Buying Guide for E-Bikes

1. Choosing a brand

There are so many electric bike brands out there it can be very confusing for consumers.  Some of these brands are reputable with good quality control and support, while others aren't.  How do you tell the difference? Here are a couple of tips:

1. Look at the componentry - if it's a Bosch motor for example, you can be pretty assured it's a good bike because Bosch is very selective about who they sell their motor systems to, and provide good support and parts in New Zealand.

2. Google the brand name.  If the same brand is sold to large and discerning European and US markets and has good reviews, there's some assurance of quality.  If it's only a "brand" in New Zealand (and especially if they claim to have "designed" it in NZ - be very careful.  In most cases (our worthy competitor Smartmotion excepted, these bikes have been ordered from an "Alibaba" type supplier and had a sticker put on with the importer's own "brand" name).

3. Beware the "Alibaba" bikes.  Anyone can become an importer of e-bikes using a site like Alibaba, and many people see creating their own "brand" as a business opportunity without realising what they are getting into.   We see the same story repeat itself.  Someone imports a container of bikes as a side business, sells a bunch, then quits when the product starts coming back with problems, leaving their customers in the lurch when it comes to the inevitable need for parts and support.

4. Buy from brick and mortar retailers.  At the very least you should expect to see a fully operational bike workshop in a store that specialises in bikes (or even better, specialises in e-bikes).  Beware those operating out of pop-up stores, industrial units or on Trademe - they haven't made a commitment to being there long term to support you, and that's because they probably won't be.

Legally, e-bikes must be rated at 300W or less to be considered bicycles. Most bikes on the market are either 250W or 300W. There can be variations in power between bikes of the same "wattage" so, as always, we recommend test riding.

We sell all both main types of motor - hub drives and mid-drives They have their pros and cons and it depends on how you use your bike.

Hub drives do a great job for most riders. A rear hub will get better traction in steep or loose terrain than a front hub, although 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 usually 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.

 

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, Samsung and LG are quality brands.

There are however other electronics like the Battery Management System (BMS) that are also important and will be less likely to fail if the bike itself is from a good brand.

Some manufacturers will state very optimistic or unrealistic ranges for their bikes. Batteries are also measured in "watt hours" which is voltage (usually 36 or 48) times the number of amp hours e.g. a 48V 13Ah battery (624Wh) is one third larger than a 36V 13Ah battery (468Wh).  As a general rule, expect about 15km of range per 100Wh of battery - but this number can vary substantially depending on the power of the motor, the level of assistance, the weight of the rider and the terrain.

 
  

4. 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.  Generally smaller rider will prefer a frame under 48cm, medium sized riders 48 - 52cm, and taller riders 52cm or more.

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.

  

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 quite adequate Acera or Altus gear. More sophisticated riders might prefer to spend more on a higher end system like a Shimano LX. 

A suspension fork is great for reducing those bumps along the way – SR Suntour are often good general purpose forks, while Rockshox and Fox are often found on good mountain bikes.

If you want to use your bike on and off road, a lock-out fork will let you switch for comfort and efficiency., while if you're into serious offroading you might want to pay the extra money for rear suspension. 

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.

Hydraulic brakes usually cost a little more, but allow you to apply strong braking pressure more easily because the brake fluid (rather than just 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.