Buying an E-Bike

  1. Choosing a brand
  2. Choosing a motor
  3. Choosing a battery
  4. Choosing a power system
  5. Choosing the style
  6. Understanding bike components

1. Choosing a brand

Choosing a reputable brand gives you some assurance over quality and the availability of parts and support now and in the future. Many e-bike “brands” aren’t really brands at all - they are imported by people who’ve bought a bunch of bikes off the internet from an unknown factory in China and had a logo printed on them. Often they’ve specified a couple of standard bike components with their order to claim their product is “designed in New Zealand for our unique conditions”. You wouldn’t spend $1500 or $2000 on a TV from “John’s amazing televisions”, nor should you do that with an e-bike.

We see many customers who’ve purchased a cheap “Alibaba” e-bike that is no longer working. Usually we can’t help because the parts are specific to the bike and often the original importer is nowhere to be found.

Our tip: Google the brand name – if it’s sold in other countries, has positive reviews on independent sites and the company that has been around a while, it’s probably a reputable brand rather than one “John” has invented.

Kreidler E-Bikes | Bottecchia E-Bikes

Bottecchia (founded in Italy, 1926) and Kreidler (Germany, 1888) – examples of brands that have a good trading history

2. Choosing a motor

Legally, e-bikes must be rated at 300W or less to be considered bicycles. Most bikes on the market are either 250W or 300W, and there is not a huge difference generally power-wise. Some importers even bring in more powerful motors and label them as “300W”, which can cause safety and legal issues. At electrify.nz we are always open and transparent about the true wattage of our bikes.

We sell all three main types of motor– front wheel hub motors, rear hub motors and mid-drive electric bikes. They all have their pros and cons and it depends on how you use your bike. For urban and rail trail riding, front hub drives generally work fine – the rider powers the rear wheel creating a dual wheel drive effect.

They’re not as good in very steep, slippery or loose terrain – rear wheel drives will get better traction. Rear hubs combined with rear-mounted batteries can however create an imbalanced bike. Mid-drives offer better efficiency and balance than hub motors, and are better for long, steep ascents. However, they often cost more and don’t have a throttle option. Our tip: Be wary of dealers who tell you ‘x’ type of motor is better than all others (which is usually because they specialise in type ‘x’). Try the different options and decide for yourself.

Front wheel hub drive on the Kreidler Vitality

Rear hub drive on the Magnum Ui5

Bosch mid drive on the Kreidler Eco

3. Choosing a battery

The battery is the most expensive component of an e-bike, and a part more likely to fail on a cheap e- bike. The cell manufacturer is an important consideration - Panasonic and Samsung are the two biggest producers of lithium cells and generally OK. However there are other electronics like the Battery Management System (BMS) that are also important and will be better if the bike itself is from a good brand. Some manufacturers will state very optimistic or unrealistic ranges for their bikes. A good rule of thumb is you’ll generally get 5km of riding per “amp hour” of battery (on an average level of assistance) i.e. expect a 10ah battery to do up to 50km.

It will be lower with a higher level of assistance. Ranges are generally better on mid-drives. Batteries are also measured in “watt hours” which is voltage (usually 36) times the number of amp hours. Dealers may try and “upsell” you on a big battery, but it adds weight and cost, so a good question to ask yourself is “what is the longest distance I am likely to ride in a day?” and get a battery that will do that. Our tip: Batteries that are positioned low and centrally on the bike (in the frame or behind the seatpost) offer better balance.

13ah frame mount battery on the Magnum Ui5

500wh Panasonic battery on the Bottecchia Kripton

4. Choosing a power system

The two main options for adding power to an ebike are throttle and “pedal assist”. Some bikes have only one of these, some have both. All are street-legal in New Zealand. A throttle-only bike gives more precise control over the amount of power but requires ongoing intervention. Pedal assistance is more “automatic” – the rider selects a level of “assistance” they want, sensors detect when they are pedalling and tell the motor to help out at the desired level. Most e-bikes use a “cadence” sensor for pedal assistance which detects rotations of the pedal and sends a signal to the motor controller– these are typical on bikes with hub motors. A torque sensor, often found on mid-drives, usually costs more than a cadence sensor but delivers power more smoothly in proportion to your input.

