An Introduction to E-Bikes

Bionx E-Bike HubOver the next few posts I will be discussing e-bikes: cycles that have electric motors to assist you pedalling your bike around the city. This first post introduces the e-bikes and ICBC rules, and I will discuss the e-bike riding experience in a follow-up post.

As Vancouver continues to build more active transportation infrastructure some of the things I hear more often are comments like:

  • Not everyone can ride a bike
  • I’d use my bike more often, but Vancouver’s so hilly
  • I’d bike to work, but I don’t want to arrive sweaty
  • I’d bike to work, but it’s too far to ride

These are all reasonable points, and there’s not a lot that can be done to address them. The hills are here to stay. More people should live closer to where they work, but affordability in Vancouver drives people further away from the core. Sweat happens.

OHM Cycles XU 700 electric bike

OHM Cycles XU 700 electric bike

One way of dealing with these issues is to use an electric bike. I’ve noticed during my daily bike commute an increasing number of electric vehicles on the bike routes, and I usually watch with some envy as they climb the hills with apparent ease while I’m pushing along in my granny gears.

The benefits of using an e-bike are what you would expect: more bang for less oomph. It takes considerably less effort to pedal your bike, whether it’s uphill, flat, or over longer distances. And since it’s less effort, you’re less tired, less sweaty, and typically faster. The cost to charge the e-bike battery is measured in pennies. On the other hand, e-bikes have a significant up-front cost, and the batteries have finite lives. And, because of their value they are often targets of bike thieves, particularly here in Vancouver.

So, what are e-bikes?

In British Columbia, electric bikes are legally called Motor Assisted Cycles. These are cycles (up to 3 wheels are allowed) that have an electric motor with a power output not in excess of 500 W which cannot propel the cycle faster than 32 km/h on flat ground. Additionally, the MAC must have mechanical “bicycle-style” pedals to mechanically propel the cycle. In Europe, e-bikes are often called “pedelecs” (pedal electric cycle).

Motorino XPe electric scooter

Motorino XPe electric scooter

There are two styles of e-bikes commonly seen around Vancouver: the standard “bicycle” style e-bike (like the OHM XU 700 above), which looks like a bicycle but with an electric motor hub in either the front or rear wheel and with a battery either in the frame or on the rear rack, and the scooter-style e-bike (like the Motorino XPe to the right), which looks like a gas-powered scooter but has pedals and an electric motor. Both these styles are, by law, bicycles and can be driven everywhere “ordinary” bikes can.

In addition to these technical restrictions specified under the BC Motor Vehicle Act you must be 16 years or older. No driver’s license is required, and the MAC doesn’t need to be registered or insured.

Electric bikes have been gradually increasing in popularity in North America, but they’re quite a bit more popular in Europe and extremely popular in China. In fact, about 90% of worldwide electric bike sales occur in China, about 5% in Europe, and about 2% in North America. About 300,000 electric bicycles are expected to be sold in North America this year, 1.5 million in Europe, and over 30 million in China.

I don’t own an e-bike, none of my close friends own an e-bike, and in fact, I’ve never driven one. That is going to change as several local retailers and manufacturers will be loaning me a few bikes over the next several weeks to try out. I’ll let you know a bit about the bikes, what I thought about them, and how they affected my daily commute.

Have you every driven an electric cycle? What do you think about using an electric bicycle to get around town? Do you have any e-bike questions you want addressed?

3 Responses to “An Introduction to E-Bikes”

  1. Faye says:

    Engrave your BC DRIVER’S LICENSE on your bike to reduce bike thefts and provide the VPD with a contact if the bike is retrieved. Let’s make this a bike theft free city!

  2. Bill Barilko says:

    The people half my age who I see riding those abominations should try some exercise to ease their chronic angst.

  3. That’s a good idea, I really like that. Thank for your information