An A to Z of E-Bikes

Bike Alphabet

Everything you ever wanted to know about e-bikes delivered in an alphabet style rundown that even manages to include the letter Q.

A is for “Ah”

…and AH is for Amp-Hours. This is basically a measure of how much juice an e-bike’s battery has. The higher the number, the longer the battery will last, and the further that e-bike will get you.

In theory, 10AH batteries are fairly standard but manufacturers claims about how far those batteries will take you can vary wildly.

In truth, how fast you burn through your Amp-Hours and therefore what range you get from an e-bike battery will depend on a number of factors.

These include what level of power assist you’re using (most e-bikes have three or four levels), how much you use it to tackle hills or headwinds, how much weight that engine is having to shift, as well as how your bike is set up.

A well-lubed, friction-free chain and higher tyre pressure, for example, will produce less rolling resistance and therefore drain the battery less. As a rule of thumb, if range is a major concern, upgrading from a 10 AH battery to a 15AH one is advisable.

B is for “Battery”

E-bikes – tend to come with either Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) or Lithium Polymer (LiPo) batteries. Because of problems with quality and weight, acid lead batteries similar to those found in cars make up less than 1%. Lithium batteries use the same tech as mobile phones and can be charged up to 1,000 times (compared to 300 for an acid lead battery).

The batteries power is limited to 250 Watts which will give you a range of between 10 and 80 miles – depending on the factors mentioned previously – from a single charge.

Many retailers suggest charging the battery at least once a month if the bike isn’t ridden much, and say that the more the bike is ridden, the stronger the battery will be.

Eventually, though, all e-bike batteries will deteriorate and need replacing at the cost of approximately $280. You’ll usually find the battery mounted on or integrated into the bike’s frame or fork, often ingeniously so. Weight and recharge times vary from bike to bike.

The controls are the means by which you turn the power on or off and select the level of assistance. Most e-bikes offer three or four levels of electric assist, ranging from full power modes that will help you tackle big climbs but will drain the battery quickly, to eco modes which will give less of a boost to your pedaling but will maximize the battery range.

In most cases, the power can be switched on and off, and the mode can be selected from the handlebars of your bike, although the types of control you find vary widely. These can range from a simple push-button module to full head units with LED screens, while some can be paired with a smartphone app for remote control settings.

C is for “Controls”

The controls are the means by which you turn the power on or off and select the level of assistance. Most e-bikes offer three or four levels of electric assist, ranging from full power modes that will help you tackle big climbs but will drain the battery quickly, to eco modes which will give less of a boost to your pedaling but will maximize the battery range.

In most cases, the power can be switched on and off, and the mode can be selected from the handlebars of your bike, although the types of control you find vary widely. These can range from a simple push-button module to full head units with LED screens, while some can be paired with a smartphone app for remote control settings.

D is for “Drive system”

Also known as the EDS (or electronic drive system) and e-group, this is essentially the combination of battery, motor, and control system.

This determines the bike’s riding characteristics and potential range, as well as its electrical and electronic features. An EDS involves a combination of electric motors, sensors and controls that isn’t dissimilar to those found in household appliances, which is why you’ll often see names you’d more usually associate with white goods when checking out e-bikes.

Yamaha, for example, whose name you’ll find on fridges, washing machines and the types of keyboards twiddled with by mulleted electro-pop duos, claims to have marketed the first e-bike system back in 1993.

Today you’ll find its battery and motor system on bikes such as Giant’s Road E+i. Other firms like Bosch, meanwhile, which are probably best known for power tools, can be found driving La Pierre’s Overvolt range of mountain bikes.

E is for “EAPC”

EAPC stands for Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycle. You may see this abbreviation used in sales literature, but it’s actually a bit of legalese used to define and – thanks to an international agreement drawn up in 2009 between 30 European and Scandinavian countries – set standards for e-bikes (as opposed to mopeds or motorbikes).

F is for “Frame”

As e-bikes come in a variety of shapes and sizes to do various jobs, ranging from compact commuter bikes, to sleek racing machines and beefed-up MTBs, frames naturally vary. They are made, too, from a variety of substances including carbon, aluminum and titanium.

What all their frames do have in common, however, and where they do differ from conventional bikes in those categories is that they are specifically designed to cope with the extra stress put on them by the heavier drivetrains and the additional weight of both the battery and the motor.

In some case this can push the weight over the 20kg mark, but innovation and improvements are helping to reduce that figure all the time. Orbea’s new Gain range of e-bikes, for example, features three models of motorized racers that impressively weigh in at around 13kg.

