eBike for a Cool Commute!
Electric cars are great, but for some, an ebike may be a better green-driving solution, especially if you have a very congested route into work.
In this case, an electric bike would allow you to zip along, passing out traffic jams, getting to the office in jiffy-time. With e-pedal power, you can arrive as cool as a cucumber and not break a drop of sweat!
Photo: Osvaldo Gago
If you're done with conventional biking, but want to stay green and get some exercise, ebikes could be the perfect compromise ! If you are not super fit, if you are not young and if you need to get to work without 'gently glowing', ebiking could be a great alternative to an electric car or scooter. As well as being nifty in traffic, and non-polluting, they are smooth and quiet---an uber-green transport choice.
Most electric bikes will assist your pedal-power. Depending on terrain, some with more powerful motors, can replace pedal power.
Those that are electrically-assisted are what most e-cyclists like. You know the way you luuuurve cycling, except when to have to climb a hill? Well, when the hill looms in front of you, instead of feeling dread and going red in the face, you just kick-in your electric battery-power to help get you over the hump!
E-Bikes are a fabulous option for people who like to cycle, but find it impractical as a regular form of commuter transport, like my friend Molly.
What's an eBike like?
An electric bike is just like a bike, except you have electric power which you can turn on whenever you need some help. Or, with some ebikes, you can have the electric power on all the time if you like, just like an electric car. Most people like getting some exercise from a bike and alternate between pedal-power and electricity.
These generous cyclists are generating electricity from pedal power to POWER THE BAND! at Maker Faire 2008! Photo: Skip Russell
It is possible to get electric bikes designed like these ones to recharge their own batteries through pedal power (instead of charging an electric band!). However, the cyclists above are static. Due to complications of physics, involving velocity and mass, while in motion, the recharging facility would only kick in when you exceed a certain speed. The expense involved would not be worth it for the amount of electricity you could generate and it is not really the point of ebikes.
Electric bikes work off a battery, which you plug-in to recharge at home, just like an electric car. Some bikes with regenerative braking can generate power from their brakes, but only enough to supplement the battery. These cost more.
The weight of the motor and battery will add some extra weight to your bike. But on flat ground, you probably won't even notice this while pedal-pushing. You may notice it a little on hills, but then you can turn on the electricity if it's too difficult.
eBike Buying Tips
As with an electric car, you can either convert an ebike yourself, or buy a ready-built one.
Whether converting, or buying ready-made, you generally get what you pay for. For a really sweet ride into work everyday, it might be worth paying for what you would really enjoy, rather than something cheap-and-nasty which could turn you off the whole experience.
There are ready-made conversion kits on sale for those who choose the DIY-route. I am told that folks who are reasonably mechanically competent should be able to manage these. Just make sure to get a simple kit if you are a beginner and steer away from installing gears and regenerative braking etc.!
The great advantage of a DIY-job is that you can still ride the type of bike you like. This is why serious bikers usually prefer to convert their own model. Conversion kits cost from $350 to $2000.
Whether buying ready-built or converting, take a careful look at the type of battery you are getting. The battery is what determines the power and much of the cost of your ebike/conversion kit.
The types of batteries that can be used in ebikes are Lead Acid (PbA), Nickel Cadmium (NiCad)Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH), and Lithium-ion or Lithium Polymer.
See this page for information on these different types of EV batteries.
Cheaper bikes/kits usually have lead-acid batteries. Lead-acid batteries are reliable and widely-used. But lead is a dead weight to put on a pedal machine and is going out of favour with e-bikers as other options come on stream. However, it is still the most affordable option. Lead batteries are used by most cheap Chinese imports.
The lowest amount of battery power that would be suitable for an electric bike is 192 watt-hours. This is different to watts, so check the fine print carefully! especially when buying on eBay!
If you are like me, getting a ready-to-go e-bike might seem preferable to messing around in a garage for days (or probably weeks in my case!).
When choosing, beware of fly-by-night brands, because you could find it difficult to replace parts or enforce warranties.
Ebikes can cost anything from about $600 to $3,000. You can get mountain bikes, regular bikes, street bikes, neat little folding bikes and more.
Ebikes can have their motors mounted onto the bike with brackets. But a sleeker solution is the hub-motor. This is where the motor is built into a specially designed wheel hub. This can be used for bikes, scooters and even some light cars.
Some powerful ebikes can go well over 30 miles an hour, but there are speed limits imposed by traffic authorities regarding vehicle legalities. So make sure, especially if doing a conversion yourself, that you don't exceed the speed limit for bikes, or you could be taxed and licensed as a scooter, or motorbike!
As with all electric vehicles, I advise you to check with your local traffic authority regarding laws covering ebikes. Most states allow use of ebikes under a certain speed limit without special tests and will allow you to use cycle lanes. But check the detail locally before buying!
If you are worried about running out of power or about staying within the speed limit, you can install a cycle analyst, which is the equivalent of a car dashboard and tells you more than you'll ever need to know about your battery, speed, ampage, wattage etc. Probably too much information for me, but definitely some of it could be very useful.
They're clean! They're green!