Cheap Electric Bicycles
Posted on May 05 2015
Cheap Electric Bicycles
This is a post about the low quality electric bicycles that seem to represent most of the market in Australia. In this context low quality refers to the e-bike itself (the product) as well as the service. We could write volumes on this topic but I'll try to stick to:
- what we mean by sub-standard e-bikes and why it is that Australia has so many
- what it's like to own a sub-standard e-bike and why you shouldn't purchase one - common misconceptions people have about bikes and quality/price
- how to tell the difference between a good and bad e-bike before you buy it
- and of course... why ours are so much better than the others! Here goes:
If ten Australians went out tomorrow and gave themselves one day or even a week to buy an e-bike, I'd bet around 9 of them would end up with something sub-standard. I'd estimate If they used their e-bikes every day then most of them will have notice significant problems within 3 months and a couple will breakdown completely. Within a year, those who can still use their e-bike should count themselves lucky or congratulate themselves on their choice of bike. Generally the state of the e-bikes by the end of the year is that they will seem 50 years old and barely re-sellable. Amazingly, they'll all say they love e-bikes but just wish their one was better. Now if 10 people went out to buy a regular bicycle, they only ones who would have had a comparable experience would be the ones who went to K-mart for their bike or to a cheap online store, and they probably knew what they were getting themselves into, or at least knew that higher quality, more expensive choices existed. So what's going on? Why is it like this? It's definitely not like that in the Netherlands, where every fourth bike sold is electric. I can offer a few ideas of what has contributed to this sorry state of the e-bike industry here:
1 - The bicycle industry in Australia hasn't been involved in the e-bike industry. Ask your local bike shop if they have e-bikes and they'll tell you they're not interested or 'those aren't bikes' and a range of other narrow-minded comments. So a wealth of knowledge about bicycles is not used and those supplying e-bikes are just taking cheapies straight from factory lines in China and reselling them here. You'd be lucky if the average e-bike supplier in Australia is even from a bicycle background, let alone knows how to design and order bicycles from a factory line. Then the vicious cycle begins. I take my high quality e-bikes to a bike store and they don't even want to know about it because so far they have only seen rubbish e-bikes.
2 - A lot of e-bikes are sold online or from warehouses and places that don't service and repair bicycles, or even their own products! This has two effects. An obvious one is that you can't try before you buy or return very easily so it's a natural consequence that cheap bikes are sold and the customer is tricked. The other effect is that there is a lack of feedback and customer interaction. They might not know the extent of their quality problems if they never see their customers' anguish first hand. Even if they do, they never see their bikes again so they can't make good decisions on how to improve quality. Basically the drive isn't there for the seller to strive for the most reliable e-bike possible. Why spend more on good brakes if you never have to service the horrible ones that you sold? 3 - It's an immature market in Australia. The 'regulations' given by the RTA are not only inappropriate to the technology, they aren't even fully defined. This leads to few big companies wanting to take part in Australia (whereas Giant, Trek, Kona and all the big players sell e-bikes into the US and Europe), so most places are online sellers making a quick buck and moving on. Also the consumers aren't well educated on the product, generally don't know other users to share experiences with and naturally enough, expect that most products sold new actually work and they're in for a rude shock. Which brings me to the next point:
Why you should not buy a sub-standard e-bike. It seems like it hardly needs explaining but I have to hammer something home - some cheap stuff is good enough for ordinary people, like say a deck of cards or a glow stick. That's not the case with electric powered bicycles. They're electric bicycles. They have chains, gears, brakes, bearings. They take your full weight pushing down on them with all your leg's strength. They are also electric powered, with batteries, electronic throttles, electric motors, motor controllors. They're to be used outdoor, on the hard road and in all weather. The consequences of a breakdown include annoyance, failing to arrive somewhere on time or at all or getting stuck somewhere dangerous/expensive. The parts need to work or you could die, like in the case of brakes. But even worse than death, you might fall out of love with the most fun, cheapest, most environmentally friendly and healthiest way to get around. Remember that if you have a breakdown and bought online or from somewhere that doesn't know how to fix bikes, it won't be a quick fix. Now add to this rant the fact that there is a nation-wide problem of low quality suppliers of low quality e-bikes. Product that needs to be super-reliable sold by people who don't know the first thing about bikes to customers who just ask for the cheapest one - the picture should be forming clearly now...
Common misconceptions about price/quality decisions and bicycles and e-bikes
"They all do the same job" - No. Some take you there and back reliably and enjoyably. Some don't.
