Everything you need to know about eBikes in the UK

What is riding an eBike like?

An eBike’s motor amplifies your own effort, so when you start pedalling the bike moves faster than you would expect for the level of effort you put in, and the harder you pedal, the faster the bike goes. That continues all the way up until you hit 15.5mph, and after that the motor stops helping, but it never feels like you suddenly lose power. If you’re pedalling hard enough, you will keep going faster until you reach the maximum speed you’re capable of, otherwise the bike will simply continue at 15.5mph until you pedal harder or slow down – it all feels very smooth and seamless.

In practice what this means is that eBikes accelerate away from a standing start much more quickly and easily than most pedal bikes, and this is great for stop-start urban riding. Also, it makes hills much easier because you can maintain a decent uphill speed without pedalling very hard.

Most eBikes have different power levels, so you can choose just how much your effort is amplified by. On maximum power, you won’t have to work very hard at all to get to 15.5mph and you could comfortably cruise at that speed with little effort for as long as your battery lasts. On minimum power, you’ll need to work harder to get up to speed but it will still be easier than a conventional bike and your battery will last much longer.


Who are eBikes good for?

Hardcore cycling enthusiasts often turn their nose up at eBikes, because it’s not “proper cycling” – but for the rest of us who don’t have Olympic aspirations, eBikes can be practical for a lot of different situations.

Commuting: cycling is a great way to get to work, but if you live more than 10 miles away it can be impractical and exhausting. An eBike will help you cover long distances more comfortably (even if you have to lug a laptop or other gear) and if you don’t have showers at work, you’ll be able to do the journey without getting sweaty.

I use my eBike for a 15 mile journey from my home in the outskirts of London into the city centre, with a few big hills along the way. It takes about the same time as my conventional road-bike (between 70 and 80 minutes, depending on how hard I push) but it means I can cycle every day without feeling completely wiped out by mid-week. On days where I don’t feel like making much of an effort I still make it to work in good time.

Low fitness: if you’re not in good shape, an eBike can help you get into cycling without the fear of tackling tough hills or running out of steam halfway through your journey. You can put in as much or as little effort as you feel capable of, and change the assistance level to suit your needs.

Long-distance riding: as the technology of eBikes improves, they’re capable of offering ever more impressive ranges. Right now you can buy eBikes that can easily travel for 80 or more miles on a single battery charge.

What is the range of an eBike?

How far you can go on a single charge depends on a number of factors, and will vary between different riders and their situations, but the range of eBikes is getting better every year. The things which will affect an eBike’s range include:

Battery: A large battery which can hold a lot of charge will obviously help you go further than a smaller capacity battery. Typically, eBike battery power is measured in Watt-Hours (Wh). At the high end you can expect to find 500Wh batteries on more expensive bikes, which could easily give you a range of 100 miles or more. A 300Wh battery would be cheaper, but all other things being equal you could expect a range of 60 miles. There are even cheaper, lower capacity batteries available – so always check the Watt-Hours capacity of an eBike to understand whether it’s good value for money.

Motor: A motor’s power is measured in Watts (W) and almost all eBikes in the UK use 250W motors, as this is the maximum allowed on the road. However, there are different types of motor, and more modern designs are more efficient. Older and lower cost eBikes often use “hub motors” built into the wheel hubs, whereas more modern (and usually more expensive) models feature mid-drive motors built into the crank (the bit between the pedals that turns the front gear). The type of motor, the manufacture, and how recent the design is, will all have some effect on the overall range of an eBike.

Weight: The combined weight of the rider, the bike, and any luggage will affect range. Simply, it takes more energy to move a heavy object than a light object, so the less you carry and the less you weigh, the further the bike will go.

Hills: Another fairly obvious one but, as any cyclist already knows, going uphill takes more energy, so a lot of climbing will drain the battery more quickly than riding on flats.

Tyres: A lot of people don’t consider this, but knobly mountain bike tyres are not very efficient on tarmac roads – they’re designed to bite into mud off-road. A proper road-tyre, with little or no tread, will roll a lot more freely on tarmac and this will need less energy. It also means you’ll be able to accelerate more quickly and, when the motor stops helping you at 15.5mph, it will be easier for you to pedal at higher speeds. Putting the right tyres on an eBike (and inflating them properly) has a lot of benefits, including better range.

Can you ride an eBike with a flat battery?

It’s usually possible to ride an eBike after the battery has run out of juice, but it’s hard work because they weigh a lot more than conventional bicycles, and hub motors in particular create a lot of resistance which makes it harder to pedal.

Some of the more modern crank motors have lower resistance if you want to pedal without power, but it’s still going to be hard work compared to a non-electric bike. All the same, technically it is possible, so you can always get your bike home if you run out of charge, but it’ll feel like you’re cycling uphill most of the way.

How long does it take to charge an eBike battery?

This depends on the capacity of the battery and the type of charger you use. Typically you can expect a 500Wh battery with a standard charger to take 4 or 5 hours to fully recharge, or less than 3 hours for a 300Wh battery.

Can you get fit riding an eBike?

Yes! Riding an eBike requires you to pedal, so you’re doing cardio exercise, just like a conventional bike. The only difference is that the bike helps you travel further and faster for a given level of effort – so even if you only want to do a very gentle level of exercise, you can still travel at a reasonable speed. If you want to make riding an eBike more physically challenging, you can reduce the level of motor assistance (which will increase your battery range) and/or pedal harder to go faster than the 15.5mph assistance limit.  

Various academic studies have shown that riding an eBike regularly improves fitness, so claims that they are somehow cheating or don’t count as real exercise are provably false.