eBikes 101

We have compiled a list of subjects for those customers who want to learn more about eBikes. If you study this list you will be an informed buyer and will be well on your way to being an eBike expert.

Table of Contents:

  1. Brand
  2. Usage
  3. eMTBs
  4. Model Year 
  5. The Truth About eBike Prices
  6. Dealers & Shipping
  7. The Truth about sales tax and internet purchases 
  8. Motor types
  9. eBike Drive Systems
  10. Computer systems
  11. Battery Basics 
  12. Bike Components
  13. Tires
  14. Test Rides
  15. eBike Laws – Paved Surfaces
  16. eBike Laws – Unpaved surfaces
  17. eBikes trends
  18. More Resources

1. Brand – One of the biggest decisions you will make in deciding on your best eBike will be the company that built the bike. In the past years many companies havcome and gone and today we see an explosion in the number of companies in the eBike market.

All that been said, we have taken the position to sell primarily eBikes from solid and established companies that have a commitment to customer service. That is why we have aligned ourselves with Curry Technologies (IZIP) and PON (Kalkhoff, Focus, Gazelle) of the Netherlands and Germany. Most repair parts are supplied overnight allowing us to turn around repairs in days instead of months. Along with the PON Group, the Accell Group is one of the market leaders in the European bicycle market. They purchased Currie Technologies, the largest and oldest eBike and eScooter company in the USA in January of 2012. 

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2. Usage - Before you start your search for your best eBike it will be very important to determine your expected usage of the bike. You will need to ask yourself questions like:

  • Will this bike be used primarily on the road or off road?
  • If primarily off road, will it be used primarily on fire roads or technical single track?
  • If primarily on road, will I be using the bike for urban riding/commuting, touring or just cruising?
  • What will be my longest expected ride?
  • Will I be riding at night or in the rain?
  • Will I be riding on any very hilly areas?
  • What is my budget?
  • Will I be transporting kids or cargo?
  • Where am I going to store the bike & do I need a folding bike?

To find the right IZIP for you - start by taking the IZIP quiz.
Also, please see the recent Article on buying your best electric bike from Electric Bike Review.

But most of all, drop by or contact us so we can help. We can get you started in the right direction and will be able to provide you with full comparisons of most any eBike you are considering.

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3. eMTBs –  eMountain Bikes (eMTBs) have become very popular in the last few years and the trend will explode this year with the introduction of several new and innovative eMTBs from Focus eBikes.  This trend has brought a younger customer to the eBike market. In my opinion, an eMTB is not a true mountain bike if it is not a center drive. Due to the lack of utilizing the mechanical advantage of the gears, hub motor bikes never climb as well as center drives. In fact hub motor RPMs are directly related to the bike speed and as hub motor RPMs decrease more and more power is lost and more and more heat is generated. To add to this, unsprung weight is critical in a full suspension eMTB and the hub motor increases unsprung weight dramatically.

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4. Model Year  - IMPORTANT!! We often hear from customers who say they can buy an eBike for up to $400 less than our price. It always turns out the bike quoted to the customer was a model that was 2-3 years old. Most of the larger eBike companies come out with a new line-up of bikes each year, similar to most all car manufacturers. Even though a bike may carry the same model name from year to year, they may be completely different bikes. Needless to say, there are almost always improvements from year to year - even improvements that do not show in the specifications of the model years. So be sure that you know the model year of the eBike you are buying. IF YOU SEE A BETTER PRICE ON AN EBIKE WE CARRY - CHANCES ARE THAT IT IS NOT THE SAME MODEL YEAR!

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5. The Truth About eBike Prices – Most major eBike manufacturers have a MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price) and MAP (minimum advertised price). The MAP is usually enforced for all internet and advertised prices for the current model year. This MAP price does not apply to purchases at the dealer’s brick and mortar site. Once the new model year comes out, the MAP price is no longer enforced and retailers are free to sell at any price they chose. Also, manufacturers often discount models to dealers at the end of the model year so there are often great deals to be had just like you often see at the new car dealers at model year end.

