Some Thoughts on Electric Bicycles

by Ragtimelil

Electric bikes are very popular in some countries, but not so much in the US. They might be worth considering.

I went for a ride to the store today on my bike. It is only 7 tenths of a mile one way. I had been riding daily around the back streets but had slacked off lately. This was my first time on the main road. I encountered a few small lumps you might call hills and thought I was going to die. I haven’t been on a bike in way too many years and have to admit, I am really out of shape. I got to the store with a little huffing and puffing and walked my bike to the front and parked it. I could feel the muscles in my thighs quivering. When I got to the door I had to take one tiny step up into the building and almost fell over. I didn’t expect my legs to give way but they almost buckled right under me. I made it home with more coasting than pedaling and sat right down to rest.

photo by Andrew Gatt

Consider the Electric Bicycle

I am currently car-less so riding a bike sounded like a good idea at the time. It’s discouraging, though, not to be able to go much of any distance. I’m afraid that if I go too far, I won’t have the strength to get back. But if I don’t go out, I’ll never build up enough muscles to go anywhere.

Out of curiosity, I started looking at electric bicycles online. They are the mainstay of transportation in some countries such as China. They are very mobile, great for local travel and don’t require any gasoline. They're great for commuting to work in hot climates where you would get sweaty if you rode a traditional pedal bike. They are also popular for older folks who might also be out of shape or overweight. The beauty of the electric bikes is that you can still pedal, but when you get to a daunting hill or just run out of steam, you can coast along on the electric motor. I certainly would venture farther if I had a motor to help me get home.

They have one or two rechargeable batteries, usually either lithium or lead-acid, and some sort of drive mechanism to propel either the front or rear wheel. The range depends on whether the bike is traveling on the flat ground or up hills and is pedaled or driven by the motor only. The ranges given were from about 4.5 miles to over 40 miles.

Electric Bikes on the Trail

I am a little concerned about how he managed to film the bike behind him and steer at the same time.

The Law

I had been told that in Texas, an electric bike was considered a motorized vehicle and you had to get registration and insurance and pass a motorcycle test. After some research, I found that that really wasn’t the case. The problem is, that most police officers don’t know the laws (such as the person who told me about ebikes) and you might get stopped. Being courteous and informed can go a long way to promoting the use of these great bikes.

The US Federal government passed a law, Public Law 107-319, saying that an ebike, electric bicycle, is a bicycle and not a motor vehicle as long as the motor is under 750 watts, with operating pedals and limited to 20 mph. This would supersede any state law although states can certainly add laws. My state of Texas says that electric bikes are defined in the Transportation Code Title 7, Chapter 551 entitled "Operation of Bicycles, Mopeds, and Play Vehicles" in Subchapter A, B, C, and D. Under Chapter 541.201 (24), "Electric bicycle" means a bicycle that is (A) designed to be propelled by an electric motor, exclusively or in combination with the application of human power, (B) cannot attain a speed of more than 20 miles per hour without the application of human power, and (C) does not exceed a weight of 100 pounds. The department or a local authority may not prohibit the use of an electric bicycle on a highway that is used primarily by motor vehicles. The department or a local authority may prohibit the use of an electric bicycle on a highway used primarily by pedestrians.

Most states do have safety laws pertaining to bicycles so you still have to follow the rules of the road for bikes.

Top of the Line Bikes

Some of the electric bikes look great. Some look like motor scooters which could get you in trouble if you got stopped and couldn’t convince the officer that it really was a bicycle.

The only drawback I could see to these bikes was the price. The most expensive one I found on Amazon was over $3,000. I’m sure it’s worth it but it’s out of my range.

This bike has some great suspension built in and looks really comfortable. It will provide unassisted power on demand for up to 20 miles at a cruising speed of 20 mph. It only comes with one battery but can be easily upgraded to double its range to 40 miles with the addition of a secondary battery pack and increase its carrying capacity with the addition of baskets and rear carrier bags.

The motor is 500 watts with a 36 volt lithium Ion battery built in to frame (Fully charges in 3.5 - 4 hours.) It comes with 3" wide thorn resistant tires.

Mid Range eBike

This bike is a 17" mountain bike frame (suitable for use for riders between 5 ft 2 in and 6 ft 2 in).

It has an adjustable seat that raises to up to 43" from the ground. It comes with 26" wheels with stainless steel spokes The batter is lithium ion, provides up to 30 mile range and weighs a fraction of traditional lead-acid batteries.

It can be used as a normal bike with the quick release battery. It comes with

Shimano Tourney SIS-Index gears
Quick release front wheel 
7 speed Shimano gears with quick change
Front and rear mud guards
Bell and reflectors
Water bottle

The maximum weight should be under 310 lbs, assist mode should be under 330 lbs. The cyclamatic comes with a full 12 month warranty against any faults or problems developed during normal use. Bike weighs 60 lbs.

