If you’re wanting to ride further, take more exercise or avoid using public transport, but want more control over the effort involved in cycling, an electric bike could be the perfect solution.
An ebike provides electric assistance as you pedal, via a small motor and battery. You can also tailor the amount of assistance you receive, depending on your desired speed, your fitness or the length of your ride and the terrain.
There’s an increasing range of ebike models out there that will cater to everyone from the casual rider to the more serious mountain biker, road rider or tourer.
As with any emerging technology, buying an electric bike can be a confusing process. How can you make sure you’re getting the right bike for you and what are the key things to look out for?
We’ve answered 14 of the most important ebike questions in this electric bike guide. Use one of the links below to skip to your question or read on for the full FAQs. Otherwise, check out our buyer’s guide to the best electric bikes.
Electric bikes: everything you need to know
- How fast can an electric bike go?
- Do I have to pedal to get assistance on my electric bike?
- Do I need a driving licence to ride an ebike on the roads?
- How long will a charged ebike battery typically last?
- How do I charge my ebike?
- Are electric bikes heavier than normal bikes?
- Why are ebikes so expensive?
- Why are some electric bikes so much cheaper than others?
- Can I travel with my ebike?
- Should ebikes be considered ‘cheating’ or motorcycles?
- Can an electric bike be ridden with a flat battery?
- What is the lifespan of an electric bike battery and can ebike batteries be recycled?
- What are watt hours (Wh) and what do they mean in real life?
- How can I secure my ebike?
How fast can an electric bike go?
In the UK, the EU and Australia, the motor on an ebike has to stop providing assistance at 25kph (15mph). Above that speed you’re required to pedal by your own steam. But if you live in the US, the motor can legally keep going up to 32kph (20mph).
If you’re fit enough to keep up a pace beyond that speed under your own pedal power, or you’re maybe going downhill, there’s nothing to stop you going faster, although you’ll want to make sure that you’re fully in control because an ebike’s extra weight can increase stopping distances compared to a regular pedal-powered bike.
Some ebikes are designed to travel faster than 25kph (15mph) and have more powerful motors, while some designs have motor output controlled by a twist-grip ‘throttle’ on the bars, but these are legally considered to be mopeds.
In the UK and EU, you need to have a licence and insurance to ride them, and you must wear a helmet and have paid relevant vehicle taxes.
Do I have to pedal to get assistance on my electric bike?
We’re sorry to have to break it to you, but yes you do. An ebike assists your pedalling rather than taking over completely. If you don’t need to pedal, it’s classified as a moped – see the next question below.
An ebike will have a torque sensor built into its drivetrain, to measure how much effort the rider is applying to the pedals. Then the motor’s output will be regulated to match this, so it doesn’t take over and provides power in a measured way to reflect how you are riding.
You have control over how much extra push the motor is providing. On Canyon’s Spectral:ON e-mountain bike you use a controller on the left side of the handlebar to select from three different levels of assistance. So you might select a higher level of support to get you to the top of a trail, then drop it back to conserve your battery and enjoy the ride down the other side.
The motor means there’s a substantial reduction in the effort you need to put in. Select the highest assistance level and you should be able to keep up a reasonable pace without working up a sweat, meaning that you won’t arrive at the office a damp mess if you’re commuting.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for more of a workout or want to extend the range of your ride, selecting a lower assistance level will mean that you’re putting in more effort. And you can always use the controller on the bars or frame to switch between levels mid-ride to match your mood, the terrain or how fit you’re feeling that day.
Do I need a driving licence to ride an ebike on the roads?
If you’re over 14 in England, Scotland and Wales, you can ride an electric bike on the road without tax, insurance or a licence, although it’s always a good idea to have insurance against personal accident and third-party damages. You don’t need to wear a helmet by law.
All that applies to a ‘standard’ electric bike or EAPC (electrically assisted pedal cycle), where you need to pedal, which has a motor that provides up to 250 watts of assistance and where motor assistance is speed limited to 25kph (15mph).
Any ebike that doesn’t meet EAPC criteria is classified as a moped or motorcycle. You need to tax it and have a licence and insurance to ride it, and you also need to wear a crash helmet.
If you live in Northern Ireland, ebikes were previously treated like mopeds and required a licence. You also needed to register, tax and insure them, and display the registration mark before you can ride them on public roads.
