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Electric Bikes vs Road Bikes - What’s the Difference?


See the difference between an electric bike & a road bike with our guide to commuting in London. From locking the bike to pulling off at pace. Find out how they differ now.
Electric Bikes vs Road Bikes - What’s the Difference?

by Ellen Hill


Electric bikes and road bikes both offer low emission ways to travel. Having lived in London and regularly commuted into the city daily, I recently decided to swap my road bike for an electric bike for a week. See how I found electric bikes compared to road bikes for my daily commute.

What You'll Learn:

Differences Between Road Bikes & Electric Bikes 

We’re looking into the core differences to the options when travelling by bike. Electric bikes and road bikes have their places, so let’s take a look at the ways they differ the most:

Speed

Whether electric bikes or road bikes are quicker is not such a straightforward answer. You can technically go as fast as you like on an electric bike, but the motor will only assist you up to certain speeds. In the UK, road legal E-bikes can only take you up to 15.5 mph, any faster you want to go will need to be down to your pedalling. 

Whilst road bikes can also go as fast as you’re able to pedal, there isn’t a whole lot of difference here. However, the ability to maintain a constant speed, moving without pedalling, and getting up to speed from a standing start will all be easier on an electric bike than a road bike.

Weight 

Electric bikes are heavier than road bikes, due to the added motor, battery, and display screen. A large proportion of the weight of an electric bike are these components. Whilst a road bike can be fairly light, especially for more premium models. The fact that electric bikes are heavier than road bikes may mean you could struggle to go faster due to the added cargo, but it won’t make it harder to pedal from standing with the motor assisting you.

a green electric bike propped up on a pavement in London

Prepping for your Ride

Whilst a road bike is a fairly simple concept: simply get on and go - they do have some prep needed before you get moving. If you’re cycling in low light or at night, you’ll need lights for safety. You’ll need to remove these from your bike and charge up between each ride, depending on the battery capacity of your lights. 

Electric bikes may have lights built in, which are charged from the main battery of the bike. This means you won’t have to remember to charge your bike lights. However, depending on the type of electric bike you’re using, you may have to charge the bike battery. If you rent an electric bike or e-scooter, this isn’t a concern, but if you own the e-bike yourself, you’ll have to remember to charge it. 

This difference between road bikes and electric bikes isn’t huge, but you’ll lose the advantages of an electric bike if you forget to charge it. Of course, you’d never want to travel without lights due to safety concerns, so this is something to consider if you’re choosing between a road or electric bike.

Distance

You can go as far as you like on a road bike, provided your legs are up for it! Electric bikes have a limitation reliant on the battery charge. Though many may still work once the battery is drained, you won’t have the same propulsion. Ultimately, you’ll have to consider your route’s distance with an electric bike, whereas a road bike gives you more freedom to keep riding as usual. 

Maintenance 

The main components of an electric bike and a road bike are very similar. If you needed to repair the non-electric aspects of your E-bike you could take it to a regular bike repair shop. However, if you need some assistance for the electric elements, or need it serviced,  you’ll need to find a specialist electric bike store. This does mean maintenance can be more pricey for an electric bike than a road bike.

a turquoise blue electric bike propped up on a pavement in London

Price 

Of course, the difference here is likely to be a real part of the decision making. Naturally, electric bikes are more expensive than road bikes. Whilst you can still find road bikes which cost a pretty penny, there are lots more affordable options. 

You’re unlikely to find an E-bike under £1,000 and prices can be up to £6,000+. Whilst second-hand and new road bikes will set you back for less, and are currently widely available. There is always the option to rent an E-bike of course, but this can add up if you want to use one regularly. 

Environmental Impact

Cycling is of course known for its low impact on the environment. Travelling by bicycle is greener than driving or taking the bus, but it isn’t always the best option for everyone, or for certain journeys. Could electric bikes be the answer?

  • Cars emit about 150g of CO2 per passenger kilometre (kpm).
  • Public transport emits between 50 - 110 g/pkm. 
  • Electric bikes typically produce 2-5 g/km depending on the power mix.
  • Road bikes may only set you back only 5g per kilometre driven.

