Electric Bike

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Electric Bike
Electric Bike (credit: ozaiachin/shutterstock.com)
If, due to ill health or old age, you lack the power to pedal yourself around, help is available. Of course you could always get a moped, but that comes with the extra burden of licensing, registration and insurance, and they are excluded from traffic-free cycling facilities.

Since 1983, anyone over the age of 14 has been permitted a limited amount of electrical power assistance on a pedal cycle, without it becoming a moped or subject to any of the above moped requirements.

People often ask if they can add a small internal combustion engine to a bicycle, which would be an attractive proposition given the much greater power and range obtainable from a given weight of engine and fuel, and the ease of re-fuelling. Such engines were not uncommon in 1940s Britain and remain popular in some other countries. But so far as we are concerned, here and now, it's electricity or nothing, or else it's a moped!

EAPC, E-bike and Pedelec

The amount of electrical power and how it works is regulated by a combination of British and European legislation. The upshot of this is that Electrically-Assisted Pedal Cycles, EAPC for short but usually anagrammed to the more pronounceable 'epac', subdivide into two slightly different sorts of bike:

  • An 'E-bike' gives power assistance on demand at any time, including when the rider isn't pedalling. Power is simply controlled by a switch and/or twist-grip on the handlebar;
  • A 'pedelec' (the clue is in the name) gets power only whilst the rider is actually pedalling and must have some kind of pedal sensor in addition to whatever manual controls are provided. Some even measure how hard the rider is pedalling and give proportional power assistance. That's a neat idea for most people, but not so good for those in greatest need of assistance. Anyone whose physical condition often obliges them to 'take a breather' may do better with an E-bike, so it's a good thing that Britain recognises this type of epac.

Many other countries allow only pedelecs and classify any E-bike, however low-powered and easily pedalled, a moped. The bigger market and simplified approval procedures for manufacturers of such machines means that most epacs are pedelecs.

Legislation specifies the maximum motor power and weight of the cycle etc – with different limits for tandems and tricycles – but one common factor required of all epacs, ensuring they behave near enough the same as normal pedal cycles, is that there shall be no power assistance above about 15mph.  It has to be said that the extra weight of battery and motor makes it difficult just to pedal them any faster – except downhill!

Ready-made or conversion kit?

The range and reliability of epacs used to be rather disappointing, but the technology is improving. There are many more models on the market and you can now expect a reasonable motor performance from most of them. As a pedal cycle however, they often leave much to be desired.

We've already mentioned weight, which becomes dead weight when the battery is flat. The electrical system also adds cost, leaving less to spend upon the pedalling side of things.

So if you already own a high quality bike or trike equipped with a good range of really low gears that you won't find on any ready-made epac, but which will help you struggle on when the motor gives up, it makes a lot more sense to convert it with an electrical assistance kit. The best sort of kit that is also easy to fit yourself will be based on a hub-motor that can be swapped for your existing front wheel.

Assuming you've bought an epac, or converted your trusty steed, you'll be pleased to know that CTC, recognising that this may be the only way for some people to continue or take up cycling, extends the full benefits of membership to users of electrically-assisted pedal cycles.

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