Nowadays, everybody is jumping in on the EV bandwagon. Thanks to Tesla, other electric vehicles (EV) manufacturers, and advances in rechargeable batteries people are readily jumping into the electric bandwagon, and the bicycle/motorcycle industry is also catching up.
So, what’s the fuss about electric bikes? What’s the difference between an electric bike vs regular bike?
Yes, there are some noteworthy differences between electric bicycles and regular bicycles. The primary difference is that electric bicycles are equipped with an electric motor and battery power system that makes it easier (or even unnecessary) to pedal.
If you’re still unsure of the differences, bear with me because I’ll answer more in-depth questions such as
What are the different components used in electric bikes?
Do electric bikes look different from regular bikes?
What’s different about electric bikes in terms of maintenance and repairs?
What are the rules and regulations governing electric bikes?
What are the environmental impacts of electric bikes?
What are the use-cases between electric bike vs regular bike?
What are the Different Components Used in Electric Bikes?
Most of the components used in electric bikes are not that different from conventional bicycles. They have the same wheels, suspension systems, brakes, fenders, and other standard components found in most regular bicycles.
That said, there are a few electric components and mechanical components that have been added to electric bikes. These are mainly, the motor, battery, sensors, controls, and displays.
Now, one of the most obvious differences between an electric bike and a traditional bicycle is the electric bike motor. The purpose of the motor and the electrical drive system is to provide additional torque to the wheels and help propel them forward.
There are two types of motors you might come across when dealing with most electric bikes. These include hub drives and mid-drives. Hub drive motors are usually installed inside the bicycle wheels, and as the name suggests, it acts as the hub for the bicycle wheel.
Hub drive and mid drive motors are great at providing pedal assistance to the rider, but most professionals prefer mid-drive motors because E-bikes with these motors have a well-balanced center of gravity.
It is easier to ride these types of E-bikes, and the overall riding experience is more akin to riding a traditional bicycle.
Apart from the usual speedometers and odometers (sensors that you can even install on a traditional bicycle), an electric bike has one or two unique sensors; cadence sensors and torque sensors.
The purpose of both these sensors is to aid the rider when they start pedaling and make sure that the motor provides power efficiently so that the rider doesn’t fatigue as much as they would when riding a regular bike.
Cadence sensors can detect the speed (or cadence) at which a rider is pedaling the bike, and from reading this information, it tries to predict the amount of effort the rider is exerting. So if the rider is starting, the cadence sensors can detect that the rider is having a hard time gaining speed. (It can understand that the rider’s pedaling speed is increasing.) Therefore, the controller pushes more power into the motors, driving the wheels with a higher amount of torque.
After the rider has reached some momentum, they will ease up on the pedals. The cadence sensor will understand this difference (pedaling speed is decreasing), and it will reduce power to the motors since the rider can maintain speed without too much assistance.
Torque sensors are used for the same purposes. However, unlike cadence sensors, torque sensors are more precise since they can directly measure how much torque the rider is generating. Therefore, it can act swiftly and drive the motors more accurately.
Torque sensors (or a combination of the two) are more often utilized in E-bikes with mid-drive motors. On top of that, it is another factor that contributes to an E-bike operating more like a regular bike.
However, Torque sensors and mid-drives are more expensive to manufacture, and you won’t find them on most budget-friendly E-bikes.
Controls and Display Screen
Similar to the transmission system, another setting you will be constantly managing is the pedal-assist levels. Most E-bikes tend to have five levels ranging from one to five. (With a zero level where the motor shuts down entirely.)
The pedal assist levels maintain thresholds for the motor, with higher PAS (Pedal Assist Levels) allowing for more power.
Some high-end E-bikes (ones with high power motors, be it hub-drives or mid-drives) also include a throttle that can be controlled independently from the pedal assist modes. They can help accelerate the bike whenever you need an extra push, whether starting from a complete stop or climbing up a steep hills.
For E-bikes, the physical controls for the throttle are either a twist throttle or thumb throttle, and the physical controls for the pedal-assist are usually a panel with “+” or “-” buttons. Both mechanisms are set up on the left handlebar.
Also, most E-bikes have a digital display screen in the middle of the handlebars. This display acts as the dashboard for the electric bike and displays vital information such as the battery level, speed, and pedal-assist levels. Some displays can be customized to display additional information (such as an odometer reading, clock. etc.) and can even be replaced by your smartphone.
Without the electric bike battery, the electric motor won’t have a power source to draw electricity; the battery powers the motor, and it is basically the gas tank of an electric bike. If you forget to charge it before heading out, you will have to pedal the E-bike like a regular bike with no pedal assistance.
In most cases, the battery is installed in the down tube of the bicycle frame, and, in most bicycle frames, it clicks into place and can be secured using a lock and key. Apart from sustaining the motor, the battery pack is used to power the dashboard and other electrical components such as lights, phone chargers, etc. On top of that, it is also used as a counterweight to balance out most E-bikes, specifically in front/rear hub-drive motors.
Also, there is the wiring harness that includes additional electrical components such as fuses, cables, switches, etc. that run from the battery to the controller, display, and motor.