G is for “Gears”

Gearing on e-bikes is commonly operated by MTB-style trigger shifters but in the higher-end models you can expect to find fully integrated, automatic electronic systems that use sensors to select the most appropriate gear for you.

Shimano offers a Di2 version of its STEPS system, while Bosch has created its own eShift electronic system that you’ll find used in conjunction with different gear-shifting systems including those from Shimano.

You’ll find this kind of set-up used throughout Cube’s extensive collection of e-bikes which range from hardtail MTBs such as its new for 2018 Acid Hybrid ONE Allroad 500 29 (priced from $2,400) right up to its AGREE Hybrid C:62 SLT carbon frame road racer which comes with a $10,000 price tag!

As for the number of gears and the range available, as with conventional bikes, it varies from bike to bike and will depend on what type of riding it’s built for.

H is for “Hybrid”

E-bikes have a number of uses and are often used by seriously fit and adventurous. It’s perhaps not surprising, however, to learn that they’re also popular among older riders or people who have suffered some impairment or injury and need a little oomph to get them over the hills.

For that reason, a lot of machines in the e-bike universe are hybrids – that is to say bikes which are designed primarily to tackle commutes and gentle weekend pleasure riding.

Ideally, a bike of this nature needs to be of relatively low weight, while still managing to deliver comfort, power and a stable riding platform. Some e-bikes place the battery on a rack at the rear of the bike, which adds weight to the back end and can affect handling. Better then, with a hybrid, to opt for something where the additional weight is better distributed.

The Whyte Coniston e-bike, for example, has its relatively light 3.2kg Shimano STEPS motor mounted on the bottom bracket, while its 2.6kg battery is attached to the robust alloy frame’s down tube.

Between them they deliver 37-77 miles of range depending on which of its three modes you use (high, medium or eco). The 11-34 cassette, hydraulic disc brakes and optional mudguards also help to make this hybrid e-bike a box-ticking belter of an option suitable for a wide range of uses.

I is for “Insurance”

It is highly unlikely that in the event of an e-bike getting damaged or stolen that it will be covered under most household insurance. In fact, even regular bicycles often aren’t covered, so whatever type of bike you’ve got it’s worth checking your policy if you’re unsure.

Thankfully there are now plenty of companies willing to specifically insure e-bikes from as little as a couple of quid a month – in fact, the cheapest deals we found online were from $2 a month.

Rather than just plumping for the cheapest, however, it’s worth thinking about things like what is the maximum value that your e-bike will be insured for? How much will the value of your e-bike depreciate over the years?

Are you covered for riding in organised events? Are you covered if your e-bike is being shipped somewhere? Is it covered if you take it abroad or on holiday? Is the battery covered? Is the bike computer covered?

Also do you have liability cover – ie are you insured should you injure a third party or damage their property while riding your e-bike? Be sure to get answers to these questions before picking a policy.

J is for “Jesse D Tucker”

Although he didn’t invent the e-bike -that honour goes to another American gentleman you’ll meet further on in this article – Californian inventor Jesse D Tucker did, in 1946 take out a patent for a motor with gearing and the ability to freewheel.

In other words, he invented one of the key features associated with modern e-bikes – the ability to use the pedals in combination or without the combination of the electric motor.

What you’ll find on just about every EAPC today is a variation of what Mr Tucker came up with 70-odd years ago rather than any radical new innovations – despite what the marketing spiel might claim!

K is for “Kits”

You can buy a ready-made e-bike straight out of the racks, but if you’re looking for a less expensive option you can always elect to turn your existing bike to an e-assisted machine using a conversion kit.

There’s an array of tech available, too, ranging from the type of tiny, almost silent motor that cheaty Belgian racer Femke Van den Driessche was caught using to mechanically dope with during the 2016 World Cyclocross Championships to larger more powerful options.

Although whatever you do to your bike, it will need to be compliant with the law (which we’ll get onto in a bit). Most conversion kits include a controller, a motorised hub, and a battery pack.

You can then add a motor to either the front or rear wheel of the bike, both of which have pros and cons: a front-mounted motor will make your front wheel heavier and possibly make the bike harder to steer.

A rear-mounted motor may provide better traction, but it’ll need to be compatible with your gearing and derailleurs. Before choosing a conversion kit, also consider your riding habits. If you’re planning short trips on mostly flat terrain, a small, light motor is best.

For longer rides or hills, you’ll need a more powerful motor and larger battery capacity. One kit that caught our eye recently was a new British-designed system called Swytch that can convert any bike into an e-bike for $315.

