In the smart home: Electric Bikes

Jonathan Atkinson of Carbon Co-op peers into some of the complexities we face in the transition to low carbon homes.

Once eBikes were a niche pursuit but in a post-Covid world where many are fearful of packed public transport or gridlocked roads they are fast gaining popularity. There are now a huge range and variety of eBikes. Here’s some things to bear in mind when considering a model.

What’s an eBike?

Electric bikes are battery powered push cycles. They feature ‘pedal assistance’ so the harder you pedal the more assistance they provide. In the UK there is a legal cut off limit, so as the bike hits 15.5mph assistance tapers off.

What will you use it for?

The kind of eBike you select should be tailored to the purpose you are purchasing it for: there’s no point taking a lightweight road bike on a mountain trail!

If there’s a specialist bike available there’s an electric version. But the extended range and power also means eBikes can achieve uses standard bikes can’t, such as a daily 30 mile commute or acting as a replacement second car suitable for shopping trips.

A long way to go?

Range is linked to the battery size and capacity – bigger batteries can go further – but range also depends on terrain – tackle more hills and you need more power. Take careful note of the battery size and take manufacturers’ range estimates with caution! If range is crucial, e.g. for a commute, bear in mind some models feature add-on range extenders disguised as water bottles!

Price

You can pay anything from £600 to many thousands of pounds. As always, you get what you pay for. If you’re considering the bike for a commute, you probably want something over £2,000, but bear in mind Bike To Work schemes reduce and spread the cost.

You can also save money by retrofitting a motor using kits available on the web, but you’ll probably need the assistance of a competent bike mechanic. As for charging, a full battery is likely to cost pennies in terms of electricity use.

Ethical considerations

All the same ethical considerations Ethical Consumer outlined in its August 2018 shopping guide to electric bikes are relevant here – including workers’ rights, conflict minerals and favouring independent outlets.

There are some new, specialist manufacturers too. Added to this, responsible battery disposal should be a consideration – regular use means the battery will have an effective lifespan of perhaps as short as a couple of years.

Our last bit of advice – try before you buy! eBikes are really fun and plenty of places now offer hires, so try one out for yourself and see if it might be right for you.