How to Live and Ride in the City with an Electric Bike

Anyone who has ever lived or spent a long time in the city knows that it can sometimes be a pain to be there. High prices, controlled chaos, constant congestion, high crime. Quite often, these are the issues that actually drive people away – they would rather live in the peaceful suburbs or countryside with their Rav 4s and Nissan Altimas.

But the city doesn’t have to be so tough guys. Not if you have an electric bike to use (shameless plug)!

Having an electric bike in the city means you don’t have to worry so much about the heavy stuff e.g. car payments, fuel, or, the absolute worst, parking. Rather, all you need is a power outlet, a little storage, and a healthy dose of enthusiasm.

There are of course some caveats to riding around the city with an ebike. As you ride more and faster, safety does become a concern, and bike theft is still a serious issue.

This guide is meant to alleviate any fears of riding in the city. Think of it as a mini “Ebike urban lifestyle” guide, complete with tips and tricks to being the best urban cyclist possible.

Electric bikes were made for the city.

So it’s about time we made the cities better for electric bikers.

Benefits of urban biking

We’ve gone over and over the benefits of owning an electric bike in this blog, it seems like a hundred times (read our article on why commuting with an ebike is amazing) but it needs to be repeated…

Riding an electric bike can change your life for the better in so many ways.

In particular, those living or spending a lot of time in the city stand to gain the most from owning an electric bike.

riding an electric bike in the city display

Behold: your chariot awaits.

For one thing, electric bikes make getting around the city a helluva lot easier. They’re portable, maneuverable, agile, and a lot less expensive to own than some of the alternatives.

One could rely solely upon public transport – e.g. the bus, tram, subway, etc – but then you’ll be a slave to the timetables and routes. A lot of cities these days charge an arm and a leg for monthly public transport passes as well.

The other option is owning a car, but in the city, cars often become more inconvenient than useful. Aside from the usual expenses, such as insurance, car owners need to worry about traffic, damages, and, most frustratingly, PARKING. Not every residence in the city offers its own parking and trying to find a spot after work in the center can be maddening, to say the least. Monthly parking passes at special, shared lots can also cost a ridiculous amount.

Bike owners don’t have to worry about these sorts of issues though. Parking a bike is so much easier than parking a car and you don’t have to worry so much about bus or metro schedules. With the help of a motor as well, ebike owners can travel long distances in the city without even breaking a sweat.

It should go without saying as well that riding an electric bike is much better for the environment as well!

Choosing the best electric bike for the city

Choosing which electric bike to ride in the city shouldn’t be an arduous decision – most if not all ebikes will make your life easier there.

Certain ebikes will be better for urban cyclists though and certain aspects will be more useful.

For example, having a comfortable electric bike, one that is sized correctly for your body type, will definitely pay off as you’re most likely going to be riding a lot. Having a properly-sized seat or comfy saddle cover would also be a plus.

Among the different kinds of electric bikes to choose from, many would work very well in the city. Electric road bikes, hybrids, cargo bikes, and foldable electric bikes are all great choices. One could even ride an eMTB (electric mountain bike) around town if they had no other choice.

man boarding train in city with electric bike

Whichever ebike you choose, make sure it fits in with your lifestyle.

It all comes down to convenience as convenience is the thing you need the most when living in the city. 

Do you use the subway a lot and plan on taking your bike onboard? Having something portable and easy to carry, like a foldable bike, would be the best choice.

Are you a diehard urban cyclist who likes to be in the thick of traffic and ride as fast as possible? In that case, you should buy an electric road bike.

Perhaps you actually use your bike for work rather than just getting to work, say as a delivery person? Then you would definitely need a cargo bike and a top-of-the-line one at that.

These are all potential things to consider when buying an electric bike for the city.

But let’s dive a bit deeper now and look more closely and what makes a good urban ebike.

Portability

It might depend on which city you’re living in but this might be the biggest thing to consider when buying an ebike.

Depending on the size of your flat and how busy local pubic transport usually is (if you use it), you’ll want an appropriately sized bike.

If you’re living in a spacious apartment with room to spare and tend not to carry your bike onto the bus or into crowded areas, then you can probably get away with a large fixed-frame bike. Conversely, if you live in a New York-style shoebox and are regularly taking your ebike in out of other closed spaces, a lighter, less cumbersome one might be more appropriate.

For the urban cyclist, foldable bikes really are amazing. They can fit them into a host of different spaces, from the trunk of an Uber to underneath a bus seat to a closet in the office, and are just easy to pack around. They aren’t the most maneuverable ebike and can feel weird to ride at first due to their smalls wheels, but for the casual bike rider in the city, they’re a great option.

foldable bike placed into the back of a car in the city

A foldable bike is easy to pack in a pinch.

Speed, range, and power

When it comes to riding an electric bike in the city, speed may not be the thing to focus on. For one thing, the speed limit for most cities is around 20-25 mph or 32-40 km per hour; most urban ebike riders are going to hit that pretty quick. For another, speed can actually be quite dangerous – ebike riders have an increased chance of serious injury partly due to riding faster.

