23 Jul Electric Bikes vs Regular Bikes
Electric bikes are becoming more and more popular these days. They’re super convenient as a means of transport and are easy to use.
But there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding electric bikes. Lots of people think that they are some advanced piece of equipment – something closer to a scooter or moped – that requires additional skill or paperwork to use.
The truth is: electric bikes are not so different compared to regular bikes. Both behave in very similar ways and if you already know how to ride a regular bike, an electric one will feel instantly familiar.
There are some key differences between electric bikes and regular bikes that do need to be considered – differences that will influence your buying decision.
This article compares ebikes to conventional bikes and covers how they differ. We’ll cover a range of topics from mechanics to health benefits, ethics, and more. For those who are interested in buying an ebike but are not quite sold yet, this post is for you.
So let’s see what the differences are.
What is an Ebike?
An electric bicycle, or “ebike”, is a type of bicycle that is equipped with an electric motor, battery, and (usually) a display. Collectively, these are referred to together as an electrical drive system.
Ebikes function very similarly to conventional bikes in that they require the user to ride, pedal, and brake as needed.
Most ebikes still require the rider to still peddle (these are called “pedelecs”) albeit with assistance from the motor. Some ebikes don’t require the rider to pedal though and instead have a throttle similar to an electric moped or scooter.
The biggest difference between electric bikes and regular bikes is that the former are easier to accelerate and require less effort to ride. The motor helps propel the rider forward and provides additional assistance on otherwise difficult terrain, most notably on those dreaded hills.
Because of their added convenience, electric bikes have become very popular in recent years. Sales rose by 145% in 2020 alone in the USA. In particular, morning commuters, sick of the endless traffic jams and costs of owning a car, are turning to ebikes to get to work.
Breakdown: How is an electric bike different than a regular bike?
Most people interested in buying an electric bike will have already owned or ridden a normal one. (For those who haven’t ridden a bike before, good news: you CAN ride an electric bike if you don’t know how to ride regular bikes!)
So how exactly does an electric bike compare to a normal bike? Is one easier to ride than the other? What are the actual benefits of riding an electric bike compared to their predecessors?
Let’ get down to brass tacks and find out how these two compare to one another.
Construction and parts
By all appearances, electric bikes look pretty much the exact same as regular bikes. They have a frame, two wheels, a seat, gears, and many of the same accessories.
Electric bikes possess three crucial parts in addition:
- A battery
- A motor
- A display (sometimes)
The battery is mounted to the frame in some way and is often either removable. We find that the removable variety is always more convenient, which is why we made sure all Linky bikes have removable batteries.
The motor is found either on one of the wheels (referred to as hub-drive) or in the middle of the frame (referred to as mid-drive). Ebikes with hub-drives look very similar to normal bikes – as they’re essentially gearboxes – but weigh more. Electric bikes with mid-drive motors will appear a bit bulkier than regular bikes will be lighter than those with hub-drives.
The display is used to control the electrical parts. You can select different riding modes and alter the amount of assistance the ebike provides. In terms of looks, one may not notice much of a difference as an increasing number of regular bikes also include some sort of screen these days.
These extra parts do make electric bikes heavier than regular bikes. The difference can be anywhere from 10-20 pounds depending on which kind of ebike you have. This weight is not so much of an issue though when you’re riding, thanks to pedal assistance; it’s more noticeable when you’re trying to transport the bike itself.
If you’re a purist or someone that wants to go ultralight, you may find that a conventional road bike will be better than an electric bike.
Let’s dispel one big misconception about electric bikes right off the bat: electric bikes are no more capable of achieving high speeds than regular bikes. If two riders, one with an ebike and one with a normal bike, were to start at the top of a steep hill and then take off, they would eventually reach similar speeds.
Electric bikes do not allow you to go faster than regular bikes necessarily; they allow you to go faster more easily.
The electric bike motor is dependent on the rider. Outside of Class 2 bikes, it will not work unless someone is pedaling and will cut out once the rider has reached a certain speed. Depending on the bike, most motors will work until speeds have reached 15-20 mph (25-30 kms/hour).
Beyond these speeds, it’s all human power after that.
The beautiful benefit of an ebike is that it will allow you to reach these speeds much quicker and easier than before. On a regular bike, you might have to put some real effort into pedaling before you could hit 20 mph (or hope for a big downhill).
With an ebike though, you’ll barely break a sweat as the motor is there to help.
