You read that right—Grandma Joan.
In Specialized Bicycles' latest electric bike campaign, the three-time world champion is pitted against an elderly woman with two knee replacements and a pacemaker in an uphill race. Not surprisingly, the campaign went viral.
From city-wide bike sharing programs to weekend recreational cyclists, electric bicycles can be seen almost everywhere. This once-impractical technology has been refined to the point where it's now more cost-effective and efficient than ever before.
Despite the sometimes negative outlook held by cycling purists, e-bikes have infused a new level of fun and accessibility into the cycling scene that has been adopted by both athletes and nonathletes alike.
What Is an E-Bike?1 of 8
All electric bikes are set up like a classic bike—handlebars, pedals, crank, chain, shifters—but have a battery-powered motor to supplement the rider's effort. Most are pedal-assisted, meaning the battery engages while you're pedaling. This gives you an extra boost, making commuting or running errands easier without leaving you drenched in sweat when you arrive at your destination.
Similarly, other e-bike models have a throttle mounted on the handlebar that can be engaged by the rider. While just as efficient, this style is less popular and banned in some cities.
Different Applications2 of 8
Not surprisingly, electric motor technology has been integrated into most bicycle types. Electric commuter/recreational bikes are the most popular, but it's not uncommon to see people cruising the bike paths on electric fat bikes and electric performance road bikes.
This technology has even been applied to full-suspension and hardtail mountain bikes, but access to non-motorized trails can be prohibited in some areas.
Weight3 of 8
Compared to a traditional commuter or recreational bike, electric bikes generally weigh about 20 pounds more. Don't let this deter you; the pedal-assist more than makes up for the added weight. Much of the weight comes from the battery pack and motor, but electric bikes also have thicker tubing and heftier wheels to account for the additional torque.
Speed4 of 8
Electric bikes are quick and snappy to ride, but they won't be pealing out in the driveway anytime soon. The 2002 Consumer Product Safety Act has put restrictions on what an e-bike can and can't do.
The motors are limited to a max speed of 20 mph, but this doesn't mean that's as fast as you can go on your e-bike. Electric bikes work the same way as a traditional bike, meaning you can still pedal downhill above this 20 mph threshold (the motor just won't be assisting you). Also, the motor can't produce more than 750 watts (one horsepower). This may not sound like much, but adding 750 watts to your pedal stroke is a serious boost. Most e-bikes have around a 300-watt motor.
Range5 of 8
Battery life largely depends on how much the rider uses the pedal-assist function and how big the battery pack is. Most e-bikes have a range between 30 to 100 miles, with some modern options pushing the 200-mile range. Motor size is also a variable—the bigger the motor, the more power is used. Consider if range or get-up-and-go power is more important to you before you buy.
Cost6 of 8
Like all bicycles, you get what you pay for when it comes to electric bikes. Generally speaking, motor-equipped bikes are more expensive than a similar bike without a motor (starting around $1,500 to $2,000). Higher-end e-bikes have a motor attached to the frame by the crankset and the battery integrated into the downtube, and entry-level alternatives usually have a motor attached to the rear hub with the battery mounted on a rack over the rear tire. The motor's wattage, size of the battery and hardware quality are all factors in the bike's overall cost. Expect prices to drop as technology improves and trickles down.
Versatility7 of 8
Despite being assisted by an electric motor, e-bikes are a great way to get into shape or prolong your cycling habit as you get older. It's a convenient and fun mode of transportation and easy to throw your leg over for a quick trip around town or to run local errands. E-bikes are especially friendly for commuters who log miles to and from the office on a daily basis. Outfit your bike with saddlebags and lights, and you'll be ready for both fitness rides and picking up groceries at the corner store.