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    The Pros and Cons of E-Bikes

    By Helen Tatlow
    More by Helen

    Why E-Bikes Feel Naughty but Nice

    Electric bikes have spun onto the scene in recent years, flicking dirt in the eyes of traditional cyclists as they effortlessly glide past. For anyone who relishes shooting down sunny Scottish gravel trails, the thought of having a little boost to get up those Munros is hard to argue with. But is it cheating to use a motor? Is it making it ‘too easy’? Or can a few volts of electric assistance help you break out into otherwise unchartered territories?

    For starters, electrically assisted bicycles are not motorbikes; they only help the rider when they are turning the pedals. In other words, you still need to pedal to make them go. E-bikes have a strong potential to unlock recreation and healthy lifestyles for less mobile people, as well as promote sustainable transport and introduce a new sport to non-cyclists.

    But that’s not to say they are without drawbacks. If you’re thinking of hitting the Highlands on an e-bike, you need to consider weather conditions, access to charging points and your impact on the trail far more than if you head out on your traditional two-wheelers. Here are the key considerations for those tempted by some extra juice under your saddle.

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    Differences Between E-Bikes and Normal Bikes?

    E-bike design has made great strides in the last few years. For most models, the battery and motor are barely visible and streamlined into aesthetically shiny frames. Even seasoned riders often can’t spot the difference between an e-bike and a conventional bike without close inspection. They are that well integrated!

    While it varies from brand to brand, electric road bikes generally weigh in at an average of 13-20kg. Heavier than their road-loving cousins, E-MTBs weigh around 25-30kg. E-bikes have a console on the handlebar where riders can easily control the different modes and see how much battery life is left. Hybrid bikes are the all-rounders: these bikes have flat handlebars, are more stable, upright and comfortable than a road bike, and have no suspension. They’re designed to do a bit of everything.

    The General Pros and Cons of Using E-Bikes

    The Pros

    Personal Fitness, Health and Wellbeing

    • For many people, e-bikes increase the likelihood of jumping in the saddle and going for a ride, undeterred by hills or distance and safe in the knowledge that you won’t be exhausted upon return. It’s important to note that you still exert effort using e-bikes. You just travel faster, and further than you would on a conventional push bike.
    • E-bikes encourage access to outdoor environments, with proven physical and mental health benefits. They enable people who might have used motorised transport, or not gone at all, to get outdoors. This cultivates a mindset of ‘anything is possible,’ and makes exploring the outdoors fun and easily incorporated into a weekly routine of a happy and healthy life.

    Accessibility

    • For those recovering from injury, with limited mobility, sore or aching limbs, or lower levels of fitness, e-bikes make riding easier and open up opportunities to even more people. Forget arriving at work sweaty and exhausted. E-bikes are a great option for those who want to commute by bike without excess effort, leaving you fresh and energised afterwards.

    Enjoyment

    • E-bikes put less strain on hip and knee joints, and are often more stable than conventional bikes, making them a great option for those with concerns about injury. It’s easy to change between modes to increase or decrease the electric assist.

    Socialising

    • Within groups of different levels of fitness, e-bikes can equalise speeds so that riders can confidently keep up with friends or spouses on traditional bikes.

    Environment & Sustainability

    • Outdoor instructors use E-bikes to do shuttles between minibuses, and local GP staff ride them to carry heavy kit when out on community visits. Photographers also enjoy the benefits they bring for carrying equipment into hard-to-access areas. Commuters chose E-bikes over cars for routine journeys. When E-bikes make it quicker and easier to make journeys and carry kit, they can replace pollutant car journeys. This has clear environmental benefits in terms of reducing carbon emissions, and noise and air pollution in urban areas.

    Accessing New Adventures

    • For those who thought high mileage days or remote areas were beyond their reach, E-bikes can assist cyclists in going further with less effort, whether it’s up a steep hill, along a long trail, or on a multi-day adventure. This opens up new locations, introduces a new activity to non-cyclists as well as building confidence and a desire to travel.

