Electric bikes are becoming ridiculously popular these days. The ability to glide effortlessly through rush-hour traffic, all while having a substantially lighter environmental footprint, is appealing to a lot of people. Not to mention you can pedal your way to work, making for a healthier commute without necessarily breaking a sweat.
For some families, an electric bike may even work as a great alternative to a second car. And, of course, when you factor in the purchase price, car maintenance, auto insurance, and gasoline, you are going to save a lot of money with an e-bike. However, that brings us to the question of how much an electric bike will cost you. And to answer that, there are a few variables that we need to explore.
The Purchase Price of an E-Bike
First and foremost, we need to start with how much money you will need to shell out to get yourself a quality e-bike. Like most things, we can sum this up by saying you get what you pay for. Of course, there is way more to it than that. To start to break this down, you want to first think about how you plan to use your e-bike. Is this strictly a short distance commuter bike for getting to and from work? Are you going on epic weekend adventures? Will there be trails involved, or is this primarily a road bike? Is your idea of an e-bike something that gives you extra help in the tough spots or more of a scaled-down electric motorcycle?
The Short Commuter
If you’re looking to travel short distances through the city to the office, with maybe the occasional visit to a friend’s home, you can probably get by with a pretty basic electric bike. Something in the range of $500 to $1,500 will take you through flat city streets without too much fuss. There are even decent folding e-bikes available in the $400 range that will make it easy to carry them up the elevator. If that sounds like what you’re looking for, be sure to see our piece on Folding E-Bikes. It’s important to note that the bikes at the lower end of this price range are usually limited in how far they can travel on a single charge. We’ll explore this more in the section on batteries, but be sure that you check the range and compare it to your commuting distance before you buy anything.
When it comes to adventure e-bikes, you can expect to start a little higher. Whether it’s a fat-tire cruiser, a trail-rated electric mountain bike, or a race-bred road cycle, your base models are going to start closer to $1,000 and can run upwards of $10,000 for a higher quality ride. A lot of what is going to determine the price difference is build-quality. You will find steel frames with base-level shifters, brakes, and other components at the lower end. These will tend to be heavier bikes, though they will usually look quite nice and still be great recreational bicycles. As you advance in price, you will find the overall quality of engineering rising as well. Ultra-lightweight graphite frames with race-grade components are all available on e-bikes, but they drive the cost of ownership up quite substantially. However, if you find yourself planning multi-day group excursions through the Rockies, you want to ensure a low-quality e-bike isn’t going to ruin what would otherwise e a brilliant adventure.
There is a wide range of price options when buying e-bikes in 2020. The chart below will give you an average cost based on the electric bike style you’re looking at and the general price range of that segment’s bikes.
Type of Electric Bike
$1,500 - $8,900
$1,400 - $9,000
$2,000 - $8,000
City / Commuting e-bikes
$1,200 - $8,000
$700 - $5,000
$1,700 - $6,000
The Price of Power
A large portion of the cost of an e-bike is related to the quality of the battery. This is because the battery you have determines how far you can travel, how long you have to wait while it refills, and how often you will need to buy a replacement. The general rule here is that name-brand batteries (Sanyo, LG, Panasonic) are an easy way to know if they are any good. While there are likely, many no-name varieties that hold their own, it’s tough to know before you buy it.
There are essentially four battery types that you will find on electric bikes. The highest quality (and most expensive) are your Lithium-ion (Li-ion)batteries.
Next in line is Nickel-metal Hydride (NiMH), followed by the environmentally challenging Nickel-cadmium (NiCd). Of course, there is also the Lead-acid Batteries (SLA) at the very bottom of the list.
These days, you can expect to see Li-ion batteries on about 90% of the e-bikes on the market. This is good news because it means a reliable power source has become pretty standard in the industry. However, the pricing has not dropped much over the years, meaning a big chunk of your cost is the battery.
Nickel-metal Hydride And Nickel-cadmium
NiMH batteries have a long history in the rechargeable space, and while they don’t offer anywhere near the range of a Li-ion battery, they are sufficient for people who only need their e-bike for short commutes. Similarly, NiCd batteries are decent for short-range bike and will save you some money off the top versus a Li-ion power supply. However, many manufacturers have moved away from them as cadmium is quite toxic and difficult to recycle.
