Electric bicycles are a popular mode of transportation all over the world. When you consider the benefits to the environment, economic benefits compared to car ownership, and versatile combination of fun and functionality—it’s easy to understand why. One of the most frequently asked questions from those shopping for an electric bicycle is how far it can go on a single charge.
How far can an electric bike go? Most mid-level electric bikes can go between 45-75 miles on a single charge. The maximum range advertised by electric bike makers usually turns out to be inaccurate. These calculations are based on “ideal conditions” rather than the actual conditions bikes are used in. The size and power of the motor are the biggest factors in predicting a bike’s range, but there are other variables to consider.
Whether you plan to use an electric bicycle for weekday commutes or for weekend adventures, there is a worst-case scenario that is common to every situation. You’re right in the middle of a long, steep hill when the motor runs out of power—leaving you to pedal the rest of the way without assistance. Read on to learn what you need to know to avoid running out of juice.
Calculating the Range of an E-Bike
Some electric bike manufacturers advertise claims that their bicycles can go 100 miles or more on a single charge. Does this mean that you can trust a single charge to take you that far every single time you ride? The range calculations that manufacturers use to advertise their bikes are based on pristine perfect conditions.
You should take some time to consider the real conditions you’ll be using the bike in to make sure you don’t wind up with a dead battery and miles to go.
The best way to evaluate an electric motor’s true potential is to calculate the battery’s Watt-hours. To get this measurement, you have to multiply the battery’s amp hours (AH) by its Volts (V). This will give you the most reliable measurement of a battery’s capacity relevant to its range.
Even when you know a battery’s potential, there are numerous factors that can influence how much distance you will actually travel before the battery needs to be recharged. The factors include the weight of the load on the bike, the terrain of your route, weather conditions, the bicycle’s set-up, and even the amount and way that you pedal the bike.
Watt-Hours: Is Bigger Always Better?
It’s tempting when you’re shopping for an electric bicycle, to buy the most powerful motor that you can afford. But is bigger always better? It depends on whether you’re looking for the most assistance on steep hills, the longest range, or using some other set of personal considerations to make your decision.
One thing is certain, as the size and power of a motor gets bigger, so does the price tag. We think that the best bicycle for you is the one that will have a bit more power and range than you’ll actually need at a price that fits your budget. While we can’t promise a perfect fit for you on every measure, we’re sure that once you know what to consider, you’ll make the best decision.
When it comes to calculating an electric bike’s Watt-hours, there are two measurements that factor into the equation. It’s important to know what each of these represents so that you can make the most informed decision. Volts are a measure of a battery’s potential power. Amp Hours measures how long the current will be applied to the battery’s potential power.
Let’s compare the specifications of two electric motors to dig a bit deeper into how volts, amp-hours, and watt-hours should each factor into your decision.
- The first motor has a 24V battery with 20AH for a total of 480 Watt-hours.
- The second motor has a 48V battery with 10AH for a total of 480 Watt-hours.
Either of these motors would have a much greater range than one with 240 Watt-hours, but is there a difference between the two of them? Yes. The second motor will be able to supply more power for hill climbs and take-offs. However, this also means that it can drain its total supply more rapidly.
When the Rubber Hits the Road: Other Factors That Determine an Electric Bike’s Range
Knowing how to calculate an electric bike’s Watt-hours only gives you a more reliable measurement of its potential than you would get from the amp hours, watts, or volts that most manufacturers advertise. Even the more reliable measurement can only give you a starting point for figuring out how much bike you need or how far the bike you have will take you.
The actual amount of work that you’re asking the motor to do when you put the bike on the road or trail will be the ultimate determinant of how for you can go on a single charge. The more weight that you ask the motor to carry, the faster that you ask it to go, the steepness of the terrain, and numerous other factors that can affect the rate at which your battery drains.
