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Safer Riding on an Electric Bike

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bicycle-19377_1280Electric bicycles are the poor man’s equivalent of the Tesla, err actually more like a poor man’s Prius. They’re green, they’re speedy, and they have a profile only a mother could love. It doesn’t help that they are cheap, costing just a little bit more than an entry level road bike, which is why you see an increasing number of them on the road. Plus, you don’t have to break out in a sweat when you zip it up to 25 mph (40 kph). But with more of them figuring in accidents worldwide, maybe electric bike drivers should sweat a bit when taking their rides out. Although generally safe, you can get a sore butt or something worse if you aren’t careful.  Below are some of the mistakes that you should avoid when on an electric bicycle:

1) Throttling too much from a dead stop – This is something that will most likely make you land hard on your bum. To avoid this, don’t throttle until you’re moving and lean forward on the handle bars to prevent the bike from doing a wheelie. You may also consider modifying your cycle by adding a switch that acts much like a gear shift by giving you different levels of power. Finally, make sure that your throttle and controller are correctly set so that your throttle isn’t too sensitive.

2) Playing with the throttle when the bike is on – This is related to the first except that you think that the bike is off when it is actually on. This doesn’t happen with motorcycles and scooters because the din of the engine tells you that the ride is live. With electric cycles, the motor doesn’t make a peep unless it gets juice, and it really just is a peep. The motor gets electricity when you turn on the bike AND throttle. No throttle, no movement, it’s as simple as that. While it’s easy to say that you should simply turn off the bike when it’s not in use, you may consider modifications to prevent injury to your body or to your image.  Some mods are installing a speed sensor that will only activate the motor when you reach 5mph (or 10kph), replacing the throttle with a half grip throttle or a thumb throttle, or even installing an electric motor sound like those in other EVs so that your bike makes a sound when it’s on.

3) Overtaking at high speed – As you read in number 2, electric bikes hardly make a sound when switch on. This is why you have to take extra care when passing a bicyclist or pedestrians because they’ll never know what hit them when you do. In China, in fact, they’ve been called “Silent Killers”  because many a pedestrian there would walk in front of an electric bike without knowing it. This surely makes a good argument for installing an electronic motor din. In the meantime, it would help making a clicking sound or making a scene by shouting “bike, bike” when making a pass like one would when using a pedal powered bike.

4) Mistreating the lithium battery – One of the reasons why electric bikes are so cheap is because they use cheap lithium batteries and chargers. As a result, some burst into flame, sometimes when the bike is charging. Many lithium batteries are combustible and should be treated with caution. You shouldn’t allow them to get punctured, nor should you overcharge them, nor allow them to be overly drained. Modifications you may want to consider are putting the batteries in a metal box and using a battery management system.

5) Doing stupid stunts – This applies as much as to electric bike riders as to other riders. The speed of the electric bike seems deceptively slow when compared to a motorcycle, but the rush of wind when at high throttle is enough to stir up the adrenaline.

6) Disregarding traffic rules (as one would on a motorcycle) – In most jurisdictions, you don’t have to register your e-bike.  Just because you don’t need to doesn’t mean that you should disregard traffic rules like not halting at a stop sign or running through a red light.  By doing so, you run the risk of hitting something or someone.

7) Speeding – This may well be a stupid stunt but it deserves special mention. The bike frame of an electric bike is designed to run up to 30mph (around 50 kph), and that only when going down hill. Running the bike beyond that speed makes the ride unstable and could result to a very ugly crash. In any case, this is only possible if you make a mod like adding an extra motor.

8) Not maintaining your ride – This applies as much to e-bikes as it does to other modes of transportation. There are components of electric bicycles that you have to take special attention to, however, because they have a tendency to lock up. First are the front hub motors, that could throw you over the handle bars head first making for a very scary fall. Another component is the mid drive bearing, if your e-bike has pedals. If the freewheel bearing locks up, the pedals could hit your shins which at best make them sore or at worse cause you to lose balance and crash.  Lastly, the throttles could get stuck in the wide open position (or WOT). This sounds pretty harmless on electric bikes that go up to a max speed of 30 mph (50 kph approx), that is unless your throttle gets stuck in this position and you are about to hit a hump. That’s why, as a precaution, you might want to consider installing good hydraulic disc brakes and an emergency power cut off switch so that you can stop when you need to.

As with other new technologies, and modes of transport, there are precautions to be taken when using an electric bike. While they may seem innocuous, especially when compared to motorcycles and cars, the risks in riding one should not be ignored. In fact, in China where 200 million denizens have an electric bike they are considered a pest, if not a menace, because of all the unsafe driving of the riders there.  E-bikes there earned the unsavory title, “Silent Killer” that unfairly makes their riders sound as menacing as Jack the Ripper.  So as to avoid such a “distinction”, electric bike riders should take precautions like those listed above. Riding an e-bike need not be a pain, but a joy, not only for Mother Earth, the riders and for the general commuting public as well.

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