Electric bikes or ebikes, widely popular in Europe and China, are steadily making their ascent in the U.S. bike market. Erik Saltvold, founder and owner of ERIK’s Bike Shop, a Midwest-based chain for bike sales and repairs, says the ebike is the fastest-growing specialty bike in the industry. Last October, market research company NPD Group reported that electric bike sales had grown 95 percent in the 12 months ending in July 2017, with sales totaling nearly $65 million.
Because the power is applied through the chain and sprocket, power is typically limited to around 250–500 watts to protect against fast wear on the drivetrain. An electric mid-drive combined with an internal gear hub at the back hub may require care due to the lack of a clutch mechanism to soften the shock to the gears at the moment of re-engagement. A continuously variable transmission or a fully automatic internal gear hub may reduce the shocks due to the viscosity of oils used for liquid coupling instead of the mechanical couplings of the conventional internal gear hubs.
But with increased demand and production, as well as technology improvements thanks to advances in the electric car industry, the cost of components like lithium-ion batteries comes down, Weinert explains. Now, e-bikes are on the market as low as around $1,200 (like the Monroe 250 from Schwinn, available in November 2017). Plus, the competition is stiff. “There are more brands producing than there were five years ago, and they all have to be competitive," LaLonde says.
“I can go on Alibaba, buy parts, set up shipments, and get people to buy these things,” she says. “The question comes on the support side. Will they have spare parts? Will they have tech support? Do they carry insurance? Real manufacturers of e-bikes have serious insurance in case something goes haywire or someone has an accident. That’s $20,000 to $30,000 a year.”
"Electric bikes are great for giving you an extra boost and a bit more zip for when you're a bit low on energy," says two-time Olympic gold winner Victorian Pendleton. "E-bikes are also a fantastic route into cycling for beginners, or for those returning to cycling, as they provide a helping hand when it comes to conquering physical fitness challenges."
For many bikes, battery range is more important that total power (because they're all pretty powerful). You want a bike that delivers a range long enough for your rides at the power levels you want. Most e-bikes will have three to five levels of assist kicking in anywhere from 25 percent of you pedal power to 200 percent boost. Consider how fast the battery takes to recharge, especially if you'll be using your bike for long commutes.