When we think about technologies that have changed the world, and how we function and exist in it, there are certain ones that come to mind. The automobile, the computer, and most recently, the smartphone.
There is, however, another technology that is quietly flourishing and spreading around us without getting nearly as much attention. One that has the world changing potential – the Electric Bicycle.
In fact, the technology is so popular that in Asia, the world’s largest e-bike market, there are two hundred million of them in use. They account for over a quarter of all the bicycles in the country.
In the United States, the numbers are smaller for now. Yet, more and more people are becoming aware of them, and adoption rates are increasing.
20 years from now, as we reflect back on our search for the personal mobility solution, we are likely not going to remember the world before ebikes just as it is becoming harder to remember it before the smartphones came along.
The Back Story
Electric vehicles have been in existence for over a hundred years. They predate the gasoline driven versions by several decades. In fact, if someone in the year 1900 had to bet on the future of cars, they’d have put their money on electricity.
Although the first patents for something resembling today’s bicycles date to the 1890s, the modern electric bike is only about 20 years old with most popularity gained in the past few years. The early modern ebike suffered from the same issue it’s vintage counterpart did – both used heavy, short-lived and expensive batteries – like lead-acid technology making them heavy, unreliable and impractical.
One of the side effects of the technological revolution of the recent past is finally shaking things up. Thanks to the rapid scaling of laptop, cell phone and other mobile electronic device production, a much lighter and durable battery became affordable – lithium ion. Battery packs that used to weigh 20 lbs and provide only a few miles of range now weigh less than 10 lbs and provide up to 60+ miles of range. Today, most electric bicycles use these cells.
Finally after a century of being little more than a fringe idea, ebikes are starting to boom and come into the mainstream. The technology is maturing, and we are atarting to consider e-bikes as reliable daily transportation and recreation for the masses.
This led people to wonder what separates an electric bike from a regular bike.
Why people choose to get an electric bike.
Once they find out about electric bikes, many people wonder why someone would buy one instead of a regular bike. These doubts resolve around:
- what’s the technical difference between the two?
- what are the advantages of an electric bike?
- isn’t the point of riding a bike to get exercise?
- why are they much more expensive than regular bikes?
These are all compelling and valid questions that we often find ourselves answering to customers. After all, there is a lot of misunderstanding around them. As they are whole new type of transportation, people aren’t that familiar with them yet.
But don’t worry. By the end of this post, you’ll know the difference between an electric bike and a regular bike. And what is more important, you’ll know if an electric bike is for you.
What are the technical differences between a regular bike and an electric one?
So, now we come to the question: How are they different, technically?
An electric bike is a regular bike with the addition of an electrical drive system. This consists of a battery, a motor, a way to integrate the motor’s power into the drivetrain, and a way to control that power.
In the image above you can spot the 4 components:
- Our mid-drive motor is at the center, below the frame.
- The battery that powers the motor is in the rear rack.
- The drivetrain that integrates the power is in the rear wheel. In this case, it’s the NuVinci N360.
- Finally, the throttle, which controls that power, is in the handle bar.
In essence, that’s it! Yes, we know. They look like a regular bike but let’s do a deeper dive.
Let’s start with the electric mid-drive motor. This is the main component, and is what makes the bike ride effortlessly. This type of motor has higher performance and torque when compared to a traditional hub motor. As it drives the crank and not the wheel, it multiplies its power and takes better advantage of the bike’s existing gears. Also, it’s positioned close to the center of gravity and low to the ground. This helps improve the handling of your electric bike, as the it distributes the weight better throughout the bike.
Now, the battery. This is usually the most expensive and heavy component of the bike. A typical electric bike battery (as an example, 36V10Ah) can provide you with up to 40 miles of riding, depending on a few factors. You can remove it with ease to take to your home or office to charge.
Third, the bike’s drivetrain. This is what delivers power to the driving wheels and convert speed and torque via gears. In this case, the NuVinci N360 . Instead of having only a few gears to switch through as you encounter a change in terrain, you have an unlimited range controlled by the turn of a dial. A big hill? Turn up the “volume” and the NuVinci N360 will adjust.
Finally, the throttle. This is the mechanism that allows you to control the motor. For example, our bikes use a half twist throttle integrated into the handle bar. Twist it with your right hand, and you’ll experience the motor kick in.
Apart from those 4, electric bikes share the same components than regular bikes. A frame, two wheels, disc brakes, suspension, a comfortable seat, handlebars and pedals.
