E-Bikes are Coming to Replace Your Car

Or they would be, if it weren’t for these obvious problems There are so many reasons to be excited about e-bikes — even if there are problems left to solve.

E-Bikes are Coming to Replace Your Car
It’s time to RIDE.

or they would be, if it weren’t for these obvious problems

Alright, so you’re interested in changing your lifestyle. Bicycling is a huge deal in Europe and is rapidly becoming a staple in many parts of the United States, and electric bikes are taking off at an increased pace as well.

E-bikes come in a wide variety of styles and designs — many custom designed within unique bike frames. From full-size cruisers and mountain bikes, to e-folding bikes (perfect for public transport commuters), to bike”kit” systems which turn ordinary bikes into electric variants, the options are vast!

As the Anthropocene continues, and the movement away from environmentally-unfriendly vehicles continues to grow, electric bicycles are certain to become increasingly popular — especially for those who cannot afford fully electric cars. Unfortunately, the technology behind most e-bike systems is not yet quite up to the task of completely fulfilling the needs of a modern electric vehicle. In this article, I’m going to explore my reasoning behind what an e-bike should do and why it needs to have certain features to make it worthwhile — and why one of the most popular e-bike kits comes close, but ultimately fails, to live up to its hype.

So many things to consider… like if all my friends can ride with me at the same time! CC0

The following illustrates my position on how to choose the perfect e-bike or e-bike system:

Cost + ease-of-install + components + durability + portability + rider size limits + safety = type of e-bike.

  • Cost: The cost of an e-bike or e-bike system, if it is going to be accessible to the widest group of people as more than a hobby system, is a huge factor. Any e-bike which clocks in at more than $2000 is going to be inaccessible to most people who really need it. Top-of-the-line e-bikes can go much higher — with models featuring the best components going from between $4000-$10,000 (as much as a good-condition, used, hybrid car).
  • Ease-of-Install: Anyone thinking of getting a bicycle as a replacement for their vehicle should be prepared to learn how to maintain their bike themselves — otherwise the costs of maintenance will absolutely impact them. However, with an e-bike system, I also firmly believe that the installation process should be as simple as possible in order to remain as accessible as possible. Hub motor kits are the best in this regard (though there are trade-offs which I will touch on later in this article). If a system requires tens of hours of work, or professional know-how to install and maintain, that’s a problem.
  • Components: This is the most complicated aspect. The components of both bike and e-system need to be considered and there are a lot of options out there. Generally, as a simple rule, you’re not currently going to find the sort of high-quality components you really need for less than a $2000 price tag. This is unfortunate, and I hope that the cost will be driven down in the future. For me, the important components are: a dual pedal-assist system, with both cadence sensor and torque sensor; between 350–500 watts of power, and a quality of craftsmanship which allows the e-system to be used in all weather conditions.
  • Durability: How much weight can the bike carry? How sturdy are its component pieces? Is the e-system weatherproofed? Basically, I’d look at this with an eye to the question “can this bike stand up to daily use, of at least 30 miles per day, with a load of at least 300lbs, during inclement weather conditions.” If the answer is “no” then the system can probably be considered more of a fanciful hobby than a real working bike (the equivalent of a robotic vacuum vs an actual vacuum: cool and potentially helpful, but really not worth the expense for the average person). This also includes warranty! If a company is only willing to provide a one-year limited warranty for their product, that tells me they don’t actually have much faith in their product. A two-year comprehensive warranty (at least) is what you’re looking for — keep in mind, the warranty on the bike frame, motor, and battery are all likely to be separate, with the battery usually having the lowest warranty).
  • Portability: I think that, for an e-bike to be a widely-accepted tool of transportation, it needs to be as portable as possible. This means that it needs to fold. Even if you have a large enough storage space for a full-size bike, it dramatically limits you in other ways (try hailing a Taxi while lugging a full size bicycle and you’re not likely to get a ride home). For me, this meant finding a folding bicycle that was sturdy, close to full-size, and built using higher-end components — finding a folding bike which uses 26" or 700c tires proved to be difficult, while the market is flooded with bikes using tiny 16" or 20" tires.

Note: a friendly reader commented that full-size tires seem to be at odds with the concept of “portability,” an important point I’d like to address! You can get much smaller folding and folding e-bike models — small and light enough to be stowed anywhere and carried easily. But going for these smaller bikes has some trade-offs in terms of stability, long-range efficiency, and comfort (especially if you’re a larger rider). I’ve actually considered getting one of these smaller models for myself, but I came to the conclusion that I really wanted a bike which acted more like a full-size bike but came with the benefit of being able to fold. Finding full-size or near full-size folding bikes proved difficult but I managed to find one that ticks all of my boxes (I talk about it near the end of the article). Does having a full-size folding bike limit some of its portability? Sure! But it still dramatically reduces the size of the bike (literally cutting it down to about the size of one 700c tire). For me, that’s portable enough.

