When you first dive into the world of electric bikes, you will run into a value called "the bike range". It's a number that shows the distance an electric bike can go on a single charge. Although it looks like a useful piece of information, these ranges can often be misleading and manipulated - it is sometimes exaggerated up to 4 times the actual value.
Some e-bike models we've reviewed were supposed to have a 118 mph (190km) range, although this never turned out to be the case - the number is always lower.
This is why we've made sure to create a foolproof guide that will help you find the exact, realistic range of your next e-bike.
The reason why manufacturers have such a hard time determining the actual range of a bike is the fact that there are simply too many control variables. These include:
Let's not forget that not all electric bikes are made equal - some are meant for extreme conditions, while others have no chance to conquer such.
For example, Fat tire electric bikes do pretty great on difficult surfaces such as snow or sand, but they have a shorter range due to the increased resistance. The tires on these are much greater in surface, and this surely leaves an impact. Beach cruisers and hybrids have a medium range, which is why they're a good option for versatile use. Last but not least, thin-wheeled city bikes have the longest range due to reduced weight and lower rolling resistance (thin tires).
If you choose to pedal without any assistance whatsoever, which might happen on a day when you're feeling very fit or like you're up for a challenge, you will notice that your range is significantly greater than expected. Your electrical bike range will be equal to the distance you can pedal before you find yourself too tired to move further - for some people, this might be 100 miles, but for others only 20. Keep that in mind!
Conversely, if you're tired or not feeling like doing all the work, you might want to use all of the bike's support. This might be the case on uneven, hilly terrain, and although it's helpful, keep in mind that you will drain the battery quickly.
If you opt for a lithium battery instead of a nickel-cadmium one, you can expect an improvement in stat, as lithium sources have a higher energy density and they're overall more effective.
Battery Capacity versus Motor Power
When aiming for maximum effectiveness, a lot of people focus solely on the statistics of both the battery and the bike. This is a good starting point, but to get the best results, you might want to look into how the two work together! Don't worry, there are no complicated calculations involved - you just have to convert the battery capacity from Amp-Hours to Watt-Hours since that's the value we measure motor power in. Essentially, you'll have to multiply the AH rating of the battery with its voltage, and this should (ideally) be close to the wattage of your motor.
Don't worry, if you need assistance with this calculation, we will be doing a few examples later on in the article.
Why are we aiming to match these two numbers? Because there won't be any energy loss or strain on the battery, and this will not only help you with your range, but it will preserve your battery's health long term. In general, when discussing numbers, we suggest you look for an electric bike that can fully support you for at least an hour - in compatible conditions, of course.
Battery Capacity - Deal Maker or Deal Breaker
There is this common misconception that you have to look for the bike with the most powerful motor out there, since this is supposed to give you the best efficiency. The truth is, you shouldn't rely only on this value, as it can play a major role in uphill efficiency or speed, but it won't do anything for the range.
The true gold mine in the world of electric bikes is battery capacity. That's the property you should be researching more properly.
Battery capacity is most commonly measured using Watt-hrs.
If you do a little bit of poking around on various online stores, you'll see that manufacturers tend to state battery capacity in Amp-Hours. This is great for the purpose of comparing two battery capacities, but it makes it really hard to check the battery-motor compatibility. It is definitely not the proper representation of the actual capacity the battery has, which is why we suggest you turn the Amp-Hours into Watt-Hours.
You can get the Watt-Hours by multiplying the battery capacity with the voltage it runs on. It's a simple formula (Amp-Hours x Volts), and we've prepared a few examples for those of you who want to play around with these properties.
Let’s say we're observing three different electric bikes (naming them bike 1, bike 2 and bike 3).
- Bike no.1 has a 20 Ah x 24 Volts battery,
- Bike no.2 has a 10 Ah x 48 Volts battery,
- Bike no.3 has a 6 Ah x 24 Volts battery.
By multiplying the two values for each bike, we'll easily notice that bike 1 and bike 2 have the same battery capacity, and that it runs around 480 Watt-Hrs. Therefore, these two bikes perform pretty much the same, although you might think that bike 1 does a better job because of the larger Amp-hours value.
Actually, there are a few small differences - bike 2 will be better at accelerating and climbing up the hill, as it won't burn as much energy as bike 1 would. Bike 3 stands at 144 Watt-Hours only and it will have nowhere near the same range bikes 1 or 2 have.
Bearing all that in mind, we will now help you evaluate popular statements by many manufacturers and see whether the claims they made regarding their batteries make sense. In general, you're looking for at least 200 Watt-Hours in the battery-focused part of your bike's specifications.
Are You a Light Weight?
You probably intuitively understand that a heavier person puts more strain on a bicycle, which is why you can expect a smaller range right away. It actually makes quite the difference!
On its own, a bike weighs anywhere from 45 to 65 pounds, but an average person surely weighs about three to five times the weight of the bike. This is a lot of extra weight that people don't seem to consider - a teenager and a grown man won't get the same efficacy from the same bike.
Bike manufacturers try their hardest to make their bikes light and portable to improve the stats, but you don't have to worry about each pound, as most people lose weight due to biking, and it might even be the cheaper option.
Keep in mind that it’s not just your weight that you need to account for - everything you're carrying around counts as well. If you’re traveling light and carrying around little to no baggage, you won't notice any meaningful change.
On the contrary, those who carry around their shopping bags and other heavy luggage will definitely see a difference in battery power! Your bike range will be shorter, and you can expect more pedalling on the same distance.
For example, if your daily has a lot of uphill terrains, you’re going to be needing more range. If you know you’ll regularly be carrying heavy baggage, towing a child, or doing anything that adds additional weight, you will have to invest in a bike with a bigger range.
As with most products, the range described in online shops and ads will be slightly manipulated to look better. It won't be a major difference, but you definitely cannot expect the same results.
If you purchase an inexpensive electric bike, you can expect underwhelming range and performance. If you are strapped for cash, a cheaper and more effective option could be to get an electric bike conversion kit. You can use your old bike and simply install the motor and battery - it's a great deal. These bike kits are compatible with numerous modern bikes, and are less complicated to install than you think! Just make sure to check out the manuals!
All that being said, battery capacity is still the no.1 factor when it comes to e-bike range. While rider weight is an important variable, the real difference in e-bike range comes from the battery capacity, which is why, if you want to go far on your e-bike, it’s best to get a good quality battery with as many watts per hour as you can afford.
In Conclusion - Do Your Due Diligence
The bottom line is, do not take advertised ranges too seriously, they aren't necessarily too accurate. It's important that you do your own research and find the right way to compare bikes.
Due to the way these bike ranges are calculated, it’s reasonably safe to assume that the actual range is lower than what the manufacturers are advertising it to be.
Advertised ranges are based on laboratory conditions, and you’re not going to be cycling in a laboratory - you’ll be cycling in the real world, where terrains can be hilly, inconsistent and bumpy. The weather can be windy, and the ride depends on your speed, fitness and weight too!
Moreover, the manufacturer has lee-way to fudge the numbers as they please, since there is no International Standard for calculating e-bike range. This is why we urge you to do your research, as there is little to no official control in the manufacturing process.