What it’s important to remember is that there will always be differences. What I described above is the typical EVELO electric bike. But since e-bikes are a new technology, there are many different approaches to it. For instance, some people prefer a hub motor over a mid-drive.
There isn’t one electric bike that is perfect for everyone. You just need to find which one is perfect for you.
But now, on to the next big question!
How does it affect the actual riding experience
We’ve talked about the technical difference between both worlds. But I’m sure that’s not why you came here.
You want to know what’s the difference for you.
There is a clear answer: e-bikes take some of the disadvantages of a regular bike and throw them out the window.
A regular bike is a fantastic method of transportation and recreation. People have been riding bikes since the 1800s and they still do today. It gives you freedom and fun.
Entire cities, like Amsterdam, run on bikes.
The problem is when things like hills, fitness levels, health or even the simple inconvenience of arriving to work sweaty gets in the way of enjoying the ride.
The electric motor solves that.
It shortens the time and distance, and flattens out the hills. It makes riding convenient, easy and effortless when otherwise it wouldn’t have been.
Big hills on your route? You live on a super windy area? No problem! Use that electric boost and swift through the hills. You’ll be able to conquer them in no time.
Is your destination 20 miles away and you don’t have 2 hours to get there? Use the electric motor to travel at 20 mph without breaking a sweat. This will save you time.
Are you knees or hips (or heart or leg muscles) not what they were when you were 20 years old? Again, no problem! As we age, in general, we have less capacity to put out power. Our knees start to ache more, and we feel discouraged. We stop exercising, gain weight and put even more load on those poor knees. An e-bike will get you out of there – it makes it super easy to start exercising again!
Are you afraid your recreational ride will end in terror? Maybe in the past you could ride 20 or more miles with no problems, but now it’s not so easy. We know the feeling. When you have an electric bike, you don’t need to worry about getting halfway through a ride and finding yourself far from home, exhausted. The motor is your friend, and we’ll get you home without a zinch.
Any bike gives you freedom. Freedom from having to drive everywhere and sit in traffic. Freedom to go where you need, when you need, and not have to worry about the price of gas. Freedom to have fun. An e-bike just adds to this freedom by making biking easier and more fun, or just accessible in the first place.
That’s the real difference.
Isn’t an Electric Bike Cheating?
Electric bikes makes riding convenient, easy and effortless. And this might keep you wondering: “Isn’t the point of riding a bike to get exercise? Isn’t an ebike cheating?”.
That’s a legitimate question a lot of people have. And the answer is no. It can be counterintuitive at first, but bare with me.
First of all, that fantastic electric motor is there to help you, but you don’t have to use it all the time. The pedal assist makes riding super easy, but you can just pedal or use the motor only.
Plus, electric bikes make exercising accessible, whether you are fit or not. In fact, most e-bike riders get more exercise as they ride more often, and for longer distances.
I’m a dedicated bicyclist who loves being out there on the road, turning the pedals and feeling the wind. I can’t even remember not being able to ride, and not loving it, too.
And despite that, when I faced the 30-40 mile round-trip commute to work, I usually reached for the car keys. Why? I didn’t have the time or energy to do that every day. My route was usually hilly, and riding to work just wasn’t a viable, everyday option. And I’d go back to the car.
The same happens with errands. You still need to go to the store, right? An e-bike lets you do that with greater ease. This means you’ll be more likely to leave those car keys on the table by the door and grab your helmet instead.
For most people, the difference between an electric bike and a regular bike is riding or not riding. Riding a regular bike is fun, but exhausting. Electric bikes are easy, convenient and accessible, so you’ll be more inclined to ride and exercise.
Pedal a lot, or a little, or not at all. Unlike a regular bike, you have a choice!
Riding any bike at all gives you so many things. Freedom, stress-reduction, better health, more free time, more enjoyment. And we shouldn’t dismiss other benefits, such as reduced car traffic and a better environment.
The difference relies in the fact that e-bikes make it possible for more people to ride and ride farther.
No longer do you need to worry that you won’t be strong enough, or have enough endurance to complete a ride. Starting any new endeavor takes confidence and determination. By giving you those, an electric bike gets you out on the road, having fun.
Electric bikes will never completely replace the regular bicycle or the car. But by eliminating the barriers that stop so many people from riding, such as their health, hills or distance, more people will ride.
If concerns like these have kept you off a bike, then an electric bike might be just the thing you need to get back out there.
Do your research, read owner reviews, and find a good, high quality e-bike from a company that will give you many years of enjoyment!
You won’t regret it!