Frequently Asked Questions About E-Bikes
If you’re in the market for an e-bike, you probably have some questions you’d like to answer before making a purchase decision. Below, we’ve done our best to answer some of the most common questions from folks looking to buy an electric bike:
E-bikes use an electric motor to assist with the movement of bike gears, making the ride more enjoyable and less taxing on the rider. Some e-bike designs require the rider to pedal in order for the motor to work, while others move forward under their own power without any assistance from the pedals.
Electric bikes have three main components that differentiate them from standard bikes – a battery, a motor, and a sensor. The battery provides electricity to the motor. When you use the throttle or begin pedaling, the motor converts electric power from the battery into the mechanical work needed to turn the bike’s wheels. In order to prevent e-bikes from going too fast, they have sensors that monitor your speed and instruct the motor to turn the pedal assist or throttle off.
There was a brief period in e-bike history when electric bikes sat in a legal gray area, as lawmakers were unsure whether to classify them as bicycles or as a type of motorcycle. Should electric bicycles be allowed in bike lanes? What about on trails in public parks? Lacking definitive answers to these questions, many states wrote laws to address them.
A majority of states have implemented laws that include three classes of electric bikes. Some of these states have slight differences within their three-class systems, but most are pretty similar.
Class 1 E-Bikes
Class 1 e-bikes are limited to a top speed of 20 miles per hour, and have an electric motor that only works when the rider is pedaling. Some class 1 electric bikes have a throttle on the handlebars, but the throttle only works if you’re also pedaling. That being said, you don’t need to pedal with much force to engage the throttle and get an extra boost of power. Class 1 e-bikes are typically allowed on bike paths and bike lanes that are shared with standard, non-electric bikes.
Class 2 E-Bikes
Class 2 e-bikes are limited to a top speed of 20 miles per hour, but unlike class 1 e-bikes, they have throttles that work even when the rider isn’t pedaling. This makes class 2 electric bikes particularly valuable to riders who aren’t able to pedal due to injury or limited mobility. Despite the ability to use the throttle without pedaling, many class 2 e-bikes offer electric-assist pedals that function alongside the throttle. As with class 1 e-bikes, class 2 e-bikes are generally allowed on bike paths and bike lanes that are shared with standard, non-electric bikes.
Class 3 E-Bikes
Class 3 e-bikes can go up to 28 miles per hour, and they must have a speedometer. Beyond that, the rules vary from state to state. In California, class 3 e-bikes are prohibited from having throttles. In many other states, they can have throttles that work up to 20 miles per hour, with electric pedal-assist continuing to provide power up to 28 miles per hour. Most states allow class 3 electric bikes on roadways and dedicated bike lanes, but restrict them from being ridden on multi-use trails and paths that are shared with pedestrians.
E-Bikes That Are Faster Than the Law Allows
In addition to the three e-bike classes listed above, you’ll find a number of e-bikes that go far faster than 28 miles per hour, with some going up to 60 miles per hour. Manufacturers of these kinds of e-bikes manage to legally fit into the e-bike classification system by adding a switch that lets the rider remove the top-speed restriction. The rider toggles a setting and suddenly their electric bike is a class 2 or class 3 e-bike. Keep in mind, if you purchase one of these faster e-bikes, you are not legally allowed to ride them “unlocked” on bicycle lanes or bike trails, and will need to do most or all of your faster, unlocked riding on private property.
Do Your Research Before Riding
Although most states have adopted a three-tiered system for e-bike classifications, not every state has. And in the states that do use a three-tiered system, e-bike rules and regulations vary from one state to another. Before purchasing an e-bike, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the e-bike laws in your state. PeopleforBikes.org offers an excellent resource that you can use to learn about e-bike laws in your state.
The cost of an electric bike can fluctuate greatly depending on the type of bike and the quality of bicycle components. For instance, if you’re looking to go trail riding, you’ll likely need to spend a little more money on an e-bike with a stronger frame, fatter tires, and a more powerful motor.
You can find low-quality e-bikes for as little as $500. You can also find several high-end e-bikes that cost over $10,000 (including this $80,000 e-bike). However, most electric bikes fall between $1,000 and $4,000 in price. A large portion of the cost of e-bikes can be attributed to the electric motor and battery – two components you won’t find on a standard bicycle.
In addition to the e-bike itself, you’ll also need to consider the added costs of maintenance, charging, and gear. As with other vehicles, e-bikes require ongoing maintenance and repairs. This includes the cost of regular, six-month tune-ups ($75 to $100), patching a flat tire ($10 to $20), purchasing new tires ($30+ each), brake adjustments ($20 to $35), drivetrain replacement ($20 to $60), battery replacement ($350 to $800+), and more. The cost of charging an e-bike battery is rather low. If you’re charging a battery that has a range between 20 and 40 miles, it costs between $0.04 and $0.08 per charge. Finally, you’ll need to consider the cost of purchasing any additional gear, such as a bicycle helmet, elbow and knee pads, a bike lock, and possibly an extra battery.
Class 1 and class 2 e-bikes can go up to 20 miles per hour, while class 3 e-bikes can go up to 28 miles per hour. You’ll also find e-bikes that go faster than the law allows, but you cannot legally ride over 28 miles per hour on public bike lanes or bike trails. For more information on e-bike classes, state laws, and e-bike speeds, please see the answer to “What Are the Different Classes of E-Bikes?”
