eBike myths busted: what's true and what's false?

eBike myths busted: what's true and what's false?

As eBikes have grown in popularity (eBikes were the top-selling electric vehicle in 2021, outselling cars) the myths and misperceptions around eBikes have grown, too. Let's dig into what's actually true and what's false around electric bicycles.

Myth #1 - eBike riders don't get exercise

False. Studies show eBike riders actually ride more hours annually than their "analog" counterparts. While riders on traditional bikes may burn more calories per mile ridden, eBike riders make up for it by riding further on their average ride, and riding more often - perhaps due to the eBike "fun" factor. This can play an important role in encouraging otherwise sedentary people to exercise.

Pedal assist means that the electric motor provides assistance when the rider pedals - you can still raise your heart rate, get out of breath, and get your blood flowing. 

Myth #2 - riding an eBike is cheating

If you're involved in a competitive race, using an eBike would certainly be "cheating", but most people are not bicycle racers, they ride for fun, recreation, work, fitness, and utility. Is driving a car to the grocery store cheating? Is the UPS truck that delivers your packages cheating? Of course not. Electric bicycles have a legitimate place in our transportation system. Bicycle racing is only a tiny portion of bicycling as a whole.

Myth #3 - eBike operators need a license

False. Generally, operating a Class I, II, or III eBike does not require a driver's or motorcycle license issued by the state. Where does this myth come from? The Class I, II, III system that regulates eBikes in most states (although not all) might play a role. There are age requirements for some eBike types, which might be confused with a licensing requirement.

Some brands market "eBikes" that aren't really eBikes at all - they might go much faster than the 28 MPH limit for Class III eBikes, and lack pedals the rider can use. These are more like electric versions of motorcycles - some states refer to them as "Class IV" - and do have license, insurance, and registration requirements, so make sure you know what you're buying and where it's legal and safe to operate in your location. In California, for example, the operator of a moped must have a driver's license. If you want to avoid license, insurance, and registration requirements, make sure to buy an eBike that carries a Class I, II, or III label as required by law.

Myth #4 - kids can't ride eBikes

Misunderstanding the Class I, II, III system that regulates eBikes might also lead to the wrong conclusion about children riding them. 

In most states, children can ride eBikes, but might be limited to certain speeds or classes. In California, for example, riders must be 16 to ride a Class III eBike (which go up to 28 MPH on pedal assist), but there are no age limits on Class I or II (20 MPH) models. Note that an age limit might also go hand in hand with a helmet requirement, so check for that as well. Bike.com recommends that anyone riding any type of bicycle should always wear a helmet, regardless of their age or the requirement to do so.

Because the rules can vary by state, you should check your local requirements before allowing your kids to ride. The best resource for these rules is People for Bikes, who maintain a state-by-state guide.

Myth #5 - you can't ride an eBike in the rain

False. Good quality eBikes use the IPxx rating system, which defines how resistant the components are to water. Denago's City Model 1 eBike, for example, uses a IPX6 battery, IP67 controller, and IPX5 motor - it's fine to ride in the rain.

There is a half-truth in this myth: the cheapest eBikes may not have undergone any IPxx testing or labeling at all! You shouldn't ride in the rain until you know the IPxx rating of your eBike and understand what it means. Pete Prebus wrote a great article about cheap eBikes and some of the challenges they create. Don't confuse "cheap" with "good value". While it's OK to purchase an inexpensive eBike if it's a good value, make sure you understand what you're getting (or not getting!), and a lack of water resistance might be one of those important missing features.

Never submerge or pressure wash any eBike, regardless of the IPxx rating it might carry. Even the best water-resistant eBikes are meant to stand up to splashes and drips, not water being forced by pressure into the electrical components.

Myth #6 - the range of eBikes is too small to be useful

The range of eBikes (the distance you can travel before the battery is drained and needs to be re-charged) has roughly doubled over the last decade. Value-priced eBikes that sell for between $1,000 to $2,000 used to go about 20 miles on a charge, and can now go 40 miles or more before charging.

The range of modern commuter eBikes is enough to get most riders both to and from work without charging during the day, offering the ability to replace a car for commuting to work or school. The charger can stay at home where you can charge at the end of the day.

Casual riders (who do shorter rides at slower speeds) can experience even higher ranges, allowing them to do multiple rides over several days without charging at all. Casual riders who make short trips on mostly flat terrain might get away with charging weekly!

