E-Bikes or Electric Assist Bicycles
Electric assisted bicycles or e-bikes and “pedelecs” in Europe
must be pedaled to use the assistance from the motor.
This page will cover such aspects of e-bikes as cost,
weight, modes of electrical assistance,
batteries, why use them,
and rental or testing them. I also include a warning
about the dangerous use of e-bikes.
An S-Pedelec and sometimes called an S-ebike or HS for "high-speed" is a different
machine for which one might be required to wear a helmet, have a drivers license,
and be prohibited from riding on some of the many kilometers of bicycle paths in
Germany. These have stronger motors (more than 250-watt output) and can provide
assistance up to 45km/hour (28 miles per hour). I am told by bike shops that the
requirements to have a license and perhaps to wear a helmet does not apply to those
born before 1966. We do not dwell on the high-speed e-bikes or S-pedelecs in this
page. We feel they are unnecessary for the cycle tourism audience we seek. If they
have a market niche, it is among German residence who travel longer distances on
a weekly basis and can use roads that cars use. For example, if you live in a village
and must travel 10km or more to a larger town for groceries and other necessities,
an HS E-bike would make sense.
This page is a work in progress.
We will add photographs of some models and configurations of e-bikes and probably
more text as well.
In a recent TV news story (PBS 9/2/16), they noted that statistically the Netherlands
sell one e-bike in three bicycles sold; Germany sells one in five bicycles sold.
However, US sells only one e-bike for every 100 bicycles sold. They made the point
that there is a huge market yet to be tapped in the US.
In 2011, Maxa rented an e-bike for the re-riding of the hilly Fairytale Tour that
we first rode in 1999. She was a happy camper because, for the first time, she got
to wait at the top of the hills for me as I huffed and puffed up the hill in the
lower gears of my 27 speed cross-bicycle. I was jealous. In 2012 we knew that the
tour down the Mulde River Valley was going to be quite hilly so we both rented e-bikes.
Also in 2014, we rented e-bikes again for another hilly 5-day tour. We have almost
convinced ourselves to purchase our own e-bikes. However, we keep putting it off.
It seems that each year brings improvements in the cycles, the technology, and the
weight of the e-bikes themselves. Perhaps in 2017!
One deterrence to our
purchasing e-bikes is the cost. In Germany, you can expect to pay €2,500 to €4,000
for a good e-bike and €5,000 for a really good one.
issue with e-bikes is the weight. The heavier weight is partly because the frames
are longer and slightly heavier but mostly the weight comes from the motor and the
battery. They can weigh between 20kg to 26kg (44lbs to 55lbs US). E-bikes are difficult
to lift into a train car or maneuver up or down stairs, such as one still finds
in smaller train stations in Europe. (Fortunately, nearly all major train stations
in Germany have elevators nowadays.) That difficulty is mitigated because most new
model e-bikes have a button you can use when you are off the bicycle to make the
motor provide low speed forward momentum. Handy for those who want to push their
bike somewhere. Also handy in train stations where you are not supposed to ride
On June 1,
2016, the local newspaper in Kassel, Germany ran an article that was scary for those
of you over 50 with bad knees. The theme of the article was that older people who
are lacking the tone and strength of their younger years should be cautious in handling
a heavy e-bike. In Germany in 2014, there were 2,300 accidents involving e-bikes.
Of those, 39 accidents were fatal and of those 39, 32 of the victims were over 64
years of age. The problem is older people enjoy e-bikes so much they exceed their
capacity to safely handle the machine. Another scary fact is that the sale of e-bikes,
primarily to older people, is rapidly increasing. In 2009 e-bike sales amounted
to 150,000 representing 4% of the total market for bicycles. But in 2014, 535,000
were sold representing 12.5% of the bicycle market. According to the article, the
typical e-bike owner is a male over 60-years old. This is a lousy way to reduce
the number of people drawing the German form of social security.