Also, many times the in store sales price is lower than the internet supplier’s MAP price. So the claim that buying on the internet can save money most often does not hold true and in fact even if it did, the advantages of buying from a local brick and mortar almost always exceed any perceived benefits of buying an eBike over the internet. We often have in store special pricing on several models so be sure to contact us before buying an eBike. We guarantee to meet or beat the lowest price you can find on the internet or at a store in the USA.

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6. Dealers & Shipping – Just like eBike brand, choosing an eBike dealer is very important. Buying an eBike is not like buying an iPad. Service and warrantee are much more critical and buying from a brick and mortar company is much more critical. Should your eBike need service or warrantee you will need to take it back to the store you bought it from. If you bought it on the internet, you will need to assemble and adjust the bike yourself. Also, should the bike need warrantee service most often you will need to box it up and ship it back to the internet company at a cost of about $200 to you. That or need to have the problem diagnosed over the phone or internet and then ordering and installing the part yourself and hoping it solves your problem.

Dealers come and go and you should check on the store’s history and reputation before buying. We will be celebrated our 40th anniversary this year and we carry a 5 star Yelp review.

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7. The Truth about sales tax and internet purchases  – This section applies to purchases in the state of California but most states have the same policy. We often have customers that say they can save 8.75% by buying a bike out of state on the internet. California law requires all purchasers to pay use tax (same % as sales tax) for all out of state purchases over $1,000 for which the seller does not collect the current California Sales tax in the jurisdiction of the buyer. See Publication 79B  for details. Although this law is often overlooked by California internet buyers, failing to comply can result in a 10% penalty and interest as well as the payment of the required Use Tax.

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8. Motor types – There are basically three different types of motors used on today’s eBikes:

  • Direct drive hub motors: These motors are usually located in the rear hub of the eBike. They are simple, fairly inexpensive, quiet and usually designed for high end torque and speed.  They are also the only motors that offer regenerative charging. On the downside, they are larger and heavier than geared hub motors and not efficient at low RPMs.
  • Geared hub motors: These motors are usually located in the rear wheel but also seen in the front wheel of several eBikes. They are smaller and lighter than direct drive hub motors and are most often designed for low end torque and speeds. On the downside they are more complex with more moving parts and a little noisier than direct drive hub motors and although better than direct drive motors, they are not efficient at low RPMs.
  • Mid-drive motors: Also called center drive or bottom bracket drive motors, these motors are located in the bottom bracket and are now overtaking hub motors in popularity. They are excellent at climbing as (unlike most hub motors) the power is applied before the gears and therefore takes advantage of the mechanical advantage to provide more power to the rear wheel. This also allows for lower wattage motors that are equal or stronger than higher watt hub motors. This makes them more efficient and less demanding on batteries (and therefore longer range).  On the downside, they are more expensive, require purpose built frames and having the motor on the drive side of the gears puts more strain on the drive train and makes proper shifting more important. For a review of all the mid-drive motors available on the market today, see mid-drive motors from Electric Bike Action magazine.
  •  For more information on eBike motors see this Electric Bike Review Report from Court Rye.

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9. eBike Drive Systems – There are basically 2 types of eBike drive systems:

Power on Demand (POD): POD refers to bikes with throttles. These bikes may have twist, thumb or button throttles but all control the electric motor speed. Some only control the motor up to certain speeds without pedaling and most are limited to 20mph without significant pedaling. Also, some are POD only but most POD bikes also have some form of pedal assist features.

Pedal Assist (PAS): PAS bikes have various systems that control the electric motor based on how you are pedaling. Bikes with PAS only are also called pedelacs or Class 1 eBikes. The bike computer reads a variety of sensors to control the electric motor. Cadence sensors measure the pedal rotation usually with a pick up and several magnets located at the pedals. They are usually available with 6 or 12 magnets with the 12 magnet systems being more responsive. Torque sensors are used usually in the more expensive eBikes. They measure the torque the rider is putting on the pedals and increase motor power with increased torque. Finally, many eBikes also incorporate speed sensors. These measure wheel speed to help control motor power. The top level eBikes like the IZIP Dash, ProTour,  Peak and Peak DS have all three sensors combined for better motor control and better ride quality.

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10. Computer systems - eBike computers come with a varying level of computer sophistication, connectivity and onboard trouble shooting. IZIP offers onboard computer diagnostics on their Path+, Dash and Peak models and their new Vibe+ and ProTour models have CANbus connectivity that allows us to do full computer diagnostics tests. Also check for display functions. Most IZIP models offer range as well as the more common bike computer functions. This will help with "range anxiety".

