Electric bike buyers guide

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Lance Turner explains what to look for and what’s available in electric bikes.

Electric bikes (e-bikes) have become more readily available in Australia in recent years, mainly due to the larger number of manufacturers and the increase in demand as people discover the benefits of a bike that has a bit of power assistance.

Firstly, we should start by looking at what an electric bike actually is. There are two broad categories of design. The first is of a standard style of bike, such as a mountain bike or similar, which has fitted to it a motor and battery, along with some form of speed controller. These are quite common and come in a range of sizes, with many varied drive systems.

The other type of electric bike is known as a ‘step-through’ bike. These more resemble a moped than a regular bike and are often designed so that the motor does all the work—the pedals are not much more than ornaments. Because of this, many riders of such bikes have run afoul of the law, as while they may have a motor power output within the legal 200 watt limit (more on this later), they are considered to be a motor scooter and as such need to be registered. However, because they generally are not designed to be road registered, they don’t meet Australian Design Rules (ADR) requirements and so cannot be registered.
Whether this style of e-bike is considered illegal in your area seems to depend on the powers that be. Some people ride them without problems, others have been pulled over and been told they can no longer ride their bike. This is 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.

This issue seems to come about from the more open definition of what a bike is in the countries these types of bikes are made. Of course, these are also countries where bike use is actually encouraged, rather than in countries like Australia, where bike riders have to deal with roads without bike lanes, motorists with bad attitudes (not to say there aren’t bike riders with the same problem) and poorly thought out and overly draconian regulations.

Like a normal bike, e-bikes are used for commuting, car replacement, mobility for less able and elderly, and even just for fun. For many people, they provide the extra assistance needed to get up that steep hill, or a sense of assurance that should you become too tired (or strain a muscle), the motor can get you home.

Click here to purchase a copy of the buyers guide including tables.