Ebikes are best for those who want to up their biking game without devoting athlete-like commitments. Bike tours, daily commutes, trail riding all become vastly easier and much more accessible thanks to electric power. The mere fact that you can bike to work without becoming a puddle of sweat makes electric bikes way better for commuting than regular bikes.
What’s it like to ride an electric bike? Scary? Exhilarating? Perhaps familiar?
For the most part, riding an electric bike is just like riding a regular bike: you mount it, pedal it, steer it, brake it, park it, and so on. The two feel so similar that you will most likely be able to ride an electric bike immediately if you already know how to ride a regular one!
But there are some very subtle differences between riding both kinds of bicycles.
For one thing, electric bikes have a motor that kicks in usually when you start pedaling. Modern ebike motors are so subtle though that you will barely notice the transition from manual power to assisted power.
When it comes to pedaling, you may yourself using a faster cadence on an ebike. This is good for the battery as the additional revolutions will help keep the battery charged.
You’ll also need to be a bit more aware of your posture when riding an ebike. You’ll want to avoid leaving the sitting position and jamming down on the pedals like you would with a normal bike on difficult terrain. Doing so will cause the bike to sway and this can cause the internal sensors to get confused. Better to just sit back, relax, and let the motor do the work.
Really, the big difference is that you’ll hardly notice those usually tricky bits of road. Hills, long distances, wind, the things that bikers normally dread will be conquered with ease.
When it comes to the standard components – the parts that both electric and regular bikes share – maintenance and repairs will be practically the same. You can still change a flat tire, adjust the brakes, etc as easily with an electric bike as with a normal bike. When in doubt, bike shops will always be able to help.
The biggest difference in maintaining the two occurs when the ebike’s electric components need to be looked at. In these cases, you’ll want to take the bike to a specialist.
Luckily, electric failures are rare – rarer than your usual bike problems – and usually, there is some kind of warranty provided by the manufacturer.
With proper care, you can keep your ebike in a good condition and out of the shop for years. An ebike battery, cared for and used properly, can last upwards of 4-5 years before needing to be replaced!
Health and Exercise
One of the most persistent arguments for owning a regular bike vs an electric bike is that a regular bike allows for a better workout. A lot of (misguided) individuals think that riding an electric bike is cheating in some way, that is they’re not exercising very much thanks to the pedal assist.
Whilst it is undeniable that electric bikes require less physical exertion and conditioning, that doesn’t mean electric bikes are cheating. The truth is, you CAN exercise while riding an electric bike and reap all of the health benefits that riding a regular one might allow.
Compared to a normal bicyclist, the average ebike rider burns 25% fewer calories. But when you consider that electric bicyclists on average ride for longer distances – 50% more according to this study – the difference between calories burned is narrower.
Other studies confirm that riding an electric bicycle is still a great way to improve one’s overall health. Risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and many other forms of premature mortality are all lower among those who ride electric bikes.
Let’s be honest: riding a regular bike up a hill will definitely give a better workout than an electric bike. But for most people, this kind of exercise is overkill. Simply riding your bike 10-15 miles every day is more than enough to improve overall health and feel good physically.
Laws and regulations
Whilst it’s true that electric bikes do come with a bit more red tape than regular bikes, the amount isn’t discouragingly more. Outside of a few special cases, you shouldn’t be hassled at all to use your ebike.
Different countries and different regions have their own local ebike rules. In Europe for example, the speed limit for ebikes is 25 kilometers per hour. In the USA, the speed limit for standard ebikes is 20 miles per hour. Class 3 bikes can go 28 miles per hour but they’ll have to remain in the road and not in bike lanes.
You will need to consult local ebike laws before using one. That being said, the things you will need to consider are usually straightforward. Consider the following:
- Do you need a license to ride your electric bike?
- Do you need to be a certain age to ride an electric bike?
- What is the speed limit for riding an electric bike?
Taxes, mandatory insurance, and registration are almost never an issue.
Find the answers to these questions before riding. Once you do, you should be able to ride your electric bike anywhere you could ride a normal bike.
In the debate of electric bikes vs regular bikes, there is no disputing that regular bikes are often cheaper than electric bikes. The main reason for this is that electric bikes have more components and more advanced ones at that too.
A good electric bike will cost a minimum of $1500. You can certainly find cheaper models out there but they are low-quality, disposable pieces of junk.
A good road bike (the non-electric kind) can cost as low as $500.
Despite the disparity of costs between regular bikes and electric bikes, many would consider the electric bike a better investment. This is for several reasons:
- Electric bikes are a more practical replacement for motorized vehicles.
