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When people think about technologies that have changed the world, they probably think about the usual things: steam engines, the automobile, the computer, and, most recently, smartphones. However, there is one technology that does not nearly get enough love: the electric bicycle

Electric bikes are a popular up-and-coming method of transportation that is cost-efficient, fuel-efficient, and good for your health. So, we put together this ultimate guide on electric bikes, to give you the most up to date info on the matter. 

eBikes vs Normal Bikes

Let’s start with the similarities.

Both eBikes and normal bicycles have the same general shape, size, and use the same principles to stay upright. Many people think eBikes are just e-scooters, but eBikes are their own distinct thing. 

eBikes have the same body shape, number of wheels, and functional geometry as a normal bike. All the moving pieces work the same way between the two, including the pedals, handlebars, and braking systems. 

The main difference between the two is that eBikes have an electric motor and drive system.

The battery powers the electric motor, which helps turn the pedals, making it easier to pedal the bike forward.

You control the motor’s output using the throttle on the handlebar if it’s throttle-assist, or, if not, the motor simply helps make pedaling easier. eBikes may also have other electronic fixtures, such as a display screen or battery power indicator. 

Who Should Choose an eBikes vs a Normal Bike?

If you just need a way to get around town that’s quicker than walking, and cheap, then a normal bike is probably going to suit you just fine.

But, if you’re willing to spend a bit more, and you regularly commute, cycle up hills, or aren’t as fit as you want to be, electric bikes can give you a huge boost and help you stay active.

There are many reasons why you might pick an electric bike, but the points I just talked about are the main ones. They are an easy way to get you out of your car and to the office in the morning without breaking as much of a sweat as a normal bike, they seriously help get you uphill, and if you’re worried a normal bike will be too hard and therefore you won’t commit to riding it, eBikes are a great way to help you build an active cycling habit.

eBikes Parts That Are Different From Regular Bikes

Electric Motor

Most modern eBikes use either a brushed or brushless motor. Brushed motors consist of a rotating armature called a rotor inside a stationary cylinder of electromagnets called stator magnets. As electricity runs through the armature, it produces an electromagnetic field which causes the armature to rotate. Brushes on the inside make contact with spinning electrodes, which flips the polarity of the electromagnet, keeping the armature spinning.

Brushless motors essentially flip this design inside out. The magnets are located on the rotor while the electromagnets are placed on the stator. The onboard computer charges the exterior electromagnet, creating a field and causing the interior armature to spin. 

Between the two, brushless motors are generally seen as superior. Brushless motors rely on an onboard computer instead of mechanical brushes, meaning that they are more precise and can switch polarity much faster, making them more efficient. Brushless motors also disperse heat more efficiently and have fewer mechanical parts that can degrade from use. The main disadvantage of brushless motors is that they usually have a higher price point. 

eBike Drive Systems

The eBike’s drive system is what transfers power from the motor to the pedals to make them turn. EBikes typically use one of two kinds of drive systems: hub-drive and mid-drive. The main difference between the two is where torque is applied to make the wheels and pedals turn. 

In a hub-drive system, the electric motor is placed near the wheel hub on the front or rear wheel. As the motor operates, it directly applies torque to the wheel itself, causing it to spin. Hub-drive systems are straightforward and mechanically uncomplex, but many dislike how eBikes maneuver when the motor is placed directly on a wheel. Many claim that a hub-drive feels like the bike is being pushed or pulled, depending on whether the motor is on the back or front wheel. 

Mid-drive systems place the motor directly between the pedals near the bottom of the bike’s frame. Power from the motor is directly applied to the pedals to make them turn. A chain-gear system attached to the pedal then turns the wheel, just like with a traditional bike. Mid-drive systems are generally favored because they create a lower center of gravity and better mimic the feeling of being on a traditional bike. 

One other advantage of mid-drive systems is that they work in tandem with your pedaling to make the battery last longer. The pedals get energy from both the motor and your feet, so you get more mileage out of a single battery charge. Mid-drive motors can also adjust automatically to your pedaling cadence. 

eBike Battery Types

The next important component is the battery, which provides power to operate the motors. There are 4 main types of eBike batteries: lead-acid (SLA), Nickel-cadmium (NiCd), Nickel-metal Hydride (NiMh), and Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. 

Lead-acid batteries are the cheapest kind. They are similar to the kind of battery in your car. Lead-acid batteries are inexpensive and easy to recycle, but they are relatively inefficient and are prone to degradation over time. Lead-acid batteries are also very sensitive to changes in temperature. 

Nickel-cadmium and nickel-metal hydride are similar and use a similar nickel-metal reaction to generate electricity. Both types have a higher capacity than lead-acid batteries but NiMh batteries are slightly more efficient. Both types are heavier than lead-acid batteries but are more difficult to dispose of. Nickel-cadmium batteries, in particular, produce a lot of pollutants that can be dangerous to handle. 

Lithium-ion batteries are the most common type of eBike battery. About 90% of consumer brand eBikes use a Li-ion battery. There are many kinds of lithium batteries, but in general, they are more efficient per unit mass than other kinds of batteries. They require a relatively complex electronic setup which means that lithium batteries are usually more expensive than other types.

eBike Braking Systems 

For the most part, eBikes use exactly the same kinds of braking systems as normal bikes. The two main kinds are hydraulic and brake-plates. 

Hydraulic brake systems use a mineral-based fluid to apply pressure to the wheels. Depressing the handle sends pressure down the line, inflating small calipers that clamp the wheel and slow it down with friction. Hydraulic systems are very smooth but can be hard to dial in exactly. 

Mechanical braking systems consist of a cable running from the brake handle to the brake plate. Depressing the trigger on the handlebars moves the cable and clamps the brake plates against the wheels, generating friction and slowing the wheel down. Mechanical brake systems are easy to adjust but they can wear down faster. Fortunately, it is very easy to replace worn brake plates. 

Some eBikes have a regenerative braking system that uses the bike’s kinetic energy to recharge the battery. These kinds of braking systems use gears to convert mechanical energy from the motion of the wheel into an electric current which is used to recharge the battery. You can use regenerative braking systems to recharge the battery while going downhill. Regenerative braking systems are too inefficient to fully charge a battery, but it can give some extra juice to make trips last a bit longer.  

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