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In a hilly area like Kirklees, e-bikes are a gamechanger! They can make cycling much easier for those of us with less than stellar fitness or extra stuff to carry. But there’s a bewildering variety of types out there, and they’re a big investment: how do you know which one to get?

The answer will vary depending on what you want to use it for, and what you’re looking to get from your riding, but we’ll try and steer you through the maze of options and point out some useful local resources, such as clued-up bike shops or opportunities to test one out.

An e-hybrid commuter bike

E-bike basics

First of all, make sure you’re actually buying an e-bike! Under UK law, to be classed as bicycles, e-bikes must have a power rating of 250W or less and be “pedal assist”, which means the motor only works when the pedals of the bike are turning, and cuts out around 15 mph. If it’s got a throttle, it’s almost certainly classed as a motorbike, and you may get into trouble if you use it outside private land.

Just like regular bicycles, e-bikes come in a variety of different styles depending on their intended use. There are road e-bikes, hybrid e-bikes (which are designed to be more comfortable), and e-mountain bikes (which are mainly for off-road use).

If you’re buying an e-bike with commuting in mind, look for one with a rack and mudguards (or at least mounting points for these), larger tyres (35mm or bigger) and lights. Folding e-bikes are really handy if your commute involves a train, or if you don’t have secure storage at work. Some e-bikes have step-through frames, which can be useful if you have limited mobility or just if you want to ride in everyday clothes.

As with regular bicycles, check that the bike fits you properly: going to see your local bike shop is a smart move if you’re not sure about sizing, amongst other reasons.

Folding e-bikes are great for taking on trains or if you’re short on space

Motors and batteries

The motor on an e-bike can either be “mid-drive” (in the centre of your frame, between the pedals) or “hub drive” (in the centre of the front or rear wheel).  In general, you’ll find rear hub drive motors on lower-end bikes and mid-drive motors on more expensive ones. Both types can work very effectively, but mid-drive motors can feel more “natural” and tend to have more oomph for the hills.

E-bike motors will usually have a torque rating, with lightweight “low fat” e-bikes somewhere around 40Nm, commuter and general use bikes around 60Nm, and powerful e-mountain bikes and cargo bikes around 85Nm. If you’re intending to ride very hilly terrain or carry your kids, the more torque the better.

An off-road e-mountain bike – these typically have mid drive motors with lots of torque

The size of the battery also varies from bike to bike. Smaller batteries weigh less, but have less range and will need recharging more frequently. Most e-bikes have removable batteries for charging, but on some bikes they’re built into the frame, which means you’ll have to store your bke somewhere near a plug socket to charge it.

Remember that with a motor and battery included, e-bikes can be heavy. Some modern e-bikes are less powerful, but lighter weight, making them ride and handle much more like normal bikes. This is worth considering if you might need to lift your e-bike; for example if you don’t have step-free access to your home or workplace.

Try before you buy

Check out our guide to local bike shops and contact one to see if they can arrange a test ride. Some shops (e.g. Halfords) charge a refundable deposit for this.

There are also e-bike demo events and showcases around the area – click here for a list of current ones.

You can also hire e-bikes to try from the following places in or near Kirklees:

Another style of folding e-bike

Can I afford an e-bike?

E-bikes are definitely more expensive than unassisted bikes, and if you buy a budget model the componentry will generally be lower quality and wear out faster than the equivalent non-e-bike. However there are several ways to get an affordable one:

Sale or ex-demo bikes can be discounted substantially, and if you buy from a local bike shop you’ll be able to go back to them if you have any problems. Many local bike shops will also be certified to work on the type of motor your bike has, which is recommended if you don’t want to void the bike’s warranty.

Some retailers offer finance, sometimes interest-free, which will let you spread the cost of a bike over 1 or 2 years.

Your employer may offer a bike purchase scheme such as Green Commuter Initiative, Cycle2Work or Cyclescheme. This lets you pay for the bike by deductions from your salary over a fixed period of time, after which you own the bike.

Buy or convert?

There are e-bike conversion kits available that will enable you to add assistance to a bike you already own. These are much cheaper than dedicated e-bikes, but can be complicated to fit and less reliable. If you decide to go down this route we’d recommend using an experienced installer like Holme Valley Bike Fix.

Whichever e-bike you go for, you’ll find your riding experience transformed. Let us know if you’ve found this guide useful and good luck on your e-bike journey!

Thanks to Cycle Works Yorkshire for supplying the photos for this piece.

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