“Expensive” is a relative expression. We will go to the same effort to get a 5% discount whether products costs $100 or $10,000. We much prefer to have a $5 discount for cash than pay $5 more to use the credit card. Electric bikes are comparatively cheap and we are beginning to notice.
Changing the game
It does not matter how long you ride a bike – fitness and strength are important to get the most out of the bike. When we start riding we have mostly neither fitness nor strength, so getting anywhere on a bike in Canberra is an obstacle. The distances in Canberra are not too great to commute but it may take a few weeks to work up the routine to commute to work five days per week. There are plenty of options, not least riding part of the way in combination with the bus.
Another option that is increasingly chosen is to ride an electric bike. An electric bike flattens the hills, takes the pain out of riding, and increases your endurance. You can ride further and faster. The average speed will increase on a bike path from around 15 km/h to above 20 km/h. You ride further and quicker. An example may help. The 8% gradient up Aranda hill causes most people struggle. Austroads advises against long gradients above 5%. An electric bike can take you up this hill at an average speed of 23 km/h. We tested it!
Electric bikes come in all shapes and sizes, and in recent years have increased in quality and decreased in price. In Europe, electric bikes have been booming for a decade and consequently many manufacturers are European. The motors and electronics on the bikes are generally from Bosch or Shimano.
Bosch is a worldwide leader in motor vehicle electronics. For almost a decade Bosch has expanded its range to include motors and electronics for electric bikes. The first generation motors were good but big and noisy. Bosch has responded with a new generation of almost silent, smaller and more powerful motors. The Shimano motor range is smaller than that of Bosch and has a generally good reputation.
The legal side
Australian law permits electrically motorised bikes to use the paths and roads but with the restriction that the motor cuts out at 25 km/h and the nominal power is 250 Watts. There are no other restrictions that apply to an electric bike that do not apply to any other bicycle. In Australia, a bicycle does not need to be registered. Public liability insurance is not required either but recommended, as the cyclist on a path is always at fault.
Little fun rockets
Electric bikes rocket up hills. An electric bike has a nominal power of 250 Watts but this means very little to most people. The torque of the motor affects the bike’s performance the most and is not regulated. With more torque a bike accelerates faster and maintains the maximum speed on even the steepest hills. The torque of a city bike may be 40 Nm, which is enough for the flat but the newest Bosch motor produce up to 70 Nm torque. Going up a steep hill the motor may be producing 500 Watts or more. Considering an unfit rider is unlikely to sustain 100-150 Watts, an electric bike can provide an enormous amount of boost.
An electric bike can have a range from 80-140km. It depends on the battery size, tyre pressure, bike type and how much climbing is along the route. The battery will charge in about 3 hours. The Shimano batteries are reported to be good for 3000 chargers, which is plenty.
The cost of an electric bike
Expensive is a relative expression because it is a comparison: compared to what? The most commonly sold car in Australia before COVID-19 was a Ford ute. The top three, most commonly sold cars at the time were all utes.
Here is a nice new Ford Ranger XLS – the basic model for $47,000. The better model with a few extras and the better motor will cost $57,000. This car is so popular, they are out of stock and the order will take months to fill.
People are rarely happy with the basic model. Most utes have a few extras, so that it is not so boring. The extras express personality and interest but add significantly to the cost.
This Avanti hardtail, electric mountain bike from Onya Bike is pretty typical of what you will find in most bike shops in Canberra. The starting price for a hardtail, electric mountain bike is around $3,300, and for dual suspension around $5,500.
There are many manufacturers and models. City bikes are considerably cheaper and there is a range of interesting bikes starting around $2,500. I think it is remarkable that 99 Bikes sell a Cube with Bosch 70 Nm motor for around $3,300.
Where to get an electric bike
As always, it is worthwhile shopping around. The big bike shops – Pushys, Onya Bike, and 99 Bikes – have good deals and will generally price match anything sold in Sydney or Melbourne online. Typically the first service is free, includes a warranty of 2 years on the motor and 5 years on the frame, but check this as this can vary between manufacturers. Women will need to buy a comfortable saddle unless it is a women’s bike. Do not forget to negotiate a price on a good lock and other accessories. The good lock alone can cost as much as a $100. The bike will get a lot of use and some will need lights, the brighter the better. Some bikes are without peddles.