Least Expensive Bike

This is the least expensive model I could find. The price isn't bad and it got plenty of good reviews. My concern is the weight rating. I'm a big person and could be stressing the bike too much although the woman in the sales video isn't tiny either.

It comes in two styles, a men's style and a step through model. It comes with one 24-volt rechargeable lead acid battery which adds considerably to the weight. It has a quiet Torquey 450 watt motor and two options on the throttle - pedal assisted and full electric mode. The top speed on this bike without pedaling is 15 mph.

Folding Electric Bike

This is a mid-range priced bike but the biggest advantage to this model is that it is so lightweight at only 27 pounds. Some electric bikes are very heavy with the batteries and extra components. Some say they feel more stable on a heavier bike, but, without a doubt, the extra weight can be a drawback, especially if you live on the second floor and need to store it in your living quarters. This bike can be folded and put into a car or even into a bag and taken in to work with you. You can even fold it and take it on a train or bus.

It comes with a 3500 rmp geared pancake motor drive. The batteries inside frame for clean look and security. The range is listed as up to 20 miles at speeds up to 14 mph.

This is a very simple one-speed bike with no extras and may not have much power if you have to navigate a lot of hills but it's a great little bike for quick trips and short commutes.

Other Options - Conversion Kits

I thought a kit might be the way to go but they are not really cheap. I found some kits alone that were over $1,000,  Still you can find some cheaper than most ebikes. You would have to have some mechanical skill to make the conversion but it is not outside of the realm of possibility.

You just use the bike you already have and install the parts that come with the kit. This model is very affordable, but there's that drat weight limit again.

The specifications list a 450-watt brushed side-mount motor with rear wheel drive. The kit includes one 24-volt/10-Ah battery pack and a Currie Smart charger to recharge the pack. It also comes with room for a second battery. It is designed for most 26 inch wheel bikes and is spaced for a standard 7 speed bike. Top speed is listed as 15 mph or greater with a range of 10 to 15 miles with normal pedaling. You can add the second battery to double the range.

Motorized Push Trailer

I discovered this item online and my jaw dropped. It's a motorized trailer that pushes you and the bike. It does have a throttle that attaches to the handlebars so that you can control it, but it simply attaches to your bike and still has room for a bag or two of groceries.

Several online sites sell these and there are instructions for making them if you are handy.

Did they just cruise through a stop sign?

I've read that some serious bikers look askance and electric bikes. After all, the point is to pedal, isn't it? But for older folks and those out of shape, it just might be the first steps to getting out and getting some exercise.

I can't think of a better way to commute or to run local errands. Now I just have to find a way to buy one.

Updated: 12/07/2012, Ragtimelil
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Cycling Comments

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Ragtimelil on 01/02/2013

They are indeed. Thanks for commenting.

Ragtimelil on 12/17/2012

I would think a good bike shop could customize one for you. Perhaps even customize one you already have. I'd check into it. .

katiem2 on 12/17/2012

I want one of these bikes. I'm in the market to buy a new bike, I currently have three as I'm an avid cyclist but since the injuries I sustained in a car accident one year and five months ago I can no longer lean over to maneuver a bike. The type of bike I've decide will work best for me is not an electric bike as I enjoy a physical challenge. It's scary as to how quickly we can get out of shape as you so eloquently pointed out while venturing over those bumps in the roads, oh I meant hills. Anyway I'm looking for a bike that allows the upper torso to remain upright without the need to lean forward depending on the upper body to maintain the steering. Let me know if you run across any tips on the best bike for me now. :)K

Ragtimelil on 12/15/2012

Me too. I want one!

Ragtimelil on 12/10/2012

Absolutely! It certainly would work for short trips anyway.

katiem2 on 12/10/2012

This could be the solution to reducing gas consumption. Interesting :)K

Ragtimelil on 12/08/2012

The shopping involved just buying a quart of milk. I was glad for the rest. I tend not to do things if it's too hard. I wait to get a ride with my neighbor. Sad, but true.

Digby_Adams on 12/08/2012

I think you should just keep on getting stronger. Just go for a ride and then back home. You were probably stretching it by adding in shopping. I bet in a week or two, you won't believe how much improvement you see. That said. I think electric bicycles look like they would be great to have.

Ragtimelil on 12/08/2012

You are absolutely right Sue. The easier it is to use, the more likely someone would actually use it (like old, out of shape me.)

Ragtimelil on 12/08/2012

Thanks Harald. I loved the concept of the push trailers too. I can't remember exactly what they cost but about as much as a ebike. If you're handy, you can build one :)

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