I’m taking a break today from reporting on our motorhome tour of the Outer Hebrides to respond to several requests from people asking me about my electric bike which I’ve mentioned in several earlier posts. I’ve been asked advice on which electric bike to buy and how to choose between all the electric bicycles that are on the market.
I’m not being sponsored to write or recommend anything here, this is simply how and why I chose my own pedelec and some advice and observations which I hope might be useful for you.
In the world of cycling the times they are certainly a changing, in fact only a couple of years ago if you mentioned electric bikes, some would turn up their noses and riders of ‘proper’ bicycles would often refer to the riding of an electric bike as cheating. I could never quite understand the reluctance of the cycling community to embrace this step forward. I can only wonder if the competitiveness that creeps in among many road cyclists would lead them to consider some smiling old giffer sailing past them up a hill an affront to their lycra.
I first came across electric bikes in serious numbers in Spain last winter where we spent 7 weeks in our motorhome, escaping those endless damp grey winter days at home. We decided to forgo snuggling up by the fire for months and opted instead for days spent outdoors, walking and cycling in the sunshine under piercing blue skies.
On the campsites we stayed on, the majority of bicycles owned by fellow campers were electric and I was certainly the odd one out on my ‘normal’ bike. Pensioners a good 15 years older than me were whizzing about the place willy nilly on their electric bikes and describing how they ‘went for little ride yesterday, just 25 miles’ or ‘up that mountain over there to that monastery this morning’, while waving a bronzed arm indicating a point in the very far distance, and let me tell you, they were doing all of this without so much as a by your leave and seemingly without even breaking into a sweat.
If riding an electric bike is ‘cheating’ then it would be reasonable to assume that riders of these swindling speed machines wouldn’t be very fit. On the contrary, these enlightened pedal powered pensioners were indeed exceptionally sprightly and were highly motivated to be jumping on their bikes at every given opportunity, thus actually increasing their fitness, maintaining their mobility and no doubt releasing plenty of age related depression beating endorphins along the way.
I might even contact my MP and suggest that electric bicycles are prescribed on the NHS as a cost saving measure to keep our ageing population fit and healthy. These bicycles aren’t mopeds, they are pedelecs, that means that the motor simply enhances the amount you pedal, but if you don’t pedal the motor won’t work. See! it’s not cheating at all!
If I needed any excuse to make the swap, then my dicky spine resulting in a trip to A&E in a Spanish hospital as part of our winter motorhome adventure was reason enough. After having a little go on one of these bikes on a Spanish campsite, my mind was made up. As I pushed on the pedals to set off, there was none of the anticipated usual strain through my back or legs, simply a smooth increase in speed, and inducing a massive grin too. Could this be the holy grail of all the gain and none of the pain?
When we got home from Spain, with a slightly heavy heart I sold my lovely (little ridden as it was if I’m totally honest quite hard work) Liv carbon road bike and set about researching which electric bike was best for me.
These were my criteria for buying an electric bike:
I wanted at least a 500w battery so that I could go for miles without worrying how I was going to get home again. Round where we live in the Yorkshire Dales it’s very hilly, so a battery that they tell you will take you 50 miles, might mean you’re ok for 50 miles on the flat. However bear in mind your terrain, as that battery might only take you 20 miles on a very hilly ride. I didn’t want to go for a ride and be constantly worrying whether I had sufficient power to get me back home again. Usually the bikes will have several different modes of assistance , which means you can up the anti, depending on how much extra help you want from the motor. So for example, I might choose to use more assistance, using more battery power, going up a hill, but no assistance and therefore no battery power coming down the hill.
The motor will assist you up to about 16mph as long as you are pedalling, above that speed you are on your own. Obviously you can ride above that speed and you might find that some motors give a little resistance to pedalling when they are not running. I wanted a motor that wouldn’t impede my progress if I was cycling along above 16mph under my own steam. You’ll discover if this is an issue on the bike you are considering by having a test ride.
The 500w battery on the bike I bought can take a full charge in several hours or you can simply plug the battery in, on or off the bike and top it up a bit without any detrimental effect on the battery. Check if you can charge the battery on the bike or if it needs to be taken off. The battery, which weighs a couple of kilos just clicks off fairly easily, but I’d advise having a battery that locks on to the bike. On my bike the built in lights also run off the battery.
I wanted a decent motor made by a reputable company and I wanted it to be mounted in the centre of the bike, so that the centre of gravity is well balanced. I ideally wanted a Bosch motor as they are renowned as being reliable and as we enjoy going to Europe in the motorhome, it is important to me that if I have a problem while we’re abroad, I can get the motor fixed in one of the many electric bike shops that we saw in Spain.
Bosch driven pedelecs are popular in Europe, so a Bosch motor was high on my wanted list. There are may different makes and types of motor. Some are better for hilly areas like where we live and have more torque to pull you up the hill. They all weigh about 2 or 3 kg.
