haibike sduro trekking 1.0

Choosing an Electric Bike for Beginners

Upon the purchase of VANgo, my Sprinter that I’m having built out into a camper van, I thought it would be nice to have another form of transportation.  In this case, an electric bike.  About the only thing I knew about electric bikes before buying one, was they existed.  As a result, I faced a huge learning curve.

Just like regular bikes, there are all sorts of electric bikes on the market.  Mountain bikes, cruisers, folding bikes, commuter bikes, fat bikes, cargo bikes and the list goes on.  I wanted a bike that would get me from point A to point B easily and comfortably.  Additionally, it needed to fit under the bed in my camper.

Front Wheel Quick Release

Fitting my bike under my bed in VANgo left me with two choices.  I could get a folding bike, or I could purchase a bike with a quick release for the front wheel (not as common as on a regular bike).  While folding bikes are popular among RVer’s, I wanted a more upright, commuter.  As a result, these needs narrowed my options and increased the price.

front wheel quick release on electric bike

Originally, I planned to purchase an entry level bike like the Aventura as I wasn’t sure how much I’d use it.  While a nice option, the front wheel did not feature a quick release.  Additionally, the entry level bike of this particular brand has a rear hub motor with a throttle which makes it feel more like a moped than a bike. 

Take an Electric Bike Test Ride

While the rear hub motor is really fun, and many people prefer this type of bike, I felt like I could easily have an accident.  The rear motor shoots the bike forward on a light pedal stroke if you forget to lower the pedal assist level while stopping or making a turn.

On the other hand, a mid-drive motor with pedal assist feels more like a bike as the power is generated from the center of the bike.  A ride on the Haibike SDURO Trekking 1.0, felt more controlled to me, and in the end, it was my choice.  In fact, despite reading about classes, motors, pedal assist, throttles, and battery life (of which I still didn’t completely understand) it was the feel of the ride that trumped all other considerations. 

Consequently, I highly, highly, highly recommend test riding different bikes.  Did I mention highly?  Even the sales staff at ebikeusa who provided excellent advice, highly encouraged me to ride both a rear hub and mid drive system. DO NOT buy a bike without doing this!

In addition to my aforementioned needs (most specifically the front wheel quick release), below are others features to consider when purchasing an electric bike:

Motor

There are two categories of motors, rear hub and mid drive.  Of the rear hub there are two types.  I’m not getting into all the technical jargon.  The bottom line is as I mentioned above, bikes with rear hub motors feel like they are being pushed from behind like a moped.  They are super fun to ride and best suited for flat surfaces.

The mid drive motors are mounted at the pedal base which provides a low and central center of gravity.  As a result, they feel more stable and are easier to control.  Additionally, the motor is more efficient on hills, providing more assisted distance.

The Haibike, one of the first European e-bikes, comes with a Bosch motor which is known for its efficiency.  This is not why I purchased the Haibike, but it was good to know it is reliable.

bosch motor on electric bike

Class

There are three electric bike classes…1, 2, and 3.  The laws vary based on the class of bike.  For example, certain classes may not be allowed on trails, in National Parks, or in some cities or countries unless the throttle is disengaged.

Class 1: A Class 1 e-bike is limited to pedal assist only, meaning you must pedal for the bike to move.  Having said that, there are generally at least 4 assist levels to increase the speed.  With each increased level, however, the battery life and thus assisted distance decreases.  The max speed is 20 mph.

Class 2: A Class 2 e-bike includes pedal assist as well as a throttle.  The throttle propels the bike forward without the need to pedal.  Again, the pedal assist function has various levels.  The max speed is 20 mph.

Class 3:  A Class 3 e-bike also includes pedal assist and a throttle.  The max speed with the throttle is 20 mph while the max speed with pedal assist is 28 mph.

I went with a class 1 bike as they are subject to the least amount of restrictions, and thus I shouldn’t have to look up the laws in each state and park while traveling around the USA.

Components

Since I am not technical, I didn’t consider what brand of components are used on electric bikes, but I did learn of a few advantages by going with global companies rather than local. 

Before discovering ebikeusa, I was looking at a few locally owned companies, one based in Colorado and one in Washington.  While you can save money by purchasing direct to consumer, these companies potentially use their own brake and gear components.  The resulting maintenance would have to be handled by them.

On the flip side, many of the global bike companies like Haibike and Raleigh use well known brake and gear brands like Shimano.  An electric bike with Shimano components may be worked on at any bike shop in the USA.  It doesn’t even have to be an e-bike shop.

Since I will be traveling with my bike, and I hardly know how to fix a bike, having global maintenance available to me was important.  As much as I would like to support a local company, in this case my needs proved otherwise.

