding it would be easier and more helpful to give people some written info as well as whatever we could supply ‘on the hoof’!
Although based on our using e-bikes as day to day transport (basically a convenient and fun small car replacement for shopping, social and allotment runs etc), the article, aimed both at people who are new to the idea and contemplating the purchase of an e-bike, and at those who already have one and want to know more about its use and care, gives a general explanation and overview of a wide range of e-bikes suitable for different purposes, and also about their maintenance and where to buy and service them.
It also details how you can most conveniently and safely get around Sheffield and beyond, and gives tips about all sorts of bike related accessories and apparel you may need or wish to purchase to make your riding easier.
We have found that in hilly Sheffield, for everyday utility usage, a more powerful than average motor system will serve you best (more on motors in section 8), hence the overall bias in this article towards good quality e-bikes with stronger mid mounted motors and a good range of gears. (See section 22 below for some possible examples – basically it will usually be a middle of the range model from a well known manufacturer, but these days look out for smaller makers coming into the fray with comparable and high value models.)
I think it is particularly important to consider spending a bit more to get a properly capable model if you are one of the many people that e-bikes are bringing to cycling fresh, without the physical and psychological attributes regular cycling imbue, and/or if you are choosing an e-bike to help overcome a physical deficit or to keep you cycling as you get older and appreciate the help they give compensating for weaker muscles/lungs/heart, dodgier balance etc!
The short version:
After many years of everyday e-bike use our conclusion is that if you want an e-bike to perform loaded utility duties comfortably and reliably (rather than lightly loaded utilty, commuter, leisure or fitness oriented use) the following is the sort of specification you should consider:
For comfortable, reliable and breezy day to day utility e-bike usage around hilly Sheffield, choose an upright-ish seating position ‘Hybrid’ style model with a Mid mounted motor (rather than one with the motor in one of the wheels). It should have at least 50Nm of motor power, at least 8 gears, and be fully kitted out with mudguards, lights and a pannier rack. Secure it with a properly serious lock or two at all times, including at home. Charge the battery little and often, and keep the bike well serviced.
You will find yourself using such a model to do many of the journeys you are currently spending a lot of money on in terms of fuel and running costs, parking charges, or bus, tram and train fares etc. Like us, you may find yourself unexpectedly selling your 2nd vehicle, or even your first!
For less demanding duties or for fitter lighter riders wanting to provide a significant part of the ‘go’ there are now an increasing number of excellent lighter, less powerful e-bikes that will nonetheless provide you with sufficient assistance to make your commute and/or your leisure cycling a breeze. (See section 7 – ‘Lighter Weight e-bikes’.)
And the Long version ……
Contents: (Just click on an item of interest to go straight to it)
- So what exactly is an ‘e-bike’?
- Why might I think of using an e-bike? What advantages do they have?
- But what about the cost? – how much should I pay, how might I finance it?
- Is it still a bicycle?
- So what isn’t a (legal) e-bike?
- What type of e-bike will suit my needs? (Incl folding and Cargo e-bikes)
- Lighter weight e-bikes.
- Which type of electric drive system should I go for – Hub or Mid drive? How powerful a system do i need? Can I convert my own bike?
- But will it run away with me?
- What sort of gears do I need for Sheffield, and how should I use them on an e-bike?
- What sort of batteries do e-bikes have? – How far will it take me?
- How do I Charge and take care of my Battery?
- What Accessories do I need?
- How do I store and keep it secure?
- How should I care for/maintain my e-bike?
- Will I need Insurance or Tax to use my e-bike?
- Do I have to wear special cycle gear?
- Should I arrange some training?
- Where can I go on my e-bike, and who with? (including using trains)
- Where would I find out more/see reviews about e-bikes?
- Where to see/hire/try/buy e-bikes in Sheffield and beyond.
- Recommended e-bikes for use in (hilly) Sheffield.
- Servicing and repairs locally.
- External links.
So what exactly is an ‘e-bike’?
E-bikes – ‘EAPC’s (Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles) or ‘Pedelecs’ come in as many variations as ordinary bikes, and you will find different types described as you read. The type we use for utility and leisure duties around town are essentially just sturdy everyday upright sitting position bicycles built around an electric motor, a battery and a controller.
You still need to pedal before the power cuts in, so it feels just like a ‘normal’ bike. On an e-bike inbuilt sensors detect when and how much you push on the pedal, and then the level of electrical motor power you have pre-selected is automatically added to your efforts.
Note: You have full control over the amount of assistance you want as you pedal. You can choose from low or even none, if you want a good workout, through various levels right up to the top level, which provides a very welcome ‘ just get me home it’s been a long day’ setting!
Most systems give you 3 or 4 levels of assistance to choose from, or indeed no assistance at all if you prefer, eg if you are running low on battery, or just want a good workout on the pedals.
Under UK law that assistance has to be electronically cut out above 15.5mph, but you can then pedal faster than that under your own power, just as on a normal unassisted bike.
On Utility focussed bikes the 30% or so extra weight of the motor, battery, accessories etc, means you mostly find yourself happily bowling along at a nicely assisted 10-15mph. This makes e-bikes ideal for local/urban transport and commuting.
Why might I think of using an e-bike? What advantages do they have?
Convenience: E-biking is a great Active Travel option in hilly, traffic choked cities like Sheffield. Here they achieve good average speeds as you are not slowed down by hills. On e-bikes, urban journeys can be quicker door to door than other transport options.
Confidence: E-bike assistance gives you more confidence on the road, having the power and presence to be more part of the traffic flow. E-bike users notice that even the odd bout of ‘weather’ doesn’t feel as discouraging as it usually does.
Better Route Choices: E-bike power flattens hills and shrinks distances, giving you wider route choices. You can choose to avoid busy polluted main routes and streets whenever you wish, regardless of distance and terrain. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much of your journey in and around your area and the city can be done on dedicated cycle routes and lanes, or via parks and quiet back roads you may currently be unaware of. This minimises the time you spend on or near traffic choked roads and rat runs.
NB: The use of Cycle lanes is not mandatory in the UK, rather it is a choice if the cycle lane is convenient, safe to use and suits your needs, but do remember that you are a road user just like any other, so as long as it is safe to do so, cycle within the law and in accordance with the specific rules for cyclists in the Highway code .This will keep you and other road users safer and better tempered. Please also note the fantastic new Changes to the Highway Code offering greatly enhanced protection for non vehicular road users from January 2022 (Make sure you are looking at the post Jan 29th 2022 version with the new rules regarding vulnerable users.)
Health: Statistically e-biking helps you live longer and with better health due to the gentle cardiac exercise. Research says you breathe in less pollution cycling in traffic than when sitting in a vehicle. See this recent study: ebikes give a good workout
You can carry lots of stuff – and even your kids to school!: We are starting to see UK parents get the continental habit of cycling to school with their children. They know that they both gain the health benefits, and are one less polluting car queuing up to park near the school. They will either cycle with them, or increasingly. seat them on or in their purpose built Cargo type bike. This they also use as general urban transport for a big shop or stuff that would previously have needed a car boot. (eg Tern GSD , Riese + Muller Multicharger, Urban Arrow or similar box in front ‘Long John’ style cargo bikes such as these at the Dutch Cargo Bike shop or by Cube which safely and legally carry two young children).
Equality: e-bikes can help many people have the legs, lungs and confidence to get around their neighbourhood under our own steam, be they previous bike users or not. They lend regular bike users a bit of assistance to help deal with the challenges arising with age or injury, thus ensuring they can still do that cycle tour or keep up with fellow riders on the Derbyshire day ride.
For some people, having assistance might simply mean the difference between being able to use a bike or not. I have a previously non cycling friend with a chronic back condition and asthma who recently achieved a 100 mile e-bike ride on his local lanes and trails!
Fun: Often those who would not or cannot normally cycle any significant distance on an unassisted bike now choose e-bikes for recreational rides up to 50 miles or more. They love the feeling of easily getting out and exploring their local roads, cycle trails and bridleways, and maybe even keeping up with their children and grandchildren!
You don’t need to look like a ‘cyclist’: With electric assistance, you can choose to wear everyday clothing, plus waterproofs if needed, and arrive at your destination in a relaxed, non-sweaty state.
E-bikes are cheap to run…. : After the initial outlay, the mile for mile cost of e-biking is favourable compared to other means of getting about. E-bikes can carry you and any amount of shopping or stuff up to fifty miles or more, door to door, for just a few pence.
Should you wish to, you could use an e-bike to assist you on your journey from Lands End to John O groats and use just £1.50’s worth – yes, that’s one pound and fifty pence of mains electricity – in the process!
…and will Save the World! Did you know that less than 50% of overall vehicle pollution comes out of the exhaust pipe? The majority is the toxic dust and microplastic particles that come off the brakes, clutch, tyres and the road surface itself? These are then wafted back up for you to inhale as the next vehicle passes and eventually washed down to the oceans, where brake and tyre dust is a major pollutant. (Made worse by battery cars – EV’s – sadly, which are heavier.)
Electric vehicles (EV’s) will only rid us of exhaust pollution, nothing else, and still take up a vehicle size footprint on our overcrowded streets and on our pavements….. By contrast, e-bikes produce only a fraction of these pollutants, and use only a fraction of the earth’s resources for their relatively tiny batteries. E-bike batteries weigh around 3kg, compared to 400 – 600kg (yes hundred) for an EV.
