Expert Round Table – Buying an E-Bike Part 2
- by David Halfpenny
- Published: 23 May 2013
In Part 1 of our Expert Round Table, our experts talked about what to look for when buying an e-bike. The expert opinion was to buy a dedicated e-bike, if possible, and always buy brand name products with good after sales service and availability of spare parts. But when you invest your money in a vehicle, and that’s really what an e-bike is, how do you go about getting that after sales service and support. We begin Part 2 of our round table by asking our experts about what happens once you’ve taken the plunge.
The complete e-bike buyers guide is also available as an App for iPad for free.
Visit iTunes to view and download the e-bike buyers guide.
BNA: So the consensus seems to be to buy local and make sure you have good after sales service, but how realistic is the availability of that service?
Paul@Gazelle: Well depending on the brand, all the major cities are serviced by shops that sell e-bikes. There is still a long way to go before the e-bike is dealt with as a main stream product by the traditional bike shops.
An e-bike demands reliable after sales service
Maurice@GlowWorm: I’d say that it’s good to have after sales service nearby, if that’s an option. If it’s not an option, it’s still worth owning an e-bike, but it will be less convenient if something needs attention. I would still prefer to own a good e-bike in a town with no e-bike shops than a bad e-bike next door to an e-bike shop.
Having said that, if you’re conveniently located to an e-bike store with a particular brand then that should be a big part of the decision – if all other factors are equal, get the one that they have.
George@ReefBikes: After sales service is very important for an electric bicycle, as you don’t only have the regular bicycle parts to deal with, but double that, you also have the electrical parts to service.
BNA: Does this limit e-bike sales to a certain radius around the store you bought them from?
Paul@Gazelle: To a degree yes, although we have had customers who have bought our bikes who live far away and are willing to travel back in their car to get them serviced. It certainly would be ideal if the customer had a service dealer close to their home.
Maurice@GlowWorm: No, I don’t think so. I think you’re fortunate if you’re near a good e-bike store. If you’re not, too bad, but you can still buy and use an e-bike and if it’s a good one, you’re unlikely to regret it.
We have regional customers in areas where there aren’t even any bike shops. Cobar, Margaret River, Kununurra etc and they’ll all tell you the same thing – buy an e-bike it’s great.
E-Bike retailer Glow Worm Bicycles in Sydney attracts customers from near and far
BNA: Can you get good e-bike service from any bike shop, or from any e-bike shop, or do you have to “return home” to get you servicing done?
Martin@MREBikes: Most bike shops will be able to service the bicycle components on an e-bike, however there can be a reluctance to service the electrical components. Realistically, as with any product, if there is a problem the consumer will return the product to the point of purchase. Spare parts should be available locally from the brand distributor.
E-Bike electronics and motors require specialist knowledge and parts for servicing and repairs
George@ReefBikes: We have found that most regular bicycle stores around Australia do not have the technical ability or education to be able to fix every electrical problem. This has been the major limiting factor for the e-bike market to go mainstream through regular bike shops. Slowly, over the past couple of years, some stores have trained themselves in e-bike repairs, and some are more willing than others to learn. But realistically we need all regular bicycle shops to be educated and learn, as the market is growing rapidly. That’s why it is important that Reef Bikes has set up service centers in most major locations around Australia, so if there is a problem that occurs in another region of Australia, we have a store that will fix your problems locally. Reef Bikes has committed a lot of time into training regular bicycle stores, and is looking to setup training programs.
Paul@Gazelle: Any dealer that sells a Gazelle E-Bike has the capability to service a Gazelle E-Bike. We won’t sell the bikes to a bike shop unless they are willing to learn how to do the service.
Maurice@GlowWorm: No to both questions. You won’t get good e-bike service from every bike shop (you won’t even get good bike service from some), some are outright rude, some are just choosing not to skill up in e-bikes at this point in time. However, you don’t necessarily have to go back to the store you bought the e-bike from, you might find a good store closer to home that is happy to service your e-bike. If it’s a good e-bike and if the original supplier knows them inside and out and is willing to work with other stores for tech support and supply of parts then it can all go smoothly. That last point is crucial – in our e-bike store we won’t work on other brands of e-bikes unless the importer keeps stock of spare parts and can provide phone support for their product.
