#eBikeThoughts: Electric-Assist Bicycles

An Electric-Assist Bicycle Guide for Minnesota

A bit about me. I am a 47 year-old, year-round cyclist who lives in St. Paul, MN. I own two electric-assist bicycles (also known as eBikes) and a car. I chose to buy my first eBike because over 90% of my trips are within 5 miles of my house. I owned a 1980’s Nishiki Sebring road bike before this, but it didn’t get much use. I still chose to drive, most of the time.

Like many adults, I was an avid cyclist in my youth. However, growing up in the southern suburb of Eagan, car culture was all I knew. I got my permit the day I turned 15, I got my license the day after I turned 16 and I owned my first car before I was 18. For much of my life, driving was a necessity. In the suburbs, transit is almost non-existent and few, if any, bike-commuting role models.

So when I finally moved to a home that was close to most every destination I needed to travel, I was ill-equipped to transition from driving. Enter eBikes—or as I like to call them, the excuse killers. Too far? Too windy? To hilly? To sweaty? To slow? The eBike conquers all of these excuses and more.

What is an eBike?

So what is an eBike? It depends who you ask. If you ask the MN State Legislature, an “Electric-assisted bicycle” has two or three wheels, a saddle, fully operable pedals for human propulsion, has an electric (not gas) motor with a maximum output of 1,000 watts (just over 1HP), is “incapable of propelling the vehicle at a speed of more than 20 miles per hour (32km/h)” and “is incapable of further increasing the speed of the device when human power alone is used to propel the vehicle at a speed of more than 20 miles per hour.”

Under Minnesota State Law, an eBike inherits all the same benefits of a traditional bicycle, but is still a sub-category of a motorized bicycle (includes motorcycles), which is a sub-category of a motorized vehicle. However, MN Statute 85.018, subdivision 4 exempts electric-assisted bicycles from non-motorized statutes. So if you see a sign saying “no motorized vehicles”, you can legally ride your eBike there.

If you ask PeopleForBikes.org, an eBike is an electric-assist bicycle that falls into one of three classes:

  • Class 1: Maximum motor-assist speed of 20MPH, pedal-assist only.
  • Class 2: Maximum motor-assist speed of 20MPH, pedal-assist, with motor-only throttle.
  • Class 3: Maximum motor-assist speed of 28MPH, pedal-assist only.

Because MN Statue 169.011.27 states, an eBike may not further increase the speed more than 20MPH, Class 3 eBikes are not legal for street or trail use, here. However, that does not mean they are illegal to sell. You can still ride a Class 3 eBike off-road, where unregistered motorized vehicles can travel (e.g., your personal property).

What would happen if you got caught riding a Class 3 eBike by a police officer? Probably nothing. For starters, I doubt any MN officer is capable of identifying a Class 3 eBike, just by looking at it. Even if you were traveling at speeds greater than 20MPH (which any eBike can do—just as any human-pedaled bicycle can do), they wouldn’t pull you over because of the eBike law. You’d have to be doing something else the officer deemed dangerous or illegal. Even then, it is highly unlikely an officer would even know your eBike violated MN Statute 169.011.27. They might even like it.

There is still a catch, for those who think it’s worth getting one. If you get into an accident on a road or trail, the police may not care, but it may be well worth the the time for an insurance company to determine if your bicycle is legal or not. Such findings could be used against you in court and in determining payouts for claims. So, you’ve been warned.

In a looser sense, eBikes take on entirely different meanings. In New York City, you may hear of eBikes being banned. While this is technically true (for now), when Mayor DeBlasio talks about crackdowns on illegal eBikes, he is specifically referring to Class 2 eBikes, with throttles. New York City considers eBikes and Pedal-Assist bikes two separate categories of bicycles.

Then, just as motorcycle riders call their vehicles bikes, there are gasoline motorcycle-equivalent electric motorcycles, that are also called eBikes, by their users and manufacturers. So, just for clarity, when I say eBike, I am speaking specifically about those defined in our MN Statutes as “Electric Assisted Bicycles.” I am also only going to cover purpose-built eBikes vs. DIY after-market kits. Although, much of this article would apply to both.

Should You Even Buy an eBike?

EBikes tend to cost $1,500 or more (for something worth buying), so some care and consideration will likely be taken before choosing to part with that much cash. There are some instances, I would not recommend an eBike. The first being range.

