The quiet e-bike revolution | RenewEconomy

The quiet e-bike revolution

While EVs dominate the headlines, a quiet revolution has been taking place and the fastest growing segment in the transport world now is e-bikes, or electric bicycles.


It seems every day we are seeing a new highlight in the Electric Vehicle space. Whether it is a new model or another City with a plan to phase out fossil fuelled vehicles, there is no doubt the momentum for EVs and autonomous vehicles is building.

However, in the background a quiet revolution has been taking place. The fastest growing segment in the transport world now is e-bikes, or electric bicycles.

As with many things, China is the biggest market with an estimated 30 million sold in 2016, compared to the rest of the world selling around 4 million, according to Navagant Research.

In 2017 e-bike sales in much of the EU had double digit growth with the standout, Italy by 50%. Germany had 19% growth for a total of 720,000 sales.

It appears e-bikes are popular across demographic groups with the younger generation possibly eschewing driving or car ownership in favour of an e-bike.

A small US study found “According to our survey result, e-bikes users are more likely to use them for utilitarian purposes than conventional bikes, especially people who own both e-bike and bicycles. We think e-bike users tended to replace car trips.”

Older cyclists are also taking to e-bikes as a way of exercising later in life when a “normal” bicycle could be difficult due to joint pain.

And this is where my introduction to e-bikes started. Getting on a bit and wanting to make shorter trips around my neighbourhood using a more environmentally friendly mode of transport as well as continuing my almost life long past time of cycling piqued my interest in a little electrical assistance.

If money is no object then, even in Australia, there is a plethora of choices. Ranging from around $1200 for a basic e-bike off the shelf to an off road beast for $8000 or even more.

Being “careful” with my money, I was keen to find a way of affordably moving into the e-bike realm. I had a look at pre-loved e-bikes but quickly realised most had older and heavier battery technology and realised I didn’t have the skills to fix any electrical issues.

My search turned to D.I.Y.  e-bike kits. There are two main types of motor. Hub motors, which are fitted into the front or back wheel (sometimes both) or mid drive motors, which are located in the bottom bracket of the frame, where the pedals are.

Both have their pros and cons and their fans but I opted for a mid drive motor given the alleged robustness, efficiency and low centre of gravity.

E-bike rules and regulations

Before I go on, a bit of a tutorial on the legalities of e-bikes might be in order. In the EU and most Australian States an e-bike can be legally used on shared paths and in bike lanes if it is classified as a Pedelec.

To be classified as a Pedelec it must have Pedal Assist (PAS). Meaning the electrical motor only operates when the pedals are turning.

The motor must only provide continuous power equal to or less than 250Watts and the motor will cut out at 25km/h. If an e-bike only has a throttle, no pedals, it is limited to 200Watts. Check your State regulations as they can differ.

Although 250Watts should be ample for most people on flattish terrain, those with a long steep climb or hauling any weight may be found wanting more.

The 25 km/h cut off, in my humble opinion, is a serious disincentive for trained cyclists and fast commuters, who can easily sustain speeds of 30 km/h without any assistance.

California has recently passed some more tolerant laws around the speed of pedelecs allowing 28MPH (45km/h) in bike lanes and on roads but limiting them to 20MPH (32km/h) on shared paths.

The EU has also introduced a new category of S-Pedelec. S for speed!

However the EU have stipulated S-Pedelec riders need a moped type helmet, license, insurance and no bike lane use.

Hopefully the Californian example will make its way to Australia one day.

So you should be fairly certain any e-bike you buy in Australia will comply with your State regulations although proving or disproving the continuous power rating may be difficult.

However, if like me, you import a motor, you cannot be certain it will meet local regulations. You could try to ask your local e-bike shop to check the settings or you could de-tune the unit yourself with a $20 cable and free online software.

Or you could buy from an Australian based retailer and have them set the power and speed settings.

The Bafang BBS02 and BBSHD units are very popular due to the ease of installation for the end user and end user programming options. The BBS02 can be limited and marked as 250W.

The BBSHD is marketed as off road use only. A recent overhaul of the BBS02 means it should be a very robust motor. Luna Mate (Aust) currently has the BBS02 on sale for $659. You will also need a battery, cradle if you wish and charger so add another $700 maybe.

You will of course need a donor bike. I recommend something like a hard tail mountain bike or hybrid bike. Nothing fancy. I bought a flat bar road bike from Gumtree for $55 with clearance for fat tyres.

The added weight of the motor 5kg and battery 6kg makes for a very rough ride on skinny tyres so fat tyres are good and maybe some light front suspension.

Also, decent brakes: Cantilever or disc brakes will stop all that extra weight a bit quicker.  Do your homework on bottom bracket size and type and chain line.

Also, if you intend to use a down tube mounted battery, make sure it will fit in the triangle.  I’m comfortable pulling bikes to bits but not with electronics but this kit really is plug and play.