BNA: How does a customer know which brand/retailer is good?
George@ReefBikes: Customers should so some research on the brand and company they are looking at, see how long they have been around, have a look at the general quality of their marketing ads and websites, see if there are any product reviews on other websites.
Paul@Gazelle: I think a good start is to see how the brand is represented overseas. Is it a successful brand in other markets? Can you find much information about the brand online in other countries?
Gazelle are Hollands biggest bike brand and an early adopter of e-bike technology
Maurice@GlowWorm: I agree with Paul here – work out if they’re really selling a brand or not. If they are, there will be an international website with details of the distributors/retailers in other countries. See how they’re going, are they active in other markets? Have they been selling under the same name for some time?
BNA: Are there tell-tales signs of a good/bad e-bike brand & retailer?
Maurice@GlowWorm: It’s hard to know just by walking into a shop. Most new business owners will be energetic, enthusiastic and not intending to go broke. It’s also clear to me that not all customers can tell a good bike from a ‘questionable’ bike by looking at it and all suppliers will be able to rattle off points that the public thinks defines a good bike that virtually all bikes have (full alloy, designed for Australian conditions, latest technology, lithium batteries, Shimano gears…).
Probably a new challenge that will surface is bicycle shops having a go at electric bikes (which we encourage them to do) but perhaps deciding that it’s not working for them. Then you’ll have customers who are disappointed with after sales service. So even when buying from a bike shop, check that you’re buying a brand that’s bigger than just that shop.
Paul@Gazelle: As for the retailers, as a wholesaler I have a pretty good idea who is good or not by who is paying their bills on time! To the consumer I would say ask around in your local bike shops for advice… if they are not to ignorant of the e-bike market, they should be able to point you in the right direction.
George@ReefBikes: Look out for the components that make up the product. Make sure they only use high quality Shimano gears, bottom brackets, shifters or similar, make sure they state what brand battery is being used, is it a high quality brand like Panasonic or Samsung Batteries. By looking at the detailed component specifications, you can tell the quality of an electric bike.
BNA: So if I buy an e-bike, what will be the total cost of ownership over the next, say, 5 years? Let’s assume I ride it 5000km per year, using maximum power for 50% of the distance and carrying a total load of 100kg (rider + gear). Further, let’s say that half the riding is at night requiring lights. I’m not looking for any sort of exact number here, but given these conditions, how many services will I need? How many tyres and other consumables will I likely need? And, probably most importantly, how many batteries will I need to go through over the distance? Let’s just take it as written now that you don’t have to pay rego, fuel or parking etc., but in your calculations you should try to guesstimate how many charges are required and how much that would cost as well.
[Note: We set out experts this task and they went away and independently worked on the figures, which were surprisingly similar.]
Paul@Gazelle: Ok, well over 5 years & 5000kms , I would expect the bike to be serviced 5 – 10 times. Typical cost per service $99-$149. So lets say $1000 in service costs.
Then there’s parts (tyres, brake pads, etc). Say $150 a year. $750 over 5 years.
The big one would be battery cost. There’s a good chance you would have to replace the e-bike battery after 5 years. This cost would be around $700.
So adding these 3 up brings us to around $2500 over 5 years, or $500 a year.
The electricity component is negligible. The electricity cost at today’s rates to charge a Gazelle Innergy is around 6-7 cents. This gets you around 50kms. Therefore the electricity cost per 5000kms would be $7. Pretty amazing.
AJ of Gazelle Australia servicing an ebike
Luke@EBikeCentral: The initial cost of the bike will cost anywhere from $1000 to $3000 so lets say $2000.
If you ride 5000km in 5 years, the chances are you’ll need a new battery by the fifth year. So lets say another $700.
If you’re riding your bike every day I’d say you will need to spend at least $100 – $300 a year on parts, ie tyres, tubes, brake pads, cables etc. This all depend on how well you look after the bike.
