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My girlfriend is looking for an electric bike for commuting.

My question is fairly broad - What features and capabilities should we consider when choosing an e-bike for commuting?


For information, we are living in Vancouver, BC and she will be commuting between West End (downtown) and SFU (Burnaby). She's 160cm high and weight 55kg.

  • I've answered your question below, because I think it's interesting and I think I've got something useful to contribute, but you might consider making the question more about e-bike commuting and less about shopping recommendations which don't always go down too well. – Chris H Aug 19 '14 at 19:03
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    This question was flagged for review as off-topic. It's not a bad question but "shopping" or product recommendation questions are generally a poor fit for a Q&A site like this because the answers frequently become out of date as manufacturers change their product lines. I've edited the question to be more general, and hopefully not too broad, to get you some relevant answers without the question being closed. – Gary.Ray Aug 19 '14 at 19:15
  • Off-the-wall comment, but consider not going ebike. I rode one for ~18 months and it was great fun, increased my biking spacial awareness, and was a learning experience. But a relatively poor range meant after 20 km I was peddling a 30 kg bike with dead batteries. Now I've got a road bike and am getting the same sort of times as I was on the ebike. So if you're in this for fitness or health, consider not an ebike. – Criggie Mar 6 '16 at 2:49
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You might want to give us an idea of the distance but my wife has recently bought a freego hawk for a commute of 11km each way (about 2/3 your distance and flatter). The specs and list price are not disimilar. She's a little taller but this is a fairly forgiving frame layout.

She gets 2 days round trips with the battery still showing 1/4 to 1/2 full, pedalling all the way, and it's knocked about 1/6 off her commute compared to a mountain bike with city tyres after doing that for some time, and is still less tired. Note that in the UK the motor must by law cut out if you go >15mph. This extends the range at the expense of speed, as does the lower wattage motor generally used here.

If your girlfriend could ride it on a normal bike (MTB/city bike) in the same sort of time google says without practicing (~1.5hours), she might get under an hour on an e-bike assuming traffic lights etc don't take up too much of the time.

If she'll be stuck behind other bikes or in traffic then it won't be much quicker than riding normally.

Some questions for you to consider:

  • Why an e-bike? Speed compared to pedalling/beat the traffic/likes to ride but no shower available?
  • Do you have somewhere secure to keep it at street level, with power? You'll be charging every day or max. 2, and it's a lot heavier than a normal bike.
  • How much is she planning to pedal? If not at all the range will soon be used up, especially with the climb.
  • Who's going to look after it? Will she be stuck if it's in the shop for a minor service?
  • Is she happy to ride in that traffic? If she's got a bike, then try it on that, perhaps in one day, back the next if it's too far, or just check out the worst bits in rush hour. The roads look very different outside a metal box.

On balance e-bikes are great for commuting in many but not all situations, and can carry quite a lot of load without increasing the effort too much.

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As someone who has done that exact commute the better part of a decade (although on a non-powered bike) and limited experience with e-bikes (getting one for a family member) here are my thoughts.

By bike route you are looking at 20 km each way (40 km total), with a very large climb (SFU Burnaby is on top of Burnaby Mountain; 1200 ft elevation and the West End is at sea level). If you take a quieter route (e.g., the TransCanada trail - my preferred winter route), then you are looking at even longer distances and even more climbing.

I can only surmise that you are looking at an e-bike to help with the volume of climbing.

Due to the nature of the route, battery performance (both total capacity and number of charge cycles) will really be important as you will be pushing the battery range of most bikes. Depending on the capacity you may have to re-charge at SFU prior to heading back. Either way you will be cycling the battery at least once a day. High-end batteries will be rated for around 500 charge cycles, so this means you will get at the very most 2 years out of a very good battery pack.

Not all e-bikes are however created equal in terms of battery performance. The battery is often the most expensive component, and the easiest way for manufacturers to cut costs. Some manufacturers may cheap out on capacity (meaning you might not make it to SFU). Others may have higher capacities, but opt for batteries that can sustain fewer total cycles before losing substantial capacity (meaning a very costly replacement). Other manufacturers may put in high quality batteries in that have both capacity and can sustain a high number of charge cycles. You will need to do your research here.

Finally, you may also want to consider mixed-mode transport (e.g., bus or skytrain) with a regular bike or even a folding bike so you do not have to worry about finding rack space on the bus or skytrain as another alternative.

  • That's interesting, it comes in a few km more than my google bike route, but looking at the capacity (of the bike under consideration before edits) it should be OK with pedalling. Some models have and option for a larger battery pack, and a bike with regenerative braking would charge on the way down for the rest of the ride home. Another options may be one considered by a friend for a steep but much smaller hill: ride to the bottom and get the bus up. – Chris H Aug 20 '14 at 8:50
  • @ChrisH - A couple extra kilometers over google maps as I prefer safer and more pleasant routes. Regenerative breaking will only add a slight top-up it won't add a huge change. Finally, the bus up can work, but you may have to wait for a free spot as each bus can only hold two bikes. On the Hastings side there is usually enough buses coming through that you won't likely have to wait too long. – Rider_X Aug 20 '14 at 17:51
  • I'm lucky in that my good route is very close to the most direct, but I agree with the sentiment (though I don't think I've been within 1000km of Vancouver). When it comes to buses, you're lucky if the bus can carry bikes at all -- I don't know of any normal-service routes in the UK that can take even a single bike, so I imagined locking it at the bottom. That downhill at the start of the return trip should give a decent boost, getting you closer to the stated range, but I agree that it probably won't make the difference. – Chris H Aug 20 '14 at 18:24
  • @ChrisH - The question was specific to Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. All buses in the area have a bike rack on the front capable of carrying two bikes. The lack of such facilities in the UK I found out the hard way when touring. A jammed wheel bearing left me stranded. I had to carry everything by foot! – Rider_X Aug 20 '14 at 18:49
  • I'm jealous. There's a semi-serious effort to get them on some of the buses on the steeper hills round here, but it's not going anywhere. – Chris H Aug 21 '14 at 8:43

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