The problems with ebikes: what you need to know before you buy an electric bike

There's a lot to love about ebikes, but here are some issues you should know about

The problem with ebikes: what are the disadvantages of electric bikes?
(Image credit: Hummingbird)

What is the problem with ebikes? That's a slightly non-grammatically-correct question that the denizens of Google are asking, and I will attempt to answer it for you. First off, let me say that I'm a big fan of ebikes. They let me do all the cycling I enjoy, without all that pesky effort that I don't always enjoy. They're a great, semi-effortless way of getting around. However there are some drawbacks to electric bikes. You should be aware of them, before you head to the ebike shop clutching a suitcase full of crisp banknotes. 

Once you've picked up something from our guide to the best electric bike to buy, please be wary of the mistakes everyone makes with ebikes – and also the mistakes everyone makes with bikes, most of which are also relevant to electric bikers.

1. They are expensive


Credit cards also accepted

(Image credit: 123RF)

You could easily pick up a traditional bike for a few hundred quid and have a perfectly fun time on it, so long as your cycling habits aren't too demanding. For an ebike to be of any quality, you'll need to spend in the region of £1,000/$1,000/AU$1,500, at the very least. 

2. They are also expensive to service and repair

Brompton T Line

Specialist tools may be required

(Image credit: Brompton)

A reasonably competent person can maintain a standard bike themselves and make minor repairs such as to the chain, brakes, cables etc. Or you can take it to the local bike shop and get someone properly competent to do it for a reasonably low fee. 

Ebikes are a whole different ball game. Unless you are a qualified mechanic you are not going to be able to mend or service the motor, battery, power buttons and screen, and repairs to these parts can be pricey. 

If you've plumped for an ebike from a less well-known brand, chances are there will be nobody specifically qualified to service these parts, unless you live in Shenzen. This could get expensive and problematic fast, if you are unlucky with breakdowns. 

3. The battery WILL die

2 people on electric mountain bikes

Imagine running out of battery half-way up here

(Image credit: Tredz)

You know how your phone battery life gradually gets worse and worse over the years that you own it? Sure you do; that's one key reason why so many people replace their mobile every 1-3 years. Well, your ebike battery will suffer exactly the same fate. Sure it'll take longer, and the effect will be less pronounced in the short term, but that's just because an ebike battery is enormous compared to a phone one.

You can expect noticeable loss of range within 5 years and effective battery death within 10. Replacing the battery may not be possible by then, and if it is, that will be another expense to chalk up. 

4. The range will be less than stated

Most ebike brands give a rather broad interpretation of how far their bikes will take you on a full charge. This shouldn't be a problem for anyone doing a 10-mile daily commute – just keep an eye on the battery gauge and recharge once you're down to, say, 20% capacity. 

Anyone thinking of taking on a cycling camping vacation somewhere remote will need to be much more aware that when the guy sold you an ebike with a '50-mile range', what he meant was '50 miles on the lowest assistance setting, with the lights off, in optimum weather conditions, without too many hills.' 

If you habitually use the top power setting on your ebike – and surely practically everybody does – and you need to take on lots of steep inclines and less than perfect road conditions, you should assume the maximum range will be 50-75% of the quoted one, and plan your recharging accordingly. 

5. You won't get as many health and fitness benefits as with a standard bike

Chris Froome using Hammerhead 2 bike computer

Most ebike users don't look like Chris Froome for a reason

(Image credit: Hammerhead)

This pretty much goes without saying. And many would add that it is, in fact, the point of getting an ebike instead of a standard bike. The good news is that if you go from being sedentary to riding an ebike, you will certainly gain some health and fitness benefits in the initial months of riding regularly. The less good news is that this will not then ramp up in the way that it would if you were regularly taking a road bike up a hill using only the power of your legs and cardio vascular system. You get a lot less sweaty, though. 

In the name of balance, I will just add this. I have been told many times by established bike brands that have ventured into making ebikes that their electric bike users just love to turn the power off and ride their ebike like a normal bike, to get a proper workout. I get the distinct impression they are bullshitting me, but this is theoretically possible. Funnily enough, no brand that only makes ebikes has ever made this claim to me, presumably because they know their clientele is less puritanical and ascetic.

6. Other cyclists may not like you

Tour de France

An angry horde of MAMILs chasing down a lone ebiker

(Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Cyclists, especially of the hardcore variety, have long been suspicious of ebikes. That is finally changing, but there are still a few situations where you may not be very popular with them. Primarily this may occur if you have an ebike that either a) doesn't look like a bike or b) has had its speed limiter hacked – yes, some naughty people have been known to do this – and you are using a designated cycle lane or a popular mountain bike trail, in the case of E-MTB. 

Sure, nobody is likely to assault you or anything like that, but you may receive some karmically devastating bad vibes. Also, if your road manners and technical proficiency are not perfect, some cyclists may not be shy about letting you know, if you are an ebike interloper. You'll have the last laugh when they're sweating their way up a hill, or grinding away from the lights at the same speed as a pensioner walking on the pavement beside them.

Here are some fine ebikes at great prices

Duncan Bell

Duncan is the former lifestyle editor of T3 and has been writing about tech for almost 15 years. He has covered everything from smartphones to headphones, TV to AC and air fryers to the movies of James Bond and obscure anime. His current brief is everything to do with the home and kitchen, which is good because he is an excellent cook, if he says so himself. He also covers cycling and ebikes – like over-using italics, this is another passion of his. In his long and varied lifestyle-tech career he is one of the few people to have been a fitness editor despite being unfit and a cars editor for not one but two websites, despite being unable to drive. He also has about 400 vacuum cleaners, and is possibly the UK's leading expert on cordless vacuum cleaners, despite being decidedly messy. A cricket fan for over 30 years, he also recently become T3's cricket editor, writing about how to stream obscure T20 tournaments, and turning out some typically no-nonsense opinions on the world's top teams and players.

Before T3, Duncan was a music and film reviewer, worked for a magazine about gambling that employed a surprisingly large number of convicted criminals, and then a magazine called Bizarre that was essentially like a cross between Reddit and DeviantArt, before the invention of the internet. There was also a lengthy period where he essentially wrote all of T3 magazine every month for about 3 years. 

A broadcaster, raconteur and public speaker, Duncan used to be on telly loads, but an unfortunate incident put a stop to that, so he now largely contents himself with telling people, "I used to be on the TV, you know."