Expert Round Table – Buying an E-Bike Part 1
- by David Halfpenny
- Published: 20 May 2013
E-Bike: ‘e’ for electric and ‘e’ for enabling. E-Bike usage is on the rise around the world as battery technology, motor technology, and cycling infrastructure improves. The down side of this popularity is a certain level of understandable confusion on the part of the consumer. There are so many new bikes coming onto the market, with so many different technologies, that it’s hard to compare like to like and get the bike that suits your needs and your budget. So we set about solving this problem; we asked the experts.
We invited five e-bike retailers from around Australia and invited them to sit around the cyber-table and discuss a range of e-bike matters. You can read their biographies and get their contact details at the end of this article, but to begin the discussion, allow me to introduce our panel:
- Paul van Bellen from Gazelle Bicycles Australia
- Maurice Wells from Glow Worm Bicycles
- Martin Turner from MR Ebikes
- Luke Ebert from E-Bike Central
- George Kazacos from Reef Bikes
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: The e-bike market seems to be growing in Australia and there seems to be two options consumers can choose from: a dedicated e-bike, or an e-bike conversion. If you were going to give some advice to a new rider seeking an e-bike, which would you recommend and why? (And, why not the other?)
Paul@Gazelle: We only sell the dedicated e-bike, so our attention is purely focused on this. I feel that if you can afford it, the dedicated e-bike has advantages over e-bike kits. Often when someone is thinking about using an e-bike, it’s for the purpose of commuting and utility style trips. A ‘city e-bike’ or bike that is practical needs more than just an electric motor. Does your bike have light systems when you ride in the dark? Does it have chain guards so you can wear pants and dresses without the worry of getting clothes dirty of worse get caught up in the chain and falling? Can you carry panniers easily? Is the sit position comfortable and relaxed? The dedicated e-bike has the advantage of being built from the ground up as an e-bike so the finished product looks, integrates & feels better. This is certainly the case with Gazelle e-bikes.
Gazelle bicycles are completely integrated and ready to go
E-Bike kits have the advantage that you can modify your existing bike to an e-bike and the cost is less. Putting an electric kit on your existing bike may work for some but not for others. We find that people who are interested in Gazelle bikes would not be satisfied with the result of converting their recreation/mountain style bike into an e-bike. But for others it’s a good solution. Some bikes are not suitable for e-bike kits as there can be compatibility and safety issues if your frame, forks and wheels are not up the job.
George@ReefBikes: The e-bike market has gained momentum over the past couple of years, and technology has vastly improved. From Reef Bikes point of view, we would recommend getting a ready made electric bike, and not a conversion kit. As our e bike models are set up perfectly, with hidden batteries inside the frame, hidden wires and components, making our ready made models look like regular bicycles, with high performance without having to do any work yourself. A kit can be messy, and not fit onto your regular bicycle as well. Custom kits are only really recommended for enthusiasts that really know what they want.
Martin@MREBikes: Our advice to the customer would be to experience (ride) as many products as possible and choose a brand, conversion kit or e-bike that best suits their needs, is good quality and well supported locally.
Mr Ebikes import both the BionX conversion kits and Danish (complete) Promovec ebikes
Luke@EBikeCentral: From a retail point of view I will always try and sell the customer a dedicated e-bike. The majority of customers are looking for a commuting bike with all the practical components, i.e. lights, rack, chain guard, lock. Most dedicated e-bikes will come standard with these features. It’s simply easier for the customer and for the seller to deal with these ‘ready to go’ e-bikes. However, e-bike conversions also have some great benefits. Firstly, it’s a lot cheaper to convert an existing bike than to buy a complete E-bike. Secondly, this gives the customer the option of choosing a bike that specifically suits their needs. Thirdly, I find people are a lot more likely to invest in the idea of an electric bike if the price is affordable. Seeing as though the e-bike is a reasonably unknown product, customers don’t want to invest $2000 into something they don’t know much about. The conversion kit provides an entry level e-bike option that the average Joe can afford.
Luke Ebert of E-Bike Central in Melbourne
Maurice@GlowWorm: We were asked about this topic so often that we wrote an article about it on our website about it.
