What you need to know about e-bikes

Electric bikes, commonly known as e-bikes, are a game-changing innovation for getting around our towns and cities. They make hills easier, distances shorter. They help you take off at intersections and help you avoid getting up a sweat.

Here are some top tips to help make riding an e-bike fun and comfortable for everyone.

Getting used to your e-bike

E-bikes are typically heavier than regular bikes which means they handle differently. Like any new bicycle it is best to get used to how the bike handles before heading out on the road. It’s best to start somewhere where you have a bit of space and have a go at:

  • Adjusting the power settings

  • Testing how it responds when stopping and starting

  • Turning, balancing and negotiating obstacles with different levels of power assist

  • Remember, if the motor is in the front wheel and the bike has a throttle, go gently when cornering.

The NZ Transport Agency suggest buying an e-bike with a motor located in the middle or rear of the bike, rather than the front wheel, as these generally handle much more like non-powered bikes

When out and about on your e-bike

Safety on the roads

When riding an e-bike you’ll probably be travelling at higher speeds than a regular bike. Extra caution should be taken at higher speeds. Ensure you scan well ahead, signal your movements and keep an eye out for cars turning in and out of driveways and side roads. Be aware that at intersections drivers might not expect you to be starting off at speed so it’s important to be in a prominent road position, and make eye contact with drivers that may turn across your path.

Power assist

Because e-bikes are heavier, when taking off at an intersection or up-hill, ensure that you have changed down to a low gear. Pedal assist usually kicks in on the second rotation of the pedals, so if you have it in a high/faster gear you’ll experience a surge in power and will take off quickly, so make sure you allow for this. Use advanced stop boxes where possible to give you a head start.

Passing cyclists

You might find yourself passing other cyclists on busy routes. When passing other cyclists make sure you pass safely. Look behind you for traffic, and signal before pulling out. Give sufficient space when passing and let the other people know you are passing by calling out, eg 'on your right' or by ringing your bell.

Shared paths

Shared paths are for slower more relaxed travel. On a shared path you should put your e-bike in a low power setting and cycle at a speed consistent with other users so that it does not put others at risk or make them feel uncomfortable when you pass.

Getting the most out of your battery

For long distances you can extend the battery range by using lower power settings and pedalling more.

Need help deciding which e-bike to buy?

E-bikes come in a wide range of styles – commuter, mountain bike or cargo bike – and have a variety of features and top motor-assisted speeds. In 2017, Consumer NZ provided a helpful introduction to e-bikes(external link)

The Transport Agency recommends:

  • E-bikes with a maximum speed cut out of 25km/h for those new to riding, or 32km/h for experienced riders who spend most of their time on the road
  • E-bikes that give power in proportion to the amount you pedal as these generally handle much more like a non-powered bike than throttle operated e-bikes
  • E-bikes with a motor located in the middle or rear of the bike, rather than the front wheel, as these generally handle more like non-powered bikes.

Reference: Research Report 621: Regulations and safety for electric bicycles and other low-powered vehicles

Sharing the road with e-bikes

E-bikes are becoming increasingly popular in our urban centres. It is important to remember that people riding them may be travelling faster than you might expect, particularly when going up-hill and when starting out at traffic lights.