eBikes come in many styles and types
Electric bikes, like bicycles come in an endless number of shapes and sizes. There are some basic characteristics and categories that many eBikes fall into that are important to understand.
The motor is the distinguishing component of any electric bike. There are two main types of e-bike motors; hub and mid-drive. A hub motor is situated in the hub of one of the bike’s wheels, and provides power by spinning the wheel it’s a part of; front or rear. These are the most frequently used type of motor, and hub motors continue to be a dominant component in the electric bike industry due to affordability.
Front hub motors provide additional power directly to the front wheel, while rear hub motors give extra torque to the rear wheel. Front hub motors create the sensation that the bike is being “pulled” forward. Because they don’t have to work around chains, derailleurs, or cassettes; they’re relatively easy to install and remove. This also makes repairs easy. Front hub motors have a tendency to “slip” or “spin out,” since the bulk of the rider’s weight is located behind the front wheel. Additionally, the extra torque introduced by front hub motors typically requires the use of more sturdy forks, rims, and spokes.
Rear hub motors “push” the bike forward, which may feel more natural to those accustomed to riding conventional bicycles. Rear hub motors tend to spin out less often than front hub motors. They can provide a smoother, more efficient riding experience. Rear hub motors can be tricky to install and remove since they have to work around derailleurs, chains, and cassettes. This can also make it difficult to perform repairs. The added bulk of the rear hub motor can negatively affect the handling of the bike, making it feel a bit back-heavy. Rear hub motors introduce extra torque to the rear wheel which means they should be used with strong spokes and rims. The biggest drawbacks to hub motors is their inability to take advantage of the bicycle’s already-existing set of gears, which means the lose efficiency. This is primarily because a hub motor generates power directly at the wheel and has no direct interaction with the bike’s drivetrain.
Mid-drive motors provide an especially versatile, balanced, and powerful riding experience and have moved to the fore-front of the eBike industry. Mid-drive motors provide power directly to the bike’s drivetrain, at the crankset. By delivering additional torque to the bike’s cranks, mid-drive motors work in seamless coordination with the bike’s already-existing gears, amplifying the mechanical advantage they provide. EBbikes that use a mid-drive motor can leverage the lower gears of the bike and keep their RPMs in an efficient range without getting ‘bogged down’ like a hub motor.
• Most affordable option on the market today, due to its popularity and cheaper components
• Quick and easy way to convert a conventional bicycle to electric
• Front hub motors are relatively easy to put on and take off
• Front hub motors don’t interfere with very many components, making maintenance and repairs fairly simple
• Rear wheel hubs can be difficult to put on and take off
• Rear wheel hubs can make it difficult to repair or replace parts
• Tend to produce an unbalanced riding sensation (front hub motors “pull” bike, rear hub motors “push” bike)
• Hub motors do not take advantage of gears; inefficient use of power
• Tend to spin out on hills or in slippery conditions
• Additional torque may damage spokes, rims, fork, or dropouts
• Provides power directly to bike’s drivetrain
• Works in coordination with bike’s gears to maximize efficiency, speed, and power
• Located near the bike’s center of gravity to provide natural riding sensation and smooth handling
• Doesn’t interfere with other components; simple to perform repairs or maintenance
• More expensive than hub motors
• Harder to use for converting a conventional bicycle to electric
• May add wear and tear to bottom bracket, cranks, chains, derailleurs, or cassettes
The battery is possibly the most important factor when distinguishing a high-quality e-bike from a low-quality one. It is often the most expensive part on an electric bike. The battery is the reason that electric bikes have emerged as promising options for travel and recreation. The highly efficient, relatively lightweight, rechargeable batteries currently in use are what make it possible for e-bikes to provide users with energy-efficient, long-range, reliable transportation. The evolution of batteries has had a direct impact on the evolution of electric bikes. Lithium battery technology has solidified with the growth of the portable computer industry. Electric bike builders are using Lithium batteries to create more visually attractive, lighter, and more reliable electric bikes. The primary factor to consider when looking at electric bike batteries is the range of the battery, typically described in terms of how many miles you can travel on a single charge. Obviously, this distance depends on how much motor assistance you plan to use while riding. The more you pedal and the less you use the motor, the more miles you can get out of the battery. Today’s electric bike batteries are efficient enough to provide any rider the power needed to make their bike rides fun, convenient, and productive.
