This article was published in 2019, in Magazine 142.
Richard Loke (Cyclecentric)
What’s caused the rise in popularity of e-bikes in recent years?
There are quite a number of factors.
- Environmental concerns with individuals and societies looking at alternatives to cars and the current transportation systems.
- Improvements in e-bike technology. Weight savings, efficiency/range, functionality and reliability have all improved hugely over the last few years.
- Many manufacturers have developed, and are developing, dedicated e-bikes which has led to some very attractive and easy-to-use bikes, increased choice and availability
Do you think the increase in e-bike sales is likely to continue?
Very much so. Unless legislation changes – for example the remarkably short sighted (from an environmental/transportation point of view) EU directive that all e-bikes should have liability insurance.
Who is the audience for e-bikes?
Our experience and observation of what’s happening around us, indicates [that take up is] more or less across the board. Both utility and leisure cyclists, and those new to cycling are seeing the benefits of using an e-bike. We have a number of customers who bought e-bikes to take the places of cars.
Do people have difficulty adapting to e-bikes in any way?
No. Generally, if one can ride a bike, the modern e-bike assist is so well implemented that ride-wise it is pretty much invisible – other than the extra boost. Compared to a non-assisted bike one has to be aware of the battery charge, but in the modern systems this is as simple as charging a mobile phone.
What are the pros and cons of the different electric drive types available?
Unless one changes some of the fundamental design elements of a bicycle, the ideal place to add extra power is through the bottom bracket. Consequently as e-bikes evolve, we are seeing more and ‘designed from the ground’ e-bikes with the drives at the bottom bracket.
Front hub drives, as the front wheel is not designed to drive the bike and is relatively lightly weighted, have potential problems with traction, which can lead to some tricky situations. Additionally having power going into the front wheel puts different demands on the fork. The advantages of the front hub drive are its relative simplicity to install and often lower cost.
In contrast, rear hub drives are better for wheel traction, and a typical bike rear triangle is designed to take the drive forces. The disadvantage of rear hubs is that with the gears usually at the rear wheel, the hub and installation becomes more complicated. It can also be more complicated for dealing with punctures.
Looking to the future, we will see more bottom bracket e-bikes, with front hub systems mostly used for retrofits and on lower end bikes. There is also a number of bottom bracket retrofit systems becoming available.
Is retrofitting a bike worth it over splashing out on a new electric bike?
Generally getting a dedicated e-bike is going to be better than a retrofit, but it is also usually going to be quite a lot more expensive. Whether to choose a dedicated e-bike or a retrofit is going to depend on budget and potential usage. There are many good reasons for a retrofit, but if one is planning to commit to e-bike usage, a dedicated e-bike will be the better option.