Life with my eBike
This article was published (abridged) in the University of Canterbury’s student magazine, CANTA: Issue Five, 1 May 2017.
Hate paying campus parking fees? Buses too inconvenient? Slightly too far to walk? Can’t be bothered cycling? Electric bikes (eBikes) may be the answer!
Over the last few years, eBikes have been becoming more and more commonplace. And there’s good reason for it—they have a number of advantages over cars, bikes, buses and mopeds and there’s a pile of different styles depending on your needs (and aesthetic). Hopefully this will help shed some light on eBikes, their practicality and how they compare to other transport modes.
Your typical eBike is essentially a regular bike (complete with gears), but it also will have a lithium-ion battery as well as an electric motor attached. Like regular bikes, there are different types, from ‘step-through’ commuting bikes to ‘step-over’ mountain bikes and everything in-between. Compared with the earlier fugly models, as the technology becomes more refined, it becomes a lot harder to tell the difference between eBikes and regular bikes (except for the generally faster and more relaxed cyclist above it).
The motor on an eBike and how it’s powered can vary from bike-to-bike. The fastest eBikes will effortlessly propel you at 40 km/h, but it’s more typical to have a max speed between 25 and 35 km/h (that’s just the motor without human effort). All eBikes are set up to be able to be used in ‘pedal assist’ mode, whereby the bike will detect when you’re pedalling and the motor will automatically kick in and help you out—on most bikes you can set how much help it gives you. Some bike models also have a twist-throttle as well, which is more similar in operation to a moped—you don’t even have to pedal!
In terms of batteries and range, it varies between eBikes but typically the higher capacity the battery, the more expensive the bike. As far as range is concerned, it also depends how much effort you’re putting in. In typical conditions where you pedal a bit, you’ll probably easily go over 50km on a single charge, more than enough for most commuting. Typically I find myself charging up my bike overnight a couple of times per week (usually still with over 50% of power left) depending on use and it literally only costs cents to do it. Like everything, nothing lasts forever and the batteries are no exception, however Consumer reckons you’ll get 20 000km to 40 000km out of a battery pack before there’s any significant impact on the range.
As far as the law is concerned, eBikes fall in the category of ‘low-powered vehicles’ meaning you don’t have to pay for a WoF, registration or hold a driver licence! Not to mention there’s no petrol costs, and annual service costs are cheap-as (or you can do it yourself).
However there’s still the slight issue of the up-front price. Compared to a regular bike, eBikes seem expensive but compared to a car (especially considering the expensive running costs), they’re a bargain—and you’re buying new! You can get cheap bikes for under $2K, but the bikes start getting to be of a decent standard from about $2K and upwards.
Personally, I’ve been riding an eBike (SmartMotion eUrban) since early 2016 and so far I’ve done over 2500kms on it, and the total cost has been $100 (for two regular services), and a couple of dollars in power. It’s pretty ideal as a uni student, as you don’t have to pay for a parking permit and you can ride straight to the building you need to be in. It’s also easy (as well as scenic and safe) to get into town (roadworks aside) on the Uni-Cycle way, which is ideal for getting to work. In my experience of commuting between home, work and the uni campus, in peak traffic you can easily beat a car, as your average speed is way faster and you can take shortcuts. My eBike has also enabled me to travel to further away places that I probably wouldn’t have cycled to otherwise.
In my experience, It’s not all plain sailing though—you have to keep an eye out for the occasional idiots on the road who haven’t figured out how to use the sticky-outy reflecty thing stuck to each side of their vehicle (or swivel their head…). And Mother Nature sometimes decides to make things a bit more difficult, but apart from the heaviest of rains, you can sort that by buying some gloves, a good rain-jacket and some over-trousers. Try the op-shops!
Here’s a simple pros/cons list to help weigh up some of the pros and cons of eBikes.
- Super-cheap to run—no petrol costs
- Park anywhere for free
- Feels like the future
- Fast—effortlessly go up to 40 km/h (depending on the model)
- No need to have WoF/registration/driver licence, and most insurers will cover it under contents insurance (check this though!)
- Can be used in regular cycle lanes (including the new Uni-Cycle way, and through Hagley Park)
- They’re pretty fun to ride
- You can cover long distances in warm weather without showing up all gross and sweaty
- Nor-westers’ are no longer an issue (though you feel a bit sorry for regular cyclists going at 10 km/h)
- If it has been a lazy day and you need the exercise you can simply pedal more (or even just ride the eBike without the electrics)
- Some models have lights and USB charging built-in
- You can take easy ‘shortcuts’
- Great for the environment #climatechangeisreal
- Cycling has been shown to reduce stress
- UC has awesome bike services, including the free Dr. Bike service and bike tune-up gear on campus
- Great for ascending hills (not that it’s usually an issue in Christchurch)
- Unlike a moped there’s no petrol cost, and as mentioned also no licence/WoF/registration costs—and eBikes are only slightly slower!
- High-ish up-front cost ($2000+ for a decent model—expensive compared to regular bikes, but cheap-as compared to a car, especially as you’re buying brand new)
- Some car drivers think you’re a pain for some reason (but that can happen to any cyclist)
- Some regular cyclists think you’re a pain cause you’re “cheating” (especially when it’s windy). (I reckon the more people on bikes in general, the better!)
- You’re at the mercy of Mother Nature—less pleasant in the rain (and frosty mornings) but easily resolvable with clothes
- Limited carrying capacity compared to cars, but this can usually be solved by adding panniers, baskets or you can even get bike trailers
- Like regular cycles, cycling can be more dangerous—gotta be watchful
- You do have to eventually replace the batteries, however this depends on use (expect upwards of 3 to 6 years)
There’s a whole pile of brands out there, including NZ brand ‘SmartMotion’, US brands ‘Pedego’ and ‘Specialized’, European brands ‘Moustache’, ‘Haibike’ and Asian brand ‘eZee’. As mentioned, prices for decent bikes typically start from $2000, and in my experience ‘SmartMotion’ is the most affordable brand while still being of high quality.
Christchurch is fortunate enough to have an ever-increasing number of dealers, including ‘The Electric Bicycle Co’ at the Tannery, ‘Christchurch Electric Bicycles’, not to mention that most big-brand bike shops now stock at least one brand of eBike. You can also sometimes pick them up at reasonable prices on Trade Me, however my advice would be to go and take one out for a test ride and find what’s best for you!