Technology is revolutionising e-bikes at an incredible speed. We’re getting lighter frames, longer-lasting and more powerful batteries to take us further and, as this is New Zealand, plenty of places to ride.
The motor and pedal combo is becoming the first choice for many New Zealanders – e-bike sales topped 20,000 here in 2017 and more than 47,000 e-bikes were imported into the country in 2018. If you’re keen to join the revolution but don’t know where to begin, there are several things to consider.
For those buying an e-bike for the first time, the principles remain the same as if you were purchasing a traditional bike or a car. Do your research, try before you buy and take the time to understand what your e-bike can do.
Firstly, ask yourself what you want to get out of your e-bike. Will you use it predominantly for leisure, fitness, commuting or more strenuous weekend getaways, riding off-road? From there, you can narrow down your options. Although the majority of e-bikes are suitable for multi-use and different terrains, you’ll probably end up using your first e-bike for one thing more than another.
Next, don’t be shy, says Victor Gardiner, Merchandise Manager at Bike Barn. “Go in-store and try some, talk to the staff and see what feels comfortable and will meet your needs. Going for a test ride is one of the best ways to see if an e-bike will work for you.”
E-bikes come in a variety of sizes and costs, so heading in-store is highly recommended.
“It’s an experiential purchase, and a good one at that. Let someone at a store see you, discuss your needs, fit you accordingly – none of that can be achieved unless you’re there in person,” Victor adds.
Keep in mind that e-bikes are typically heavier than regular bikes. Are you going to be hauling it around the city on your daily commute or loading it onto your car on weekend mornings? That’s the sort of thing to consider and discuss with the salesperson.
It’s recommended to set aside a budget and then a bit more for accessories such as a helmet, extra lights, clothing and maybe the odd gadget or two. There are new support gadgets being developed for cycling all the time, especially in the digital space.
New Zealand is increasingly bike-friendly, as more and more cycleways and safe places to ride are provided by local councils, along with a network of trails around the country. As well as the Great Rides cycle trails, New Zealand has invested millions of dollars in on-road cycling routes known as Heartland Rides, encouraging cyclists to ride scenic back-country roads and the Urban Cycling Network that makes it easier and safer for cyclists to ride around our towns and cities.
This compliments the idea of an e-bike for commuting urban dwellers, and for weekend exploration wherever you live. E-bike touring is becoming more popular every summer, as people drive their cars to a base such as a campsite or hotel, then head to destinations that four wheels cannot reach.
After purchase, take your time to get to know the bike; safety is all-important, as is understanding an e-bike’s technical make-up.
“Gear-changing on an electric bike can have an effect on the performance of the motor,” says Chris O’Connor, Technical Services and Demo Manager at Trek Bicycles. “The motor will assist you in pedalling to keep the bike moving forward. However, there are e-bike variations. Mid-drive bikes will operate like a normal bike; rear-hub motors will potentially be harder to change gear on and may require a lighter load on the pedals.”
All the experts advise getting a good understanding of your gears to ensure your e-bike performs optimally. Selecting the right gear before taking off or before heading uphill will help eliminate any gear changing issues. Basically, it’s advisable to change gears before putting a lot of load on the pedals. While riding on the flat, you shouldn’t need to adjust the load on the pedals to change gear.
Getting to know your battery will enhance your all-round experience, too. Popular lithium batteries can hold up to 1,000 charge cycles but will start to become less efficient when they’re between three to five years old. Generally, you’ll be able to travel 100km on a single charge and it takes around six hours to fully charge the battery. These distances and times vary, so understanding your limitations is important if you’re planning on exploring some of our more remote areas. The position of the motor is another consideration, being critical to performance and feel. “A motor which is attached to the pedals is usually more balanced as the bike has the ability to perform like a bike and not be pushed along by a rear-wheel hub drive or dragged by a front-wheel hub. Hub-drive motors definitely have a place but may cause control issues,” says Chris.
As for the next chapter in e-bike technology, it’s no surprise to learn there are some interesting innovations in this space. Community and connection have always been a big part of traditional cycling, and it’s no different among e-bikers, as a wealth of smartphone integrated apps and tech tools become available.
“Connectivity is the ultimate topic of the future for bicycles, especially e-bikes. In the future, connected bicycles will offer users almost unlimited possibilities,” says Claus Fleischer, CEO of Bosch eBike Systems.
“We are working on solutions for the mobility of the future, as well as driving developments relating to all aspects of connected biking with new products like the SmartphoneHub.”
In connection with bike apps, your smartphone becomes your e-bike control centre, not only helping riders find the fastest, shortest or most serene journeys, but also providing music, fitness tracking and call-making options while allowing the biking community to share new routes and tips with fellow users.
Are e-bikes the way of your future? There are certainly plenty of people planning to saddle up, make the most of the warmer days and take a ride with a difference.
Buying your first?
• Try before you buy. An e-bike is a big purchase, so you need to be 100% happy with your choice.
• Buy from a stockist that offers aftercare services and wide-ranging and compatible components.
• Whether you need drinks bottles, hi-vis clothing or baby seats, remember to set aside some of
your budget for accessories.
• Look after your external battery. Detach it when transporting your e-bike in the car, and keep it dry when you’re not on the road.
Reported by Ben Cook for our AA Directions Autumn 2021 issue