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)
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.