Electric bike batteries should provide between 20 and 60 miles per charge, and they should be small enough, lightweight enough, and compact enough to blend in with the design of the bike—a good battery should not get in the way or detract from your ability to ride comfortably.
Sealed Lead Acid batteries (SLA) were used for eBikes in the past, but today, the majority of e-bike builders have moved to lithium battery technology. SLA batteries provide decent performance at a fairly cheap price, but because they have significantly shorter life spans than lithium batteries, they have to be replaced more often. In the long run, therefore, SLA batteries are more expensive. They also require careful maintenance as improper charging or discharging can ruin the battery. SLA batteries are heavier than lithium batteries, making them a less efficient option for e-bike use.
Lithium batteries, are being used in all sorts of devices, are generally lighter, more energy-efficient, and provide much greater range. They are more expensive than SLA batteries; however, the longer life span offsets the initial higher price of a lithium battery.
The third part of an e-bike you need to consider is the drivetrain. “Drive-train” refers to a system—typically composed of several smaller parts working together in tandem—that provides the power and torque necessary to turn the wheels of a vehicle. On most standard bicycles, the drive-train is made up of the crankset, chain, and some sort of gear system attached to the rear wheel. Because the best e-bikes are those designed to work in close coordination with the bicycle’s drivetrain, it’s a good idea to have some familiarity with the drivetrains most often used on electric bikes.
Multiple Gears With a Traditional Derailleur
Long established as the go-to technology for conventional bicycles, derailleurs mechanically move the bike chain across a range of different-sized gears that change the efficiency of each pedal stroke. Some gears are better suited for climbing up hills while others are best for cruising along level ground. Mid-drive motors work in coordination with the already-existing gears and derailleurs, allowing riders to shift through the gears to find the best efficiency for any riding condition, while also making use of the motor for an extra boost of power.
Internal Gear Hubs
In contrast to drivetrains that use a derailleur to shift through a set of external gears attached to the rear wheel, internal gear hubs like the increasingly popular NuVinci® N360TM feature a range of gears housed inside the hub of the rear wheel. As opposed to traditional multi-geared drivetrains, which give riders a limited number of gears to shift through one at a time, the NuVinci® drivetrain provides riders with an unlimited range of gears, which can be moved across seamlessly and smoothly. Instead of shifting from one gear to the next, this drivetrain allows cyclists to simply turn a dial located on the handlebars to increase or decrease the amount of effort required to turn the pedals. The NuVinci® N360TM drivetrain provides an incredibly flexible way for a rider to fine-tune and tailor their riding experience to meet specific needs, the surrounding terrain, and their preferred riding style. Best of all, internal gear hubs reduce the learning curve typically associated with figuring out how to properly shift through traditional gears.
Electric bikes combine components and technologies from various industries and fields in exciting and innovative ways in order to produce a truly unique cycling experience. By becoming familiar with the basic components and technologies that make electric bikes such efficient and convenient vehicles, you empower yourself to choose the specific e-bike— equipped with the perfect motor, battery, and drivetrain—that will best meet your cycling needs, expectations, and goals.
Types of Bikes
Road Bikes are designed to be ridden fast on smooth pavement. They have smooth, skinny tires and “drop” handlebars, and can be used for on-road racing. They are usually lighter than other types of bicycles. They can be ridden on paved trails, but most people find them uncomfortable and unstable on unpaved trails. Most road bikes are not capable of carrying heavy loads.