Chinese-built pedal assist bikes usually also come equipped with a throttle option, useful for adding power at take-off. European-built bikes generally don’t come with throttles (or if they do, they will operate up to 6km/h) and will have pedal assistance which tops out at around 25 – 27km/h to comply with EU regulations - but they are generally built to a higher standard overall.

Tip: If speed is important, a bike that is built to EU restrictions (25km/h, pedal assist only) might not be for you. However many riders feel safer and more comfortable on bikes that will cruise in the 25 – 27km/h range.

Magnum Ui5 with throttle & console

Bosch pedal assist control console on the Kreidler Eco

5. Choosing the style

The majority of electric bikes on the market will be either city/commuter bikes or mountain/hybrid bikes. Folding bikes are also available for those who like portability, but unless you have a specific need to store your bike in a small space you’ll be better off on a rigid frame bike. City bikes are generally suitable for pavement and low gradient off roading like rail trails. Many people find a low-step frame and upright seating position more comfortable for this type of riding. They are perfectly strong enough for their intended purpose and easy to get on and off. Frame sizes are measured in centimetres from the centre of the crank to the top of the seatpost. A size 46 or lower is generally considered a “small” bike for people 160cm or less, a size 50 is a “medium” – suitable for people of average height (but often configurable for different types of people by changing seat and handlebar heights).

Frame sizes larger than 50 are for taller people. Mudguards, puncture resistant tyres, lighting and carrier racks are all things that come in handy on city bikes. Mountain or hybrid bikes have a crossbar that provides extra frame strength but is more difficult to mount and dismount. They usually come with a “forward” rather than “sit up” riding position and chunkier tyres for grip on difficult terrain. Unless you plan to ride on terrain more challenging than a rail trail, you’ll probably be more comfortable on a city bike. Tip: If you like the mountain bike “look” but plan to ride mainly on pavement, ask your dealer about adding slicker tyres, mudguards, lighting and a more upright handlebar stem to optimise your ride.

Magnum Mi5 - standard configuration

Magnum Mi5 - "commuter" configuration

6. Understanding bike components

Apart from the motor, battery and other electronics, e-bike components are just standard bike parts that can be serviced at any bike store. With the assistance of the motor you don’t need the same range of gears on e-bike versus a regular bike, so they usually come with just a single set of gears on the rear - but you’ll still want a minimum of 7 for hills. Shimano make the majority of shifting systems on e-bikes, and most electric bikes come with basic but usually adequate Tourney or Altus gear. If you’re looking for a more precise shifting experience or plan on heavy usage, an Alivio or Deore might be better. It’s not usually necessary to go for the higher end stuff on an e-bike as you’re often paying for relatively small weight reductions, which is less important when you’ve got that motor and battery on-board. A suspension fork is great for reducing those bumps along the way – SR Suntour are often good general purpose forks, while Rockshox are often found on good mountain bikes.

If you’re offroading you’ll want to be able to adjust preload and if you’re a serious mountain biker, you might want to pay the extra money for rear suspension. If you want to use your bike on and off road, a lock-out fork will let you switch for comfort and efficiency. Brakes are one of the most important parts of your bike – again Shimano make decent brakes, as do Tektro. Avid and Magura are also known for good quality stopping power. If you’re planning on riding in the rain, disk brakes will usually be better than rim brakes. Hydraulic brakes usually cost a little more, but allow you to apply strong braking pressure more easily because the brake fluid (rather than your own hand pressure) is doing the work.

Tip: for commuters or business users, internal gear systems like the Shimano Nexus can have advantages over derailleurs. They are low maintenance, the chain won’t slip off and you can change gear while standing still.

Shimano Nexus shifting system on the Kreidler Vitality

Disc brakes on the Magnum