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E-bikes buying guide

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Thought the petrol motor was the unassailable king of the road? Think again: electric bikes have the advantage for the majority of urban transport trips.  Simon Vincett presents the best of what’s on offer in Australia. 

 

The middle and outer suburbs of Australian cities need a transport solution and the e-bike is it. What other option solves congestion, costs as little and combines as intelligently with public transport, all the while providing healthy activity during the otherwise wasted time of commuting? For a 5km ride to a train station bike cage or a 15km commute home-to-office, an e-bike is as fast or faster, costs far less and actually offers health benefit compared to the poor outmoded car. Hills flatten and headwinds ease ahead of an electric motor but the exercised rider arrives enlivened and ready to work.

E-bikes are sometimes thought to be expensive but no other transport option can bring such economic benefit as an e-bike that replaces the second family car. The savings begin with the cheaper purchase price of the e-bike and continue with lower operating costs (a charge every other day compared to fuel twice weekly), lower insurance and no registration costs, through to reduced health costs for the rider due to improved long-term health.

At the moment most people have no idea what an e-bike really is, let alone what they offer. E-bikes are not purely the preserve of lazy-legged riders with strong throttle thumbs. In fact, most are ‘pedelec’ varieties that require the rider to pedal and add something like 35, 75, 150 or 300% additional power, depending on the system and the level of pedal assist selected. E-bikes are also not all step-through style with baskets: there are flat bar commuters, downhill mountain bikes, recumbent tourers and folding bikes to stow in caravans. All are designed to be propelled by pedals with or without assistance from an electric motor.


Electric bikes are for way more than over-50s social pedallers, these Stealth models replace dirt bikes on bush tracks for a fraction of the carbon footprint and with virtually zero noise.

The proliferation of varieties of e-bikes reflects their booming expansion in Europe. In fact, the e-bike sector is the big-growth area of the European bike industry. Some choose e-bikes for a sweat-free commute, some for confidence in keeping up with other traffic, friends and family, some to comfortably make the distance of the ride ahead. Others appreciate assistance to cart about loads of groceries, market produce or kids. All these different types of riders require a variety of different e-bikes to suit their needs.

Which e-bike for me?

When choosing a model for yourself, it’s essential to test ride many models because they are all quite different: different riding positions, different strengths of assistance from the motor, how quickly and strongly the motor activates, different levels of complexity in operation of the gears and assistance. Some riders will want a bike that is simple to operate, which might mean minimal gears and levels of pedal assist. Some riders will appreciate a range of gears and more scope to tune the level of assistance they want. Some riders will like a bike that takes off quickly and other riders will find that disconcerting.

Some choose e-bikes for a sweat-free commute, some for confidence in keeping up with other traffic, friends and family, some to comfortably make the distance of the ride ahead. Others appreciate assistance to cart about loads of groceries, market produce or kids.

In addition to the type and function of the bike, you will need to check its potential range between re-charging. This depends primarily on the battery capacity, which is conventionally expressed according to its volts and amp hours. It’s handy to multiply the volts and amp hours together to express battery capacity with a single figure in watt hours. As a basic guide, a 36v 10ah battery (360wh), which is a very common capacity for an e-bike battery, will take you 50km using the highest level of assistance or 100km using the lowest level of assistance. A 36v 9ah battery (324wh) will provide about 40 or 80km and a 36v 14ah battery (504wh) should take you 55 or 120 kilometres. Hills, headwinds and carrying a lot of weight drain the battery further, and using a throttle drains the battery more quickly than a pedal assist system does.

Check that the battery charger is Australian compliant. Most chargers are smart ones that you can leave on overnight, despite that most batteries charge in four to six hours. You can top up a lithium ion battery anytime but it’s best to charge it once it’s less than half full. Be aware that batteries have a finite life. You should budget to replace your battery after two or three years or 500 discharge and recharge cycles.

e-bike-display-unitThe bit you interact with is the display, which is attached to the handlebars. It might have an LED screen and all the functions of a simple cycle computer laid out like a mini dashboard or it might be a simple box with LED lights to indicate battery and pedal assist levels. The best displays have up and down buttons to instantly adjust the level of assistance you want while riding. Basic displays, disappointingly including Gazelle, provide only one button and to go down an assistance level you have to scroll up and back to zero first.