Myth #7 - eBikes won't "go" if the battery dies 

Many riders think an eBike will simply stop if the battery dies. This is not true. Pedal-assist eBikes are still bicycles, with operable pedals and a traditional bicycle drivetrain. The rider can pedal them, just like any other bike. While you might travel slower, an eBike with a dead battery won't stop you from getting to work, or finishing your fun ride.

You will feel the extra weight of an eBike if you ride it without electric motor assistance. While an eBike is heavier than a traditional bike due to the battery and motor, some of that extra weight can be mitigated by removing the battery in a pinch.

Myth #8 - eBikes need more maintenance

Truth? Not really. While eBikes do have a few extra electrical components (battery, motor, controller, display) at their heart they are still bicycles, and use standard bicycle saddles, shifters, handlebars, and so on.

While the traditional bicycle components need maintenance like cleaning, lubrication, and an occasional tune-up, the eBike portions generally don't. Rear hub motor eBikes, for example, typically don't need any motor maintenance at all.

The one exception is battery care, but that really isn't "maintenance", just best practices that you should use for charging.

Truth #1 - eBikes need disc brakes

We've examined some myths, now let's get into some of the rumors and talk about eBikes that are actually true. One of those truths is that eBikes do in fact need bigger, stronger brakes. Bikes with electric motors are heavier, and travel faster, than their "acoustic" counterparts. That means stopping distance is increased, which in turn demands more braking power to slow down and stop effectively.

Caliper (rim) brakes are not suitable for bigger, heavier, faster eBikes. This is one of the reasons retrofitting an electric motor onto a bike that wasn't designed for it can be so dangerous. Good quality eBikes use disc brakes with oversized rotors to get more braking power. This is especially important in the wet, when stopping distance is further increased on all bikes. The brakes on an eBike should be the hydraulic disc type, if possible, or mechanical discs if the design of the eBike prevents the use of the hydraulic style (for example, on folding eBikes) or hydraulic brakes aren't possible at the desired price point.

You should also buy an eBike that includes motor cut-off switches as part of the braking system. This means that when you squeeze the brake lever, the electric motor turns off immediately, even if you have pedal assist turned on or you're using the throttle. An important safety feature when making a panic stop - without it, the electric motor could continue running even when you're trying to stop! Most good quality eBikes include this feature, but cheap models may overlook it entirely.

Truth #2 - eBike riders need helmets

True - all eBike riders should wear a helmet. In fact, all riders of any bike of any type should wear a helmet! It's especially important on eBikes because they travel faster than regular bikes.

Wearing a helmet while riding an eBike might be the law in your city or state, but you should wear one regardless of the requirement to do so.

Truth #3 - eBikes have different trail access than "analog" bikes

While trail access is improving all the time for eBikes, it is not identical to traditional "analog" bikes. Paved urban paths and off-road "mountain bike" trails both have different rules for eBikes, and those rules can vary by city, county, or state, with yet another set of rules in place for federal lands. 

The most common restriction you should know about:

  • In general, off-road trails (think about the type of terrain where you would want a mountain bike) that permit eBikes usually allow Class I types, but not Class II/III types.

If you want to bring a Class II or Class III eBike to a restricted area, you may be able to meet local requirements by unplugging and removing the throttle from your eBike, and lowering the speed limiter to Class I (20 MPH) speeds, effectively transforming your Class II/III eBike into the Class I type.

In any case, keep your speed under control and ride within your limits and you're unlikely to have a problem.

It pays to do a little research before you travel with your eBike. For example, we've got eBike-focused guides to YosemiteYellowstone, and Great Smoky Mountains national parks, each of which has their own rules and regulations regarding the use of eBikes.

Truth #4 - yes, you can get a traffic ticket on an eBike

When you ride an eBike, it's important to follow the rules of the road - obeying traffic lights, stop and yield signs, and understanding lane and direction laws. An electric bicycle is a vehicle just like any other in the vehicle code - that means you can be cited for speeding, or even DUI! 

Safely operating an eBike means understanding the rules and regulations where you ride.

Truth #5 - expert help is available

At Bike.com, we're dedicated to helping you learn about eBikes and choose the right style for your needs; plus we'll help you find safe places to ride nearby. We can even help you assemble your own eBike, or refer you to a local expert. Call (877) 755-2453 to talk with an experienced rider.

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