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Everything you need to know before buying an e-bike

How do e-bikes work?

The first thing to know about e-bikes is that they operate like ordinary pedal-powered bicycles. The key difference between e-bikes and regular bikes is that e-bikes have a battery and an electric motor that offers assistance, reducing the effort required for pedaling. This usually makes your journey quicker than on a traditional bike. 

Keep in mind, though, that an e-bike’s electric motor won’t do the work for you. Unlike e-scooters, which engage a throttle after initial kick-off to keep you moving, e-bikes assist the effort you put into every pedal stroke. It’s where the term “electric-assist” comes from.

Types of e-bikes

E-bike popularity has skyrocketed in recent years. Originally limited to city bikes, the range of e-bike options available is now broad and diverse.

Many riders are beginning to go electric — especially road cyclists and mountain bikers who can benefit from a little electric assistance when conquering long journeys or rugged terrain. As a result, new categories have emerged that include e-road, e-gravel, and e-mountain bikes designed to look like traditional bikes (with motors and batteries built in).

Of course, there are plenty of e-bikes designed specifically for urban landscapes and city commutes. These “city” e-bikes (sometimes called “cruiser bikes”) come in many different models. Some have standard frames, others have step-through frames that make getting on easier. Some even come with built-in compartments for purses and packages — these are known as cargo e-bikes.

City e-bike features flat handlebars and a more relaxed seating position, compared to specialty and enthusiast-type bikes. And while they’re called “city bikes,” they’re just as capable of hitting country roads in and between rural towns.

If you prioritize portability, a folding e-bike is a great option. Folding e-bikes feature motor systems specially designed to fit within smaller frames. They are super portable and easy to stow, making them great alternatives for commuters who need to bring their e-bikes onto public transportation or have to store them away in tight spaces.

At the end of the day, choosing the best e-bike comes down to what you plan to use it for and whether you’re prioritizing speed, power, comfort, or portability. Jolta offers a wide variety of e-bikes you can select from, tailored to all kinds of activities and lifestyles, so you’re bound to find the perfect fit no matter what.

Motor types – frame and hub

E-bike motors are either fitted into the bike frame’s central structure or in the hub of one of the bike’s wheels. There are pros and cons to each positioning, but you can achieve a quality ride with both. 

Frame-mounted motors are the most common across e-bike models. One could argue that this kind of motor mount is “smarter,” because it measures your effort with each pedal stroke and can adjust assistance accordingly depending on your chosen assistance setting (more on that later). The ability to adjust assistance based on the rider’s pedal effort also boosts efficiency and preserves battery life, as the motor only offers help when it’s needed.

Just bear in mind that frame-mounted motors can require a little more maintenance than their hub-motor counterparts.

Some hub motors are mounted onto the e-bike’s rear wheel. This kind of motor system is popular in e-road bikes and some city e-bikes for aesthetic reasons, since the motor placement at the bike’s rear-wheel hub makes it inconspicuous.

Also, the rear structure is usually the strongest part of an bike’s frame, and since most of the rider’s weight pushes down onto the rear wheel, it benefits from added traction. All of this fuel the power of a rear-wheel motor. The con is that the motor placement can make removing the rear wheel to fix a puncture or change a tire can be difficult.

Motors placed at the bike’s front-wheel hub are different. Unlike rear-hub motors, front-hub motors aren’t directly attached to the pedaling drivetrain. Instead, they need to be “pushed” to activate assistance. This can create the impression that the motors are pulling the bike in response to the rider’s pedaling efforts.

Front-hub motors are common among more economic bikes. They also may provide better weight distribution, especially in models that feature batteries mounted in the middle or at the rear of the e-bike. Better weight distribution can improve ride handling.

Batteries

A battery’s intended use will determine its dimensions. Small batteries that have been wholly or partially integrated into the bike frame are usually popular among mountain bikers and road cyclists, because they deliver great performance and are less conspicuous. Urban commuters are better served by larger batteries that are more functional, and that attach outside the frame or fit into custom pannier racks.

While the ideal size, form, and features of a battery will vary depending on what type of e-bike you’re planning to get, capacity should be a top priority when evaluating options. If you’ll be completing long trips, or think you’ll need to rely more heavily on pedal assistance because you live in a hilly area, you’ll want to go for a battery with larger capacity or an e-bike that features extendable or swappable battery packs. 

Battery capacity is measured in amp hours. Just remember that the higher the number, the better the battery’s capacity and range.

Jolta’s collection of e-bikes features all kinds of battery types. Just check the product pages for information on the e-bike’s battery type and power capacity.

Mode

E-bike motor systems often feature a range of power settings. These can be toggled between low, medium, high, and sometimes even a ‘max’ setting (although this varies depending on your bike’s models and motor systems). Some e-bikes only have two settings, while others have five or more.

However, don’t let the number of modes be the primary factor influencing your decision when purchasing an e-bike. Just choose a bike that lets you switch between modes easily on the go through a control interface. As you get the hang of your bike, you’ll get a better grasp of what modes work best for you on a daily basis. You might even find you rarely need to use the “max” setting, because a lower power mode setting works well on most of your rides.

E-bikes should come with handlebar- or frame-mounted control units. Some, however, pair with smartphone apps that offer the same functionality as well as ride metrics (like mileage, range, etc.). These apps might even offer tips on improving your range, in addition to running system diagnostics and updates to your e-bike’s firmware. The bike’s control unit and app will also showcase battery life at any given time. Some even predict the range you have left.

E-Bike laws and regulations

Before buying an e-bike, take some time to understand your state’s e-bike laws. They are meant to keep you and those around you safe. They may vary from state to state and can inform where you ride, what gear you need, specific bike attributes, and more. Understanding and following these rules and regulations will help you avoid fines while keeping you and others safe.

Browse regulations by state here:

Cost and value

E-bikes tend to be more expensive than ordinary bikes because of the cost of the motor systems and electronics they come with. The main factors that influence cost are:

Motor specs, Mechanical components (the non-motorized parts), Battery capacity, The reputation of the e-bike’s manufacturer, The material of the frame

Although e-bikes may seem expensive, consider the cost against the cost of your current transportation and travel habits. Calculate how much you currently spend on public transportation or fuel and weigh those costs against the cost of purchasing an e-bike. You might find that the cost of the e-bike is actually cheaper than what you’d be spending on other modes of transportation over time. You’ll also enjoy additional benefits, like being outside, staying relatively active, and contributing environmentally.