The process for charging your e-bike can vary slightly based on the battery being charged and the manufacturer. However, the basic charging components and the general process for charging your e-bike will typically be the same. There are also some things you can do to extend the life of your e-bike’s battery.
E-Bike Charging Components
Most e-bikes will have the following charging components:
- Battery Pack – The battery pack houses the battery for your e-bike.
- Battery Bay/Port – The battery bay, or port, connects the bike to the battery. Although the location of the battery bay varies, manufacturers often locate the port in the middle of the e-bike, near the bike’s center of gravity.
- Charger – The charger consists of a power supply with two slots for cables.
- Cables – There are usually two cables provided. One cable connects the charger to the battery, while the other cable connects the charger to the power supply.
How to Charge Your Battery
The process for charging your e-bike battery is rather simple:
- Remove the battery from the battery bay.
- Turn the battery switch to the “off” position.
- Connect the charger to the battery pack.
- Plug the charger into a mains outlet.
- Turn on the plug to begin charging.
When charging your e-bike using the above steps, there are a few precautions worth noting:
- Make sure to always use your battery’s designated charger. Using a different charger can damage the battery or reduce its lifespan.
- Always plug the charger into the battery before you switch on the mains power. Connecting the battery after you’ve plugged into the mains power can cause shorts in the charging system.
- Similarly, always turn off the mains power source prior to unplugging the battery from the charger.
Depending on your brand of e-bike, it can take anywhere from 2 to 7 hours to fully charge the battery. However, unless you’re regularly taking longer bike rides, you won’t need to charge your battery after every single ride.
When to Charge Your Battery
Most electric bikes have light indicators to let you know when they need to be charged. A red indicator light lets you know that your battery is running low or is out of power, and a green indicator light lets you know that your battery is done charging. Most e-bikes also feature a blinking light when the bike is in the process of charging.
Where to Charge Your Battery
You can charge most e-bikes anywhere there is access to a power outlet. As long as you have enough space for your bike, you should be good. However, you’ll also want to make sure that the charging location is free of any water or fire hazards.
How to Extend Your Battery’s Life
As a general rule, you have about 30,000 miles of riding before your battery starts to give out. In addition, many e-bike manufacturers offer a 2-year warranty on batteries. When it’s time to replace your battery, it typically costs anywhere from $500 to $800.
If you’d like to extend the life of your battery, there are several practices you’ll want to implement. While these practices apply to most electric bikes, it is important to note that not all e-bike manufacturers make batteries the same way. For that reason, you should consult your e-bike’s instruction manual.
The First Charge Should Be the Longest
The initial charge is critical to your battery’s overall life. When you first receive your e-bike, the battery will either not have a charge or the charge will be very minimal. You should consult your bike’s manual and make sure to fully charge the bike as instructed. This longer initial charge ensures that the electric current reaches every cell of your battery. Depending on your e-bike model, this first charge can take 12 hours or more.
Charge Your Battery Regularly
Most e-bikes use lithium-ion batteries. These batteries last longer with regular use and charging. In general, it’s best to recharge your battery before it has completely drained. Try to recharge your e-bike’s battery when it has between 30% to 60% power remaining.
Some experts suggest that it’s beneficial to occasionally let your battery discharge completely, allowing for a full system recharge. However, this should only be done infrequently – perhaps every 30 charges or so.
In addition, because most batteries require regular usage, you’ll want to make sure you’re riding your e-bike regularly. If lithium batteries are left dead for extended periods of time, they may lose their ability to hold a charge. A good rule of thumb is to charge your battery at least once per month. So, if you aren’t riding your e-bike during the winter, you’ll still want to check your battery’s charge and plug it in from time to time.
While it’s important to charge your battery regularly, it’s also important to avoid overcharging your battery. Overcharging your battery can weaken the charging cycle and deteriorate the battery.
Your specific battery’s charging duration will depend on its size and capacity. However, most e-bike batteries take anywhere from 2 to 6 hours to reach a full charge. Once you know how long it takes to charge your battery, consider setting an alarm or timer to remind you when to remove the battery from the charger.
Avoid Storing an Empty Battery
Electric bike batteries work best when they’re used and charged on a regular basis. For that reason, you should aim to use and charge your e-bike battery regularly. However, if you have to store your e-bike battery for any period of time, the optimal range to store it is at 30% to 70% capacity. If you store an empty battery, it can lose its ability to charge up and to hold a charge.
Avoid Storing Your Battery in Humid Conditions
Like most electric items, batteries are best stored in dry conditions. If you live in a humid climate, consider keeping your e-bike battery in the house rather than the garage.
Avoid Storing Your Battery in Extreme Temperatures
E-bike batteries do best in cool or moderate temperatures. This is true whether you are charging, storing, or riding your e-bike. The optimal temperature is between 50°F and 77°F (10°C and 40°C). However, that range isn’t always possible, so a general rule of thumb is to avoid temperatures between 32°F and 110°F (0°C and 43°C).
Keep Your Battery Free of Dirt, Water, and Other Liquids
This is mostly common sense, but you’ll also want to keep your battery free of any dirt, water, or other liquids. Even though e-bikes are waterproof, you may want to take precautionary measures before riding in heavy rain.
