In recent years, electric vehicles (EVs) have become a hot topic of conversation, garnering attention for their lower maintenance costs, improved fuel economy, and numerous environmental benefits.
It’s a conversation that has left many consumers looking to invest in an EV of their own, but where do you begin in finding the vehicle that’s right for you? And what’s important to know before you invest?
Well, the first thing you might want to consider is that the right EV for you may not be an EV at all. Or, at least, not the type of EV you’re thinking of! For some consumers, an electric bike - which is an electric vehicle - is the way to go.
Electric bikes, also known as e-bikes, use an electric motor to assist cyclists in getting where they want to go, putting extra power behind pedaling efforts to make cruising on hilly or challenging terrains easy, breezy, and efficient. Unlike a motorbike or moped, electric bikes have pedals, like traditional bicycles, that allow riders to power their machine by pedaling alone or with motorized assistance.
Their versatility makes them an ideal choice for city commuters, casual weekend explorers, and fitness enthusiasts alike.
Never considered an e-bike before? Don’t worry! Welcome to OhmConnect’s E-Bike 101, a crash course on everything you need to know about electric bikes.
Before we jump into specifics like the different types of e-bikes, costs, and classifications, let’s start by taking a quick look at some of the benefits of owning an electric bike.
1. They’re easy to operate.
Don’t be intimidated by the idea of a motor! If you can ride a bike, you can ride an e-bike. Electric bicycles are notorious for being user-friendly, even if you’re a total newbie, with simple functionality that lets riders shift between electric-assisted and manual cycling modes with ease.
2. They’re a great form of exercise!
Electric bikes might make life easier, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still a great form of exercise! Assisted or not, any level of cycling is a good way to boost your heart rate and get your body in motion — plus, studies have shown that e-bike owners are more likely than traditional bike owners to get outside and ride! In fact, in a survey conducted by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC), 91 percent of e-bike owners said that they got out on their bikes at least once per week — which is a considerable increase from the 55 percent of manual bike owners who said the same.
3. They’re simple to charge.
Most e-bike batteries have a lifespan of 500-1000 full charges, and getting them powered up and ready to go is easy! Generally, e-bike batteries are designed for use with any standard electrical outlet, and many can be removed from the bike itself for easy indoor charging in as little as four hours!
4. They’re environmentally friendly.
The average e-bike generates 2 grams of CO2 for every kilometer traveled. In comparison, a public train system emits 50-75 grams per passenger per kilometer, a city bus produces 111 grams in the same distance, and a passenger vehicle creates 152 grams — talk about CO2 savings!
Not every e-bike is right for everyone, so taking some time to consider your lifestyle and how you plan to use your electric bike is critical to making an informed purchase and finding the right bike for you.
Ask yourself questions like…
The answers to these questions will guide your shopping and encourage you to focus your research on specific e-bike features.
For instance, if you live in an apartment, weight might be an important consideration. E-bikes, on average, are heavier than standard bikes, and finding a model that you can easily lift and maneuver into elevators or up staircases may be an important factor for some buyers.
For other riders, range may be a key feature to keep in mind. If you’re planning on taking longer trail rides or weekend day trips, you’ll want to choose a model that can cover a longer distance before requiring a recharge.
Others may be focused on maintenance and what day-to-day upkeep looks like. For cycling enthusiasts, dedicating time to caring for their bike may be an enjoyable hobby, but for busy city commuters looking simply to get from point A to point B, a lower-maintenance bike may be the way to go. Note that more and more e-bike charging stations are popping up!
Once you’ve got an idea of your needs and which features may be most important to you, it’s time to start looking at models.
The first thing you’ll want to understand is e-bike classifications. As of 2023, there are three different classifications for electric bikes, and knowing what type of e-bike you’re buying is essential, as different states and municipalities will have different regulations depending on the type of e-bike you choose to invest in.
Here’s a quick rundown of the three classes of e-bikes.
E-bikes in the Class 1 category have motors that are exclusively pedal-assisted (meaning they only kick into gear when the rider is actively pedaling) and will only engage at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour.
Class 2 electric bicycles have motors that work both through pedaling as well as by using a throttle, and similar to Class 1 e-bikes, Class 2 e-bike motors will only work at speeds of 20 miles per hour or less.
Recognized as the fastest class of e-bike, Class 3 electric bike motors can reach speeds of up to 28 miles per hour — with some operating exclusively through pedal assistance and others offering throttle control like Class 2 models.
Within each of these e-bike classes, there are a few key categories of electric bikes you’ll want to consider. Each type of bike offers different features suited to meet the unique needs of different riders and their interests.
Primarily, there are four that you’ll want to know about:
Think of electric cruiser bikes as your casual, everyday e-bike. They’re typically equipped with wider tires and elevated handlebars that keep the rider seated in a comfortable, upright position. They’re best used on flat, smooth terrains like bike trails or boardwalks and tend to be a good fit for more casual riders.
Commuter e-bikes are built similarly to cruiser bikes but with a few key differences. Their tires tend to be narrower and larger, lending to a more efficient ride, and they come in a wide range of versatile styles. For instance, some commuter bikes are even foldable, which is a great option if you need to pack them up to store in an apartment or take them on public transportation.
Consider commuter e-bikes as your practical everyday electric bike, ideal for running errands or getting to work each day.
Electric mountain bikes are a great option for riders who like to get outdoors and explore. They typically have wider tires and are built with stronger suspension than other e-bikes, making them well-suited for off-roading and rougher terrains like rocky, uneven trails.
Think of an electric mountain bike as a helping hand to assist you with the uphill ascent so you can focus on enjoying the downhill ride — adrenaline-junky-approved!
Performance Road Bikes
And finally, the last major category of e-bike you’ll want to make note of is performance road electric bikes. Road bikes are designed to be lightweight with low-sitting handlebars that position the rider leaning forward for a more aerodynamic ride.
They’re intended for riding on smooth, paved surfaces and are ideal for riders looking for speed as well as a little added assistance that will help them cover longer distances. They’re a good fit for anyone who already enjoys long-distance recreational riding and wants to do so with more efficiency.
Now that you have a good idea of what types of e-bikes are out there and which ones might be a good fit for your lifestyle, the other important factor you’ll want to consider is cost — and the price of a standard e-bike isn’t insignificant.
The average e-bike can range in price from $500 on the affordable end to $7,000 on the higher end, with the typical electric commuter bike costing roughly $2,000-$3,000 — a steady markup from the average $1,000 spent on standard, non-electric midrange commuter bikes.
Fortunately, consumers aren’t the only ones getting on board with the e-bike movement, and new government-implemented incentives are starting to make it easier for those looking to invest. Here are a few opportunities you might want to keep in mind.
In Vermont, eligible residents can currently take advantage of rebates valued at $400-$800 on eligible e-bike purchases through the State of Vermont Incentive Program for eBikes.
In Minnesota, a new initiative is providing income-eligible residents with a rebate of up to $1,500 on the purchase of a new e-bike. That’s roughly 75 percent of the total cost!
In California, the Pedal Ahead E-Bike Incentive Program offers residents vouchers for up to $1,000 on regular e-bike purchases and up to $1,750 on cargo and adaptive e-bike purchases.
In 2024, Washington state is set to implement new legislation that will provide consumers with rebates of up to $1,200 on the purchase of new electric bikes.
And in Hawaii, the Department of Transportation currently offers consumers rebates valued at up to $500 or 20 percent of the retail price of eligible, newly purchased electric bikes.
And there are plenty more incentives just like these ones available in other states throughout the U.S.! Before you make your purchase, investigate what your state (and even your municipality) might have available! You might be surprised at the opportunities you find.