If you’re in the market to purchase an electric bike, you’ll probably want to consider the maximum travel distance you could go on a single charge. Mileage might even be the deciding factor for your purchase. And it’s understandable. You’d want to know how long you can ride your bike on a single charge, unless you don’t mind manually pedaling home because the battery drained before your journey ended.
But travel distance isn’t easy to calculate without riding the electric bike. Every e-bike will have advertised ranges, but it might not be wholly accurate. That’s not to say that a manufacturer is deliberately trying to deceive you. It’s rather that e-bike testing is usually done in more controlled conditions — level pavement free from obstructions, nice weather, etc.
As everyday e-bike cyclists, we might not have such luxuries.
Generally speaking, the travel distance of an electric bike is most determined by the size and power of the electric battery and motor. But there are factors determine the range of an eBike, including:
- weight of the rider
- terrain (flat road versus hills)
- tire pressure
- amount of baggage that you carry
- wind conditions
- level of assistance that you choose
- type of battery
- age of the battery
- size of the motor
- relationship between the battery and the motor and
- how much throttle is used.
If you are in the market to purchase an eBike and range is an important factor, you should understand how level of assistance and battery type impact the range you can travel on a single battery charge.
Level of Assistance
Broadly speaking, the e-bike market is divided into pedal assist eBike models and throttle assist e-bike models.
A pedal assist eBike, also known as a pedelec, is powered when you crank the pedals. You can use a pedelec as a traditional bicycle without power, or have the bike provide power to the pedals. Older pedal assist electric bike models work when the system reads the rate you are pedaling. The faster you pedal, the faster the motor spins. Newer models read the amount of torque you exert on the pedal crank. The greater the force, the more power the motor provides. An eBike with a torque system is much easier to ride up hills because you get power when you need it most, even though your rate of pedaling is lower than if you were on flat ground.
You can control the amount of assistance the bike provides to you. Most pedal assist eBikes have at least a low, medium, and high assist setting that provide between 25% and 200% boost.
- Low assist: Provides the least assistance. Use low assist for a better workout.
- Medium assist: Provides assistance with a moderate amount of pedaling. Medium assist balances pedal power with motor power.
- High assist: Provides the maximum amount of assistance. Use high assist when you need to get somewhere fast!
A throttle assist eBike propels forward when the biker presses a button, pushes a lever (the throttle), or twists the handlebar. The throttle is typically mounted on the handlebar of the eBike and is connected to the electric drive system that controls the speed of the eBike. The harder the rider presses the throttle, the faster the eBike goes. The rider can also disengage the throttle leaving only the pedals to move the bike forward.
In general, a pedal assist eBike has a longer range than a throttle assist eBike.
Power of the Battery
The type of battery you choose to power your e-bike also has a large impact on the distance you can travel on a single charge. A battery provides power to the motor, which makes the wheels turn.
Lithium-ion batteries are the most prevalent battery on the market today. Unlike their predecessor, the nickel-cadmium battery, lithium-ion has greater energy density. Energy density is the amount of energy the battery can store. The higher the density, the more energy the battery can store, the further you can ride the eBike.
The next variable to consider is the battery capacity. Battery capacity calculated as Watt-hrs, which is a measure of the total charge stored in the battery.
Voltage × Amp-hrs = Watt-hrs
In this calculation, Amp-hrs is a unit of electric charge calculated by multiplying electric current by time. And Volts is a measure of electric potential. If you are planning to purchase an electric bike, make sure that you review the product packaging for battery information. For example, if the eBike has a 52-volt battery and capacity of 9 amp-hrs, then 52 x 9 = 468 watt-hrs.
Battery vs Motor
It’s not enough to have a powerful motor or a robust battery. These two components must be well balanced in relationship to each other. As a rule of thumb, look for an eBike with a battery capacity in watt-hrs equal to the motor capacity in watts. So looking at our previous example:
52-volt battery with 9 amp-hrs capacity
52 × 9 = 468 watt-hrs
In that example, an electric bike would work best with a 450-watt, although a 500-watt motor might not overtax the battery too much.
Tips for Keeping an Electric Bike’s Battery Healthy
Considering that the battery is about one-third the cost of the eBike, consider the following tips to prolong its life:
- When not in use, store your e-bike in a cool, dry place. Avoid leaving your eBike in the direct sunlight.
- When you store your eBike, make sure that the battery still has some charge in it. Ideally, the battery should be charged between 40% and
- Don’t let the charge of the battery reach 0%. Studies show that regular and full discharge of a battery is harmful to the battery.
- If you must store your eBike in a cold location, let the battery warm up before you charge it.
- Charge the battery slowly; do not use any “fast-charging” technology.
- Charge the battery only when you need to, and not after every ride.
- Only use the charger that comes with the eBike or eBike conversion kit; alternatively, if you need to buy a charger, get it from the original manufacturer
- Consider purchasing a smart charger that allows you to set the charger to charge the battery up to 80%, 90% or 100% — but only if the smart charger is recommended by the manufacturer.
If you take these precautions, your e-bike’s battery should last between 3 – 5 years.
If you want even longer life for your electric bike, consider buying one with a swappable battery.
Advertised travel ranges are a good starting point when you’re shopping for an electric bike. But don’t let it be the only thing you go by. Advertised ranges are based on laboratory conditions, and you are not going to be cycling in a laboratory. You’ll be riding in conditions wildly different from those in the testing environment.
But now you’re armed with knowledge to figure out for yourself which electric bike has the longest range. Just remember: mileage may vary.