Additional Safety Precautions
Beyond the steps you should take to prolong your battery’s life, there are some additional safety precautions you’ll want to keep in mind:
- Avoid charging a battery that is leaking or damaged.
- Do not dismantle or crush your battery.
- Do not immerse your battery in liquid.
- Do not short circuit battery connections.
- Keep batteries away from children.
- Only use the charger provided by the manufacturer.
- Do not cover the battery while it is charging.
- Do not sleep near the battery while it is charging.
- If the charger is too hot to touch or produces a burning smell, you should stop charging immediately and contact the manufacturer for assistance.
- Unplug your charger after use. This includes unplugging the charger from both the battery and the main power supply.
A typical e-bike can go anywhere from 20 to 60 miles on a single charge. However, there are some e-bike models that boast a range of more than 100 miles per charge. That being said, there are a number of factors that impact an e-bike’s effective range, and it’s easy for e-bike manufacturers to spin the battery range data in order to advertise a higher battery range.
Factors Affecting a Battery’s Range
Below, we consider some of the most important factors affecting e-bike battery range:
Battery Type & Age
Two important factors for determining an e-bike battery’s range are the type of battery and its age. The lithium ion batteries used on most newer e-bike models typically outperform lead-acid and nickel-cadmium batteries used on older e-bikes. In addition, the older a battery is, the more likely its effective range has decreased.
One of the most important factors impacting a battery’s range is its capacity. Many e-bike manufacturers state the capacity of their batteries in amp-hours. While this measurement is useful for comparing two batteries, in order to use this number to evaluate the battery’s range, you’ll need to convert from amp-hours to watt-hours.
To convert from amp-hours to watt-hours, multiply the battery’s voltage by its capacity in amp-hours. For instance, if a 24-volt battery has a capacity of 20 amp-hours, then it has an equivalent capacity of 480 watt-hours.
A good battery can achieve approximately 1 mile for every 20 watt-hours. So, a good battery with a capacity of 480 watt-hours would have a range of approximately 24 miles.
Although they’re better at accelerating or climbing uphill, motors with more wattage are typically less efficient than smaller motors. Thus, a motor with less wattage may offer a bit more battery range.
Another factor affecting battery range is the type of tire used with an e-bike. For example, because more of their surface comes in contact with the ground, fat tire e-bikes perform well on difficult surfaces, such as sand or snow. However, the increased resistance caused by this contact with the ground means that the battery range of fat tire e-bikes isn’t as good as e-bikes with thinner tires.
Tire pressure also impacts battery range, with softer tires being less efficient than tires with greater air pressure.
Whether You Use a Throttle
If an e-bike has a throttle, and you regularly use that throttle, it can lead to a big drain on the battery and a substantial reduction in battery range.
The Level of Pedal Assistance / How Hard You Pedal
Two additional factors impacting battery range are the level of pedal assistance you use and how hard you pedal. If you have your e-bike set to use a low-assistance mode, and you pedal harder than the motor works, the battery will last longer.
How Fast You’re Going
How fast you’re going also impacts battery range. As you increase your speed, power requirements increase aggressively, and your battery dies much faster.
Shifting Gears at the Right Time
You can also impact your battery range by changing gears at the right time. High gears make it easier to ride an e-bike at higher speeds, while lower gears make low-speed traveling easier. By changing gears as you speed up and slow down, you can extend the life of your battery.
The Number of Stops and Starts You Make
If you start and stop regularly while riding your e-bike, it has to work harder to gain speed each time, which can drain the battery faster.
The Weight Your E-Bike Is Carrying
Another factor that affects battery range is the weight an e-bike has to carry. E-bikes typically weigh anywhere from 40 to 70 pounds. However, the average person weighs two to three times that. Obviously, a lightweight teenager is going to have a more efficient ride than a heavier adult.
In addition to the weight of the biker, you also have to consider the weight of any cargo being transported. If you’re traveling light and carrying little to no baggage, you won’t notice any meaningful change in battery range. However, if you’re regularly using your e-bike to transport groceries, children, and other cargo, you can expect a shorter battery range with more pedaling required.
When you consider how much more difficult it is to ride a standard bicycle uphill, as opposed to riding on flat ground, you get a sense of how much more your motor and battery have to work to propel you over this terrain. If your regular commute takes you over hilly terrain, you will likely need to charge your battery after each ride. Riding on dirt, sand, and other non-paved terrain has a similar impact on your battery range.
When you ride into headwinds, your e-bike battery and motor have to work harder to propel you, which shortens your battery range.
Air temperature can also have an impact on your battery range. Generally, batteries last longer in warmer conditions than they do in cold. However, if you’re riding in extremely hot or cold conditions, the battery will die much faster.
Don’t Trust Advertised Battery Ranges
Given the various factors that impact battery range, it’s easy to see how e-bike manufacturers can manipulate the battery range they advertise. Unlike a real-world bike ride, in which the cyclist must manage hilly terrain, inclement weather, excessive traffic, and heavy cargo, most advertised battery ranges are based on testing e-bikes in laboratory conditions. In addition, because there is no international standard for calculating e-bike battery range, manufacturers can fudge the numbers as they see fit.
Due to the way e-bike ranges are calculated, it’s safe to assume that the actual battery ranges will be lower than what manufacturers advertise them to be. When assessing battery range, it’s important that you do your own research by calculating battery capacity and examining the additional factors noted above.