If you’re trying to follow our advice and calculate how much bike you need to get a little bit more range and power than you’ll need at a price you can afford, then you need to take the ways you intend to use the bike into consideration. Otherwise, you might end up getting less bike than you need or spending more than you need to.
If you’re planning on using your electric bike to commute back and forth to work then the only thing you’ll need to consider is your body weight and the weight of whatever you carry to work with you each day—lunch, laptop, spare change of clothes, or anything else you need to get through the day.
It should be obvious that a motor will have to work harder to carry you 20 miles if you weigh 250 lbs. than it would if you weigh 160 lbs. But it’s also important to consider any other uses that you intend to put your electric bike to. Will you be using it for touring, camping, or other recreation?
A bicycle trip with loaded saddlebags, a heavy backpack, or both is a perfect example of why you might want the assistance of an electric motor. It’s also a reminder that different uses will place different demands on your bicycle’s motor and that you should take all of the possibilities into account when your shopping for a bike that will do everything that you ask it to.
Knowing whether you intend to use your electric bike to ride the same route every day while you commute to and from work or if you plan on taking it out on the weekends to have fun is key to deciding how much motor you will need.
If you’re going to be riding the same route every day, you will have a very good idea of how many uphill and downhill sections you’ll encounter versus the amount of the ride that will be on a flat. Hill climbing depletes a motor faster than riding at the same speed on flat land. The increased rate of consumption gets worse as the amount of weight on the bike goes up.
In contrast to daily commutes, planning to use a bike primarily for adventure rides means you can’t accurately predict what you’re going to ask it to do. The only information you will have to go off of is your body weight and the amount of supplemental power that you expect to contribute by pedaling.
Believe it or not, the weather will impact the range of your electric bike’s motor. For commuters, this means thinking about the year-round climate of where you live. For adventurers, this means thinking about the where’s, when’s, and how’s you have in mind for your bike.
The first way that weather can limit the range of your electric bike is through the wind. If you are riding into a headwind, your motor will have to work that much harder to achieve the same results that it would on a calm day. At the same time, a tailwind can reduce the amount of draw on your motor and extend your bike’s range beyond what you’re used to.
Another way that the weather can influence your motor’s range is through temperature. An electric motor will function more efficiently on a warm sunny day than it will in colder temperatures. If you’re going to be commuting during the winter months in a part of the world that gets cold, you should factor that into your selection of an electric bike motor.
Stops & Starts
An electric motor will use more power braking the inertia of sitting still and powering through acceleration to get up to speed than it will maintain top speed once it has achieved it. Stop and go riding can be an unavoidable part of city commutes and sight-seeing rides through the country alike.
There are many factors that will influence your need to stop and start during a ride that are outside of your control. Playing chicken with an 18-wheeler or racing a train at a crossing is hardly worth the risk just to squeeze a couple hundred more yards out of your bike’s electric motor.
At the same time, adapting your riding techniques to conserve momentum whenever possible is a worthwhile approach to extending the range of your electric bicycle. Picking up speeds on downhills and coasting without brakes for as long as possible is one example of how to reduce the demand on your bike’s motor.
Batteries are like everything else in this world. As they get older, they start to wear out and deliver less than they did when they were young. With proper maintenance and care, the battery in your bike’s electric motor should perform at or near the peak of its specifications for years. At the same time, overcharging or running it all the way dead can accelerate its rate of decline.
Some manufacturers list information on their battery’s lifespan while others do not. Sometimes that information is listed according to the number of expected hours, and other times it is listed in miles of service. Regardless of whether there is information provided or how it is supplied, it is important to monitor your motor’s performance.
The best approach to dealing with an aging battery is to pay enough attention to its performance that you have some control over when to make a move on replacing it. If you monitor performance, then you can decide how much decline is too much. You can also take some time to save up for a replacement.
Getting the Most Out of Your Motor: Factors That Will Extend an Electric Bike’s Range
We have discussed how the battery size and power of electric bikes will determine its base capacity and how this translates to a predictable range in ideal conditions. We have also discussed how real-world factors can contribute to variations in the range of your bike’s motor under actual conditions.
