The poor, misunderstood e-bike

They've been around for years but several misconceptions about what electric bikes are and how they differ from pedal cycles persist.

These are questions and comments we often hear when people encounter electric bikes for the first time, in our store or out on the road and trails.

We're going to try to settle some of them here.

"Does it charge up when you pedal?"

We've been asked this question thousands of times over the years. Electric bikes use a battery which is charged, usually with mains electricity. The battery is installed on the bike, pedalling activates the motor which assists the rider and eventually the battery will need to be recharged.

Kalkhoff Pro Connect X27 electric bike Kalkhoff Pro Connect X27 with Xion motor system and regenerative braking

There have been electric bike motor systems that use braking energy to top up the battery but they weren't too reliable, they were always hub motor systems and they didn't offer any more range than an e-bike without such a system. You'd have to pedal 10 miles to enjoy an extra mile of assisted cycling, if you were lucky.

We sold several such models between 2010 and 2014. The Kalkhoff Xion was pretty good, certainly better than the competing BionX system. But owners rarely used the regenerative system to top up the battery when cycling downhill or pedalling furiously on flat sections.

Until a highly efficient and reliable energy recuperation system for electric bikes is perfected it's far better to go for an e-bike using the simple combination of an efficient motor and reliable, large capacity battery.

"Electric bikes are cheating!"

A cyclist reacting badly to the mere thought of someone riding an electric bicycle and enjoying it

I was surprised to hear the cry "there better be something wrong with you!" when cycling along the South Downs near Brighton a couple of years ago. An enraged cyclist trying to keep up on a slight uphill stretch and his frustration got the better of him.

Well, a midge had flown into my eye a few minutes earlier and I was coming to terms with that, but otherwise there was absolutely nothing wrong with me. I was having a great time exploring the wide open spaces beneath cloudless skies.

The myth that electric bikes are the lazy option is the most common misconception. Yes, they do make cycling up and over hills easier. Yes, they do slice through headwinds with ease. And yes, they'll assist your cycling for as long as you feel like it, which could be all day long. But you're exercising the whole time. If you stop pedalling you'll come to a stop eventually (gone are the days of throttle-powered e-bikes, now they were lazy...).

Boneshaker owners were no doubt appalled by the introduction of pneumatic tyres. Penny Farthing rides thought gears and a chain were not at all in the spirit of cycling. Use new-fangled brakes or lights at night? Lightweight, not a serious cyclist.

Electric assistance is just the latest in a long line of innovations that have taken the bike beyond its origins as a length of wood with a wheel at either end. It's not cheating and it's not a race. It's cycling, but better.

"The technology is moving so fast, it's better if I wait to buy"

I've heard this a few times lately, reluctance to buy an electric bike today because some sort of game-changing innovation is coming on next year's model.

It's true, there have been several redefinitions of what an electric bicycle is and sharp improvements in what an electric bicycle can do.

The move from Lead acid batteries to lighter Nickel metal hydride and lighter still Lithium ion batteries is one example.

The shift from hub motors to centre motors is another and the dominance of the market by e-bikes manufactured in China one season and  Europe the next yet another. But all of these took place roughly between the years 2004 and 2011.

Sure, new kinds of bikes have appeared in the meantime. Electric mountain bikes are being launched and bought up in their thousands. There are bikes which can detect our heart rate, guide you along a route and send your mum a text when you crash.

That's all great, but there have been no significant improvements in either battery or motor technology for years now. What has improved is reliability. All kinds of exotic battery chemistries have been announced, Lithium-Air, Lithium Sulphur, fuel cells and so on. They're all yet to reach the market. Conventional, reliable, affordable Lithium battery with a capacity between 300Wh and 1000Wh is what you'll find on 99% of bikes this season, next season and the season after that.

Believe me, if there was something big coming you'd hear about it from 50cycles Advanced Electric Bikes first. You're not going to make a big mistake buying an e-bike today because a better one might come out tomorrow.  On the contrary, the sooner you buy one the sooner you can enjoy the real world benefits of riding one.

And prices are only going up...

Something new and unexpected could come out of the blue though and leave us wondering how we missed it. What if someone came up with a bike that earns you money as you ride, for instance?