The final e-bike bit is hidden but crucial: the controller. It’s usually in the box with the battery. It translates the messages from the pedal assist sensors and the display to the motor but it’s also what governs when the assistance cuts out and subtle things like how gently the assistance starts so it’s not too sudden. Many controllers (systems) can be customised for your riding by the bike shop: providing more assistance for steep hills or providing less assistance for less battery usage.  You should ask your shop about tuning your bike to suit your riding.

Convert your own bike

Converting your own bike to an e-version gives you the most scope for choosing the style of bike you like and getting the right size – because most off-the-shelf e-bikes don’t come in different sizes.

Packaging e-bike conversion kits is fertile ground for electronics boffins and there are quite a few kits on the market in Australia. The ones listed in the table at the end of this article are the ones Ride On is confident to suggest. These ones post Australia wide. Developers of these kits must work on the compatibility of the e-bike systems they put together. Anyone can buy a battery, controller, motor and display and make them work together. The best brands test the systems they assemble to ensure minimal wastage of battery power.

It’s not too hard to convert your own bike if you’re technically minded, though the excellent Bionx, for instance, is only available from a dealer who will do the installation for you. It’s advisable to have an experienced bike mechanic have a look over your conversion to be sure everything is good working order.

When you’re considering a conversion and choosing what bike to electrify, think about the variety of riding you will do with your newly improved machine. There’s a reason why so many European e-bikes come fully accessorised with mudguards, chainguards and racks or baskets, it’s because these bikes are designed for the most utility for a wide variety of trips. Whether you’re riding in the wet, in office clothes, carrying luggage or shopping, these bikes are ready to aid your task.

The e-future

All workplace bike fleets should include electric bikes. Employees worried about getting sweaty in transit to a meeting can feel assured if they can take an electric bike. Hike bike fleets should similarly include electric bikes. Groups travelling together can accommodate a less confident rider, who can take an electric bike. Then that rider can feel sure that they can cover the distance and keep up with everyone in the group. This includes mountain bikes for hire, now that there are reasonable e-mountain bikes and kits such as Bionx to fit to existing mountain bike models.

Manufacturers need to test how people actually ride e-bikes. For instance, many people use the strongest level of pedal assist for most of their riding. It’s there, why shouldn’t they. Developers must understand and cater for this. At the very least, brands must express the realistic range that can be expected from the highest assistance level.

But the development to take e-bikes to the next level of popular engagement – makes the e-bike the second vehicle of the middle and outer suburbs of Australia – will be an automatic transmission that will do away with the complication of gears and levels of pedal assist. It will be a system that adjusts assistance depending on resistance such as gradient and headwind, supporting the rider to pedal at her/his preferred cadence and power. It must be possible and it would be irresistible fun.

The world of e-bikes

The fifteen bikes featured here are models that Ride On is confident to recommend or that are good examples of different types of e-bikes. All current models tested are listed in the table at the end. Electric motors are a very useful addition to cargo bikes, of course, and we’ll review them separately. Other bikes, such as recumbents, also do well converted to an e-version but we can’t include them here.

This is how we arrive at our ratings.

Please note some bikes previously reviewed have a different rating in this review. This is because their original test data – along will all the new bikes tested – was calculated using our revised rating system and with slightly different results.

Thanks to Melbourne Electric Bicycles for providing so many of these bikes for test riding and for friendly help and good advice.

Gazelle Pure Orange Innergy XT

$2,999

250w motor pedelec

36v 9ah battery (14ah option)

gazelle_recom

  • Simplest, most user-friendly of all e-bikes, with subtle, effective assistance
  • Beautifully constructed and accessorised: Shimano Nexus 7 hub gear
  • Proprietary motor, battery and controller, including the only motor with a freewheel for no resistance
  • Upgraded XT motor provides power equal to other Australian e-bikes
  • Single button for assistance levels is forgivable because there are only three levels and off to scroll through.

96%        Function 39/40         Quality 38/40            Price 9/10                   Appearance 10/10

Subtle, effective and silent assistance – the benchmark in city-bike-style e-bikes.

