Electric Bikes vs. Other Modes of Transportation

In an era of heightened ecological awareness, many consumers are turning to greener transportation alternatives. The early success of the Prius and then the Tesla in the automotive market validate consumers' demand for quality, high-performing products that help them live up to their eco-friendly values. In 2018, more than 2 million electric vehicles were sold worldwide, and that number is projected to increase exponentially through the coming decades.

The transition to electric power in auto manufacturing has found a parallel in the world of bicycling too. In Japan, China and throughout Asia, the popularity of electric bikes has skyrocketed, and e-bikes, as they are colloquially known, are increasingly popular in Europe as well. In the United States, sales of electric bikes increased by an impressive 77 percent from early 2017 to the first half of 2018.

If you are wondering how the quality, speed, power, durability, and overall performative experience of an electric bike stack up against the features of similar modes of transportation, the guide below will help you make an informed choice.

1. Electric Bikes vs. Regular Bikes

Though electric bikes and regular bikes have a slew of features in common, the addition of a simple battery, throttle and drivetrain to a bike creates an exciting array of enhancements. Some differences between the two models are outlined below.

Cost

A regular bicycle remains one of the most affordable modes of transportation. For only a few hundred dollars, a consumer can go home from the bike shop with a quality bike that continues to be cheap and easy to maintain. An electric bike, by contrast, will run on average a couple thousand dollars, with connoisseurs spending $10,000 and up for a super-premium, high-end model and budget buyers spending $1,000 or so — sometimes less — for a very basic e-bike.

The lithium battery on an electric bike makes up a substantial chunk of this price, costing between $500 and $1,000. Some consumers may elect to start with a less expensive battery and subsequently upgrade their battery capacity as they find they use their bikes more or for longer excursions, but not all batteries are compatible with all e-bikes.

Durability

For an electric bike, the battery life imposes the main limitation on durability, both in terms of a single charge and in terms of the battery's overall life span. Depending on how the electric bicycle is used, a 48 V battery provides 20 to 112 miles of riding and a 52 V battery provides 30 to almost 170 miles. Whereas a regular bike will last as long as its frame and mechanical components do, an electric bike will inevitably, after hundreds of charge cycles, require a new battery. Fortunately, replacing the battery pack is a relatively simple piece of maintenance.

As with phones and computers, the technology is advancing by the day. With what is likely to be increasing consumer demand for electric bikes in upcoming decades, technological advances will almost inevitably cause the electric bike to see a substantial improvement on what is already a long-lasting product.

Legal Classification

Regular bikes are classified everywhere as non-motorized vehicles. Their use is regulated by individual states. No licensing, insurance or federal safety requirements apply.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Act, low-speed electric bikes are federally classified as nonmotorized vehicles provided they meet the following stipulations:

  • Have fully operable pedals
  • Are equipped with an electric motor that produces less than 750 W
  • Reach a maximum motor speed of less than 20 mph when operated by a rider weighing 170 pounds

Bikes that exceed these specifications are federally classed by the Department of Transportation as motorized vehicles and are subject to additional insurance and licensing requirements and safety regulations.

Individual states may impose additional classifications and regulations. California, along with twelve other states, for example, has adopted a three-tiered classification system for electric bicycles:

  • Class 1 bikes contain a motor that the user can engage only for pedal assistance. The maximum speed of these bikes cannot exceed 20 mph.
  • Class 2 bikes contain a throttle-assisted motor that powers the bike exclusively. The maximum speed of these bikes cannot exceed 20 mph.
  • Class 3 bikes contain a motor that the user can engage only for pedal assistance. The maximum speed of these bikes cannot exceed 28 mph.

Users may ride class 1 and 2 bicycles wherever they may ride regular bikes. Class 3 bicycles may ride in the street but are prohibited by default on bicycle paths unless permitted by a specific local ordinance.

Speed

Electric bikes, therefore, are constrained by state and federal regulations in what speeds they must not exceed. Most electric bikes designed for street use are manufactured to comply with the above restrictions. Some electric bikes, particularly those designed for off-road use, are designed to reach speeds approaching 50 mph, but these are typically regulated as motor vehicles.

However, with the average urban biker reaching velocities of only 11 to 12 mph, electric bikes have a clear advantage in the metric of speed. Although electric bikers are unlikely to travel at top speed for the majority of their rides, they will definitely outpace their muscle-powered counterparts.

