Cast your mind back to the beginning of 2020. As January passed into February, news of a global pandemic began filling nightly TV bulletins and thickening column inches on websites and newspapers. By the time its invasive tendrils had ground the world to a lockdown halt, exponential demand had grown for puzzles, homemade sourdough recipes to showcase on social media platforms, and the humble bicycle.
Yes, a reluctance to use public transport and the desire to get some exercise when the nation’s gyms pulled down the shutters pushed many towards the purchase of a bike. This resulted in a shortage that stretched right across the planet. New bicycles, like toilet paper, had become a rare and coveted commodity.
That surge in interest wasn’t just reserved for traditional bikes. Even before the pandemic, electric bicycles were enjoying a continual upward trend in popularity, with the industry worth over $US15 billion in 2019. And that has only increased over the last 18 months in the frenetic clamour for anything with two wheels. However, the electric bike (e-bike) isn’t the new kid on the block. Commercial models first started appearing in the late ‘90s, but cost and performance were major inhibitors.
Affordable lithium batteries and better performing high torque motors led to cheaper production costs, paving the way for greater accessibility.
If you’ve spent any time in a major city in Australia lately, you would’ve noticed a significant uplift in the number of food delivery drivers and couriers using e-bikes to navigate the busy streets. All around the world, e-bikes form ride-share schemes and in Germany, posties use them on their rounds. Several counties in the UK have even kitted out the local police force with e-bikes after successful trials. European countries are well ahead of the game when it comes to accommodating bicycles and designing bespoke infrastructures to cater for them, but Australia is starting to identify the potential; Melbourne, for example, has made significant strides over the last decade to integrate bike lanes and trails into the city. E-bikes are certainly on the rise.
Why are they becoming more popular? There are many reasons, so let’s break them down.
Cheap to run
We might as well start here. Outside of the initial cost, occasional maintenance, and the price of charging the battery, an e-bike is a much cheaper alternative to owning a car or using public transport. When you weigh up what a vehicle costs to buy and run against that of an e-bike, it’s a no-brainer.
E-bikes combine electricity with human power, providing a more sustainable option for the environment when compared to fossil-fuelled vehicles. If you live in or near a city, you can avoid short trips or work commutes using cars on heavily congested roads by swapping to an e-bike, significantly reducing greenhouse emissions and your carbon footprint. Residences with solar power make e-bikes 100 per cent environmentally friendly.
Most e-bikes are splash/rainproof but they are not waterproof, so avoid situations where the motor or battery may become submerged. And it’s certainly not advisable to leave your e-bike exposed to the elements for long periods of time. Always check the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Yep, forget about garages and carports, owning an e-bike means you can store it anywhere, making them perfect for apartment living. No matter how limited your space is, an e-bike takes up very little real estate, and some models fold down for even more storage options.
No add-on charges
Owners of e-bikes don’t need to worry about the costs involved in passing a driving test, buying insurance, renewing a license, or the dreaded coffer-draining annual registration.
A healthy option
Limited access to fitness centres over the last 18 months has been a big driver in the adoption of e-bikes. The design of an e-bike offers full versatility and range to compensate for all levels of fitness and all age groups, so riders can dictate how much motor assist they employ on the trip.
Essentially, the core principle of an e-bike differs little from a traditional bike. In fact, they come in very familiar designs such as mountain, commuter, and road. Three main components make the magic happen: the battery, the motor, and the control unit. The lithium battery is the lifeblood: no power, no e-bike (although you can still use it as a traditional bike).
Batteries can either be surface mounted, semi-integrated or internal. What does that mean? Well, two you can remove for charging, whereas the integrated one will need wheeling to a power source. Charging an e-bike can take anywhere from two to eight hours, depending on the bike.
The motor can be found in one of two places. The hub drive motor is situated in the centre of the rear wheel, while the mid-drive motor is positioned where the pedals join the bike. There are pros and cons to both, but generally you’ll find hub motors are more suited to beginner riders not worried about regular gear changing and looking for stress-free riding. They’re also at the more affordable end of the scale. More experienced riders will lean into the mid-drive motor, offering versatility across off-road, mountain and commute biking.
Control units are the heart of the bike – an onboard computer that brings all the electrical components together. On an LED display you’ll find stats like distance travelled, speed and battery life. Bike control comes in several ways. The pedal assist transfers power from the motor to the pedals and the amount of assistance deployed is set on the control panel – you can choose minimum help if you’re on a straight, or maximum if you’re powering up a hill. Throttle assist works in the same way as a motorbike. You can use it to power the bike completely without any pedal assistance (although the battery will be drained faster in this mode), or moderate the amount of assist similar to the pedal model.
Please note: Each state and territory in Australia has a different set of rules and regulations pertaining to the usage of e-scooters and e-boards (including where e-scooters and e-boards can legally be used and whether e-scooters and e-boards need to be registered with the relevant road traffic authority). Any user of this product must ensure that that they check and abide by their local by-laws and use responsibly. Ride with caution and always wear a helmet and protective gear when riding your e-scooter and e-board.