An electric bike buyers guide

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Cleaner transport options like cycling are not for everyone. But what if the bike could do a lot of the work? Lance Turner looks at the current options in electric bikes in ReNew 123.

Electric bikes (commonly called e-bikes) give the average person another option when it comes to mobility. While a regular human-powered bike is not seen as an option by many due to the need to be the only source of motive power, an e-bike looks a lot more attractive.

Firstly, we should start by looking at what an electric bike actually is. E-bikes come in a vast array of shapes and sizes, but there are two main categories—road-going and off-road bikes. These both consist of a bike or bike-like frame fitted with an electric motor (either frame-mounted or in one of the wheel hubs) which is powered by a battery (usually a lithium-based battery for low weight) via an electronic speed controller. There are many variations and many suppliers allow you to mix and match components or have a range of different models with different combinations, so finding an e-bike that suits your needs is no longer the problem it used to be.

Road bike power limit

Road-going bicycles are limited in motor power to just 250 watts in Australia, and 300 watts in New Zealand. In Australia, the limit was previously 200 watts but this was recently changed to 250 watts for ‘pedelecs’—bikes that only provide power assistance when you pedal. This reflects the global market, with adoption of the current European standard (EN 15194). Victoria was the first state to enact the change in September 2012; information on the new rules can be found at www.bit.ly/XUJNXY.

So in Australia there are now two categories of road-going bikes—bikes that can run on motor power only, which can be up to 200 watts, and pedelecs, which can be up to 250 watts. There’s nothing like making legislation consistent!

Still, 250 watts is not a lot better than 200 watts. In some countries, such as the USA, there is no power limit, simply a maximum motor-only speed limit—a much more sensible limit as it enables the bike to better handle varying conditions such as steep hills.

Any bike with motor power over 250 watts, whether it has pedals or not, is not technically legal for use on-road under the current laws and should only be used off-road. Some designs, such as ‘step-through’ designs, may be registerable as motor scooters, or it may be better to buy a real electric moped which has passed ADR certification. It will be more expensive but it will be legal.

If you are looking at a road-going bike, then you should ask the supplier to confirm that it is legal for use on the road in your state. If they are not sure, you might be best to look elsewhere.

Buying the wrong bike, one that is technically not legal on the roads, can be a problem—or not. Some people ride without problems, others have been pulled over and been told they can no longer ride their bike. This can be a rather expensive problem as you are then left with a bike that is designed purely for on-road use, yet can no longer be used on the road.

Read the full article in ReNew 123

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