Questions and answers about electric bicycles and eco-bikes.

1. About electric bicycles

Q. What is an Electric Bicycle or e-Bike?

This is a bicycle that can be powered both by human power and electrical power. The human power is exerted through the pedals like a normal bicycle and the electrical power is provided by an electric motor. The motor gets its electricity from a rechargeable battery. The battery is charged through a 240V mains or a 12V charger.

Q. What kind of people ride e-bikes?

People have various reasons for using electric bicycles and the users come from all walks of life, young and old, fit and less fit. E-bikes make cycling accessible to more people or make cycling an easy option for more of their trips.

Q. What are the advantages of electric bicycles?

For some cyclists who are very fit relative to the distance that they need to travel or who are never in a hurry, there are no advantages. For the other 99% of the population, electric bicycles have many advantages: they make hills flat and flats like downhills, they get you there quicker, you can wear whatever you want and not sweat, you can carry more on an e-bike, you can ride further and faster, you'll have more control and confidence on the road, you'll use an e-bike more often, you'll have a big smile on your face... It's just a great, convenient, sustainable transport solution. Check out the nice list of electric bicycle advantages compiled by ezeebike.

Q. Don't electric bicycles defeat the purpose of cycling? Isn't it cheating?

First of all, the purpose of cycling is to move yourself, not physical exertion. Otherwise shouldn't we just run everywhere? You'd get more exercise that way. Wear heavy shoes too. 

Q. Okay, but I'll get more exercise on a normal bicycle and that's better for me right?

If you ride everywhere you need to go, good for you, sincerely. You don't need an electric bicycle. For everyone else who is driving past our shop each day, a bicycle in the garage isn't getting you fit. Most people use cars and buses and trains to go distances that an electric bicycle can easily take you. If you use your e-bike more often than your old bicycle you'll still get exercise and you'll also be helping the environment and saving money. And in the end, you can pedal as much as you want on an electric bicycle. If it's fitness you're after, use it on a low assistance mode. Some people use assistance to cycle to work without sweating and then pedal home for exercise. Compare this to driving both ways simply because you can't arrive to work sweaty.

Q. I'm just not sure that I'll enjoy riding an electric bicycle

We are. If you know how great cycling is when you're in the mood then you would be sure too. Add a motor and you're always in the mood. If you don't love your e-bike then bring it back within 7 days for a full refund.

Q. I've heard that you can get an electric bicycle conversion kit to retrofit your bicycle.

Yes, you can get an e-bike conversion kit. For most people we recommend getting a complete electric bicycle instead of the kit, because the bicycle has been designed with the electric components in mind. However there are many reasons why some people might want to retrofit their existing bicycle. For example they might want to electrify their unique cargo bike, they might like the colour and shape of their own bike, or simply love to tinker on mind-numbingly irritating mechanical problems. A kit generally comes as a front wheel with hub motor attached (and sometimes a disc brake rotor), a controller, throttle, wiring and battery with slide-in mounting rack. For any number of reasons, not all bicycles are able to be converted, so it's best to bring your bike into an electric bike shop or describe your bicycle to someone who knows about the kit they're selling. Here's a great article about the pros and cons of conversion kits versus electric bicycles.

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2. Electric bicycles and the law

Q. Are electric bicycles legal?

Yes. E-bikes are legal, provided they comply with relevant road transport regulations in each state. Currently these require that the e-bike have pedals and that its motor is capable of no more than 200W output power. These conditions exempt the electric bicycle from registration. Conditions governing bicycles apply, so you have to wear a helmet, have reflectors and a bell and use lights at night. Fortunately all eco-Bikes bicycles have in built lights and yes, they come with a bell!

Q. Are new electric bicycle laws coming?

Yes. During 2012, federal laws were extended to also include bicycles complying with European Union "pedelec" standards. Now, each state will need to pass regulations to implement this standard. As of writing, only Victoria had done this. The "pedelec" or pedal-electric standard means: a motor set to 250W maximum continuous output, the motor only provides assistance after a rider starts pedalling and only while the bike travels below 25 km/hr. In the long run, this should help bring more tried and tested bikes onto the Australian market, which has traditionally suffered from cheap and low quality electric bicycles.

