A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about buying your first motorhome. Later when I was talking with some friends we started talking about E Bikes and the benefits of having one with you when you travel in your motorhome. From there the discussion turned to “why don’t you write a blog about E Bikes?” so here we are a blog about buying your first E Bike.
Just a few years ago E Bikes where something of a rarity seen by some as just a flash toy. This is highlighted by the numbers of bikes on the shelves for sale. In 2014 according to another blog who quoted Statistic’s New Zealand only 3000 E Bikes where imported into this country. Three years later (2017) that figure has grown to over 20,000 and who knows where it will end up in 2018.
The really interesting thing is that the price of the E Bikes hasn’t really come down what’s changed is the attitude of the people buying the bikes. As well as a large number of people adopting a different lifestyle. Since 2014 almost 30,000 motorhomes (so maybe 60,000 people) have been added as members of the NZMCA.
Most of these newer members have moved away from what the traditional motorhomers did, with less of these people attending rallies and more of them becoming involved in other mostly recreational activities. Seeing bikes mounted on the back of a motorhome is becoming much more common.
There are three main components to an E Bike, the bike frame, the battery and then the motor. Pricing for an E Bike is firstly about the price of battery and motor which currently run from around $1200 to $2000 for anything half decent the balance of the price is the bike itself. So a $1500 bike is really a $300 frame with motor and battery added. With a $3000 bike more likely to be a $1200 frame and $1800 motor and battery and so on upwards.
The old rule of you get what you pay for really applies when it comes to E Bikes. However nobody is expecting you to spend thousands of dollars on something that you may not even enjoy doing. So how do you go about getting a bike that fits both you and your budget.
You should first ask yourself when was the last time I rode a bicycle and how confident will I be if I do get on one. The reason for asking this question is that could help you chose a type of E Bike that suits your abilities better than others.
The motor in an E Bike can be in one of three places, Front Wheel, Rear Wheel or Centre Drive. The advantage of the front and rear wheel bikes is that they generally come with a throttle and this gives the unsteady rider a huge advantage on take off as you don’t have to peddle to get moving. This is especially true starting off in an uphill situation. Whereas with the centre drive bike the motor will not engage unless you peddle, not so good if you are a bit wobbly on the bike.
However for the more experienced rider the centre drive gives the bike better weight balance and has a feel more like riding a traditional bike.
One thing I will always remember is that not long after we purchased our bikes we went for a ride along Tokerau beach (at low tide) then rode around the village. On the way back rather than peddle Sarah decided to use the throttle and was zooming across the hard sand at over 30kmh without peddling!!! She covered around 9 kms just on the throttle.
Ask yourself where am I going to ride this bike. If the answer is I intend to stick mainly to sealed cycleways and ride around the city then a front drive bike is fine. If however your intention is to ride some serious rail trails then you should be looking for centre or rear wheel drive. Having said that Sarah and I rode the Otago Rail Trail both ways without any issues and hers is front drive.
Some bikes also have a progressive power range so the slower you are going the more assistance you are getting. This is really useful when climbing hills or into a strong head wind. The assistance will drop away as you go faster and help conserve battery life. I have this on my bike and find it really good to have that passive assistance if needed.
What type of tyres are on the bike and are they suitable for the type of riding you intend to do. We have some friends (Dave and Nita) who although happy with their bikes didn’t feel that their tyres where up to it and had to change them. I watched Dave doing this and given all the wires, cables and clips involved with the drive unit, it is not an easy task.
Talking about changing tyres have you considered what you will do if you get a puncture. We had an experience in Hokitika on the West Coast Wilderness Trail where Sarah went for a 25 km bike ride and I went for a 19 km bike ride and a 6 km walk when I had a puncture 6 km from home. This made me realise the importance of a puncture repair kit. The problem is that without specialist tools it’s almost impossible to repair one of these wheels on the side of the road.
After the problem I had in Hokitika I found one of these bike repair tyre fix cans at the local bike shop and now carry it where ever we go. These work by spraying a sealant into the tube at the same time as inflating it, this sealant then fills your puncture and you are good to go. Very handy.
There is another way to sort this problem and that’s to have the tyres treated with the sealant before you set out on your first ride. You can ask the seller to do this before you collect the bikes which most will do for a small additional cost. If it saves you a huge walk with a flat tyre it’s a great investment.
There are three main areas where the battery can be mounted. With each one having it’s own advantages. The more serious you are about riding the better balance you probably want with the bike and most people find that the centre placement of the battery achieves this, however it again comes down to personal choice.
