This article is from the Bicycles FAQ, by Mike Iglesias with numerous contributions by others.
Date: Mon, 23 Aug 1999 21:37:27 EDT
Practical transportation for errands and short commutes.
Electric bikes are everyday bicycles with an added battery-powered electric
motor. The motor helps you pedal (a lot) whenever you want. Enjoy that
cruising feeling all the time - even when you start from a stop, go uphill,
or buck a head wind. Electric bikes make cycling quick, safe, and fun!
FLEXIBLE AND UTILITARIAN
You can be riding your first EV for under $1000. Add a trailer and you've
got a small, easy-to-use vehicle capable of hauling 100 pounds of cargo over
five miles at 15+ mph. Without the trailer and cargo, you and your e-bike
can easily cover 10 miles at nearly 20 mph. For most of us, that's enough
for our local errands. For some, it will get us to work faster than driving
- and with less stress. E-bikes provide advantages of an extra car without
the burdensome costs. In addition, electric bikes combine well with bus and
train for point-to-point transportation. Multi-car households would do well
to consider replacing one car and sharing an e-bike.
All electric bikes give your pedaling an assist. Although capable of pushing
you along without your help, electric bikes perform noticeably better when
you pedal. The average "couch potato" who normally rides at 10 mph can do
15-20 mph with the same effort for a range of 10 miles before recharging.
Power is easily activated by a switch mounted on the handlebar - or in
response to your pedaling. When activated, the bike immediately responds
with a nearly silent push. When you release the switch (or stop pedaling),
the motor coasts - like "neutral" on a car. Standard bicycle hand brakes and
gearing round out the controls.
TWO BASIC DESIGNS
Electric (or "electric-assist") bicycles come in two basic designs - adaptive
and purpose-built. The adaptive type starts with a bicycle and adds a drive
system to it. A purpose-built e-bike is a designed from the ground up.
Adaptives are less expensive, less stylish, and may require installation
(allow 3 hours if you're familiar with tools; otherwise your local bikeshop
mechanic will charge about $75). Purpose-builts offer interesting designs
and features (like brake-activated tail lights). Regardless which type you
use, you don't need a driver's license, vehicle registration, or insurance.
In California, an electric bike is legally a "bicycle" (CVC 406(b)).
Rechargeable batteries power the electric drive motors. Charging requires
less than 5¢ of electricity from a standard 110 VAC outlet. Charging times
for different brands, however, vary widely. (ZAPWORLD.COM's DX systems
recharge in less than three hours.) If you own a bike, you can motorize it
for as little as $400. Or buy a purpose-built type for up to $1500.
An electric bike, by California law, is limited to a top speed of 20 mph
(speed limits vary from state to state). That speed limitation prevents
riders from over-riding their capabilities. The improved acceleration
provides an extra margin of safety by helping a rider dodge traffic. The
extra speed reduces the speed differential between you and cars, allowing
them more time to see you and adjust. The extra speed also allows you to
crest hills sooner, so you spend less time at those vulnerable slow speeds.
This can be expecially important on freeway overpasses. Finally, an e-bike's
large battery can power a big, bright headlight to warn oncoming traffic that
For more information and an overview of most e-bike offerings in the U. S.,
Electric tricycles (adult three wheelers) are covered at