Riding a bike isn’t just good for your health and fitness. If it’s a substitute for car or public transport journeys, it can save you money, reduce congestion and benefit the environment. If exertion levels are a barrier to cycling, an e-bike could be the solution.
An e-bike can be anything from a converted bicycle through to bikes designed with batteries and motors. There are also off-road performance e-bikes but these are not legal for road use.
Because of the surge in e-bike interest and usage among Victorians, RACV has conducted research and trials and also road-tested a range of e-bikes.
The riders and the issues
RACV’s Road Safety Research Fund commissioned the Institute of Transport Studies at Monash University to investigate the safety implications of increased e-bike use. An e-bike usage survey was completed by 677 riders. Separately, RACV gave 160 people the chance to ride an e-bike at two events.
Many existing adult e-bike riders said it was the first time they’d done any form of cycling since childhood. At least 90% had a car licence and nearly 25% a motorcycle licence.
The most frequent motivations to start riding an e-bike were less effort to ride, commuting and climbing hills. The benefits from e-bikes included enjoyment, riding longer distances, exercise/fitness and being easier to ride after illness or injury.
E-bikes are heavier and have a higher centre of gravity than conventional bicycles, which might increase the likelihood of a fall. Riders should also be careful with their speed approaching bends and turns, and when riding on gravel.
We tested five e-bikes that would be suitable for beginners. Four of them use a 250-watt motor in a pedal-assist set-up as allowed in the road rules. These require pedalling for the motor to operate, with the power cutting out at 25km/h.
The BH Emotion supplied by Dolomiti was designed as an e-bike with an integrated battery and rear-hub motor. It was quite a refined bike that was easy to ride. The wide range of gears to make pedalling easy and a hub dynamo to power the lights mean the bike is still usable when the battery is flat. This refinement comes at a high price, though: $3399.
The rEVva7 from REV Electric Bikes is a conversion of a cruiser bike. The battery on the luggage rack powers a rear-hub motor. It has fat tyres and is a comfortable, relaxed ride with slightly out-there styling. As a conversion, these bikes are built to order by REV and can be customised. They start at $2200.
The Electric Bicycle Company’s Discovery has its battery integrated into the step-through frame. The Discovery we rode could be operated with either a motorcycle-style twist grip throttle or as pedal-assist. To ensure legality, the front-hub motor is only rated at 200W, however a 250W version is available without the throttle. The Discovery is $2199.
Power-Ped’s Sonata folding bike was the most affordable bike, at $1800, and also the most practical. The simple three-speed rear-hub gear mechanism and front-hub motor made for an uncomplicated bike that was easy to ride. The folding action was easy and the compact size helps with transporting or storing the bike. We’ve been told some owners of folding e-bikes park their cars in cheap spaces away from their destination then get an e-bike from the boot to finish their journey. Another potential audience is caravan and motorhome owners who want an easy way to move around once they’ve set up a site.
Reid Cycles supplied the Corratec Active with its Bosch crank-drive system. It was most like an ordinary bike in style and appearance and so felt easier to ride. The crank drive and internal eight-speed hub gear system reduce the greasy components, making it better for riding in pants. Like the BH, this smooth and well-specified bike comes at a premium cost, $3199.
When buying an e-bike it is important to do some research and ask questions of the retailer. Be sure you understand the quality of the bike and the motor, the type of battery and its life, and the after-sales support. Much of the cost is in the motor and battery and they should become cheaper as e-bike sales increase.
For more information and tips on buying an e-bike, battery tips, more reviews and e-bike related issues visit racv.com.au.
Discounts and Bike Assist
RACV members get discounts on e-bikes at selected retailers. Go to racv.com.au/sycas for more information.
RACV Bike Assist provides cover for e-bikes and bicycles.
Report: Blake Harris and Dave Jones Photos: Meredith O’Shea