In the first decade of my life the best Christmas present I ever received was a mini-bike at age 10. It had a 3-horsepower engine, and my brother’s was 5-horsepower. I rode it everywhere I could, and whenever I could. Then I rode my brothers after he lost interest. That mini-bike evolved into a 74 cc Indian dirt bike at age 13. I loved that dirt bike too. When I got my driver’s license I bought a 175 cc Kawasaki dirt bike (dual sport) and made it street legal so I could ride it on the road. The Kawasaki was later upgraded to a 250 cc Suzuki motorcycle prior to me joining the Army. Later, after retiring from the military I owned and rode a 2004 Victory Touring bike and then my 2007 Victory Kingpin Tour bike.
The chapter in my life of riding motorcycles is coming to a close. After two back surgeries, a knee replacement and another bad knee, a 750 pound motorcycle is a bit too much. I considered buying a smaller, lighter motorcycle to ride, but decided against it.
However, I’m not ready for the recliner yet, so I started looking into e-bikes.
We have the perfect neighborhood to ride bikes in. In addition to miles of paved roads there are miles of dirt trails in the woods around the lake.
And, we can take e-bikes on RV trips too. An e-bike is great transportation at the campground, and for sight seeing around the area where you are staying. Depending on the type of e-bike you get, you can travel 15 to more than 30 miles on one battery charge. That’s a lot of local exploring.
So, what is an e-bike?
An e-bike is an electric bicycle. Most e-bikes look similar to regular bikes, but they have a lithium battery, and a geared electric motor in the rear hub.
When you ride an e-bike it has what is referred to as pedal assist, and some have full electric power. When I started researching e-bikes I noticed prices ranging from $600 to more than $5,000. It comes down to the old saying “you get what you pay for.” Inexpensive e-bikes use a less expensive electric motor, lithium battery, and parts like brakes, shift mechanisms, and the frame itself.
I quickly learned the biggest difference between e-bikes (cost wise) was the size of the lithium battery (in both voltage and amp-hour ratings) and the size of the geared electric motor that propels the bike. E-bike lithium battery’s are typically 36-volts or 48-volts with various amp-hour ratings. The electric geared motor can range from 250 watts to 1,000 watts and 36-volts or 48-volts.
These components alone get expensive as you go up in size, and when you add things like an aluminum frame, expensive shift mechanisms and good brakes, it’s easy to see why prices escalate.
After a good bit of research, I decided I would go middle of the road and spend up to $1,300 for an e-bike. That price range can get you a 48-volt lithium battery and a 500 watt electric motor, but nothing fancy. A 500 watt electric motor is the minimum size required if you want to go at least 20 mph. The more I read, the more I wanted the larger 1,000 watt electric motor. With a 1,000 watt motor the e-bike can reach speeds up to 28 mph, and depending on how you ride it (pedal assist or fully electric) distance can range from 20 to 35 miles between charges. The problem was, I didn’t want to spend 2 grand or more on an e-bike.
Buying the e-bike
Then it hit me, why not look at some lightly used e-bikes? When I say lightly used I am talking about how many miles are on the bike.
Most e-bikes come with a digital LCD display that provides information like miles per hour and how many miles it was ridden, and the battery’s condition. The reason this is important is the lithium battery is good for a certain number of charges or cycles, prior to going bad. This number of cycles depends of the size and quality of the lithium battery. If the bike has high mileage, and was charged after every ride the battery could be at half it’s life expectancy when you buy the bike. The battery is the most expensive component to replace. Other problems you may not be aware of with a used e-bike is how well it was maintained. If the owner ran the battery down and did not recharge it in a timely manner, the battery can already be damaged.
I started searching on marketplace, and immediately found an e-bike that was first priced at $1200 then reduced to $900. It was an Ecotric brand and the model was Hammer. The owner said he paid $1,500 for it when it was new, and it only had 30 miles on it. When I researched the Ecotric brand and model, they did in fact sell for $1500 new. The e-bike has a 48-volt, 13-amp hour battery and a 750 watt electric geared hub motor.
It has an aluminum frame, a 7 speed external Shimano gear, and a 1 to 5 level pedal assist mode. It also has front and rear hydraulic disc brakes, front fork suspension, a unique seat suspension and an LCD display.
