Berkeley Lab

E-Bike FAQs

1. What is an e-bike? An e-bike, also known as an electric bicycle, is a bicycle with an integrated electric motor that can be used for propulsion. There are two categories of e-bikes: pedal assist and throttle controlled.

“Pedal assist” means the cyclist has to pedal to engage the electric motor.

A throttle controlled e-bike is operated like a motorcycle or scooter: Just twist the bicycle’s hand grip to control the motor’s output. This type of e-bike has pedals that are independent of the throttle controlled electric motor.

A few manufacturers have designed models with both types of motors for the e-bike. Each type of e-bike can also be pedaled without the motor operating, though that is generally harder to do than a regular bicycle because of the added weight associated with the extra components. Conversion kits are also available for those who wish to transform a regular bicycle into an e-bike.

2. What are the benefits to the Lab if I commute by e-bike? Lab employees who commute by e-bike (or a regular bike) can help ease parking congestion on the main site. According to the Lab employee commute survey conducted in 2014, 50% of the respondents lived within 7.5 miles of their work site and 33% lived within 5 miles. The potential pool of employees who could use this mode of transportation for commuting at least part of the time is significant.

3. What are the benefits of an e-bike? It’s easier to climb a hill on an e-bike than on a regular bike. Because commuting by e-bike is not a strenuous workout, you will not need to “freshen up” when you arrive at work. Biking to work in the fresh air is good for your health. Some feel that biking to work is not as stressful as driving in traffic. You will also save money on gas and vehicle maintenance if you drive less.

4. How fast can an e-bike go? Whether pedal assist or throttle controlled, California law limits the speed that the motor can propel the e-bike. There are some nuances in the law, but generally the speed limit is 28 miles per hour for a pedal assist and 20 miles per hour for throttle controlled. Several factors for a speed limit is to avoid the need for a license, insurance, or special safety gear to operate an e-bike.

5. How safe is an e-bike compared to a regular bike? E-bikes are generally safer than regular bikes because they have a speed cutoff (up to 20 or 28 miles per hour), better brakes, and have sturdier frames. Because riding an e-bike is not as exerting as riding a regular bike, your attention can be focused on the traffic around you and the road ahead.

6. What should I consider when I buy an e-bike? An e-bike is an investment that you should expect to provide you with many years of use. Consider the quality of the components and the bicycle itself, the service capability of the bike dealer, and the warranty. Consider your needs as well. Will you be mainly climbing hills or riding long distances? A good bike dealer will ask the right questions to help narrow down models that may work for you. And before you buy, test ride to make sure the e-bike is a good fit.

7. Where can I buy an e-bike? The popularity of e-bikes is growing with more and more manufacturers making new models, and more local bike dealers selling and servicing them as well. If at all possible, buy from a local dealer. As an investment, an e-bike needs regular maintenance. Your patronage of a local bike dealer will ensure that a local e-bike expert is there when you need them.

8. What does an e-bike cost? Do-it-yourself conversion kits start at several hundred dollars. If you’d rather buy an e-bike that’s ready to go, manufactured e-bikes start at roughly the same cost. Buying an e-bike is an investment, and you get what you pay for. A good e-bike should last five to ten years with regular service. A quality pedal assist e-bike will likely cost at least $2,500, and a quality throttle-controlled e-bike will likely cost at least $1,500 when not on sale. The most expensive e-bike can cost $10,000 or more.

9. Where can I find more information on e-bikes? Besides visiting and test-riding e-bikes at a local bike dealer, you may want to do some independent research on sites such as www.electricbike.com, www.nycewheels.com, and www.evelo.com. Or enter “e-bike” in your favorite search engine for more information.