Battery Efficiency

Obviously, one of the most important features of an electric bike is the battery.  After all, it is what powers the pedal assist and throttle!  Consequently, I wanted a bike whose battery could at least support a 40-mile range without recharging it.  The Haibike can achieve this on a high pedal assist mode. 

In order to keep the battery efficient, take care of proper charging techniques and storage.  Try to keep the battery from losing its charge completely.  Most batteries may be charged when attached or detached from the bike.  Additionally, if the electric bike is stored outside in extreme temperatures, bring the battery inside.

haibike battery
battery removed with key

Display

Most electric bikes come with a display, some more elaborate than others.  The display features anything from speeds, battery life, range, a clock and more.  Originally, the display wasn’t important to me and by dumb luck, I ended up with an excellent one.

The Haibike display shows the range I can go based on the pedal assist level.  Some bikes don’t show this, and riders must memorize the modes and distances.  Yikes! 

display on haibike electric bike

Weight

Electric bikes weigh between 50 and 70 pounds.  This is three times as much as a triathlon bike!  Obviously, the heavy weight makes electric bikes a challenge to lift for a 130 pound girl.  Since I will have to lift my bike into VANgo, I wanted something on the lighter side. 

The Haibike is in the 50-55 pound range.  The removable battery weighs over six pounds, so I can get the bike below 50 pounds for lifting.  This was important to me, as if I’m always struggling with it, I won’t be riding it!

Frame and Stem

The frame generally come two ways, high-step or step-through.  This used to be called men’s and women’s back in the day.  I have found the step-through to be easier, as the bikes are rather big, especially since I fit right between a small and a medium due to my long torso but short legs. 

Some people may also like an adjustable stem, in order to have more comfort on the handle bars. The Haibike does not include this option, but the handlebar configuration was fine for me.

Suspension

As with regular bikes, electronic bikes come with front, back, or no suspension.  Obviously, suspension provides a smoother ride.  I ended up with front suspension, simply because the bike came with it.  I’m certain I will like the upgrade, especially if I make it on to any gravel road, but it wasn’t a major factor in my decision process.

suspension and tire on Haibike
Suspension and Tire

Tires

I might have made a slight mistake here, but there weren’t many alternatives unless I upgraded substantially to a mountain bike.  My Haibike has commuter tires, which most of the time will work great, but they are slightly narrow and lack traction for a gravel road.

I was under the impression I could change the tire, but due to the fenders, I don’t have the ability to go wider.  I will be able to change the tire to a knobby one, but it would still be narrower than a mountain bike tire.  The verdict is still out.

Accessories

Electric bikes come with or without accessories which add to the cost.  It is good to know what each e-bike features such as lights, racks and fenders.  This way, when comparing prices, you may compare apples to apples. 

I wanted fenders, a back rack and lights.  The Haibike came with all these features integrated, so I didn’t have to purchase any add ons except for paneirs and locks.

Locks

While I already have a U-lock, it is small.  Given the bike is large and expensive, I wanted to ensure I could lock it easily.  As a result, I will use the U-lock to lock the front wheel to the frame and a Kryptonite Chain Lock to attach the bike to something permanent through its back wheel and frame.

While the Kryptonite locks are expensive and heavy, they are worth the purchase to protect an expensive electronic bike.  The locks come with anti-theft ratings which protect the bike up to a specified dollar amount.  I selected the 35” Kryptonite Evolution Series 4 1090 Chain.  This gives me approximately three feet of length.

The downside to carrying this type of lock is that they don’t attach to the frame of the bike.  As a result, riders need a backpack or paniers, carrying cases that attach to the back rack.  Since there isn’t a great spot to attach water bottles to the e-bike, and I might use my electric bike to go to the store I opted for Paniers.

Paniers

There are tons of options and some paniers are made specifically for the back rack on the bike.  The Haibike uses the Carrymore rack and paniers made specifically for the quick release on this rack are non-existent in the USA.  Not to worry, others attach to the side.  After sifting through all sorts of designs, I went with the streamlined, Ibera Bicycle Bag PakRak.  They clip on and have smaller pockets inside which is nice for smaller items.  The bags also feature reflectors on the back for extra safety.

In summary, these are the things I learned while shopping for electric bikes. ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned travel photographer and blogger.

4 thoughts on “Choosing an Electric Bike for Beginners

  1. That was a cool read. I don’t know one from another but I see a lot of Rice Univ. students zipping by my townhouse. Their advantage is you can park a bike or evoke on Rice campus free, where a permit for a car is big 💰. Cate had a little baby blue Vespa while she was at UofH and loved it. I think when she was working in Austin at the capital she used it because it was so easy to park.

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