If you want to have fun, get fit, and make a major dent in your carbon footprint at the same time, consider an electric bicycle. Boasting sub-$0.01 per-mile operating costs and hassle-free parking, these electric-assisted vehicles use a mix of muscle and electron power to scoot you through traffic at speeds that would make Lance Armstrong jealous. For middle-aged folks like me, the reduced effort it takes to pedal an e-bike on a short hop to the bank or the corner store makes hopping onto an e-bike a fun, heart-friendly alternative to hopping into the car.
The improvements in range, comfort, and speed that have been packed into the latest generation of e-bikes makes them an exceptionally practical alternative to your car for short commutes and the many errands within 5-10 miles of your house that make up a good chunk of most people's driving. Depending on how much boost you choose to use, you can get a full aerobic workout on the way to the drug store or commute to the office in business clothes without arriving drenched in sweat.
Electric bikes are incredibly efficient because they are based on 100 years worth of design refinements aimed at getting most out of the 1/4-1/3 horsepower that the average adult's legs can deliver. Even the modest 250W motors found in basic electric bikes require only gentle pedaling to push you along at 18-20 miles an hour on level ground. The larger 500W and 700W motors found in some premium vehicles will give you better acceleration and hill-climbing ability as well as a higher top speed (sometimes limited to comply with state or federal regulations).
Regardless of what size motor you pick for your electric bike, you'll enjoy energy efficiency that makes a 50-mpg Toyota Prius look like a gas guzzler. It's easy to calculate your bike's (or any electric vehicle's) equivalent gasoline miles-per-gallon (EMPG) if you remember that a gallon of regular gas contains 33.6 kilowatt hours worth of energy. A typical electric bike can go around 20 miles on the 500 Watt-hours (0.5 kW) stored in its battery. Even if you figure that only half the energy produced at the power plant actually reaches your bike's battery (due to the losses incurred during generation and transmission), you still get an amazing 1,350 EMPG! On the far end of the spectrum, the highest-powered machine we reviewed here (the pedal-less eGo uses a 1.2 kW motor) still gives you an impressive 390 EMPG.
Buying an electric bicycle that suits your needs is relatively easy if you follow a few basic guidelines listed here. Price depends on the range, performance, and features you want.
Quick Buying Tips for Electric Bicycles:
- Decide on the kinds of missions you're going to use your e-bike for. First, choose the frame type you want depending on your physical condition and the kinds of trips you want to take. The mountain bike-type frames used by many e-bikes are sturdy and sporty but you might want to consider a step-through style frame if you intend to regularly use your e-steed while wearing business or dressy clothes. If your back and arms (and butt!) cannot tolerate the forward-leaning riding position of a mountain bike, take a look at the “cruiser” style frames that have become more fashionable in the last few years. For maximum comfort and better long-range capability, the low-slung recumbent frame styles offered by several manufacturers is an exciting option.
- Next, consider the maximum distance you'll want to go, how hilly the terrain you'll cover is, and whether you intend to carry “cargo” such as groceries or parcels. This will help you decide on motor size, battery capacity, and whether you need to add a luggage rack or saddle bags to your new ride.
- Avoid lead-acid batteries if at all possible. While lead-acids were pretty much the only battery technology available for e-bikes until a couple of years ago, they are finicky, fragile, and usually give you only 100-200 reliable recharge cycles before they begin to loose capacity. If you intend to use your e-bike on a regular basis, investing in a good set of Nickel-Hydride (NiMH) or, better yet, Lithium Ion (Li-Ion) cells will pay for itself in better range and a much longer life. Many high-end manufacturers will give you a choice of battery capacity and chemistry, allowing you only to buy only as many miles of range and recharge cycles as you need.
- Check which brands are supported by your local dealers. Most components on your e-bike can be serviced by any competent bike shop, but it's an added bonus if you local dealer is familiar with the intricacies of your electric drive system and has quick access to specialized repair/upgrade parts for your particular machine.
The best electric bicycles combine muscle and electricity for must-have transportation. These best e bike recommendations help you get in shape and also put a dent in your carbon footprint.