How to Ride an Electric Bike: What You Need to Know
Life is like riding a bike, but there are a lot of things to look out for when thinking about how to ride an e-bike. Here are some top tips to keep you safe and having fun on your first e-bike ride.
Cycling is fun. Riding an electric bike is also fun. However, despite their obvious similarities, riding an e-bike can provide a slightly different experience than a regular bike due to the characteristics of pedal assist and electric motors. So you might be wondering how to ride an electric bike.
Cycling, electric or not, is good for your health and the health of the planet. Few things in this world can be both funny and impactful in such a dramatic way.
In the United States, less than 1% of trips are made by bicycle. Even changing that number to a modest 6 percent would be a win, according to a recent paper from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is estimated that 28,000 cardiovascular disease cases and 22,000 diabetes cases will be reduced annually in 6% of travel. According to the same paper, a 15% bicycle share of trips in major U.S. metros would mean 40,000 fewer deaths per year.
These numbers are huge and don’t even touch on climate issues. If bike travel replaces car travel, the benefits are equally huge. You can be a part of this change simply by making interesting choices, and huge improvements to the best e-bikes in recent years mean that choosing to replace car travel is easier than ever.
Electric bikes are bicycles, but they do have some differences. It was a big purchase and a whole new experience. It’s worth making this choice, but you want to stay safe while having fun, staying healthy, and saving the planet. Read on for some tips on how to ride an electric bike.
Riding an electric bike is a different experience because of the speed involved. Not all regular cyclists ride at the speeds that an e-bike can achieve. This is especially true in the US, where Class III bikes can go as fast as 26 mph, but also at lower speeds than you might expect. Even if you’re riding at a pace you’re comfortable with, it’s one thing to work hard and move fast, but it’s a very different feeling to have the motor pull you to accelerate quickly and you have to do very little work.
Different types of bikes have different solutions to provide power. Read about what to expect first. Some e-bikes feel a lot like regular bikes. Torque-based sensors tend to provide this more natural feel. If this is the kind of bike you have, it’s still a good idea to start with a low level of assistance so you can expect an experience that isn’t too different from what you know.
Be more careful if you have a rhythm-based system. Some cadence-based assist systems will pull your tempo as soon as you start turning the pedals. Physically, this is the easiest to ride, but takes the most getting used to. On flat ground, a low assist level might mean around 12 mph/20 km/h, and you’ll get to that speed pretty quickly.
It’s a good idea to start with a flat, open area. Electric bikes are heavier, and because of their heavier weight, it’s harder to shift gears without riding. If possible, take the back of the bike and turn the pedals a few times while shifting to a simple gear. Start with absolutely no help. When you feel stable and comfortable, let the bike move and turn on the assist. This process will help you feel in control when assistance begins.
However, due to the weight of the e-bike, it may not be possible to shift gears and start riding without electric assist. If you need electric assist to start, go ahead. Pay attention to the direction of the bike. Make sure it’s clear and you’ll be able to focus on the ride. Make sure the electric assist is at the lowest setting and you know where the brakes are. Also, make sure you know which is the front and rear brakes.
Know your brakes
Electric bikes are heavier than non-electric bikes. That weight combined with higher speed makes braking a real thing. You want to make sure you understand the brake feel on your bike and which brake lever. The first thing to know about a new e-bike is what kind of brakes you have. It’s actually a good thing to look for when shopping, but once you have a bike, be sure to check it out. Mechanical disc brakes stop by pulling on a cable that is closed by the caliper. There is a physical connection between the brake levers, and the harder you pull, the stronger the braking force. If you have hydraulic disc brakes, the only connection between the lever and the caliper is fluid.
Once you understand the brakes, you can check the settings. With the bike stationary, pull the brake lever. The lever should engage the caliper before reaching the handlebar. Does the engagement happen in a place that leaves room for touch when you want to slow down a bit? Would it be comfortable to pull hard if I needed to make an emergency stop? If it doesn’t feel right, open the manual to see how to adjust it, or take it to your local bike shop.
The next thing to check is which lever is for the front wheel and which is for the rear wheel. You never want to just use the front lever, the strongest braking will come from using both brakes at the same time. If the brakes are less aggressive, you can just use the rear brake, but make sure you know which lever controls which brake.
Once you start riding, you’ll want to hear the screeching sound between the brake pads and the disc rotors. If there is friction, you may need to adjust the distance between the pads and rotors, or the alignment of the calipers. Brake discs may also bend during transport. To check for a bent rotor, spin the wheel while focusing on a single point on the brake rotor. If it wobbles, it needs to be straightened or replaced.
Read more about how to tune your bike’s disc brakes
Aside from the intricacies of knowing your brakes and making sure they work, there are a few more details to consider with e-bikes. Heavy bikes run faster and take longer to slow down. Make sure you may need extra time when you consider stopping your e-bike. For your safety, it’s best to take some time to practice before entering traffic.