However, as of 13 May 2020, those regulations have been changed to bring Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK – tax, insurance or a licence is no longer required.
There’s a range of different rules in other countries too, so it’s best to check local regulations.
How long will a charged ebike battery typically last?
That depends on the type of bike, the battery capacity, the ambient temperature and how you use it: a fit rider on flattish roads or trails may be riding without assistance a lot of the time, whereas a less fit rider on hilly terrain is likely to be calling on the motor to help a lot more.
With a legal cut-off of assistance at 25kph (around 15mph) in many countries, road riders could easily exceed this without using the motor, whereas mountain bikers on technical trails will be calling on their motors more.
In short, it depends on your fitness, riding style and the terrain. However, as an example, Canyon claims its new Endurace:ON AL road bike and Grand Canyon:ON cross-country mountain bike will both cover up to 100km on a single charge.
The Roadlite:ON hybrid commuter bike’s battery will last for up to eight hours, according to Canyon, while the Pathlite:ON e-trekking bike with the optional second battery will carry you up to 150km, it says.
How do I charge my ebike?
Your ebike will be sold with a power adaptor and power cable to plug into the mains. There’s a socket on the battery that you attach it to. With some electric bikes you need to remove or partially remove the battery to plug it in, but on others there’s a socket built into the frame too.
How long your ebike takes to charge up will depend on the battery capacity and the charger used. Canyon says you can fully charge the battery on its new Endurace:ON AL electric road bike in 3.5 hours.
The Neuron:ON alloy eMTB charges up in 7.5 hours, with an 80 per cent charge taking 4 hours. You can halve those numbers by using a fast charger, often sold separately.
Are electric bikes heavier than normal bikes?
An electric bike needs to have a motor and a battery. These will always make it heavier than a standard bike. In addition, it’s likely to be built more substantially, with more robust components than a standard bike, to handle the extra power from the motor.
While ebike technology is developing quickly, and the bikes are becoming lighter all the time, an electric bike will typically be at least several kilos heavier than a standard bike. Canyon’s new Spectral:ON full-suspension carbon mountain bike in its top spec weighs 21.4kg, compared to the flagship (non-electric) Spectral at 12.70kg. Remember, however, that you have the motor and battery, and the assistance they provide.
The Canyon Pathlite:ON trekking ebike weighs between 21kg and 27kg, depending on the spec, whereas the standard Pathlite without a motor weighs 11kg upwards.
Some ebikes are not much heavier than a standard road bike, though: top-end carbon ebikes such as the Ribble Endurance SLe and the Wilier Cento1Hy weigh around 11kg, while the £2,999 alloy Canyon Endurace:ON AL weighs 15kg.
Why are ebikes so expensive?
If you’ve looked at the prices of electric cars against fossil fuel-powered models, you’ll know that they’re significantly more expensive. A lot of that cost can be attributed to the batteries and technology used.
The same is true of ebikes which, like electric cars, are powered by rechargeable lithium ion batteries. The minerals used to make batteries, particularly lithium and cobalt, are expensive and supply is limited.
It’s not just the batteries. You’re also paying for the motor and its controller, display hardware and the greater complexity of the machine.
Plus, with the extra power from the motor, bike brands often use more robust, pricier components such as heavier duty drivetrains and stronger wheels. And you need to be able to stop effectively given the bike’s extra weight, so most ebikes will have high-end hydraulic disc brakes.
Why are some electric bikes so much cheaper than others?
The clue is in the question above. A larger battery will be pricier than one with more limited range.
For example, Canyon’s Pathlite:ON is available with either one or two batteries as standard. The step up from the Pathlite:ON 7.0 to 8.0 doubles your range but also increases the price from £2,800 to £4,100.
There are also likely to be differences in components between ebikes, with pricier models having higher quality parts from name-brand makes such as Shimano, Fazua and Bosch (the three big players when it comes to ebike systems).
It’s worth buying an ebike from a reputable manufacturer too, because they’ll have thoroughly tested their designs and worked with manufacturers of the electric components to iron out any problems before bringing them to market. You’ll also get the support and warranty cover expected from a big-name brand.
Can I travel with my ebike?
As usual, that depends: there’s a patchwork of regulations, depending on how you’re planning to transport your electric bike.
Train operating companies will mostly treat an ebike like a standard bicycle. In some cases, you might need to book a slot for your bike; other train companies have restrictions on carrying non-folding bikes at peak times.