What to Do If/When Your Battery Dies
Because of the various factors impacting battery range, it can be difficult to accurately assess how far you’ll be able to ride on a single charge. If your battery dies when you’re on the road, there are at least two ways you can respond.
Continue Riding Without Power
The good news about e-bikes is that when their battery dies, they become standard bicycles. So, assuming you’re physically able to pedal your e-bike, and assuming your battery dies when you’re somewhat close to your destination, you should be able to pedal the final leg of your journey.
The bad news about e-bikes is that, because of the weight of the battery and motor, they’re much heavier than standard bikes. This makes them a bit more difficult to pedal (without a motor) than standard bikes – especially over hilly terrain.
Bring an Extra Battery
If you’re taking a longer trip, and you’re unsure about how long your e-bike will last, you should consider packing a spare battery. This should eliminate any worries about running out of power while riding.
Due to their electrical components, e-bikes tend to weigh 20 to 30 pounds more than standard bicycles. Depending on the type of e-bike, battery, and motor, an electric bike will typically weigh between 40 and 70 pounds. However, there are some models of e-bikes that weigh as little as 20 pounds, and other models with high-powered batteries and motors that weigh more than 80 pounds.
Factors Affecting the Weight of E-Bikes
When it comes to assessing the weight of e-bikes, there are three important factors you’ll want to consider:
Type of E-Bike
As with standard bicycles, the type of e-bike you purchase can affect the bike’s weight. In general, e-bike frames need to be thicker and heavier than regular bikes in order to carry the additional weight of the motor and battery. E-bike frames typically weigh anywhere from 30 to 50 pounds. E-bikes designed for off-road terrain typically require sturdier frames, and are thus heavier than other models. On the contrary, e-bikes designed for racing will have a much lighter frame.
In addition to the frame, other factors like the type of tires used or the number of accessories added will affect the overall weight of an e-bike.
Type of Battery
Despite the fact that batteries have decreased in size since the industry moved from lead-acid to lithium batteries, they still add anywhere from 10 to 20 pounds to the overall weight of an e-bike.
Type of Motor
Depending on the type and size, an e-bike motor can add anywhere from 10 to 15 pounds to the overall weight.
The Future Looks Light
Although batteries and motors add weight to e-bikes, technology is rapidly improving. As more lightweight carbon frames are employed, both standard and electric bikes will continue to get lighter. In addition, technology will continue to reduce the size and weight of both batteries and motors, leading to much lighter e-bikes down the road.
Do the Benefits of Heavier E-Bikes “Outweigh” the Negatives?
When evaluating the weight of a standard bicycle, it is most often the case that a lighter bike is better. However, this isn’t always the case for e-bikes.
The Advantages of a Heavier E-Bike
While the battery and motor add weight to an e-bike, they also provide a number of advantages.
A larger motor makes it easier to pedal and maintain high speeds. In addition, many e-bikes feature wider wheels, making them easier to maneuver on rough terrain. However, those wider wheels also increase the amount of drag, requiring more effort to move the bike. Thus, having a larger motor is especially beneficial when your e-bike is intended for off-road activity.
A larger battery also has its benefits, as the battery’s size is typically associated with its capacity. And the more capacity a battery has, the longer it will hold its charge, allowing you to travel farther and for a longer period of time.
The Disadvantages of a Heavier E-Bike
While there are advantages to having a heavier motor and/or battery on your e-bike, there are also a couple of disadvantages. Heavier e-bikes are more difficult to lift onto bike carriers for traveling via car or bus, more difficult to carry up flights of stairs, and more difficult to hoist onto bike racks for storage in your garage. In addition, heavier e-bikes are more difficult to maneuver, making it harder for riders to get on and off, make tight turns, and navigate around and over obstacles.
Because e-bikes can be difficult to lift and maneuver, children, people with disabilities, senior citizens, and smaller adults should consider searching for an e-bike with a lighter frame, battery, and/or motor.
The High Cost of Lightweight E-Bikes
Much like cell phones, each new generation of e-bikes feature smaller, more efficient batteries. You can find e-bikes with lightweight carbon frames and smaller batteries that weigh 30 to 40 pounds and can still travel long distances. However, in order to get an electric bike of that caliber, you’ll need to shell out a pretty penny.
Ways to Reduce the Weight of Your E-Bike
If you’d like to reduce the weight of your e-bike a bit, there are a few things you can do:
- Replace your battery pack with a smaller, lighter one. Make sure to double check that the new battery is compatible with your e-bike.
- Remove any accessories attached to your e-bike, such as bike racks, baskets, saddle bags, etc.
- Switch your e-bike to thinner tires. Keep in mind that thinner tires also means less grip on the road. Before you replace your tires, you’ll want to make sure the new tires will fit correctly.
- Clean your e-bike regularly to keep it free of heavy mud and debris, which can add weight to your bike.
Yes, e-bikes can be pedaled just like regular bikes.
Class 1 e-bikes must be pedaled in order for the motor to work. Class 2 and 3 e-bikes can be pedaled, powered using only the throttle, or powered using a combination of pedals and throttle. However, not all class 3 e-bikes have a throttle. So, the short answer is: you have to pedal all class 1 e-bikes, you don’t have to pedal any class 2 e-bikes, and you only have to pedal the class 3 e-bikes that don’t have a throttle.