- Electric bikes are much cheaper than motorized vehicles.
- An electric bike can be used in more situations than a normal bike.
When it comes to maintenance, the difference between electric bikes and regular bikes is negligible. Standard repairs, such as flat tires, tubes, and adjustments, will be close to the same. Replacing the battery will be the priciest cost but with proper care, it can last a long time.
So whist an electric bike will cost more than a normal bike, consider whether or not the additional benefits of the electric bike justify the costs. This is a personal decision based upon what you will use the bike for, but we personally think they’re worth it.
Conventional wisdom tells us that regular bikes must be much better for the environment than electric bikes because they have a lower carbon footprint. Because they lack the electrical components, which require more energy to create, they must be more eco-friendly, right?
Actually, studies have shown that the carbon footprints produced by electric and regular bicyclists are not so different. The key lies in when the energy is consumed and by whom.
Without a doubt, the energy required to produce an electric bike is greater. The batteries, in particular, are difficult to make and require some dangerous materials.
But once the electric bike leaves the factory, the tables turn.
Because electric bikes require less physical exertion from the rider, fewer calories are consumed (over equal distances). Fewer calories consumed means less caloric intake and food is needed for replenishment. This is a crucial point.
Eating and burning calories actually result in a large carbon footprint. In fact, the food production industry as a whole produces one of the largest footprints in modern society.
There is no clear winner in the race for which is more environmentally friendly; ebikes and regular bikes are neck-and-neck. Although it can be argued that ebikes are more beneficial because people who own them are more likely to abandon their cars, in the grand scheme, having either a normal bike or an electric one is still a great step in the right direction.
There are some additional safety issues to consider when riding an electric bicycle. Most of these apply to novice riders who are unaccustomed to riding at higher speeds.
When you’re riding at higher speeds, you must be much more aware of your surroundings. If you plan on joining traffic, you must be doubly aware as bicycle-car collisions are a serious issue.
Most serious bikers who are accustomed to riding at high speeds are already aware of these potential dangers. They know what to do to keep themselves safe.
But newbies riding electric bikes may not be so aware and could potentially be over their heads. This study from Slovenia says as much: when new riders start hitting high speeds, they could end up in a dangerous situation. Ebike riders are particularly at risk since they can reach higher speeds more easily.
When riding an electric bicycle for the first time, you must be aware of your newfound capabilities. Follow the rules of the road and be a defensive rider: don’t go too fast too quickly and don’t forget to keep that head on a swivel.
One last consideration regarding safety is theft. Whilst the proportion of ebike theft compared to regular bike theft is not 100% known, it’s safe to say that more expensive bikes – i.e. ebikes – are just as if not more prone to be stolen.
Ebikes require a little extra security. In addition to locking just like a normal bike, you will also need to lock up the battery and remove the screen. The battery is the most expensive part of the ebike and if it’s already removable, potential thieves have an easy job ahead of themselves.
Advantages and disadvantages of electric bikes
- Easier to achieve and maintain higher speeds
- Handles hills and more varied terrain with less effort
- More practical replacement to cars than normal bikes
- Longer distances, including commutes, are more manageable
- Electric drive system hardly noticeable in action
- Just as environmentally friendly as regular bikes
- Evens the playing field for all riders
- More expensive than regular bikes
- Heavy, bulky at times
- Some additional rules and regulations to be considered
- Batteries can be expensive
- More prone to theft given value
- Novice riders must be cognizant of higher speeds and safety implications
Should I get an electric bike?
The answer should be simple: if you are willing to spend the money and are in need of a more sustainable, reliable form of transportation, then yes: buy an ebike! They’re easy to use, environmentally friendly, and above all else, very useful.
Let’s be frank though: only buy an electric bike if you intend on using it. This isn’t a toy that you pull out of the shed every once in a while to go on a joyride. This is a serious (and sometimes pricey) form of personal transport that you can get a lot of use out of. They’re so useful that they’ve become serious contenders with regular cars!
Also, consider to yourself what you’ll actually be using the ebike for. Like regular bikes, there are many different types of electric bikes serving many different functions.
For example, if you’re a commuter, you may find that an electric bike is better than a road bike because you work and sweat less. If you’re a mountain biker, having an eMTB can give you that extra punch on gnarly hills.
If you’re just looking for something to ride casually around the neighborhood, then buy a regular bike.
But if you’re in need of something more, be it for work or personal use, you can’t go wrong with an ebike. Try one next chance you get!