Q. What is pedal assist mode and why is it necessary? Is it a safety thing?

Pedal assist mode on electric bicycles means that the bicycle's electric motor only operates while you are pedalling. It is a great little innovation as it allows you to operate the bicycle's motor with your feet and therefore don't need to operate a throttle. This leaves your hands free to hold onto the handlebar properly, use the brakes etc. The other good thing about pedal assist mode is that riders can discipline themselves to always pedal, gaining more exercise and getting a longer range from the battery. However, in our opinion mandatory pedal assist is a mistake, it's an appropriate design choice that doesn't require legislation for you to take your pick of how you operate your e-bike. There are many reasons why a rider might want to operate the motor without pedalling. This includes a roundabout, when your pedals will hit the ground if you are pedalling while turning yet you still might need the motor to maintain the speed at which you entered the roundabout. You might also have an injured leg, a bad hip etc. Furthermore, pedal assist can catch riders by surprise by engaging the motor when they were not expecting it, such as taking off from a stop at a slow speed, for example because there is a pedestrian in front of you. Pedal assist might engage and accelerate you suddenly. It would have been much better to leave mandatory pedal assist out of all legislation as it is simply an unnecessary complication with no enhancement to safety.

Q. Do e-bikes need insurance, registration and drivers license?

No. The same rules apply as for bicycles. You don't need rego, insurance or a drivers license to ride an electric bicycle. It's a no registration vehicle.

Q. I've lost my license for driving offences including drink driving. Can I ride an e-bike?

Yes, you can ride an electric bicycle in all cases, whether you have a license, lost your license or never have had a license. Naturally it remains an offence in all cases to ride an e-bike under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Q. Do I have to wear a helmet?

Yes, same as a normal bicycle.

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3. Using electric bicycles

Q. Can I pedal like on a normal bicycle or do I always have to use the electric motor?

You can definitely pedal as normal without the electric motor on. It will feel like a normal bicycle but heavier. Good quality electric bicycles still roll well, they're just heavier. The electric motor only kicks in from pedalling when you want it to. This is controlled in various ways, depending on the electric bicycle. Most eZeebike models offer both a hand throttle and a power level selector.

Q. How fast does the electric bicycle go?

This depends on how hilly it is, what sort of bicycle and your weight. Generally though, you can go around 25-30km/h for most of your trip provided you don't mind pedalling a bit, especially on the hilly parts.

Q. Does it go up any hill?

Of course not, some hills are just too steep but one thing is for sure - if you pedal and motor you can go up much steeper and longer hills than you would be able to do without the electric motor. Fundamentally it's not a motorbike. Your e-bike will make cycling a breeze but sitting there and never pedalling doesn't work in hilly places.

Q. What is the electric bicycle's range?

Anywhere between 5km for a really poor quality, heavy e-bike with a lead battery, to 80,000km for this Barcelona boy on his electric bicycle world tour with his Wisper 906 Alpino with dual battery and solar trailer. In general though, 20-80km. The big range in there is because there are different battery sizes and different people have a different idea of how much pedalling is reasonable. Then another big variable is how hilly your area is. For example, while some of our bikes have been ridden up to 80 km around the lower suburbs, the same bikes may only just make the 21 km climb from our Hobart city shop up to Mt Wellington's peak at 1,200 metres. Bikes with bigger batteries such as the 36V 14Ah or the new 36V 20Ah eZeebikes can go even further. Take away hills, add your pedalling and you can see that they go a long way. And if they can't get you there and back, you can buy an extra charger to carry with you.

Q. How do I charge the e-bike? Does it charge while I pedal? How long does it take to charge?

You charge the electric bicycle's battery using its battery charger plugged into a wall socket. This is normally done at home at night after you've been riding. It could also be done while you're at work. Any sensible electric bicycle does not attempt to charge its battery while you pedal, see the technical section at the bottom of the page for more detail on the nonsense of regenerative braking on electric bicycles. If your battery is completely flat it will take around 4-8 hours depending on the size of your battery and your charger. Most of our bike batteries take between 4 to 6 hours for a full recharge.

Q. Do you get a removable battery?

Good bikes come with a battery that can be removed after unlocking with a key.This allows you to charge the e-bike battery on your desk at work or in an apartment without having to park the electric bicycle near a power point. Generally it is not necessary to remove the battery for security as it is locked in.

Q. When should I charge the battery?

Charge it every night after you've used it. It's fine to charge it before it's even close to completely flat. The worst thing you can do is leave it discharged for long periods of time. So if you charge it after each time you use it, you've minimised battery damage. If you don't use it for a long time charge it every month. It's okay to leave it plugged in all night but it's better to save electricity and turn it off when it's finished if you can do that before it's bed time.