There’s one more wrinkle: Federal law requires a maximum throttle speed of 20 miles per hour. Since class 1 and class 2 e-bikes have a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour, this law doesn’t impact them. However, class 3 e-bikes can go up to 28 miles per hour. Because the throttle on class 3 e-bikes can only go up to 20 miles per hour, in order to reach 28 miles per hour, you have to pedal.
For more information on e-bike classes, please see the answer to “What Are the Different Classes of E-Bikes?”
E-bikes are legal, provided you follow your state’s laws governing e-bikes. For more information on the laws in your state, please see this excellent resource from PeopleforBikes.org.
This depends on what class of e-bike you are riding, and in what state you are riding. For more information on e-bike classes, state laws, and the use of bike lanes, please see the answer to “What Are the Different Classes of E-Bikes?”
This depends on what class of electric bike you are riding, and in what state you are riding. For more information on electric bike classes, state laws, and the use of bike trails, please see the answer to “What Are the Different Classes of E-Bikes?”
Whether or not e-bikes are safe is largely debated. Some folks maintain that the risks posed by electric bikes are similar to the risks associated with standard bicycles, while others contend that e-bikes are more dangerous due to their faster speeds. Below, we take a look at how the safety of e-bikes compares to the safety of standard bicycles, examine the factors affecting e-bike safety, and offer some tips to help improve the safety of your e-bike.
E-Bikes vs. Standard Bikes
How does e-bike safety compare to the safety of standard bicycles? Below, we discuss the safety of specific components that are unique to e-bikes. After that, we compare the data on e-bike accidents to the data on accidents for standard bicycles.
The Safety of E-Bike Components
Although e-bikes are mostly similar to standard bicycles, they have some components that make them different. These components include e-bike batteries, brakes, motors, and other parts.
The Safety of E-Bike Batteries
One of the biggest safety concerns associated with e-bikes are the lead and lithium-ion batteries that they use. It’s important to ship and dispose of these batteries with caution, as they can cause harm if not handled properly. When charging your e-bike, you should make sure that you’re in a dry setting and the temperature remains above freezing. Otherwise, the battery cells may be harmed. You’ll also want to carry your batteries in a protective metal box during rides and consider using a battery management system for enhanced safety.
You may have heard stories (or seen videos) of e-bikes catching on fire. While lithium batteries are highly combustible, the vast majority of these fires are caused by homemade battery packs. You should never build your own battery pack unless you’ve done adequate research or have some experience with building batteries. In addition, you should always purchase batteries from a trusted dealer in order to ensure they have the right cell design and structure to handle high temperatures and overcharging.
The Safety of E-Bike Brakes & Motors
Almost all major brands of e-bikes feature efficient brakes (mostly disc brakes) and high-quality motors. When you apply the brakes on an e-bike, the motor automatically stops spinning, making it easier to stop on e-bikes than it is on traditional bicycles. And because of their motors, e-bikes can also accelerate more quickly than traditional bikes. When you pair this improved acceleration with better brakes, it means that riders are more in control of their speeds, making it easier for them to speed up and slow down. As a result, e-bike riders are more likely to brake at stop signs and traffic signals.
The Safety of Other E-Bike Components
Electric bikes typically come with better frames, tires, and lights than standard bicycles. This gives them a smoother, safer ride on all sorts of terrains and weather conditions.
What The Data Says
Aside from the components and safety features of e-bikes, what does the data actually say?
In a study published in the December 2020 edition of Injury Prevention, researchers from New York University’s School of Medicine searched a national database of emergency room visits, looking for information related to accidents from 2000 to 2017 involving a standard bicycle, motorized scooter, or an e-bike. Of the more than 245 million injuries reported during the study period, 9.4 million injuries involved traditional bicycles, 130,797 injuries involved power scooters, and 3,075 involved e-bikes. But while injuries involving traditional bicycles were more prevalent due to the increased popularity of traditional bikes over powered scooters and bicycles, the study found that e-bike injuries were the most severe and the most likely to require hospitalization. 17% of e-bike accident victims suffered internal injuries compared to about 7.5% for both powered scooters and standard bicycles.
While the findings from the above study are somewhat alarming, similar studies conducted in the Netherlands (where bicycle usage of all types is much more prevalent) suggest that although e-bike users have a greater risk of ending up in the emergency room, this has more to do with the age of the riders than the type of bike they are riding. These studies note that there are more people over 65 using e-bikes and encountering injuries, but their chance for injury on standard bikes may be just as likely.
Factors Affecting E-Bike Safety
Below, we discuss several factors affecting e-bike safety. Those factors include e-bike speed, lack of e-bike infrastructure, biker age, and biker knowledge.
Charles DiMaggio, an injury epidemiologist at NYU Langone Health, who led the 2020 study referenced above, noted that speed likely plays a role in the study’s findings. “With the power assist engaged, e-bikes are capable of speeds well over 20 miles an hour,” said DiMaggio. “By contrast, average speeds for more traditional bikes like the New York City Citi Bikes (rental bikes) are less than 10 miles an hour. This near doubling of potential speeds may be why e-bike injuries can be more serious.”
While Mr. DiMaggio’s analysis may be true, some motorcycle enthusiasts are quick to point out that e-bikes’ slower speeds may present an inherent danger. These folks note that a motorcycle moving steadily with traffic is less likely to get rear-ended than an e-bike being passed hundreds of times each trip. That being said, a good class 3 e-bike can reach speeds of 28 miles per hour, which is fast enough for most city commutes.
