What is an electric bike?
As electric motor technology progresses, so does the diversity of how it can be applied in two-wheeled machines. The “electric bike” umbrella encompasses a vast array of battery-powered cycles, but they are certainly not all created equal.
The term "e-bike" in the cycling world refers to pedal-assist bikes. This type of bike requires you to at least do some of the work. As you pedal, the motor will engage and add power to the rear wheel. The bike can achieve this in a few different ways that I’ll discuss shortly, but more sophisticated systems will actually work in harmony with the rider, basing the amount of power the motor puts out on how hard the rider is pushing the pedals. The way I like to think about a pedal-assist electric bike is that it’s just like I’m riding a regular bicycle, but with the fantastic illusion that I’ve magically gained the superhuman fitness of a Tour De France rider overnight. This feeling can be shared by anyone, including Grandma Joan (make sure you watch the video at the bottom.)
The type of e-bike we are not talking about is the kind that has a throttle or button that allows the bike to propel itself, which are classified a bit differently. A throttled bike is considered “Class 2” when the motor will carry the rider up to 20 miles per hour, and if it can go any faster without help from the rider, it technically becomes a moped. These bikes make things tricky when it comes to laws and regulations as they no longer adhere to the idea of a standard bicycle that has to be pedaled, and the line between electric bicycle and electric motorcycle becomes very blurry. Yes, pedal-assist bikes do have motors, but physically pedaling and twisting a throttle are quite different.
Two types of pedal-assist bikes: hub-drive vs. mid-drive
As I alluded to earlier, power can be applied to the rear wheel in two different ways. A hub-drive system will house the motor within the rear hub of the bike, while the rest of the drivetrain remains that of a standard bicycle. The hub recognizes the rider’s input on the drivetrain when they pedal and puts energy into turning the rear wheel. These systems offer a simple way to add some boost to a bike, but the more advanced mid-drive type makes for a more dynamic ride.
In a mid-drive system, the motor lives within the frame and powers the crank. This setup allows the motor to sense exactly how the rider is pedaling - slowly, quickly, with a little power, a lot of power - and react accordingly. Leading systems like the Brose motors that Specialized uses across their lineup will modulate how power is delivered with this information to create a seamless, natural feeling, as if the motor is simply an extension of your own strength. The configuration of a mid-drive bike also means the weight of the motor and battery are in the ideal location for stability and handling. Hub-drive bikes can take a bit of getting used to with the center of gravity pulled back towards the rear wheel, and the additional weight is far more noticeable while riding. When that weight falls directly in between the wheels and towards the bottom of a mid-drive bike however, it’s hard to tell that you’re on an e-bike until that hill in front of you disappears. E-bikes are typically heavier than a regular bike, but even that is changing with bikes like the new Specialized Turbo Vado SL.
Here at Skirack, our staff has spent time on many different electric bikes from a multitude of brands, and so far we haven’t found a match for what Specialized is doing with their Turbo line. They tick all the boxes for us - smooth and natural feeling power, virtually silent, awesome ride quality, impressive battery range, and easy post-purchase support for both us and our customers - so we’ve decided to make Specialized our premier partner for electric bikes.
Who are e-bikes for?
E-bikes used to have a specific market - people who needed assistance in order to ride. But the market is quickly changing. Bike companies no longer consider electric assist as its own category, but as an extension of the categories they already serve. From fitness hybrids to comfort cruisers, road bikes to mountain bikes, the industry has realized the value that some additional power can provide for every type of rider. And regardless of their age, background, experience, or goals, people are catching on.
Personally, I sell a lot of e-bikes. Not because I’m a good salesperson, but because it apparently comes across how stoked I am on them and the amazing things I’ve seen them do for people:
1. A couple who quit riding together because one partner couldn’t keep the same pace are back to their Sunday rides with the help of the Specialized Turbo Como and can now even push each other.
2. A family on a mission to reduce their carbon footprint were able to further their initiative by ditching one of their vehicles on the Specialized Turbo Vado SL.
3. A young woman who couldn’t afford a reliable vehicle, but could afford a Specialized Turbo Vado, was able to step up her career and take a job outside of town.
4. A veteran endurance road cyclist who could no longer ride his favorite 84-mile loop in the Green Mountains is able to do exactly that once again aboard a Specialized Turbo Creo SL.
5. A teenage mountain biker with a passion for exploring is now taking his Specialized Turbo Levo electric mountain bike for 30+ mile, 8,000+ ft rides an average of five days a week.
6. And finally, my mother, who is definitely not a cyclist, was able to share a four-day, 165-mile bike tour with my sisters.
E-bikes are reigniting past passions, and creating new ones. They’re a green vehicle to commute and run errands with while making daily transportation fun. They encourage us to go farther, ride longer, and climb higher with the same two-wheeled experience we’ve always had.
E-bikes have the power to change anyone’s life for the better. Give one a try to see how it might change yours.
A very quick overview of popular Specialized Turbo models you’ll find at Skirack:
- Como: Comfort, stability, just going out for a cruise
- Vado: Sporty, fast. Long rides for fun or to work
- Vado SL: Even sportier. It’s a hybrid with some help. Can hardly tell it’s electric.
Skirack Bike Department