Top 10 Tips for Buying an E-Bike

December 6, 2012

Thanks to Brett Thurber, the owner of the  New Wheel (electric bike shop in San Francisco) for this insightful buying guide.

Just like in Europe and Asia before it, the electric bike has begun to transform the way Americans move. Whether it is for hauling goods, commuting long distance, or just a leisurely ride, more and more people are finding that the electric bicycle is the most economical, practical, and fun way to get around. Unfortunately, deciding on what electric bike is not nearly as easy as riding up a steep hill on an ebike. Enter our electric bike buying guide, with ten tips to help you make the right decision and start riding.

10. Consider Your Needs
Electric bikes are designed for different people and different purposes. It’s up to you to decide what is most important to you, what is not important at all, and then communicate that to the retailer. If comfort is key, then a step-through frame might be best. If hill-climbing is crucial, then a hub motor over 250 watts or a mid-mounted motor is what will work. If riding long distances is your cup of tea, then a large battery of over 400 watt hours is paramount. Understanding your personal needs will help you focus your attention toward the right bikes.

9. The Warranty Matters
Buying an electric bike is a big investment, regardless of whether it is $1000 or $6000. The  warranty will allow you to rest assured that your investment was worth it. A two year warranty on parts, motor and battery is reasonable to expect from most electric bike manufacturers with product selling for over $2000.

8. Choose Your Retailer Wisely
Buying an electric bike should be as much about buying into a bike shop, as it is simply buying a product. You should judge your place of purchase on three points: vibe, commitment, and quality. The vibe is the feeling you get when you walk into the shop. Is the staff friendly, knowledgeable and helpful? Commitment refers to the shops evident enthusiasm for electric bikes. Do they have many ebikes or just a few stuck in the back of the shop? Knowing that the shop is committed to the ebike movement means they will be willing and wanting to help you make the most of your ebike years down the road. The last point, quality, refers to the types of bikes that the retailer is selling.  Are they brand names that you can research, or are they bikes that information is hard to come by on? You want to be sure the retailer is in the business for the right reason and not just to make a quick buck.

7. Have Confidence in Your Intuition
It may seem like a jungle of contradictory information out there, and that is not far from the truth. There are many choices, lots of opinions, and not much in the way of trusted organizations that  certify and review electric bikes in a systematic manner. What is a consumer to do? The best strategy is to put your trust in your intuition. If something is too good to be true, it probably is. If a bike is from a brand you’ve never heard of and can’t find information on, it is probably best to stay clear.

6. Quality Counts, but Service Counts Just As Much
Electric bikes are not toys, they are transportation. The quality of the bicycle itself, irrespective of the drive system, is extremely important. It is doubly important if you plan on riding it day-in and day-out. While bicycle component quality is fairly easy to judge by looking over the listing of parts…motors and batteries can be a little more difficult. When in doubt, research the motor and battery brands. But remember that the quality of the components won’t make a bit of difference if  your electric bike is not setup and tuned correctly. Your local independent bike dealer is your best ally in maintaining the quality components you invested in.

5. Take a Longview
Being environmentally sustainable is more than just running on electricity: it’s about the way the bike was built, the quality of its construction, and the after-purchase service to keep it in good condition. You should expect that your bike should last from five to ten years at a minimum with regular service, and that your battery should last from 600 to 800 full charge cycles.  And when the battery needs to be replaced, your retailer should be ready to have it rebuilt or recycled, but not thrown in the trash.

4. You Get What You Pay For
The old adage works for electric bikes as it does for many other things in life. It is not cheap to build a good lithium-ion based electric bike that is reliable and has quality components. For throttle operated bikes or bikes with a cadence sensor, expect to pay at least $1500. For ebikes with a torque sensor, expect to pay over $2500.  The good news is that a quality ebike can pay for itself very quickly. (read article on how an ebike can save you money)  And this does not even account for the happiness dividend! (read secret intrinsic values of owning an ebike)

3. Buy Local
If at all possible, buy local. In the best case scenario you will have questions about your bike, and in the worst case scenario you will have problems, but for both scenario’s you want to be within 50 miles of your place of purchase so that they can help you. Besides, your patronage assures that local ebike experts will be there for you when you need them.

2. Test Ride
Perhaps the most important and fun part of buying an electric bike is test riding. Trying an electric bike allows you to put aside specs and reviews and research and just answer the most basic question: ‘Do I love this bike?’ If yes, then start asking a few other questions: ‘Does it climb hills in the way I need it to?’; ‘Does the bike fit me in the way I would like it to?’, ‘Does it have the quality and functionality I would like?’

1. Have High Expectations
If you are purchasing an ebike with a proprietary electric system, you will need to have trust in the bicycle manufacturer. A good rule of thumb is to stay away from electric bike brands with proprietary systems if the brand is not being sold widely in North America or Europe.

Eric has been involved in the electric bike industry since 2002 when he started a 6000 square foot brick and mortar Electric Bike store in downtown San Francisco. He is a true believer that small electric vehicles can change the way we operate and the way we think.


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