These are the most important pieces of information to have at your disposal if you want to be sure that your purchasing enough bike to do what you’re going to ask of it while avoiding overpaying for motor power and capacity that you won’t need to use.
As we noted earlier, we think the ideal solution is the one that will give you just a little bit more power and range than you need for a price that fits your budget for an electric bike. Once you’ve settled on an option, there are some things that you can do to get the most range out of your bike on a ride and the longest life out of your motor long-term.
Most electric bikes are pedal-assist drivetrains. This means that the amount of power you supply by pedaling the bike plays a big role in determining the actual range of the motor. Making sure that you maintain your bike is one way to ensure that you get the maximum return on the effort that you put into pedaling.
You should care for your electric bike the same way that you would care for a bike without an electric motor if you wanted it to perform well and make your rides as efficient as possible. Keeping tires inflated to the proper pressure, lubricating the drive chain and gears, adjusting brakes, and other routine maintenance are all important to making your bike efficient.
The more efficient your bike is, the more that you’ll get out of the power that you supply to it. This applies to pedal-power as well as the electrical motor. There’s no sense in wasting the limited amount of energy that you have due to inefficiencies that result from improper maintenance.
Following the right routine to recharge the battery of your bike’s electric motor is one of the most important parts of your maintenance routine. It will be one of the primary factors in determining whether your motor’s range begins to decline after your first ride or stays steady for thousands of hours of riding.
Running the battery all the way dead can be just as damaging to your motor’s long-term health as overcharging it. Every manufacturer will provide you with specific instructions on how to treat the battery you purchase from them. If the battery is covered by a warranty, it’s that much more important that you follow the instructions carefully to make sure you don’t void the warranty.
Most battery chargers come with an auto-shut-off feature. We caution you against trusting these features too much. If the auto-shut-off fails and you leave the battery on the charger for an extended period of time after it is fully charged, you can ruin the battery in a single charge. You can read more about charging and maintaining an e-Bike battery here.
While it is still an uncommon feature on electric bicycles, the technology is getting better, and more manufacturers are beginning to incorporate it into their designs. Regenerative braking uses resistance in the bike’s drive train to generate power that resupplies the motor’s battery.
How much this can extend the range of your bike depends on the type of motor the bike has, the terrain you are riding, and your technique. As the technology behind this feature gets better and better, it is becoming more worthy of your consideration if you’re looking to extend the range of your electric bike.
Gearless hub motors and mid-drive motors can both be adapted to regenerative braking. A geared hub motor cannot be set-up for regenerative braking using existing technology. Some manufacturers are working on technology that will allow riders to fine-tune the amount of pedal-assist on hill climbs and the amount of hold-back on descents.
The best way to use regenerative braking is to let its resistance provide hold back on downhills. This not only reduces the wear on your bike’s brakes but also maximizes the amount of power it feeds back to the battery. A route with a lot of hills isn’t as big a draw on your battery if there is a downhill recharge after every uphill climb.
Your condition as a rider will also go a long way to determining the range of your electric bike’s motor. Assuming that your bike is a pedal-assist set-up, the amount of help you give the motor – or the amount of help you expect the motor to give you – will influence the rate at which your ride depletes the bike’s battery.
Some riders are looking for an electric motor because they want it to do most of the work during their rides. Others just want a little bit of reserve power to tap into when they’re climbing steep hills or facing other challenging elements during a ride.
If you currently ride a pedal-only bike on your daily commute and plan to contribute most of that effort in the future while riding an electric bike, you won’t need nearly as much motor as you would if you were planning on relaxing for the whole ride while the motor does the work.
- Pedal Technique: How you pedal can increase or decrease the degree to which your contribution extends the range of your bike’s battery. If you pedal the bike, select gears, and choose your line of attack on hills as though you were riding a pedal-only bike, you’ll maximize the efficiency of your contribution and do the most to extend the range.