The average battery capacity of eBikes is about 500 watt/hours. Because there are such a wide variety of motors with different power outputs, this nets between 20-30 miles of range at the motor’s peak output and under ideal (wind-free, mostly flat) conditions. All eBikes have the ability to lower the assist level and increase range. For example, the popular Bosch Performance Line CX Motor (considered one of the more powerful mid-drive motors), could be extended to 85 miles by using the Eco mode, cutting the motor’s power in half and reducing the torque. So, if your commute is greater than 30 miles, round trip, you may want to do some more research. They do make bikes with higher capacity and dual-batteries, but this greatly increases cost and weight.

Also consider, in winter months, cold will cause your range to drop to roughly 60-70% of its typical capacity. Further on cold: If you don’t have the ability to store the battery (or bike) inside, I would not recommend an eBike. Allowing your battery to freeze is not good for it. EBike batteries, stored during the winter (or time periods greater than a few months) should be stored between 40-60% capacity, indoors. They should also be charged every 90 days, to prevent them from entering “sleep mode,” which is when a battery thinks it is never going to be used again and renders its internal chemicals safe for disposal. It can be very difficult, or even impossible, to bring a lithium ion battery back from this state.

The final reason to weigh against buying an eBike is weight. If you live in a walk-up apartment/condo and/or have some other reason you’ll need to carry your bike, most eBikes weigh around 50lbs (22.68kg). Nearly all eBikes have removable batteries, which can shed 5-9lbs (2.7-4kg) of weight, but it would still be a chore to get up several flights of stairs. EBikes, depending on where their motors are, can also be fairly unbalanced when trying to lift them. Even folding eBikes are generally the same weight as their non-folding counterparts. This is because the frames need to be more robust.

If you have a situation where you need to push a bicycle, un-powered, they do make eBikes with a feature commonly called “walk-mode.” This feature is typically activated by the controls on the handlebars and provides gentle, slow motor assistance to help you push the bike up hills, without being on the bike.

Justifying the Cost of an eBike

If you’re waiting for eBikes to become as inexpensive as traditional bikes, that day will never come. You can’t add a motor and battery and expect it to cost the same as something without. EBikes can be several thousands of dollars more expensive than an equivalent human-powered bicycle. EBikes also tend to have more accessories than their counterparts (if the manufacturer sells both electric/non-electric versions), so that also increases price.

If I was pressed to suggest a target budget for an eBike, I would probably say $3,000-$3500. In that price range, you will find a large selection of bikes with quality components, major-brand motors, torque sensing (and often torque/cadence/speed sensors), main-battery powered lights, hydraulic disc brakes, and more. Bikes in this range also tend to have three or more frame sizes to choose from. Many cheaper bikes have fewer sizes.

So how does one justify parting with $3500? For starters, a $3500 eBike will be a rough equivalent to a $1200-$2000 human-powered bike in terms of build quality and components. So really we’re talking about parting with an additional $1500-$2200. Already with an eBike you’re getting more than you would with that $2,000 human-power bike. You get a motor, a battery, controllers for setting assistance levels, probably a display and a computer to control it all.

Those parts alone (and in this price bracket, quality parts) would show a value of at least $1500. The Copenhagen Wheel, add-on eBike motorized wheel, costs about $1800. So the cost of a $3500 eBike is a rough equivalent to its human-powered counterparts given what more you’re getting. But still, it is a big chunk of cash to spend on an eBike

Sure you can help justify it by how much gas you’ll save. Plus there’s less wear-and-tear on your car, if you drive. But for me, the biggest hidden justification isn’t monetary. Unfortunately, I can’t prove to you these benefits will manifest if you buy one. But there is growing evidence to support them.

First, eBike riders have been shown to replace more trips by car than traditional bike riders. Second, eBike research has shown, riders almost always ride farther and for longer durations than they did prior to owning an eBike. If you are someone who owns a traditional bicycle that sits idle in your garage, most of the time; you are far more likely to get more use out of your investment owning an eBike.

Third, while without argument, you do not get as much exercise per mile biked as you would on a traditional bike. However, multiple studies have shown eBike riders get nearly the same health benefits. This is because eBike owners ride more frequently and for greater distances than they would on traditional bicycles.