E-bikes offer a realistic alternative to many current car and van journeys, and will play their part in the transition that we all urgently have to make to more proportional use of vehicles and more Active Travel patterns….
But what about the (high) cost? – how much should I pay, and how might I finance it?
Experience suggests that nowadays to get even a very basic e-bike for light commute/leisure/local shopping duties in and around hilly Sheffield you will need to spend a minimum of £1200 – £1500. Anything cheaper will be inadequate or unreliable.
NOTE: If you are buying a bike at this super budget price point you should only go for a ‘known’ UK based supplier that has carefully considered and assembled the necessarily low cost parts and can offer genuine post purchase support. Examples include e-bikes in the Halfords range, and Woosh and Kudos brands.
To get a higher quality e-bike that will comfortably and reliably cope with heavier daily utility use or longer leisure rides you should spend £2000 – £3500. This will get you a more natural feeling and efficient Mid drive machine that will have the power, gears and battery capacity for properly relaxed, reliable long term usage around Sheffield and beyond, and with more oomph for utility work around hilly Sheffield. This is particularly important if you are heavy yourself, and/or loading up with stuff.
Yes – that sounds a lot for ‘a bicycle’, but don’t switch off here – we really need now to be thinking of e-bikes in the same ‘transportation costs’ bracket as cars, buses, taxis etc, rather than relative to ‘normal’ (unassisted) bikes.
An e-bike may replace a car – not another conventional bicycle…
Once you have committed to purchasing an e-bike, get the highest spec you can, even if it means a stretch money wise.
Why? – because they realise how much fun and how convenient it is people find themselves using it more than they thought, and perhaps then wanting to increase their bikes’ capabilities and range. Unfortunately, to then upgrade the gearing or battery size on your existing e-bike can be prohibitively expensive, so it is best to get that wider gearing (for easier hills) or larger battery (for greater range) by buying a higher spec model at the point of purchase!
(Note: You can’t increase the original level of motor power of an existing e-bike – legally.)
Just as with ordinary bikes, you should avoid cheaper/unbranded ones. They tend to be underpowered, hard to ride, hard to get parts/service and (usually the electrics) will let you down and it will end up abandoned in the shed.
£1500 – £2000+ will buy you a more natural feeling and efficient Mid drive e-bike with high quality parts and equipment. It will have more oomph for utility work around hilly Sheffield. This is particularly important if you are heavy yourself, and/or loading up with stuff.
Whilst day to day running costs are miniscule compared to a vehicle, this is a significant initial outlay, so maybe have a spin at a trail centre to see how an e-bike feels, or borrow one for a trial period through the Govt/Council funded Cycleboost scheme. Hire one from a local bike shop to see if it meets your needs (see list below), or or get together with family, friends or neighbours and buy shares in a ‘multi-user’ one.
If you decide to buy and want to spread the costs so as to afford a good model, check out dealers and retailers payment schemes (sometimes 0%)
Check if your employer has signed up one of the Govt funded Cycle to Work (C2W) scheme providers. To get a bike (and accessories) on the scheme, your employer needs to have signed up to a provider. These include independent ‘middlemen’ like Cycle Scheme , or retailers like Evans Cycles’ Ride to Work scheme (other retailers also offer the scheme), or now direct to the manufacturer, like the Electric Bike Access scheme from the owners of Raleigh/Haibike and Lapierre brands. Employers can also sign up to schemes with longer payments times as well as high limits, such as the greencommuteinitiative .
If you’re self-employed, you can make use of the scheme if you’re set up in a way which means you’re technically employed by your own limited company. Alternatively, you can buy the bike and claim the VAT back via the business.
The C2W scheme has worked really well for promoting the use of unpowered bikes, and some schemes have recently removed the old £1000 upper limit. This makes the purchase of a good quality e-bike or one of the more costly cargo style bikes a reality.
Note: C2W is a ‘Salary sacrifice’ scheme, meaning monthly payments are taken from your pay before tax is deducted, which benefits you to the tune of 32 – 42% reduction in the bikes RRP, depending which side of £50k salary you are. It also benefits your employer through reduced NI payments. One less attractive implication is that any benefits you have that might be salary based may be reduced proportionately in accordance with the amount being ‘sacrificed’ monthly as bike payment. For example this author was unexpectedly lucky enough to be offered early retirement during the payment period, however his final salary based pension was reduced proportionately, for ever ….
Full details on all this can be found in the very clear Gov doc here
Whilst the scheme also has the attraction of reducing the hassle of choosing and buying an e-bike to a minimum, if you are prepared to put in some time yourself you will have a wider choice, and you may well find a model to suit you at an overall discount similar to that this scheme offers……
Is it still a bicycle?
Yes. Despite the welcome benefit of this assistance to waft you along, e-bikes are legally classed as bicycles, so you can use the many cycle-only cut throughs, cycle lanes, bus lanes and ‘shared use’ pavements to speed up your commute or shopping run, avoiding traffic queues and busy roads, and all with no parking hassles on arrival.
So what isn’t a (legal) e-bike?
The UK legal rated ‘nominal’ or ‘continuous power for one hour’ limit for a standard e-bike system (for public highway use) is 250 watts (peak power can be twice this or more – as much as a pro cyclist in fact!). The maximum assisted speed allowed is 15.5mph. More than 250 watts nominal power or 15.5mph assisted speed and it ceases to be legally classed as a bicycle and effectively becomes a moped, requiring a relevant licence, vehicle registration, helmet wear, insurance etc. Penalties for illegal acts committed on such a bike would then apply to your vehicle licence!
In practice, all e-bikes sold by mainstream UK retailers for use on the public highway are legal, just be careful to check there has been no aftermarket power or speed modifications if buying a used bike. If buying a bike or a DIY system via the internet check that they meet legal requirements.
Speed or ‘S’ Pedelec e-bikes like this look the same as UK legal ones, but top out at 28mph due to more powerful motors and different gearing. You can buy one in the UK, but it needs to be registered/insured/taxed etc just like a moped. Good article on this from e-bike tips here
Note: The one area where the UK deviates from the EU is in allowing the fitting of a ‘Throttle’. In both the UK and the EU a powered ‘Walk’ function is allowed up to 6km/h. (And is sometimes very useful, like when walking the bike up ramps) but in the UK an e-bike may also be fitted with a press button or twist grip throttle, provided it only works when the pedals are being turned, and assistance cuts out at 15.5mph. (In fact it is only a few Chinese component based budget makes that offer this.)
What type of e-bike will suit my needs?
For reliable everyday utility use, buy an e-bike that is powerful, efficient, reliable, feels manageable and pleasant to ride and is equipped for your purposes. Utility e-bikes are relatively heavy at 18 – 25 kg, but pricier ones have a better quality frame and cycle parts, and so are easier and more pleasant to ride with the assistance switched off or using lower levels of assistance when you choose to.
Consider the best frame type for your purposes. The ‘trapeze’ (see Cube bikes recommended below) or deeper ‘step through’ frame types are a great Unisex option for hopping on and off around town. They generally offer more adjustability of saddle height than the more usual ‘crossbar’ style frame, and so are better able to be adjusted for multiple users with different rider/saddle heights.
The deeper ‘Dutch style’ unisex step through models (sometimes archaically marketed as Womens’ models) tend to have higher set handlebars and a more upright sitting position giving good control and visibility – ideal for urban duties, whatever your gender!
Other bike types:
e-bike power is particularly suitable for shifting heavy or bulky stuff in the guise of electrically assisted Cargo bikes. Cargo bikes present a flexible and green option for ‘last mile’ Urban deliveries and delivery/hire schemes are sprouting up in the UK using Cargo bikes. One manufacturer is offering direct rent/buy options to businesses.
Bosch have even produced an extra beefy motor for cargo bike duties.
You can ferry the kids to school in comfort, or legally carry a passenger, besides a car boot full of stuff, or a Christmas tree…
A 65Kg load or a (legal) passenger capacity ‘Mid Tail’ Cargo e-bike!!
These can be found locally at A Different Gear (Previously Recycle bikes) here in Sheffield, where you also have the option to rent cargo bikes very reasonably for odd jobs, or to try them out before committing.
Our own small wheel ‘Butchers bike’ style Orbea ‘Katu’ is proving ideal for shared use by differing height riders who want a nimble, versatile ‘do it all’ urban e-bike. In most respects it replaces a small car, including carrying a small car boot sized pile of shopping!
Note: The Katu-E is now (2020) only available in its least powerful form, and therefore less suitable for serious work in hillier parts of Sheffield. However Cube do a similar model, the well reviewed compact-hybrid , also now available in folding form, and the new Tern quick-haul looks to be a very useful looking, good value comparative model.
Which folder you want depends on what it’s for – do you need lightweight multi modal personal transport, does it need to do everyday duties carrying stuff around utility/leisure duties as well?
However generally speaking, I guess people choosing a folding e-bike are more likely to be looking to use it as lightly laden personal transport rather than to perform heavy lifting utility type duties. As such, a less powerful model than the bikes generally described in this article may suffice.
Also, is it actually an access/storage space issue that is suggesting a folding or compact e-bike may be the best choice?….