E-bikes are simply faster than normal bicycles. If we ride a normal cycle, we
might average 15km/h to 20km/h but with an e-bike, we'll ride 5km/h to 10km/h faster.
That is fine on perfect surfaces in the countryside. But riding downhill or on a
dirt or gravel path at higher speeds is simply dangerous. In an urban setting, one
should ride slower because of cars, children, pedestrians, other cyclists, pavement
difficulties, and dogs. Like most people of a certain age (think OFBK) our bones
break easier, and wounds heal slower. In short, if you rent or purchase an e-bike
please be careful; slow down and live longer.
Two interesting facts that relate to the topic of danger. In Germany, if you
are born before 1966, you can buy a higher powered e-bike and ride faster, therefore
get in trouble at a faster speed. I think it might be an attempt by the law-makers
to cull the herd a bit. Also, if you buy an e-bike made in the US, the speed is
governed higher than those made in Germany. US bikes are governed at 20mph or 32/kmh.
Remember, the maximum speed for those made in Germany is only 20kmh which to 15.5mph.
I am thinking that the US has an overabundance of older people and want to kill
them off faster than Germany culls their older citizens. Just saying!
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In our limited experience, e-bikes have three or four power assist modes plus one
more if you count no assistance at all when the power is turned completely off.
On our rented e-bikes the three assist modes are Eco, Standard (on some controls
this is called "Tour"), and High. On the flat, you can turn the assistance off but
most people use either Eco or Standard modes. That will allow even the un-fit riders
to travel along at a maximum of 25/km/hour (15.5/mph). While we do have a degree
of fitness, we find that we can climb hills of an average grade in Standard (or
Tour) at that speed. When we reached speeds over 25/km/hour (15.5 mph) the assist
feature stops assisting.
In 2017, we purchased two Riese & Müller e-bikes with Bosch motors. These
have four assistance modes and of course the off position for no added assistance.
They are ECO with 50% assist, TOUR with 120% assist, SPORT with 190% assist, and
lastly TURBO with 275% assist.
When I am nursing
my sore knees, I use all of the above modes in addition to the NuVinci gear hub
that we also opted for to make pedaling as easy as if I were riding on a flat path
at a steady speed with no load. With this combination it is easy. As I get to the
bottom of any kind of uphill slope, I push a button on the power assist control
and adjust the gear to what is easiest.
In addition to the electric motor assistance, you may have normal gears. Which
one is a matter of preference; the 8-speed models are easier to keep clean and they
are simple to use. However, we are more familiar with the 27-speed gearing that
we have on our trekking bikes. So, for that same range of gearing, we might choose
an 11 gear rear freewheel bicycle with the familiar rear derailleur. In any event,
the bottom bracket where the motor is will probably have only one gear and no front
derailleur because the gear is directly connected to the motor. There are alternate
designs but this design seems to be popular. Shifting gears in addition to your
assistance mode is easy and finding the right combination for each hill is also
One of our test rides was on a Riese & Müller Blue Label e-bike with a NuVinci
rear hub. That hub has an infinite number of gears with a 300% range, somewhat higher
than an 11 gear rear freewheel. The display is also easy to understand; you see
a tiny icon of a bicycle on a flat line and then as you twist the ring on right
inside handle of your handlebar grip, the flat line begins to look like a hill with
the tiny bicycle climbing it. The farther you twist the grip, the steeper the hill
and the lower the gear. You will not hear any clicking or feel any uneven pedaling,
it simply adjusts to your setting. I was impressed with the ease in changing gears
on this bicycle. The downside is the hub is a little heaver than a rear derailleur
with a freewheel and gears but perhaps it is worth the extra weight of about 4 pounds.
These NuVinci hubs are becoming popular.