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11. Battery Basics  - Most all eBikes today utilize lithium ion batteries. Compared to the old sealed lead acid batteries, they are lighter, more efficient and last much longer. Think of a 10 year old Prius still with it’s original battery. EBikes today use the same technology and are rated at 500 – 1,000 full charges. Lithium batteries have no memory and can be charged at any level of charge. Life can be extended though by not exposing them to high or low temperatures and not allowing them the battery to go to zero charge while storing.

Batteries are rated in ampere hours and voltage. Take amp hours times voltage and you get watt hours which is the equivalent of the gas tank capacity of a car. The higher the watt hours, the longer the range. Unfortunately there are no standards for range on eBikes and it is not always wise to believe the manufacturer’s specification. In general range will be about watt hours/20 (eg 10amp 36v battery = 360 watt hours /20 = 18 miles) on the low side and watt hours/10 on the high side. The range will vary based on bike speed, rider weight, headwinds, elevation gain/loss, power level, throttle usage, amount of stop and go travel, type of motor, etc.

We often hear concerns about availability of the replacement lithium battery should the eBike manufacturer go out of business before the battery needs replacing. This is a legitimate concern but certainly not the only thing that a buyer should be concerned about in buying an eBike from a new or small manufacturer. Chances are that you will not need a new lithium ion battery during the life of your eBike but any proprietary part like wiring harnesses can make an eBike worthless should a replacement part not be available once the manufacturer goes out of business. Also, even if the company is still in business, replacement parts and other customer service issues may not be a priority to company. We have waited 5 months for a part from a Canadian manufacturer for a wiring harness for a bike we used to sell.

One other thing to remember, buying an eBike from an established manufacturer will insure that, should you need a replacement battery, the battery will be available. IZIP even keeps spare battery cases for their legacy models so that no matter how old the eBike model is, Currie Technologies (IZIP) can provide a replacement battery. They are the only company we know that provides this service.

If you do need a battery for an older model or for a bike brand no longer in business, there is now a company that will rebuild and even upgrade most eBike batteries. Energiecycles not only sells eBikes but also provides lithium battery repairs, rebuilds and upgrades.

One last thing, we often have customers asking to buy a second battery at the time of purchase. We recommend waiting until you have some hours on the bike before making this decision as more often than not, the customer finds that there is no need for a second battery, especially on bikes with very high watt haour batteries like most of the Focus and Kalkhoff models. Also, if you have a need for two eBikes, you might consider a second bike with the same battery so you can use the second battery on those rare ultra long trips.

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12. Bike Components – When buying an eBike look closely at the bike components. Look for drive train names like Shimano and SRAM; brakes like Shimano, Magura, SRAM, Tektro and Avid; shocks like Sun Tour, Rock Shox and Fox and batteries like Samsung and Panasonic. If you are buying a premium eBike you must also compare the component level. Each brand has component levels that vary from entry to Pro levels and the prices can be dramatically different. Case in there are brands that use the same drive system (battery, display, motor and computer) regardless if the retail for $4K or $9K. The difference is in the components. When comparing components aware of the line's component levels but do not worry about weight inmprovements as they can add to the cost dramatically but they do not have as much effect on the ride of an eBike as they do on a conventional bike.

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13. Tires – Today’s eBikes use 24”, 26”, 700c, 27.5” and 29” tires. The latest trends are in fat tire bikes which usually are 26” x 4”. In 2016 we are also going to see the emergence of the Plus size mountain bike tires.  Plus size tires are generally 27.5” tires by about 3” wide – between the standard mountain bike tire and the fat tires. The Focus Jarifa Fat we carry  is actually a Plus sized eMTB.

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14. Test rides – We can help you with as much research as you can consume, but it really comes down to the test ride. We keep several demo bikes in the IZIP, Focus, Kalkhoff, Gazelle, Yuba and eJoe lines for customer test rides. All test riders are required to sign a liability disclaimer and wear a helmet. If you don’t have a helmet with you we are happy to supply one. This is one of the most rewarding parts of selling eBikes. I have never had a test rider new to eBiking not come back with a great big smile. You will see – eBikes bring the joy of bike riding back to more and more people.