- Hammering the Pedals: The worst thing that you can do to increase the range of your bike’s electric motor is to hammer the pedals. You should aim for smooth, steady, consistent contributions to the extent that your fitness and strength permit.
How you set your bike up can also play an important role in extending the range of the battery in your electric motor. Some features of your bike’s set-up give you an opportunity to choose between comfort and maximum efficiency. If you make these choices to maximize efficiency, your motor will take you further than if you set the bike up to maximize comfort.
The height of your seat will determine the efficiency of your pedal-power contribution to the ride. The style of tires and the level of air pressure that you inflate them to are another important consideration. Finally, your posture on the bike will affect both the efficiency of your pedaling and the amount of wind resistance you have on the bike.
- Seat Adjustments: When you are setting a bike up for a comfortable ride, you will most likely adjust the seat so that your feet reach the ground. To maximize the efficiency of your pedaling, you should set the seat post a bit higher to take advantage of the full range of your legs’ cycle of power through the pedals.
- Tires: Rolling resistance is a topic that is undergoing a lot of discussion in cycling right now. Conventional wisdom is that thinner tires offer less rolling resistance. Newer research suggests that thicker tires maintain a rounder profile under the load of a rider. You should research the various options and make a choice that balances comfort and efficiency.
- Posture: The style of handlebars that you keep on your bike will determine the options that you have for a riding posture. If you aren’t used to riding long distances in a tucked position, it can get uncomfortable pretty quickly. At the same time, the improved aerodynamics and ergonomics will allow you to get more out of pedaling.
How you set-up your bike can definitely help you get more range out of your bike’s electric motor. At the same time, taking things to the extreme can make riding so uncomfortable for you that you no longer enjoy the ride. As with most things in life, it’s probably a good idea to approach these factors with the goal of striking a good balance in mind.
Will how you pedal and how you set-up the bike help to extend the motor’s range? Yes. Will they make as much difference as installing regenerative braking, taking proper care of your equipment, or selecting a larger motor? No. If you plan to pedal more, then you can get away with less motor for the same range. If you plan on pedaling as little as possible – go big on the motor.
How many miles can you go on an electric bike? It depends, but usually a mid-level product can go about 55 miles if there aren’t too many hills, it’s not carrying to much weight, has a good battery capacity, and weather conditions are favorable.
What electric bike has the longest range? As discussed the bike range depends on a variety of factors including battery capacity, whether it is carrying heavy loads, terrain, and more. With this said – the world record holder for bike range is the Delfast Prime which went 228 miles. The ranges of most entry and mid-range batteries can’t compete with that! On a full battery charge, most ebike ranges are from 45-65 miles.
Wrapping It Up: Choosing the E-Bike That’s Right for You
We’ve said it a few times over the course of this article—the best bike for you is the one that will dependably offer you a little bit more power and range than you’ll need at a price that fits your budget. If you know, you’re going to be riding 20 miles round-trip every day, your needs are very different than if you plan on doing 120-mile rides on the weekends.
Knowing what you’re going to do on the bike is only part of the equation. You also have to consider how much you plan on contributing to the ride. The 20-mile commute could require more battery than the 120-mile adventure if the commute plans on letting the motor do all of the work, and the adventurer just wants a little extra oomph for the hills.
There are electric bike motors that are up to the task of moving you wherever you want to go. It doesn’t matter if you’re built like a defensive lineman or petite like a ballerina. It doesn’t matter if you plan on traveling with supplies for a weeklong campout or a laptop in a shoulder bag. Whatever your needs, there is a model that will deliver what you’re looking for.
Since most people don’t have an unlimited budget to spend on an electric bicycle, there are good reasons not to purchase more bike than you need. Especially when you consider how much of a difference your contributions to the ride can make to the bike’s ability to deliver the results you need. We hope this advice helps you find the model that’s right for you.