If need be, your local bike shop could help fitting the motor. So, for around $1500 you will have an e-bike as good as or better than some much more expensive brand name e-bikes. (Bosch, Panasonic)

My experience

Due to my paranoia about things breaking I opted for the allegedly sturdier and certainly heavier BBSHD. I should have done a bit more research on the battery but ended up getting a 48Volt 11.5ah down tube battery.

For most of my 54km regular round trip I leave the PAS setting on one of nine. This gives about 100 Watts of assistance which enables me to get a good workout and leaves plenty for the long haul up the hill near my house.

I’ve never gone to the low voltage cut off and usually have 4 of 5 bars left on the rudimentary fuel gauge/volt meter. I recharge at night and as far as I can tell, use about 300Watt hours per ride (15c per 54km).

The battery is now a year old and seems to be holding up OK with no noticeable loss of range (about 150km per week).

I’ve also found that I am now much more likely to use my e-bike for local shopping trips and longer commute type trips so I may actually be saving money on fuel compared to electricity and battery depreciation.

Is an e-bike for you?

If you want to reduce your driving, if you want to commute but don’t want to arrive sweaty, if you are getting on, like me, and want to stay active or if you just want to have some fun, an e-bike (or kit) might be for you.

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  1. David leitch 3 years ago

    I’ve done tons of cycling, from riding to school in the country until old enough to get a driving license to tours of tasmania, and the Danube with the family and riding to work for a decade in Sydney.

    The better built e bikes are terrific. We acquired a Kalkoff about 3 months ago and I’ve been very impressed by its integrated nature and practicality as a local transport source. However compared to my car it doesn’t have a remote controlled lock, which I’d like :=)

    I’d add that E bikes despite being safer going up hill, in hilly Northern Sydney, are still a material safety risk to their rider if used for commuting.

    • Joe 3 years ago

      The motor vehicles and their ‘pilots’ are always the worry on Aussie urban streets. I’m on the bicycle nearly everyday and there is a ‘near miss’ almost weekly thanks to ‘don’t care drivers’. I got hit 2 weeks before last Christmas by a driver that T-Boned me at a T-intersection. I’m still here but really I shouldn’t be. The cops were called but the rules are all changed now. Unless you are killed, no longer an official incident to be recorded on the police computers.

  2. Andy Bowe 3 years ago

    I purchased a Merida MTB ebike last November. Used for fun and commuting it is a real opener, being based on the Shimano pedal assist platform. Cant recommend ebikes enough as a great commuter option. Low energy use but agree public provided bike locking stations would be great.

    • Ian 3 years ago

      I have been wanting to get an ebike, but am put off by the stupid 250W power limit. Mountain biking seems the go in Europe with suspension bikes able to do wheel stands up hill. Go further, faster and longer without getting a sweat. Cycle on the sand like the wind is behind your back and on a down hill!

      • Peter Campbell 3 years ago

        Bear in mind that 250W is the sort of power output that a very fit cyclist can manage to sustain. Consequently, this is the sort of power input that bicycle parts are designed to handle. I don’t think the 250W power limit is unreasonable on a bicycle, especially as you have the 250W motor plus whatever your legs can manage. If you want a bicycle to do a lot more, then the whole package should be re-engineered for higher power and then you have a motorbike. Nothing wrong with electric motorbikes but they are a different thing.

        • George Darroch 3 years ago

          Agree with this. 250W sustained is a very fit cyclist, 300-350W sustained is a world-class cyclist, and anything above these can only be maintained for short periods of time (a top sprinter can hold 1kW for a few seconds). Given that even a small woman with low-moderate fitness can add 50W to the motor’s effort you’ve got more than enough.

          Plus, it limiting the power actually encourages people to use them as pedal-assist bicycles, even uphill.

        • Ian 3 years ago

          There is a difference between design criteria and legal limits. You may be right that for normal street use 250W on a light street bike is okay, but for mountain biking far more robust designs are required to handle rough down hill slopes. You have got to look at the Bosch ebike web site to see the sorts of terrain people in Europe enjoy. Granted there may be a continuum of design possibilities from bicycle through to motorbike, but 250W is too restrictive for the pedelec.

          • As it should be 3 years ago

            Just how much range does a typical ebike have?

  3. im lost 3 years ago

    Sadly the Lycra bicycle mafia looks down on eBike users and eBike equipment

    • George Darroch 3 years ago

      Most don’t really care. Just don’t log your rides on Strava!

      More bikes means safer drivers, which is good for everyone.

      • Swingeing Voter 3 years ago

        I’m a daily commuter on a (non-electric) flat bar bike and I also enjoy bunch rides on my road bike. Not sure if that makes me part of the Lycra mafia, but I couldn’t care less if you’re riding an e-bike or not: more people riding, more of the time, that’s the goal. E-bikes open up utility and recreational cycling to a lot more people, and that can only be good.

    • Rod 3 years ago

      I always apologise when I overtake them (out of guilt) and I never chase in a higher PAS. I do shift to higher PAS if they try to stick to my tail though.

      • Joe 3 years ago

        ‘PAS’…its cheating….isn’t it We don’t need another cheating scandal. There maybe a place for ebikes but I’m not trading in my faithful ‘pushbikes’ just yet. I’m getting older (still a spritely 60 something ), I’m getting a little slower but I’m not ready to give up the ‘100% human power mode’ just yet….the ebike will have to wait just a little longer.