More biking, more exercise, less stress driving, less effort riding, means a happy lifestyle. An eBike changed my life and it has for so many others. It has redefined what a bicycle means to me for transportation and recreation. It has improved my health and well being to an immeasurable extent.

Help Me Buy an eBike

If you’ve decided an eBike is for you and would like some advice, here is mine. For perspective, I have watched thousands of eBike video reviews and read even more. I’ve been doing this daily for the last four years. I am very well versed in the eBike industry, its major players, systems available and what to look out for. That being said, I am one person and you should always take advice from multiple sources when making major purchases.

First things first. Decide on a pedal-assist technology. Even if you decide you want a throttle, most eBikes also have pedal-assistance. That is to say, as you pedal, the motor helps you along. Many attribute this to riding a bike as a kid and one of your parents giving you a push on the back.

There are two primary systems that provide pedal-assistance. First is cadence-sensing. This is most common on eBikes under $2,000. Cadence sensors, typically, use a ring of magnets on the crank to determine if the crank is moving or not. It is the equivalent of a light switch. It is either sensing movement or not. This system has no way of knowing how hard you are pedaling.

When a cadence sensor senses movement, it turns on the motor. The motor will power up at the power output you have selected from the eBike’s controls. The amount of power is typically split into segments of miles-per-hour (or km/h). For example, level 1 would cause the motor to accelerate to 5MPH, level 2 to 8MPH, level 3, to 12MPH, etc. All the way up to 20MPH. You rarely see cadence sensors on Class 3 eBikes. This means, at level 1, the eBikes would not go slower than 5MPH, unless the conditions, e.g. a hill, were too aggressive for the motor’s maximum power output. Some cadence sensing eBikes have lots of levels, some have only a few. The more levels, the more granularity you have in determining the bike’s speed.

Because cadence sensing is an on/off switch, you do not have to pedal as fast as the bike is propelling you. You only have to turn the cranks fast enough for the sensor to sense forward motion in the crank. There is nothing to prevent you from pedaling faster than the assistance level, but the motor will not help you do so. This type of sensor tends to feel less natural to traditional cyclists.

The alternative to cadence sensing is torque sensing. This type of sensor can actually determine how hard you are pushing on the pedals and changes output levels accordingly. For example: if you are starting from a dead stop and are in a relatively high gear…on a traditional bicycle, you might stand on the pedals to get moving. A torque sensor, along with its computer, can sense this type of activity and provide lots of power to help. However, when you are pedaling along on a flat smooth path, it intelligently lowers the power to allow a more natural pedal feel. Unlike a cadence sensor, a torque sensor allows to motor to output power regardless of speed, increasing/decreasing power depending on your pedaling effort.

Just like on a regular bicycle, you pedal until you meet a feeling of resistance that is comfortable for you. It doesn’t feel “loose,” like a cadence sensor can (with which you can pedal slower than the wheels are turning). I highly recommend seasoned cyclists choose torque sensing models. More advanced systems use cadence, torque and speed sensors to get a total picture of a riders movements. These systems use this data to give the ultimate bicycle-feel. So when looking at eBikes, first and foremost, determine what type of sensor it uses. This will have the greatest impact of how the bicycle will feel to pedal.

The next decision would be if you want a throttle or not (Class 2). There are many (often strong) opinions on throttles. Some equate it to buying a moped instead of a bicycle and are put off by them. Others, who are primarily looking for their eBike as transportation to replace a car, see it as a great benefit.

I will say this. Whatever your feelings on throttles, they are incredibly important to very specific groups of people with accessibility issues. In particular I am reminded of a man who uses his eBike while struggling with MS. With MS, his disability, on any given day, can range from subtle to extremely debilitating. The throttle means he can enjoy the exercise of the pedal-assist, while having the confidence that if his disabilities flare up, he won’t be stranded.

Those who think an eBike with a throttle is a moped replacement, will be very disappointed. Even with the largest motor permitted by law, a measly one-horsepower may struggle to get up medium hills without your pedal help. Ebike motors are also far more prone to overheating. Especially up steep hills and under heavier rider weight. Estimated ranges are also for pedal-assist. Using a throttle alone, you should reduce the max range by about one-half of the range at max pedal-assist. So, if you want a moped experience, buy a moped. Full stop.

Neither of the eBikes I own have throttles and I don’t regret it a bit. Most eBikes do not come with them and limiting your selection to models with throttles will greatly limit the number of bikes you can choose from. My advice, if you don’t have a solid reason for needing one (such as my MS example), don’t worry about getting one.

