Understanding electric bikes: types, tech, and more

Comprehensive guide to electric bikes

Wherever you are, there’s a good chance you’ll be greeted by the whirring sound of an electric bike. Whether you’re high up in the mountains or in a busy city, electric bikes are becoming a staple part of our lives.

If you’re new to the e-bike world, it’s time to get educated. As many people are finding, an e-bike may be your perfect transport solution.

This article will break down everything you need to know about electric bikes in easy-to-digest pieces. You’ll learn the basics, how they work, and all the options open to you

How an electric bike works

Let’s start with the basics. An electric bike works by amplifying your pedaling efforts with a battery-powered motor. The motor seamlessly engages as you pedal, helping you when needed.

The electrical assistance makes long rides, steep climbs, and headwinds more manageable. Additionally, the wave of torque is addictive and makes riding a bike even more entertaining.

Choose how hard you work

Most electric bikes you’ll come across will have 3 or 4 assistance levels. You can select them anytime to suit the terrain you’re riding, your mood, and what you want to do. For example, if you want to get your heart rate up, select a lower assistance level, or if you want to arrive at work without being hot and sweaty, choose a high assistance level.

The assistance levels really come into their own on a route with a varied profile. As you approach a steep hill, you can demand more help from the motor to make the climb easier. However, it’s essential to know that your motor is working harder, depleting the battery much quicker, reducing your range. Riding in lower assistance levels will increase your range, but you’ll have to pedal harder.

Discover the different types of electric bikes

Just like regular bikes, there are many different ones to choose from. However, deciding which one to buy is more critical when adding a motor and battery. Your electric bike must suit your needs, as some are better for commuting, while others are built for fun or transporting heavy loads or more than one person. Let’s take a look at your options:

Electric road bikes

Electric road bikes are great, but they don’t suit everyone. These bikes allow you to ride further and take on more challenging routes. They look similar to traditional road bikes but have a chunky appearance as the frame must accommodate the motor and battery.

Electric road bikes are ideal for people who live and ride in hilly areas. You will also benefit from one of these bikes if you ride with fitter people, as you can keep up with them. However, experienced and exceptionally fit cyclists may be better off sticking to a traditional road bike. This is because there’s a good chance you’ll be able to ride further than the battery’s range under your own power. If you get ambitious and ride beyond the battery’s capacity, you’ll have to ride a heavy bike home.

Electric mountain bikes

There’s an electric version of every kind of mountain bike, from a hardtail to a full-suspension downhill bike. Therefore, you must carefully consider the terrain you usually ride before buying an electric mountain bike.

For example, I live in the French Alps, and the terrain is incredibly rough. Therefore, I have an electric Enduro mountain bike with lots of suspension travel. But you may live somewhere less rugged and mountainous, so an electric hardtail or trail bike may suit you better.

The great thing about electric mountain bikes is that you can ride further and discover new terrain. In addition to this, you can ride your favorite loop several times. In contrast, you may only have the time and energy to ride it once on a regular mountain bike.

Electric hybrid bikes

Electric hybrid bikes are often used for urban riding and commuting. Manufacturers give them specific characteristics to make them suitable for different cyclist’s needs. For example, some electric hybrid bikes are better suited to smooth roads, while others excel on uneven surfaces.

Hybrids don’t work well on mountain bike trails, but the more rugged options are great for dirt tracks, cobbled streets, and the broken pavements you may ride on while commuting.

The upright riding position is more comfortable and safer for urban riding than a road bike’s hunkered-down position. These bikes are more practical, too. Manufacturers often accessorize them with cargo racks, mudguards, and panniers. If the bike doesn’t come with these things, it will likely have appropriate mounting points for them.

Some hybrid bikes feature step-through frames with no top tubes. This design means the bike is easy to mount and dismount, as you don’t have to swing your leg high over the bike. Step-through bikes are useful for anyone who wears loose clothing or has mobility issues.

Electric cargo bikes

Imagine being able to leave your car at home but still carry everything you need for a day out or even another person. This is where electric cargo bikes come in. In fact, they’re not just replacing cars but delivery vans, too, due to their versatility.

Some electric cargo bikes are similar to hybrids but have a frame design that allows you to carry heavy loads. There are other electric cargo bikes with additional seats, making them a great alternative to a car for the school run.

Electric cargo bikes have potent motors with lots of torque. This makes hauling the extra weight more manageable, especially when encountering a steep hill. Their long wheelbase also makes them more stable and increases their load-carrying capacity.

Electric fat bikes

As the name suggests, electric fat bikes have large, chunky tires with high volume. People who ride electric fat bikes benefit from these tires in a few ways. Firstly, the larger contact patch with the ground gives you much more traction than a thinner tire. This makes them excellent for riding off-road, which is why you’ll see fat tire, electric mountain bikes. These tires were initially designed to ride over challenging surfaces like soft mud, sand, and snow. 

