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How do I buy an electric bicycle?

We here at The Verge love electric riddeables. Hoverboards, skateboards, scooters, motorcycles, mopeds, unicycles, tricycles … They call it, we drove it. However, e-bikes are a separate category as they are more than just a fun tech fashion. They could actually be the future of transport.

Of course, e-bikes are not new or undisputed. Some feel threatened by the growing popularity of e-bikes, as standard bikes suddenly disappear like the high gear when all are electrically powered. Rest assured: e-bikes do not make the mobility of people redundant. Maybe they even improve it.

However, there is no better time than now to start shopping for an electric bike. The market is flooded with battery-powered bicycles of all shapes and sizes. Boutique novices are fighting to fund Indiegogo and Kickstarter, while a handful of European companies are breaking new ground with a variety of high-tech designs. Meanwhile, the big bike manufacturers are finally familiar with the profit potential of e-bikes and introduce their own product lines. Prices vary, but you can buy a solid, reliable e-bike for as little as $ 1,000.

There's a lot to choose from, of course, and you do not want to be fooled. So here's what you need to know.

E-bikes prevail in the US

As I said, e-bikes are not new. It has been around for decades. And if you live in China or Europe, e-bikes are probably already a way of life for you. But that was not always the case.

European e-bikes have been used for years mainly by people over 65 years. For seniors who have already relied on their bicycles in places like Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Berlin, e-bikes offered a way to go on for many years to come. As such, e-bikes had the unfortunate reputation of being just for old people. The manufacturers of e-bikes have tried to curb this perception and it seems like it will work. Young city commuters in Europe finally pay their attention to e-bikes.

The US does not have this perceptual problem, but a car and infrastructure problem. That's why e-bikes are still a pretty niche here: they make up only 4 percent of the total bicycle sales. Compare that with more bicycle-friendly countries like the Netherlands, where more e-bikes were sold last year than normal bikes. Overall, experts predict that global sales will reach $ 23.8 billion by 2025.

E-bikes make up a small part of the total bike market in the US, but the number of cyclists is slowly increasing. Electric bike sales increased an incredible 91 percent from 2016 to 2017, and an impressive 72 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to research firm NPD Group. Electric bicycle sales in the US have increased more than eightfold since 2014.

The big brands notice this. Trek, based in Waterloo, Wisconsin, introduced its first electric bike in 1997, but no one bought it. Now the company is preparing for the launch of a whole range of high-performance, high-tech e-bikes.

"Where will e-bikes be in ten years if I had to swing my wand now?" Asked John Burke, CEO of Trek a recent interview with The Verge . "I'd say e-bikes are 35 percent, it's going to be huge because it's such an amazing product."

It took a long time to get there. One of the first patents for a battery-powered bicycle was registered in 1895 by an inventor named Ogden Bolton Jr. His idea was simple but interesting: a DC electric motor attached to the rear hub of a bicycle. This engine could take up to 100 amps from a 10 volt battery located under the horizontal tube of the frame. There was no gear or pedals.

Bolton has not produced or sold any of these motorcycles. Surprisingly, some of the same design details are found in e-bikes today: a rear hub motor with a battery mounted centrally in the frame.

Photo of Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Engines, sensors and everything in between

Generally, e-bikes are bicycles with a battery-powered "support" that is used when pedaling or in some cases. Use in this Case a throttle. Pressing the pedals activates a small motor that gives you a boost, allowing you to climb hills and drive over rough terrain without breaking a sweat. Turning a throttle lever does the same without requiring pedaling.

There are two main engine types: mid-drive engines with the engine positioned in the middle of the bike, usually between the pedals; and hub drive motors located in the center of the front or rear wheel (usually the rear wheel).

Both have advantages and disadvantages. Hub drives have always been around and they are usually cheaper and more versatile. They are excellent motors for all those who need a reliable e-bike for long, mostly flat paths. Center drives are usually smaller and lighter and offer a higher torque than hub drives. This makes them particularly suitable for hilly areas and off-road use. The centered position on the bike also provides a smoother ride, and changing the tire on a mid-powered bike is usually less painful.

