What’s the deal with e-bikes?
Electric bicycles, or “e-bikes” are all the rage today! Why? Battery and electric motor tech has advanced to the point where you can travel up to 22 miles per hour for 40-60 miles. In some places, folks have sold their cars! I’m thinking about it too.
First and foremost, an e-bike is a bicycle. You can pedal – if you want. And you should. That gives you exercise. Keeps your muscles moving and your blood pumping. Plus, you’re in the sun, not hidden in a car. Sunlight on your skin produces natural Vitamin D, a necessary vitamin most couch jockeys or vampires don’t have enough of. And you’re helping slow the spread of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Yes, there’s CO2 produced when making electricity. But riding an e-bike produces nowhere near the amount of CO2 a single car will make.
Electric bikes: The 2022 buying guide for adults 40+
Most e-bikes fall into one of 3 categories that are known as “classes.” Most US states have agreed on a common system of three classes: Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3. But, states will be states, and these classes differ slightly across states and manufacturers' websites. Check your state and local laws if you're concerned. You don’t want to get pulled over for doing 20 in a school zone on your e-bike. Now that would be embarrassing.
Class 1 e-bikes are limited to a top speed of 20 miles per hour, and the electric motor works only when the rider is pedaling.
Class 2 e-bikes are also limited to a top speed of 20-22 miles per hour, but they have throttles that work when you're not pedaling, as well as an optional pedal assist, like Class 1.
A throttle is what you’ll find on a motorcycle or gas scooter – you twist the handle to apply power. The more you twist, the more power you get. The most popular seems to be the half-twist, meaning it only requires minimal hand movement for full throttle. Full throttle is also available but requires more turning for more power. And the thumb throttle is typically a half twist with a fancy attachment for your thumb to control it. Personally, I like the half twist.
In most places, you can legally ride a Class 1 or Class 2 anywhere a non e-bike can ride, including bike trails and most sidewalks in Florida. But – again, check your local ordinances. Remember – ignorance is not a valid defense in traffic court.
Now here’s where it gets murky. Class 3 e-bikes can go up to 28 miles per hour and must have a speedometer, but may or may not have a throttle. Some states won’t allow Class 3 e-bikes to have throttles because they’re too fast. And in some other states, throttles are allowed as long as they only get up to 20 miles per hour. This limit can be set by the manufacturer, and easily overridden by a savvy Googler. Some states will let you take Class 3 e-bikes on bike paths or on multiuse trails shared with pedestrians, and other states say nope.
Most of the popular e-bikes you’ll see are either Class 2 or 3. I have a Class 1, and now that I’ve been spoiled by a throttle, to be honest, it’s hard to go back to Class 1. I might give it to my 20 year-old and not tell him it’s an e-bike. SHHHH!
Before buying an e-bike, you've got some decisions to make. Like, where are you going to ride?
Be real. I’m sure we’ve all rode a mountainbike on an actual mountain at one time or another. But, if you’re 80 years old and live in Florida, where there um aren’t any mountains, you probably don’t need a e-mountain bike. The more capabilities, the more you’re going to pay. So identify where you want to ride this beast, and what you’ll primarily use it for. Will you ride to work and back? To the local floozy’s apartment? To the quiet park to feed the alligators? Yes, that’s actually a thing here. Around the neighborhood? Up crazy steep hills? On soft dirt trails? This will help you determine what class of e-bike and the power you’ll need to make you happy.
Once you've figured out where you’re going to ride off into the sunset. Actually, that’s important too. You’ll need lights if you’re going to ride at night.
So how far is this place you’re typically going to ride to? Don’t forget – it’s a round trip, so multiply the distance by 2. I always forget to do that. And add a reasonable buffer in there in case you change your mind and want to venture a little further when you’re comfortable on your e-bike.