Mudguards and a Rack
I wanted a bike for all weathers and I wanted a bike that I could fit panniers to, so that I would be encouraged to use the bike for shopping at home and while we are away in the motorhome. Panniers are great for carrying picnics, spare jumpers, puncture repair outfits, sunhats etc etc. I didn’t want to buy a bike and start having to look at having an after market rack or mudguards fitted, I wanted a bike that was built with them already on. A rear rack and mudguards do add weight to your bike, but as these bikes are never going to win any prizes at weight watchers, I didn’t think a pound or two extra would make any difference and anyway I’ve got a motor, although lifting it on and off our motorhome is a consideration, as I mentioned in an earlier post on ‘how to carry bikes on a motorhome.‘
The display is a great piece of kit. There are various different types which are used across brands. They give you information on which mode you are in, how many miles per hour you are whizzing along at, how far you’ve travelled etc etc Two of the most important factors for me were, does the display clip off, so that I can easily remove it from my bike when I go into a cafe or shop and probably more importantly, can I read the display without my glasses on.
The controller for the motor is mounted on my handlebars and again is very simple, easy to read and just next to the handlebar.
I wanted at least front suspension to take out some of the bumps in the road, again for my dicky back, and if I could get front suspension that locks out, all the better for when I am cycling on smooth tarmac roads, although I’m not too worried about losing pedal power through the suspension as of course I’ve got a cheats motor helping me along.
I looked at a few bikes which frankly were pretty shoddily made. One bike looked like it had been built on a Friday, all the welds were wonky and things just weren’t symetrical. Have a good look at the bike you are buying and make sure it’s well put together.
I wanted a comfy saddle, although this is a very personal thing and what is comfy for one person might not be for another, so you need to try them out. If you find your ideal bike, but the saddle isn’t right, you could always swap the saddle later, or do a deal with the shop when you buy the bike. It’s important to mention that a great big padded sofa of a saddle won’t always be the most comfortable. It depends on your riding position and your anatomy.
I wanted a women’s frame, but not a full step through. I didn’t want a man’s frame in a small size, because often the geometry just isn’t right for a woman. I wanted a dropped crossbar bike, sometimes called a low step, ideally designed for a woman or at least with a woman in mind. The frame of a full step through arguably is slightly less robust than a frame with a cross bar.
I’m a big fan of disc brakes and have had them on my previous 2 bikes. I want to be able to stop quickly when I need to, regardless of the weather conditions and without needing the grip strength of Big Daddy* to pull the brake levers.
I wanted gears, so that I could ride it like a ‘normal’ bike and if I ever do run out of battery, I’ll have a fighting chance of getting home again. I didn’t mind hub gears or derailleur. Mine has 9 speed derailleur, but modern hub gears are good too as they are enclosed and shielded from road muck and so less maintenance.
OK it’s not THE most important thing, but if you’re buying a new bike, you have to like how it looks.
Of course your choice will depend largely on your budget. The more you pay, the better the bike. There are electric bikes available from around £1k and at the upper end the sky is the limit. Set your budget and it will help you to pare down the many choices in your price range.
Where to Buy it From
As I mentioned at the start, there has been a massive change in awareness and attitudes to electric bikes. In Europe the sale of electric cycles has now outstripped the sale of conventional bikes and judging by my experience while shopping for my bike, the same may be happening in the UK too.
I shortlisted several bikes, visited many shops across North and West Yorkshire, Teesside and County Durham, phoned shops up and down the country and test rode about 8 bikes. The story was the same everywhere I enquired, the bike shops couldn’t get hold of bikes quickly enough to keep up with the current demand and some shops even used this as a pressure selling tactic, which for me never works. I held my nerve despite threats of ‘If you don’t buy this last one, I don’t know when I can get any more of those in.’
I eventually bought my bike from the Electric Transport Shop in York, the staff were knowledgeable, I felt unpressured and they offered me and my husband a lengthy test ride and ordered in several extra bikes in my size and price range for me to try out.
What Did I Buy?
I bought a Haibike SDuro Trecking 5 Low Step, I chose it because it ticked every single one of my boxes and it’s the most comfortable bike I’ve every ridden.
Am I Pleased With My Purchase?
I can honestly say I’ve never looked back and I absolutely love my new bike, I ride it at every excuse, I can go for long hilly rides without any pain and enjoy the view without the need for oxygen at the tops of the hills, I now look for reasons to go out on my bike. Headwinds and hills are no longer a reason not to ride.
I hope this information is helpful and I’d be interested to hear from you in the comments section below if you’ve found this useful and if you’re considering or have already bought an electric bike.
*Big Daddy for those of you who are too young to remember this, provided hours of entertainment on a Saturday afternoon with pantomime like wrestling on television along with Giant Haystacks and Kendo Nagasaki.