If electricity costs 6c per kilowatt hour and a 14 ah battery uses 500 watt hours to fully charge then it will cost 3 cents per charge. This is a rough estimate based on several assumptions but gives you an idea of how it works. It’s barely worth counting this cost.
Keep in mind that costs will change rider to rider.
Electricity costs are marginal while servicing and up-keep add to the cost of e-bike ownership
George@ReefBikes: On average it will only cost about 7 cents to fully charge up your bicycle. During the 5 year period you will need to replace the battery probably once, costing about $550 on average. Servicing the bike about once per year will cost about $150 per service.
So the main cost is only the replacement battery. Charging is not much at all, and the servicing part is similar to a regular bicycle.
Maurice@GlowWorm: 5000km per year (100km per week) is a pretty common figure for our customers, it would probably sit at a little above average.
A rough estimate for initial purchase cost would be $3000 for say an eZee Torq with 36V 14Ah battery, 1000 lumen front light upgrade, plug in chain to go with the wheel lock, helmet and a bag to carry things in. First year of servicing is free and subsequently you’d probably want at least 1 service each 5000km ($100), disc brake pads every 5000km ($40 for two pairs) and new tyres (Schwalbe Marathon Plus, $160) every 10,000km. So in those 5 years or 25,000km then that’s an extra $1000 all up. Electricity will be very little, I’d say around $50-100 over that distance at today’s prices.
Our batteries have 2 year warranty. You’re a good chance of buying another at some point in 5 years and 25000km and the 36V 14Ah size costs $800.
Grand total of $4900 for 25000km = 20c/km.
However, if you’ve bought a new battery and new tyres and serviced your bike every 5000km, then it will still have good resale value after this time if you sell it and if you don’t, it will still have a lot of life left on it, so the c/km goes lower and lower the longer you keep your bike.
Another thing to keep in mind is you’ll probably discover other bike stuff that you want to buy for yourself. Everything from rain jackets, car racks, changing colour of pannier bag, etc.
Martin@MREBikes: I concur with the numbers quoted by my colleagues.
BNA: Having ridden a few different e-bikes, both kits and dedicated builds, I’ve noticed that when things are going well, they go very well, but when they’re not working, they really don’t work. It’s hard to change tyres due to the electronics and internal hubs, they’re hard to transport in a normal car and, as bikes, some of them are really not a lot of fun to ride without a motor. In some respects, they’re a lot like cars or motorbikes, but you can’t simply call the NRMA to come along and try to fix it for you. How does the non-technical e-bike owner manage when things go wrong, either at home or out on the road? What support is there when you’re 20km from home, you’re stranded and your bike won’t fit in the boot of your partner’s car?
George@ReefBikes: Just like any other market, if you buy a cheap non branded electric bike, you are looking for trouble and breakdowns. Reliability is very important, and only a good brand can give you that reliability. As mentioned before, Reef Bikes produce its e-bikes with only Panasonic and Samsung batteries and electronics, which are the most reliable. The battery and controller is the heart and life of an e-bike, so if these parts are reliable, then your bike won’t fail.
As you mention, some cheap electric bikes are chunky and heavy to ride, so when riding them without power, they are a little heavier in performance. That’s why Reef Bikes has designed our frames and batteries to be lightweight. We focus on making our products to perform just like a regular bicycle when the power is off. So if an e-bike is manufactured with each component to be the most efficient, electrical and mechanical, then you won’t feel this issue in performance. A lot of cheap e-bikes use really bad bottom brackets, cranks, hubs, gears and groupsets. So look out for the finer specifications, and watch out for the type of Shimano gears, bottom brackets and parts that are actually used. So if your battery runs flat, you can still ride home.
Martin@MREBikes: The Bionx conversion kit and Promovec e-bikes are electric assist, so the rider has the choice to ride with assist or not. With no assist you still have a normal bicycle.
With both products, changing a tyre is like a traditional bicycle plus 2 extra steps. Unplug a power lead before you remove the wheel from the frame and rejoin the connection when the wheel is back in the frame.
Both products also have a throttle only function which can be useful if you snap a pedal or break a chain.