"I'm not a professional rider, I couldn't tell the difference between a good one and a bad one so it doesn't matter" - You'll know the difference when the brakes don't work, the tyres get punctures, the suspension bottoms out, the charger whines like a the throttle fails and you have nowhere to take it to get fixed.
"The expensive stuff is just for luxury, I just want the basic thing" Yes, it's a luxury to have an e-bike or bicycle that is a pleasure to ride, doesn't break down and is very cheap to run. But that's also the basic thing you need as well. Every piece on our e-bikes is there because it's necessary or useful, not luxurious. And anyway, treat yourself, buy a bike that you're going to like!
"I can get an e-bike online for $1000. Yours are $2000+ but they can't be twice as good". Oh yes they can. Try a 2 year warranty on battery and motor. Or a 12 month full product warrantycovering parts and labour for pretty much everything, performed by bike mechanics and experienced electric bike technicians (often both) from a retail shop that's open 7 days a week.
"But if I get the cheap one and it's not good I can always get another". Yes, another bad one. You can never have enough of something bad!
So how to spot the difference between a good and bad e-bike? Here are some clues that can also be used to help you buy a second hand e-bike:
Number 1 - if you can't test ride it, it's probably not much good. And if it happens to be, it still might have issues that you need someone to sort out. If they can't even manage to arrange a test ride, go figure they can actually fix something for you.
Number 2 - Is it really a brand? A brand is something that is sold in many places for a certain period of time, assuring you that the market has had time to make its judgement on the product and that the parent company has a reputation to consider if you have a bad experience on your bike. For example, we've been around since just 2009 but the bikes we sell (ezeebike.com) has been selling all around the world for over 10 years. As such you can read about riders experiences of the bike all over the world. You can know they've had over a decade to refine their product and that if something goes wrong, they'll have incentive to fix it. Compare that with someone who buys straight from a factory in China with no international presence and puts their own name on it and sells it in Australia only. That's not a brand, that's a generic bike. If a bike snaps in half, the company that made it will only lose one customer (the Australian who imported it) and if the local supplier gives up on the idea there's no back up for the end users to get spare parts in the future.
Number 3 - what is the warranty, what does it cover and can they actually meet their commitments? Do you get a free service after 3 months? Is there a shopfront you can take it to and did you see a mechanical workshop there or talk to anyone who can fix electric bikes? The hardest thing about servicing e-bikes is diagnosis. If the warranty procedure requires you to freight a faulty part somewhere (at your expense) that means it's up to you to figure out what the problem is - not a very helpful warranty at all.
Number 4 - how did it feel to ride? Careful, all e-bikes feel awesome if you've never ridden one before. Ride a few and then you'll start to feel differences in how it rides.
Number 5 - quality goes throughout a product. You might not be able to tell if they've used a good motor controllor but you can check the value of the gear system, the tyres, the brakes and other branded parts. Google the brand and model of the tyres and brakes and gears or ask a bike store you trust. You can also look at Shimano's hierarchy of parts or have a look at prices on online stores for components such as Mortdale Cycles or Moruya Cycles.
Number 6 - has the e-bike you're thinking of been proven? Many of our e-bikes have been onepic e-bike rides over thousands of km through difficult conditions in Australia and overseas. You might not be planning to do that but it's a good sign that it will hold up for your use. Or do you know someone who has been riding the same brand for a while without problems?
Avoid these pitfalls: "it's got shimano stuff, so it must be good". Wrong. Even the K-mart bikes have at least one Shimano part and a sticker that says 'shimano'. Generally the bigger the sticker the worse the bike. Check out the Shimano parts hierarchy.
"it's an aluminium frame". Yes, pretty much every bike is these days, even those K-mart ones.
"it's got full suspension". Run like hell if you see a cheap full suspension e-bike. In fact, if you ever see an e-bike that says 'full aluminium frame with suspension and fully shimano equipped 6 speed" then get away as fast as you can by any mode of transport except for that e-bike.
"it's designed for Australian conditions". Don't let this one insult your intelligence. Wind blows, sun shines and rain falls all over the world. Australia doesn't make hub motors, lithium batteries or motor controllors and they didn't design the stuff on cheap e-bikes except maybe the stickers.
So how are ours better? Come in and have a test ride or 24 hour trial and see. And if you're still stuck on the idea of getting a bargain on a cheap e-bike, have a look at some of our demo clearance specials that come up from time to time.