The Advantages and Disadvantages of Switching to an Electric Bike

So you’re thinking an electric bike might be right for you. You have a lot of things to consider.

Electric bikes are relatively new to the mainstream. When one of them blows past you as you grunt up a hill on the way to work, it’s easy to see the appeal. However, there are a few quiet drawbacks that might not occur to you at first.

In this post we’ll go over some electric bike advantages and disadvantages to help you decide whether a switch to an e-bike—or starting with one—is in the cards for you.

AdvantagesDisadvantages
Easier to useWeight
SpeedCost
Access tougher terrainPoor resale value
DistanceEcological issues
PracticalityOngoing maintenance
Towing abilityDaily charging
Confusion around the law

Before we get into these in detail, let’s get started with a quick definition.

What is an electric bike?

An electric bike uses a small electric motor to drive the wheels of the bike. You steer just like you do on a traditional bike, but you won’t necessarily have to pedal all the time, or pedal as hard. Some electric bikes use their motor to assist while you pedal. Others are completely driven by the motor.

Closeup of a rear hub motor on an electric bike
A motor on the hub of the rear wheel helps drive this electric bike by EG Bike USA. (© Richard Masoner | Creative Commons)

You can think about an electric bike as the step between a traditional bike and a moped. Most people compare an electric bike to a traditional bike when they think about the pros and cons, and that’s what we’ll do here.

At the bottom of this page, we’ll take a look at how e-bikes stack up against cars.

Advantages of electric bikes

Let’s explore some of the best things about owning and operating an electric bike. The following points will show you why so many people have made the switch.

Easier to use

This is the biggest benefit of using an electric bike. Every mechanism that was added to the bike makes it easier for you to use. You won’t strain your body as hard, so you won’t show up to meetings as a sweaty mess.

Man sitting at a coffee shop drinking coffee next to his bike
An e-bike lets you arrive at the coffee shop sweat-free and relaxed.

If you’ve ever gone on a double-digit mile ride on a bike, you know that the aching feeling can persist for days. You’re unlikely to experience that on an electric bike.

Speed

You can go a lot faster on an e-bike, thanks to the electric motor helping you along the way. A reasonably strong rider on a traditional bike might average around 15 miles per hour. On an electric bike, you can go much faster.

In fact, some jurisdictions have laws that cap the speed you can ride on an electric bike at 20 mph on flat road. The bike itself is capable of going much faster than that, and in some states and countries, you can take advantage. You can find electric bikes on the market that go upwards of 45 mph.

Access tougher terrain

The motor can give you the kick you need to go through areas that a normal bike won’t take you. Go up hills, ride with traffic, and access rocky areas. You can access difficult terrain and strenuous climbs on an electric bike without much difficulty.

Distance

You can travel dozens of miles on an electric bike. Compare that to a regular bike, which only goes for as long as your leg muscles are willing to pedal. There are some electric bikes that can go close to 100 miles on a single charge. This is good news for a lot of commuters.

Practicality

An e-bike is in many ways more practical than a traditional bike. You’re using technology to help you do something, so you are going to get better results. You can quickly jump on an e-bike and start moving faster and further than you can with a regular bike.

The entire concept revolves around it being a more comfortable and practical alternative to a bicycle.

Towing ability

This doesn’t come up very often, but e-bikes are great for towing cargo. Depending on the size of your motor, you might be able to throw a few hundred pounds behind your electric bike and ride down the street.

This could be a small cart for your kid, or a little cargo trailer.

Overall advantage

A 2018 survey of 1,755 North American e-bike owners by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities found that the three most commonly cited motivations for switching to an ebike were an aversion to riding up hills (53.6%), the need to cover greater distances (40.3%), and not wanting to arrive sweaty (31.6%). An electric bike eliminates all three of these concerns.

Cycling climbing world's steepest street
An e-bike means never having to slog up a steep hill under your own power again, as Rudy Pospisil did in a record-setting climb up Baldwin Street in Dunedin, N.Z. in 2017.

Disadvantages of electric bikes

It’s a no-brainer, right? Well, not so fast. Read on for some of the arguments against electric bikes, and you’ll see why some cyclists are hesitant to go that route.

