Spring is here and it's biking season! Folks are getting their bikes out of winter storage or contemplating a new purchase. A growing number of you are electric bike owners already or prospective buyers. This article is about how to care for your e-bike, answered frequently asked questions and how get the most out of your e-bike purchase.
With the exception of electronics and batteries explained below, e-bikes and conventional bikes have many features in common. They both have disc brakes, shiftable drivetrains, and tires. Each of these require periodic maintenance for the best performance and increased life span.
1. The Manual
The first thing any owner should do is to take some time to familiarize oneself with the manual that comes with your bike. It’s a resource and has answers to many questions and issues that may come up. Some manufacturers provide apps that customers can download onto their phones. These apps can provide product registration, troubleshooting, setting adjustments for electronic controls and ride mapping. Two examples are apps such as Specialized Mission Control, specific to their e-bikes or Mahle, an e-bike motor and component company with a generalized app that can be used with the Cannondale Treadwell Neo. This important information can be found in the owner's manual.
2. Storage and Battery Care
The most common questions we receive are: “how do you store your e-bike?”, “what do I do with the battery when not in use?” and “how long does an e-bike battery last?”
There are specific storage recommendations based on the manufacturer, model and type of e-bike you own. For example, for bikes with removable batteries, you’ll want to remove the battery and store it at or above 59F, otherwise bring the bike inside. A dry place is necessary, where moisture cannot get into the battery.
Knowing how to store your e-bike / battery ahead of time is helpful so you can make an informed decision before purchasing. If you don’t have indoor bike storage, you may want to consider an e-bike with a removable battery.
Battery charging recommendations will also vary by manufacturer. For this example, I’ll use guidelines from Specialized. The battery should be recharged to 60% every three months. Battery life generally is determined by charge cycle and the number of times it's been charged. Batteries will lose total charge capacity over time and the batteries used by Specialized will generally lose 30% of their capacity after 300 charging cycles (going from zero to full charge).
Take into consideration the power range you’re likely to use during a typical ride (low vs. high), where you’re most likely to go (flats vs hills) and how much you ride (2 vs 5 days a week), to determine the best e-bike and battery option for you.
C. Battery Safety
Every now and again you hear a report of an electric bike catching fire. Why does this happen and what are the risks? An article on rechargedcommute.com explains it best: “Although rare, electric bike batteries can catch fire or explode. These fires are caused by damaging Lithium Ion battery components.”
To prevent damage to the battery, here are some tips:
- Never Leave a Battery Charging Unattended or Overcharge It
- Don’t Store Your Battery Fully Charged, too Hot, or too Cold
- Purchase Batteries From a Trusted Source
- Never Modify a Battery Yourself, or Use a Damaged Battery
- Always Utilize The Best Safety Practices
D. Warranty and Recycling
Manufacturers warrant batteries for a defined time period. Specialized warranties theirs for 2 yr/15,000 km. After 2 years, check with the manufacturer if they have a post warranty program.
An e-bike battery recycling program was just launched in early March from Call2Recycle, a company who works with recyclers to divert lithium-ion batteries from landfills. Currently, Skirack is accepting batteries from Specialized and Cannondale (with a recycling fee of $15).
What’s the difference between an e-bike and a conventional bike? E-bikes have motors which are controlled by encoded devices called “Firmware”, where the encoding provides motor control parameters such as the amount of assistance, speed settings and battery charging/performance settings as well as integrating all of these systems.
As improvements and features are made, there will be periodic Firmware upgrades needed to make sure your e-bike runs smoothly. At this point, upgrades are done at the dealer. Don’t let the word “Firmware” scare you - it's easy to use and we’re here to help set you up (another reason to shop local for any support you need).
The highest area of wear on an e-bike and one that requires periodic inspection on a conventional bike, are brakes. E-bikes place increased demand on brake systems because of their increased weight and speeds they reach. The brake system consists of a rotor or disc, brake pads that make contact with the rotor, hydraulic lines or cables that activate pistons that push the pads into the rotors and handlebar levers that actuate them.
Periodic cleaning of the disc using isopropyl alcohol and a clean rag is recommended. While doing this, it’s a great time to inspect the disc for “scoring”, where grooves cut into the disc and discoloration is caused by the overheating heating brakes. This can be caused by worn brake pads, which should be inspected as a part of the cleaning process.
If you aren't familiar with these features, consult the bike sales or service staff. By doing this regularly, you can prevent a costly repair in the future and increase personal safety. If any of these observations are made or you experience poor performance, it’s time to bring your bike into Service.
The drivetrain consists of the derailleur, rear cassette, chain and front chain ring(s), The derailleur shifts the chain up and down the cogs that make-up the cassette, the front chainring is driven by the crank and leg power. The drivetrain should be cleaned when there is grime accumulated on the chain and/or appears to be dry. Using a nylon brush, a bike degreaser and a clean rag: brush/wipe off the chain, cassette and chain ring(s). Inspect the cassette cogs and chain ring(s) for signs of wear. If there is wear, chances are you’ll need a new chain and replace what’s worn.
Apply a bike chain lube and follow the manufacturer's application instructions. Be mindful of rough shifting performance such as skipping between gear shifts - this could be indicative of wear or most likely a simple derailleur cable adjustment. Yearly maintenance done by an e-bike service technician as a part of a “bike tune-up” is recommended.
Tires need periodic inspection and care, especially with the added weight of an e-bike. Check tire inflation pressure, which changes over time. Investing in a floor pump will make this process easy and ideally should be done before every ride. Look for embedded stones or road debris which can eventually cause a puncture. Check for cracking along the tires sidewall, caused by the rubber drying over time from UV and weather exposure - if you find this happening, get your tires replaced.
Lastly, but most important - don’t forget to wash your bike! Use a mild bike wash and sponge. Use a low pressure hose, NEVER use a power washer!
By following these suggestions you’ll get miles of enjoyment from your e-bike and feel more confident around it. Have fun out there and ride responsibly!
- Jonathan Kohn,
Skirack Electric Bike Specialist
- Can an E-Bike Battery Explode or Catch Fire? by Jonah Matthes