I thought it was too good to be true. I contacted the owner late in the evening and he told me several people were showing interest in the e-bike, so I told him I could be there the following morning. He said he would mark it “as pending” until 10 AM the next day. It was an hour and a half drive and I arrived there at 9 AM. The bike was in excellent condition, so out of curiosity I asked why he was selling it. He told me he bought two of the e-bikes at the same time, one for him and one for his step-father. They live on Oak Island, NC and wanted to ride the e-bikes on the beach, but there were two problems. One was, shortly after buying the e-bikes Oak Island prohibited bikes on the beach during the summer months. The other problem was this model e-bike is tall and his step-father did not feel comfortable riding it. So, I paid him $900 and brought the e-bike home.
Riding the e-bike
After reading through the owner’s manual it was time to ride the e-bike. The first time I got on the bike it is easy to see how someone could have problems learning to ride it. Let me explain. On my Ecotric e-bike you can ride using what is referred to as pedal assist, or full electric using a hand throttle. It has a 1 to 5 level pedal assist mode. I used a touch pad and put it in level 3. As soon as you pedal 3/4 of a turn the electric motor engages and propels you forward. Electric motors have lots of torque, and the 750 watt geared hub moves you right along. If you are not ready for the motor to engage you could easily go the wrong direction or possibly run into something. But, if you understand and are aware it is going to engage, and you are ready for it, it is quite simple to learn how to ride. In the pedal assist mode there are 5 levels. 1st is ECO, 2nd & 3rd is STD, and 4th & 5th is POWER. Every time it reaches the next speed (2, 3, 4, 5) the motor engages and propels you along faster as the speeds increase. If you stay in one pedal assist level (let’s say 3rd) you pedal and the motor engages and the process keeps repeating itself. It is fun to ride an e-bike, and I would encourage anyone to try it and just be cautious and aware in the beginning. Like most things in life there is a learning curve. After you achieve it, e-bikes are a blast to ride!
If someone is a bit apprehensive about riding an e-bike I would recommend starting with a less expensive bike that has a 36-volt battery and a 250 watt electric motor. It won’t surpass 20 mph, and it is easier to learn on and ride. I am looking for an e-bike that Dawn can ride. She is not interested in power and speed so a 36 volt, 250 watt e-bike would be perfect for her.
E-bike classifications and regulations
Something worthy of noting is, there are three classes of e-bikes 1, 2 & 3. The class determines how the bike is propelled (pedal assist, full electric) and the max speed. And yes, each state has rules and regulations about the e-bike class and where you can ride it. So before you buy an e-bike check your state’s regulations.
Other e-bike options and considerations
One consideration is the style of frame the bike has. There are what I would call a man’s style with the upper frame, like mine, that you have to raise your leg up and over. My e-bike is tall to begin with and with two bad knees it can be a challenge, but I am still able to do it. The other frame styles are what I would call a mid-frame, sort of between a man and a woman’s style bike frame, and then the step-thru style similar to a ladies bike style. So if you are older, or have medical conditions that prohibit lifting your leg up and over the frame, the style of frame is important. I was lucky in that my e-bike has a shock absorber built in the seat, and in the front fork suspension. It makes riding much easier on my back.
Consider the type of tires it has. E-bikes can be ridden on the beach, in snow, on gravel and dirt and on pavement. The main difference between these surfaces is the tires on the bike. The e-bike I bought was intended for riding on the beach, so it has 26-inch tires that are 4-inches wide. They are referred to as fat tires. Even though I intend to ride on dirt and sand trails I probably didn’t need the larger fat tires, but for me they are fine. If you plan to ride mostly on pavement or concrete you can find an e-bike with regular bike size tires.
A folding e-bike makes it easier to transport (especially for RV owners). With mine I need to find some type of bike rack that can support the weight so we can take them with us on RV trips. We have a folding bicycle we always took on RV trips that worked good around the campground, but with e-bikes you need to consider the added weight.
You also need to consider a helmet when you ride an e-bike. I always wore a helmet when I rode motorcycles, but never when I rode a bike, don’t ask me why because I really don’t know. But, on an e-bike that can travel 28 mph I think a bike helmet is a must.
My e-bike did not come with a rear bike rack which I think is useful especially on longer rides. The Ecotric web site offers aftermarket accessories.
Security is a concern too. You need some way to secure the bike when you are out shopping. I have a nice cable and lock I used on my motorcycle. Another good idea is an e-bike with a key that prevents someone from stealing the battery.
Other accessories for e-bikes are front and rear lights, a water bottle carrier, fenders, a basket for the front and horns.
So I am sure my $900 e-bike will end up costing $1100 or$1200 by the time I buy the accessories I want for it.
Hopefully this is a good primer on e-bikes for RV owners.
Mark J. Polk
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