How does that $5,000 e-bike you saw in the window of your local bike shop compare to the $1,000 e-bike you found online? Why pay more when they both look similar and claim to do the same thing?
This article aims to help you understand why e-bikes generally cost more than non-electric bikes, why there is a huge range in price for an e-bike, what we think is a reasonable amount to pay for a quality e-bike, as well as how you might actually save money in buying and regularly using an e-bike.
Overall, here are our tips when considering how much to spend on an e-bike:
- Expect to pay upwards of $1,500 - $2500 for a good entry-level e-bike for light use, $2500 - $4000 for an even better e-bike with higher quality components and more suited to daily use, or over about $4,000 for a premium e-bike with high-end components and accessories. These price guides are for e-bikes made by reputable manufacturers, that meet Australian safety standards and legal requirements, and bought from and assembled at a local bike shop (so you can be confident the bike is safe to ride and you have access to warranty and after-sales support).
- Paying more for en e-bike will generally get you higher quality mechanical components (for a smoother and more reliable ride), a bigger battery (for more riding range), a higher-torque motor (for getting up bigger hills and carrying more weight), electrical components smoothly integrated into the frame (as opposed to mounted on the outside), as well as more bike features and accessories (such as lights, suspension, mudguards and luggage racks, depending on what you need).
- Considering charging and servicing costs, you will likely save money in the end if your e-bike allows you to use your car less, sell a car, or even replace daily public transport.
Read on to find out more.
Why do e-bikes cost more?
Put simply, the price paid for an e-bike can be thought of as the price of an equivalent non-electric bike, plus the cost of an electrical system (including the motor, battery, controller, display, wiring and other components). In reality, there are additional costs associated with managing the additional weight of an e-bike, such as the cost of a sturdier frame, as well as hydraulic disc brakes (a stronger type of brake fitted on most e-bikes these days).
In terms of cost breakdown, Canadian e-bike manufacturer, Lyric Cycles, estimates that the battery comprises about 20-25% of the manufacturing cost of an e-bike (including shipping), the motor comprises about 15%, and other electrical components (including the controller and display) comprise about 5-8%. This is compared to the cost of major mechanical components, such as brakes, drivetrain, tyres and wheels, which each make up about 5-8% of the total manufacturing cost. One of the biggest costs is shipping and delivery, which can make up 10-20% of the total cost.
What do I get for paying more?
Like most things, you get what you pay for. This rule is especially important for e-bikes, as electrical issues in poor quality e-bikes from unknown manufacturers are often hard or impossible to diagnose, and replacement parts may be equally hard or impossible to source. It may also be difficult to get after-sales support from the online retailer, and bike shops may refuse to service the bike due to the likelihood of it being irreparable. In general, when comparing two e-bikes that differ considerably in price (more than about $500), but are designed for the same use (e.g. commuting, mountain biking), a higher-priced e-bike will generally have the following benefits:
- Larger battery: this gives you more riding range. Most e-bikes give you a range of 50-100 km, depending on the power mode you most often ride in (up to 6 modes often available), where you ride (whether hilly or flat), and how much weight you carry (including cargo and passengers). An exception is lightweight e-bikes, which are intentionally designed with small batteries to minimise overall bike weight
- Higher torque motor: whilst all road-legal e-bike motors in Australia are required to put out no more than 250 Watts of continuous power, more expensive mid-drive motors have more sophisticated internal gearing systems, combined with the bike’s gears, to provide more torque (up to about 85 Newton-metres), which allows you to ride up steeper hills or carry more weight with less effort.
- Frame integration: most electrical wiring runs through the frame and the battery is mounted in-line with or inside the frame, giving a cleaner look and more weather protection for the components.
- Premium mechanical components: strong hydraulic disc brakes with long-lasting metallic brake pads, a smooth drivetrain (chain, gear cogs, etc.) with a greater gear range (or even a system with an internal hub gear and belt drive), as well as sealed bearings in the headset, bottom bracket and wheel hubs. If ridden and serviced properly, these components will also be far less likely to malfunction and will last longer.