Lack of E-Bike Infrastructure
Biking advocates often note that the infrastructure needed to keep biking safe on our roads has not kept up with the popularity of bicycles and e-bikes. To that end, advocates are calling for more bike lanes, the widening of existing bike lanes, and the addition of more docking stations for e-bikes.
In addition, a lack of road laws associated with e-bikes has also caused safety concerns. To that end, advocates are calling for better defined road laws, improved e-bike training, e-bike licensing, and policy changes to mandate the wearing of helmets.
E-bikes are more appealing to older people because they have a pedal-assist feature that makes them easier to ride. As a result of this, there are more elderly persons riding e-bikes than traditional bicycles. However, those over the age of 60 are more at risk of an accident, regardless of which type of bike they choose.
On average, elderly people have higher body weight, slower reflexes, weaker health, and less understanding of how modern e-bikes work in various situations. Older men also tend to be overly confident in their ability to cycle at the higher speeds that e-bikes make possible.
One of the biggest struggles that elderly people face when using electric bikes is getting on and off their bikes. Peter Van der Knaap, director of the Dutch Road Safety Research Foundation, notes, “We should not underestimate how many accidents happen among the elderly when getting on and off an e-bike. Such a bicycle is heavier than a regular one. Sometimes the problem starts because some older people do not take into account that their own physical possibilities are reduced.” That being said, the risk posed by getting on and off of an e-bike can be mitigated by purchasing step-through electric bikes, which are designed so that riders can reach the ground with their feet.
In the 2020 e-bike study mentioned previously, researchers noted that in the earliest years covered by the study, a majority of e-bike injuries involved children under age 18, who were the earliest adopters of e-bikes. However, injuries to this age group declined significantly in the later years of the study, suggesting that the younger riders became more familiar with how to ride e-bikes safely. Of course, these findings could also suggest that there are fewer young people riding e-bikes.
Regardless of which of the above scenarios is true, the decisions you make while riding an e-bike (or a standard bike) have the biggest impact on your safety. You decide which e-bike to purchase, how fast to ride, where to ride, what gear to wear, how to navigate around cars, and how much to educate yourself on the subject of e-bikes. All of these decisions ultimately determine how safe you will be on the road.
E-Bike Safety Tips
There are a number of safety tips you’ll want to keep in mind while riding. These include using the appropriate safety gear, learning to safely operate your e-bike, following the rules of the road, and keeping your e-bike properly maintained. We discuss each of these things below.
Use Appropriate Safety Gear
When riding your e-bike, it’s important to use/wear the proper safety gear. Below, we discuss some of the gear you’ll want to consider using when you ride:
- Bicycle Helmet – Always wear a helmet to protect your head while riding, just as you would with a standard bicycle. Wearing a helmet reduces the chance of head injury by 50% and the chance of injury to the neck or face by 33%.
- Rear-Facing Mirrors – As cars become more and more quiet, it gets harder to know when they are behind you on the road. Rear-facing mirrors help you see any vehicles that are behind you and how close they are.
- Lights and Reflectors – When riding your e-bike, it is extremely important to stay visible to drivers, pedestrians, and anyone else using the road – especially at night. At bare minimum, you should have a blinking white light for the front of your e-bike, as well as a rear red light for the back. However, we also recommend adding reflectors to your e-bike and wearing bright, reflective clothing.
- Bells, Horns, and Whistles – Because e-bikes are so quiet, it’s also a good idea to have a bell, horn, and/or whistle attached to your e-bike. Bells and whistles help notify pedestrians and other riders when you’re approaching from behind, while air horns are more useful for warning cars of your approach.
- Tight Fitting Clothes – If you wear baggy clothing while riding your e-bike (or standard bicycle), you risk getting caught on your wheels or pedals. For the same reason, you’ll also want to ensure that your shoes are properly tied or fastened prior to your ride.
Learn to Safely Operate Your E-Bike
E-bikes operate a bit differently than standard bikes, which can sometimes lead to accidents for inexperienced riders. However, as you learn to ride your e-bike, you’ll become more and more comfortable with the increased power it provides and better able to make quicker, safer decisions while riding.
E-bikes accelerate much faster than standard bikes. When starting from a dead stop, applying full throttle or starting in high gear can cause riders to lose control. For this reason, you should always start with your e-bike in a lower gear, then apply throttle and shift gears as you gain speed.
In addition, the brakes on electric bikes can be a bit touchy. If you apply your brakes too quickly, your bike may stop suddenly while your body continues moving forward. To avoid this issue, you should apply your brakes slowly until both you and your bike come to a full stop.
Because of the differences between operating e-bikes and standard bikes, most new riders would benefit from some practice rides prior to venturing onto busy roads or bike paths. Look for areas with little traffic that are relatively flat – such as a designated bike path or empty parking lot. Use this time to practice starting and stopping your electric bike in order to familiarize yourself with its acceleration and brakes. This is also a good time to adjust your seat, handlebars, and other bike settings to ensure you’re comfortable while riding.