Q. Will my electric bicycle be safe from theft?

Probably not but it also probably won't be stolen. It can be stolen just like a normal bicycle and it attracts more attention. Use a good lock, try to buy an e-bike with a wheel lock, be careful about where you leave it, for how long etc and the rest is luck. If you don't think luck has a welcome place in your life, consider bicycle insurance. Other methods that could work include decorating your bike with ugly stickers and tape and things that make it more personalised, easier to identify and also harder to resell. Higher tech methods for those who don't believe in Karma including data dot. If theft really is the thing that's putting you off using an e-bike, maybe get a really ugly (but not crap) bicycle and convert it to electric.

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4. eco-Bikes

Q. What is eco-Bikes about?

We're an electric bicycle business based in Tasmania. We love travelling by bike and are dedicated to providing high quality products that people like enough to start move around without a car. We partner with some of Australia's leading electric bicycle experts from Glowworm Bicycles in Sydney for technical backup. Add to this, our personal enthusiasm for cycling, electric bicycles and sustainability and you've got a team that is going to try and have the best bikes for you and will look after you to make sure you keep enjoying it.

Q. I'm watching my budget but I really want one of your e-bikes. Any special deals?

From time to time we have specials. You can also buy one of our ex-demo e-bikes. Just be careful that you don't go down the line of a low quality cheap electric bicycle, it's not cheaper in the end!

Q. Do you have any cheap electric bicycles?

Let's get one thing straight — you should only use a reliable e-bike. Even more reliable than a regular bicycle because it's heavier and usually goes faster and gets used more often. Having an unreliable transport option really defeats the purpose of being a transport option. So don't skimp on your electric bicycle. Get something that's good value, for sure, but not cheap. High quality e-bikes aren't just more reliable and cheaper in the long term, they're also more enjoyable to ride and easier to maintain and have a higher resale value. They also come with better warranties. 

Q. Can you repair my electric bicycle?

We will try to help but often the best way for us to help is to sell you a good one. It's not because we don't want to repair yours — it's just that in general electric bicycle's batteries, motors, controllers etc are not compatible with one another either because of different types and voltages or simply because of different physical sizes and plug and socket types. And if you bought an electric bicycle without warranty or paid service and spare parts available, it's probably a poor quality electric bicycle and even if we get it as good as new, it's still not that good. But don't worry, no one's perfect and it's only recently that shops like ours have been around to give real service, so just don't do it again :)

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5. eco-Bikes service and warranties

Q. What are the warranties on your bicycles?

eZeebikes come with a one year full mechanical warranty on the bicycle including parts and labour for any problem that isn't caused by a crash. Anything that breaks in the first 12 months is replaced for free, even spokes and brake pads, inner tubes and wear and tear stuff. Even for these the labour is free. When buying electric bicycles with theSchwalbe Marathon Kevlar tyres that are on all our eZeebike range, innertube changes and repairs are also free! No other bicycles or e-bikes offer this kind of deal because ours simply are better. Beyond one year many parts on the bicycles are covered by different warranties, such as the frame, handlebar and many more. You also get a one year full warranty on the electrical components of the product including replacement and labour. So basically there is almost nothing that can happen to you on the electric bicycle that won't be fixed for next to nothing. You do need to bring the electric bicycle in to the store though. Warranties on kits only include the individual parts on the electric bicycle conversion kit, not the bicycle you put it on. We are that confident that there will be very few problems and are serious about helping you through them. We want you to use these electric bicycles and tell everyone about how great they are.

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6. Electric bicycles and the environment

Q. Are e-bikes good for the environment?

Electric bicycles are very good for the environment. While Tasmania enjoys low-emission electricity, it is sometimes topped up by mainland electricity from fossil fuels. However, the fact is that electric bicycles use a tiny quantity of energy to move you around compared to a car, motorbike or even the train or bus. This is because bicycles are just such amazing and beautifully efficient machines. Did you know that no animal moves with as much energy efficiency as a human on a bicycle? So forget electric cars, electric bicycles are great for the environment not because they're electric, but because they're bicycles. An electric bicycle will travel around 50km on one battery that takes approximately 500Wh to charge. That's around 15c on your electricity bill. So if your daily commute is 10km each way then you're looking at 200Wh of electricity or 6c of electricity or 200g of CO2 emissions if you're using only coal power. That's similar to watching TV for two hours or driving 600m in an average car. If you prefer pictures to techno babble then check out the website of the Sanyo Electric Bicycle to see how much electricity an electric bicycle uses.

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7. Technical specifications

Q. What kind of electric motors do you use?

We use brushless DC hub motors with nylon planetary gears. Robust but quiet.