- More features and accessories: examples include front or dual suspension, seat post suspension, front and rear lights, mudguards and luggage racks (if required), as well as displays that can have colour LCD screens and bluetooth-integrated with your mobile phone.
Some e-bikes are inherently more expensive due to their specialist designs, such as cargo bikes, mountain and trail bikes, and lightweight road bikes.
Overall, jump on a higher-priced e-bike and you are likely to find it just looks, rides and functions better, just like any other vehicle. Whether this is worth the price difference is ultimately a personal choice based on how much you need and value the additional benefits.
What is your e-bike replacing?
Another important consideration is the money you might save in riding an e-bike compared to other forms of transportation.
If an e-bike allows you to sell a car for, say, $5,000, then the cash you earn will easily buy you an e-bike at the premium end of the market. If you sell a car for $10-20,000, then you could also buy an e-bike for another member of your family (to compensate for the loss of a car), and still have plenty of money to spare! In selling a car, you also eliminate the ongoing costs of insurance, registration, petrol and loan repayments (if it hasn’t been paid off).
Even if an e-bike doesn’t replace a car, you may still save money overall on reduced fuel and servicing costs. Whilst everyone uses their car differently, a useful comparison is the Australian Taxation Office’s tax deduction rate of 72 cents per kilometre for vehicles used for business purposes (taking into account registration, fuel, servicing, insurance and depreciation). If you ride an e-bike 20 km per day over a five day work week, that’s about 5,200 km per year (excluding any weekend riding), which is equivalent to a cost of at least $3,750 per year in using a car for the same distance. Some car insurers even lower their premiums if you drive less. Again, you are likely to be better off financially if you are using an e-bike for regular commuting.
Finally, an e-bike can even be a cheaper alternative to public transport. In New South Wales, for example, the weekly Opal card cap of $50 means you would pay a maximum of $2,600 per year on public transport, which is possible if you use public transport every day. Given that an e-bike can last several years, it’s possible you would pay off a mid-range e-bike after just one year of eliminating daily public transport, and certainly over the life of the bike.
The cost of owning an e-bike
E-bikes also have running costs after you purchase one. These costs are for charging, servicing and, longer term, battery replacement.
Regular car drivers are often staggered at how cheap it is to charge an e-bike. Overall, expect to pay about 10-15 cents per full battery charge, which would give you 50 - 100 km of range, depending on how and where you ride*. An average commuter riding 20 km per day (two 10 km trips) over a five-day work week would only pay about $20 per year in electricity! Even if you doubled the amount of riding, you would still be paying considerably less than one full tank of petrol.
Reducing or eliminating car travel with an e-bike will also dramatically reduce your carbon footprint. This is because the amount of energy needed to get you from A to B is significantly less on an e-bike, which means less greenhouse gas emissions from sourcing that energy (which still could be electricity sourced from coal and gas power stations). These emissions can be effectively eliminated if your house has solar panels, or you purchase accredited GreenPower in Australia, in which you pay a small premium on your electricity bill to subsidise more renewable energy in the electricity grid. This premium is so small (about an extra $4 per year for an average e-bike commuter)** that your total cost of charging an e-bike is negligible compared to the equivalent cost of car fuel.In this way, riding an e-bike can help reduce the long-term cost to our community from the impacts of climate change
Like any vehicle, an e-bike needs regular servicing in order to keep it safe and operating efficiently. Expect to pay about $200 for a general service, which is recommended at least once annually for a regular commuter. A regular rider may also need to pay an extra $50-100 in replacement parts (such as brake pads, brake rotors and a chain) for every service.
The frequency of servicing and replacement parts needed for a bike varies considerably depending on how often, how far, where and in what weather conditions a bike is ridden. For example, an e-bike used for short weekend leisure rides in fine weather would need replacement parts less often, whereas an electric cargo bike carrying kids and luggage every day, in a hilly area, sometimes in wet conditions, may require one or two additional small services throughout the year, as the brake and drivetrain components are likely to wear faster. Nonetheless, service costs are likely to be considerably less than maintaining even a small car, the service costs for which seem to only come in increments of $500!
