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With new battery technologies a new kind of "bicycle" has emerged - so-called e-bike.

It usually has an electric motor on one of its wheels. The motor is powered by a rather huge (size of a small bag) battery. Pedals, star wheels and the chain are still in place, so the user can

  • use it as a normal bicycle or
  • use pedals to assist the vehicle or
  • just rely on the motor and use it as a scooter.

Speeds like 20 kmph witout using pedals are typically promised.

What I don't get is in which scenario and how I use such vehicle.

Do I use is as a scooter with ability to be driven by pedals once it runs out of the battery or do I use it as a bicycle with the motor assisting me and letting go faster without too much of activity?

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I fear strong-hybrid electric bikes. –  Tom Hawtin - tackline Oct 25 '10 at 12:24
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Are you asking about law or the experience of the rider? (I think you want the latter.) –  Jay Bazuzi Oct 25 '10 at 15:12
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6 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

There are different electric bikes with different experiences.

Some are heavy and powerful, and move with a push of a button. Their pedals are more about legal status than about human power. I'd call them "scooters".

Some are designed to supply power only when the pedals are turning. In that case you have to do a little work for the electric motor to kick in.

Some use sensors in the drivetrain to decide when to apply the power. Those often have a switch so you can get them to drive the motor without pedaling, giving them a "scooter mode".

Some (like the StokeMonkey) apply the power directly to the drivetrain, so you always have to pedal to get them to work. If you're looking for exercise this is a good idea - no temptation to just cruise under power alone.

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In the UK an electric bike is more of a bike, due to the regulations. An electric bike must have a low top speed (15 mph) when powered by the motor, and is limited in its power output. In my experience on a cycle path you can’t tell the difference between a person on an electric bike and a normal bike until you look closely. The laws for electric bikes in the UK are the same as for a normal bike.

An electric bike is good when the rider is not fit enough to get up some hills, but wishes to use a bike. They are also relatively cheap and get be parked in normal bike stands etc. It is possible to lift an electric bike up a few steps etc .

In the UK these days a scooter is just a “friendly” motorbike that is designed for use of “normal” people round town. They are less powerful then a normal motorbike and are not designed for people that wish to show off their speed. A scooter often has a top speed of about 30mph, is fits in with town trophic well. An electric scooter is a scooter with an electric motor rather than a normal engine, they are too heavy to lift up stairs etc., have their own built in stands, and the rider needs a licence to use one in the UK. (Like motorbikes, they are not allowed on cycle lanes and paths)

(A mobility scooter used by disabled people with 3 or 4 wheels is very different that an electric bike.)

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(15 mph is the limit in the UK. Although you can always pedal faster, or find a steeper hill (and you don't even need to pedal up it).) –  Tom Hawtin - tackline Oct 25 '10 at 12:24
    
Just to add, scooter in the UK used to be limited 30mph/50cc and could be ridden with a learner permit without ever taking the test. The rules changed to require more of the same tests as a motorbike so 'scooters' have become less popular. –  mgb Oct 25 '10 at 18:14
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The e-bike I've got is definitely more of a bicycle; it has a motor, but the motor only goes when you pedal. The purpose is to give you more of a boost than you'd get from foot power alone, especially when going up hills.

But you do get exercise. The pedaling gets your heart pumping. What you don't get is those exhausting hills that leave you drained at the top. The main idea is to make it easier to do things like commuting.

One nice thing is that in theory, and unlike with a scooter, if your battery drains the whole way, you can still pedal. (In practice, though, between the batteries and the motor, the e-bike is pretty heavy, and not that pleasant to pedal without the battery power.)

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In NSW (Australia) we're limited to 200W but that's really the only restriction.

What we're seeing a lot is things that look like scooters but have pedals poking out the side and are sold as "electric bicycles - no license necessary". The seat is so low and the pedals so far back and so far out that it's not really possible to pedal them any distance. Amusingly there was a court case recently where a cop saw one of those electric scooters being ridden as a bicycle and said to the rider "ride 200m using only pedal power", then when the rider couldn't issued a ticker for an unlicensed motorbike. The rider took it to court and lost.

The irritating thing for bike shops is that they have scooter parts, so bicycle shops can't really service them. And motorbike shops hate them because the owners don't want to pay motorbike prices for repairs. So the owners come into the bicycle shop having been either quoted a motorbike-size amount for repairs or sworn at and told not to come back, but then the bicycle shop can't fix them. I suspect there are a lot of them sitting in sheds having done less than 500km.

Aside from that we get the full range of everything from absurd retrofit kits, throttle controlled hub motors right up to the Gazelle eBikes. And the completely illegal DIY 2000W hub motor jobs.

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As an addition to the other answers: Note that there are (at least) two types of bikes with electric motors:

  • E-Bike
  • Pedelec

An E-Bike has a motor that will work without pedaling (like a motorbike); a pedelec will only support you while you pedal yourself (the motor is activated by pedaling).

The latter is usually regulated like a bicycle in most countries, while the former is often treated like a light motorbike (license, number plate, insurance required).

The terminology is unfortunately somewhat inconsistent, some people use "E-Bike" as a general term for electric bikes...

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There are different types of e-bikes as described in other answers, but in the end it all depends on what the buyer had in mind. Even if an e-bike is intended for X, there are good chances that it's not what it's going to do. (See the number of suspension mountain bikes on the road)

There are old and/or ill people who need assistance in tougher parts, there are lazy people who want a cheap scooter, there are people going to work who don't want to be tired/sweaty, there are very-out-of-shape people who want some help in the beginning and so and so...

It's most definitely not for everyone, and if you cycle for the sports aspect more than to move around then it may be why you "don't get" how to use these machines.

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