Also bear in mind an electric bike weighing around 20kg or more will be hard to lift on and off trains, and some trains have hanging racks for bikes, which will be difficult to use.
Buses can be tricky too. Some buses have external bike racks on the rear, but most don’t and you probably won’t be able to take an ebike onto a bus, unless it folds.
Air flight is also likely to be banned because there are international regulations on the size of batteries that can be carried. The general regulation is up to 100Wh, although batteries up to 160Wh may be allowed with pre-authorisation.
An increasing number of cycling hotspots are offering battery rental, meaning you can fly with your ebike and leave your own battery at home, picking up a loaner on arrival.
If you’re planning to drive somewhere with your electric bike, be careful not to leave it in a hot car because heat can degrade battery performance.
Should ebikes be considered ‘cheating’ or motorcycles?
For most ebike riders, the extra assistance provided by the motor isn’t going to turn them into pro-level performers. Instead, it will make riding a bike more enjoyable, letting them ride further and helping out on hills when needed.
Many riders will want to use their electric bikes for shopping or commuting, where lowering the effort level needed to carry loads or for starts from traffic lights will make for a more comfortable (and less sweaty) experience. Others may want to ride with friends who are fitter than them, and an ebike will help them keep up better.
With assistance limited to 250 watts of extra power and 25kph (15mph) maximum speed, an ebike doesn’t have the performance of a moped or motorcycle, so it’s right that they’re treated differently.
Can an electric bike be ridden with a flat battery?
Yes, you can ride your ebike home if the battery runs out during a ride. Systems such as Fazua’s have software that limits output to preserve battery life if they’re running low on juice, which should help keep assistance going at a diminished level to help you get home.
Even if your battery still has plenty of charge, the controller on the bar or frame will usually have a setting allowing you to turn the motor off as you ride. So, if you’re willing to ride without help, that’s another way to preserve battery level.
Bear in mind that an ebike will be substantially heavier than a normal bike, though, so it will be harder to keep going using pedal power alone, both on the flat and particularly if you hit an upward grade.
With that in mind, it’s always wise to make sure your electric bike has sufficient charge for the ride you’ve got planned. Many systems will also provide a range estimate figure based on the bike’s battery status, which can then be used to plan your journeys appropriately.
What is the lifespan of an electric bike battery and can ebike batteries be recycled?
Lithium ion batteries can be charged and discharged hundreds of times. Shimano says that its Steps system, as used on the Canyon Spectral:ON, can be charged and discharged more than 1,000 times with no degradation in its performance.
The amount of push the battery and motor can give shouldn’t change though, so the battery should last longer than many mechanical components of the bike.
Since the metals in the battery – particularly the cobalt – are valuable and there are increasing numbers of larger lithium batteries being used, especially for transport, there’s an emerging recycling industry. With their larger capacity, electric bike batteries are a more attractive proposition for recyclers than batteries in, for example, mobile phones.
What are watt hours (Wh) and what do they mean in real life?
Watt hours (or Wh) refers to the energy capacity of your bike’s battery and provides an indication as to its likely range.
A battery’s Wh will also show how many watts it is able to continuously provide for an hour: for example, a 250Wh battery can provide 250 watts of assistance for one hour, 125 watts for two hours, and so on. Of course, real-world riding means you are very unlikely to place such a consistent demand on your ebike’s battery.
A fit rider who selects a low assistance level on flat roads will get a lot more range than a less fit rider on a hilly route carrying luggage and selecting the maximum motor assistance. All of this has an impact on how much load you are putting on the battery.
Canyon estimates that the Pathlite:ON’s range with one 500Wh battery is around 75km, for a rider weighing around 75kg pedalling at 45rpm and travelling at a speed of 22kph.
How can I secure my ebike?
You need to take all the precautions you would to keep a standard bike safe. That includes a sturdy, ideally Sold Secure gold rated, lock through your wheels and frame and attached to an immovable object. Given the value of most ebikes, you should store your ebike somewhere secure.
Some ebike systems come with a companion mobile phone app that often lets you track where your bike is and may detect unauthorised movement too.
Your ebike’s battery is also an attractive item for thieves. Most models with a removable battery, like those from Canyon, will include a lock and key to secure it to the frame.
With their high value, unfortunately ebikes are often targeted by thieves, so it’s worthwhile paying for a good lock, being careful where you lock the bike, and buying insurance.