Another expense to consider is that of replacing the e-bike battery. After about five years, e-bike batteries have generally lost about 40% of their original storage capacity (and therefore your bike has lost about 40% of its initial range). In this case, the remaining capacity may still be sufficient to cover your regular commute on one charge, or you may need a new battery if you ride longer distances between charges (particularly on the highest power mode) or prefer not to charge as often. After this length of time, the battery may also experience other issues, such as voltage sag, causing your bike to quickly lose power when riding at full power or up hills. Nonetheless, modern e-bikes haven’t been around long enough to see how reliable the batteries are after several years, and it’s possible that well-maintained batteries have a longer life than we currently expect (for tips on maximising the life of your e-bike battery, see our article, Caring for you e-bike.
Expect to pay about $500 - $1,200 If you do have to replace a battery after a few years. Whilst this can be a large upfront expense, it’s likely a fraction of what you would have paid on car ownership or public transport use over the same period.
Whilst the motor is another hard-working part of an e-bike, they rarely require replacement or major servicing. Some servicing may be required for heavily used electric mountain or cargo bikes. Over our ten year history at Glow Worm Electric Bikes, we have rarely had to replace motors made by the most common and reputable manufacturers (such as Bosch, Shimano and Bafang), to the point where it is a rare novelty for our mechanics to work on them!
What’s a reasonable amount to pay?
E-bikes have now been around for long enough that we have seen three main price brackets emerge in the Australian market for quality e-bikes bikes made by reputable manufacturers, assembled by professional mechanics and sold by Australian bike shops(as opposed to cheap bikes bought online from unknown or untraceable manufacturers). These price brackets are currently:
- $1500 - $2500: good quality, entry-level e-bikes designed for light commuting and leisure riding. These are often fitted with Bafang or Das-Kit e-bike systems with hub motors. Bikes at the lower end of this price range have mechanical (cable-pull) disc brakes, whereas those at the higher end have hydraulic disc brakes, which are more powerful and easier to maintain. Common bike brands in this range include NCM and XDS.
- $2500- $4000: even better e-bikes with higher quality mechanical components more suited to longer daily commuting. E-bikes in this range often have very reliable Bosch and Shimano e-bike systems with mid-drive motors for a smoother, more natural feeling ride. Common brands include Merida, Norco, Lekker and Ezee (hub motor).=
- Over $4000: premium commuter e-bikes and specialised e-bikes (e.g. cargo, mountain and lightweight road e-bikes) with high-end mechanical components for smoother gear shifting and more powerful braking, a high-torque motor (for carrying more weight and getting up steep hills), a stronger and more comfortable bike frame with an integrated battery, useful accessories (such as racks and mudguards if required) and a more user-friendly display on the handlebars. Common brands include Kalkhoff, Focus, Tern, O2 Feel, Yuba and Urban Arrow.
Making the right choice
The range of e-bikes available in Australia and the differences in price, components and accessories between them can be overwhelming! If you are unsure about how much you would like to spend on an e-bike, first consider what you might be saving if an e-bike will replace car or public transport use. Second, consider what you value most in a potential e-bike: this might include range, motor torque, comfort, weight, luggage and passenger capability, or even colour! Finally, test ride at least one e-bike in each of the three price ranges listed above to experience the differences for yourself.
*At the time of writing, the average price of electricity in NSW was about 23 c per kilowatt hour (kWh). Fully charging a 36V, 400Wh/12 Ah battery (Bosch’s smallest battery) therefore costs 9.2 cents and charging a large 694 Wh/19 Ah battery (Ezee’s largest battery) costs 15.7 cents.
**About an extra 4c/kWh, or 20% extra on your electricity usage if you pay about 23c/kWh. For an average e-bike rider paying $20 per year to charge their battery, this only equates to an extra $4 per year!