Neat power cable in the BionX ebike system
Luke@EBikeCentral: I give my customers the option of signing up with RACV bike assist. They can help with basic mechanics, e.g. fixing a puncture, and if they can’t fix it, they’ll drop you home or to the store where it can be fixed.
I also offer in house servicing. This solves the transporting of the bike issue. I’ve ridden about 2500 km in the last 6 months on my e-bike and I’ve only been stuck once, and that was because of a flat tyre. If you buy a good quality e-bike you shouldn’t have too many problems with the electrics, just general bike issues. Most people can patch a tube.
Luke Ebert of E-Bike Central proactively supports his customers with servicing options
Paul@Gazelle: Some of them are really not a lot of fun to ride without a motor. This is true and potential e-bike owners should test ride different brands and see what they are like to ride without the motor assistance. They will notice some big differences in performance.
How does the non-technical eBike owner manage when things go wrong? Compared to road racing bikes, the instances of flat tyres is less likely because the tyres on e-bikes are thicker and wider. If you do get a flat tyre, then I often tell our customers to attempt to patch the tube rather than attempt to take the wheel off. The majority of times a patch will get you home and beyond, and is much easier to do than trying to get wheels off, especially on a hub gear e-bike. There really is no reason to change a tube when you have a pin prick hole in your tube and you have a good patch kit at your disposal. This culture of tube changing has been handed down from the road and mountain bike world.
As for technical aspects of e-bikes, we always recommend you take your Gazelle e-bike back to an authorised Gazelle Innergy Service Centre.
What support is there when you’re 20km from home, you’re stranded? If it was me that was stranded in this situation, I would call a friend with a ute or call a Taxi van.
Front wheel motor and rear wheel internal geared hub makes DIY ebike repair a daunting task
Maurice@GlowWorm: This is a fair question, though it’s not in reality much different to the lot of a non-powered cyclist. I’d agree with Paul’s comments more so than the responses that it will all be fine to just keep riding. Many of our customers are unable to use their e-bikes without the power assistance, especially as many have chosen e-bikes to allow them to go further. If you have to ride 30km to work over big hills and, 5km in, your battery fails or your tyre pops and in one hour you’re supposed to be teaching a class at a school, your options are not good. A taxi won’t get you there on time in Sydney whether or not it can fit your bike and your significant other might already be on the way to work in a train.
We encourage all cyclists to take the reliability and quality of their chosen bikes seriously, which means puncture proof tyres, spokes that won’t snap, brakes you can rely on, lights that work etc. Same goes with the e-bikes, adding good quality electronics to the wish list. A good bike lock and cash in your pocket also increases your options. Properly prepared with a good e-bike, you could still have a breakdown at a bad time, but trains and buses can be late, cars can breakdown and the NRMA won’t get you to work on time. It doesn’t have to be your car that breaks down to cause gridlock – just one on the harbour bridge and then tens of thousands of motorists are late to work. Overall, I’d say the e-bike is a much more reliable way to travel than car or public transport. I know this because I’m always waiting for people who are late for appointments due to traffic or parking problems.
To answer the question directly, if I were 20km from home and stranded (and my SO doesn’t have a car), I would take a train or hire a GoGet van or a Sydney Ute Hire from a servo or I’d call a station wagon taxi. If the stranding was avoidable (eg flat tyre), I’d upgrade my tyres later.
Glow Worm Bicycles staff are trained to service e-bikes though concentrate on well supported brands
BNA: I’m wearing my environment hat now; if we do have to replace our batteries, what happens to the old ones?
Paul@Gazelle: We recommend on our website to visit http://recyclingnearyou.com.au/ to recycle their batteries.
Martin@MREBikes: We will take back any spent Bionx or Promovec batteries.
Luke@EBikeCentral: Our batteries are picked up and recycled free of charge. We encourage customers to leave they batteries with us so we can dispose of them the correct way.
Finally, in Part 3 of this article, our experts talk about bike and e-bike culture in Australia and what can be done to improve it.
The complete e-bike buyers guide is also available as an App for iPad for free.
Visit iTunes to view and download the e-bike buyers guide.
Bicycles Network Australia (1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11)
MR Ebikes / BionX (4)
E-Bike Central (7, 9)