/ by Jonathan Ammons
/ photography by Chelsey Ashford
Remember back to when you were a kid, before you’d ever climbed behind the wheel of a car, it was your bike that gave you that sense of endless freedom; when you and your friends, could ride all day and never seem to tire. What if you could do that again?
Well, that is almost what it feels like astride an electric bike. Battery power kicks in while you ride, whether that
be from the pedal assist that makes it easier to hoof your way down the trail, or via a throttle that can silently propel you up to 20mph. An e-bike takes the fun and convenience of biking — whether for pleasure or your daily commute — and makes it accessible to just about anyone.
Feeling that arthritis in the knees?
Let that throttle carry you up the hill. Not in the best shape? That pedal assist makes it easy to turn a short ride into a day trip. Or even if you just want to cut out the car and use your bike for your regular commute, an e-bike will get you there without the sweat of a regular bike.
On a weekend trip to Travelers Rest, a friend and I stayed at Creek Walk Tiny Home Community, where they have a selection of eight different models of Bintelli e-bikes for residents and renters to ride. On a particularly sunny morning, we set out to ride the nearly 20-mile length of the Swamp Rabbit trail into Greenville and back, a trial that might be a bit daunting on standard bikes for moderate riders like us. But the ease of the pedal assist and a long battery life turned the trek into a breezy cruise.
“Pretty much anybody and everybody likes e-bikes, but a lot of times it is for different reasons,” says Justin Draplin, who owns Creek Walk. “Some of the seniors and empty nesters like that it makes biking easier. It’s something that they don’t want to give up yet, but the pedaling can be more difficult and that battery power helps with the pedaling. But then the younger crowd likes it as well, it’s very cool and trendy and you don’t have to break a sweat to go on a nice little bike ride.”
While selecting an e-bike may feel intimidating with the different classes, a million brands and varying price tags, two key elements to pay attention to are the types of motors and the class of bike.
Rear hub motors, usually mounted on the center of the rear wheel, are often cheaper and work great for any commuter looking to ride on long, mostly flat terrain.
Mid-drive bikes, where the motor is mounted in the middle of the bike near the pedals, are typically more lightweight and allow for higher torque making them better equipped to handle more than just a paved surface.
The US recognizes three classes of e-bike: Class 1 features pedal assist only, Class 2 has pedal assist with a throttle up to 20 mph, and Class 3 is pedal assist only but with a maximum speed of 28 mph.
There are also different types of pedal assist, driven by their sensors (and some higher-end bikes employ both).
Torque sensors, usually found on more affordable bikes, decide how much power to provide based on how hard you pedal.
Cadence sensors assist based on how fast you pedal.
In a teeming sea of electric bike brands, many of which are startups that are often here today and gone tomorrow, I recommend scoping out some tried and true brands like Specialized, Propella, Trek and the extremely popular Rad Power. But the best bet is to rely on your local bike shop, since they likely sell brands that they have experience riding, maintaining and repairing.
Prices have come down for e-bikes from even a few years ago, with entry points as low as $600, but for a well-equipped one with decent battery life, you’ll see $1000-2200 price tags. Of course, there are powered mountain bikes too which are pricier and ridiculously cool to watch on approved trails.
Charged Up and Ready to Roll
How long your battery will last is determined by what’s called its “charge cycles.” Roughly it means how many full charges an e-bike battery can handle before its oomph begins to moderate.
Lithium and Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries can run 1000 charge cycles or more.
Nickel batteries cut that number by half.
And, like almost any worthwhile toy, keeping your electric bike clean, charged and in dry sheltered storage will extend its life twofold. Manufacturers recommend only using the brand charger, which has been sized for the model, and allowing for the battery to cool before plugging it back in.