So if you want to ride electric bikes, make sure to charge the battery and keep it safe. Also, if you are someone who spends a lot of time outdoors hunting (see here for best bikes for hunting) or mountain biking, carrying around an extra battery sure wouldn’t hurt.
Electric Bike vs Regular Bike
An electric bicycle looks very similar to a normal bike. An electric bike has the same bicycle frame (see here for ebike frame material guide), body geometry, brakes, suspension, and other mechanical elements.
In all aspects, they look very similar to traditional bikes with minute differences, a few of them being the battery pack, motor, and display panel. Also, in terms of weight, electric bikes weigh more than regular bikes because of the added electrical system; hence, putting them up on a bicycle rack might be a bit more difficult.
Other than that, there is no significant difference that could make an electric bike look a whole lot different than a regular bike.
How are Maintenance and Repairs Different from a Regular Bike?
When it comes to comparing the maintenance costs and cost of repairs for electric bikes VS regular bikes, regular bikes will always need less maintenance, and will not blow up a hole in your budget. Thankfully, if you take proper care of your electric bike, you won’t have to do a lot of repairs.
Here’s a brief overview of what you need to do in order to maintain an electric bike.
Carry Out a Daily Maintenance Check
Before you start heading out (especially on long-distance rides), it’s best to do a quick routine check around the electric bike. Here are a few things you should look for:
See if the motor kicks in, and the assist modes work correctly (either by using the throttle or by pedaling)
I highly recommend making it a habit to perform this routine check every day before you head out. It will save you a lot of time, effort, and money.
Keep an Essential E-Bike Repair Kit
Many cyclists, who travel using conventional bikes, know that you always need to keep a repair kit with you at all times. In the case of regular bikes, the bare essentials include a puncture repair kit, air pump, and a multi-tool (that includes hex keys and screwdrivers).
When it comes to E-bikes you need to maintain the same set of tools. Also, you need to supplement your emergency kit with a handful of other tools and components. Here are some of the additional components you may need to carry, especially when traveling long distances.
Tire liners (if you are offroading and using fat tires)
Take Good Care of your Battery
The battery is the most important aspect of your electric bike, and if you fail to maintain it properly, the battery will lose its charge and become obsolete. Electric batteries are expensive, and they will cost you a small fortune every time.
Here’s what you should do to maintain the battery:
Charge your battery regularly
Don’t let the battery drain too low (always try to keep it above 20%)
When you are not using the E-bike for a long time, keep the battery disconnected from the bike
Don’t overuse the throttle, especially when climbing steep hills
What are the rules and regulations governing electric bikes?
Since E-bikes have an electric motor, they can be categorized as motorized vehicles; hence, the rules and regulations regarding E-bikes are slightly different than that of regular bikes.
Different countries and states have different rules regarding E-bikes, and most of these relate to the speed limit of an E-bike one way or another. For example, the speed limit of an electric bike is limited to 25 kilometers per hour (15.5 mph), whereas the limit in the USA is 32 kilometers per hour (20mph).
If we want to minimize our carbon footprint as much as possible (without resorting to walking or riding a horse), riding a human-powered “normal bike” is the way to go.
However, studies have shown that an electric bike doesn’t have too much of an impact as regular bikes, especially since it compensates for the environmental impact in other aspects as people spend less energy, they can do more and travel further without expending a lot of energy.
What are the Best Use-Cases for an Electric Bike?
Also, at a glance, people would consider an electric bike to be “cheating” and that you might not get enough exercise when you ride an electric bike. Although there’s some truth to this statement, only you will be able to tell whether it’s cheating or not.
Everybody’s got different situations, and in some cases, you will be better off with a regular bicycle or a motorcycle. Here’s who will benefit the most from an E-bike:
Delivery riders (Uber eats, Doordash)
Pros and Cons of an Electric Bike
Electric bikes are faster and allow you to ride long distances without tiring
Electric bikes allow you to carry more gear
They are a cheaper alternative to electric cars
Most components are the same as that of a normal bike (easy to replace brakes, tires, etc.)
You can still use it like a regular bike
You can easily charge your phone on an e-bike
Batteries have a limited range
Relatively more expensive than regular bikes
Battery and motor repair/replacement costs are more expensive
Electric bikes weigh more than conventional bikes
Need to follow strict rules and regulations while riding (depends on the state or country)
There are multiple advantages and disadvantages of owning an E-bike over a regular bike. That said, I highly recommend getting an E-bike over a regular bike, but only if you are ready to put aside a couple of thousand dollars for the cost of the E-bike and its maintenance fees. You can also try renting an ebike first and see if you like driving one.
So here are my thoughts on a comparison between electric bikes vs regular bikes. As you’ve no doubt gathered from this article, despite having small minor tweaks, electric bicycles are just the same as normal bikes.
In my opinion, an E-bike is a much better option because it is more responsive and provides the ability to ride faster, making it an eco-friendly yet efficient solution for traveling long distances while still getting enough exercise.
Andrew Strider is an electric bike enthusiast. He currently owns 5 electric bikes and is an active member of his local electric bike club where he is able to test many other models/brands a few times a month.
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