When choosing an electric bike for the city, you need a bike that is just fast enough, rather than as fast as possible. Most ebikes offer enough power to do just that – they’ll get you across town and up most hills without faltering.

If on the other hand you live in a very hilly city or need to bike long distances, you might actually need an ebike with a more powerful motor and a larger battery.

What you should be paying attention to instead of speed is range. Running out of battery power when out and about, whilst not the end of the world, is very inconvenient. You never know either when the next charge will be (always do so at the office).

Prioritize battery capacity and range over speed. Understand how your ebike works so you can get the most out of the battery and plan your route if a charging station is needed. Try to buy an ebike that offers a range of at least 50 miles of range and has perhaps a removable battery as well. Having the latter will make charging your ebike much easier.

Features

With so much going on, city life can be demanding. It’s no wonder then that most innovation comes from it – people are always looking for new ways to make their lives easier.

Ebikes are no exception to this rule as each year new features are being developed to help urban cyclists. And not just improvements on preexisting parts, like bigger batteries and more powerful motors, but completely new ideas.

Most ebikes incorporate by now incorporate some kind of computer, which is used to collect riding data and regulate the bike itself. Some have more powerful computers than others.

ebike computer display

Even basic electric bike computers are still powerful.

Some ebikes have increased security measures in the form of an internal GPS or locking system. Both are great for those living in rough areas.

Others are even pushing the idea of foldable to the next level with new, futuristic designs (see BMW’s here).

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. (The future and self-driving ebikes are still a ways away.)

When looking for a good urban ebike, stop to think about these additional features. Being able to sync your bike to an app or track it using GPS may not necessarily be crucial, but depending on what your own needs are, they can still be useful.

Getting started – things to remember when riding in the city

Once you start to really embrace the ebike life and incorporate it into your everyday life, things start to change (for the better). Parking is less of a hassle, bills start disappearing, and traffic becomes observed rather than suffered through.

But it’s not such an easy transition that you can just start using an electric bike and everything falls into place. (If that were the case, there would certainly more owners out there!) There are some things that you should be conscious of and actively work on, the most important being…

  1. Don’t solely rely on your electric bike – use a combination of it and public transport. Take the latter when it’s more convenient (usually for long distances) and then the former in between stops. This is the best and sometimes fastest way to get around.
  2. Keep the level of pedal-assist in mind. It’s easy to keep the bike in high-assistance mode, but using the motorless will allow you to get a good workout on your ebike more often.
  3. Study your routes – either for commuting or regular errands – beforehand. Knowing where you’re going will reduce stress and sometimes be safer.
  4. Find the charging stations beforehand. The battery is your bike’s Achilles heel. Make sure you know when and where to charge it. Consider carrying a second replacement battery with you just in case.
  5. Try to find parking on ground-level and somewhere indoors. Electric bikes are heavy – don’t underestimate how exhausting and demoralizing it can be to carry them up and down the stairs.
  6. You don’t need spandex but there are a few mandatory clothing items. Have a packable rain jacket stashed away just in case the weather turns. Avoid billowing garments or accessories. Pant wearers should also remember to roll up the pant leg on the chain side.

Carrying stuff – backpacks are your best friends

Unlike car owners, bikers do not have a lot of options when it comes to carrying things. They are, after all, working with a finite amount of space. Unless you have a mega cargo bike or a large rack(s) strapped to the back of the bike, you’re going to need a nice, spacious backpack to survive in the city.

A good bike backpack is not necessarily spacious either (try riding with a 65-liter backpack on your back and keep stable). Rather, the best backpacks for urban biking are sleek, ergonomic, and rugged: sleek to increase aerodynamics, ergonomic so you can pack more, and rugged to handle the elements.

girl riding cargo bike in front of urban flower store

If you’re in need of serious space, an electric cargo bike is best.

Most of the major outdoor backpack brands make good bicycle bags, such as Osprey, REI, and Patagonia. Thule is also a well-regarded brand that specializes in bags for cyclists.

If you need a serious amount of space beyond what a backpack provides, consider investing in a mountable basket, some panniers, or even a trailer. Having these should be enough to handle larger missions like grocery shopping. People who frequently porter things, such as deliverymen, should consider investing in a specialized cargo bike instead, which generally offers the most packing space possible.

Safety – city biking rules

The key to using your electric bike in the city and not ending up roadkill is awareness: awareness of the road, the rules, and, most crucially, other drivers. 

As mentioned before, speed often kills. And it’s not necessarily that the biker is going fast and they lose control; rather the motorists aren’t expecting them to be traveling at such high speeds. They then misjudge a turn, an intersection, etc, and accidents occur.

To avoid becoming a fatality, you must be aware at all times and do your best to make others aware of your presence. Use hand signs, look at the drivers, communicate as best you can. Doing so will make you much less likely to get in a crash.

