Going the distance on an eBike

Opotiki to Tauranga
Over 100km, but on the flat with a tailwind

I’m often asked “how far can you go on your eBike?” It’s a natural question, but an electric assist bike is exactly that: the electric motor is assisting you, so the performance depends on both you and the bike, as well as factors like hills and wind. Any claims that “this bike has a range of x” should be taken with a sack of salt. I’ve made 107km on a single charge, and run out of power at 35km.

Do you want maximum range or maximum performance? Around town, where you might only be doing 30 km in a day, you might as well turn up the power level, and enjoy being able to zip up hills, and mixing with multilane motor traffic. But if you’re going for maximum range, for example if you’re going cycle touring, here’s some advice:

  • Charge your battery fully. You’ll get the maximum charge if the battery is warmer than 15 degrees, so in winter charge the battery indoors rather than a cold garage.
  • Choose a low power setting (or even turn the power off).
  • When you need power for a hill or wind, increase the power setting. Systems with a convenient thumb control are good for this.
Thumb control (+/-) for power levels on a Bosch powered bike
  • If your bike has a throttle, you can use this to increase the power when needed, leaving the power level low. But if you over-use the throttle, particularly on high power settings, you’ll eat into the battery charge (and also get OOS in the finger holding the throttle down).
  • When touring, I often have a target speed in mind, say 15km/hr. I wait until my speed drops below the target before I increase the power level or use the throttle.
  • Check your tyre pressure – high pressure is more efficient.
  • Use your gears efficiently. It’s tempting not to bother with gears when the motor takes up the slack, but that can mean you’re using the motor rather than your legs. If you’ve got a crank (mid-drive) motor, it’ll be happiest if you’re pedaling at about 60 rpm, which is also the most efficient for your legs.
  • Air resistance goes up as the square of speed, so don’t go faster than you need to, unless you’re coasting down hill.
  • If you’re with other riders and familiar with the technique, use drafting to save energy
  • Consider carrying your charger (and the key to remove your battery) so you can partially recharge (yourself and the battery) at a cafe. It’s polite to ask before plugging in, even though you’ll only be using a few cents worth of power. We may see more charging points in public places like the one at Zealandia.
  • Purchase a larger capacity battery – this is expensive, but the retailer might be prepared to do a swap when you first buy the bike.
  • Take hills into account when planning a route. For me and my bike, about 700m of climbing is the maximum on a charge. Google will tell you the total height gain for a route – which might be different from the maximum height reached.
Total height gain on Google – on this trip I recharged at a cafe after crossing the Kaimais

If the worst comes to the worst, you can always pedal an eBike after you’ve run out of battery. It’ll be a bit heavier than a regular bike, but a lot easier than trying to push a Tesla!

Here are some further thoughts on eBike range from Bicycle Junction and eBike School.