The kit includes a 250W motor wheel in any size (including tyre), a 25-mile power pack, a handlebar bracket and connector, 36 V i8oWh li-ion battery, a charger, pedal sensor, and two brake sensors.

L is for “Led displays”

On some of the higher-end e-bikes you’ll find a full-on dashboard featuring a Garmin-style computer complete with an LED display. This will not only allow you to control how you use the bike’s engine, permitting you to turn it on and off or to select which power mode you want to ride in, but also to monitor everything from battery life and speed to torque, cadence and even the position of your cranks. The Shimano STEPS E6010 bike computer, for example, can be found on the Whyte Coniston hybrid we mentioned back at H…

M is for “MTB”

We mentioned previously that fit and adventurous types were also often frequent users of e-bikes and what we were alluding to, of course, was mountain bikers. Why? Well, for many members of that tribe, the fun to be had from their particular pastime is derived from haring down the sides of steep slopes and less in grinding up to the top of them.

And an MTB with a motor attached does, of course, remove much of the difficulty of uphill pedaling. Scott, who you’ll no doubt be familiar with for their superb road bikes, also happen to make some fabulous e-assisted MTBs, too, across their E-Aspect, E-Contessa, E-Genius, E-Scale, and E-Spark ranges.

One we fell quite hard for from the latter collection was the E-Spark 710 which sees a Shimano STEPS E8000 drive system mounted in the bottom bracket to offer plenty of torque at low cadence to make easy work of sharp inclines.

Its full custom suspension won us over, too. If you’re looking for something a little less bells and whistles, Haibike’s sDuro range features hardtail options from a smidge under $2,800.

N is for “Northern Ireland”

Norn Iron, as the locals like to call it, is unique when it comes to e-bikes in so far as it’s the only part of the United Kingdom where riders have to undergo testing, have compulsory insurance and a motorcycle licence, as well as wear a motorcycle helmet.

Why? Well, it seems the Northern Ireland Executive has never got around to changing legislation meaning that e-bikes are still classified as motor vehicles in the eyes of the law. Failure to comply with regulations there can lead to a $1,400 fine or six penalty points on your license!

O is for “Ogden Bolton JNR”

We promised to introduce you to the inventor of the e-bike a while back and we’re nothing if not chaps of our word. The splendidly monikered Ogden Bolton Jnr first came up with the idea for an e-bike – or at least patented the idea for one – back in 1895. Interestingly his invention included a hub motor mounted in the rear wheel.

This was an idea that then got dropped by subsequent e-bike designers for the next century or so, only to make a significant comeback at the start of this century. Today Mr Bolton’s hub-style motor can be found turning the back wheels of e-bikes all over the planet.

P is for “Pedelec”

This is really just another name for an EAPC – the acronym and stands for PEDal ELEctric Cycle. See what they’ve done there? The key feature of Pedelecs is that the motor cuts out when you’re not pedalling.

Pedelecs is also the name of an organisation that claims to be the UK’s leading electric bike community (hey, who are we to argue?). If you’re interested in finding out more get yourself over to their website at pedelecs.co.uk which is a rich resource for all things e-bike related.

Q is for “Bike”

Features that attempt to be an A to Z of anything always seem a great idea until you start writing them and then get to certain letters. Q is definitely the worst of those letters, so cut us a little slack, eh?

Q Bikes is a US brand that has come up with an odd-looking electric scooter that has a top speed of 25mph and a range of 25 miles called the Q Bike it is neither available in the UK nor road legal here.

But it also sells the Q Folding Falcon, a compact commuter e-bike which is road legal in the UK and can be bought this side of the big water from e-bikesdirect.co.uk for the princely sum of $980. Although on that website it’s listed simply as the Falcon Fuse. Got that? Good. Let’s move swiftly along, shall we?

R is for “Racer”

When we first started to look at e-bikes in earnest last year, trying to find one with road racing credentials proved quite tricky. In fact, at the time, the only one that seemed to be on the market was Giant’s Road E+i.

Bearing a strong resemblance to Giant’s Defy range, the E+i was nevertheless designed from scratch as an e-bike, rather than modified to be one from an existing model.

The telltale sign is the extra fat aluminium down tube which isn’t there to provide stiffness so much as to house the integrated battery, while the SyncDrive Yamaha X94 motor is mounted in the bottom bracket.

Costing $4,500 from giant-bicycles.com, we were impressed with this bike’s components (which includes a good spread of Shimano 105), its handlebar-mounted display which also acts as a control dashboard and its attempt to do something it seemed no one else was doing.

