By Alexandra McCray
Whether you’re walking on a path, out for a drive or simply relaxing on your front porch, it’s hard not to notice the uptick in bike riding in metro Atlanta. However, some people wish they had a boost when getting around the city’s hills on two wheels. Because of this, electric bikes, also known as e-bikes, are becoming a popular choice for riders who desire assistance. Read on for an overview of how they work and insight into what to consider when selecting one for yourself.
E-bikes are essentially regular bikes with an electric motor, rechargeable battery, a controller, which acts as the brain of an electric bike, and a digital display. They can take some or all the work out of pedaling, explains Eric Hunger, owner of ElectroBike. You can outfit them with accessories and choose from an array of styles—mountain, beach cruiser, adult tricycle, folding, etc.
The most common way e-bikes provide extra oomph is through a pedal-assist system (PAS). “When you pedal, the motor kicks in and assists you at whatever level you have set,” Mark Scarbrough, store manager at Stone Mountain Bike Company, says. “It feels like someone is running behind you and giving you a push. … It’s an incredible feeling,” says Greg Godwin, co-owner of Pedego Alpharetta.
An e-bike can just use PAS technology, or it can include a throttle on the handlebar as well. You can use it to move the bike forward without pedaling, which can be helpful to get up a hill or get going again after stopping, explains Hunger.
- Do I need a license? According to PeopleForBikes, in Georgia, you do not need a special registration, license or insurance for an e-bike the way you would for a car.
- Should I wear a helmet? Yes, you should follow the same safety measures you would while riding any other type of bike.
- Are there age restrictions? E-bikes are often designed for adults and teenagers. People younger than 15 can’t operate a class 3 e-bike in Georgia but can be a passenger. Everyone on a class 3 e-bike must also wear a helmet. You can learn more about Georgia’s e-bike classes at peopleforbikes.org.
- Where can I find riding groups? The Atlanta Bicycle Coalition offers a True Beginners course throughout the year where grown-up newbie riders can connect and learn. You can also visit bicyclegeorgia.com to find bicycle clubs around the state or ask your local bike shop if they do ride groups.
Motors and Mechanics
The type of motor an e-bike has is also an important factor in the kind of assistance it can give. There are two main options. A hub-drive motor is in the center of the front or rear wheel and works independently of bicycle gearing, while mid-drive motors are where the pedals are and work with the gearing, explains Edward Guzman, president and owner of GForce Electric Bike & Scooter.
Mid-drive motors are more advanced and intuitive than hub-drives, which can lead to a ride that feels smoother and makes them ideal for climbing steep hills, mountain biking or other strenuous riding. Their efficiency also translates into the ability to cover more miles per charge. The location of a mid-drive motor can also create a more-balanced ride that is reminiscent of a conventional bike since the extra weight is centered and not focused on the front or back. However, Pugh notes that you may not even notice the difference. One thing to consider about mid-drives is that their firmware (technology inside the controller) tends to need updates.
Hub-drive motors can certainly help you get up hills but can be better suited for recreational riding and flat surfaces. They are also much more affordable than middrives. Additionally, hub-drives can be easier on the mechanical components of a bike than mid-drives.
What to Expect
The first thought that comes to most minds when contemplating e-bikes is how far you can go on a single charge. Factors such as the terrain, hilliness, power of the motor, battery size, your weight (plus any extra), and assist use all play a part. Per charge, you may cover 20 to 45 miles with a hub-drive and 50 to 120 on a mid-drive.
No matter how far you ride, though, using an e-bike doesn’t mean sacrificing the health benefits of cycling. You can ramp up or down how much work you do by changing the amount assist you utilize. Plus, Stephen Spring, education and outreach programs manager for the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, says, “People that have e-bikes are going two and three times farther. So, if you’re going two or three times farther and you’re only getting one-third of the benefits, then it ends up equaling out in the long run.”
Once you’ve made it to your destination, charging up shouldn’t be a problem since you can use standard outlets. It can take two to three hours to fill a completely drained battery or four to five or longer, says Hunger. The difference in charge time is based on the amp-hour capacity of your battery, says Pugh. He says to think of it as your battery’s gas tank, meaning the higher the capacity, the more time it can take to recharge. You can cut down that time by charging after every ride, Godwin adds.
The electric components of an e-bike don’t require extra servicing either. Stick to routine mechanical maintenance such as lubricating the chain, replacing brake pads and getting one to two tuneups a year, avoid extreme temperatures, and steer clear of heavy downpours and large puddles to ensure your ride stays in tiptop shape. Hunger also advises keeping tire pressure above the minimum. And while you often can take your e-bike to a conventional bike shop for mechanical maintenance, Pugh recommends taking it to the shop you bought it from or, if you purchased it online, to a shop that sells the brand you have.
Where to Ride
Before you set out for a ride, it’s important to know what class your e-bike is and the associated rules. PeopleForBikes offers information on Georgia’s e-bike classes and current legislation. Luckily, most e-bikes fall under the same rules and regulations as regular bikes and can be ridden in many of the same places. You should still check the rules for your area first, though.
Here are some recommendations from our article sources regarding riding locations:
- Your neighborhood
- Silver Comet Trail
- Stone Mountain Park and Stone Mountain city
- Big Creek Greenway
- Atlanta BeltLine
For more information on e-bikes and updated news, visit www.peopleforbikes.org/ locations/georgia
Finding the Right Ride
Before making your purchase, it’s important to ask yourself some key questions. Here are some common ones and the answers to them to help guide your decision.
How much am I prepared to spend?
Determining your budget is the first step to discovering which e-bike is best for you. Prices are based on the quality, size and power of parts, the brand and more. E-bikes also often use costly batteries with lithium-ion or a version of it, says Guzman. “The sweet spot is $1,500. That’s usually what people spend. Some people spend more. Some people spend less,” Guzman says. Mid-drive e-bikes start at $2,500, while anything below that will be a hub-drive, notes Hunger.
What should I know about budget-friendly options?
The web may boast cheaper options, but they can be of questionable quality and come with drawbacks like a 100% steel frame which dramatically increases a bike’s weight. You also may not be able to get the e-bike serviced at a shop near you. Hunger and Guzman agree that turning a conventional bike into an e-bike or building your own are not smart ways to save money either.
A better idea is to consider renting until you’re ready to take the plunge. Many stores, including Atlanta Bicycle Barn, Stone Mountain Bike Company, Pedego Alpharetta, and GForce Electric Bike & Scooter have rental programs. Spring also suggests Helbiz, a vehicle-share company servicing Atlanta that offers e-bike rentals.
How long of a warranty can I expect?
It depends on the brand and manufacturer, but it’s typical to see one to three years on electric parts, while other components can vary, says Guzman. If you do buy an e-bike online or from a smaller brand, he advises choosing a company with a network of shops where you can get your e-bike serviced under warranty.
What kind of riding do I want to do?
At the end of the day, an e-bike should enhance your life, so choose one you’re going to enjoy using and that makes sense for your needs.
“If it’s day-to-day commuting, you could go with a rear- [hub-] or mid-drive. If it’s very casual and you just want to ride on the weekends, you could probably go with a rear- [hub-] drive at the entry-level price point that’s gonna allow you to shift gears,” says Scarbrough. You should also consider how much you want to exert yourself and how you want to sit, adds Hunger. “With mid-drives, you’re gonna have to put a little extra effort into it typically,” he says. Once you’ve made your selection, you can zip away and join Atlanta’s booming electric and nonelectric bicycle population.