The 20kg raleigh stow-e-way is a reasonably capable and good value everyday folding bike. A friend of mine loves his and so did e-bike tips when they tested it . The same bike is also sold by Halfords as the Evo. (don’t forget UK cycling discount)
A major advantage is that it can be bought readily and locally, so you have backup if there are any warranty issues. It can be bought for £1275 or so, making for good value.
Going up the Raleigh ladder we have the well reviewed motus kompact – although you will want to test ride and ensure the combination of the entry level Active Line bosch motor and Nexus 7 speed gears suffice for your usual routes if they are hilly.
French firm Eovolt have just released a good looking folder: https://eovolt.co.uk/collections/20-bikes/products/eovolt-afternoon-20-folding-electric-bike-1
A high quality but heavy do anything everyday folder with good power for breezing the hillier parts of Sheffield would be the Tern Vektron – highly rated here in its Q9 model form by e-bike tips, and available as the more powerful, wider geared S10 model which will prove easier in the hillier parts of Sheffield.
Cube have just entered the folding fray with their typically well thought through and high value Fold Hybrid . Based on the excellent Compact Hybrid, it comes with the adequate Bosch Active+ motor in derailleur gear form, or the excellent Performance motor with the new Shimano e-bike specific 5 speed hub gear, and although this has a relatively narrow gear range together they could be a winning combo for low maintenance Sheffield utility use.
These are all around the 20 – 24kg mark, so hard work to carry far, but you may want to check out their various design formats that allow them to be wheeled when folded.
If leaping on and off busy trains or lugging your bike up stairs etc you need lightness and especially compactness when folded, and nothing beats a Brompton if these attributes are needed.
Here are great reviews comparing the electric and ‘acoustic’ Bromptons by Brilliant bikes
OR consider one of the Brompton conversions (but first buy your Brompton, and be sure it is a 6 speed model, maybe with the lower 44T chainring gearing option for really hilly parts of Sheffield !)
The sparticle and nano Brompton conversions are solid well known performers. A friend loves his Nano converted Brommy, he and his wife both use it They value its ‘throttle’ function, and its use of everyday tool batteries.. He had his converted at popupbikes in Manchester
Woosh bikes produce the high value Rambletta folder and have just released what looks like a well developed and good value Brompton conversion kit that fits straight into the front wheel, with smaller batteries in the pipeline.
If money is no object, and maximum utility is not a priority, consider the top end low weight folders from gocycle, reviewed here but note this will be less Sheffield friendly as power doesn’t kick in till the bike reaches 4 mph – potentially problematic on a steep hill start.
If you want a semi folding compact(ish) car replacement type bike and need to move your kids or loads of stuff around consider the very clever (parks on its backside!) tern hsd-p9 (Not to be confused with the heftier GSD model)
Rent the Tern hsd to try it or buy it locally at A Different Gear
BUT If it’s space or storage issues you are trying to address and you just want a good non folding but compact bike consider a cube compact-hybrid-sport , tested here . It has clever ‘Speedlifter twist’ fold sideways handlebars – just add folding or detachable pedals and you’ve got a virtually 2 dimensional bike to park in a hallway, put on a vehicle bike rack, lay flat in a hatchback etc. eg: Cheap n cheerful folding ones: Decathlon folding-pedals
OR personally i’d go for better quality ones that come off completely for a real slimline result: Tredz.co.uk/.MKS-XP-Ezy-Removable (but means you have to remember to take them with the bike – just hang them on the bars when you remove them!) – good anti theft measure too! Both pairs have the legally required relectors fitted!
Electrically assisted Mountain bikes (e-mtb’s) are also now popular, and whilst most retail models are road legal (ie standard 250watt motors) more powerful machines can legally be used off road on ‘private land’.
Electrical assist is also well suited to Tandems, to Recumbents, and to those cycles adapted for users who have particular needs beyond a usual bike.
Note 1: Bear in mind where you are planning to use and keep the bike. Not everyone will be able to lift a heavier e-bike model plus accessories up steps/on to trains etc. If for example if you are likely to be putting your e-bike on a train as part of a tour you may want to give serious thought to getting one of the lighter models.
Note 2: Be aware that the few remaining older style e-bikes with batteries mounted between the seat post and the back wheel are a bit longer overall. With these storage or using dedicated train spaces and lifts etc can be an issue.
Lighter weight e-bikes:
Not everyone needs or wants an e-bike just to do everyday utility duties, and an increasing number of manufacturers are offering much lighter weight Road bikes (‘racing’) and Gravel bikes (road+off road capable) with Drop handlebars, or more upright seated flat handlebar Urban and fast commute bikes.
These bikes weigh around 12 – 18kg or so in total, rather than the 20 – 25kg of full fat e-bikes. Theyare kitted out with differing contact points (saddles/handlebars etc) and different gears, wheels and tyres to suit their purpose – be that fast road use, exploring tracks and bridleways or urban/commuter use respectively.
These lighter models offer you the possibility of choosing to cycle with low levels of assistance or just ‘as and when needed’ rather than dialling in frequent and/or meatier assistance as you are likely to do on a heavier e-bike. Thus they achieve greater assisted range than you might expect from their smaller, lighter batteries.
Most presently use either the innovative and strong (55/60Nm) Fazua Evation removable ‘mid drive’ motor and battery system, or slightly lighter but less powerful (40Nm) Mahle Ebikemotion X35 fixed rear wheel ‘hub drive’ system.
Reviews of the Ebikemotion X35 M1 hub drive, clarifying its pros and cons here , of the Fazua system here , the Fazua Black Pepper update, and the very latest ride-50 system , and a good comparison of the original systems here
Examples employing the Mid drive Fazua system include the Boardman bikes range – great value and only 16 kg all up – so only 12-13kg ish if you opt to use it without the removable motor and battery. Models like the adv-8.9e road/gravel and hyb-8.9e hybrid look to be pretty multi purpose, having fittings for mudguards, a luggage rack, has sturdy tyres, a good gear range and a removable battery for easy charging or using a second one to extend your range.
Check out the gorgeous locally produced forme Ebikes , or maybe the excellent quality and versatile kinesisbikes RANGE-Flat-Bar for a more hybrid multipurpose style, available locally at adifferentgear
Examples employing the Mahle Ebikemotion X35 drive system include the Orbea Gain range, the cannondale treadwell neo and the very high value ribblecycles range, offered in both Road and ? touring suitable Gravel bike and hybrid versions, including the town friendly step-through and the great value, comfy looking and fully kitted out Urban E . The innovative and highly regarded UK manufacturer Islabikes make interesting powered bikes in their ‘Icon’ range, a friend has just used their test facility to try out an ejanis and bought one on the spot, finding it very light and comfy, and available for delivery in just a week.
Note however that on the ebikemotion system the main battery is not removable. The charger is small and compact so good to take with you, but on the other hand you’ll need to be somewhere where you can plug the whole bike in as you can’t remove the battery and take it inside to charge.
Either way, with their smaller, lighter motors and batteries and absence of motor ‘drag’ present on mid motors when the motor is off, these systems can more easily be ridden without power, or with lower levels of assistance, extending the range per charge. Such bikes will suit moderate riders looking to extend their mileage/time out on the bike. They may also better suit older experienced cyclists looking for less overall weight and a judicious level of assistance as and when required, or even those who prefer to be a little covert about their use of an electrically assisted bike!
Range wise, a local user reckons to comfortably get around 55 miles out of his Ebikemotion powered Orbea road bike on a hilly Derbyshire outing. (Derbyshire rides out from Sheffield and back consistently involve a 1000ft of ascent for every 10 linear miles travelled!)
For a good example of a longer ride on this type of e-bike see Laura’s e-bike LeJog , incl a 120 mile day in 45mph headwinds!
Another local rider notes that the same system on the aforementioned Cannondale Treadwell makes for a nice light leisure oriented e-bike that feels great to ride on moderate terrain with assistance on or off, but that struggles to give sufficient support on significant hills. This suggests that in its current incarnation at least, whilst great for leisure or maybe commute duties, this and other Mahle Ebikemotion powered models would make for hard work as luggage toting utility bikes around Sheffield, and if you want to load up/tackle significant hills on one of these ‘½ fat’ style lighter bikes you would be better with one that uses the more powerful Fazua system.
Need extra juice for longer rides with these small battery systems, and ? even goTouring?
On the Fazua system you can take a (1.38kg) spare battery along to swap out when needed.
On the X35 system, an additional range-extender-battery pack which tops up the fixed main battery may be taken along for a longer ride.
It is worth considering whether these bikes may be a good ‘e’ choice for touring. They will be more portable when using narrow cubicle style ‘hang up on a hook that won’t take larger tyres or wide handlebars’ train spaces, heaving it into B+B’s etc. If access and/or storage at home is tricky, these more manageable bikes may suit.
A further option for a lighter weight e-bike is the locally produced Juicy Roller and Ticket . These are competent, lighter and less expensive bikes for personal and leisure transport on less demanding duties and routes, but users can report that they may not feel as integrated/natural to ride as the mainstream mid-motor models or the newer types below, and they may be hard work with heavier utility loads.
Specialized have a very well reviewed range of e-bikes – in both full fat ‘Turbo’ form, and lightweight ½ fat ‘Turbo SL’ iteration. specialized electric-active-bikes – not cheap but highly developed and often billed as the most intelligent and easy feeling e-bike to bomb around on.