But you don’t have to be adventurous to benefit from their size. The extra grip provides stability and instills confidence, even when riding on smooth surfaces, especially in the wet. On top of this, the low pressure of fat tires acts like suspension, so riding over bumps becomes more comfortable. For these reasons, some commuter and hybrid electric bikes have fat tires.

Fat tire bikes that aren’t electric are pretty rare. This is because of the increased weight and rolling resistance, making them less efficient to ride. However, when you add an electric motor, the weight and rolling resistance are no longer a problem for the rider.

Fat tire bikes unlock potential for many cyclists. For example you can continue to ride your bike all year round, even when the ground is covered in snow. Surfers are also beginning to see the benefits of riding electric fat bikes on the beach. The style of these bikes means they can ride to different parts of the beach to find the best conditions much more quickly than if they were on foot.

Electric cruisers

Electric cruisers are pretty unique looking. They are more of a lifestyle vehicle than something that offers a high level of versatility or practicality. Electric cruisers have the appearance of vintage motorcycles and are often customized. Their eye-catching frames and fat tires make them popular with surfers and people who want a comfortable ride while looking cool.

Folding electric bikes

Living and working in the city comes with its challenges. Some of these challenges can be solved with a folding electric bike. These incredibly practical vehicles have hinged frames, allowing you to fold them into a compact size, which is enhanced by small wheels.

When folded, you can easily store one of these bikes at home or work. This is not only convenient but also means your mode of transport is safe from thieves.

Folding electric bikes are often used for last-mile commuting. Last-mile commuting is when you combine public transportation with your electric bike. For example, take the train into town, then unfold your bike to complete your journey to work.

Folding electric bikes are excellent for recreation, too. Their tiny size means you can carry them in your RV, car, or boat. This way, you have an easy way of getting around while on vacation or during a day out.

Understanding electric bike classes

There are three electric bike classes you need to know about, as local laws may restrict what Electric bike you can ride?

Class 1: Pedal Assist (PAS) – Class 1 electric bikes are limited to an assisted top speed of 20mph.

Class 2: Throttle-On Demand (TOD) – These are similar to class 1 bikes but feature a throttle, much like a motorcycle or scooter, allowing riders to accelerate without pedaling.

Class 3: Speed Pedelec – Class 3 electric bikes work the same way as class 1 bikes, but their limited top speed is 28 mph.

Most new electric bike riders start riding a class 1 bike. These cost less than the other classes and are more manageable. But the added bonus is that you can legally ride them on most cycle paths and roads.

If you opt for an electric mountain bike, you must be aware that not all bike trails permit them. Therefore, it is best to check before riding them so you are not sent home with your tail between your legs.

Understand electric bike motors and batteries

Mid-mounted vs. hub mounted

Electric bikes have mid-mounted or hub-mounted motors. A mid-mounted motor is placed between the cranks, while hub-mounted motors sit within the rear wheel. Bikes with Hub-mounted motors are more affordable and best suited to commuting, road riding, and light off-road use.

Although hub-mounted motors are quiet and suitable for everyday use, they are less efficient than mid-mounted motors, reducing your bike’s range. Mid-mounted motors also improve the bike’s overall balance, making its handling more predictable. Therefore, they are used on proper electric mountain bikes.

These two motor options deliver their power differently. The hub-mounted motor uses a cadence sensor, which measures how fast you pedal and adjusts the power to suit. On the other hand, mid-mountain motors use a torque sensor. Torque sensors determine how hard you pedal so the motor knows how much power to provide. The torque sensor system gives you a more natural pedal feeling, which is advantageous on technical terrain.

Motor power

How much power your electric bike has depends on your budget and personal preference. More powerful motors have more torque, which improves acceleration and hill-climbing ability. Heavier riders will also benefit from more powerful motors.

Less powerful motors reduce the weight of your electric bike. They also make your bike much cheaper and more efficient. Most people are happy with a 250 W motor; even the most rugged electric mountain bikes only have this much power.

Electric bike range

Electric bike manufacturers will state an estimated range for their products. However, it would be best to take this figure with a pinch of salt, as it will have been determined in the perfect conditions. By this, I mean optimum ambient temperature on a flat road with a lightweight rider.

The range of an electric bike varies dramatically. For example, if you carry lots of weight, ride in a mountainous area, or in adverse weather conditions, your electric bike’s range will be compromised. Batteries also lose capacity as they age, affecting how far they will take you. Most electric bike batteries can be recharged 1000 times, but there are exceptions. Higher-quality batteries will last much longer than cheap ones.

Final thoughts on electric bikes

This all may seem like a lot to take in. But once you realize what type of electric bike you require, you can create a shortlist of options. Your budget will also contribute considerably towards your decision as electric bikes are costly. However, you get what you pay for, as more expensive E-bikes have better components and warranty.

Less expensive electric bikes have a place and are often enough for many people. But it would be best if you were realistic about what you have concerning its capabilities and build quality.

tom fortune

Tom Fortune

Tom loves everything fitted with wheels and spends most of his summers riding around the French Alps on various bikes. He has been creating content for the cycling industry for several years and loves sharing his knowledge and experience to help others.


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