Consider the following:

  1. Know the class of your bike. Class 1 and 2 bikes can remain in dedicated bike lanes. Class 3 bikes need to stay on the road because they travel at higher speeds. Classes are irrelevant in Europe – all ebike motors are limited to 25 kms an hour.
  2. Riding on sidewalks is usually frowned upon if not illegal.
  3. Make sure the lights and reflectors on your bike are working. Maximize visibility while riding.
  4. When riding your electric bike in traffic, stay in the slow lane and respect the rules of the road. Act as you would while driving: don’t weave between traffic, don’t run red lights, and don’t forget to indicate.
  5. Respect the other motorists. Riding is cool but no one likes an arrogant bike owner.
  6. Don’t be distracted by your phone or the ebike screen. There’s enough going on around as it is.
  7. And finally, ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET.

Make sure you’re locking your bike up!

Every urbanite has a story or knows someone with one…

One day they leave their bike outside unlocked. Perhaps they’re feeling a bit more comfortable than usual, perhaps locking it just slipped their mind. Completely unaware and in a state of complete bliss they walk away only to return the next day to great horror. Their bike is gone without a trace.

electric linky bike locked up with ulock

Never forget!

As we’re all aware by now, cities are not always the safest places to be. Most crime, including bicycle theft, happens in denser urban areas. Each year, over 2 million bikes are stolen in the US and 4 million in Europe, which is a staggering amount! As ebikes become more and more popular, thieves are targeting them more and more, drawn by those expensive electronics and motors.

Ebike owners need to be extra cautious when living and getting around the city. That means investing in a good bike lock and knowing where to lock your bike up.

Always remember the following:

  1. Stick to u-locks. Though bulky, these are among the strongest kinds available and are relatively light.
  2. Always lock your bike to a solid object and not something that can be broken or cut.
  3. Lock your bike up at the frame, never the wheel. A thief can detach the two and then carry the bike away.
  4. Remove your ebike battery and screen before walking away.
  5. Try and lock the bike up somewhere inside and secure, away from sight.

For more tips, read our post about protecting your bike from thieves here.

Biking around the city with your family

For those living in the city with the full package (kids, a partner, perhaps a housepet) riding in the city can be a unique challenge. You not only need to keep yourself safe but an eye on everyone else.

Until the kids are ready to ride a bike themselves, you’ll need to mount a child seat on your bike, use a special trailer, or invest in a cargo ebike. A lot of urban bikers prefer trailers because they’re easier to maneuver with, especially with an ebike motor helping out, and offer a bit more protection for the child.

Small dogs and pets can also ride around in a trailer if you want to bring them along. Not much else is cuter than seeing a puppy in the backseat either 🙂

Once your kids get a little older, they’ll obviously start to ride bikes on their own. Not every child can or ought to start riding an ebike immediately though. Consider buying a regular bike rather than an ebike for young children and let them learn how to ride first that way. Since you, the adult, will be the only one with a motor, you can also ride quickly should they get out of hand.

kids riding in forest with bikes

When the child is ready and able to ride an electric bike*, then look into buying one for them. Buy something lighter, less powerful, and cheaper first so they can get a handle. Upgrade when you feel they are ready.

Once your biker crew is together, all that’s left is to have fun! Plan your family bike ride ahead of time (very important), stick to the bike lanes, and ride as a group. Try positioning yourselves so the children are in the middle and the parents are on the outside. That way, the kids will be less exposed and less likely to wander away.

* Some countries, such as the UK, actually require children to be a minimum age to ride electric bikes (14 years). In the USA, the rules vary by state (for example the minimum age is 16). Study the local laws first before buying an electric bike for children. 

Maintaining your ebike

When it comes to maintenance, ebikes, and regular bikes are not so different. Sure, there’s a few extra bells and whistles that you’ll probably need a specialist to look at but most of the time you’ll just need to worry about the usual stuff:

  1. Keeping your bike tires filled with air.
  2. Making sure the chain is properly lubed and oiled up.
  3. Checking the brakes to make sure they work.

Beyond these, the only other parts you need to worry about are the bike battery and motor. Luckily, neither of these suffer from serious breakage very often. If and when they do fail, it’s best to take your ride to a repair shop that specializes in electric bikes.

It should be said that an ebike battery needs to be treated like any other modern battery, that is in a way that makes it last as long as possible. Charge your battery when you can but, for god’s sake, DON’T leave it charging forever (this essentially cripples the battery and limits the amount it can hold long-term). Limit how much you use the pedal-assist and ride using eco mode when possible. Finding the right pedal cadence too will actually charge the battery while you’re riding it.

Conclusion – have any city electric biking tips of your own?

Are you an urban electric bike owner as well? Do you have any tips on surviving and riding in the city? Let us know in the comment section!

Hope you guys have enjoyed this article and are ready to hit the streets! Seriously, once you’ve nailed the lifestyle, having an electric bike in the city is an amazing experience. Riding around, you just feel more in harmony with the urban landscape and more integrated into the fabric of the city.

The ebike life isn’t a bad one everyone – join it now!

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