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15. eBike Laws – Paved Surfaces -Up until recently there has been a lot of confusion about eBike laws. Led by People for Bikes, the current California eBike legislation (AB1096) was signed into law October 7, 2015. This new law is a change to the California Vehicle Code that clarifies eBike legality and usage on paved surfaces. It establishes 3 clases of eBikes.  Basically Class 1 are ebike without throttles (pedelecs) with a 20 mph top speed, Class 2 eBikes with a 20mph top speed with throttle and Class 3 eBikes with a top speed of 28mph. Class 1 and 2 have the same usage, e.g. they can be used on all paved surfaces where a regular bike can be used. Class 3 eBikes are limited to roads or paths that adjoin a road. All three classes are considered bikes under DMV law and do not require a license, registration or insurance. Class 3 eBike riders will be required to wear a helmet and must be at least 16 years old.

Here is the California definition of the four different classes of bikeways:

1001.4 Definitions The Streets and Highway Code Section 890.4 defines a "Bikeway" as a facility that is provided primarily for bicycle travel. (1) Class I Bikeway (Bike Path). Provides a completely separated right of way for the exclusive use of bicycles and pedestrians with crossflow by motorists minimized. (2) Class II Bikeway (Bike Lane). Provides a striped lane for one-way bike travel on a street or highway. 1000-2 HIGHWAY DESIGN MANUAL June 26, 2006 (3) Class III Bikeway (Bike Route). Provides for shared use with pedestrian or motor vehicle traffic. In 2014 a fourth class of bikeways was added - Cycle tracks or separated bikeways, also referred to as “Class IV bikeways,” which promote active transportation and provide a right-of-way designated exclusively for bicycle travel adjacent to a roadway and which are protected from vehicular traffic. Types of separation include, but are not limited to, grade separation, flexible posts, inflexible physical barriers, or on-street parking.

Comparable vehicle code laws have been passed in several other states and we expect this three class vehicle law to be the eBike law of the future in most states.

For a discussion of eBike classifications from EBR see EBR eBike Classes

People for Bikes probably has the most complete coverage of eBike laws in the USA as they are at the forefront of promoting unified and reasonable eBike laws throughout the United States. See:  http://www.peopleforbikes.org/pages/e-bikes

Also listen to the People for Bikes webinar from 8/10/16 at the People for Bikes webinar 8/10/2016

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16. eBike Laws – Unpaved surfaces There are currently no standards in off road eBike legislation. Regulations, where there are regulations, are up to the local jurisdiction.

Recent studies by the IMBA have demonstrated that the difference in damage to trail surfaces by mountain bikes compared to eMTB’s is negligible. Current policy seems to be led by custom and misinformation. It is important that all eMTB riders ride with courtesy and consideration to all other users of off road trails so that we might see more universal acceptance of eMTB’s on our trails. It is our opinion that off road eBike regulations are moving towards allowing Class 1 (20 mph without throttles) eMTBs on most unpaved roads and trails.

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17. eBikes trends- At Interbike this year we saw many new trends for the 2017 season.

  • eBikes are looking more like regular bikes. Batteries are being fully or partially integrated into the frame, center drives are becoming the norm and the remaining hub motors are mainly smaller, less visible geared hub motors. The line between eBikes and conventional bikes is being blurred and gone are the old clunky eBikes of yesterday.
  • eBikes are being built to fit the new 3 class legal classification in the USA. Class 1 - eBikes
    without throttles 20mph, Class 2 ebikes with thottles 20 mph and class 3 28mph eBikes. Throttles are going away and 28mph eBikes are being limited primarily to road bikes. For more information on coming legislation see California AB1096
  • Center Drive technology will dominate the field and we will see throttles become less prevelant.

  • 2016 saw the advent of fully user adjustable motor control from Kalkhoff and Focus with user control (from the LCD panel) of their shift sensor technology and climb assist (motor delay). Expect more e-bikes in the premium catagory to join this trtend in the years to come.

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18. More Resources -

  • Momentum Magazine in conjunction with IZIP has produced a very comprehensive eBike guide. To read it CLICK HERE (It is a big file so give it a minute to load)

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