4 Reasons to Avoid a New E-Bike Today

Hi there! With electric bikes exploding in popularity recently, you might be wondering if it‘s time to buy one. I totally get the appeal – who wouldn‘t want a fun new ride requiring less pedal power? However, as an experienced data geek, I have some reservations to share about today‘s e-bike models before you pull the trigger.

In short, I‘d avoid buying a new electric bike currently due to:

  • Much higher pricing than standard bikes
  • Safety issues from higher speeds
  • Control difficulties, especially for some riders
  • Risk of battery fires with improper charging

First let‘s quickly cover what an e-bike is and why they‘ve gotten so trendy lately…

Overview: The Rise of E-Bikes

E-bikes provide electric assistance while you pedal, courtesy of a small motor and embedded battery pack. Sensors detect when you‘re pedaling and give a power boost to make riding significantly easier.

Most e-bikes today use "pedal assist" meaning the electric assist only kicks in when you‘re actively pedaling. Others have a throttle you can engage with the press of a button to zip along without pedaling at all.

During COVID quarantines, e-bikes became hugely popular for getting outdoors while avoiding public transit or crowds. And riders have found them incredibly convenient for running errands and commuting, leading to surging year-over-year sales.

However, there are some key downsides I would seriously consider before hopping on the e-bike bandwagon…

Summary: Reasons to Think Twice

ReasonRisk
Very high pricesOften 2-3x the cost of a standard bike
Higher speeds increase accident riskGreater likelihood of falls and collisions vs. normal bikes
Heavier models challenge some ridersDifficult for less skilled cyclists to control
Improper charging can spark firesNearly 200 e-bike battery incidents with injuries and fatalities

Let‘s explore each reason in a bit more depth.

Much Higher Pricing Than Standard Bikes

Lack of affordability poses one major barrier to purchasing a new e-bike today. Entry-level consumer e-bike models typically run between $1,500 to $3,000 at minimum.

For example, the Specialized Turbo Vado SL 4.0 costs approximately $5,000. The Cowboy 4 ST comes in at $2,290. And Rad Power Bikes‘ popular RadRover 6 Plus runs $1,999 direct to consumer.

Contrast these figures to quality non-electric bicycles. The Specialized Sirrus X 3.0 lists for $1,000. Trek‘s FX Sport Carbon 4 goes for $1,700. And Priority Bicycles‘ Continuum Onyx hybrid starts at just $549.95.

Clearly, you‘ll invest thousands more upfront for even basic electric power assist. And should you ever need repairs, electric components also cost considerably more than standard bike parts and require specific technical knowledge to service.

Let‘s also consider financing, which many direct to consumer e-bike brands offer to ease sticker shock. Affirm financing for the RadRover 6 Plus breaks payments into 3, 6 or 12-month terms with interest ranging from 10-30% APR. Their calculations show an effective $224 monthly outlay to pay off this $2,000 bike over 12 months once interest charges accrue. That may fit some buyers‘ budgets – but watch out for finance terms dramatically increasing your all-in purchase price.

Given the extreme cost inflation versus standard bicycles, e-bikes make sense mostly for committed cyclists rather than casual riders or commuters on a budget. Think hard about whether those outlays work for you before moving forward with an electric bike.

Safety Issues from Higher Speeds

Price isn‘t the only reason I‘d avoid today‘s e-bikes – safety concerns also loom large. Specifically, e-bike electric motors allow travel at much higher speeds than possible under pure pedal power. And speed exponentially increases both the likelihood and potential severity of accidents.

To illustrate, a 165 lb rider on a 25 lb road bike generates about 100 watts of power on average. That limits speed to 10-15 mph even for strong cyclists. E-bikes provide between 250-750 watts through electric assist. The highest output models allow speeds up to 28 mph depending on motor power and bike type.

Now consider the laws of physics. Kinetic energy equals one half the mass of an object times its velocity squared. So a bike/rider traveling at 28 mph versus 15 mph actually carries over 4X the raw kinetic energy. Higher energy equals exponentially greater impact in any accident.

And the statistics definitively show e-bikes‘ increased speeds translate to more crashes and injuries versus traditional bicycles:

  • E-bike injuries rose 127% from 2017 to 2021 per Consumer Product Safety Commission analysis of hospital injury data. Accident totals for 2021 topped 131,000 cases – up from just 39,000 cases 5 years prior.
  • That same CPSC report confirms 19 e-bike related deaths from January 2021 through November 2022. For context, NHTSA recorded just 889 total bike fatalities across all bike types during 2020.
  • Stanford researchers found e-bike injury rates per million population twice as high in Canada versus the European Union. They hypothesized lower EU speed limits accounted for the safer European riding. Canada allows power assist up to 32 km/hour, similar to US Class 3 e-bikes.

Simply put, today‘s electric bike speeds pose severe risks any rider should weigh. Many accidents cause broken bones, dislocated joints or nasty abrasions. And higher speed impacts prove fatal at times.

Pedestrians also face hazards from near silent but fast accelerating e-bikes on sidewalks and in crosswalks. Visual charts help illustrate an e-bike‘s exponentially greater power and kinetic dangers by speed:

E-bike speed versus kinetic energy

Clearly those considering electric bikes strictly for leisurely rides would prove wise to stay under 15 mph. But commuters hoping for speeds rivaling cars and motorbikes must account for much greater kinetic dangers before making a purchase.

Control Difficulties for Some Groups

Assuming safety risks still sounds reasonable depends greatly on the rider‘s skill level and physical capability. Simply put, many cyclists cannot handle a 50+ pound e-bike properly, especially at higher sustained speeds. Difficulty controlling these heavy, overpowered bikes causes extremely hazardous situations for some groups.