Ezee Forza

$2,449

200w motor with throttle and pedal assist

36v 10ah battery (15ah option)

ezee_recom

  • Only brand to offer throttle concurrently with pedal assist mode (meaning you can ride in pedal assist mode but boost with the throttle any time)
  • Most powerful acceleration and maximum assisted speed of approximately 32km/h (this is not restricted with a 200w motor)
  • Proprietary motor, battery and controller
  • Top quality components obviously thoughtfully chosen: Shimano Deore derailleur set-up and Shimano mechanical disc brakes.

93%        Function 38/40         Quality  40/40           Price 9/10   Appearance 6/10

Most powerful and best e-bike for those who like to control their ride.

Ordica Classic

$1,799

250w motor pedelec

36v 11ah battery (15ah option)

ordica_recom

  • Very good value for good quality and performance, with a generous battery
  • When stopped at intersection for seven seconds pedal assist automatically resets to the lowest level
  • Kenda puncture resistant tyres and puncture resistant gel in tubes
  • Fully accessorised for commuting
  • Also in a diamond frame with 700c wheels.

92%        Function 37/40         Quality 36/40            Price 10/10                                Appearance 9/10

A latest generation e-bike that is also outstanding value.

Bionx conversion kit

$1,984

250w motor pedelec or 200w pedal assist and throttle

36v 9ah battery (24v and 48v options)

bionx_recom

  • Convert your bike of choice with downtube or rack battery, but only through a Bionx dealer
  • Powerful and easy to control via good clear display
  • Sophisticated tuning and diagnostics software available to dealers
  • Four levels of assistance and four levels of regenerative braking (engine braking that recharges the battery)
  • The regenerative braking is really only useful for long descents

90%        Function 36/40         Quality 38/40            Price 7/10   Appearance 9/10

Sophisticated, adaptable but easy to use for the rider.

Dahon Bullet Ezee

$1,995

200w motor with throttle and pedal assist

36v 10ah battery (14ah option)

dahon_recom

  • Folding bike expertise by Dahon with acceptably compact fold and good riding performance
  • Proprietary battery and controller from Ezee
  • Shimano 6-speed rear derailleur with Revoshift twist grip
  • Fully accessorised for commuting

87%        Function 35/40         Quality 36/40            Price 9/10                   Appearance 7/10

The best electric folding bike.

BH Easy Motion Neo City

$2,449

250w motor pedelec

36v 9ah battery (no upgrade option)

BH_Easy_Motion_Neo_City

  • Especially quiet motor and discreet battery but lots of cables give it away as an e-bike
  • Torque sensor for pedal assist system very responsive, providing more power when you pedal harder
  • Front and rear derailleur shifters (Shimano Alivio 8-speed rear derailleur and triple crankset) will please some riders and make it too complicated for others
  • Dynamo hub with lights front and back

91%        Function 36/40         Quality 36/40            Price 9/10   Appearance 10/10

Will appeal to those used to a responsive bike and gear changing.

Promovec Element Lux

$2,449

200w with throttle

36v 12ah battery

Promovec_Element_Lux

  • Generous battery and large, clear display
  • Shimano Nexus 7 hub gear with twistgrip shifter
  • Compact handlebars and easy handling but efficient full-size wheels
  • Rack doesn’t take conventional pannier hooks
  • Good lights front and back running off battery
  • Similar model with step-over frame called Flow available

91%        Function 36/40          Quality 36/40             Price 9/10    Appearance 10/10

Elegant, compact and easy to operate, with a generous battery.

Power Ped Maestro 3-speed

$1,995

250w motor pedelec

36v 11ah battery (no upgrade option)

Power_Ped_Maestro_3-speed

  • Very good value for good quality and performance, with a generous battery
  • Shimano Nexus 3-speed hub gear and Nexus 8-speed also available
  • Nicely finished, with fully enclosed chain and nice paint job and good mudguards
  • Version with 26” wheels coming
  • Fully accessorised for commuting
  • Also in a step-through version called Legato.

90%        Function 36/40         Quality 36/40            Price 9/10   Appearance 9/10

Very good new offering from the people powering Australia Post’s e-bikes.

Gazelle Balance Innergy XT

$3,199

250w motor

36v 9ah battery (14ah option)

Gazelle_Balance_Innergy_XT

  • Set back saddle allows both feet to touch the ground and a good pedalling position
  • Simple, user-friendly Gazelle system with subtle, effective assistance
  • Beautifully constructed and accessorised: Shimano Nexus 7 hub gear
  • Proprietary motor, battery and controller, including the only motor with a freewheel for no resistance
  • Upgraded XT motor provides power equal to other Australian e-bikes
  • Single button for assistance levels is forgivable because there are only three levels and off to scroll through.

90%        Function 36/40         Quality 38/40            Price 7/10                   Appearance 9/10

Pricey, but overcomes most obstacles to riding.

Niubike Superlite e-road bike

$1,950

250w motor pedelec or 200w motor with throttle

36v 9ah (other options available)

Nuibike_Super_Light_Electri

  • Designed for minimum weight, maximum assistance and low-key looks
  • Stated maximum power assist speed of approximately 33km/h (this is not restricted with a 200w motor)
  • Fitted to Fuji Roubaix, James Ventura Comp, Fuji Cross (other models available)
  • Battery takes up one bottle cage space.

85%        Function 34/40         Quality 35/40            Price 8/10   Appearance 8/10

A welcome option for roadies with powerful, adjustable assistance.

BH Easy Motion Neo Jumper

$3,299

350w pedal assist (not street legal)

36v 9ah (no upgrade option)

BH_Easy_Motion_Neo_Jumper

  • Genuine dual-suspension mountain bike for off-road riding only
  • Torque sensor for pedal assist system very responsive, providing more power when you pedal harder
  • Especially quiet motor and low-profile battery
  • Shimano Deore gearing with XT rear derailleur
  • Rock Shox XC32 and Suntour Epicon Lord 120 rear suspension.

84.5%    Function 34/40         Quality 34/40            Price 6.5/10               Appearance 10/10

Don’t be denied the joys of off-road.

Earth Cross Road 7-speed

$1,199

250w motor pedelec

36v 10ah battery (no upgrade option)

Earth_E-Bike_700c

  • Very good value for appropriate quality and performance
  • Shimano Tourney rear derailleur
  • Reinforced downtube for supporting battery
  • Available as 21-speed and with 26” wheels
  • Modestly finished with accessories to commute.

83%        Function 36/40         Quality 30/40            Price 10/10                                Appearance 7/10

An excellent budget e-bike.

Pedego Cruiser

$2,295

250w motor pedelec

36v 10ah battery (15ah option)

pedego-classic-cruiser--red

  • Infectious good fun: guaranteed to make friends on the bike paths
  • Step-through and leg-over versions, also available as tandem
  • Boxy silver battery lets down the looks and rattles
  • Plug into battery doesn’t appear highly water resistant
  • Steering goes wobbly when one hand is off for signalling
  • Avid mechanical disc brakes and sturdy double-leg kickstand.

74%        Function 29/40         Quality 28/40           Price 8/10 Appearance 9/10

For the good times – the coolest off-the-shelf e-bike in town.

Envi Mountain

$1,990

200w with throttle and pedal assist

36v 10ah battery (no upgrade option)

Envi_Mountain_Red

  • 26” mountain bike wheels with slick or knobby tyres or 20” wheels with urban slicks
  • Suntour suspension forks, Tektro disc brakes
  • Knees contact the down tube slightly at times
  • Also available with NuVinci hub gear.

72%        Function 28/40          Quality 28/40             Price 7/10  Appearance 9/10

Built for fun: on-road or off.

Italwin Tricicletta

$2,799

200w with throttle

36v 9ah battery (no upgrade option)

Italwin_Tricicletta

  • Designed to lean when cornering, which improves handling over other trikes
  • Narrow enough to fit through a standard doorway
  • One power level with Shimano Nexus 3-speed gears with twist shift
  • Tektro side-pull cantilever front brake
  • Rear brake on left wheel only makes bike veer to left when braking.

66%        Function 26/40         Quality 26/40            Price 6/10 Appearance 8/10

Pips the field of electric tricycles with its superior handling.

The complete table

E-bikes-table-2013

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One thought on “39”

  1. I have an XDS that I bought in China – cost me about $300. It has the battery in the frame like the EasyMotion bike you reviewed. I’ve been very happy with it – still running after 3 years. Almost everyone has an electric bike in China these days – most of them are the motorbike/motor-scooter type and cost less that $1,000.

    1. Chris, I am going to china again next month, I used to see lots of bikes in department stores but never knew how to go about getting one back. Any tips?

      1. yes i was denied an $3500 ebike by customs because it wasnt in compliance with the australian regulation code en15194 very costly mistake.

      2. Ouch! I looked around a couple of cities and a huge bike market. Looks like you could get as good a deal in Australia without the battery shipping hassle. Also the trend since I was last there is to electric scooters rather than bicycles, and scooters may not be legal or register able here.

  2. like Chris, I have a chinese cruiser here in Melbourne. A real headturner. Bought on Ebay for well under $1,000 with the larger battery. Although it’s a heavy beast I love it to bits. Pedal assist with throttle. It has kept me on the road when I might have been tempted to take the train. Now that I have turned 50 it was my present to myself.

  3. I tried to assist someone with a Gazelle with a flat tyre. Nice looking electric bike. The tubes had a unique valve which was not Presta or Schrader. Could not pump it up with my dual head pump, or at a service station. When inner tubes cost only $5-$10, I would recommend you insist that supplier change the tubes to something more usable in Australia, especially on a $3K investment.

  4. No mention of how much an extra battery costs or how long a battery will last for (ten years or much less for a full charge is my bet) . A $3,000 bike will take a long time to pay for itself (if ever) if used for short comutes (at current petrol prices).

    1. Don’t forget rego, insurance that’s around $1500 already.
      Let’s do some figures on my car
      • 50 litre tank
      • Average 600km per tank
      • 40km drive return to work
      • 3.3 litres per day to get to work
      • 3.3 litres x $1.50 per litre = $4.95 per day
      • 48 working weeks =240 days
      • 240 x $4.95 =$1,118

      Rego + insurance $1500 + $1,118 petrol just for work trips

      $2,618 per year not including maintenance etc etc etc

      In 14 months the cost of a car is $3,054 so not only could you get the bike but you could also get a helmet.

      Of course it’s not viable for everyone but understanding the bigger picture ensures we make smarter choices.

  5. Bought a electric bikes MANTISI for $2000 was told the battery will last 3 yrs only last 8 months and to replace the battery cost $600 the follow up service is not possible the bicycle shop where I bought it from were very unhelpful and aggressive when I told them the battery is not working and no other bike shop can do a service or repair as they don’t have the same spare parts bought a new battery from somebody else for $350

  6. I am looking at buying a Supro Freedom e-bike off eBay at $999 or offer. It has guarantees of 18 months on battery and 12 months on frame with replacement battery around $350. The frame is alloy with 28″ wheels. Motor is hub style and range is 50-70 kms. It is marketed by a new Australian company and delivery is $50. Has anyone had any experience with this brand or know of anyone’s experience?

    1. Hey Maggie,

      if safety, reliability and quality are important to you, I would highly recommend that you have a decent test ride of the bike first and make sure that it’s brakes, gears, wheels and other components are a high enough quality for the type of riding you will be doing.

      If you can, take the bike (or a good photo and description of it) to a bike store mechanic and get their opinion on the brakes, gears, wheels and hubs of the bike. Then compare this with a bike backed up by an e-bike store.

      Everyone loves a bargain, but what use is a cheap e-bike that doesn’t get ridden because it’s uncomfortable, unsafe or under performs?

      Good luck,

  7. Does anyone have research data on whether there is interference with pacemakers/defibrillators from the battery in any of the models reviewed?

