What makes an electric bicycle? What is an electric bike?
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The electric bicycle. What exactly is an electric bike?

Defining the electric bike:  
The term 'electric bike' is bandied about a lot these days, and to the uninitiated it might be a somewhat nebulous term. When referred to as an 'electric bicycle', the imagery the name conjures becomes a bit more focused. Simply saying 'electric bike,' however, calls up images from basic mopeds to the electric motorbikes seen in Akira. That said, efforts need to be made to properly define the electric bike.

To begin understanding just what an electric bike is, you should start with your basic bicycle. Nothing complicated. Your classical bicycle, with a conservative number of speeds and none of the bells or whistles. Now, add three things: an electric bike motor, a battery, and a controller that activates and regulates the power and electric assistance. With those three items, you have the basics of an electric bike.

An electric bike is a standard bicycle that has electric components equipped on it. An electric bike will function normally like a regular bicycle. An electric bike will pedal like a regular bicycle, handle like a regular bicycle, and by and large an electric bike will use the same same parts as a regular bicycle. An electric bike is meant to be thought of and used as a bicycle, not as a motorcycle. An electric bike is meant to augment human power, not completely replace it. An electric bike is not about traveling at high speeds. Imagine an electric bike as a regular bike that just happens to be easier. Yes, an electric bicycle is an easy bike.

Styles of electric bikes

Electric bicycles come in a variety of styles. Just like regular bikes, there are different frame sizes to accommodate different rider sizes, as well as riding styles. For example, an eZee Cadence is designed for a relaxed, upright ride, while the eZee Torq is designed for a more active, sportier riding position. Electric bikes come in different numbers of speeds, and with different components, just like regular bikes.

Electric bikes also differ when it comes to the three previously-mentioned main parts that make them electric: the bicycle motor, battery, and controller. They also come as complete DIY electric bike motor kits.

The motor. Some electric bikes have an external, chain-driven motor mounted on the side of the bike, pulling the rear wheel. Most electric bikes have an internal motor, where the motor is located in the hub of the front or rear wheel. When the motor is located in the hub, it offers a more streamlined package, and also makes it so the bike is less conspicuously an electric bike. Motors also come in a wide variety of power ratings, from 200W to 700W. Depending on your potential usage of the electric bike, a more powerful motor may be necessary, or it might be completely unnecessary for you purposes.

The battery. Electric bikes generally use one of three types of batteries: lead acid batteries, nickel metal hydride batteries, or lithium ion batteries. More modern electric bikes use either the NiMH or Lithium batteries. Some models of bikes let you pick between one or the other, while others require a very specific battery. You can read about all of the differences between each type of battery in or article Batteries 101.

The controller. The controller is what lets you operate the electric assistance that your electric motor bike offers. Controllers come in a variety of styles, and all of them are located on the handlebar for ease of use. There are two main styles of controllers. There are throttle-based controllers, and pedal activated controllers. Throttle-based controllers work with a simple throttle mechanism. The throttle will either be a twist-grip type, or a thumb-press type. With a throttle, you simply pull back or press the throttle to receive the electric assistance. Some electric bikes require nothing more than activating the throttle, allowing you to ride without pedaling. Others require that you pedal gently in order to activate the throttle. This is done to protect the battery over time and to ensure that you get a good electric bike range . Pedal activated systems offer electric assistance as you press down on the pedals. There is no throttle present; simply pedaling will do the trick. Electric bikes with pedal activated systems have a controller mounted on the handlebar that lets you adjust the level of assistance that you receive as you pedal. You can dial in the amount of assistance you want, ranging from no assistance to a great deal of assistance.

By and large, electric bikes are simple to use, ride, and maintain. They require little maintenance beyond what a standard bike requires. Electric bikes are used for a variety of purposes, ranging from effortless commuting to pure leisure. They attract riders from all backgrounds.

Now that you understand just what makes an electric bike, you're faced with the task of deciding on one. What's the best electric bike for you? And do you want a pre-built electric bike, or an electric bike motor conversion kit? Many personal details and preferences will factor into your decision. Here at NYCeWheels we have the articles and staff to help you make the most informed decision possible.