Q. Why use hub motors and not a chain drive motor? Can't you use your gears if you have a chain drive motor?

We use hub motors because they are the most efficient system thanks to the motor directly driving the wheel with no transmission in between. This also makes them highly reliable and very quiet and most importantly - low maintenance. They are also the system of choice for over a hundred million electric bicycles in Asia and the most popular through Europe, the USA as well as Australia and NZ. This means that they are also the most researched and developed. Yes, a chain driven motor can let you use the gears on your bike but it will also mean there is motor and human power strain on the same chain and drive system and except in rare and expensive options, you'll have crappy freewheeling cranks, an extra long bottom bracket, heaps of non standard parts and no mechanic will want to work on your bike and it will need regular work. When it comes down to it, there are so many reasons to use a hub motor and if the hub motor can get you around where you need to go, then it's the one for you. If you're not sure come and test ride our electric bicycles, you'll see.

Q. Do you put the motor in the front wheel or rear wheel.

We have a front hub motor in most of our electric bicycles. This is to allow full choice of drive chain at the back. For example, the internally geared rear hubs are popular on electric bicycles because they are low maintenance, reliable and look good. This isn't possible unless you have a front hub motor. Front hub motors also distribute the driving power between front and rear reducing total stress on rear axle and drive side spokes, making a more reliable electric bicycle. Front hub motors are more flexible for electric bicycle retrofits and also allow you to turn an electric bicycle back into a regular bicycle more quickly if need be. It also allows for quicker and easier servicing and warranty if necessary.

Q. Are there any advantages to having a rear wheel hub motor?

A rear wheel hub motor allows you to take the front wheel off more easily in case you want to load the electric bicycle into a car or pack it into a box. It also gives the option of taking off your front wheel and putting it next to the rear to lock the electric bike up safely with a U-Lock. This is the best way to lock an electric bicycle because it protects the expensive parts and it's very hard to break a good U-Lock if it's around the frame, two wheels and a pole. For these reasons, when we aren't picky about the gear system at the rear, such as on the cheaper electric bicycles, we use a rear wheel hub motor.

Q. What kind of batteries do you use?

We only use lithium based batteries because these are the lightest, longest lasting and highest capacity battery for their size and weight. They are also safe. Amongst the lithium family we currently prefer lithium polymer types for their high energy density. Much has been said about Lithium Iron Phosphate (also called LiFePO4 or Life-Po) due to its excellent cycle life (meaning it can last many years) but it is heavier and costs more. For the same price and weight you can get a higher capacity Lithium Polymer. Higher capacity means you won't drain it as much which means it will last longer, clawing back some advantage of the LiFePO4.

Q. Why can't I recharge my battery while I pedal?

You can't because we don't set up our electric bicycles to do regenerative braking because it would be woeful. It's not a technology problem, an innovation thing or a government conspiracy, it's a law of physics called conservation of energy and if your pedalling is used to recharge your battery then it will be like riding an exercise bike or swimming with a boat tied to you. Most of the effort you put into charging the battery will be lost in the inefficiencies of each step of the pointless work you are doing - energy will be lost as your motion is converted to electricity, lost again as this electricity enters the battery by conversion to chemical energy, lost again when it converts back to electricity and then again when converting to motion through the motor. So forget about it please, it's a pointless marketing gimmick.

Q. But what about when I was going to brake anyway? Don't hybrid cars work like that?

You won't often use much friction braking on a bicycle, they just don't go that fast. Coast up to the lights instead. To suffer regenerative braking on electric bicycles you have to have a two way controller, a battery that can handle huge, brief charge currents and a motor that doesn't freewheel so that you can force it both ways. In the end these problems will not be compensated by the few drips of electricity you get while regenerative braking so it won't help anything. As for the cars, they are cars, not bikes. They go faster and are heavier and brake more and also require braking to regulate the car's speed, like being in gear. They also have combustion engines and don't have battery chargers so they need some way of regeneratively charging their batteries. They're just different, be happy every time you're not in one.

Q. Do the lights run off the main battery on the e-bike?

In most cases yes and it's awesome. No more buying batteries, rechargers and all that for your lights or getting hassled by police for not having lights. They're nice and bright too.

Q. How much can I carry on my electric bicycle?

It depends which one you get. Probably around 25kg on the rear pannier rack and 5-10kg in a front basket. You could also tow a bicycle trailer. If you need to carry more we have electric cargo bicycles like the eZee elMundo.  But before you get carried away - do all this on a bicycle first. There are safety issues involved when carrying a lot of stuff, especially if you're thinking of carrying other people and we want to know you're doing this because it's a good idea for you and you know that you can do it safely, not just because it looks like an interesting experiment to get a new electric bike and carry four kids on it the first time you've ridden a bicycle since high school.

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