The second biggest decision is mid-drive or hub motor. Hub motors are placed in the actual wheel of the bike. There are two types of hub motors: geared and direct-drive. Direct-drive are the simplest motors. They only consist of copper coils surrounded by magnets. Because of this simplicity, it makes them incredibly reliable, however they produce less torque than geared models. To compensate, manufacturers make them much larger, also making them heavier. The greatest benefit of a direct-drive motor is it is completely silent. You will never hear the motor on your direct-drive eBike.


Geared hub motors are significantly smaller and lighter. By using gears, they give the motor mechanical advantages that allow more power/torque from a much smaller package. Unlike the direct-drive, these gears must physically touch to work, so that friction produces noise. How much noise depends on the manufacturer. Typically, motor noise is most noticeable at slower speeds when you are pedaling fast (e.g. in a low gear). The noise typically goes down in higher gears and also gets drowned out by the wind as you increase speed.

Mid-drives seem to be the way the industry is heading. This places the motor in place of the traditional crank shaft and bottom bracket. By doing so, the motor can take mechanical advantage of the rear gearing of the bike—making it very efficient. A 250 watt mid-drive motor, will feel just as zippy at a 500-750 watt hub motor, if you’re in the correct gear. This also means the motor consumes less power and extends the range of the eBike. Mid-drives also use internal gears to further increase the mechanical advantage of the motor. As with geared hub motors, noise is the result and noise level depends on cadence and manufacturer design. German manufacturer Brose, from my experience, builds the quietest mid-drive motors.

Each motor type has its advantages and disadvantages. A hub motor, can certainly make changing a tire more difficult. Not only is the wheel going to be heavier, but wiring also has to be plugged in. The big disadvantage I see with a mid-drive motor is you will never convert the eBike into a traditional bicycle, if the motor dies and parts are no longer available. You can’t simply replace the motor with a bottom bracket and crank (except for some after-market conversion kits)—tho, the mechanical gearing of the motor may still work. With a hub motor, there is nothing to stop you from replacing the motorized wheel with a traditional bicycle wheel, if you choose to do so, in the future.

For me, the motor brands are far more important than the bicycle manufacturer brand. Brands I trust are Bosch (mid), Brose (mid), Yamaha (mid), Currie (hub/mid), Go Swiss (direct-drive), and Dapu (hub). This isn’t to say other brands are bad. I just haven’t seen enough positive feedback on durability and lack of problems, as I have on these. The most reliable motors, in my opinion, are direct-drive hub motors and the Bosch mid-drives.

Now that you’ve decided on a drive train, you can start looking at eBikes that use your preference. But where are you going to buy one? The cheapest place, like with so many things, is online. Most of the budget eBikes are sold exclusively online and are typically rebranded China imports. Not to hate on China. Well over 90% of all eBikes are made there, or at least their components. I only say China because the sellers tend not to be the manufacturers. Look at enough cheap online eBikes and you will start to see the same frame styles repeated over and over again. That’s not an accident.

As with any online purchase, you should do significant research on the company selling the eBike. Where is the seller located? What is the warranty? Any bad review of the company online? How long have they been in business? Can you talk to an actual human being? Do you have to pay for shipping of warranty parts? Who replaces the warranty parts? You? What if the bike arrives damaged? Do you have to pay return shipping to get a new one? How about shipping for warranty replaced parts? If the seller doesn’t make the eBikes, getting parts may take an extra long time—sometimes months, if the part needs to be special-ordered from China. If you plan to do your own repairs, ask yourself, if you can fix a regular bicycle, can you diagnose/fix electric and electronic components?

My strongest recommendation, especially for a first-time eBike owner, is to buy your eBike from a local dealer. Stick with major brands that have been in the traditional bicycle manufacturing business for a while. These companies will tend to have the best warranties and best service. Buying local, also means you are likely able to try the bike before you buy it and experience far less hassle with returns.

Because eBikes are so expensive, most local dealers don’t carry the entire stock of bikes they can obtain in-store. So, if you are looking at say, a Trek, and your local dealer doesn’t have the specific model you’d like to try, ask them if they can obtain a demo bike. Most can—especially with major brands like Trek, Specialized, Raleigh, etc. It may take some time for them to get one, but most retailers know, the easiest way to sell an eBike, is to let you ride it.