"Mid-drives are more efficient and can typically deliver more torque without increasing battery capacity," said Steven Sheffield, product manager at Bosch, making high-end e-bike drives. "Well, if you climb hills, definitely, when you're not on the road, you have to get a medium ride uphill and that torque for that efficiency."

E-bikes tend to use different types of sensors Determine how best to consume power. There are two types: torque sensors and cadence sensors. Torque sensors control the engine based on how hard you pedal, while cadence sensors focus on how fast you step on the pedals. Most good motorcycles use torque sensors, while the low end bikes only have the cadence. Many bicycles use both.

I strongly recommend testing both engine types before purchasing an e-bike to determine which one is best for you. Think about how you want to use the bike: commuting, off-road, touring. The better e-bike brands generally match the engine placement and the type of bike they sell. Most mountain bikes are equipped with mid-range engines, while the majority of commuter bikes sold in hill-free cities like Amsterdam are based on hubs.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

I have the power!

Let's talk about power now. The main measurements of power are Watts (W), Volts (V) and Amp-hours (Ah). In addition, things can get a little sticky.

Manufacturers often quote the "nominal power" in their technical data. For example, San Diego's Juiced rated the engine of its new Scorpion e-bike at 750W. However, this can be confusing because the rated power is not identical to the peak power or the actual output power. Some companies creatively measure their performance to avoid EU regulations that exceed 250W. Because of this, it's probably best to ignore it altogether.

"Trying to compare the performance of an e-bike is a great way to lose your mind," Dan Roe writes in Bicycling .

To get a better idea of ​​how much maximum power you actually feel, check out whether a manufacturer lists an E – The voltage of the bicycle battery and the continuous amperage (measured as amp hours) from the engine control. Multiply them to get the watt-hours or the number of watts that can be delivered in one hour. This gives you a good idea of ​​how much range you can get out of a bike.

Radwheel's cargo bike, the Radwagon, for example, has a nominal output of 750 W, a 48-volt battery and 14 A-hours: 48 x 14 = 672 watt-hours. If you use energy sparingly, each mile driven will cost you about 20 watt-hours. With a 672 watt-hour package you can reach a range of about 55 kilometers. (According to Rad Power Bikes, the Radwagon can reach a range of 25 to 45 miles.)

Know Your Classes.

There are three classes of e-bikes in the US. Class 1 is a pedal support without gas. Class 2 is gas assisted with a top speed of 32 km / h. And Class 3 is just pedal assist, not gas, with a top speed of 28 mph.

In Europe, pedal-assisted electric bicycles with 250 W engines with a top speed of 25 km / h are treated as normal bicycles. In addition, there are two regulated classes: L1e-A electric bikes can have up to 1,000W of engine power, but some require registration and insurance. This category includes electric bikes that are popular with families. L1e-B e-bikes have engines over 1,000 W and a speed of 45 km / h. These are basically mopeds that need a helmet and can not be driven on bike paths. In general, e-bikes with a speed of 25 km / h are referred to as pedelecs ("pedal e-bikes"), while the faster 45 km / h bikes are referred to as speed pedelecs. Of course, as with most European things, Member States have some flexibility in applying the rules, which confuses manufacturers.

The US is still catching up when it comes to rules and regulations. According to the People for Bikes organization, 2019 started with eleven states using the three-class e-bike definitions. As of June 19, 2019, 22 states are now defining e-bikes in the three classes, doubling the total in just six months.

Photo by Thomas Ricker / The Verge

Let's go shopping!

So where can you buy an e-bike? Your local bike shop is the best choice because you will receive a selection compiled by the owners and the people who work there will be able to answer all your burning questions about performance and repairs. Of course, Amazon is a different place, but there are some pretty serious tradeoffs. For example, your bike might break down, and some of the companies that sell their bikes on Amazon are a bit more transient: one day here and the next.