The last of the four options is the SLA battery. If you see this listed in the description, you should probably just take a walk. These guys weigh about twice as much as a NiMh battery and nearly three times that of a Li-ion battery. If that wasn’t bad enough, you should only expect to travel around half the distance on a fully charged SLA battery. Very often, if the e-bike is really cheap and doesn’t list the battery type, you are probably dealing with a Lead-acid power supply. Unless you’re purchasing an e-bike for a small child, you’re going to be disappointed.
Motors and Drive Systems
The next component that is going to affect the price of your electric bike is the motor itself. When deciding on an e-bike, you’re usually looking at one of two options: the hub-drive motor or mid-drive motor.
Hub-drive motors have been used for years, and they are going to be your cheaper option. However, with a hub-drive, you will drain more of your battery to power the motor, and your e-bike will feel pretty underpowered on any sort of incline. These are the perfect drive systems for short flat commutes, and if that’s all you’re doing, a hub-drive can help you save several hundred dollars off the price of your e-bike.
With a mid-drive, the motor is balanced in the center of the bike between the pedals. This drive-system style allows for better torque and makes it much easier to head off-road or go uphill. However, it will add hundreds of dollars in cost to your e-bike. Of course, if you plan on doing any sort of adventure cycling, you almost have to factor this expense in as cost-of-admission.
One of the great benefits of buying an e-bike instead of a second car (or even a first car) is that the upkeep is considerably less. Of course, just like conventional bicycles, e-bikes do need regular maintenance. Although they have more parts and more sophisticated connections, so they tend to be a little pricier than a standard road bike for most repairs.
The general guideline for e-bike maintenance is to have your bike serviced about once every six months or approximately every 500-miles. This is going to cost you somewhere between $75 and $100. A brake adjustment will be around $30, and a tire repair will be between $10 to $20. Of course, as a regular rider, you will probably want to have a tire patch kit handy to fix flats yourself (approx. $25). When it comes to the battery, most manufacturers estimate about 1,000 charge cycles, and many will provide a warranty of up to two-years. However, when you do need to replace it, you will be looking in the neighborhood of $500 to $800 for most name-brand Li-ion batteries.
The Cost of Electricity For Riding an Electric Bike
While most people inherently know that by purchasing an electric bike, they will lower their energy costs considerably compared to driving a car. However, not many e-bike riders take the time to calculate how much they are actually spending to power their bicycle.
Here is how you do the calculation
The first step is to multiply the battery voltage by the amp-hour rating to reveal the watt-hours. So if you had a 36-volt, 10 amp-hour battery, you have 360 watt-hours (36×10=360).
Next, divide the watt-hours by 1,000 to get the kilowatt-hours (360÷1000=0.36).
Once you have the kilowatt-hour, you need to check your local electricity rate to get the next number you need. To continue the example, we’ll use the average US cost per kilowatt-hour in 2020, 0.13¢.
Now, multiply your battery’s kilowatt capacity by the electricity cost per kilowatt-hour (0.36×0.13=0.0468), which gives us just over 0.04¢ per kilowatt-hour.
Of course, the important part is now translating this cost to your riding. To do this, you need to estimate your average battery range. You can do this by dividing the battery’s watt-hour capacity by 20 to give you a conservative estimate. In our example, we get 18-miles per full charge (360÷20=18).
Finally, take the kilowatt-hour cost and divide it by the 18-miles (0.0468÷18=0.0026), and you get a total of 0.0026¢ per mile. Essentially, you’ll be spending a fraction of a cent per mile to ride this electric bike.
Lock it up
The final cost that’s important to discuss is a high-quality bike lock for your e-bike. It’s incredible just how many people spend big dollars buying themselves a high-end electric bicycle, yet they purchase themselves a $15 lock to go with it. With the upfront costs and popularity of e-bikes, left unsecured, they are very appealing to bike thieves. When you set out your e-bike budget, make sure you plan to spend at least $100 on the purchase of a high-quality lock. At the very least, your bike security should communicate to thieves that stealing this e-bike will be more hassle than it’s worth.