The pros and cons of Ebikes

By Lee Collins

Electric bicycles (ebikes) are a fast growing part of the bicycle industry. Ebikes are similar to a regular bicycle, with the addition of an electric motor and battery that provide a boost from a hand throttle or pedal assist. Pedal assist works by adding power while a bike is ridden. As pedaling motion is sensed, the electric motor amplifies the power input from the rider.

The fast growth of the ebike industry has brought problems and concerns about bike safety. An electric bike can be thought of as having three main parts: the bicycle, motor and battery. All these parts must work together and be compatible and safe. The biggest concern with ebikes is the fire hazard from the lithium ion batteries. Damaged or poorly built lithium battery cells can result in failure and start a dangerous fire, which is hard to extinguish. It is more likely for this to occur when the battery is plugged into a charger. Although battery failure can happen in other ways as well. Faulty wiring on an ebike could be a cause, or a crash that damages the battery internally. A battery is more likely to have a catastrophic failure if it has not undergone and passed electrical testing standards. UL is an organization widely known for their product testing and electrical standards — they test and certify everything electrical from light bulbs to ebikes. A UL certification is the first thing to look for when deciding on an ebike. When UL tests an ebike they test the complete electrical system. This is important because when they certify an ebike drive system, they are saying the motor, battery and wiring are built to their standards when used together. The other important aspect is the bicycle components, buying from a reputable manufacturer means you will get better quality parts, and it will be more serviceable. Many low priced ebikes are built with substandard parts and often are not able to be serviced, meaning when one part fails the whole bike is unusable. 

At Cordova Gear we sell bikes equipped with Bosch drive systems, and they are built with quality bicycle components. Bosch builds the motor, battery and controller, and the entire system is UL certified, so we know they have undergone rigorous testing. The advantage of a Bosch system is knowing that the components are designed to work together. When combined with high quality and serviceable components you get a bike that will last.  Unfortunately, too many low quality ebikes are coming into the market with little or no testing and, as a result, components are failing prematurely, sometimes in catastrophic ways. 

Lee Collins is a bicycle mechanic at Cordova Gear.