This will give you the estimated range you should look for in an e-bike. The range is calculated by multiplying the Volts of the battery, typically 36 or 48, by the Amp Hours of the battery, which can vary widely. This will give you WATT-HOURS. With a little math, you can guesstimate that riding full throttle, with no pedaling, at the maximum e-bike power, will give you an hour of riding, per watt-hour. It’s a little confusing, and there are other variables that can affect range, like temperature, tire pressure, your weight, wind, how much you pedal, inclines of any hills, et cetera. You can see how range can become a tricky word problem.
Most manufacturers will guess on the total estimated range. Many e-bikes will roll somewhere between 25-50 miles between battery charges. They tend to over-estimate, so keep that in mind. It sounds like a lot, but once you hit that Class 3 throttle and hack your controller to 28 miles per hour, you’ll have travelled 28 miles. In an hour. And if your bike runs out of battery, you’ll be pedaling home for six miles at about 10 miles per hour, which will now feel like you’re crawling. Obviously, that’s oversimplified, but I think you get my gist. You’ve got some homework to do.
Look for a non-proprietary battery that uses cells made by a well-known company like LG or Samsung. This way you’ll know the cells are made correctly and are less likely to catch on fire. Lithium ion technology is safe, powerful and has no memory effect, so most newer e-bikes are
using these batteries.
If you plan to ride beyond the bike’s recommended range, you can purchase a second battery that you can swap out when necessary, so ake sure the battery is removable. And, if you plan to keep your bike for more than two years, it’s good to have the capability to replace the battery when necessary. Most batteries are rated at well over 500 full charges, but this can vary based on usage, storage, temperature, and a number of other factors. The bigger the battery, the higher the cost. Don’t buy more than you really need.
The other factor in range is, yes, the size of your motor. And gentlemen, here’s where size does matter. Or it could be argued it depends how you use it, but again, I digress. And don’t ever make the mistake of calling a motor and “engine.” Man, some mechanic let me have it when I did that. It’s kind of like calling a cruise ship a boat. But, I do that on purpose.
So, motors. You’ll see motors from 250 Watt all the way up to a ridiculous 1500 Watts. The bigger the motor, the more torque you’ll have, and faster your bike can travel. But there are tradeoffs to bigger motors: bigger battery requirements, a lot more weight to the e-bike, and bigger motors are more expensive. If you’re cruising the neighborhood and local parks, and your area is pretty flat, like mine, a 500 Watt motor Class 2 e-bike will comfortably take you up to about 22 miles per hour for a really good range. If you’re serious about really riding a bike on mountains, which is kind of nuts, or if you have very steep inclines in your hood, like some of the neighborhoods outside of Las Vegas, you might need the additional torque a 750 or 1000 Watt motor will give you to make it up those hills. And remember, what goes up, must come down. Make sure you’ve got good disc brakes. These come standard on most newer e-bikes.
When you’re pedaling an e-bike, and you turn on the pedal assist feature, there are two ways your e-bike’s computer guesses how much power to provide to help you along. Cadence sensing uses magnets to track how fast you’re pedaling, and provides power based on that speed. Torque sensing, found on some $3000+ bikes, is more expensive because it tries to track how hard you are pedaling. The harder you pedal, the more motor help it gives you. Most newer sub $2000 bikes use cadence sensing, and manually offset the amount of help it gives you by asking you what pedal assist level you’d like to use. Many bikes have PAS settings from 0-3 or 0-5. A lower PAS setting means it’ll help you get to a certain speed based on how fast you’re pedaling, and then stop providing motor power until you pedal like crazy again.
Many manufacturers don’t disclose if you have cadence or torque sensing. Assume it’s cadence if it’s not clear. There’s nothing wrong with cadence. All my bikes have cadence sensors. But, you’ll run into some e-bike snobs at e-bike meetups who will thumb their torquey noses at you for having a cadence sensor. You can laugh to yourself knowing these snobs probably have tiny d--- disc brakes. Again, I digress. Are my digressions getting worse the further we go into this thing? Never mind.