Overall we strongly favour the electric bicycle over the conversion kit as it is almost always better value, a better and safer product and more likely to suit the purpose of day to day transport. I don’t subscribe to the belief that the conversion kit is a more affordable option either. Over 5 years of use you’ll spend less on a nice quality electric bicycle than a bike with a cheap kit. And don’t forget to take into account that you could have kept your bike for other uses or sold it. We actually only recommend a kit for the other end of the spectrum – someone who wants to convert an expensive bike and doesn’t mind that the end product will be more expensive than a similar complete electric bike.
Maurice Wells of Glow Worm Bicycles in Sydney
For a consumer I’d be looking for at a complete electric bicycle that has everything you want on it. For most people that’s well integrated lights, lock, mudguards, rear rack, battery and kickstand so that it’s ready for daily use.
For a retailer I’d recommend against stocking kits as I just can’t see it as a long term strategy – selling converted bicycles where the fork has not been tested for use with a motor, where the usual frame and fork warranties will be void etc. Also with new regulations coming into play in Australia, it’s not as simple as popping on a motor and a battery, the bike needs a speed limiter, pedal assist etc and not all kits offer this and those that do are not always easy to fit onto any given bike.
A few years ago a conversion kit was a necessary compromise as a way of limiting the amount of junk you were buying – a low quality kit on a high quality bike is much better than a low quality e-bike. Now that there’s a range of high quality electric bicycles on the market in Australia, I see kits as becoming less useful – something for enthusiasts to use their time and money on or to convert bikes that are hard to find in electric format (BMX, recumbents, trikes etc).
BNA: When buying any bike, it’s important to buy one that’s a good fit and that’s fit for the purpose. Aside from the standard “rules” for buying a bike, what do I need to be looking for in an e-bike? What’s the most important ingredient in the e-bike recipe?
Paul@Gazelle: I think buying from a reputable brand is a very good start. There have been many e-bike brands come and go over the last few years and most, if not all of them, have been Chinese import brands. Buying an e-bike is the easy step however the next question should be, ‘”What is the back up like from the manufacturer with parts”.
We are fortunate that with a brand like Gazelle all the parts are available many years down the track. Being Holland’s biggest bike company means back up is of critical importance to their continued success.
George@ReefBikes: It is important to only deal and purchase from a quality brand, there are alot of cheap fly by night Chinese models coming into the market, that disappear just as fast. Reef Bikes recommend looking for e bikes that only use quality Panasonic or Samsung lithium battery cells. As the battery is the most important and expensive part of any e-bike, it’s extremely important that your battery and electrics are the best quality and a known brand. Also, don’t be fooled by cheap Chinese e-bikes that advertise a 15-20AH battery for long distances, as our Panasonic 10AH battery will perform even better, last even longer, not fail, and only be half the size and weight.
German brand Stevens has used a number of technologies including BionX
For commuter e-bike, batteries are often integrated in a rear pannier rack
Luke@EBikeCentral: I think the most important ingredient is choosing a brand that will support their product for years to come. I also think it’s important to buy an e-bike from a store who can support the product with parts and servicing (as apposed to Ebay!) And always, try before you buy.
Maurice@GlowWorm: It goes without saying that a high quality product with good backup service will be better than a cheap, low quality e-bike. After deciding you need to get a good e-bike, you still need to decide which one to get.
I think the first thing is to figure out how you want to use your bike and therefore what the priorities are. Every e-bike will have strong points and weak points and not all are related to cost, so if you know what’s important to you and communicate this to a knowledgeable e-bike seller then you’ll have the best chance of getting a bike that works for you. Some bikes are better able to go longer distances by more easily accommodating an extra battery, which is important if you want to commute a long way. Other bikes are lighter or can fold up, which doesn’t help if you want to go a long way, but can be helpful if you need to take your bike on the train daily. Some have space for child seats and panniers, others don’t. The total weight of the bike or the aerodynamics of the riding position are unlikely to be very important when you have a motor to help you along – a touring, hybrid, racing or city style e-bike are all able to go quickly and easily, so use this to your advantage and pick the one that is most comfortable and convenient for you.
Finally, just go and test ride a lot of them! They don’t all feel the same and performance differs, so it’s not a decision to make based on reading specifications. And if you can’t even test ride it, you might have difficulty getting it serviced later!
