You’ve heard of electric bikes but do you know what the real difference between electric bikes and non-electric bikes is? Electric bikes have been growing in popularity in Europe for a number of years and they’re certainly here to stay.
The UK is actually trailing behind other European countries in its adoption of electric bikes. Only 5% of bikes sold in the UK are electric bikes compared with Germany, the European leader so it’s not surprising that most of us don’t know a lot about them.
We’ve covered all of the key similarities and differences between electric and non-electric bikes as well as touching on the advantages and disadvantages of electric bikes.
Most electric bikes nowadays look very similar to regular bikes; in fact with technological advancements such as in-tube batteries and smaller motors you might even find it hard to tell the difference with some models. There’s a common misconception that electric bikes are more similar to motorcycles than to bicycles but this simply isn’t the case.
You’ll still have to pedal with an electric bike just like any other bike, the only difference is that the motor will add a bit of extra power to your natural rider power making things seem a little easier when you need it most. But ultimately, electric bicycles are very similar to traditional bicycles with the only real difference being the added electrical components. There are five key additional elements that differentiate an electric bike from a regular non-electric bike; these are the Motor, Sensor, Battery, Controls and Display.
Electric Bike Motor
The electric bike motor is the part of the bike that delivers the extra power to your pedalling. But you’ll always be able to control the assistance that the motor provides using the controls to switch between the different modes available. Motors can be either; front mounted, centre mounted (also known as crank driven) or rear mounted.
Electric Bike Sensor
There are two types of sensor that can be used on an electric bike; Cadence sensors and Torque sensors. The sensor is the part of the bike which tells the motor that you’re pedalling and that it needs to start adding assistance. If your electric bike has a cadence sensor then it will identify that the pedals are revolving as you pedal and apply a predetermined assistance level determined by your controls. If your bike has a torque sensor the sensor will measure the amount of force applied by your pedalling and apply corresponding power to reach the determined assistance level resulting in a more natural feeling ride.
Electric Bike Batteries
Electric bike batteries have different capacity levels which, combined with a number of other factors will determine the range of your electric bike on a single charge. Charging your battery is easy, just unlock it using the keys provided, unclip it from your bike and charge using a mains plug socket. Dependant on your battery size and charger this will take between 3 and 6 hours however most batteries charge to around 50% in 1.5-2.5 hours. For more information on batteries, read our electric bike battery guide.
Electric Bike Controls
Electric bike controls may sometimes be integrated with your display but generally these are small buttons located on the left hand side of your handlebars which allow you to move between the assistance levels available on your bike.
Electric Bike Display
Your display will show a range of information which could include battery level, range, speed, trip distance and your selected assistance mode. The information that your display shows will be dependent on the type of electric bike system that you choose as each system usually has an associated display type.
If you’re wondering what it’s like to ride an electric bike and whether electric bikes are any good compared to traditional bikes then it might be worthwhile booking yourself a test ride at your local store. But in short, riding an electric bike feels very similar to riding a non-electric bike. You’ll still have to pedal just the same as a regular bike and change gears the only difference is that things will feel a little easier than usual. You’ll find hills a breeze, travel longer distances before feeling fatigued, conquer stronger headwinds and move off from a standing start with ease.
Plus, the power delivery from the motor is extremely smooth regardless of which system you choose but with centre-mounted motor systems you’ll barely notice the difference from riding a traditional bike. The riding experience of electric bikes is one of their main benefits as they act to smooth out the less pleasant elements of riding a traditional bike.
The weight of electric bikes when compared with regular bikes is another key difference however it might not have as big an impact as you would expect! Regular bikes will usually weigh between about 10 and 16kgs depending on the type and size of bike and the additional components fitted. For example, an unequipped urban commuter bike with thinner road friendly tyres such as our Strada range will obviously weigh a lot less than a fully equipped bike complete with mudguards, a pannier rack and a propstand such as our Pioneer range.
In practice, electric bikes typically weigh in at between 18 and 25kgs so at first glance this may look like quite a significant difference from the regular bike weights above. However when you consider that with the electric assistance you’re unlikely to be pedalling that full weight on your own very often. Plus you’ll find that riding in the lowest assistance level on your bike will more than compensate for the extra weight so there’s no need to worry.
Range is an important consideration when you’re comparing electric and non-electric bikes. There aren’t any range implications for non-electric bikes except your own capability whereas with electric bikes you may need to consider your battery range before embarking on a trip. For most people the range of modern electric bikes is more than sufficient for their journeys however if you want use your electric bike for touring you may want to make range a consideration when you make your purchase.
If you’re worried about the range of electric bikes the Bosch range assistant is a great representation demonstrating how various factors affect the distance you’ll be able to travel on their electric motor systems. Though this calculator is specific to the Bosch system the principles remain the same for all electric bike systems and the changes will likely be proportional to that system’s overall range however there may be slight variances.
As we’ve covered above because most of the components of an electric bike are essentially the same as a traditional non-electric bike maintenance and repairs on these parts of your bike will be pretty similar. For example if anything were to go wrong with your bikes non-electric components such as the brakes and wheels then you’d be able to get these fixed at a regular bike shop. However you’ll need to visit a specialist electric bike store to deal with any issues you may have with the electrical components or to have your bike serviced.
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll experience problems with your bikes electrical components so long as you’ve chosen a reputable electric bike system in the first place. Plus with any Raleigh electric bikes you’ll get a 2 year warranty on all of your electrical components as well as a 5 year frame guarantee.