Weight poses one key handling challenge. Mainstream electric bikes typically weigh anywhere from 40 to 60 pounds depending on materials, battery capacity and add-ons:

Comparative bike weights

Hefting these bulkier machines through tight spaces like bike racks or up stairways proves difficult even for larger riders. Response times maneuvering and stopping worsen. And dropping an e-bike – even while walking it – risks injury from its sheer density.

The concern magnifies for smaller riders like children or seniors. Studies from the Netherlands – where cycling enjoys tremendous popularity – showed men over 65 faced much higher hospitalization and death rates after adopting heavier, faster electric models versus traditional bicycles.

The risks start when mounting and dismounting. Raising one leg over a 60 lb machine 3 feet off the ground challenges anyone lacking strength and flexibility. Failure to fully stabilize when stopping likewise leads to painful and dangerous falls.

And at speed these heavy models gain a lot of momentum. Compare stopping distances across bike types at 15 mph:

  • Standard bike: 23 feet
  • E-bike: 45 feet
  • Electric scooter: 89 feet

Doubled mass plus higher velocity on electric models mean riders cover over twice the distance during emergency stops – that‘s the length of an 18-wheeler!

Without extensive practice even minor miscalculations cause get-offs resulting in bruises or breakages for many riders. And serious accidents occur when attempting to brake at high speeds.

Yet marketing shows grandparents blithely accompanying youngsters on powerful electric bikes instead of safer trikes or tandem models. Remember: just because you can ride an e-bike over 20 mph doesn‘t mean you should. Know your limits!

Risk of Battery Fires

Let‘s round out reasons to avoid today‘s e-bikes with perhaps the scariest: battery fires caused by improper charging and storage. Unlike pedal power, electric bikes store chemical energy in lithium-ion batteries to generate their speed and stamina. Faulty handling of these batteries brings real – sometimes fatal – consequences.

For example, a 2019 tragedy in New York saw an electric bike suddenly erupt in flames just minutes after being unboxed in an apartment hallway. The fire killed a 2 year old girl and critically injured a firefighter also present. Investigators traced the cause back to an internal failure in the e-bike‘s lithium battery while charging.

More broadly, the Consumer Product Safety Commission documented over 200 overheating and fire incidents related to e-bikes and their siblings e-scooters between 2021-2022 alone. Overheating risks escalate under certain conditions:

  • Charging improperly sized or aftermarket replacement batteries
  • Charging 18650 lithium cells grouped in "homebrew" battery packs
  • Charging in unventilated areas like bedrooms or closets
  • Charging while sleeping

These situations either force too much current flow during charging or prevent dissipation of intense heat as batteries reach full capacity. Thermal runaway then occurs: the electrolyte ignites, offgassing ensues, and battery seals rupture. The final result ranges from smoking and small flames to full blown, toxic store infernos.

In best case scenarios riders suffer smoke inhalation or chemical burns before emergency crews respond and contain things. Three deaths so far trace directly to e-bike and scooter battery blazes. Clearly flouting protocols and best practices for charging/storage invites disaster – too often with others in the fallout zone.

My strong recommendation would be avoiding charging any e-bike inside an attached residence entirely. Outbuildings like detached garages provide essential deflection and ventilation should the worst case happen. Correct battery type and usage also remain paramount of course. But lithium cells bring inherent temperature sensitivities demanding extremely prudent protocols consumers may struggle to follow perfectly. Why add that risk unnecessarily?

Safer Alternatives to Ride On

If I‘ve convinced you electric bicycles currently invite some serious downsides, don‘t despair. Several great alternatives exist for eco-friendly riding around town minus the risks and costs of today‘s e-bikes. Which option works best depends on your needs and capabilities as a rider.

Electric Mopeds

For riders wanting e-bike speeds without the pedals or skills demands, electric mopeds bring convenience without the drawbacks. Street-legal models like the NIU KQI3 Pro offer independence plus safety features like built-in lighting and signals. With a touch of the throttle you travel around 30 mph optimized within a protective frame. Bonus: more predictable handling from a locked steering column instead of loose handlebars. Just watch to stay within insurance policy limits on engine size.

Adult Tricycles

Should you need stability while carrying stuff around town, adult trikes like the Schwinn Meridian provide effortless capacity. Their rear cargo area lives between two back wheels making it virtually impossible to tip. With all the pedal power autonomy of a standard bike regardless of your strength or skill level, these versatile rides work for everyone from seniors to hardcore cyclists. Just avoid steep hills if manually pedaling!

Electric Scooters

Kick scooters meet electrification for the ultimate in portable, multi-modal commuting without a huge upfront cost. Folding e-scooters like the GoTrax G4 offer short-distance trips of around 25 miles before needing a recharge. And at just 36 pounds you can easily fold them to mix bike, train, bus or car travel. Scooting stands as an acquired taste – but way fewer balance and chain maintenance headaches.

Conventional Bicycles

And let‘s not overlook that ultimate of personal transports – the conventional bicycle! Brands from Specialized to Schwinn make finding the right pedal bike for your needs and budget easy. Far lighter and simpler than even the best e-bike, basic bicycles invited low-impact exercise, freedom and sustainability under pure leg power. Add a rack, trailer or basket if needing to carry stuff. But for unfettered riding joy at a fraction of the cost, traditional bikes still can‘t be beat!

Whether you want to conserve cash, stay safe or keep it simple, credible options exist beyond the high-stakes e-bike realm. Before shelling out thousands for janky batteries or torque you can‘t handle, be sure an electric bicycle truly suits your lifestyle and risk appetite!

I hope mapping out the main downsides with e-bikes helps inform your decision either way. Reach out with any other questions!

Ride easy, my friend 🚴

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