Biking can be fun and good for your health. It is also a great way to commute to work and school. eBikes or an electric-assist bicycle give riders a boost to handle hills, be safer on the roads, and do round-trip commutes without breaking a sweat. You can still get plenty of exercise if that is what you want. eBike offerings have increased and improved in recent years.
Vermont does not require e-bike licensure and registration. Vermont law specifies that motor-assisted bicycles are governed as bicycles and have the same rights and duties applicable to bicyclists.
What is an eBike? - An eBike is mostly a typical pedal bike, with an important difference – eBikes have a battery power assist that is activated when you pedal, or on some bikes with a throttle. The pedal-assist kicks in when you pedal, making it easier to climb hills, go faster, or go farther with less effort and sweat. A throttle does the same thing, without pedaling.
Types of eBikes - eBikes, just like regular bikes, are designed for specific purposes: commuting, touring, trail and off-trail riding, road, and even cargo. Keep in mind how you plan to use an eBike when you consider which bike to buy.
Classes of eBikes
- Class 1 – only assist while you pedal, no throttle – maximum assisted speed 20mph
- Class 2 – with throttle that don't require pedal assist – maximum assisted speed 20mph
- Class 3 – only assist while you pedal, no throttle – maximum assisted speed 28mph
Wired Magazine article: What are eBike 'Classes' and What Do They Mean?
Brands and Models - There are many brands and models of eBikes which can make finding the right eBike for you confusing. Check out these reviews:
- Electric Bike Review is a good place to look up reviews on specific eBikes or categories of eBikes. They also look at affordable models
- Consumer Reports
- Gear Lab
- Hub motors (usually mounted in the center of the rear wheel) and mid-drive motors (located between the pedals in the center of the bike frame). Hub motors have been around longer, tend to be less expensive (thus are more likely to be found on less expensive eBikes), and are a good choice if you ride mostly on flat roads.
- Mid-drive motors tend to be smaller and lighter and can provide more torque than hub motors. This makes them a good choice for hilly areas and off-road use, such as for mountain bikes. Additionally, the center position of the mid-drive motor helps create a more balanced ride.
Sensors Sensors tell the motor how to deliver the power assist. There are two types: cadence (measures the revolutions of your pedaling) and torque (which senses how hard you are pedaling). More expensive bikes use torque sensors which result in a more natural assist feeling. Less expensive bikes use cadence sensors and some bikes use both.
How to choose a motor type? This depends on how you plan to use the bike and your budget. If you plan to ride on hilly terrain or off-roading, a mid-drive motor is likely the better choice. If you plan to ride on flatter terrain, mostly to commute, a hub motor may be the better (and less expensive) choice. Manufactures usually get this right and match the motor type with the intended use of a model. e.g. mountain bikes will most likely come with a mid-drive motor.
Range - how far can an eBike go? Many variables need to be considered when calculating the range of an eBike battery: speed, assist level and how often you use the assist, your weight, the bicycle's weight, road and environmental conditions. Thus, the calculation is not simple. The watt hours a battery supplies can help you determine an expected range. Here is a general formula:
Calculate the watt hours (WH) of a battery pack by multiplying the voltage by the amp hours (Ah) of the pack. (These values are often printed on the battery or can be found in a spec. sheet for the bike.) For example: a 36-volt 10-Ah battery pack has 360 watt hours (36 X 10 = 360). A typical eBike rider may use 15-35 watt hours/mile. Let's assume that a rider uses 20 watt hours/mile. For this battery, the calculation is 360/20 = 18 mile range. Your mileage (range) may vary. Use this Range Calculator.
Although it may cost a bit more, consider buying a battery that gives you a reasonable margin over the watt hours you think you will need on your longer rides. It's unlikely you will ever be upset that you still have some battery left when you end your ride! The alternative is riding a heavy bicycle home.
- Helmet: Wearing a helmet is not required in Vermont, but it is highly recommended for cyclists of all ages. If you are in an accident, wearing a helmet will significantly lower your risk of brain injury or death.
- Lights: Vermont State Law requires that bicycles be equipped with a white light on the front, visible from 500' away, and a red reflector on the rear, visible from 300' away. A red, illuminated rear light is not required, but it is suggested for added safety. If a rear light is used, it should be in addition to a rear reflector, not a replacement.
- Day running lights: A flashing front white light and flashing red rear light can greatly increase your visibility giving motorists more time to react to your presence on the road if they can see you sooner.
- Bright clothing to increase your visibility.
- Rear view mirror: To increase your awareness of traffic approaching from behind.
- Bell: To warn others of your presence.
- First aid kit
Accessories - Some eBikes come complete with many useful accessories such as a rack, front & rear lights, fenders, a bell, a water bottle cage. Some manufactures skimp a bit on the seat and pedals to keep their price point down knowing that many people will want to replace these items anyway to customize their bike to their liking. Depending on the type of riding you plan to do, these accessories may be very useful. Other accessories to consider:
- Rack or Basket
- Upgraded seat
- Upgraded pedals
- Panniers or Trunk
- Tools/Multi-tool/Tire repair kit
- Water bottle cage and Water bottle
- Suspension seat post
- Cycling gloves
Bike Carriers/Racks - eBikes are generally much heavier than traditional bikes, often weighing 50 pounds or more. Thus, the rack one might use for a traditional bike is likely not rated to carry the weight of an eBike, or multiple eBikes. Tip: remove the battery to lighten the load on a rack. Be careful not to let the battery overheat when in the car.
Most experts recommend hitch-mounted platform bike racks. The below links provide additional details on eBike racks.
- Bike Exchange: Best Electric Bike Racks & Buying Guide
- Evelo Electric Bikes: How to Choose a Bike Rack for Electric Bikes
Try one out with a rental: