Ebikes are growing more sophisticated by the season, in the subtlety of their technology and in the chic of their appeal. Simon Vincett catches us up on the latest developments.
It’s another Euro trend that’s taking hold in Australia: pedal-assist ebikes. In Europe ebike sales are booming, while conventional bike sales hold steady. Similarly in Australia, the ebike market is an area of the bike industry experiencing fast growth.
Editor of Bicycling Trade magazine, Phil Latz, declares that ebikes are “the next big thing since the mountain bike”.
“You only have to look at Germany,” he suggests. “In the last financial year they had 406,000 ebikes sold with a retail value of over one billion US dollars.”
“We’ve identified 33 brands that are either on sale or about to come on sale in Australia,” he says. “Within that, some of those brands have multiple models. So there’s already one hundred plus models to choose from across Australia, which is pretty incredible for quite a new market.”
Now that all Australian states and territories have adopted the European standard of 250w motors for pedal assisted bikes, there’s a new world of bikes that can come straight into the country. Moreover, ebike technology is evolving so rapidly that significant developments appear every few months rather than annually with each new season of bikes. It’s hard to keep up-to-date but this article offers a snapshot of the state of the market at the end of 2014.
The biggest news is the ascendance of the centre-drive motor to become the new standard for premium ebikes. The centre-drive motor is certainly a step up in subtlety and responsiveness of assistance. The Bosch Active Line motor currently dominates the market, featuring in many top brands including Gazelle, Gepida, KTM and Lombardo.
It uses a combination of torque and cadence sensors to manage how much assistance the motor provides. This combination of torque and cadence sensors already exists in the more developed hub motors, such as Gazelle’s proprietary system, but it is superior in the Bosch system, which is why Gazelle fit Bosch centre-drive motors to their premium models.
The reason it works so well is the incredibly fast communication between the motor and the sensors. The result for the rider is responsiveness from the bike similar to that of a non-assisted bike, but with the advantage of extra power (up to 25km/h). The torque sensor measures the power applied to the pedals and when you have to push hard it assists you more. This feels like a non-assisted bike, where you go faster if you push harder on the pedals. A cadence sensor measures only whether the pedals are rotating and responds to easy or laboured pedalling the same and according to the assist level that you have selected.
Other centre-drive motors are coming soon from Shimano, Continental and a motor called Impulse being developed by the parent company of Gazelle. But for now Bosch’s supremacy is uncontested.
However, hub motors continue to evolve as well. Higher power motors limited to the legally-required 250 watts are becoming more and more common, offering superior acceleration and hill climbing from greater torque. An example of this is the Specialized Turbo S.
Hub motors remain the propulsion for the majority of ebikes in Australia, offering tried-and-tested performance at the best prices. It’s not at all a case of centre-drive motor or nothing.
Battery and controller systems are also constantly improving, delivering longer run times, greater responsiveness from the power-assist system and capacity for more recharge cycles for each battery. Like any battery, ebike batteries wear out and eventually can’t hold viable charge any longer. You should budget for a new battery every two or three years, depending on how often you use the battery. Batteries must be used and not left dormant as well, because that also wears them out. We have battery advice in a previous ebikes article. Bear in mind that all batteries are toxic waste and must be disposed of responsibly via your local council.
New ebike suppliers have entered the Australian market with offerings at the budget pricepoint and premium level. Dyson are a notable entry-level brand and Gepida have impressed with their premium offerings.
Phil Latz also points to growth in retailers providing ebikes as well.
“We think there are 20 specialist ebike shops now around Australia,” Latz reports. “The ebike shops that start are all pretty busy. After a year they’ve got more stock on the floor and more staff.”
Another Euro trend gaining a following in Australia is the unisex step-through frame. So expect to see men on step-through bikes, and don’t scoff—they’re all doing it in Europe. Seriously though, step-through frames are much easier for anyone to mount, whether they’re wearing pants or a dress. More importantly, people with less mobility find it easier to mount a step-through bike. This is why public bikes and workplace bike fleets use this frame style.
What’s it like to ride an ebike?
Ebikes are generally like normal bikes—they only go when you pedal them and they have gears and hand-operated brakes. The addition is that they have a motor that adds power to your pedalling. It stops when you stop pedalling and starts again when you start. The brake immediately cuts out the motor.
Using a display on the handlebars, you choose the amount of assistance you want from the motor. The levels are usually from 20% to 80% of additional assistance. The result is that you put in less effort to deal with hills, headwinds and heavy loads, and you will probably arrive at your destination less sweaty. You might also feel more confident about longer rides or about keeping up with friends or in traffic.
As well as pedal assist bikes (which are also called pedelecs) there are some ebikes out there with a throttle. This is operated by a thumb lever or a twist grip. With a throttle you don’t have to pedal. This uses more power from the battery, reducing your riding range, and also reduces the health benefit of riding.
Regulations in Australia limit the motor to stop assisting when your speed reaches 25km/h. You might travel down hills faster than that but on the flat, any speed over 25km/h will be from your own power.
Ebikes are inevitably heavy due to their motor and battery, often weighing about 25kg. As a result, you probably wouldn’t carry them up steps—into a flat for storage, for instance—or use bike parking where you have to hang your bike.
Most ebike batteries give you at least 50km of riding for a battery charge and they take about four hours to recharge. Using a stronger level of assistance uses more of the battery—using more of your own leg power makes the battery last longer. Most ebikes have good displays telling you how much battery capacity you have left, as well as your speed, trip distance and other information you might expect to get from a simple bike computer. Be aware that hilly terrain and under-inflated tyres make the motor work harder and battery drain faster.
The world of ebikes
This is the category offering the largest number of ebikes in Australia. They are designed as around-town transportation bikes, with mudguards and chainguards for riding in normal clothes, luggage racks for carrying your stuff, lights fitted, a kickstand and often a lock. There are a variety of styles and pricepoints from premium to entry level. Examples include Gazelle Orange Bosch, Ordica Neo, Gepida Reptila, Vanmoof electric, Ezee Street, BH Emotion Evo City, SmartMotion e-Urban and A2B Hybrid 24.
Coming in the formats of flat bar roadie, stripped-back MTB or single speed, these ebikes aim to get you there quickly with minimum fuss. Bear in mind that the assistance from the motor cuts out at 25km/h and after that it’s all your own power propelling a heavy bike. Examples include Specialized Turbo S, Momentum Upstart, Lombardo Amantea City and KTM Macina Cross Plus.
‘Trekking’ is a term used commonly in Europe to describe bikes that are set up for day or multi-day rides. They have gears for hills, tough construction, plenty of carrying capacity, lights and comfort features, such as suspension and additional handlebar positions. The effect of all these features is that these are versatile and capable commuting bikes as well. Check out Gazelle Fuente Bosch, Ezee Forza, Gepida Alboin and Ezee Torque.
The mountain bike format is perennially popular because it’s comfortable and capable. It works well with pedal assist for all but the most technical terrain that demands very precise bike handling. Fine examples the BH Emotion Evo Jumper, Evo 27.5 and KTM Macina Lycan Plus, while at the entry level end the Dyson Hardtail and Earth Trek 2 Pro are fun knockabouts with potential to cover all your riding.
For caravan nomads, yachties and even light plane travellers, folding bikes meet the need as a viable bike to take along. Why not add a motor for assistance? Note, folding ebikes are heavy to handle at 25kg average weight, and while more compact than a non-folding bike they still have a considerable presence when folded. Consider the Power Ped Sonata, Ezee Quando and A2B Kuo.
A motor makes a cruiser even cruisier, and might bring back people back to pedalling who haven’t ridden since the cruiser heyday of the ‘50s. Ride On enjoyed the laid-back experience of the Pedego Comfort Cruiser and the well-regarded Electra Townie is now electrified in the Electra Townie Go model.
Road ebikes are a small market in Australia, with most achieved by fitting an ebike kit as a custom job. One complete bike available is Niubike Superlite e-road bike.
Motor assistance on a cargo bike is a tremendous benefit to the utility of the machine—suddenly you can carry much more with much less effort. In the future, most cargo bikes will have pedal assist, surely. Cargo bike makers are now incorporating the motor into new designs instead of adding a kit on afterwards. Test ride an Ezee Expedir, Yuba elMundo and Italwin Tricicletta.
Convert your own bike. These kits are usually a pedal assist system but offer a throttle that is either limited to walking speed or that limits the motor to 200w output. The set-up is within the capability of most people, however, they are also commonly installed by a shop. The Bionx kit is complex to set up and must be installed by a Bionx-approved dealer but it offers regenerative braking and computer aided diagnostics. The best kits are Bionx, Solarbike, TEBCO Hurricane and Power Ped EVO.
Below is a comparative table of the top ebikes we’ve tested, and we have a comprehensive ebike buying guide in a previous Ride On article.
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