Weight

The motor and additional parts add a lot of weight to an electric bike. The bikes can be carried, but this will be a lot less comfortable than carrying a regular bike. This makes storing and moving them a bit harder. You might want to ride the bike into an enclosed area to lock it up overnight, rather than carrying it somewhere. An e-bike can weigh up to 50 pounds.

Two electric bikes parked among other bikes
Batteries and extra hardware can add a lot of excess weight to an electric bike. (© brewbooks | Creative Commons)

Cost

Perhaps the biggest difference is the cost. You’re going to pay a lot more for an electric bike than you will for a typical bike. This is because you’re buying a machine that has a lot of moving parts.

Repairs and maintenance are also more expensive on electric bikes. You’re paying for convenience, so you have to decide if the price is worth it for you.

Poor resale value

Even though the cost is higher, the resale value is not as great. Since e-bikes are advancing so quickly and there are concerns about the battery over time, the resale of your e-bike will look more like the resale of a car.

Buying a used e-bike means getting an older version of a battery, components that have been used a lot, and almost definitely facing a battery replacement or upgrade. All these factors lower the resale value of electric bikes.

Ecological issues

There’s no getting around it—an e-bike does more damage to the environment than a standard bicycle. Although electricity is a relatively clean source of energy, that charge has to come from somewhere, which means it still raises some environmental concerns.

Of course, if driving to work is your alternative to using an electric bike, then the e-bike would be taking you in a more sustainable direction.

Ongoing maintenance

With a regular bike, there are only a handful of parts that you’ll ever need to maintain or repair. With an electric bike, you have more parts to check up on. That also means more maintenance over time.

The battery only lasts for so long. VRLA batteries might last one or two years, and lithium-ion batteries can go up to five years before being replaced.

Daily charging

Charging your e-bike might take about five hours. This is no problem if you throw your bike on the charger overnight, but it becomes an issue if you wake up in the morning and your battery is dead. A lot of people don’t have that much extra time in the morning to juice their battery.

Person placing a battery onto an electric bike
You’ll need to stay on top of your battery’s charge. (© Rolf-Michael Röpke | Creative Commons)

As long as you’re good about charging your battery daily, you won’t run into an issue here.

Confusion around the law

In a lot of states and countries, laws surrounding e-bikes are confusing. The bikes aren’t popular enough yet to warrant extensive laws that cover every detail about riding them.

Some areas restrict your power to 750 watts and your speed to 20 mph. Going with a more powerful or faster e-bike could lead to you getting pulled over and asked for your license and registration.

Some areas require that you ride your e-bike in a bike lane or on bike paths. Others require that you ride only on the road.

It’s a good idea to check with local laws before buying an electric bike so you know what to expect.

Electric bikes vs. cars

So far we’ve been comparing electric bikes with standard bikes. If you compare them to a car, there are major differences.

Electric bikes

In this matchup, e-bikes are more eco-friendly, easier to use, more convenient, have less maintenance, are significantly less expensive, and can access areas that cars cannot. They are also quieter and easier to store and protect.

Cars

Cars will go faster and further. They’re a more comfortable option that costs a lot more money.

How will you use your e-bike?

The comparison between these two transportation options is so dramatically different that it really boils down to what you need to get around for.

People who decide to ditch their cars for an e-bike usually do it when they live close enough to their work and social circle to e-bike consistently.

You will save buckets of money with an e-bike as long as you’re OK being less comfortable and spending more time traveling. A car going 60 mph is three times faster than the e-limit on most e-bikes.

Are electric bikes worth it?

For a lot of people, electric bikes are worth it. We are seeing more and more people turn in their traditional bikes and cars in exchange for an e-bike. They go further and faster than standard bikes, and they can access areas that a regular bike simply can’t.

They cost more, resell for less, and they have more maintenance concerns. As long as you can get over these facts, you’ll enjoy the luxury you get from an e-bike.

The final answer realistically depends on you and what you’re looking for. Weigh these electric bike advantages and disadvantages to make an informed decision.

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