Follow the Rules of the Road
A good deal of e-bike accidents have nothing to do with the construction or design of the e-bike and everything to do with riders’ inability to follow the rules of the road. When riding your e-bike, be sure to keep the following advice in mind:
- Know the E-Bike Rules & Regulations – Many states and local jurisdictions don’t have specific regulations that apply to e-bikes, making it difficult for e-bike riders to know whether to follow standard bicycle rules or motorcycle laws. However, if your state or region does have e-bike laws, you’ll want to make sure you know them. PeopleforBikes.org offers an excellent resource that you can use to learn about e-bike laws in your state.
- Obey Traffic Signals and Signs – Obey all roadway signs and signals, including traffic lights, stop signs, and speed limit signs. Cyclists tend to run red lights and break the speed limit. This puts you at greater risk of being involved in an accident, and because e-bikes travel at faster speeds than traditional bikes, you’re even more at risk.
- Stay in the Appropriate Lane – Improve your safety on the road by staying in the appropriate lane, using designated bike lanes when available. Never cycle on the sidewalk, as it can put both you and pedestrians at risk.
- Ride with Traffic, Not Against It – Always ride with traffic and never against it. Doing so can protect you, other vehicles, and pedestrians from being involved in a traffic accident.
- Know Your Hand Signals – If your e-bike doesn’t have turn signals, you’ll want to make sure to know and use the appropriate hand signals when turning or changing lanes. Otherwise, other vehicles and pedestrians won’t know your intentions and you could potentially be involved in an accident.
- Don’t Trust Anyone on the Road – Other vehicles may not realize you’re on an e-bike or know how fast you’re going. In order to avoid a potential accident, always let cars have the right of way. Be patient and alert, especially at turns and intersections.
- Keep and Eye on Your Battery Life – Be sure to monitor your battery life during longer trips. The miles can slip by when you’re using pedal assist, but if the battery drains during your ride, the return trip on a heavier-than-normal bike can become long and grueling.
- Use Common Sense – Use the same common sense that you would use when driving a car. Never ride when feeling dizzy, sick, or after consuming alcohol. Never text or use your phone while riding.
Keep Your E-Bike Properly Maintained
In addition to using the proper safety gear, safely operating your e-bike, and following the rules of the road, you will also want to keep your e-bike properly maintained. This includes checking the air pressure in your tires and the bike’s brakes before each ride, as well as having your electric bike professionally inspected each year.
Because e-bikes have electric components, it makes sense to ask the question, “Can e-bikes get wet?” The short answer is yes. E-bikes are water resistant and capable of handling most rainy and wet conditions.
That being said, although e-bikes are water resistant, they are not waterproof. In addition, they have different levels of water resistance. Given this information, a more appropriate question to ask is, “How wet can my e-bike get?” Once you’ve answered that question, you’ll also want to take precautions to prevent your e-bike’s electrical components from being damaged by too much water, prevent yourself and your personal belongings from getting wet while riding, and keep yourself safe while riding in the rain. We tackle all of these subjects below.
How Wet Can My E-Bike Get?
In order to determine how wet your e-bike can get, you need to check with the manufacturer to get an IP rating. The IP rating system is used around the world to rate the protective qualities of electronics enclosures. The rating features a two-digit number. The first digit in that number identifies the level of protection against ingress of solids, including dust, dirt, debris, and accidental contact. The second digit in that number identifies the level of protection against ingress of liquids, including water, chemicals and any other liquids that may be present.
As an example, most e-bikes have an IP-65 rating. The “6” in that number means that the enclosures for electrical components offer total protection against the ingress of solid materials. Electrical enclosures are equipped with gasket seals that are capable of blocking out even ultra-fine particles. The “5” in that number means that the enclosures for electrical components provide protection against low pressure water jets from any direction, as well as condensation and water spray. However, those electrical enclosures are not rated to withstand submersion under water. By contrast, an e-bike with an IP-67 rating means that its electrical enclosures can withstand temporary submersion under water at depths of up to 1 meter.
Protecting Your E-Bike from Getting Too Wet
The drivetrain of most e-bikes is capable of surviving water splashes, and the batteries are designed to work efficiently in rainy weather. However, that does not mean that you should be too quick to get your electric bike wet. Although most e-bikes can withstand a variety of weather conditions, it’s important to use common sense and avoid overexposing your e-bike to significant water and/or rain. In this section, we discuss how to customize your e-bike for riding in the rain, how to protect your e-bike when riding in the rain, how to keep your e-bike working properly in the rain by performing regular maintenance, and how to keep your e-bike safe while transporting it in the rain.
Customizing Your E-Bike for Riding in the Rain
Although e-bikes are water resistant, there are some additional customizations you can make to improve their protection from rain and other wet weather.
For one, you’ll want to ensure that any electrical components – such as your battery and digital display – are covered with a water-resistant material.
If you’ll be regularly riding your e-bike in the rain, you’ll also want to consider adding fenders to prevent water and debris from splashing up into your electrical components. We recommend looking for plastic fenders, as metal fenders are prone to rusting with ongoing exposure to wet conditions.
Protecting Your E-Bike While Riding in the Rain
When riding your e-bike in the rain, there are a few precautions you should take to keep it from being damaged.
First, you should never ride your electric bike in water that is deep enough to submerge your motor and/or battery. As noted above, the enclosures that house electrical components on most e-bikes are not capable of withstanding submersion under water. E-bike batteries are particularly susceptible to shorting out if submerged under water for any length of time.
