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how do electric bikes work?

While electric scooters take most of the headlines when it comes to the future of mobility in the UK, the electric bike is the one staging a quiet transport revolution. In 2020 nearly a quarter of all the money Brits spent on bikes was spent on ebikes instead of push bikes, and the people who know about this sort of thing expect that figure is only going to increase over time. So how is it that electric bikes work and how can you get the most out of them by combining your pedal power with actual electric power? Let’s take a look.

What makes an electric bicycle electric?

It’s ok, there are no silly questions. In most respects, an electric bike looks exactly like the kind you fell off as a kid and the kind that zooms past you irritatingly while you’re struck in traffic. The big differences are the electric motor down by your feet somewhere (more on that in a second), and the battery that powers it. There are also some smart sensors that help you out when you’re riding, depending on the model, but other than that they’re very simple machines.

So are all electric bikes the same?

Not at all! One of the best things about owning an electric scooter is that there are lots of different types depending on what you want to use them for, and the electric bike market is exactly the same. The obvious differences are in areas like power, weight and the kinds of extras you get with them. At the budget end of the scale you get fewer options, but for the price you’ll get a decent commuter option that’s good for your body and the environment. Towards the pricier end of the scale the sky is the limit, and you can get specialist bikes for hill climbing, long distance and comfort lovers.

So what is the motor for?

Again, no silly questions! The electric bike motor supplies you with torque as you pedal, meaning that your legs will have to do much less work to get a greater amount of oomph from your ebike. This means you’ll be sailing up hills that were unconquerable when you rode a push bike, and setting record times on your way to work without breaking a sweat. Generally the more sophisticated the motor, the more powerful it will be, as well as more expensive. But as always, there are so many options that you can take your pick, whether you’re a committed electric bicycle user or just dipping your toes in the water.

There are three usual places to site the motor on an electric bike: the back wheel, the pedals or the front wheel – all of which have their own uses. Siting your motor on the front wheel is the best option when you’re climbing hills because it drags the ebike up after it, so if you’re an off roader or if you live in Sheffield then this is a great option. A centrally mounted motor lets you use a larger, heavier engine, so it’s more common to find these in the more powerful or longer-range electric bikes. Rear mounted motors are more common on city bikes because they offer better handling performance as well as a generally smoother ride.

And what about the sensors?

By law, electric bicycles in the UK have to be pedalled to get them to move, and the sensors help you do that. There are actually two kinds of sensor on most electric bikes, the pedal sensor and the torque sensor, and which you use will depend on how you want to ride. The pedal sensor literally just measures when you are pedalling, and then causes the motor to propel you to your desired speed while you do so. It doesn’t matter how much effort you put in, you’ll move at the same speed as long as you turn the pedals.

The torque sensor is much smarter, and it actually sense how hard you’re working, then multiplies that effort by a factor that you can select via your computer. If you want an easy ride, set the factor higher, but if you want a workout, you can set it lower instead.

So what does all that do to the range of an electric bike?

Just like an electric scooter, ebikes have an onboard battery that is usually clipped to the exterior of the frame or mounted inside it. As usual bikes with bigger and more sophisticated batteries are more expensive but can take you farther, sometimes upwards of 100 miles, while smaller and cheaper commuters will get you as far as 20 miles. However, it all largely depends on how much work you choose to do.

If you opt to pedal more and get less help from the motor you can make the batter last much longer, especially if you stay on flat terrain, while relying more on the battery will deplete it faster. You can sometimes also buy extra batteries that can be clipped to the frame to give you extra range, but your charge indicator will tell you how much power you have left and if you’re running low. All in all it can take between three and nine hours to fully charge your ebike, depending on the model.

What kinds of extras can I get?

Your electric bike can be as extra or as basic as you like, depending on taste, and it’s not always about price. If you just want a high quality road bike that can take you a long way, you can choose everything from wider tyres and mudguards to drop handlebars just like any pushbike. If you’d prefer your electric bike to look more like a smartphone, you can opt for models that have everything from heads up displays and central locking to accompanying apps.

The best thing about owning an electric bike is how much choice there is, and here at Moose you can even get what you need without breaking the bank thanks to our amazing refurbishment scheme, with some models boasting as much as 40% off!