Otherwise go for a beefier but heavier road bike with stronger support and bigger batteries – something like the cannondale synapse neo-2 or giant revolt (both the more comfortable all-round ‘Gravel’ style rather than full-on road missiles.)
Which type of electric motor system is best for a utility bike in Sheffield – Hub motor (in one of the wheels) or a Mid-motor (in the frame)?
How powerful a system do I need?
Can I convert my own bike?
An e-bike system consists of a bike with a fitted Battery, Controller and electric ‘engine’ – the Motor.
There are 2 main types of these; either small electric motors in the front or rear wheels (Hub drive) and those with the electric motor positioned down in the frame and putting their power through the pedal axle as you pedal (Mid-drive). This type of drive is also called Chain, Centre or Crank drive. Mid-drives models are generally more expensive as the bike is specifically built around the motor.
To help you decide which is best for you, consider what you want the bike for and where you are going to use it.
In our experience, and in the view of testers and users, the Mid-drive type, although heavier and more expensive, is generally more suitable for utility bikes being used in hilly areas. The electric motor drives through the bike’s gears as you pedal. This means that with the right gear selected the motor is kept running at its optimum speed. This uses the power more effectively and efficiently, particularly on steeper hills.
Our current e-bikes are the Mid-drive type, and we use them as everyday transport for short, often well-loaded utility journeys to work, the shops, the allotment and for social visits in hilly Sheffield.
Note that mid-drive motors offer varying degrees of ‘motor drag’ – that is because you are pedalling ‘via’ the motor, and so you are turning the internal cogs and widgets of the engine even when the assistance is switched off. Of course this is irrelevant when you are using the power, but it does mean you will find yourself having to make a bit more effort than on an unassisted bike if you are pedalling with the power off, ie over the 15.5mph legal assistance cut-off point, or if you have switched off to extend the range.
Manufacturers are reducing this resistance with each new iteration of motors, but it is a good idea to try riding any test bike with the power off to see how it feels if you plan to use it like this for any significant period.
There are two types of hub motor. Geared and Gearless. The geared hub motor has planetary gears that step down the RPM of the motor to a much slower speed to drive the wheel.
These can be quite powerful, and may be fine for leisure and commute use around Sheffield.
The gearless hub motor directly connects to the wheel, driving it directly. This type is essentially ‘single geared’ and so as your own and the wheel’s speed drops on hills so does the motor power and efficiency. Fine for less arduous routes, but on longer climbs can become strained, inefficient and eventually overheat/cutout.
Hub drives broadly fall into two categories: ‘Full time’ where the user may have the assistance switched on for sustained periods of time, more like a mid-motor user would. This type system will be relatively heavy, including a chunky battery of a similar capacity to a mid-motor system. The other is a more on demand ‘power-boost’ system brought into use less frequently and for shorter periods of time as and when conditions dictate, and so will have smaller and lighter components (motor/battery).
(See ‘Convert your own bike?’ section below for examples.)
Good article on the difference between Mid-drive and Hub motors here .
Note: Power (Torque) claims for Hub motors need to be treated with care, and not be equated to mid drive torque figures as they will not have the same strength under load: See ebikereviewer hub-motor-review-and-comparison
How Powerful a motor should I go for? – You need a powerful enough motor to meet your needs and make for safe and relaxed around Sheffield. In our experience in hilly Sheffield, a rider using an e-bike for relatively light duties like commuting and is not themselves very heavy will manage most gradients with a bit of effort using a mid drive system delivering a minimum of 40 Nm of torque (assistance).
However most riders, particularly those using the bike’s potential to carry loads in hilly areas, really will need a minimum of around 50 Nm.
If you plan to really load up, tow a trailer, or would just prefer a really relaxed ride where your journey involves proper Sheffield hills, 60Nm and upwards will serve you well.
Currently that would mean choosing for example no lower spec than a Shimano 6100 series motor or the equivalent ‘Performance Line’ Bosch motor.
(Nm is a measure of Torque, the assistance that helps you. It is the motor’s pulling/accelerating/climbing power, expressed in Newton metres – hence ‘Nm’. Legal 250w e-bike Hub and Mid drive motors can produce varying levels of torque. Hub drives produce around 30 – 60Nm, Crank drives 40Nm up to as much as 100Nm or more, similar to a Ford Fiesta! These levels are set by the manufacturer when the motor is built.)
Note: Although often assumed, in real life there seems to be no real gain from the odd model that ‘regenerates’ electric as you freewheel, all of which are Hub drive anyway.
You will often come across the strong and reliable Bosch range of Mid drive motors in its various latest (Generation 4) iterations, and now also the highly integrated smart-system . The basic ‘Active Line’ offers modest power (40Nm) for general duties and leisure in flatter areas, the Active Line Plus a bit more oomph (50Nm) for heavier/hillier utility use, and the Performance Line, Performance Line CX and finally Cargo line (former 65Nm and latter both 85 Nm respectively) for heavy duty use/super relaxed riding in and around Sheffield.
Note that these Bosch motors have different starting characteristics (from a standstill). For example Bosch describe the basic Active Line’s starting characteristics as ‘Harmonius’ which in practice means very gentle, and this can be an issue when trying to set off on a Sheffield hill, particularly if you are loaded.
The two strongest Bosch Performance Line motors (Performance Line and Performance Line CX) and the Cargo Line motor offer two distinct advantages over the less powerful Active Line and Active Line Plus variants for users in hilly Sheffield, or indeed out in such as the Peak district.
The Cargo Line is programmed to offer you mucho assistance as you set off with heavy loads, and the Performance Line and CX motors also help you set off easily with their ‘Sporty’ start up algorithm (but still retaining full and nuanced control) and their clever variable support level algorithm embedded in the ‘Sport’ assistance setting. (This algorithm is also called the ’emtb’ setting, emtb and ‘sport’ settings are one and the same thing.) This algorithm automatically supplies variable assistance levels depending on your pedal pressure, from the ‘Tour’ level right up to the ‘Turbo’ level. In practice this means that you can leave it in this setting and either pootle along with just light pedal pressures, or, if circumstances or the mood takes you, pedal harder and be given full power for the manoeuvre in hand (or hill, headwind etc)
So less distraction choosing levels, and easier and safer startoffs.
(Note – Bosch have just introduced another mode – ‘Tour+’ – this algorithm can be added by software update in place of the Tour setting, and supplies power right across the range from Eco to Turbo levels in accordance with your pedal pressure, so it manages to combine Eco levels of economy on the flat, and additional assistance, automatically, when need for the hills!)
The author likes this Tour+ mode a lot, as it provides enough assistance to make life comfortable, but still requires me to put in enough effort to feel like I’m getting ‘the benefit’ of cycling, whilst being reasonably economical in battery power.
Shimano offer similarly rated and very efficient/reliable motors – currently for urban/tour use the e5000 (40Nm), e6000 (50Nm) and e61000 (60Nm), and for MTB’s the e7000 (60Nm) and e8000 (70Nm), however you might want to check if the slight delay on pressing the pedals on the e6100 before the power comes in that one reviewer noted suits you.
Giant utilize the proven Yamaha motor in both 60Nm and 80Nm formats to suit their urban and trekking style bikes, although the utility focussed ‘Entour’ models have the high mounted battery, and it appears you need to buy the premium ‘DailytourE+1’ model to get neccessary 8 hub gears for Sheffield.
Brose,TranzX and Bafang Crank drive motors are all capable and reliable.
These mid motors are found in premium models, along with high quality, reliable cycle parts, and all variants of 50Nm or more will be suitable for heavy duty/hilly use. Shimano even offer Di2 electronic gear operation as they try to woo a whole new cycle public.
Convert your own bike?
There are moderately strong mid-drive kits to convert your own bike, e.g Bafang or Tongsheng motor powered kits from such as the well regarded Woosh bikes. Whilst relatively inexpensive and capable these won’t offer quite the same experience of integration as the major systems, and the electrics may need good care to remain reliable.
Note: The author has just fitted a £600 ish Woosh bikes bikes supplied Tongsheng 48V 250W TSDZ2 torque sensing mid drive kit to a friend’s MTB. The fitting was quite straightforward, and the motor offers plenty of go and a good range – BUT – it has not been super reliable, either refusing to ‘kick in’ and go from a start, or occasionally cutting out on the ride, needing a reboot and pause before restarting , maybe suggesting an issue with the Torque sensing arrangement. That being the case it may be better to stick with the crude but effective Bafang stalwart. Sadly we have been unable to get a satisfactory dialogue with Woosh on this matter (unusual).
The excellent lightweight and reliable Cytronex system features a more on demand ‘power-boost’ facility, rather than full time power, and will be well suited to converting more nimble commuting and leisure cycles, including the road bike tested by e-bike tips here
The author has recently fitted 2 Cytronex kits to friend’s hybrid and touring bikes, and initial impressions are very good – it looks and feels very well built, is easy enough to fit, the power delivery seems very smooth, albeit, as expected, significantly less than a mid drive system.
(Note: do ask Cytronex to include a pair of the smaller tab washers in addition to their standard ones that secure the motor axle into the forks if you have an older bike when you order – the bigger diameter standard ones will most likely foul on the ‘lawyers lips’ cast into the forks to stop a loose wheel falling out. In fact we needed to reduce (file) part of them on the Dawes hybrid, even with the smaller washers, but not enough to worry about compromising their integrity…)
But might it run away with me?
