ebike buying tips

There’s a whole spectrum of e-bikes out there, as far as cost is concerned. We’ve seen them for as low as $500 and up to $10,000 and higher. An RV couple recently sat down with us to give us their take on what to look out for when buying an ebike.

So why an e-bike? If you’re going to different campgrounds, like some people are, you’ll quickly realize that a regular road bike is not going to be enough to get around. We’ve been on some huge campgrounds where it can be a half mile, three quarters mile, or even a mile, to go from one end to another. Uphill!

Uphill in both directions.

And why would you want to travel around the campground? Well, if you want to go to the pool, the lodge, to get your mail, that kind of thing. If there’s a breakfast or any kind of events, you’ll find that walking these campgrounds can be so huge. Some campgrounds we’ve stayed at are three, four, 500 acres, just really big.

Yeah, the one in Cottonwood comes to mind. We were up near the top of the campground, and we had friends down in the valley, down in the lower sections. And it was a mile from our campsite to their campsite, and we never left the park.

And you may think, “Well I could take my vehicle.” Well if you are towing a fifth wheel, or a trailer, you probably have a gas or a diesel guzzler. So you may want to think about getting a bike, just to save on that gas.

And it’s just fun. I mean, if you haven’t been on a bike since you were a teenager, perhaps, maybe you’ve forgotten how much fun it is to ride. I just have a blast every time.

What an e-bike does is it takes all the bad things of a regular bicycle and makes them go away. You know? Where you’re trying to get uphill and it’s a lot of work, or you’ve gotten halfway out and you realize you’ve got to come back and now you’re tired … Well all of that goes away.

Yeah, we regularly do 20 mile rides on our bikes. I wouldn’t expect a person that’s just getting into e-biking to jump on a bike and go 20 miles, but you can do it.

Decide What Your Goals Are

Before you plop down however much you’re going to spend on the bike, decide what you want to do with that bike. And think hard about that, because that’s the difference between getting the right bike and getting the wrong bike. I’m fine with my touring bike, but I don’t think my wife would be as happy if I would’ve gotten her a bike like mine.

Mine is made for off-roading. Mine is a mountain bike. It eats up the hills. I do not have to work that hard to go up hills, which is super important for me. I also love to ride on the beach, and just do more off-roading. For me, nothing is off limits. I can go anywhere on that bike.

I like to go fast.

Yeah. See, he’s more about speed. So he’s more about road and performance.

Yeah. My bike’s capable of 30 miles an hour.

And mine’s, like, 23.

So the very first thing to look at when you’re looking at an e-bike, and then my husband kept telling me this when I was shopping and we were texting back and forth, is to get pedal assist. You want to be able to do … Or at least, I did. I wanted to be able to do some peddling; I just wanted my peddling to be easier. There are some that are just throttle-only e-bikes, where you’re just basically on a moped. If you don’t want any exercise and you just want a bike with power, then it would be the throttle-only e-bike.

Some e-bikes come with both. You have the pedal assist an. You can adjust it. You can have different levels of assist, and then you also can say, “I am done. I am tired. I don’t even want to peddle,” and you have the throttle. And that, exactly … Both of our bikes have pedal assist and throttle.

But be aware that there will be some places you cannot take your bike. National parks and, in fact, all of California county parks have banned throttle e-bikes. So you just need to be aware of that; there may be some roads closed to you, if you have a throttle e-bike.

So one mistake that I have talked to several people about they’ve bought the wrong bikes, was getting the throttle that’s in the handlebar. Okay, so-

Twist throttle.

The twist throttle is what it’s called. So if you’re walking your bike or getting on or off, it’s so easy to touch it and that bike will fly away from you. I definitely would not have a bike with a twist throttle.

When you’re shopping for e-bikes, you probably have the number one question, and this is the number one question that we get asked all the time.

All the time. When somebody sees that we have e-bikes, the first question that we get is how far can you go on it?

Because believe me, what you think is far on a road bike, “Oh, I never biked more than 20 miles, 25 miles on a road bike,” probably you can do twice as far or more-

Easily.

… Easily, than what you could do on a road bike. You can do twice as much. I mean, I feel like we do triple, maybe triple, of what I could do on a road bike. So range is really important. You do not want to buy a bike and then find it does not give you what you want as far as range. So grab a paper and pencil, because Paul is going to explain this. This is super important. This is numbers, but these numbers will really help you make your decision.

Think of the battery as a gas tank.

And there’s always two numbers related to an e-bike battery, or any battery for that matter, and it is the voltage and the amp hour. Most bikes nowadays are either 36 or 48 volt. Actually, my bike is 52 volt. That’s not as important as the amp hour. The amp hour is the size of the gas tank. Using our bikes for an example, my bike is a 52 volt, like I said, and it’s 19.2 amp hours. Her bike is a 48 volt, and it’s about 13 amp hour. Now if you want to know how many watt hours … And this is going to determine how far you can go on it. If you want to know the watt hours, you multiply the voltage time and the amp hours. So in my case, 52 x 19.2 is 998.4. That is the watt hours.

