Purchasing an electric-assist bicycle: What to Consider

February 24, 2024

Not long ago, when I first purchased an electric-assist bicycle, many of my friends mocked it as a lazy and cheating behavior. Although electric-assist bicycles had already swept through various European and American countries, becoming essential for commuting, they were still not widely understood in China.

The most common remarks I heard were, "I can ride a bicycle for exercise and drive or ride an electric scooter for commuting," "Isn't an electric-assist bicycle just an electric bike with pedals?" "Electric-assist bicycles are neither as fast as electric scooters nor do they provide as much exercise as regular bicycles," and so on.

However, as city roads became increasingly congested and complex, and restrictions on electric scooters started to tighten, many of my friends began to consider electric-assist bicycles. I often had people asking me about commuting with electric-assist bicycles, whether they would be cumbersome, and female friends who were interested in cycling but worried about keeping up with group activities. Clearly, there was a growing interest in electric-assist bicycles.

However, electric-assist bicycle brands in China are still in their early stages, with varying quality and price levels. Today, based on my experience, I will outline some key points to consider when purchasing an electric-assist bicycle, helping everyone navigate through the myriad of options and choose the right one for themselves.

Types of Electric-Assist Bicycles

First and foremost, it's essential to determine the type of electric-assist bicycle based on your intended riding scenarios. Electric-assist bicycles come in various types, primarily categorized by their intended use, such as electric mountain bikes, electric road/city bikes, electric cargo bikes, etc. Each category may have different purchasing considerations, but the overall direction remains similar. This time, I'll focus on electric-assist bicycles suitable for a broader range of users, particularly for urban commuting, to provide some purchasing insights.

Motor Type

The motor is the core component of an electric-assist bicycle, so the first consideration is the type of motor. Common electric-assist systems are divided into mid-drive motors and hub motors.

Mid-drive motors are generally used in electric mountain bikes, providing advantages with a lower center of gravity for navigating complex terrain. Hub motors, on the other hand, are typically mounted in the wheel hub, allowing for compact sizes. In urban settings where road conditions are not as challenging as off-road trails, and steep climbing demands are lower, hub motors are commonly used.

Overall, there's no absolute superiority between hub motors and mid-drive motors. The choice of motor should consider the collaboration and calibration between the bike manufacturer and the motor system supplier.

In simple terms, selecting a motor brand involves more than just choosing the motor itself. It's about selecting a brand that can provide a comprehensive assist solution. Established brands in the market include Pinion, Bosch, as well as proprietary motor brands like Lightning and Mac Motor. Taking Mac Motor's M080 electric-assist system as an example, the hub motor weighs only 2.5kg, featuring innovative electromagnetic design and gear structure for lightweight, compact size, ample power, and stable performance. Its compact size and lightweight allow the electric-assist bicycle to maintain a conventional appearance, making it manageable for daily use.

Motor Power

Motor power is another crucial consideration. Electric-assist bicycle motors are typically rated in watts, ranging from 250W to 750W.

Higher motor power doesn't necessarily mean faster assistance. For many electric-assist bicycles, 250W is often sufficient. The principle is similar to that of electric vehicles – larger motors require larger batteries, resulting in heavier weight and higher costs. Thus, while higher wattage may seem desirable, 250W motors are generally adequate for providing assistance without compromising the cycling experience.

For instance, a 350W motor, like the one found in Mac Motor's M080, handles various urban road conditions with ease, even conquering steep bridges effortlessly. The power assist is so effective that riders can confidently tackle steep slopes, overcoming any doubts about battery exhaustion.

Battery Capacity (Range)

Battery weight accounts for a significant portion of an electric-assist bicycle's total weight, and it's crucial for determining the range. In general, larger battery capacity means longer range, but larger batteries also mean increased weight and volume. For commuting and urban riding, battery capacities ranging from 300Wh to 500Wh are common and suitable, offering ranges of approximately 70-90 kilometers.

Battery integration has evolved from external mounts to concealed designs. Integrated batteries, typically housed within the downtube, provide a clean look, structural stability, and reduced weight. For example, the electric-assist bicycle I purchased offers a maximum range of 80 kilometers, which comfortably covers my daily round-trip commute of 20 kilometers without any range anxiety.

Drivetrain and Braking Systems

Since electric-assist bicycles rely on human pedaling, a reliable drivetrain system is essential. Urban bicycles commonly feature drivetrains with 7 or 9 speeds, striking a balance between performance and lightweight. As for braking systems, most reputable brands are equipped with disc brakes for reliable stopping power. Hydraulic disc brakes are preferable for their superior braking performance, crucial for navigating busy urban traffic.

Other Considerations: Display, Waterproofing, Weight, Accessories

Additional considerations include the display panel, waterproofing, overall weight, and accessories. The display panel varies from high-definition color screens to minimalist displays showing only speed and battery level, catering to different preferences. Waterproofing is critical, especially in rainy regions, ensuring the longevity of motor, battery, and charging ports.

As for weight, aiming for lightweight construction below 20kg enhances maneuverability and ease of handling, comparable to conventional bicycles. Accessories such as lights and racks should also be considered based on individual needs and upgradeability options.

In conclusion, the points mentioned above cover the essential aspects to consider when purchasing an electric-assist bicycle. I hope this guide provides helpful insights for everyone looking to embark on the electric-assist bicycle journey.

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