How far can electric bikes go?

April 15, 2021

An electric bike's range is how far you can ride on one charge. The issue is the best way to assess electric bike range.  All electric bikes have an advertised range. However a lot of the time these ranges are incorrect and often exaggerated with some ranges being advertised as four times greater than the reality. 

Some e-bike models we've reviewed have a manufacturer-claimed range of around 118 mph (190km). Which never turns out to be the case in real life use.

This is why we've created a guide to help you find out the legitimate range of an electric bicycle. 

Some factors you should consider:

When you think about it, it is impossible for electric bike range claims to be completely accurate.  There are too many factors which make it differ from person to person. These include:

  • The rider’s weight
  • The level of assistance the rider chooses
  • What terrain they’re cycling over
  • How much luggage they’re carrying
  • The speed at which they’re going
  • How hard they’re pedaling
  • The number of times they stop and start (hill starts, for example, will drain a lot of power)
  • Wind conditions and temperature (They’ll get roughly 15% more range on a sunny day than they would on a cold winter day)
  • Tire pressure, softer tires will always be less efficient
  • The type of battery and how old their battery is
  • The size of the bike’s motor
  • The speed at which they’re going at

Remember, you should always consider what the bike is designed for.

For example, Fat tire electric bikes, which are awesome in snow and on the sand,  have a shorter range as they have a larger resistance, due to the increased contact area with the road (fat tires you know). Beach cruisers and hybrids have a medium range, whereas thin wheeled city bikes would have the longest range due to reduced weight and lower rolling resistance (thin tires).

Radrover from below

Big fat tires means reduced range

Juiced Bikes CrossCurrent Air1.

Sleek, lightweight design means improved range

If you choose to engage without any assistance whatsoever because you are on a flat surface and you're feeling powerful, your electrical bike range is as far as you can go before you tire out -- that for some people might be 200 miles and for others 20.  Now on the other hand, if you decide to use the maximum level of assistance constantly, on uneven, hilly terrain, you will use up your battery charge pretty quick.

And when for example, you’re using a lithium battery, instead of a nickel-cadmium battery, you will keep going a lot more than if you have a nickel-cadmium battery, as lithium batteries have a higher energy density.

Battery size vs. Motor Power

Your battery size and your electric bike motor need to be a good match to get the optimal range. In general, you’ll want to be looking for a setup where the battery capacity in watt hrs is equivalent to the motor capacity in watts.  This type of setup is good because the motor won’t strain the battery, thus allowing you to achieve optimal range.

You ought to be able to get at least one hour at maximum assist with this kind of setup.

Battery Capacity is your Most Important Factor

Most people usually want to go for the most powerful bike motor they can get their hands on; however, motor power only really affects pull off speed and up-hill efficiency and doesn’t do much for you regarding range.

What you’re after, when it comes to electric bike range, is battery capacity.

Powerfull charged battery.

Battery capacity is most commonly measured using Watt-hrs.

When you're taking a look at adverts for electric bikes, sometimes the battery capacity is simply stated in amp-hrs. However, this does not give you a proper representation of the battery’s actual capacity because what you’re looking for is watt-hrs.

Watt-hrs are measured using the simple (amp-hrs x volts) formula. Here's a quick example, for those of you who like math:

Let’s say we have three different bikes, Bike A, B and C.

  • Bike A has a 20 AH x 24 Volts battery,
  • Bike B has a 10 AH x 48 Volts battery,
  • Bike C has a 6 AH x 24 Volts battery.

Using the watt-hrs formula, you’ll see that Bike A and B have the same battery capacity at 480 watt-hrs. Therefore, they will perform in a very similar fashion.

Bike B will be better at faster acceleration and uphill climbing at the expense of some energy. Bike C however, at only 144 watt-hrs, will have nowhere near the same range Bikes A and B have.

Bearing all that in mind will help you to evaluate manufacturers' advertisements and claims regarding their batteries.

In general, you want a battery with a minimum of 200 watt-hrs.

Are You a Light Weight?

How much you weigh is also an important factor when it comes to electric bike ranges, whether you are a heavier or a lighter person makes quite the difference. The bike itself may weight around 40 to 60 pounds, but an average person is sure to weigh a lot more than that, that’s why your weight is one of the most important variables regarding bike range.

Bike manufacturers try their hardest to make their bikes 1-2 pounds lighter, but the fact of the matter is most people can afford to lose that weight in no time.

It’s not just your weight that you need to account for; there’s also the weight of any items you’re carrying with you. If you’re traveling light with just your personal belongings, or even with a small backpack, there won’t be much of a decrease in range. 

Pretty cyclist

However, if you’re carrying heavy luggage battery power will be drained faster making your bike range shorter.

So for example, if your daily commute consists of up-hill terrain, you’re going to be needing more range. If you know you’ll regularly be carrying heavy baggage, towing a child, anything that adds on additional weight, you’re going to need a bike with a bigger range.

As with most products, the advertised range claims will be slightly exaggerated. However, you’re likely to be still getting what you paid for.

If you purchase an inexpensive electric bike, you will notice the 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, as you then use your old bike, and simply install the motor and battery. These bike kits are compatible with numerous modern bikes, and are less complicated to install than you think!

Bear in mind that battery capacity is still the most crucial factor when it comes to bike range. While weight is an important variable, the real difference in bike ranges comes from the battery capacity, which is why, if bike range is important to you, it’s best to get a good quality battery with as many watt-hrs as possible.

The bottom line is, the manufacturer claims for electric bike ranges are only just paper claims, this doesn’t mean that they are inaccurate. However it is important to do your research, you shouldn’t have to take it in on blind faith.

Bottom Line -- Do Your Due Diligence

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 and the weather windy.

Moreover, the manufacturer has a lot of space to make up whatever they want to regard range considering there is no International Standard for calculating bike ranges. This is because of the many factors surrounding the electric-bike ranges.

So if you take into consideration that there is no standard to control electric-bike manufacturers, you can see why it is essential to do your research.

About the author

Ruaan is an electrical engineer born in South Africa and currently working in Oslo, Norway. He loves tech and gadgets and owns an electric car (Tesla) as well a front-wheel-drive electric bike. He rides his bike all year, even through snow and ice covered roads in the cold winter.

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