    The Cons

    e-bike batteries

    The Battery

    • E-bikes make it easier to travel further, in a shorter amount of time than you might be used to on a non-electric bike. If the battery runs out while you are deep in the wilderness, it’s a heavy cycle back to basecamp without the motor for assistance. If you enjoy the occasional hike-a-bike or bog bash, you might want to re-think taking an e-bike on those routes.
    • Batteries can support from 25-70 miles, so they aren’t suitable for multi-day rides away from charging points. When biking multi-day routes on an e-bike, you’ll have to plan it well to ensure you’ve got access to daily charge points.
    • E-bikes shouldn’t be submerged, so you’ll need to re-evaluate those river crossings if you’re planning an e-mountain bike adventure.

    Maintenance and Storage

    • Charging requires extra planning to ensure that the battery is fully charged and ready for the next ride and can take 3.5 to 6 hours.
    • Maintenance is a little different to a traditional bike and may require more mechanic time to fix the electric parts.
    • E-bikes need storing inside, and out of the rain, so require more storage space.
    • E-bikes need to be transported on specific racks on cars, as conventional ones are not suitable.

    Environmental Considerations

    • E-bikes can contribute to trail damage and erosion in fragile environments, a consideration all users of our wild places should be mindful of.
    • It’s important to consider if there is an ethical supply chain supplying battery parts, including the lithium mined to make e-bike batteries.
    • Batteries need replacing over time, meaning they should be recycled instead of going to landfills once they are no longer used.
    • E-bikes need electricity to charge bikes, meaning they’re not totally carbon neutral, depending on where the electricity comes from.

    E-Bike FAQs

    Can you use e-bikes in the rain? Read More

    Yes, you can use e-bikes in the rain just as you would a normal bike. Their batteries don’t take kindly to being submerged though, so best to avoid those deep puddles.

    How fast do e-bikes go? Read More

    In Europe, the motor in an e-bike can assist a rider in reaching a maximum speed of 25 kilometres, or 15.5 miles per hour (with a 250-watt motor). However, riders can still reach speeds faster than this under their own steam, or when freewheeling downhill.

    How much do e-bikes weigh? Read More

    E-bikes can weigh anything from 13 to 30 kilograms, though this varies from bike to bike, depending on the motor, battery, frame material and size, and type of bike.

    Are e-bikes safe to use? Read More

    E-bikes support riders to reach greater speeds with lower efforts, but they are a far cry from a high-speed motorbike. Speeds are easy to control and assisted speeds are capped at 15.5 mph in the UK. E-bikes do carry the same inherent risks as a traditional push bike, and a helmet, hi-vis jacket, reflectors, and front and rear lighting should be used.

    Are electric bikes legal in Scotland? Read More

    Yes, e-bikes with up to a 250-watt motor, or a maximum speed of 25 km/h/15.5mph are legal to ride in Scotland without any sort of licence. The rider must be over the age of 14 and abide by the Highway Code when riding on the road.

    Does e-bikes cause higher levels of erosion? Read More

    While it is true that the use of bikes does cause erosion in our wild places, it’s worth noting that the additional weight of an e-bike is no different to that of a heavier rider, who would have the same effect. It’s all about sensible use and sticking to designated trails where you can.

    To E-B or Not to E?

    There are so many ways to ride a bike, which all share the joy of just getting out there for a spin. From transport to leisure, to all year-round adventures, it might just be that e-bikes are right up your street and enable you to get more out of biking.

    Sources

    Meet the Author: Helen Tatlow

    “Originally from the Cotswolds, I moved to the Scottish Highlands in 2020. I spend my time running in the forests and mountains near home, sea and whitewater kayaking, and planning impromptu multi-day bike trips. I firmly believe that the outdoors is a space for everyone and that most importantly, it should be fun!”

    View profileMore by Helen

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