NOT ALL E-BIKES ARE THE SAME!
Over recent weeks and months I have noticed that many authors writing about e-bikes have tended to lump all electric bikes under the banner of 'e-bikes'. However, doing so ignores that there are actually many different types of e-bikes and they each play a very different role for those that ride them. Just a few years ago, I first encountered an e-bike as part of an organised cycle tour in Italy with cyclists from the Netherlands leading the way with the introduction of their heavy hybrid style e-bikes. One of the riders dropped her bike while trying to put it on its stand and we jumped to help lift it and almost strained our backs the bike was so heavy - in excess of 30kgs. These bikes were predominantly made from steel and weighed a lot before the electric motor and the battery were added. The batteries were large, heavy rectangular boxes that sat on the rear rack and the idea seemed to be that the rider could utilise the motor from the start to the end of the day to help them keep up with the riders on ordinary hybrid bikes. Pedalling was still required, but the effort generated great rewards including being able to join in tours that otherwise were out of the cyclists' reach.
The next cab off the e-rank was the e-mountain bike which were lighter and offered access to steep terrain for those that had loved to mountain bike while they were younger/fitter/more agile. All of a sudden riders seemingly lost to mountain bike riding were returning with a vengeance. These bikes were still heavy compared to manual versions, but the weight was decreasing and riders were starting to see e-mountain bikes weighing in close to 20kgs and offering some fabulous riding. In 2021 my partner and I tried the e-mountain bikes at the Otway Caravan Park in Victoria and we really enjoyed the experience as you can see in the picture.
Depending on the e-bikes in question, the control panel can have a number of settings ranging from minuscule assistance through to it almost becoming a motor bike. The bikes we rode in the Otway National Park had settings of 1-5 and our guide suggested leaving it on 5 so that climbs and switch back corners would be a doddle! And they were - we really loved the experience and as our ride was only for an hour there were no issues with the batteries lasting the journey. Riding e-bikes on the top setting is a sure recipe to running the battery flat really quick.
The next e-bike that I noticed was the city e-bike. In the early to mid 2010's commuters began to purchase city e-bikes to help them get to and from work and/or to attach child trailers to so that they could move children around the city with ease. These bikes were either upright riding city bikes or hybrid bikes that suited city riding. Again, these e-bikes tend to be ridden with the e-motor constantly engaged and the battery draining.
Most e-bikes in Australia tend to cease being motor driven when the speed exceeds 25kph, but commuters seem to rarely ride at speeds over 25 and accordingly battery life is limited. From recent experience, many of the bike shops and bicycle tour companies in Australia offering rental e-bikes are offering city style e-bikes with batteries that have a range of 40-60 kms with the range dependent on the usage mode. These bikes tend too offer modes such as economical, sports and turbo and using the latter will soon run the battery flat. However, in Europe we have ridden hybrid e-bikes that are better suited to long, comfortable rides. These bikes look like flat bar road bikes, but the overall weight has risen back towards 28kgs so that the battery life will sustain a 70-90 km ride predominantly riding in the economical mode with sports and/or turbo used to counter strong head winds and steep climbs.
And then came the e-road bike and its cousin the e-gravel bike. As riders get older, fatter, injured, etc. the love of riding road and/or gravel bikes needs to be tempered with the ability to do so and keep up with other riders around you. The bike manufacturers saw an opportunity and in 2019 started releasing e-road bike models in earnest. These bikes look like regular road bikes but with big rear wheel or pedal motors and batteries trimmed down and inserted into the diagonal post from the pedals to the handle bar. The results have been great for those of us that want to be able to ride on roads, trails and paths with those that are younger, trimmer or fitter, or just enjoy going for a ride and not being hampered by the conditions.
These bikes are constantly being improved and with manufacturers playing a balancing role between weight and performance. The Willier e-road bike, for example weighs in at around 10 kgs, but the light weight battery has a reduced range under a 100kms, whereas the Specialized Creo range includes bikes around 12-13kgs and a range of 120kms and an opportunity to add a range extender weighing 1kg and adding 60kms to the range. As road bikes are often ridden at speeds above the 25kph maximum for electric assistance, the batteries can exceed their promised ranges. On a relatively flat ride, for example, my Creo can achieve close to 200 kms on the main battery just by riding only in economical and spending a lot of time riding at an average speed in excess of 25kph. In 2021 you can get e road bikes from all the big brands including Bianchi (below), Pinnerello, Focus and Giant.
Given the above, I wonder whether its time to differentiate between e-bike models just as we do with manual bikes? If its good enough to talk and write about hybrid, mountain, gravel and road bikes and the myriad of other manual bike styles, why keep trying to encompass all electric bikes under the one banner of ebikes? As a Strava user, I certainly get frustrated that I can choose from a range of categories for manual bikes, whereas there is just the title e-bike for all electric bikes. I don't think it will be long before first the type of electric bike is properly named and, second, before the various bike computers like Garmin and exercise programs like Strava develop software that can keep track of usage over different modes allowing riders to compare like with like in such the same way as they already do by allowing a manual endurance road bike to be compared with another.