        • Rod 3 years ago

          If you are riding the Tour De France, PAS would be cheating.
          I haven’t traded in my pushbikes. Both of them are high end aluminium with carbon addons and aero carbon rims. But both of them are covered in spider webs and dust since the e-bike joined the stable. E-bikes are that addictive! And if e-bikes encourage people to ride longer, more often and leave the car at home, they should be encouraged.

          • Joe 3 years ago

            Biker Rod, keep on riding.

    • Tom 3 years ago

      The Lycra mafia staff most bike shops too, so getting quality information about e-bikes for sale from a bike shop is about as easy as getting quality information about an EV for sale from an ICE car dealership.

  4. Finn Peacock 3 years ago

    Pedal assist e-bikes are the future. This has replaced my car for most trips:

  5. Radbug 3 years ago

    Wait for it, lithium sulphur/lithium air are coming. 1Ah/cm2 energy densities are just around the corner, versus 0.2Ah/cm2 for lithium-ion. That’s up to 5 times the range plus much more umph !

    • Tom 3 years ago

      I hope you’re right.

    • francis smith 3 years ago

      Will make electric light sports aircraft a possibility 100kg battery 100kWh storage that’s about 3 hours endurance for 600kg 2 seat aircraft, saying that I own 1kW mountain bike & 500W everyday ride to the train station

  6. Rusdy Simano 3 years ago

    I hope the quiet revolution is keep going in faster pace. Reducing car use is the only way forward for true sustainability and economic equality. This is where the true challenge for Australia, where the general public loves car too much, and the government and local municipalities simply follow through by building cities that rely on cars too much. I myself use eBike in the last 4 years:

  7. Ian 3 years ago

    Hand controlled 200W motors do not cut off at 25km/h. It is only 250W Pedelecs that are required to do so. My desire is for a paved rail trail to work and a 200W assist velomobile to commute the 40km journey.

  8. Dean Waring 3 years ago

    They have a motor ….. They are a MOTORBIKE make them pay rego

    • Ian 3 years ago

      Make motor vehicle drivers wear a helmet.

      • Joe 3 years ago

        Ian, spot on. Why exactly are mv drivers exempted from wearing the helmie. I guess the logic must be that mv drivers don’t suffer head injuries in a crash.

    • Peter Campbell 3 years ago

      If an electric bike has more than the 250W limit then it is a motorbike that is already the situation. Under that limit, it really is pedal-assistance that takes the edge of hills. For every person on a bicycle there is one more parking space when you get to your destination and cleaner air for you to breath. Be grateful!
      If rego must be paid, let it be in proportion to the societal costs imposed via air pollution and weight on the road. The administrative cost would be more than the few cents that would be the fair pro-rata amount to charge. Indeed the cyclist is likely to have paid rego on a car they are not using when on the bike. If anything they might be due a partial refund!

      • francis smith 3 years ago

        you are an idiot, cut the crap get people away from cars

        • Peter Campbell 3 years ago

          Pardon? I was responding to DW’s assertion that motor assisted bicycles should pay rego, which I disagreed with. I thought I was writing in favour of cyclists and bicycles, with or without pedal assistance motors.

    • Rod 3 years ago

      Maybe you should have capitalised THEM as you seem to be projecting.
      18 reasons why registering bicycles is stupid.

      • Peter Campbell 3 years ago

        There are only 18 reasons?

        • Rod 3 years ago

          I’m sure we could think of 50 more but THEY usually have very short attention spans. Especially where facts are involved.

    • Ryan 3 years ago

      And mobility scooters have motors too. I guess that means that mobility scooters are just like a tesla model s requiring rego!

      • Joe 3 years ago

        Deano’s logic would say…yes….and make the ‘pilot’ wear a helmie as well!

  9. joeaverage21 3 years ago

    I built an ebike around the BBSHD for the same reasons – durability. I live in a very hilly part of the Appalachians (other side of the ocean) and biking just isn’t a happy activity here without the motor past a certain age. Commuting isn’t fun without a motor anyhow b/c its difficult to arrive at work in presentable condition during hot weather.

    Let me make the suggestion that you replace your 46T front sprocket with the 42T or even the 36T sprocket available on the web if you live in a hilly place.

    I gained a better chain line and more power as well. I expect the battery charge to last longer b/c the motor won’t be straining as much too.

    I love having an ebike.

    • Rod 3 years ago

      Totally agree on an aftermarket chainring for the BBSHD.
      I went with the Lekkie bling ring and chain drops are now history.

  10. Vik 3 years ago

    I was looking for cheaper options on ebikes (non DIY) and found a brand called nishiro selling on major sites like ebay and kogan. The black option looks pretty good and much cheaper than other ebikes. Just wondering if anyone has used this brand before and if they’re any good?

  11. Richard Hayes 3 years ago

    China sells over 20 million e-bikes a year.

    China totally dominates e-vehicles of every description

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