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How to choose the right electric bike?

E-bikes are selling like the proverbial hot cakes all across Europe. As such, they're set to have a major impact on urban streets within a few years.

The reason behind their success is that for people living in towns with differences in levels such as Brussels, e-bikes are an affordable and practical way of getting around. Not only that, they are becoming increasingly more affordable, with prices ranging from €1,500 to €2,500.

Here are a few tips on what to look out for.

First of all: ask the right questions

Before actually buying an electric bike, think properly about what you need and what you are expecting.
Things you should definitely consider:

  • how often will you be using the e-bike?
  • what kind of distances will be covered?
  • how tall are you and how much do you weigh? Make no mistake, an e-bike is heavy, weighing anywhere from 17 to 25 kg.
  • will you be carrying baggage?
  • will you be transporting children ?

Call on an expert for advice.

What type of pedal power assistance?

There are two types of pedal power assistance:

  • the motion sensor: the motor gets going after 2 to 3 pedal rotations and ignores how slowly or quickly you are pedalling This can be quite tricky at the outset.
  • the power sensor: the pedal power assistance starts as soon as you start pedalling and goes increasingly faster. More comfortable, but also a lot more expensive.

What power?

By law, the power of e-bikes is restricted to 250 W. However, the performance of these bikes is largely determined by the position of the motor, rather than the motor power. For instance, the hill assist feature will work better if the motor is fitted inside the pedal axle.

Go for a motor that has the best torque, i.e. a motor that delivers the best mechanical power (at least 25 Nm).

Which battery?

Also look at the battery autonomy, the composition and the warranty, and particularly at whether or not you can detach the battery. Using the e-bike on a daily basis means you're looking at a two-year service life, which is equivalent to some 500 recharge cycles. 

While there's a lot to be said about battery autonomy, the best way forward is to go by the following principle:

The maximum distance on a full battery is some 70% of the range specified by the manufacturer (given that batteries are tested in optimum conditions).

The actual autonomy of the bike mainly depends on the cyclist’s weight, the type of terrain, the temperature and the wind.

What brakes?

E-bikes can be quite a considerable weight (17 to 25 kg) and achieve high speeds. That means excellent quality brakes are a must, with the safest brakes are hydraulic brakes.

You could also go for a motor brake: this system recovers the energy when you brake to recharge the battery. These electric bikes are much faster, so it’s vital that you wear the appropriate protective gear.

What protective gear?

Even though wearing a helmet when driving an electric bike is not compulsory, it's something we would strongly recommend.
Other useful safety accessories include:

  • a high vis jacket
  • a rear-view mirror
  • a danger indicator: a bar in a striking colour you attach to the bike and which makes sure vehicles maintain a safe distance
Keep it safe: adopt a defensive riding style! Motorists are often caught off guard by the sheer speed of electric bikes.

Try before you buy

Want to find out what fund driving an e-bike can be on a nice summer’s day? Hire one for the day in Brussels. Try Pro Velo not-for-profit organisation for instance. Electric bikes might soon also be available through Villo! system. Just as in other European cities, negotiations are ongoing.

Buying guide

Be sure to read the Test-Achats buying guide (in French).

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