EBikes also have extremely high markups. So discontinued models can often be found for hundreds if not thousands of dollars below retail price. My first eBike was $4,000 retail, when new, but after it was discontinued, the price dropped to $2600. It was still new-in-box with the full warranty. Most of these eBikes are in manufacturer warehouses, so ask your local dealer if theirs has any discontinued models in stock. You could save yourself a lot!

Demo bikes are also an option, but you have to take into consideration there will be wear and tear on the components and reduced battery life. My best estimates are batteries typically last 5,000 miles, with replacement costs between $500 and $1,000.

The other option is buying used. Again, determining existing wear and battery use will be the keys. If the eBike doesn’t have an odometer (many do), it may be possible for a dealer to determine the battery’s health (if it is from a major bicycle brand). So possibly ask to meet at a dealer, with battery condition as a condition of the sale.

Never, ever, buy a used eBike where the seller doesn’t have the battery key or charger. This is a first-tell sign the bicycle is stolen. As with any bicycle, check to make sure the serial number on the bottom has not been tampered with.

Enjoy The Ride

Hopefully this has been helpful. I love eBikes. As I’ve mentioned, I own two of them and hope to buy a third within a year or two. I am not rich, by any means. My eBike purchases were the result of many, many years of savings. Including using up all of the savings I had for a new car. The result? I switched from over 90% car usage and under 10% bike usage to the exact opposite. I still drive my car for many long trips, required by my work, but I drove less than 2500 miles last year, which means that old used car is going to last a lot longer.

So while I’ve spent as much as a used car on eBikes, I’ve probably extended the time period in which I’d need to purchase a replacement car, by roughly the same value. Not to mention the physical and mental heath benefits of having a bike I love to choose over my car. For me, it was well worth the investment.

27 thoughts on “#eBikeThoughts: Electric-Assist Bicycles

  1. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

    What a great post, James! Your knowledge about the world of electric assist bicycles makes this a great introduction and reference post. It’s also enjoyable to read the highlighted tweets and see your adventures around town.

    What’s the next bike you’re planning to buy? After this winter, I really want a fat bike like yours!

    1. James Kohls Post author

      I honestly don’t know what my next eBike will be. I’ve given thoughts to a longer range commuter and cargo bike like the Tern GSD. But I’m still a ways off in savings, so no solid ideas yet.

      The fat bike is a Specialized Turbo Levo Comp Fat HT (Hard Tail). Got it from Bicycle Chain in Roseville. They even got me a loaner (non-fat-tire) version of the bike to try for a few days before I purchased. Very good people.

  2. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff

    Great post, James. I have struggled in the past with the notion of eBikes as “cheating,” but it’s always been clear to me that as my body ages this will be a very real option for me in the future. My bad knees may hasten that future. Additionally, seeing your fat tire eBike makes me wonder if there’s a specifically seasonal reason to go electric. This February has seen me catching rides or taking the bus more than I would like.

    1. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

      I think you description is another good perspective on how we could view electric assist bicycles. If one can acknowledge that one’s own body or abilities (or responsibilities or location or seasonal limitations etc.) may change enough to justify adding an e-assist bike… perhaps we can also acknowledge that is true for other people.

      After all, we’ve managed to get over the old idea that having gears is cheating (mostly). Or that a lighter bike is cheating. Or that fancier components is cheating. Or that living in a flat area is cheating. Or that a multi-modal bus/bike commute is cheating. (Who, exactly, is being “cheated” in these situations? I think the majority of people do not view their commute or their recreation as a competition, so there’s no danger of cheating).

    2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      Never really gave serious consideration to the available electric assist on the cargo bike, but as the kid gets bigger and I get older, maybe I’ll regret that.

      I’d like to get one for my MIL, who looked a bit but got scared off by the sticker price.

      1. James Kohls Post author

        While I didn’t cover them, there are aftermarket kits you can get and add it later.

        Price is the hardest part to overcome. And, it is a lot. For me, it was worth it. While I could buy a decent used car for what I’ve spent on eBikes, they’ve made such a positive impact on my life quality-wise, I have zero regrets. The return on investment was more than just a nice bike or two. It redefined how I think about cycling and transportation. It’s hard to put a value on that ahead of time.