Common Applications

Both regular bicycles and electric bicycles are well suited for activities such as commuting, running errands and riding for pleasure. Electric bikes hold a distinct advantage in all three — they travel faster than regular bikes, and they are much easier to ride. Because they require less effort to use, electric bikes are particularly appealing to older or newer users who are not quite in shape for a draining bike ride. Electric bikes are also increasingly used as an effective rehabilitation tool for riders who may face physical limitations resulting from an injury or following surgery.

The versatility of the electric bike is a profound asset here. Users can use the pedals only for a challenging workout. They can use the pedal-assist feature for a more moderate challenge. They can use throttle power exclusively for a smooth, easy ride, or to rest themselves if they grow tired. Whereas the rider of a regular bike must chart a bike route carefully to account for difficult terrain, physical endurance, and potential fatigue, the rider of an electric bike gains peace of mind from the knowledge that the electric motor is there to relieve some of the burden of biking.

The electric bike is enjoyable, eco-friendly and efficient, and it expands access to traditional biking activities because it allows riders of all experience and endurance levels out on the roads.

2. Electric Bikes vs. Electric Scooters

Like electric bikes, electric scooters are very popular in densely populated countries, like China and Japan, where traffic congestion presents a daily obstacle to commuting. They are also increasingly popular in Europe, where tightening exhaust emissions standards have begun to limit what vehicles can be manufactured and sold.

A few different types of electric scooters are available in this market, starting with the basic electric kick scooter, reminiscent of the kids' toys that must be pushed with one foot, and proceeding to the moped-style electric scooter, which provides a comfortable seated ride.

Cost

At this time, the cost of an electric bike is somewhat higher than the cost of an electric scooter. The basic electric scooter costs only a few hundred dollars, while moped-style electric scooters tend to run $2,000 and higher — comparable to the price of a basic, budget-friendly electric bike. With increasing consumer demand, the cost of an electric bike may decrease within a few years with e-bike prices more competitive with scooters while still offering a superior range or applications and versatility.

Durability

Unlike electric bicycles, electric scooters have no pedals — they are powered by the electric motor only. As a result, they constantly use battery power and will go through batteries much faster than an electric bike whose power sources are varied. This constant battery use also puts more wear and tear on the motor of the electric scooter. Accordingly, electric bikes have the advantage of using alternating power sources that enable users to extend the life spans of their transport.

Legal Classification

The regulations governing electric scooters vary widely by state. In many states, a rider must be at least 16 and hold a valid driver's license to operate an electric scooter in the street. The scooter must meet a variety of safety requirements and cannot ordinarily travel in areas where the posted speed limit is above 25 mph, though local ordinances may increase the maximum posted speed limit for scooter use to 35 mph. The maximum allowed speed for the scooter, however, is 15 mph. Scooters operated in certain bike lanes are exempt from the rule regarding posted speed limits but still may not exceed 15 mph.

Michigan, by contrast, regulates electric scooters in much the same way as bicycles. In certain other states, electric scooters are classed as personal mobility assistants and subject to fewer requirements.

Speed

Like electric bikes, electric scooters often max out at about 20 mph, though as discussed above, regulations may hold them to lower speeds. For speed-minded riders looking for a lightweight, eco-friendly option, an electric bike will likely prove a more suitable option.

Common Applications

An electric scooter is an ideal form of transportation for short commutes around town. Its complete reliance on battery power results in more frequent charging needs in comparison with an electric bike but makes it suitable for local trips where the destination, rather than the journey, is the goal. For more spontaneous trips, however, an electric bike is ideal. If riders travel farther than expected and their scooter batteries die, they will have no alternative way of powering themselves beyond walking.

Electric scooters, which can stand up on their own, are arguably easier to balance on and ride than electric bikes, and this convenience may appeal to nervous bike riders. Their small wheels make them less stable and more prone to be upset by small bumps, however, so riders will want to invest in quality helmets.

3. Electric Bikes vs. Mopeds

The moped, the smaller and more modest cousin to the motorcycle, is exceedingly popular in Europe. Imagine the sleek Vespas that carve and glide through the streets of Italy, and you'll have the right picture in mind. Beloved for its combination of style and understated efficiency, the moped will likely face competition from the electric bike and its similar marriage of qualities.

Cost

Compared to electric bikes, mopeds are comparably priced and, in some cases, slightly less expensive. Basic models start under $1,000, while top brands run several thousands of dollars into the low five figures. Mandatory licensing and registration fees add small extra costs, as do the inevitable gas fill-ups.