Now if you had a 750 watt motor, that means you could run that motor, if you were running it at wide open for an hour, you would burn 750 watts. You’re never going to ride like that; that gives you an idea of your range. So that would mean that, that I would have maybe an hour … Well actually a little more than an hour; 998 is obviously bigger than 750. So I would have a little more than an hour of range at wide open throttle, basically. It’d be like you getting in your car and just putting your foot to the floor; you’re just not going to do that on a bicycle.

So in practicality, about how many miles can you go on your battery?

Assuming I’m just going to cruise around 18 to 20 miles an hour, easily 60 miles. On yours, probably around 30. Yeah.

You want to get as much range as you can afford. Look at the specs for the battery, pay attention to the amp hour number, get the biggest amp hour number you can get.

So one thing when you’re bike shopping, and you’re looking online, know that some companies are going to hide that information that you really need, and that is the technical specs. But for example, and I’m looking online now, there is a company that says that their bike will go 25 to 50 miles. Well you know right away that, that’s the best case; it’s just like when you look at miles per gallon when you’re shopping for a car. So if you see something that is 25 to 50 and you want longer range than that, just look at the 25 and go … It’s probably not going to work for you, if you’re looking for something longer.

The bike that she’s referring to, I won’t call it out by name, but it has 10.4 amp hours and 48 volts. So that’s a little over 500, about 500 watt hours.

So that’s going to be on the low end of the scale, and it is on the low end of the price point too. Again, you get what you pay for. We just don’t want you to end up with not enough bike for what you want to do.

So one number that often comes up when you’re looking at e-bikes is watts. Can you explain watts?

Watts is a measure of power. 750 watts is 1 horsepower. 1 horsepower on a bicycle is pretty substantial. Your bike maxes out at 2,500 watts. My bike is 750 watts.

So you need that if you’re in a hilly area, or if you plan on going on hills. I actually test rode a bike in Santa Cruz, and it would not go up this massive steep. It was like a San Francisco Rice A Roni Hill kind of thing, right? It would not go up that hill, so that was a huge disappointment.

You’ll find bikes out there with 250 watts; I would not touch one.

He told me when we were texting back and forth to not go under 500. In fact, he said try and get 750 or more. And your weight will also have a factor in it too, as to how much power you need if you’re planning on going up hills.

Mid Drive vs Hub Motors

This leads us into mid drive versus hub drive. Right? So explain what mid drive is.

So mid drive, the motor is basically right under your bottom bracket. In fact-

What’s your bottom bracket? I know nothing about this. What’s your bottom bracket?

Okay. The bottom bracket is the thing that the axle goes through, that your crank’s attached to-

You can tell he’s a tech guy.

… Your crank’s attached to. That’s the bottom bracket, that cylindrical thing down at the bottom.

The cranks are what your pedals are attached to, if you don’t know that, right?

Yeah. The crank arms are what your pedals are attached to, yeah.

A mid drive where the motor is attached to the bottom bracket. Or in some cases, and Liz’s bike is an example, now they’ve integrated the motor into the bottom bracket. So there really is no bottom bracket on e-bikes like what Liz has.

And then the hub drive, the motor is actually in your rear wheel in the center hub of it.

It’s the hub of the rear wheel.

So why we’re talking about this is I remember when we were texting back and forth, you said there were pros and cons between a mid drive and a hub drive.

So basically when you have a mid drive, the motor is actually turning the cranks for you. Or helping you, assisting you, in turning the cranks. A hub drive is driving the rear wheel. If you’re going to do a lot of hills, or if you think you’re going to do a lot of hills, mid drive is better.

So let’s get into the difference between a low-cost e-bike and an expensive e-bike. Basically it comes down to the components. I have a mid priced e-bike from a company called Juiced. And the derailleur they use is a Shimano Altus. And it is kind of the entry-level to their quality line, and you could replace that derailleur for $20. Liz’s bike is considerably more expensive than mine. To replace the derailleur on her bike, it would be about a $100. So you see the difference, a $20 derailleur versus a $100 derailleur. And that’s just one component on the bike. There are many components. There are bearings and the hubs. There’s … The bottom bracket, there’s a big bearing in there. And the quality of that bearing is going to determine how long that bike lasts before you have to tear into the bottom bracket and replace it.

Well that brings up a good point. Before you decide how much you’re going to spend on a bike, you need to decide how much you’re going to use it. I mean, if you’re only going to use it once every week or two, maybe to go across the campground and pick up your mail, then you probably could get away with a cheaper bike. But if you’re like us, we’re riding three, four or more times … Right now, we’re getting into biking season, the weather is great, we’re getting out there almost every other day.

Yeah. And like I said, we like to do longer rides. The other day, we rode 24-mile round trip.

We can do that in about an hour and a half. So one of the biggest difference between a regular road bike and an e-bike is weight. Weight is a huge factor. These bikes can be really heavy. How I broke my hand was I was on a bike that was nearly 70 pounds. And I was test riding it. I didn’t know the bike. And I weigh about 125, 130. So I’m trying to get going from a stop. I had one leg up and the bike was just too heavy for me to keep balanced. For me, I ended up with a higher-end carbon fiber bike. Because not only did I not want to have the bike knock me over, but I also wanted to be able to lift it up. I wanted to be able to get it off and on a bike rack.

By Ebike Newsboy

I scour the web looking for ebike stories.