    3. James Kohls Post author

      Fat bikes are great eBike candidates. Especially when you consider the non-electric versions are already heavy bikes, plus the best way to get traction is to let most of the air out of the tires. Electric-assist makes up for that and makes trudging along on a heavy bike with nearly flat tires a breeze.

      Plus, in fair weather, you can take them to off-road trails, like the river bottoms or battle creek.

    4. Melissa WenzelMelissa Anne Wenzel

      A rider of a fat & studded tire ebike was mildly annoyed with me on Thursday. Close to my work, I have to bike on the “52-to-7th street trail” where snow from the road constantly gets sprayed onto the bike/ped trail. At one spot, the spray was deep and crusty enough that I had to walk my bike 50 feet over the spray. I didn’t see the fat/studded tire ebicyclist behind me (and I’m constantly looking in my my mirror for auto/bike traffic behind me) and was waiting (a bit impatiently) for me to cross this portion of the path on foot before I could hop back on my bike. I was amused that another rider was annoyed at ME, a typically fast e-bike rider!

      I don’t know who he was; I was slightly late to work so we probably crossed paths for the first (possibly the last?) time. I wished him a good day and I’m honestly not sure what he said back to me. #toomanylayers

  3. Andrew Evans

    May be worth breaking that up into a few different articles.

    In any event a co-worker has a hub one, or converted his bike into one, or something along those lines. Makes his 10 mile bike commute that much easier, and he does ride it a lot weather permitting. It’s interesting to me, and may be worth looking into, job depending, either this summer or in the next few years. I go about 14 miles into work along West River Road, and just aren’t keen on doing that with a traditional bike.

    I’d totally do a under 60cc moped, which would be extremely handy to have due to less parking restrictions, but would have to cross 110 on the bike trail. Which isn’t an issue really, but the few miles I have to commute on the freeway aren’t conducive to a smaller moped. The price would also be higher than most ebikes.

    I’m wondering out loud if they don’t have ones with a detachable battery pack. That would make the most sense (for me) at work and with the distance I’d have to go. That said, I do have a Stihl battery chainsaw and lawnmower, and I bet one of them could make the trip if modded to a bike. Would be was price wise, but shouldn’t be too terrible to make happen.

    Thanks for the article!

    1. James Kohls Post author

      There are a lot of electric mopeds/scooters coming out, these days. You just have to be careful how they are defined legally (whether they require license, insurance, helmet, etc). There a number of in-between “bikes” out there that don’t have VINs, but are too powerful to be considered eBikes (as I’ve defined). So they require motor vehicle registration, but without a VIN, the DMV won’t register it.

      They big problem I have with mopeds are they are essentially just slower cars. They still get stuck in traffic. At least with an eBike, you can ride anywhere a bike can. Plus, mopeds ride in traffic, which I’ve always considered quite dangerous.

      1. Andrew Evans

        I’m not too worried about most of that, and honestly I’d be a proponent of anyone who rides a fast ebike to get their motorcycle endorsement through the various training courses out there. I did that a few years back so good there. As far as I know I think you can ride without a helmet in MN, although that is set by states and some have different rules.

        You’re more open in any two wheeled vehicle, and run more risks of not being seen. The areas I’m most concerned with this wouldn’t really be any different on my motorcycles, pedal bikes, or a moped. So that’s mostly fine.

        That said I never see bikes stopped by police or anyone for not having lights, so I wonder how strict enforcement would be for this ebike stuff. I’m thinking as long as someone isn’t being a jerk that no officer or official would really care.

    2. Karen

      The beauty of ebike is you can use all the wonderful bike trails and paths Twin Cities have to offer. Can’t get that from moped.

      I got an ebike because my distance to work was just too long for me to consider working up to on a bike (30 miles r.trip) but since my workplace is right off Gateway Trail, I really wanted to bike to work. Ebike means I can get to work in 1 hr.

      My ebike is the my favorite adult purchase ever, love my commute to work, love taking it for rides on weekend.

    1. James Kohls Post author

      I’m not sure what electric unicycles would be classified as in Minnesota. It wouldn’t qualify as an Electric-Assisted Bicycle, because it has fewer than 2 wheels and goes above 20MPH. They would probably be considered off-road motorized vehicles, like ATVs.

      1. Karen

        The beauty of ebike is you can use all the wonderful bike trails and paths Twin Cities have to offer. Can’t get that from moped.