Regular bikes will be slightly cheaper to maintain than electric bikes as they have slightly less expensive components. For example all of our electric bikes have electric bike-specific tyres which are able to handle higher levels of wear and tear experienced by the increased weigh and speeds of electric bikes. Plus regular bikes haven’t got all of the added electric components!
We often find that peoples understanding of the speed of electric bikes is a little confused! Generally people either think that electric bikes are similar to motor bikes and will go speeding off out of their control or they believe that an electric bike’s top speed is capped to 15.5mph limiting their ability. The truth is actually far from either of these!
Electric bikes certainly are not motorbikes; they work in essentially the same was as a traditional bicycle and will ALWAYS require you to pedal before the motor kicks in. Previously electric bikes could include a throttle, however recent regulation changes mean that these bikes are now classed as motorbikes and not as electric bikes.
It’s true that to meet EU regulations electric bikes are only able to provide assistance from their motor up to 15.5mph, after that it’s all down to you.
It’s actually quite easy to reach speeds higher than the assistance level yourself, you’ll just need to put a little effort in – but not the type of effort that leaves you sweaty and short of breath!
If you’re wondering whether using an electric bike will mean you ride faster than on a non-electric bike this will largely depend on how fast you ride on your regular bike. For most people who cycle to commute or for leisure an electric bike will help regulate your speed on sections of your ride that usually slow you down increasing your overall speed.
However if you’re used to racing on a road bike at speeds of 25mph then an electric bike probably isn’t for you and will do more to slow you down than speed you up. Basically electric bikes are intended to make cycling easier not to help you break land speed records!
There are a number of extra regulations that cover the use of electric bikes when compared to traditional bikes. Unlike non-electric bikes ebikes are categorised by the government as a form of motorised transport and are therefore subject to some additional regulations. The main laws covering people using electric bikes in the UK are that you’ll need to be over the age of 14 to ride one and that the electric bike motor must only add assistance up to speeds of 15.5mph.
If you're travelling outside the UK then there may be other considerations for you to consider. For instance in the Republic of Ireland you’ll need a licence, insurance and a helmet to ride one but this doesn’t apply in the UK.
We often hear the questions “But isn’t an electric bike cheating?”, “Do you get any exercise with an electric bike?"
The answers are simple; no, it isn’t cheating to ride an electric bike, and yes, you will definitely still get a work out! In fact, there’s plenty of research showing the health benefits of electric bikes and recent research has found electric bike riders experience physical exertion 95% of the time.
Obviously it is possible to ride an ebike on the flat in the highest assistance level and you’ll find that you’re barely putting in any effort at all but this simply isn’t how an electric bike is meant to be used. Higher assistance levels are intended for use on inclines or when you’re really starting to tire. Ultimately you’re in control of how much of a workout you get on an electric bike and you can always turn the power of altogether.
Electric bikes are undoubtedly more expensive to buy than their regular non-electric counterparts. A good quality centre-mount motor electric bike with an electric system from market leaders such as Bosch or Yamaha will set you back at least £1,500 and prices can rise considerably higher if you’re looking for something a bit more premium. Therefore electric bikes can seem quite costly when you consider that you can pick up a decent non electric bike for under £500.
However, it all depends on what you’re comparing the cost of your electric bike with. Yes, compare it with a non-electric bike and it may seem pricey, but now compare it with the cost of your car and fuel for a month or a monthly train or bus pass and it can start to look a bit more attractive. If you’ll be using your electric bike as an alternative mode of transport it could even start to save you pennies!
Obviously an electric bike is not technically more eco-friendly than a non-electric bike. However both types of bicycle are an environmentally friendly way to travel when compared with other forms of fossil-fuel-burning transport. The key difference between an electric bike and a traditional bike in this respect is in how they can be used.
Very few people can replace their car with a traditional bicycle and those with longer commutes may find it simply isn’t practical to cut out commuting by public transport in favour of a non-electric bike. However, with electric bikes it becomes much easier to consider leaving the car at home for longer commutes or for trips to the shops without being put off by the thought of the luggage you’ll be towing on the way home.
They allow you to travel longer distances and tackle hilly routes with confidence
They’re great for commuting, enabling you to arrive sweat-free!
You’ll still get a great workout on an electric bike
Electric bikes could be a much cheaper alternative to a car since they do not require a licence and insurance in the UK.
You’ll be able to travel further on an electric bike and explore more than on your regular bike
They’re great fun!
Electric bikes are more expensive than non-electric bikes
Electric bikes weigh more than non-electric bikes
Maintenance costs on electric bikes may be slightly higher due to the additional components requiring attention
You’ll need to be at least 14 years old to ride one
Electric bikes are subject to additional regulations in some countries which may affect you if you plan to take your bike abroad
Only you can decide whether an electric or non-electric bike is better for you. When you make your decision you’ll need to consider a range of factors but the most important one is: <em>what do you actually want to use the bike for?</em>
If you plan to use the bike to travel longer distances, or if your local area is particularly hilly which puts you off riding you may want to consider an electric bike. Also those with longer commutes or who are just getting back into cycling after a long time out of the saddle may find electric bikes a welcome alternative.
However if you don’t intend to travel long distances and are only looking to ride occasionally in local parks and along relatively flat roads you may find that a traditional bike is more than sufficient for your needs. It’s all a matter of personal preference!
If you’ve never ridden an electric bike before we’d definitely recommend that you test ride a few before you make your final decision.