No – A good quality e-bike leaves you in control at all times – you choose how much assistance you want (if any) before you even start pedalling, and it only starts to help when you pedal, and even then sensors mean that assistance is only added in proportion to how firmly you push on the pedals.
Assistance stops as soon as you stop pushing the pedals or apply the brakes, and you can alter how much it helps you pedal using the handlebar control whenever you want to, even on the move.
That said, it is however sensible to take some time away from busy areas to familiarise yourself with the assistance that e-bikes offer you, and local groups like Pedalready offer introductory courses to help you find out how to ride an e-bike to best effect.
What sort of gears do I need, and how should I use them on an e-bike?
Like normal bikes, e-bikes either have enclosed low maintenance ‘Hub’ type gears in the back wheel (handy because you can change gears at a standstill) or open derailleur gears. Cheaper bikes have 7 speeds, up to 11 or more expensive models. With the exception of the Yamaha motor, they all have just a single front chainwheel, as the electrical assistance obviates the need for lots of gears.
Both gear types are fine if properly serviced, but either way a decent range of gears with a reasonably low first gear is needed in hilly areas.
So that is at least 8 gears for a Derailleur model, and minimum 8 for a hub geared model.
As regards Derailleur gears, 8 and 9 speed geared bikes really need an 11-34 tooth range cassette (rear gear cluster) as a minimum for hilly Sheffield use, and an 11-36 tooth cassette will make life noticeably easier. 10 and 11 speed models can offer a more ideal 11-42 tooth range, or even 11-46 for a really low 1st gear to tackle steep hills in comfort.
Hub gear wise Shimano ‘Nexus’ 8 speed is ok for Sheff, but the 7 speed will be hard work, offering a 244% gearing range, equivalent to an 11-27 tooth 7-speed (cog) cassette. Thus with a typical chainring and rear hub sprocket combination of 40/19 the bottom gear is a high 36 inches, enough only for modestly hilly terrain, and the top is a nicely functional 88 inches. The Nexus Inter-8 hub has all the same benefits but with an extra gear for a wider 307% ex range, equivalent to an 11-34 cassette, so better for hillier terrain, although some of the gear steps are a little wider as a result. The same 40/19 ratio gives a bottom gear of 30 inches and a top of 92 inches. With rear sprockets of up to a max of 22 teeth fitted to the hub 1st gear can be made as low as 26 inches, great for steeper hill territory. (thanks to Edinburgh cycles for those details.)
Shimano’s ‘Alfine’ 8 speed hub is the premium option – same gearing but higher quality internals and a more user friendly trigger action. (An Alfine 11 speed hub is – rarely – also available on a few expensive models but generally considered to be overkill, 8 being sufficient.)
A recent innovation is automatic gears – a clever system using the Enviolo stepless hub paired with the bikes command system such that you simply choose the number of times a minute you want to push your pedals round (your cadence), typically around 50 – 60 (more is best for battery economy) and the brain and hub will work together you keep that pedal rate steady for you regardless of speed/hills etc, without you having to do any gear changing at all!
Note: Do try and avoid the e-bike trap of letting the motor do all the work in high ‘lazy’ slow turning gears, even unwittingly.
If you can comfortably do so, keeping your legs spinning at a reasonable lick significantly reduces strain on the motor and the draw on the battery, so change to a lower gear promptly, just as you would on an unassisted bike when you are making life easier for your own leg/lung ‘motor’! This maximises the mileage available from each charge and therefore the overall longevity of your expensive battery.!
Bosch say cycling at between 50 and 80 revolutions of the pedals a minute really helps reduce the draw on the battery, so maybe choose a gear that means your legs go round at least 1 revolution every second if you are wanting/needing to max how far a charge can get you.
What sort of batteries do e-bikes have? – How far will it take me?
(Note that larger capacity (more Wh) batteries only mean longer range, not more power or speed!)
e-bike’s Lithium-Ion batteries come in different sizes. Their size or capacity, and so how far they can take you, is expressed in Watt Hours (Wh), arrived at by multiplying the most usual 36 volt electric motor x the number of Amp hours (Ah) the battery holds. So for an easy example a 36 volt system with a 10Ah battery makes for a 360Wh battery – ie: 36(v)x10(Ah) = 360Wh.
You consume around 5 – 20 of the batteries watts Wh for every mile you are cycling with power, depending on factors like your own weight, the weight you are carrying, how well maintained your bike is (especially the tyres being properly inflated), hills, wind direction and speed. All these will all make a significant difference to the level of assistance you choose to select and therefore the amount of battery power you use and so how far it will take you.
So a battery will provide you with power for around 20 to 50+ miles, depending on its size, the assistance level chosen and how willing you are to cycle with the power off or on a low setting for the easier parts of the journey, thus eking out the battery.
(You choosing to pedal vigorously at energy hungry moments like accelerating or hill climbing will help increase the range nicely!)
250Wh, 400Wh, 500Wh and 625/30Wh batteries are the most common sizes, and they are increasingly becoming integrated into the frame to a greater or lesser extent, including discrete internally housed (but usually still removeable) ‘tube’ type batteries.
Bosch have a helpful ‘Range assistant’ here but it’s a bit optimistic for Sheffield’s hillier routes! If you are a heavy rider and/or loaded you may achieve more like 75% of these predicted mileages.
Battery warranties/eventual life expectancies are based on the overall number of complete charging cycles performed. They also deteriorate with age and use (giving fewer miles per charge) and are expensive to buy as an aftermarket purchase.
Bosch batteries say the cells they will use will still have a capacity of at least 60% after two years or 500 charge cycles (depending on which happens first) and could give usable service for as long as 10 years. We are at least 4 yrs in with our Bosch batteries, and have not noticed a significant drop in range.
Accordingly it makes sense to go for the largest one you can at the time of purchase (say a 400wh rather than a 300wh, or a 500wh if possible.)
Unfortunately this mostly means buying a more expensive model of a given range, or you may be able to negotiate a battery uplift on purchase.
How do I charge and take care of my battery?
Good quality Lithium batteries and their correct chargers are very safe and should be long lasting, and the internal Battery Management System (BMS) will always prevent immediate damage and risk of fire from overcharging.
Note: Recent reports about lithium batteries catching fire ( and a subsequent somewhat precipitous ban on the transport of e-bikes by the Caledonian sleeper train) are due to an uplift in the number of occasional lithium battery fires (traditionally for cameras, laptops etc, but lately for e-scooters – not for e-bikes).
On investigation these have invariably proven to be the result of faulty or damaged battery cells/battery construction, or incorrect charger use/charging procedure.
So to keep safe:
- Only use the supplied charger unit or direct replacement (It ‘talks’ to your battery).
- Follow the instructions.
- If your battery sustains possible damage (eg heavy impact) get it checked by a dealer who services that system and can interrogate it.
- Should you ever need one, only purchase a genuine (ie expensive) replacement, made by or recommended by the manufacturer.
Charging is via the portable mains charger and cable specifically supplied for your battery and is straightforward, just like your phone. Most batteries are removable but can be charged on or off the bike, and in any case do charge best at room temperature.
The time taken to charge varies, depending on the power (number of Amps) of the charger and the size of the battery, and ranges from 4 – 8 hrs for a full charge. The good news is these batteries take charge fastest when low, and charge quickly to 80%, before slowing right down on the way to 100% to protect the cells, so they quickly charge to 50-80% if you need a top up from low on a quick turn round or a cafe stop.
Unlike older battery types, Lithium batteries have no ‘memory effect’ and can be part charged for an hour or two as often as you like without reducing the battery’s overall life, making it easy to keep it around 80% full.
Lithium batteries, particularly cheaper ones, can pack up after a year or two at worst if misused (particularly being left uncharged). The more expensive mainstream ones on all good quality e-bikes should last 5 to 10 years if used fairly frequently and kept reasonably well charged, but all will gradually lose their capacity and therefore range as they age and are used.
For a happy long lived battery, the ideal is to try as much as possible to maintain the level of charge between 20% minimum – 80% maximum of the battery’s overall capacity, with a 100% charge every 10 or so charges.
(For the many batteries that have 5 lights showing the state of charge, this conveniently means putting it on charge when you get down into the second from the bottom light, and then unplugging once it has got up to the 5th or top one.)
– Try not to discharge the battery much below 20%. Basically this means heading for the charger once you have got down into the second of the 5 lights that most systems use as a ‘fuel gauge’. You won’t cause immediate harm, but at really low levels a lithium battery starts to oxidise, which has a negative effect long term on capacity as well as battery life.
– Avoid charging the battery immediately after riding. Let the battery cool down before charging. Charging a heated battery will accelerate cell degradation.
– Avoid fully charging the battery (beyond 80% or so) if it is not really necessary for the next journey. One study suggests that choosing to limit regular charging to 80% max can double the life of your battery, so avoid the old advice about ‘topping up’ a battery to 100% after every short ride! One way to do this is to stop charging a little after the 5th of the usual 5 lights on a battery starts its charging flash. When charging the battery above 80% of its capacity, the internal resistance of the battery increases, the battery heats up more and this significantly accelerates the degradation process, so only do so if you are really going to need a full battery’s worth of range on your upcoming ride.