        I got an ebike because my distance to work was just too long for me to consider working up to on a bike (30 miles r.trip) but since my workplace is right off Gateway Trail, I really wanted to bike to work. Ebike means I can get to work in 1 hr.

        My ebike is the my favorite adult purchase ever, love my commute to work, love taking it for rides on weekend.

  4. Karen

    Thanks James for this wonderful overview.

    If you currently don’t bike much or not at all, try an ebike, you will like it, and it is such a great, fun way to get around, you will be amazed at how quickly and easily you can get places on ebike and how much farther you will go than on a regular bike.

    If you already bike some, but don’t bike everytime you could, consider an ebike. You will use every possible time you can, for far more of your trip, because you will love it. And don’t despair about losing exercise, you will bike more and ebikes are heavy, so when you have time and don’t mind the sweat (like when I’m just about home from.work) turn it off and ride it up some hills. With an ebike you’ll get the extra duration of exercise because you will bike more, longer trips and you can easily insure an aerobics hit anytime you want.

  5. Cobo R

    I purchased a cheapish E-bike a year ago because my commute was too far (~13 miles) to get to work in a timely manner using peddle power alone, and I wanted some more car free commutes that included some exercise. Its a level 3 but I run it at level 2 most of the time.

    Its pretty slick & fun in the spring, summer, and fall. But It doesn’t run very well in the winter, and has the wrong kind of tires, but thats probably for the best since my suburban route from Hennepin to carver county isn’t the best for winter biking anyway.

    I do worry about when these get more mainstream and some bad eggs ruin it for the rest of us.

    1. James Kohls Post author

      I’m not as worried about bad eBike riders as bad reactions to them. I think many will blame the eBikes vs the riders—that somehow eBikes created a new behavior and danger that didn’t exist before.

      Bad behavior is inherent to the operator, not the vehicle. Removing eBikes would not remove the bad behaviors, only displace it. Those bad behaviors already existed. I’d much rather that bad behavior took place on an eBike than a car or motorcycle.

      If, eBikes cause a big enough shift from driving to cycling, I think the behavioral laws we see on cars will also start to shift as well.

      1. Melissa WenzelMelissa Anne Wenzel

        I bike slowly around other cyclists with my ebike, announce I’m passing, and thank people for moving over. Y’know, all of the things any bike rider should do. I’ve NEVER gotten yelled at by a pedestrian or bicyclist, and often get the, “Is that an e-bike? Cool!” comment (I just have time to say, “yeah, thanks!”). Every once in a while a fellow bicyclist slows me up to ask me a bunch of questions. I LOVE that and will always take time to answer them. Police officers have teased me on 7th street west of downtown that I’m speeding (going 15-20 mph).

        As long as you don’t act like a jerk on your e-bike (or regular bike or in a car, truck, as a pedestrian, or on the bus/train), you’ll be fine.

  6. Karen

    Just a note on throttle issue that James had a good overview on – my bike has a throttle which I never use to avoid pedaling – except, that time someone knocked my bike over a public rack at Como and messed up my chain ring and I throttle home rather than walking bike several miles home.

    But that trip on throttle only taught me that regular ebikes are designed to be pedaled and I found it not comfortable not pedaling – pedaling feels way better – maybe like in the way that walking on a moving sidewalk at airport feels better than just standing a lot.

    However, I do use my throttle at same time as pedaling, to start up at intersections I want to get through quickly or when starting on a hill from dead stop.

    While it’s getting better, for many ebikes, there is a very short but is a noticeable gap in time between when you start pedaling and motor kicks in, I just wipe out that delay when I want to start fast, by hitting the throttle at same time I start pedaling, using the throttle for a few seconds at most.

    Some ebikes have a burst/boost mode button that does essentially the same thing, makes bike respond quicker when demanded

    No one routinely wants a bike to rocket off when they first hit the pedals, that’s just unsafe, but having some extra boost, quick when you want it, is nice.

    Ebike tech keeps getting better and li-on batteries for car EVs are going down in price about 16 percent per year on average! I’m assuming similar impressive gains will be made in batteries for smaller EVs…so ebikes will just keep getting better and better.

    1. James Kohls Post author

      Cadence sensors are typically the worst, when it comes to responsiveness (motor start/stop times). Since the magnets need time rotate to past the sensor and multiple magnets need to pass to determine motion, there is a built-in delay. This type of delay is unavoidable.