Touring bicycles are a special type of road bike. They are designed to be ridden on pavement, but are more durable for use on self-supported long-distance riding. They have all of the necessary mounting bolts for cargo racks and fenders, and they usually have a more relaxed frame design so that the rider is more upright, for more comfort when riding long distances riding multiple days at a time. They have a lower gear range compared to regular road bikes, to allow for carrying heavy loads up steep hills. They also make good commuter bicycles, because of their durability and ability to carry heavy loads.
Mountain Bikes are design for riding rough off-road trails. They have flat or upright handlebars, and a very low gear range for pedaling up steep trails. Most mountain bikes have some type of shock absorbers or suspension. Mountain bikes with front suspension only are called hardtails; mountain bikes with both front and rear suspension are called full-suspension bikes. Mountain bikes can be outfitted for use as touring or commuting bikes, although they would not be as light or efficient as traditional touring or commuting bikes.
Hybrid Bicycles were originally conceived to provide the advantages of both road bikes and mountain bikes. Their large, padded seats and upright handlebars provide a comfortable riding position, and are best for casual riding around the neighborhood or bike paths, short-distance commuting, and errands around town. They can be ridden on paved roads, but are not as lightweight or efficient as road bikes. They are ideal for paved or unpaved bike trails, but are not appropriate for rough off-road mountain bike trails. The tires are usually a medium-width with a semi-smooth tread, to provide a fairly smooth ride on pavement, but enough grip and cushion on unpaved trails. Most hybrid bikes have front suspension to smooth out small bumps, but some are fully rigid.
Cruiser Bikes are similar to hybrid bikes, in that they are designed for casual riding, and have a very comfortable, upright riding position, and a large, comfortable seat. Cruisers usually have wide “balloon” tires, and handlebars that are even more upright, and in some cases, swept back compared to hybrid bikes. Most cruiser bikes are single-speed or 3-speed, and have the old-fashioned coaster brake (where you pedal backwards to stop). They can be used for short-distance commuting and errands, as long as your route is fairly flat. Some cruiser bike manufacturers make a wide array of colorful models available, to suit the fashion tastes of any bike afficionado.
City Bikes – The term “city bike” doesn’t really refer to a specific category of bikes; it’s more of a general descriptive term. They might also be called “commuter” or “urban” bikes, although any of the bikes listed on this page can be used quite well for riding and commuting in a city. However, there is a certain type of bike that most people have in mind when they use the term “city bike.” This bike has characteristics of both a hybrid bike and a cruiser bike–usually the upright riding position of a cruiser, but the wheel size of a hybrid bike. A city bike might also have some or all of these features that make it more amenable to riding in regular clothes, as opposed to cycling-specific clothing: Fenders, Chain guard, or Skirt guard on rear wheel. A city bike might also have an internally-geared rear hub for ease of use and maintenance, and a built-in generator and lights for safety when riding after dark. These bikes are also sometimes called “Dutch bikes,” because of their resemblance to the everyday bikes used in Amsterdam and other bike-friendly European cities.
BMX Bikes are popular with kids because of their small size, but they are used by adults and kids alike for various styles of trick and stunt riding.
Folding Bicycles are ideal for those who need to travel with their bike, want a bike to keep on their boat or plane, or who live in small apartments and don’t have a lot of storage space. They’re also good for commuters who need to take their bike on a bus or train for part of their commute, or who don’t have a safe place to park their bike at work. Most folding bikes have smaller wheels, which makes the bike a little less efficient and trickier to handle than a standard bike, but most folding bike fans feel the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
There are many other categories and subcategories of bicycles; however, the growth of eBikes has developed based on eBike usage rather than styling. EBikes are a bigger ticket purchase and multiple styles have developed with the Mountain/Hybrid Bike developing as the leader in the U.S. Cruisers, Urban/City and Folding eBike categories round out the main sellers. Usage categories for eBikes include: advanced off-road, off-road, crossover/hybrid, fat tire/cruiser, urban/city, and commuter.