All the e-bikes we have seen have a built-in cyclometer. Some of
the newer cyclometers are removable others are not. The cyclometer measures speed,
keeps track of maximum speed, the distance traveled since the bicycle was new and
the total distance on the bicycle since it was last reset. The display will also
tell you how much charge is remaining in your battery and perhaps an indication
of the possible distance before you have no charge left. This item is a computed
distance based upon how you have used the assistance so far that day. It is not
very accurate in our experience.
are rechargeable and typically are recharged when the indicator on the cyclometer
shows that the battery is low. You will need to plug the battery into the recharger
and that into an outlet. The process from empty to full can take 3 or 4 hours but
you can add a little charge in the time it takes you to eat lunch or consume a drink
at an accommodating restaurant. The recharger is not heavy but it is bulky. If you
are on a bike tour, you have to carry the recharger too because the batteries will
last a distance of between 50 km to 150 km depending on the level of assistance
you choose and the number of hills. We had to pack our rechargers in our panniers.
Nowadays, some e-bike batteries can be charged while still on the bicycle so all
you need is a cord that will reach an outlet.
There are some differences between batteries. Bosch offers a 36-Volt, 13.8-Amp/h, 500-Watt motor in 2016. Panasonic, which boasts the longest battery life,
offers a soon to be available 36-Volt drive system with 13-Amp/h, 17-Amp/h versions.
Panasonic also sells 26-Volt drive system with 18-Amp/h, 21-Amp/h and 25-Amp/h batteries.
Personally, I feel that a competitive open market will eventually make batteries
The location of the battery on the bicycle may be important. If you want a step-through frame design, you will want to have the battery either behind the seat tube
or under the rear luggage rack so you have no obstruction to stepping through the
frame. One of ours has the battery below handlebars on the head tube. If you are
camping and carrying heavy panniers, you will want the battery anywhere but under
the rear rack for better weight distribution and balance. From our observation there
are four possibilities:
- Under the rear luggage rack
- On the down tube (from the head tube where the handlebar attaches to the
bottom bracket where the pedals are)
- Inside the down tube
- On the back of the seat tube or even on the front of the seat tube.
Thes.e locations may extent the length of the bicycle
The "inside the down tube is location rare, but we have seen them in German bicycle
stores. (See the photograph of the blue bicycle below.) Some have a cover that comes off and the
battery can be removed for charging or storage.
We are told that most e-bike batteries will last at least two years with normal
use but Shimano has one they claim will last 8 years. I am sure that with time all
manufactures will improve the battery life. We have heard good things about the
Panasonic batteries from users.
Using e-bikes in metropolitan areas for short trips and errands
makes a lot of sense. In cities and towns you will stop frequently because of traffic,
traffic laws, red lights, and pedestrians. Getting an e-bike back up to speed is
simple because the motor assistance is really like stepping on the gas of an automobile.
If you want to get to speed faster, use a higher assistance mode. It is a
lot of fun, really. We think that use of e-bikes on week-long bicycle tours also
makes a lot of sense for people who are not in top shape and would like to avoid
pushing up the occasional hill.
Testing or renting is about the same thing. Renting for a day might be free or
the cost might be included in the price of a bicycle. One can purchase or rent e-bikes
with all the accouterments of a touring or trekking bicycle, such as fenders, lights,
luggage racks, etc. Renting for a week or more for a tour will give you a better
idea of an e-bike's utility. That makes good sense. If you are thinking of renting
an e-bike for a multi-day bicycle tour, consider bringing your own saddle. My only
complaint with one of the e-bikes I rented was that the saddle was too broad and
I had some compression discomfort just below my gluteus Maximus muscles (seat cheeks?).
Maxa did not have that experience, perhaps that is a gender specific type of thing.
The cost to rent an e-bike can vary but a typical price is €25/day or €130/week.
There are many different models of e-bikes as I noted above, the least expensive
to the most expensive models will also vary in rental price.
We also fitted our handlebar packs to the rental bikes but only because we could
and that is what we were used to, not because it was necessary. Our panniers fit
nicely on the rear racks provided for that purpose.
A 2013 website reviews the whole concept of e-bikes and pedelecs at
The information there will help you decide which type and configuration to purchase
(or rent if that is your goal).
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