  8. I have owned an Optimist Pronto Folding bike for two years now. I absolutely love it and would recommend one for someone starting out in the ebike world. I changed my tyres to Vittoria Raddoneur’s for lower rolling resistance and I now do about 29-30km/h, throttle only, on a full charge, on the flat. About 20 – 24km/h up a hill, throttle only. On throttle only, I get about 13-15 km out of a charge. A full charge costs 0.08 cents. Don’t get me wrong I do pedal as well, but I just don’t get as tired or sweaty and I can go further than without the power. Am also going to get an offroad one, as I’ve taken mine offroad but without suspension I may do damage to the bike or myself eventually. Have fun, I do :-)

  9. My wife and I have bought a couple of cheap wheel kits since we wanted to be sure before we dropped a bundle. We are happy enough with the kits and we even upgraded to lithium battery but I have continuallyt had troubles with the chargers. We are on our 4th lead acid charger in 12 months and 3rd lithium in 4 months. The sellers are all nice and full of knowledge on purchase but get more difficult each time I talk to them about another kaput charger. The main problem is the inconvenience and that some of these sellers tend to take it personally. There’s a lot to be said for face-to-face contact, a proper invoice and dealing with someone whose pocket the repacement is not coming out of…

  10. Thank you for an excellent article on e-bikes, very comprehensive and full of useful information. I currently drive an old van and have a very nice bicycle but at 76 I,m considering something else. Perhaps an e-bike might be the way to go. Terry Brown.

  11. The beyond oil range is worth a look at also, got mine last month for a little over a grand and im more than pleased with it.

  12. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d definitely donate to this excellent blog!
    I guess for now i’ll settle for bookmarking and adding your RSS eed to my Google account.
    I look forward to new updates and will talk about this website with my Facebook group.
    Talk soon!

  13. Hi, I got my electric bike from this website: http://www.leitner.com.au I got the straight-bar Leitner model for myself and my wife uses the Step-Through Leitner model. Fantastic value, given that we only paid $949 per bike. can recommend and has never let us down in 8 months so far! Not sure if it’s mentioned here but what i personally find important is that the bikes come with accessories like mudguards, rear rack and lights. It’s convenient to get the complete package. Enjoy your rides! Cheers Greg

    1. Hey Greg
      Curious to know how the bike is another 8 months down the track. How’s the motor, battery life (have you had to replace your battery yet?)… and how often and how far do you ride it?

  14. Hello
    I have small kids and would like the help up the hill on the way home. Can any of these bikes take kids seats and / or a trailer??
    Cheers

  15. I received my bike 2 days ago and there was no manual,battery pack is not original and faulty.Tried to talk to someone for 2 days but no answer.Their after sale service suck.For this money I would expect better.Beware people even refund i should receive a 1 week ago is not happening yet.

  16. I’ve had my Gazelle Innergy xt for a few years now, so further comments re this bike:
    * Good luck finding anyone to repair your electric bike should you have problems. If you move from the area where you purchased the bike, dealers are few and far between.
    * It appears that the batteries only last 3 years…
    I was very careful with my battery, never let it fully discharge, stored the battery indoors…dead at 38 months. The cost of replacement batteries is astronomical.

    1. ?

      about $220 US from someone reasonably reputable in china inc sea freight & charger (5-8 weeks) freight to oz for say a 36v 10ah li-ion

      aliexpress

      i would buy a lifepo4 pouch cell battery instead tho, for similar money

      seems cheap vs car expenses.

      but yeah, you can get a pretty decent bike for $300A, or a lovely 125cc honda for A$3k

  17. Thanks for the great article. Been looking into ebikes for many years, and think I’m ready to jump on! Price isn’t really a concern, though I would prefer to spend less than 4k.

  18. Looking to buy a Gitane e play but cannot see a review on it anywhere, not mentioned on US sites. Does anyone know why?

  19. I have a Free2go bike bought from electric bikes brisbane (now at Milton). These guys are fantastic and have great after sales service. I have been riding this bike 30km each day and have had no trouble. I previously had dealings with REEF bikes and would never buy one of their bikes again. Ask one of your ebike repair shops about their experiences with getting service and spare parts from REEF before buying one. My experience was dreadful. I bought a battery that took over 2 months to arrive and then it turned out to be faulty. They stopped responding to my emails and calls, and I had to end up going to small claims court to get my money back. Although I won in the small claims court, the owner, George, emailed me stating that small claims can’t be enforced if it’s done in another state (you gotta wonder how many times this had happened for him to be so familiar with the legals). I ended up having to drive to NSW to lodge the enforcement in court because that is the state associated with the company before finally being reimbursed. The emails I got from this company were arrogant, and accusatory, using heavy handed tactics to try and scare me off. I would never recommend them to anyone.

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