Durability

Unlike modern cars that optimally reach 200,000 miles and beyond, mopeds typically last for only 20,000 to 30,000 miles. Wear and tear on the engine is inevitable, and depending on annual usage, riders can tear through those miles quickly. With only a battery and a part here and there to be replaced, an electric bike, on the other hand, can last for dozens of years if properly maintained.

Legal Classification

Because mopeds are classified as motor vehicles, they must often be licensed, insured and registered, though these requirements do vary by state. In California, moped operators must be 16 or older but are not required to have a license or carry liability insurance.

Mopeds are generally prohibited from driving on trails or sidewalks. Like electric and regular bicycles, they are permitted to use bike lanes where those lanes exist, though such usage sometimes creates friction between cyclists and moped riders.

Speed

Mopeds modestly outclass electric bikes by this metric, typically capable of reaching maximum speeds of about 30 mph. They are generally limited to that speed even if they are capable of greater velocity — mopeds driven at speeds over 20 mph are at substantially elevated risk of serious or fatal injury is a crash. With a typical engine capacity of 50 cc, mopeds are not typically capable of generating the power required for speeds greater than 30 mph.

Common Applications

A moped has substantially more speed and range limitations than an e-bike. Mopeds are not typically used for extended touring, but they can be enjoyable to take out for short, scenic jaunts. They are also convenient for commutes and errands. As with electric bicycles then, their versatility is a source of considerable appeal.

Mopeds are intended exclusively for riding, rather than pedaling. Like electric bicycles, mopeds are equipped with pedals, but rather than being meant for use in propulsion, the pedals on a moped are intended only for use in starting the vehicle from a standstill.

4. Electric Bikes vs. Motorcycles

Motorcycles and electric bikes have less in common than any of the other pairings on this list, but there are a few reasons why electric bikes may appeal to motorcycle enthusiasts who seek to change their ride.

Cost

A cost disparity exists between motorcycles and electric bikes. Motorcycles, especially high-end bikes, pack a tremendous amount of bang into their buck. They go from zero to sixty in seconds and fly around mountain curves.

All that swagger tends to cost dearly. Though it is certainly possible to find a motorcycle for a few hundred bucks, most cost several thousand dollars, with top-of-the-line models pushing into six figures or even millions. Constantly filling the tank with expensive gasoline adds up costs fast as well. For these reasons, the more cost-friendly — and still classy and cool — electric bicycle offers an attractive alternative.

It's also true that when a motorcycle breaks down, the repairs can cost much more than the repairs and maintenance on an electric bike. Preventative maintenance on a motorcycle is usually more expensive than the maintenance an electric bike requires.

Durability

One of the enduring rules of the road is that a bigger engine means a longer-lasting engine, and a motorcycle with an engine capacity of 1000 cc will last for many years and thousands of miles if responsibly ridden and properly maintained. Of course, if aggressive driving taxes the engine or destroys the bike, or if the bike regularly drives over rugged terrain, these factors will limit the life span significantly.

Legal Classification

As one might expect, motorcycles are classified as motor vehicles and are subject to the attendant safety restrictions and regulations. Motorcycle operators must register and license their bikes and obtain a separate class of license before they can ride legally.

Speed

The speed of a standard-issue motorcycle loses nothing to a family car, and a premium bike keeps pace with — or even outdoes — some supercars.

That speed comes with one drawback that's crucial to consider: safety. If you crash your motorcycle doing 80 mph, you run the risk of serious head trauma, broken bones, and other severe internal and external injuries, even fatal ones.

Common Applications

Unlike the other forms of transportation discussed above, motorcycles make for suitable road-trip vehicles simply for the fact that they are legally permitted on the highway. In some states, like California, they are even permitted to straddle the white line and slide between the traffic in adjacent lanes.

Motorcycles have one surprising feature in common with electric bikes — acceleration. An electric bike cannot do zero to sixty anywhere near as fast as a motorcycle, but the light weight of a bike makes for a delightful amount of acceleration when coupled with the electric power. And though an electric bike may not allow for the travel distance or avenues a motorcycle does, they are both, in their own ways, suited for life in an open lane — driven by enhanced power and limited only by what the rider is willing to accomplish in a day.

Electric Bikes vs. the World

In comparison with standard bikes, electric scooters, mopeds and motorcycles, electric bikes embody a synthesis of the best of all worlds. With a blend of the physical and ecological benefits of a standard bike, the electric ease of a scooter, the versatility of a moped, and the enjoyment and unlimited possibility of a motorcycle, electric bikes represent an impressive innovation for the present and an exhilarating possibility for the future.

Get started with your e-bike today by browsing the options we have available here at Juiced Bikes.