  • Size-limit: potentially related to durability is the size limit for the rider. I’m a large man. At 6'4", I need a 21" bike to make a daily rider useful for me. But, if you’re shorter, size limits can be a problem as well. Also remember to consider things like wheel size. For a larger person, 26" or 700c tires (like the kind found on full size mountain or road bikes) is going to make the ride far more comfortable than the sort of tires commonly found on electric bicycles (especially the folding variety).
  • Safety: It’s important to make sure your bike is built from high-quality components to begin with. But with an e-system, this becomes even more important. Depending on a number of factors, like the size of the wheels, whether or not the bike is folding, and the type of electric drive system, you are looking at a large number of additional safety concerns. A few of the largest on my radar were as follows. Brakes: the brakes needed to be disc or hydraulic, as they provide the sort of minimum stopping power necessary for an e-system; mid or rear drive system: there are a number of reasons why front-wheel replacements are not safe, so I nixed any of these straight-off; charge controller: the battery should be able to stop itself from receiving an excess charge; water-resistant (IPX-5 rating allows you to feel safe riding this in inclement weather); non-throttle: this is an important one in the US, since most e-bike systems over here have a throttle system, which just isn’t as safe as a pedal assist system.

A drivetrain for one type of e-bike system.

When I tallied up all my requirements, I quickly realized I had a huge problem: the e-system that meets them doesn’t exist. Some e-systems come frustratingly close, but none meet all of the requirements in a single go. Because of this, I have to conclude that e-bikes are not quite out of the hobbyist woods yet — though that day may be coming soon. For e-bikes to proliferate, they really need to meet these requirements so that the average person, without a lot of spending money (or, perhaps, relying on a reasonable loan or payment plan) can afford to transition to them.

During my research, I did come down to the closest system style which does meet all of these requirements, however, and that is a rear-wheel replacement system.

A system which replaces the rear wheel of a bicycle with an electric wheel has some important drawbacks, but the overall benefits (for me) outweigh them by far — or would, if the quality of most of these systems were just a little more comprehensive. Let’s take a look at one of the best-marketed of such devices: the Copenhagen Wheel by Superpedestrian.

Copenhagen Wheel


It’s stylish, it integrates with your smartphone, it’s incredibly easy to install: what could possibly be the drawbacks of owning a high-tech smart wheel? Well, quite a few, actually.

Cons: expensive, terrible warranty, weak weatherproofing, huge design limitations.

Pros: looks great, offers a huge range of metrics, very advanced pedal assist system, easy to install.

Basically, the Copenhagen Wheel fails because of a mixture of design limitations and incredibly poor long-term support. In order for this wheel to become a true vehicle replacement, it would need a more comprehensive warranty, IPX-5 waterproofing, and an easier method of replacing the battery. It also needs to become compatible with disc-style brakes, which are far safer than the rim-style brakes it currently requires.

As it currently stands, due to the limitations of the design and the poor warranty, the Copenhagen Wheel would only make sense to purchase for the average person if it’s price were dropped to about $900 (its original price point). At nearly $2000, this system is simply not comprehensive enough to be an affordable option, placing it firmly within the realm of wealthy hobbyists.

It’s a shame, too, because the original concept for the Copenhagen Wheel was that it would be a leader in the green revolution — featuring everything from smog and traffic metrics to “green-miles” (a frequent-flier-style program designed to further reward riders for switching to a green alternative). The response from Superpedestrain on the current design cost is that the “advanced electronic system” makes it worthwhile. I disagree. Until the system can be used in all weather conditions, and until it has a minimum two-year warranty, this is absolutely more a toy than a tool.

Falco Motor’s E-bike Kit

A Falco Motors e-bike system

Falco Motors gets a lot closer to hitting all of my benchmarks for a rear-wheel replacement system. While being slightly more expensive than my ideal, the range of options afforded by the Falco system — as well as the incredible warranty (which should be an industry standard) makes it one of the best bets.

Cons: Expensive, clocking in between $1700-$2500 for the kit; difficult to install compared to the Copenhagen model — this system has more exposed wires and just doesn’t look as clean; generally requires a higher level of experience to install, customize, and operate.

Pros: they offer a big range of customization and their parts are all standardized; they have an incredible warranty.

The Falco Motor system may be the best wheel kit I’ve run across. They offer kits with more power than the Copenhagen Wheel and there are a variety of customization options. While throttles are standard, you can also get a dual pedal assist system which utilizes both a cadence sensor and a torque sensor (the cadence sensor offers power when the pedals are spun while the torque sensor delivers a more seamless and natural feeling by providing power based on how hard the rider is pressing the pedals. Together, these allow the bike to start quickly and pedal smoothly). There are some obviously flaws: mainly in that it’s not a compact system and will take a little more know-how to install. That said, it certainly seems to be the better option.

E-bikes are catching on. In the next five years, especially as battery technology continues to improve, I’m certain we will begin to see the sort of designs which cross affordability with usefulness. I’d love to see a Copenhagen Wheel which delivers on the original designers’ promises.

What am I getting?

I’m still searching for the perfect e-system!

The Montague Navigator

When I wrote this, I was seriously excited about the Montague line of bikes and was considering adapting one with the Falco Motor system. Since then, a lot has changed.

While the Montague series of full-size folding bicycles is interested for the fact that it offers “full size” bicycles, I have since purchased one and discovered that they maintain a number of deeply flawed characteristics which make them less-than desirable for anyone other than recreational riders. This is not the line of bike you want for daily commuting.

As I learn, you do too! If you follow my e-bike articles, you’ll hopefully be able to make a more informed decision by learning from my own experiences and research. My eventual goal is to locate the perfect e-bike system (low-cost, durable, and designed for comfortable commuting). When and if I find that, I’ll be sharing all the details!

Hi there! I’m Odin Halvorson, a librarian, independent scholar, film fanatic, fiction author, and tech enthusiast. If you like my work and want to support me, please consider becoming a paid subscriber for as little as $2.50 a month!

Subscribe for my regular newsletter. No spam, just the big updates.