If you are charging to 100%, Lithium batteries don’t like to be left sat on charge when full, so it’s best not to leave it on charge overnight unless you have a big, empty battery and a slow (2amp rather than 4amp) charger.
– Lithium batteries are temperature sensitive. High temperatures and frost affect performance and shorten battery life. Never store the battery outside where it will be exposed to temperatures below 0ºC (Something to bear in mind if your bike lives in a shed or parked out overnight.) or above 30ºC.
Avoid long parking under direct sunlight.
They like to be charged at room temperature, but if you do bring it in from the cold to charge it, ideally let it warm gently up to room temperature before charging.
Range drops by up to 25% or more with lower temperatures, so you might consider buying your battery a cosy neoprene jacket from halfords to maximize the range in colder weather (good for absorbing knocks too.)
– If yours is going to be out of use for more than a week or two the advice is to store it somewhere coolish at around 1/2 charge (say 3 out of the 5 lights on the battery lit) and top it up just a little every few weeks to maintain this level of charge.
Want to charge using 100% Green electricity?
If you own or are thinking of buying an e-bike you might also be thinking about minimising your carbon footprint.
If so, check out the renewableenergyhub for genuinely green suppliers that do not use carbon credits to ‘green’ their power, and who actually invest in green energy production, eg: Good Energy, Ecotricity or Green Energy.
What Accessories do I need?
Actually in our view these are essentials: Go for a bike all kitted out with a rear pannier rack, mudguards, a strong centre or side stand and ideally with good fitted LED lights, powered by the main power battery. If these items are absent on your chosen model get some fitted at purchase, and get a good quality pannier bag or two to go on the rear rack to make carrying stuff convenient, much safer than in a backpack. (see luggage carrying below)
Additional high intensity flashing lights are highly desirable at night and in low sun conditions where drivers vision is compromised.
In my experience it is best to keep to simple and reliable proven products like This . The rear light is particularly critical I think, and the effective Smart Superflash will run for ages on rechargeable AAA batteries.
USB rechargeable lights like this Moon Fr and rear are versatile (can be helmet mounted for higher level visibility) and fine secondary lights, but often end up very low on charge when you actually come to use them unless you are in a charging routine whilst at your PC etc…..
The rear light is particularly critical I think, eg the effective Smart Superflash will run for ages on rechargeable AAA batteries.
We have found Exposure lights to be very reliable and robust, eg trace_tracer_mk2_daybright
Vehicle Cycle Rack:
You may wish or need to transport your bike to the start of your ride. If so you will need a good quality cycle rack for your vehicle, such as those available from https://www.roofbox.co.uk/bike-carriers/
I would not be without a rear view mirror – whether mounted on your handlebar, helmet, frame or wrist they allow you to monitor what/who is going on behind you, helping you decide if and when you need to take pre-emptive action like moving in to the primary position or ‘taking the lane’.
NB – I subscribe to the view that using a mirror should not be a replacement for also looking round over your shoulder to check what’s going on behind you – eg when pulling out round parked cars or moving out to take the lane. I think it probably helps for a driver to see the face of the human being on the bike!
I use a mirrycle-mountain-mirror
Tools: Pump wise, I’d go for a Topeak floor pump and their Mini-Morph for on the road, and their hexus-x multitool. Chuck in a spare tube to suit your bike, and a couple of good quality (not cheap) plastic tyre-levers and off you go. With that kit someone will be able to sort out an on road issue – even if it’s not you!
Luggage carrying: For carrying luggage safely (ie not in your back) I like the sturdy, capacious and good value tortec transalp rear pannier rack.
Pair it with a pair of high quality Ortlieb waterproof panniers. Get a good deal and support the great bike route charity Sustrans here
How do I store and keep it secure?
This is an issue whatever we ride, but personally I try to hold with the view that, although it is my primary means of transport, it is just a bike, to be used whenever, and just locked up in such a manner that it really is too much trouble/risk to nick!
Ours are insured on our house policy, probably the cheapest option if you can do it, but bear in mind possible premium hike if you do have to claim.
Separate dedicated and comprehensive e-bike cover is now available from lots of insurers, such as ETA or cycleguard , yellowjersey , Pedalsure and bikmo which give reassurance both when parked, some also offering ‘rescue’ out on the road. Might sound expensive (around 5 – 10% of bike cost) but it is effectively my ‘car’ so what would I have to pay to insure that against theft?
Starting with wheels , if your bike has quick release axles, consider fitting security skewers. (and seat posts too if you wish)
Next up it’s pedals – if like me you are likely to leave your bike unattended for long periods in higher risk areas, consider taking the pedals with you when you leave it! Easily done with such as MKS-XP-Ezy-Removable pedals (metal version also available) and another hassle to put the bandits off.
I’m a big fan of the modern incarnation of the Frame or ‘nurses’ lock – the frame mounted lock that basically locks a bar through the wheel. These are standard on some models, can be easily retrofitted to frames with the relevant drillings, or mounted to frames without drillings using an adaptor kit. Choose one that has a plug in chain option and get a chain to suit – quick, flexible and convenient for every shop stop and a good start for longer stops, and given my cargo style bike and habitual pannier contents weigh in at about 30kg it would be difficult to waltz off with if one wheel is locked.
For standard width tyres get something like the AXA-defender-rl-frame-lock and AXA-plug-in-chain-lock. Buy them together at Decathlon: Defender-bike-frame-lock and Plug-in-chain-bike-lock-for-the-defender-frame-lock or currently here at Scuffwheels and the nice versatile longer 130cm chain too.
Note – Choose a model which has wide enough jaws for the wider tyres on some e-bikes, especially if it has wider ‘balloon’ type tyres that tend to be around 60mm wide, e.g. the axa block xxl and the specific (nice long) plug in plug-in-chain chain that fits it.
If in doubt, get a bike shop to supply and fit one – locally russellsbicycleshed have the Trelock model available . (Russell can also supply many of the products listed here, including the latest good value Oxford Diamond rated D lock.)
U locks – (aka D locks): The experts say these are the best cycle locks. They come in 4 security ratings: Bronze, Silver, Gold and now Diamond. Good U-locks, with diameters of between 13 and 15 mm are unlikely to be defeated by anything but the biggest bolt cutters which most casual bike thieves just won’t have. However some thieves will, so at the top of the range there are the thickest locks, with diameters of 16 to 18 mm which reputedly cannot be cropped by even the biggest bolt cutters.
I wouldn’t use less than a Gold rated lock(s) on an e-bike, and in addition to the nurses lock and chain combo, I use a hefty (16mm thick shackle) super high value planetx. D-lock (when available) and our equally big good value 16mm oxford lock has performed well, or go for the new halfords ultra high security Diamond rated lock. Use this in such a way it is hard to attack – all the lock filled by the frame/wheel/item you are locking too, well off the ground, lock mechanism pointing down.
If im leaving it in a ‘dodgy’ area or for a length of time I might also take a minimum 10mm thick link chain/padlock combo, something like the: Oxford-Chain10
So 2 or even 3 locks – basically enough to make a thief look for an easier option
The good news is that being an e-bike, all this weight is not an issue, and certainly for say locking up in an outbuilding (or having a regular locking spot you can leave a lock at) you could even go for a motorbike type like the MAMMOTH-1-2M-SQUARE-CHAIN-LOCK – again at its most effective when the lock is kept well away from the ground so it is hard to attack with a hammer (wind chain round bike/object to soak up any loose.)
As you can see these days you can buy a couple of really good locks for around £100 or less, but all locks can be cut with a portable angle grinder, and I reckon the nurses lock adds a good degree of awkwardness in that case.
I also hold to the idea of parking it in a public, well lit place. Better still safely in the Hub at Sheffield’s main station if it’s anywhere near my destination. (Fob for life from Russell’s bike shop at station.)
Up to now there doesn’t seem to be a trend for trying to nick batteries, which is just as well as my Bosch one is currently around £300 – £800+ to replace, depending on capacity, but it has a reasonably secure key locked mount. The new ‘hidden’ tube type battery may be more secure still. Of course you could take hour battery with you when you park, as long as you have your key with you…….
Fit a Tracker? It is a fact that stolen bikes are more likely to be recovered if they have been fitted with a tracker. (One local e-bike has been recovered twice recently via the tracker!) Locally A Different Gear, having tested different ones recommend and fit the powunity model, or maybe go for one that thinks it’s a rear light and is less reliant on GPS.
Register your bike on the National Cycle Database (aka BikeRegister). I reckon this is a No Brainer – a free to use database where you enter your bike’s ID (frame no). You can then list it if stolen, so it can be looked out for at bike shops etc if touted round, and the Police can reunite you with it if it is recovered post theft. (They need hard evidence of ownership.)
You can interrogate it to check if a bike you are thinking of purchasing is bona fide, get info on risk in your area and buy ID aids or good locks cheap (e.g the Squire Eiger 230 Gold for £30) from this register.
Storage: Lastly I’m guessing most thefts are from home, where people who want to have watched it/you and your routine. Here the best advice is to keep it inside a secure garage/shed (locked to a stout wall or floor anchor or even to garden furniture etc) or even inside the house if possible, where you might use a Bike-lift .
Alternatively, go for a secure outdoor storage option like the compact trimetals , or asgardsss bike storage if you need more room as e-bikes tend to be longer, combined with a ground or wall-anchor or a good ground anchor , and lock it to that with the super 10mm or more thick chain or lock(s) you have.
