Whether you’re ditching the car by cycling to work or want an easier ride to the top of trails, an electric bike can offer many of the benefits of a non-assisted bike, with motorised power on tap when you need it.
Electric bike technology has advanced at a pace in recent years and you can now find pretty much any type of bike with a motor. We have guides to the best electric road bikes, best electric gravel bikes and best electric mountain bikes.
In this general guide to electric bikes, we’ll explain exactly what an ebike is, how an electric bike works, how to ride an ebike and answer some of the key questions you may have before buying. You skip to the different sections by hitting the links below:
An electric bike, or ebike, is a bicycle equipped with an electric bike motor to assist you when you’re pedalling. The motor will get its power from a rechargeable battery mounted on the bike.
To classify as an ebike, the motor has to help you rather than propel you on its own. As a result, you need to pedal to get that assistance. How much power the motor delivers is regulated based on how hard you are pedalling and the level of support you have selected.
Electric bike systems offer a number of modes to choose from, allowing you to balance the amount of power supplied through the pedals with range and battery life.
EU Electric bike laws on how much help the motor can provide, and the speed at which assistance cuts out, vary around the world. But in general the motor is limited to 250 watts output and must cut out when your speed reaches 25kph/16mph, except in the USA where it can continue to work up to 20mph.
You can go faster than that, of course, but only under your own effort – the bike’s motor will no longer provide assistance.
Electric bike laws in the EU
According to the Department for Transport (in the UK/EU), for a bike to be classified as an electrically assisted pedal cycle (EAPC), it must have pedals used to propel it, and meet the following requirements.
It must show either:
the power output
the manufacturer of the motor
It must also show either:
the battery’s voltage
the maximum speed of the bike
Its electric motor:must have a maximum power output of 250 watts
should not be able to propel the bike when it’s travelling more than 15.5mph
An electric bike will typically have a motor housed either centrally on the bike (often referred to as a mid-drive motor, powered through the cranks) or on the front or rear hub.
Whereas a hub-based motor will push the wheel around directly, an axle-mounted motor will work through the ebike’s chain and gears.
When you pedal, a torque sensor will measure how much effort you are putting in and match that to the motor’s power output.
The idea is that the motor won’t completely take over; instead, you should get consistent power delivery that won’t send the bike lurching forward.
Therefore, one of many benefits of riding an electric bike is you still have to press on the pedals and get exercise. Riding an electric bike for fitness is eminently possible.
Power comes from the battery, which might be mounted on the outside of the frame or hidden within it.
Many batteries can be removed for charging, although others need to be charged on the bike. If that’s the case, you need to have somewhere to park the bike near a power socket.
There will be a controller for the motor, usually mounted on the handlebar or integrated within the frame, that lets you decide how much assistance you want, and to keep an eye on the battery level. Some will include a screen with navigation and other functions too.
Bosch, Shimano, Yamaha, Specialized, Mahle, FSA and Fazua all make popular ebike motors. Specifications can vary significantly and the type of motor found on a bike will depend on its price and the type of riding intended.
For example, an electric road bike is more likely to favour a lightweight system with smooth power delivery, whereas a motor on a high-spec electric mountain bike is likely to offer more torque for off-road capability.