Second, you should avoid riding through large puddles of water that could splash up into your bike’s gears, causing them to rust over time.
Finally, whenever possible, you should avoid riding in heavy downpours. While it’s sometimes fun to ride in light rain, a ride through a rainstorm is not worth the risk of doing damage to your electric bike.
Keeping Your E-Bike Properly Maintained for Riding in the Rain
Another way to keep your electric bike safe in the rain is by performing routine maintenance. Follow the maintenance suggestions below to keep your e-bike performing well in any kind of weather:
- After each ride in the rain, wipe down your electric bike to prevent water droplets from sliding into the e-bike’s electrical components.
- In order to prevent dirt and grime from getting into your battery, remove it after each trip, wipe it down with a soft cloth, then clean the contact points with contact cleaner.
- If your e-bike is really wet and you’re concerned that water has gotten into the battery contact points, you can use a leaf blower to disperse the water after you’ve taken the battery out. You’ll want to leave the battery out of the e-bike for a few hours to let the system dry completely.
- In order to prevent contamination and corrosion, you should also apply dielectric grease to your battery’s contact points.
- You should also clean, dry, and lubricate your bike chain after each ride in the rain. A wet chain will develop surface rust, which will increase the friction it creates while in use, shorten its lifespan, lead to more slipped gears, and make it harder to clean in the future.
- Never pressure wash your e-bike. As noted above, the electrical enclosures of most e-bikes are only rated for protection against low pressure water spray. Instead of a pressure washer, use a bucket of warm water and a soft cloth to clean and dry your e-bike.
- Always store your electric bike in a dry, indoor space. Just because you can ride your e-bike in the rain, it doesn’t mean you should store it outside. An e-bike that sits in the rain for extended periods of time can collect water in places that it shouldn’t.
Keeping Your E-Bike Safe in the Rain During Transport
If you’ll be traveling long distances with your e-bike mounted to a bicycle carrier, you’ll want to take extra care to protect your battery and digital display. You can find bespoke bicycle covers available for purchase, or you can make your own cover using a waterproof material, such as neoprene.
Protecting You and Your Stuff from Getting Wet
In addition to keeping your e-bike protected while riding in the rain, you’ll also want to keep yourself and your stuff protected. After all, no one likes to wear soggy clothes or have their possessions ruined by water damage. Read the following suggestions to learn how to keep you and your possessions dry when on the road:
- Wear a bicycle helmet. In addition to protecting you from potential head trauma, bicycle helmets have the added bonus of keeping water out of your eyes.
- You should also consider wearing a cycling hat that fits under your bicycle helmet. The brim on most cycling hats provides additional protection for your eyes.
- Of course, the best way to keep water out of your eyes while riding in the rain is to wear protective glasses or goggles.
- You should also consider wearing gloves, as they give your palm a comfortable grip on the throttle and prevent your hand from slipping while shifting gears. Look for high-quality water-resistant gloves capable of keeping your hands dry and warm.
- Once you’ve protected your eyes and hands from the rain, you need to focus on the rest of your body. Wear a rain-resistant jacket, rain pants, and waterproof shoes for maximum comfort on the road.
- Finally, you’ll want to keep any possessions you may be transporting dry while riding in the rain. Put any electronics and other belongings in a seam-sealed waterproof bag or rain-resistant backpack. You could also consider purchasing waterproof panniers, or saddlebags, to protect your belongings from getting wet.
Additional Tips for Riding Safely in Wet, Rainy Conditions
When it rains, the roads are far more slippery, visibility can be poor, and there are often unexpected objects on the road. Knowing how to handle your e-bike in rainy conditions and harsh weather can help you avoid potential traffic accidents. Read the following suggestions to learn how you can stay safe while riding in rainy conditions:
- When riding in slippery or wet conditions, reduce your tire pressure by roughly 10 psi in order to give your tires more grip on the road. This will make you less likely to slip and fall on slick surfaces.
- Rainy conditions mean low visibility. In order to make yourself more visible to other vehicles and cyclists, add lights and reflectors to your electric bike. Most jurisdictions already require you to have front and back lights on your bike. However, you should also consider adding reflective strips to your bike rack, fenders, handlebars, and helmet.
- Avoid riding through puddles and other slick spots. Deep puddles may have debris hidden inside them, and if a puddle has a rainbow-like coloring, it probably contains fuel and other slippery lubricants. You’ll also want to avoid metal covers, debris, and white road lines – all of which become slippery in rainy conditions.
- Although e-bikes are capable of maintaining high speeds in every weather condition, you should use slower speeds when riding your e-bike in the rain. This gives you time to anticipate and avoid potential accidents caused by wet roads and poor visibility.
- It typically takes longer to stop your bike when your brakes are wet. So, when riding your e-bike in rainy weather, you’ll want to apply your brakes earlier than normal in order to avoid locking up your wheels and tumbling to the ground.
- Finally, in order to maintain your balance while riding your e-bike in the rain, you’ll want to avoid leaning into turns. By applying your brakes slowly and choosing a line that lets you turn easily without leaning, you ensure that more of your tires make contact with the road.
If you’re in the greater Cincinnati area, and you’re looking for a competent team that can fix your electric bike, look no further than West Trails Bicycles. Unlike other bicycle shops, we take pride in servicing all brands of e-bikes. Find out more on our E-Bike Services page.