Whilst taking into account the CO2 of your diet, an electric model can technically be greener, because the battery does help to propel you. This means less energy burnt on your behalf, and therefore potentially less fuel for your body. 

6 Differences When Commuting On An Electric Bike

I used an electric bike to travel into work for the day, instead of my usual road bike. Here are the 6 key differences I found when comparing my commute on an electric bike to a road bike:

  1. The commute was faster
  2. I arrived at work less sweaty
  3. The electric bike was more stressful
  4. I didn’t have to charge the lights
  5. The electric bike was harder to lock up
  6. A new kind of commute

1. The commute was faster

With the cycling assist getting me up to speed (15.5 mph) faster, my journeys to and from the office ended up being faster on my electric bike compared to the road bike. This was particularly helpful on the way home when I usually have to cycle uphill.

electric bike in front of a blurred background of lights

It was also useful when cycling from a standing start, to get away from the crowds at red lights and get onto the clear road faster. This helped me feel safer on my electric bike vs my road bike. 

2. I arrived at work less sweaty

The pedal assist power of e bikes meant that my ride to and from the office became significantly less taxing. I no longer needed to shower once I got to the office, which was a surprising perk. An extra half an hour in bed for me!

3. The electric bike was more stressful

E bikes are a much larger investment than traditional bikes, which came with significantly more stress. I was worried about the bike while I was sitting in the office, if it was locked up outside. Losing a £200 bike would be disappointing, losing a £2,000 would be a disaster! It made it much harder to focus on my work at times, but this was alleviated once I found some secure indoor bike storage. 

Of course, you can rent an electric bike or electric scooter in certain cities, which removes the concern of losing your property. It does mean, though, that you have to find a suitable place to leave them.

4. I didn’t have to charge the lights

When comparing electric bikes to road bikes, I found the lights to be more convenient. My electric bike comes with built-in front and rear lights which get their power from the main batteries. This means that I no longer need to charge my bike lights once a week or risk cycling home invisible in the dark. 

Having the lights built into the bike also was a bonus, and took away the pressure of taking my lights off my bike every time I locked it up. 

5. The electric bike was harder to lock up

The electric bike, when compared to a road bike, has a much thicker frame. This is where the battery is held, so I found it very challenging to lock up my bike. I struggled to use my Abus Granit X-Plus 540 lock at the conventional places, especially if there were already a few bikes there. 

an electric bike and electric scooter propped up against a grey brick wall

Since the motor of the bike is located in the front wheel, it was also important to lock the wheel up too, which required the purchase of an additional bike lock, which came with an increased weight when cycling in and out of the city. Locking up was especially difficult with an electric bike compared to a road bike.

6. A new kind of commute

I’ve been cycling for a lot longer on a road bike than an electric bike. The E bike I was using had a front hub motor. This is essentially “front-wheel drive”. Whilst it is the cheapest and the most widely used, it also was a new feeling for me who is used to a conventional road bike. 

The sense of being ‘pulled’ along from the front was very different to the usual power coming from the rear from the chain system on a road bike. It took a few days to become completely comfortable with it. 

In conclusion, when comparing an electric bike to a road bike, I found both benefits and drawbacks to the electric bike. Overall, the benefits outweighed the issues I found. For those not yet ready to invest in an electric bike for yourself, you don’t have to! With many cities going greener, you can rent or hire an electric bike. 

Electric vs Road Bike: Which Is For You?

Choosing between an electric bike and a road bike depends on your specific needs and preferences.

  1. For easier and more comfortable riding experiences, especially for longer distances or hilly terrains, select the E-bike. 
  2. For a focus on speed, performance, and more traditional cycling, opt for the classic road bike.

Consider factors such as your fitness level, the type of terrain you will be riding on, and your personal preferences when deciding. Both offer unique benefits and experiences, but making the right decision is important to ensure you end up with a product you'll keep for life. 

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