Since then, we’ve noticed a slow drip of e-bikes with drop handlebars start to appear and according to our crystal ball that looks like turning into a steady stream before the end of this year – although you won’t be able to actually enter races on them, of course!

S is for “Sensors”

All e-bikes have sensors to monitor your pedaling and use that information to determine when and how much assistance to give you from the motor, depending on your selected mode.

The sensors on most e-bikes are very similar to the cadence sensors commonly found on conventional bikes, using a magnet fitted to the left-hand crank, with the sensor itself mounted on the chainstay.

When you start pedaling, the magnet passes close to the sensor, sending a pulse to the controller, which tells it to activate the motor.

However, higher-end e-bikes instead often come with torque sensors, which measure not just the fact that you are pedaling but how much effort you are putting into your pedaling in a similar way to a power meter.

The controller uses this information to boost your pedaling and multiply your effort by a factor pre-set on the handlebar display.

Obviously, the higher the setting the more power it supplies. Torque sensors are reckoned to be superior to cadence sensors because they provide a more natural feel to the assist but they do cost a lot more than cadence sensors.

T is for “Twist and go”

This is a name given to a standard of e-bike that has a throttle on the handlebar that resembles a motorbike which you twist in order to start the engine and get the bike going. It’s a method that has caused a few headaches for lawmakers over the years. On the subject of which…

U is for “UK Law”

Legislation around e-bikes is, to be honest, a bit baffling. Take for example the rules on twist and go e-bikes. Twist-and-go-bikes bought after January 1,2016, are only legal if they assist the rider without pedalling up to a maximum speed of 6 kmh (3.7 mph) – ie starting assistance only.

If the rider is rolling – but not pedalling – faster than 6kmh, the throttle cuts off. Bikes bought prior to that date, however, are allowed to get the rider up to the maximized motorized speed without pedalling.

As of April 2016, UK law also stated that for an EAPC to be classed as a normal pedal cycle (and therefore not be subject to the same licensing laws as motorbikes) it needed to have pedals, a motor that didn’t exceed 250watts and a cut-out that ensures the motor stops making a contribution to overall speed once that speed exceeds i5.5mph – although it also makes allowances for a 10% margin of error, meaning that in theory a motor could assist a cyclist up to i7mph.

So that’s cleared that up, then. What’s clearer, is that if you do ride an e-bike, you don’t need to be taxed, registered, tested or insured, nor are you required to don a lid (although we’d advise it). You just have to be aged over 14.

V is for “Volts”

The standard unit of measurement for electrical force and an indication on an e-bike of how much power it can put out. Electric bike batteries typically come in 24V, 36V, 48V, and 72V batteries.

To put it simply, more volts = more 00mpf. The typical battery on most e-bikes is 36V because manufacturers claim this tends to provide the best power-to-weight ratio.

W is for “Watt hours”

Sometimes expressed just as Wh or WH, Watt Hours are another bit of jargon that you’ll frequently see in spec information about e-bikes. It’s basically another measure of battery capacity based on power output and is calculated as Amp Hours multiplied by Volts.

It’s essentially a way to compare batteries of different voltages or Amp Hour ratings – see A for more about Amp Hours. All these numbers add up to give an overall picture of your battery’s performance.

X is for “X Ride”

You know how we said that Q was the tricksiest letter whenever you end up writing A-to-Z style features? Well, unless you’re doing one about musical instruments or machines commonly used in hospitals we reckon X is right up there, too.

That said, the X Ride e-bike by Aerobike is a hybrid EAPC that comes with a very attractive price tag and some decent features.

A smallish 2o8Wh Lithium-ion battery powers a 250W SRAM Automatix hub in the front wheel – a two-speed unit that changes automatically based on your speed and works rather well, despite being more limited than a multi-speed hub gear or derailleur system.

If you’re after a simple commuter e-bike but don’t have big bucks this would fit the bill nicely.

Y is for “Project Y”

If you missed it, head back here on one of the most intriguing e-bikes – actually make that, one of the most intriguing bikes of any kind.

Z is for “Zike”

Ha! Bet you thought we’d get stumped for a Z didn’t you? Well, thankfully someone round these parts has a long memory and recalled that something called the Zike was one of the few e-bikes available back in the days when jeans were snow-washed, Miguel Indurain was Chris Froome, and music was listened to on Walkmans.

Created in 1992 and sold by US firm Vector Services, it had a Nickel-Cadmium battery pack which was – like some of the very latest e-bikes being made today -integrated into the bike frame!

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