Many e-bikes come standard with front fork suspension, which helps avoid scrambling your brains when you run over something lumpy. But a short moment later, when your rear wheel hits lumpy, your brains will end up getting scrambled anyway. Fortunately, I don’t have many brains left to scramble, so that. So front and rear suspension is nice, and especially when you get into our age category. Some e-bikes will offer rear suspension in the form of actual shock absorbers on the rear wheel, others integrate it into the seat post. I have bikes with one or the other, and both work pretty well.
Your e-bike will probably come with a standard hard seat. Fortunately, my Himiway and KBO bikes came with something a little more cushy with a little gel in it. But you’ll find most people
upgrade their seats to one of those cushy Cloud 9 seats. They’re very nice, and not too pricey either. I’ll include a link in the comments somewheres.
For balance and aerodynamic reasons, mountain e-bikes and racing e-bikes tend to have handlebars that are at about the same height as the seat, which can be super uncomfortable on
longer rides. There are some models made specifically for cruising where the handlebars are adjustable or at a better height. There are extensions and third-party add-ons that can remedy that situation as well.
Some of mountain e-bike models are quite big, so people under 6 foot may have a problem riding some of these comfortably. Fortunately, there are several sizes to choose from, from 20” wheels all the way up to 29” wheels. The most common sizes are 20 and 27. If you’re less than 5’9”, a 20” e-bike is probably your best bet. Make sure the seat height is adjustable – some of the smaller cargo or mountain bikes have fixed seat heights that might end up being a twitch too high. Take a test ride at a local dealer if that’s an option.
And then there’s the step thru vs non step through option. Step-thrus lose that annoying bar you have to step over. They used to call step-thrus ‘girl bikes” because women used to have to wear dresses when riding bicycles in the old world. True story. Today, it doesn’t really matter. People who do deliveries and older folks like me who just don’t wanna kick our legs up that high anymore ride step thrus. There’s no difference functionally between a step through or a bike with a ball buster bar.
Most e=bikes are heavy! Two of mine with 750 Watt motors are over 80 pounds each! Sooner or later, you’ll probably need to lift that thing somewheres. If you want to hang your bike on a wall rack or on the back of a car or truck, standard bike racks are probably too weak to hold an e-bike safely. Check the weight limits of your rack. Most Class 2 and Class 3 e-bikes weigh somewhere between 50-70 pounds. There are some Class 1 models with smaller motors and batteries that weigh in at 35 pounds that will fit on most bike racks, and are easier to carry up stairs if you ever need to do that. I have a 35 pound Class 1 e-bike I keep in a closet just because I can.
If you want to tote your e-bike down the highway or across the causeway, you’ll need to lift that big boy into the back of your car or truck. Again, they’re heavy. Lift with your legs, and all that fun stuff. Use a ramp if you have one.
Some e-bikes are foldable, with a heavy duty steel hinge. That is super helpful for traveling with or storing your e-bike in smaller spaces. Most foldables are smaller ebikes, but there are full-size 27” ebikes that are foldable too.
And e-bikes are expensive, and there’s a high theft rate. So keep in mind you’ll need to store your e-bikes somewhere dry and secure. Chaining it up to your front gate won’t keep a dude with bolt cutters or a cordless drill from quickly popping your thousand dollar investment into his crappy old pickup. It happens. Keep it in a garage, or indoors if you have an apartment. I have two chains AND a stupid-loud motion sensor alarm on one of my e-bikes just for laughs.
Here’s the thing. E-bikes are still kind of a new thing. But all it takes is one idiot 20-something with a 1500 watt e-bike going wayyyy too fast on bike path who mows down a second grader and everything hits the fan. E-bikes are faster, so they’re harder to stop. There’s more chance of injury to you, and potentially someone else. Insurance underwriters won’t spend the time to look at something until they have to, and you really don’t want to be a guinea pig in a room filled with lawyers working against you, know what I’m saying?
