E-BIKES

Pandora’s Box has been opened and there’s no going back. Electric bikes (or pedal assist bikes as we like to call them around Contender Bicycles) are mainstream now and will only become more prevalent in the future as technology advances, cities grow and commuting habits change.

Pedal assist bikes come in all shapes, sizes and functions. It doesn’t matter if you want a bike for long rides in the mountains, short trips to the grocery store or fun outings with the kiddos, there’s a pedal assist bike for it. Still, there are plenty of questions about pedal assist bikes because there are plenty of different bikes and purposes for those bikes. At Contender Bicycles, we carry a wide variety of pedal assist bikes from several brands and we’re eager to help you find the perfect bike.

As technology improves, so do the bikes. E-bikes were once enormous and fairly inefficient. Those days are gone. From cargo bikes designed for small businesses to full suspension mountain bikes and urban commuters, Contender Bicycles has something for everyone in search of a pedal assist bike.

But what are the differences between various motors, batteries, classifications and all that other stuff associated with e-bikes? We’re glad you asked. Let’s take a quick overview of the world of e-bikes and what makes them go.

MOTOR CLASSIFICATIONS

As mentioned above, pedal assist powertrains come in different classifications. Generally, e-bike motors are designated with one of four classifications that tell you what kind of power you’re getting and how you can use it.

  • Class 1: Pedal-assist only with no throttle and a maximum assisted speed of 20 miles per hour.
  • Class 2: Throttle-assisted with a maximum assisted speed of 20 miles per hour.
  • Class 3: Pedal-assist only with a maximum assisted speed of 28 miles per hour.
  • Class 4: Throttle-assisted with speeds up to and above 28 miles per hour.

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You’ll rarely see Class 4 motors in traditional bike shops in the United States. These bikes are considered motorized vehicles no different than a moped or motorcycle and require licensing, registration and all that jazz.

Pedal-assist and throttle-assist have significant differences of which riders need to be aware. A pedal-assist bike requires you to pedal before the motor will provide any assistance. A throttle-assist bike behaves just like a moped if you want it to, and will push you along the road without the need for pedaling. A Class 2 throttle-assist motor will not provide assistance beyond 20 miles per hour and these bikes are legal on most streets and trails.

MOTOR LOCATIONS

The next area e-bikes see variety is in the location of the powertrain itself. In almost all cases, you’ll find the motor mounted either in the bottom bracket/crank area or in the rear wheel - called Mid-Drive or Hub-Drive in e-bike parlance. In most cases, this doesn’t affect the performance of the bike or quality of the ride. In some cases, however, it makes a big difference. Pedal-assist mountain bikes almost exclusively have Mid-Drive motors to keep the center of balance in the center of the bike. A motor can weigh several pounds and if mounted in the rear wheel, create an unsafe weight distribution that can lead to accidents - whipping a 40-50 pound bike around steep turns at speed can be problematic, after all. Road and urban bikes are split and the location doesn’t make a significant difference in performance, but does make a difference in the appearance of your bike with Hub drive bikes maintaining a much more traditional bike aesthetic.

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At Contender Bicycles, you’ll find bikes with powertrains from four manufacturers, for the most part. Bosch, Shimano and Yamaha motors are usually crank-based, while ebikemotion motors can be found in the rear wheel hub.

MID-DRIVE VS. HUB-Drive

WHICH IS BETTER?

As with anything, there are pros and cons when you have options to consider. A Mid-Drive motor offers easier tire change and flat repairs because Hub motors require disconnecting wires between the battery and motor. Mid-Drive motors usually work more efficiently with a bike’s regular gearing and are typically better for climbing.

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Hub drive motors are lighter and much less bulky. They also put significantly less strain on chains and other components, meaning you’ll have fewer mechanical repair issues. Hub drive motors are easier to build and don’t require bike makers to alter their frames to accommodate various motors as well, and that means they - and the bikes they come with - usually cost less. Although Hub-Drive motors have less efficient climbing power, they also weigh less so there’s a little give and a little take there.

BATTERY LOCATIONS

Likewise, batteries are found in a variety of locations on the bike. This is probably the area where we’ve seen the largest amount of change over the years. Batteries used to be mounted on a rack above the rear wheel. Some were mounted outside the downtube of the bike. In either case, the battery stuck out like a sore thumb and let everyone know you were definitely riding an e-bike. In recent years, however, bike makers have been able to incorporate powertrain batteries inside the downtube so the bikes hardly look like a pedal-assist bike.

As the engineering improves, the batteries have become smaller, weigh less and carry more power.

CONTROLLERS

There are generally three locations for the power control on e-bikes. Frequently, you’ll find a controlled mounted near the grips on your handlebar where buttons allow you to add or subtract the amount of pedal-assist you want - usually in modes such as Eco, Sport, Turbo, etc., to indicate how much boost you’re hoping to get. Sleeker road and gravel e-bikes, especially those using an ebikemotion power system, have a power button on the top tube which changes colors depending on the power assist level. It is also common to see the power control buttons as part of a display unit mounted on the bike’s stem like most other bike computers. Most display units share speed, distance and battery life information.

BATTERY RANGE & LIFE

For most of us, the power numbers associated with motors and batteries are nothing more than confusing. We see them, but we’re not sure what they actually mean. All we really want to know is usually limited to “How far can I ride?” and “How long until the battery needs to be recharged?”

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While you can basically look at larger numbers and assume longer rides, there are plenty of variables involved in answering those questions. Riding uphill will drain a battery more quickly. Riding into a headwind will do the same. Even body weight plays a roll. Most bike makers will tell you how far an e-bike powertrain will last by describing ‘ideal conditions’ means flat road, no wind, etc. Optimal condition e-bike range can vary from 25-30 miles for mountain bikes and urban bikes to 60-80 miles for road bikes.

Similarly, e-bike motors are not 100 percent efficient. That means some of the power generated is simply lost and not transferred to forward motion. Many tests on the motors show they can lose as much as 25 percent of their power to inefficiency. Our rule of thumb is to go for a few rides on your bike and make some mental notes of how far you ride, how much you climb and stuff like that. You’ll get a good idea of what range your bike has after riding it a few times.

Thankfully, many e-bikes also have optional range-extender batteries that can mount to your bike and send you down the road for an extra 40-60 percent.


ALL IT TAKES IS ONE RIDE

COME TALK TO ONE OF OUR INTENSE CYCLES EXPERTS TODAY

At Contender Bicycles, our best tools for selling bikes are the people who ride them. Everyone at Contender Bicycles has extensive experience riding bikes across many brands. If you have any questions regarding an Intense mountain bike or want to discuss build options, email us at info@contenderbicycles.com or by phone at Contact Us.