How to Make Your E-Bike Last Longer
Follow these steps to keep your electric bike, and battery, running smoothly
An electric bike is a significant investment, with prices ranging from about $1,000 to as much as $10,000, with the average $2,000 to $3,000. At any price, an e-bike can pay big dividends in fitness and transportation.
Sales have skyrocketed during the pandemic, jumping 145 percent in the U.S. in 2020 from a year earlier, according to the World Economic Forum. Whether you bought a new or used e-bike, you’ll want to take care of it. In addition to being costly, they may be hard to replace if they break down.
E-bikes have a motor and a lithium-ion battery, making both riding and maintenance a bit different from a conventional bicycle’s. But following our tips can help you get the most from your e-bike.
How to Shift Gears and Pedal on an E-Bike
There are two common kinds of electric bikes: mid-drive, where the electric motor helps turn the pedals, and hub-drive, where the motor helps turn the wheels as you pedal. Understanding the difference can help you prevent wear on the e-bike as you shift gears.
Some e-bikes, regardless of the motor, have a separate, typically twist throttle on a handle, like you’d find on a motorcycle. That enables you to move without pedaling. This is handy for quick takeoff, but it uses a lot more battery, which limits the range of your motor and the amount of exercise you get.
Nate Bosscher, a senior engineer on the e-bikes team at Trek, says the motor on a mid-drive e-bike is “upstream of the gears and the chain, and that certainly puts more strain on the drivetrain than a non-e-bike.” You can reduce the wear and tear on the drivetrain by regular cleaning and lubrication, he says.
Whether you’re riding a mid- or hub-drive e-bike, you should downshift to an easier gear ahead of a traffic light. That’s so you can resume pedaling without having to “mash” or stand on the pedals to make the bike move, Bosscher says.
You also don’t want to stand on the pedals with maximum force while trying to shift, which is especially hard on the bike’s transmission, Bosscher adds. This is true whether you’re shifting at a slower speed or flying down the road. And it’s always best to lighten your pedaling as you shift gears to reduce wear on the cluster and chain.
Bosscher notes that hub-drive motors are less sensitive to strain than mid-drives.
Marco Sonderegger, a senior product manager at Specialized, says that the best pedaling speed on the company’s mid-drive bikes is 70 to 90 rpm, which means your legs are moving like a fast jog. That typically puts less stress on the chain because you’re not putting a lot of torque on the system with each pedal stroke.
The moderate pedal speed also optimizes your range and eases the load on the motor because “the faster the internal electrical engine can spin, the higher the efficiency.”
Trek’s Bosscher says most e-bike manufacturers gear their motors for pedaling speeds of at least 60 rpm. For this reason, Sonderegger believes spinning at 70 to 90 rpm will increase your range roughly 10 to 12 percent compared with mashing at 50 rpm or slower.
That speed is also physically easier, Sonderegger says, because repeatedly pushing very hard and slowly is like doing heavy leg presses.
Caring for Your E-Bike Battery
The big reason e-bikes have taken off in popularity is the advancement in battery technology. But all the manufacturers we talked to expect only small gains in e-bike battery technology over the next five to seven years, and mostly in battery software.
But because these batteries aren’t going to change much, and are the most expensive part of your bike, it’s a good idea to take care of them.
The manufacturers we talked to expect your bike’s battery to last for roughly five years. A lot will depend, of course, on how often you use the bike.
Prolong Your E-Bike's Battery Life
Regardless of how you ride, there are a number of recommendations, the leading manufacturers told CR, for prolonging battery life.
Don’t drain the battery completely. Bike makers use software to make sure batteries are not damaged during charging or discharging. But don’t let the battery get below 10 percent too frequently. Most e-bikes have an LCD display, or an indicator on the battery itself, so you can keep track.
Charge it regularly. Redwood Stephens, chief product officer at Rad Power Bikes, says you should recharge your battery after each ride, but then unplug the bike once it’s fully charged. Trek’s Bosscher says don’t let the battery get below 20 percent before recharging it. “Partially discharging and then charging will extend the service life of a battery significantly,” he says.
Store it partially charged. If you’re not going to ride your e-bike for a few weeks or longer, Bosscher says, it’s better to store the bike at less than fully charged. “Storing a battery at 100 percent charge is actually bad for its longevity,” he says. Trek’s guidelines recommend storage at between 40 and 80 percent charge, Rad’s says 75 percent, and Specialized at roughly 60 percent. Bosch, the German multinational engineering and technology company that makes a lot of the mid-drive bike components, recommends a 30 to 60 percent range. All this suggests that you consult the owner’s manual for your bike.
Cold is the enemy. As with anything powered by a battery, extremes of heat and cold will hamper your range. If storing an e-bike in an unheated shed during winter is your only option, take the battery indoors and charge it separately at room temperature. Trek, Specialized, and Rad all say that riding in the cold won’t harm an e-bike’s battery, though you could see reduced range. However, your best bet is to start a ride with a battery that has been stored and charged in your heated home, then inserted in your bike before departure.
Wash with care. While e-bike batteries and related wiring are generally well-insulated from even heavy rain, they’re not designed to be submerged or cleaned by a high-pressure washer. Rad recommends removing the battery from the frame, wiping down the battery case and tray with a damp cloth, and allowing everything to then completely dry. This is consistent with Bosch’s guidance and that of other manufacturers. Wash a bicycle with a sponge with soapy water rather than a garden hose to prevent forcing water past delicate grease seals, which hold components (like bearings) that need to stay sealed and well oiled.
Deter E-Bike Thieves
A chain or U-lock is absolutely necessary if you’re going to park your e-bike on the street. Always lock through a part of the frame and one of the wheels to a fixed structure. Worst case: Lock it to something that’s a chore to move. Electric bikes are relatively heavy so moving both the bicycle and another object would deter most thieves. Always remove the battery, too. Since bike sales have boomed, so have bike thefts. Removing the battery from an e-bike is an easy deterrent because that superhot commodity doesn’t look so appealing to a perp if it’s not powered.
This advice also applies even if your e-bike is locked to a rack on your car or RV, because exposure to weather and extremes in temperature isn’t great for that battery, and again, to make that pretty bicycle look a little less attractive to criminals.