An e-bike travelling 20-28 miles per hour assumes many of the same risks as motorcycles. We’re talking loose gravel. Potholes. Deer. So you’re probably going to need two types of insurance.
I pulled out my homeowners policy - under contents coverage… property not covered includes “any engine or motor propelled vehicle or machine, including the parts, designed for movement on land”. Coverage only extends if the vehicle or machine is used solely to service the property or assist the handicapped. So any motorized vehicle that’s not a wheelchair or lawnmower is not covered, and may be considered a moped or motorcycle. So if it’s stolen or damaged, sorry, it’s not covered.
In some states and in some policies, a Class 1 E-Bike with pedal assist only (like the KBO Hurricane) is still considered “just a bike” and is covered, even though the motor has a max of 20 mph like the Class 2. Remember, the difference is there’s no throttle.
Then there’s that big fat ugly liability monster.
If a kid or dog runs out in front of my throttle bike, I probably have zero liability insurance coverage under my homeowners or auto policies and could be liable for damages of tens of thousands or even more.
Since e-bikes are still so new, the current catch-all solution is to purchase motorcycle coverage for liability. If you want to be covered for theft, damage, medical, uninsured motorist or underinsured motorist, that would probably be additional.
Rules do vary widely from state-to-state and even carrier-to-carrier, so check with your state and agent, and protect yourself - don’t ever accept a vague answer. Make him earn his commission.
Check the warranty period before you buy. Things happen no matter what company you choose, and yes, even the “American e-bike companies” that are really front-ends to Chinese manufacturing. Most reputable companies offer a two-year warranty on parts only. Labor is typically on you simply because of logistics. It’s a little hard to get a bike to a service center in China and back. E-bikes typically make a permanent one-way trip. That’s the advantage of spending a little more and working with a local brick and mortar store.
If you’re handy and can replace parts yourself, you won’t have to worry about local service. Some of these parts including the motor can be very intricate and may need to be completely disassembled. Oh yeah, I’ve heard some stories. So make sure there’s a qualified or authorized local e-bike service center or person in your area. For a myriad of reasons, many old-school bicycle shops won’t work on e-bikes they don’t sell, so don’t assume they will.
If you end up ordering online, that’s cool too. There are some really good deals online. But do your homework, and find one of these resellers who has been around a few years, a good reputation, and proven customer service. A few companies have phone numbers that ring in China, and there’s a huge language barrier. Look for someone who has North American support just in case something goes wrong. There are a ton of horror stories on social media, yes, even from the supposed “American” e-bike companies, so join some of the groups and do your homework.
It’s 2022, and we’re still dealing with manufacturing and shipping delays, so the bike you want may not be available for several months. If you don’t like to wait, like me, you might have to compromise on the brand, features, or color. Or check for used bikes locally. People are always changing their minds and most folks won’t keep a spare e-bike laying around. There are some great deals on slightly used e-bikes. I bought my first e-bike used – it had 3 miles on it. The person who bought it just didn’t like it. 500 miles later, it’s still great.
I’ve seen e-bikes on Amazon for as little as $500, and ads show up in my socials for a Jeep- or Mercedes branded bike for as high as $10,000. Your budget will be a large part of your deciding factor. But I can tell you there are some very good Class 2 and Class 3 e-bikes in the sub - $2000 range. If it’s your first e-bike, it’s probably a good idea to start with a less expensive brand or model to see if it’s for you. If not, return shipping is very expensive, but it’ll be easier to locally sell a lower priced e-bike. And again, check your local ads for slightly used bikes.
OK! That’s my thesis. What did you think? I’m sure you have more questions now than you did when we started, and that’s good. You’re thinking. Information is power!
One of our favorite e-bikes is the KBO Breeze step-thru. There’s also a KBO Breeze that’s not a step thru.