Good range of these on offer at shedstore and buyshedsdirect and even fit a basic shed-alarm (recommended by a local user) for good measure, or get your storage solution plugged into your home alarm system if it is nearby.
Finally you may wish to cover the area you store your bike with surveillance, and a local user rates the ring range highly – certainly the scallies skulking around my neighbours back door recently scarpered sharpish when they realised the ‘doorbell’ was recording them! – and a local user recommends the reolink wi-fi camera if you want to be wire free.
Note – be ready for the inevitable ‘return visit’ of the thieves a few weeks later, who know that you will have a nice shiny replacement bike!
How should I care for/service my e-bike?
E-bikes, particularly those in daily use around hilly Sheffield, will require regular maintenance to maintain efficiency and reliability. In practice that means:
- Keep your tyres inflated to the recommended pressure, and no less that the minimum pressure given on the tyre wall. (Note the trend to larger width and volume tyres on e-bikes, for which lower tyre pressures are in order) See this Schwalbe tyre pressure chart
My favourite current choice of high value all round safe, nippy and comfortable tyre is the Schwalbe-marathon-gt-tour-hs485-tyre and for Urban duties the super comfy, durable and high value Schwalbe variations on ‘balloon’ tyres – Big Apple, Big Ben and Super Moto.
When the thermometer falls and you need to ensure good safe grip in snowy, icy or even just frosty weather go for something like the Schwalbe Marathon Winter Plus tyre (get the the more expensive ‘plus’ variant, meaning no punctures!)- pumped up to the stated maximum pressure for an easy ride on clear roads, then lowered to the minimum stated in adverse conditions so that the little metal studs get down to their job, these really work!!
- Keep your chain well lubricated – especially in wet conditions, and check it with a chain checker periodically. (It may need replacing after just 500-1000 miles of heavy use if you want to preserve the rest of your drivetrain.)
- Service it yourself/have it serviced by a qualified technician a couple of times a year.
- Have your system (Motor/Battery/Controller) ‘plugged in’ and updated annually by a bike shop that has the relevant accreditation for your e-bike – just like the updates for your mobile phone or PC. (Not a big deal – in practice there are a few bike agents locally that offer this service, and could do it either as part of one of your bi-annual services, or as a stand alone option – see servicing section 23 below.)
Note that e-bikes, being heavy and having more power than normal cyclists develop, will get through bicycle consumables like disc brake pads, chains and cassettes (rear gear clusters) about twice as fast as unpowered bikes, but don’t worry, you don’t have to spend a fortune on these, as basic everyday versions will do fine.
Caution: Never use any sort of pressured water, even a hand sprayer or hose, when cleaning around the motor and battery. Why? Because electrics are, well, electrics, and the bearing seals on even the best systems are only splash proof, so for example won’t prevent pressured water seeping into the the bearings around the pedal axle. (Normal riding in rain etc will be fine.)
The good news is that bearing repair kits are becoming available, so if you do have an (out of warranty) issue you don’t have to go to the expense of a complete new motor.
There is now a localish firm that service e-bike bearings: emtbbearings High Peak Phone: 078880 29522.
In the interests of the environment and your skin, you might consider using Green-oil products – which I have found effective.
(See also Section 23 below for local servicing)
Will I need Insurance or Tax to use my e-bike?
No, being classed as a bicycle, insurance of any kind is not a legal requirement for electric bikes.
Saying that, 3rd party liability insurance isn’t a bad option for any road user. This may be a feature of any cycle Insurance you take out, and is certainly a perk – £10 Million third party insurance cover – of the inexpensive membership of Cycling UK.
Membership of Cycling UK is strongly recommended for excellent cycling specific legal advice and support in the event of an incident, for reviews re bikes and gear etc, and for significant discounts at major retailers such as Halfords.
For insuring the bike itself, we have added cover via our house contents insurance at no additional cost, but this varies from company to company.
Separate dedicated and comprehensive e-bike cover is now available from lots of insurers, such as ETA or cycleguard , yellowjersey , Pedalsure and bikmo which give reassurance both when parked, some also offering ‘rescue’ out on the road.
Being bicycles, and having no emissions, e-bikes are not subject to any sort of VED or ‘road’ tax.
Do I have to wear special cycle gear?
No. Everyday clothing is fine, although a good cycle specific jacket will help on those occasions when you need weather protection, and they tend to be brightly coloured and reflective. We do however prioritise reasonably bright clothing and choose to have the inbuilt bright bike mounted lights switched on both day and night, a la Volvo. Hi-Viz wear is optional, but recommended at night.
Helmets: Being classed as a bicycle, helmet wearing is not mandatory on e-bikes, it is a matter of choice and is a judgement we personally make based on road and weather conditions.
Our favourite is the super comfy and high value Bontrager Solstice MIPS helmet.
Should I arrange some training?
Whilst not a legal requirement, a session or a course with a professional trainer will help most cyclists feel more confident and keep safe on the road, particularly those who have been away from cycling for a while, or learning for the first time. They will show you the correct positioning, signalling etc. Whether you just want to travel to the shop on a quiet backstreet or make a long commute along busy roads and junctions, they can show you straightforward techniques you can use to minimise the risks when cycling.
Local trainers Pedal Ready offer a range of free Road Confidence courses or one to one sessions specifically tailored to the use of e-bikes.
Please also note the fantastic new changes to the Highway Code offering greatly enhanced protection for non vehicular road users from January 2022 – see:
Where can I go on my e-bike, and who with? Including using TRAINS:
e-bikes give you the option of choosing the quietest and most pleasant routes around towns, regardless of the hills, and enable you to travel longer distances for leisure rides. Use your local council cycle map to discover these routes, ask a friend who cycles regularly to show you some or book a session with a local cycle trainer ie to show you a good commuter route to your workplace.
For local journeys and commuting ask if any members of your local cycle campaign group Cyclesheffield can recommend or show you routes. Both local and longer routes can be found on Sheffield Cycle Routes and Resources , or check out the local Cycling UK group.
Sheffield now has a dedicated e-biking leisure group you could join for rides.
Both for local route options and also for planning longer adventures see the Sustrans network’s excellent new OS based collaboration national cycle routes map , and try an AA style route planner like Cycle Streets for planning and navigating journeys near and far, or check out Google’s bicycle mapping and cycle planning.
A further smartphone option is an annual £23.99 ish subscription for the Ordnance Survey UK mapping, where you will find the major Sustrans cycle routes clearly marked on the Explorer series.
The Trans Pennine Trail has adopted a policy that welcomes e-bikes and is encouraging businesses alongside the trail to offer charging facilities.
Distance is no barrier -I recently met a 70 yr old who had just cycled from Lands End to John o’ Groats in less than 2 weeks using an everyday e-bike with no problem.
Trains: Widen your range, go all Inter-City, or give yourself a head start on a day ride by putting your bike on a train. It’s free, but check on the National rail website whether the train operator you will be using requires you to book a bike space ahead or not. (Choose your train, click on ‘details’ at the end of the line of text for that train, and then on the cycle symbol to find out the cycle policy for that particular train.)
Note that Scotrail tends to be more clued up re bikes (many trains have 6 spaces).
Booking bikes on trains: This is a free service on all longer distance trains, and there are usually 2 or maybe 3 spaces. Once you’ve checked the situation for the service you want on the National Rail website, you can either go to a station and book your bike on, or you can use the same system as them and do it yourself!
To do so go to any of the Train Operating Companies (TOC’s) that offer online cycle booking, select your journey and seat, then click the cycle booking option. If a cycle space isn’t available the spaces are already booked up and you need to try another train time and repeat.
You can book any train journey on any TOC, but not all offer online cycle space booking. Some offer phone booking, but that means a delay between you calling and then making a train/seat booking, which is awkward – the online option means you know immediately whether there is a cycle space to match your intended booking.
I use Hull Trains, and I opened a free account so I have a record of bookings – very useful if you’ve booked well ahead, or need to make a claim later etc.
Note: e-bikes are relatively heavy, some are quite long, and there is a fashion for chunky tyres and also wider handlebars. All this means it can be awkward to get some e-bikes into the often meagre bike spaces on some trains, and be aware of trains where you have to hang your bike up by its front wheel on a hook ie: Cross Country (XC) voyagers, Class 800 trains in use on LNER, Great Western Railway (GWR), Hull Trains, some Transpennine trains (TPEX) and coming soon to East Midlands Railway.(EMR)
(Although Conditions of Carriage generally prohibit motorised two-wheelers, this refers to fossil-fuel powered bikes that are an obvious safety hazard on a train, not e-bikes.)
- You can reduce the weight by taking the battery off the frame before hanging it.
- You may want to take a simple cable lock along to lock your bike to something/the wheels together so you feel confident to leave it unattended. (Provided it is not blocking someone else’s bike in said meagre space!)
- Don’t even think about charging your bike on a train – the electrics wont cope!
All in all, something to think about if you are considering any significant train based usage and so hoiking the bike about and up on to hooks, in which case you may look for a more diminutive or even a folding model, as these are universally allowed.
(Or maybe book ahead for assistance with your bike from train staff??)