      Many motors also have a built-in start delay to prevent un-wanted motor activation. This is so you don’t rest your foot on the pedal, or kick the pedal when not riding, and have the motor start. This is where torque sensors really shine, since they can determine how hard the pedal is being pressed.

      Other delays in response are programmed in. Every manufacturer calibrates this differently. Sometimes it is a built-in delay that allows the motor to “ramp up/down” its power gradually versus turning on/of instantly. This is typically done to provide a smoother feel and reduce vibration in the drive system. Some bikes do this more quickly than others.

      Bosch mid-drives are probably the best at responsiveness. They calculate cadence, torque and speed thousands of times per second to really understand what the rider is doing and react appropriately. Mid-drive cadence sensors are far superior to the magnet-based bottom bracket sensors and further reduce delays.

  7. Melissa WenzelMelissa Anne Wenzel

    I finally had a chance to read your article. I wish I had known you 11 years ago! I made 3 bad e-bike purchases and have learned my lesson the hard way. Everything you say is absolutely true, things I now know.

    There are SO many e-bike owners out there. There are at least 15 state employees who have ebikes (that’s just from my observations, so there are probably more) and In the summer, I’m hard pressed to go anywhere, including to/from work, without seeing another e-bicyclist. And that doesn’t even count Jenny Werness so let me ride her Pedego ebike before I bought one moments later; our paths rarely cross!

    I’m going to get my second Pedego ebike soon, so that I can have a dedicated winter one and a rest-of-the-year one (or that my “old” one becomes a backup if something happens to my “new” one). Not sure when that’ll happen =, but #ebikes sure are a way of my life!!

  8. Random Name

    Out of curiosity, how do DUI/DWI laws pertain to electric assist bicycles?

    For me, this has always struck me as the greatest of having one – biking back from a friends house and randomly getting a DUI on your bicycle.

    As I understood things, DUI laws only apply to vehicles that operate under their own power (cars, riding lawn mowers, golf carts, jet skis, etc), and as far as I know there’s never been an exception for low-powered vehicles (such as mopeds). I’d always assumed that getting a DUI on an ebike was a distinct possibility, especially if some sort of accident was involved – in which case one would be much better off getting something clearly more dangerous but human-only powered, such as velocity stilts..

    1. James Kohls Post author

      In Minnesota, DUI/DWI laws apply to Motor Vehicles. An eBike is a sub-class of Motorized Bicycle, which is a sub-class of Motorized Vehicle. If they were not Motorized Vehicles, they would not need special exemptions from the “Non Motorized Vehicle” laws. Therefore, yes, in the state of Minnesota you can get a DUI/DWI on an eBike.

      1. Random Name

        Yea, that’s always been what I assumed, although I’m not familiar with any case law that may exist for the subject.

        I’d always thought that an exemption should exist for vehicles with “equivalent to human power” power trains. So ebikes, escooters, those little shitty hoverboard things, etc. In a similar vein to electric wheelchairs being exempted (although the ADA legislates this), they don’t employ more energy or danger than just walking..

        At least MN exempts human-powered, some states allow DUIs for all legal modes of transportation – I even heard of someone getting a DUI on skis once.

        1. Tim

          I’ve been hit by a bicycle when walking as a pedestrian. Sure, those types of vehicles aren’t as dangerous to others as cars. But there’s still some risk there and I don’t see why we should encourage it when our DUI laws are far too lax anyway.

          1. Random Name

            Yea, I agree. However we /should/ be encouraging people to do things that are less risky than driving.

            As far as liability goes – I was thinking more along the lines of drinking, being on an e-bike, and getting run over by a car. It would be your fault if you’d been drinking automatically.

            Interacting with police on a bicycle overwhelmingly involves situations where the bicyclist is the victim (getting hit by a car, getting assaulted, hitting a pothole, etc) and the current DUI laws do nothing more than compound that risk (I mean, someone knocks you off your bike, beats you up, robs you, then the cops come and give you a DUI? – that doesn’t sound right to me at all)..

            The danger of drinking and e-biking really doesn’t seem very different to me than drinking and regular-biking. Even from a public-safety argument, consider the lunacy of getting a DUI on a hoverboard when half of them are slower than walking…

            This was more my line of thinking..

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