What to ask before buying an electric bike

Woman riding an e bike


Posted October 04, 2023


Considering adding an electric bike (e-bike) to your household? Here's everything to know about owning an e-bike, from how they work to how to charge.

Across Australia, e-bikes are fast gaining popularity. Around 75,000 e-bikes were sold in 2021, up from around 9,000 in 2017, as consumers and bike riders cotton on to the many benefits of e-bikes over a traditional bike, while still enjoying the outdoor activity or pastime of cycling. 

If you’re looking to start riding to work, to use the car less and save money at the bowser, you’re taking part in Biketober or simply want to know if you should add an e-bike to your collection, here’s what to know about e-bikes.

How to buy the best electric bike

What is an e-bike?

Fundamentally, an e-bike is a broad term used to describe any conventional pedal bicycle with an electric assistance motor fitted. An e-bike looks like a normal pushbike, and handles and brakes the same, but when there’s a hill between the rider and the destination, the rider can dial up on pedal assistance using electric power. 

How is an e-bike powered?

An electric lithium battery pack clips into the bike (typically on the frame tubes or the pack-rack) and can be charged up at home on a normal power-point over a few hours, or on a portable electric charging pack. Once fully charged, most e-bikes will give you a range of between 40 - 60kms per recharge.

While a rider can vary the amount of assistance the motor provides from zero to flat out, legally, an e-bike’s motor can only go up to 25km/h. A rider can still pedal faster if they have the energy, but not by using the motor. 

Why would I want an e-bike?

By adding a small electric motor to the equation, an e-bike allows you to travel over hillier terrain, into a headwind, can be easier to take off from a stopped position, or can simply get you through a longer journey at a quicker pace than you might have done on your own pedal-power.

Additionally, riding an e-bike can have lifestyle benefits, from saving on tolls and parking, to getting out of congestion and involving your daily exercise into your commute.

For some, the thought of having an electric motor to help you up that last hill on the way to or from work will be enough incentive to begin or return to riding with an e-bike. Plus, if you want to arrive at your destination without raising a sweat, an e-bike lets you hop straight off your bike and into an office or cafe. 

If your house has solar panels, a storage battery, or is connected to any other renewable energy source, you can also use this to recharge your e-bike straight from home. 

woman riding an e bike

An electric bike can assist with riding on hilly or rugged terrain without breaking a sweat. Image: Getty

What are the road rules for e-bikes?

In Victoria, e-bikes are classified under the same rules for riding a bicycle. This includes rules such as wearing a helmet, where riding is permissible, and using a reflector light for riding at night.

Do I still need to pedal on an e-bike?

The law limits e-bikes to 250 watts, although there’s also a class of e-bikes that have slightly less power at 200 watts. In the case of the 200-watt version, you can have a hand throttle, which controls the electric motor. If you opt for the more powerful 250-watt version, the law requires that the electric motor can’t help you unless you’re actually pedalling yourself.

In either case, you can dial up or down the amount of assistance the motor provides. More assistance means your battery will be used quicker; less assistance means more range and a better physical workout. But even with the motor helping you along, you’ll still get plenty of exercise on an e-bike, as well as lots of fresh air and potentially reducing your reliance on a car.

How much is an e-bike?

Because e-bikes contain a motor and a battery, they typically cost more than your regular bicycle. Prices can differ greatly depending on whether you're looking for a child or adult-sized e-bike, and one that is entry level, to a high-end e-bike with a larger capacity battery and more features. 

E-bikes are available for kids, with prices starting around $400 for your basic model. For adults, electric bikes in Australia can range between $800 - $12,000, with your cheaper model containing a basic bike and battery, a mid-range including better battery power, wheel guards and a better design, and the more expensive range adding in a powerful motor, battery, high-end design and other amenities. 

Where can I go on an e-bike?

As the rules for e-bikes and bicycles are the same, you have choice when it comes to riding your electric bicycle, as a motor may mean you can get to complete longer journeys in a shorter amount of time.

Head on one of Melbourne’s best bike trails, cycle on a regional Victorian biking tour, start riding to work or simply enjoy a leisurely ride on your e-bike on a shared bike path or bike lane. 

Whichever e-bike you choose, remember that it still needs regular charging, maintenance and servicing to keep you and others safe on your next ride. 

How do I charge an e-bike?

There are a few ways you can charge the battery of your e-bike. 

At your place of residence, you can charge your electric bike battery by plugging in the cable charger to a standard power point. Charge times will vary depending on your e-bike and battery, but a full charge can take from three to six hours. The distance you can travel after this largely depends on the bike and riding conditions. 

On the road, you can stop at a designated e-bike charging station, or carry a portable e-bike charger, which can vary on price, voltage, speed and size depending on your purchase.

As with any electric device that requires charging, always practice safe charging behaviours in the home.

Be prepared for bad weather, exhaustion and flat tyres.
Find out how RACV Bike Assist can give you peace of mind →