Note: You may have seen the recent reports about lithium batteries catching fire in the press, making train companies nervous re carrying them. This is due to an uplift in the number of occasional lithium battery fires of late in e-scooters. This is not however an issue for good quality e-bikes.
Where would I find out more/see reviews about e-bikes?
The e-bike market is opening up fast lately, and if you are curious about or considering buying an e-bike check out publications like eBikeTips , a very current online magazine often drawn upon in this article, electricbikereport , A to B magazine , and online forums like Pedelecs. All offer general discussions about e-bikes, plus news and reviews of e-bikes and related articles.
Where to See, Hire, Try, and Buy e-bikes in Sheffield and beyond:
Several bike shops in our area are now hiring, selling and servicing e-bikes, but note that , just as with ‘normal’ bikes, specific brands will only be available at particular dealers. (for example my favourite high value brand ‘Cube’ is only available locally at J E James, although you can of course buy online form further afield, and if you want a particular model may have to do so, as e-bikes are made in relatively small batches, and dealers run out of specific models!)
And city hire schemes are taking off:
Buying: (Don’t forget your Cycling UK 10% discount at Halfords)
Generally speaking I would recommend that you really try to buy one from a localish dealer, and/or one who is a BEBA (British Electric Bike Association) member. The ‘e’ part of e-bikes can be complex, and you benefit from close access to advice, follow up, warranty repairs and specialist service.
Getting hold of an e-bike:
Do note that altered import procedures and the pandemic have together resulted in a chronic shortage of bikes, especially particular models (and some parts) so expect to have to do some determined ferreting about online/on the blower to locate and/or reserve a bike, and be prepared to wait maybe months for delivery!
It is a good idea to sign up for Alerts with shops/dealers who offer this facility, so that you are the first to know when new stock arrives for sale.
NOTE: Do not be tempted to go for an online unbranded ‘bargain’ just because it is available and/or cheap – they develop electrical faults v quickly. Local bike shops will understandably be reluctant to take on repair of poor quality unknown kit, even if they have the capacity, and the ‘support’ line will likely tell you they have no UK agent who can deal with it, and may even suggest how you could attempt a repair yourself….
PS Ordering from abroad post brexit? – I’m getting Shimano parts delivered from Bikester (Germany) in around 6 days, which I’m happy with (on the flamin’ shelf in Germany – same parts basically unobtainable in the UK, grr!!) but do be aware of duty rules and carrier charges – basically you are OK if item value is no more than £135 and the seller has set themselves up to do the VAT thing at the point of purchase.
More on the situation for purchases over £135 courtesy of the Guardian here
Suggested e-bikes for utility use in Sheffield and environs:
(Please note that due to the recent proliferation of e-bike models and dealers it is not possible to keep an up to the minute track of who sells what, so you may find some of these references out of date.)
Bike Radar recently produced a good list of hybrid style e-bikes, some of which, with sufficiently powerful motors and a good range of gears, would be suitable for utility use in hilly Sheffield:
Mid price, mid-drive choices locally could be something like the Raleigh Motus – the basic Motus and Motus Tour models for light riders/use, or more powerful Grand Tour models for heavier/hillier duties around Sheffield. Note however that if you want a hub gear (see section 10 above) all models sadly only offer the narrow range 7 speed nexus hub gear, rather thasn the 8 speed, which leaves you with a challenging 1st gear for some of Sheffield’s hillier parts!
I find the Raleigh website short on detail and even confusing, Tredz have a good summary of the Raleigh range.
The Halfords Crossfuse with similar capability to the basic Motus looks good value if you can negotiate the ‘extras’ like lights, mudguards and a rack fitted to most other models.
Note that Halfords and Raleigh have teamed up to launch the Raleigh Felix and more Sheffield suited Felix plus , which may at least make it easy to get hold of, and of course you benefit from the Cycling UK and British cycling 10% member discount!
The Shimano powered Volt Regent looks like a particularly strong and comfy step-through at the price, and recent model that looks to be a good strong and very high value option for Sheffield is the neomouv adonis-2 – tested here by ebiketips and potentially available reasonably locally through juicybike .
Cube bikes such as the relaxed ‘sit up and beg’ style Town sport or the sportier/fast commute/touring Touring Hybrid and the funky urban tool Compact Sport Hybrid have always been an especially high value way into Bosch powered e-bike action, and my own served me well for 2000+ miles. (Both links show the ‘Trapeze’ style frame – a sort of half-way house between the standard crossbar frame and the deep step through type – best of both worlds in my view – accessible for all sorts of shape and size riders but still a strong efficient frame.) Cube also make a ‘Cross’ model. I’m not sure how ‘offroad’ it is spec-wise beyond having knobbly tyres, but it does have suitable mudguards for those tyres, also lights and fittings for a rear rack, so will be a good Utility bike with light trail capability. The compact-sport-hybrid looks like a great one size fits all machine for general urban duties.
A Different Gear (Previously Recycle bikes) in Sheffield sell and service e-bikes, and their Cargo bike range may be a good fit for your needs.
Check out less expensive but reputable makes online, e.g. Kudos or Woosh bikes mentioned above, both offer basic but good value well equipped bikes, and reasonably priced (£300 ish) replacement batteries. and Woosh offer good support if you are having a go at using one of their kits to convert a bike yourself.
I have in the past used a Woosh e-bike for local/utility duties, bought online, and which has performed well enough, if not as refined as more expensive ones, and mine continues to give good service towing a friends trailer full of gardening tools around!
My old Woosh e-bike being a van!
Here are a few current(ish) ideas for the sort of Hybrid’ and Dutch style’ super comfy/easy access (mostly step through) but still very capable sort of bike that should work well around Sheffield:
https://www.cube.eu/en/2020/e-bikes/tour/touring-hybrid/cube-touring-hybrid-pro-500-iridiumnblack-2020-easy-entry/ (good value versatile unisex all purpose powerful ‘step through’ bike for town/touring.)
Or in ‘Trapeze’ frame form: https://www.cube.eu/en/2020/e-bikes/tour/touring-hybrid/cube-touring-hybrid-pro-500-greynred-2020-trapeze/
https://www.cube.eu/en/2020/e-bikes/urban/comfort/town-sport-hybrid/cube-town-sport-hybrid-one-400-blackngrey-2020-easy-entry/ (£800 cheaper than 500 model – less powerful and smaller battery but still good for relaxed urban use.)
Or the powerful and nippy, more urban focussed compact one size fits all version: https://www.cube.eu/en/2020/e-bikes/urban/urban/compact-hybrid/cube-20-compact-sport-hybrid-bluenred-2020/
And Moustache bikes are very stylish:
Use an accredited local e-bike service centre, e.g.:
JE James – (Bosch system and ?)
Tonybutterworths – (Bosch system and ?)
langsettcycles (Shimano system and ?)
Or go for a Mobile service
There is now a localish firm that service e-bike bearings: emtbbearings High Peak Phone: 078880 29522.
On a mid to higher price bike look for a minimum 2 year guarantee on the battery and electric motor.
Sophisticated modern e-bikes need the same level of expert care as other ‘vehicles’ on the road, and should ideally have the same level of service history.
Buying e-bikes second-hand can be risky because of battery/electrical issues and potentially higher general wear and tear.
Having said that, if you have the chance of a particularly promising used e-bike, here are some pointers: (Work in progress)
- Does the bike you are considering have a documented service history? Ask for a recent service report showing that the electrical drive system is in good working order; eg: service receipts for electrical system service/diagnostics, showing battery condition and history of system software updates.
- What is the recorded mileage on the handlebar display odometer readout? (Has the mileage counter had a reset at any point? – eg if the motor has been replaced under warranty – not uncommon.)
- Does it match the bike’s appearance?
- Does it have the correct (original) charger and does it work ok when connected to the battery?
- Does the outer handlebar controller work OK, scrolling through power levels etc.
- Ditto the display.(usually separate and in the middle of the handlebars.)
- Are there any fault codes showing in the display?
- Does the battery take a full charge? (all lights glowing until they go off at full charge.) Is it the original battery? – If so how old is it (age of bike unless replaced)/how many miles has it done? (see odometer). Has it been maintained at a reasonable charge level (and not left flat for any time). Range naturally decays over time and with mileage covered, but a good quality battery should easily last 5 years+
Ideally the seller will have a recent service record which will include battery condition/usage history and number of complete charges so far (good quality ones will do at least 500)
It is worth checking out replacement battery cost for the model in question, it will be of the order of £300 – £800 – so this really needs to be taken into account when considering what you are prepared to pay, especially if you can’t be given good evidence of age/mileage/service history.
You could consider, with the seller’s agreement, having a prospective used e-bike purchase looked over/a diagnostic report performed by a local authorised dealer or mobile service. (See section 23 above.)
External links: Here you will find a wealth of information about e-bikes and all matters related…
Disclaimer: The information and opinions here are those of an enthusiastic amateur. I have first hand experience of some of the subject matter, but many of the brands/models/dealers mentioned here are based on reading reviews, hearing other people’s experience, and generally reading around the subject. I have no links with brands, and receive no financial rewards, but hopefully have the intrinsic reward of helping more people to become e-mobile!
Always consider professional advice re the appropriate model for your needs, and for its correct sizing, setup and ongoing maintenance.
So go on – Give e-biking a go, but research well and then see/try bikes and dealers out for yourself.
Richard Attwood. Sheffield.
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