Martin@MREBikes: Perhaps the most important ingredient for the e-bike customer is “Will the product perform to my expectations over the period of time that I expect?” Unfortunately the e-bike recipe in Australia has been badly tainted by poor quality product. As an importer / distributor / retailer, it is our function to change this perception with brands that are global leaders in product quality and technology.
BionX is used both by brands for complete bikes as well as a seperate e-bike conversion kit
In Part 2 of this article, our experts talk about servicing and supporting e-bikes and talk about the total cost of e-bike ownership.
Paul van Bellen – Gazelle Bicycles Australia
I live in Sydney, though was born in The Netherlands, the World’s #1 cycling country. Our business, Gazelle Bicycles Australia, distributes the best bike and accessory brands from The Netherlands. Our interest in e-bikes started around 5 years ago when we visited The Netherlands and saw how the market for this segment was gaining momentum. We believe the e-bike will be a fantastic solution for people in Australian cities who have to deal with hills, heat and less than ideal cycling infrastructure. The beauty of the e-bike is that it makes cycling fun and easy, and if you can get someone to make the step from taking their car to do local trips to the e-bike, then we all benefit from that with less congestion, better health, cleaner air and less noise pollution.
Maurice Wells – Glow Worm Bicycles
I created Glow Worm Bicycles in 2009, motivated by a desire to take electric bicycles into the mainstream. I see bicycles as a unique invention with the ability to transform an individual’s life for the better as well as transform an entire city for the better. For me, electric bicycles are a great way to bring cycling into more people’s lives.
Martin Turner – MR Ebikes
MR Ebikes Pty Ltd was started by my business partner, Rob Brennan and I in 2011 to act as the importer and distributor for Bionx and Promovec. Both Rob and I recognised the potential for e-bikes in Australia given the tremendous growth that has occurred in this sector over the last few years. Our focus is to supply quality products to the Australian market and we believe that the Bionx and Promovec brands offer such quality.
Martin Turner in Syndey with a BionX converted Kona is Mr Ebikes
Bionx is a Canadian company that supplies an Electric Assist Conversion Kit that can be fitted to a traditional bicycle. The Bionx product also powers the electric assist bicycles of OEM’s such as Trek, KTM, Wheeler, Stevens, Smart, Focus and many more.
Promovec is a Danish brand of electric assist bicycle. They are one of the leading brands in Scandinavia and have been supplying e-bikes since 2003. Our business plan is to build and support a dealer network for the Bionx and Promovec brands.
Luke Ebert – E-Bike Central
I’ve been a keen rider since I was a young lad and I manage E-Bike Central in Richmond. I began working with e-bikes when I was 18 for Electric Vehicles Pty Ltd. Whilst at EVS I did a bit of everything including setting up the Australia Post electric fleet bikes. After moving into the city I realised that E-bikes are simply the most efficient form of inner city transport. I wanted to get people out of the drivers seat and onto the bike seat and fitness was no longer an excuse not to ride. Roughly 6 months ago I set up the retail store in Richmond.
George Kazacos - Reef Bikes
Reef Bikes develops the latest innovative technology in electric bikes, working with Panasonic and Samsung to design and manufacture reliable batteries and electronics, and Shimano to provide top performance in gears, groupsets and hardware.
The team here at Reef Bikes is always on the go with research and development of our products. Producing our own Reef technology with our battery hidden inside frame design.
We produce a huge range of different e-bikes to suit every Australians needs, from the high powered Predator and Bullshark e-bikes, to the classic European commuting bikes, electric tricycles and folding e-bikes.
Reef Bikes enjoys getting Australians back into cycling, back on the roads, and giving people the chance to cycle, commute, exercise at their own pace. We are here to promote an alternative eco-friendly mode of transport, relieving inner city traffic congestion, zero emission electric motor technology, and to keep Australians fit while enjoying the outdoors, while being able to pedal or motor at their own pace.
Read: E-Bike Round Table – E-Bike Buyers Guide Part 2
Read: E-Bike Round Table – E-Bike Buyers Guide Part 3
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, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9)
Gazelle Bicycles Australia (2)
E-Bike Central (4)
Richard Masoner of Cyclelicious (7)