The important thing when it comes to batteries is just how much capacity they have. Again a simple rule applies the cheaper the battery the lower the capacity equalling a shorter ride. So if you are only planning shorter journeys it may suit to have a cheaper option but what happens when you get fitter and want to start stretching out those distances.
The capacity of my battery on a low or minimal assistance setting is around 90 kms whereas Sarah’s bike with the lower capacity battery is around 50 kms. Which sounds plenty until you want to start riding the Rail Trail that’s 150 kms long.
You should also remember that if you have had a big days riding it’s always at the end of the ride that assistance will be needed the most as you start to tire.
The next question you have to ask yourself is how are you going to charge the bike batteries if you aren’t connected to power. When we purchased our new motorhome we had a 2000W inverter fitted to it but have found even with 400W solar, that unless it’s an absolutely blazing hot summers day with no clouds and the sun directly above the van, there is just too much drain on the batteries trying to charge both at the same time. We where lucky when we rode the Rail Trail that Brian had a generator on board to help charge everyone’s batteries each night.
Some of this is because mine is an 48V battery so the draw of amp hours needed is much greater than Sarah’s 36 volt. It’s also the length of time charging with mine taking 6 hours and Sarah’s 4 hours from empty to charge. It’s just as well that I have got fit enough to mostly ride without using the motor. So if you are planning on using yours quite a bit think about how you will recharge it.
Of course the more you use it the quicker it will discharge but also the size of the motor driving you comes into consideration. When we rode the Otago Rail Trail we met Brian who has what some would consider an electric trail bike (see photo above) with a 750W motor when he rode this on full power, which he usually did the battery would be exhausted in 20 kms.
Technically there is a maximum limit of 300W for any E Bike sold in New Zealand with most in the 250 -300w range. The agreement also covers the maximum speed assistance with the motor cutting out at 32 kmh. As these are only agreements rather than law you can still purchase bikes well beyond these like our friend Brian’s.
The next consideration is how you are going to transport these with the obvious solution being a bike rack fitted to the rear of your motorhome. Just remember that these bikes are heavy with an average weight around 23/4 kgs or a bit less when you remove the battery. You do need to ask yourself how will I lift these up and down. Don’t forget to remove the battery before storing to reduce weight.
In various campsites around the country I have seen people with all sorts of methods for this but a small step ladder or the stool from the habitation door seem to be the most common method people have used to give themselves additional height to work with.
An important thing to remember in this whole process is that everyone you speak to in a bike shop (we visited numerous) is trying to sell their own product. With this in mind you will hear lots of conflicting advice and it can be very confusing, so how do you choose. Simply get on the bikes and ride them find the one that feels most comfortable and suits you and your budget the best. Then ask about warranties and back up service.
When Sarah and I brought our bikes in Auckland I asked about back up and was told of all the service agents around the country. The first day on our South Island trip in Blenheim, Sarah’s bike stopped working and we used one of those service agents to get it back on the road quickly. I have read and heard horror stories of people who have brought, generally a cheaper bike, to discover no back up no spare parts or worst of all the selling dealer closed and gone. So do your homework in this area!
I should mention here that we both went for a ride that day as you can of course ride without the power assistance it’s just not quite as easy. To even things up I also took my battery out while we rode.
One thing you should consider an essential and it’s something that I wish we had added long before we did, a pannier and bags to the back of the bike. So useful for carrying the groceries, rain coats, water, picnic etc. It also works as a mudguard on my bike and saves water being sprayed up my back in the rain.
Remember the Internet is your friend, when you have found something that you like and before you part with your money look at what other people are saying about the bike you are considering. There are so many online reviews these days that there should be some for the bike you are looking at. What are other people saying? Is it a good bike?
You should ensure that the shop helps you set up the bike with the correct seating and handlebar position as if this is not done it makes for uncomfortable riding caused by bad posture on the bike. You will start making excuses not to ride because it doesn’t feel right giving your sore knees, bad back etc.
Before we went to the South Island we considered towing a car to use for shopping, sightseeing etc. We decided against this and at the end of the trip there where maybe three places that we didn’t get to because the motorhome wouldn’t have made it down the road and it was too far to cycle. But what we did do is hundreds of kilometres on our bikes we lost weight, got fit, saw sights and thoroughly enjoyed having them. We strongly recommend that you consider getting one.
Once you have made your decision get out there and enjoy your riding experience . The health benefits are enormous. The chance to see parts of the country you would not otherwise see are not to be missed.
I welcome your feedback on this post and if you do have any questions please feel free to email me email@example.com with any questions.
To view the places we have visited click here to see them on Google maps. You can click the links to read the blog about that area.
To view the Ratings we have done for other camps click here