What makes a bike a step-thru bike one is the absence of the top tube in the electric bike frame. Originally produced for women who were forced to wear dresses while they ride bikes back in the day, true story, this kind of frame makes it easier for a rider to get on or get off by simply stepping through the curved frame of the bike. Step-through bikes are great for older people who find it difficult to lift their legs too. It’s also better for delivery peeps who have to jump off their bikes very frequently because of the parcels they carry easier. Straight up, I’m a pretty manly man, and I still prefer the step thru.
Battery life is one of the biggest advantages of a KBO bike. There’s an in-frame, removable 48V, 16Ah Lithium-ion Battery with Samsung/LG Cells. You want a major manufacturer to produce the cells for safety and reliability. The 768Wh capacity battery gives you from 30-ish up to 55 miles of riding on a single charge, depending on how much you pedal, how much you weigh, and the kind of terrain you’re riding through. Obviously, a 250 pound Bubba riding up steep hills with throttle only is going to eat a lot more power than a 100 pound Sally pedaling on a flat Florida sidewalk.
This baby is rated for 900 full charge cycles. You could legit charge it every single day for about three years. But you won’t need to. Even I don’t work on weekends or Christmas.
Plus, with KBO’s Quick & Smart 48V 3 Amp Charger, it only takes 5 hours to fully charge the battery, which shortens the time between riding for those extra long commutes.
The motor is a sustained 500W brushless geared hub motor with 750 Watt peak power. This will allow you to ride sidewalks, into the wind, uphill, and even on some dirt roads - just like the breeze. Get it?
Like a motorcycle, there’s a Twist Throttle on the Right Handlebar. Gently twist the throttle on your right hand to accelerate.
Shimano is the industry standard in bike gears. The Shimano 7 speed gear shifter allows you to change the gears for adapting to different terrains on-demand. Set it to one or two to start out, and kick it up to 7 when you’re at full speed.
And when you need to stop, the disc brake system with dual 180mm disc rotors can provide sufficient braking force even in the harshest conditions. This thing stops on a dime, wet or dry. I didn’t even need to adjust it out of the box. Plus, there’s a cool safety feature. The brake levers automatically cut power to the motor. So, if you’re nervous or skeptical at any time, like waiting at a busy intersection, hold the brake levers and the motor won’t work even if you twist the throttle.
The super strong, solid aluminum Large-payload Rear Rack can carry your groceries, your lunchbox, your pet, or even your kid with the right accessories. And it’s included on KBO bikes. LOVE that.
The standard super bright LED headlight makes riding at night safer, allowing vehicles to see you, and you to see them. The rear light is also an integrated brake light. The rear brake light will light up when you brake during your ride.
The bike seat is a sturdy and comfortable saddle that reduces the feeling of bumps while riding on the road. You can move the saddle up and down as well as back and forth to make adjustments to fit your comfort. Honestly, there’s an interesting vibration from the motor in this seat that I think Felicia will definitely appreciate, if you know what I mean. It’s kinda like a massage if you get my drift. Heck, I even enjoyed it.
The aluminum alloy front suspension fork has 80mm of travel. It has a good damping effect to reduce the feeling of bumps when riding on rough roads.
There is no rear suspension, but you can get a seat post that’ll do that for you if you need one. It’s honestly not bad without it.
The 27.5” by 2.4” wide tires are made of high-quality materials that are resistant towards punctures from sharp materials. They’re a bit wider than typical bike tires, which makes your commuting journey more steady and smooth.
The LCD Backlit Display is where it all happens. Here, you’ll set and see your battery level, pedal assist level from 0 to 5, speed, odometer, and trip meter too. You can even hack into the controls and increase the maximum speed from 22 MPH to whatever the motor will do. Honestly, 22 MPH is pretty darn fast. But if you wanna get crazy, that’s on you.
And KBO includes full aluminum alloy fenders to protect you from water and mud. And a pretty beefy rust resistant kickstand too.
Range 30~55 Miles
Total Payload Capacity 300 lbs
Recommended Rider Heights 5'2" ~ 6'3"
Pedal Assist 0~5 level
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