It's not Amazon, of course. Many e-bikes sold in the US are cobbled together only from a variety of standard parts that are included in a catalog. If that sounds simple, it's because there are hundreds of e-bike companies at Kickstarter and Indiegogo trying to impress you with their eye-catching technology and futuristic design.

Most do not provide warranty or customer support. Some are overpriced. And it's very likely that you are buying a Chinese model that has just been renamed Western Marketing so it can be sold at a markup. If you find a bike online that you like, an interesting test is to look for the bike's specifications in Alibaba and see if something similar is being sold in Asia. It can even be cheaper.

E-bikes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from city tires with thick tires and sleek design, to cargo bikes with sufficient power to carry heavy loads or even a few kids. There are some fun retro designs and some really cool space-age designs. My personal favorites are the taco mini-bikes with fat tires and long banana seats.

A Short Crowdfunding Warning: Sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo may be a crapshoot. Sellers make big promises, but sometimes they can not deliver. According to a 2015 Kickstarter study, about 1 in 10 "successful" products that achieve their funding goals do not deliver real rewards. Among those who deliver, delays, late appointments or too much promised ideas mean that the products that get done are often disappointed.

However, some e-bike companies have no real choice. Bicycle manufacturers have told me that it's difficult to raise money for investors these days, as roll-over start-ups like Bird and Lime VCs have made it dodgy to fund new mobility startups.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

How E-Bikes Change Transportation

E-bikes cut the barriers to cycling and make it easier for people who are older or more afraid of the stress of cycling to justify riding. You are more likely to leave your car or delete your Uber app if you know you can get there faster and more efficiently without getting overly tired or sweaty.

More importantly, e-bikes can save cities from the clutches of car culture. As noted by Curbed Alissa Walker:

A 2018 study by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities, which surveyed 1,800 e-bike drivers, found that they frequent cycling , travel longer distances and differ from each other types of rides than on pedal motorcycles.

Not only did more interviewees feel safer on an e-bike than on a pedal bike, but the percentage of those who felt even safer on an e-bike was all the greater as respondents were women over 55 or older physical disabilities.

"E-bikes make it possible for more people to cycle," the study says, "many of them are unable to ride a normal bike or do not feel safe when doing so.

If you are worried about the electrical energy that makes cycling a pleasure and relaxation, you're wrong. Another study looked at the cognitive and psychological effects of outdoor cycling and showed the same results for traditional bicycles and e-bikes. Climate change has put you down? E-bikes are more sustainable than electric cars and help eliminate traffic congestion and make cities more liveable. You can also stop the engine whenever you are looking for some exercise.

With cities increasingly densely populated, some companies are turning to e-bikes to make their deliveries. Domino uses Rad Power Bikes to deliver pizza in some cities. UPS uses freighter wheels in Seattle. The German delivery company DPD wants to use these cute mini-trucks that are actually e-bikes in disguise. In New York City, e-bikes are used almost exclusively by delivery service employees.

Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge. We see them more as a recreational vehicle rather than as a transport alternative, something you use in good weather, not rain and snow like the Dutch. But come on, the women's US national football team defeated the Netherlands at the World Cup, so we can certainly compete in the saddle?

US roads are designed for cars, and bicycles and pedestrians are often just an afterthought. This marginalization has led to a shameful increase in the deaths of cyclists and pedestrians nationwide. E-bikes can only reverse this trend if enough people stop driving and pedaling. Only then will cities be given the choice of maintaining the status quo or designing their streets to be more liveable, accessible and mobile.

Electric bicycles can make traveling much easier for everyone, including older people and people with different abilities. Look, everything is terrible and obviously e-bikes do not work if people do not start driving anymore. But I can promise you one thing: as soon as you start riding you do not want to stop.

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