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What to know before buying an electric bike

We look at how e-bikes work, how much they cost, plus how to find one that's right for you.

man looking at electric bicycle

Electric bicycles or e-bikes have a motor that kicks in when you need some extra power, making it easier to cycle over long distances or hilly terrains. An e-bike is treated the same as a normal bike by the law and you don't need a license to own and ride one.

So what should you consider if you're thinking of buying an electric bike?

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Why would you want an electric bicycle?

There are several reasons you may prefer an electric bicycle to a pedal-powered model.

  • You live in a hilly area.
  • You're not all that fit or you have limited mobility.
  • You want to be able to take off more easily from an intersection.
  • You want to switch from a car to a bike (to avoid traffic jams and enjoy easier parking, reduced emissions and lower costs) without being limited to only short or flat rides.
  • You don't want to get all sweaty – particularly if your workplace doesn't have shower facilities.
  • You want to avoid using public transport.

Which type of electric bike should you get?

What style of riding do you do? If you need to carry out errands like your weekly grocery shop or you plan to have passengers, you may want to consider a cargo bike. If you want to get to and from work, look for a commuter bike. 

If you want to just use it for mountain biking , there's an e-bike for that too.

There's even a hybrid option – an e-bike that allows you to commute to work in comfort while also performing reasonably as an off-road bike. However, as with most hybrids, compromises are usually made for the versatility on offer.

Have a conversation with someone at your local bike store to help determine what you're looking for – for some it could be to replace the second car or public transport, while for others they'll only be using it on weekends for riding around the city park.

Don't try just one model instore either – it's a large chunk of change you're parting with, and all bike stores know this. Good bike stores will be fine with you borrowing the bike for a trial ride. Some may even let you hire one for a week or so to get a good feel for whatever ends up taking your fancy.

How do you ride an electric bike?

Electric bikes work by assisting your pedal movement as you're riding. For the most part, riding an electric bike is the same as riding a normal bike – you'll still need to steer, brake and pedal. 

The difference is, with an electric bike you'll be able to ride faster and longer without as much effort, as the motor adds extra power to your pedalling. You can choose from a number of settings to adjust the amount of assistance you're getting from the motor based on your needs and the conditions.

Electric bikes are heavier and can reach higher speeds than normal bikes, meaning that correct braking technique, good hazard perception and safe cornering are particularly important.

How much do electric bikes cost?

Electric bikes aren't cheap. They range from less than $800 for a basic bike and battery to more than $12,000 for a high-end model with all the trimmings, such as lights, racks and panniers. 

A reasonably priced median of $2000–3500 will generally come with a decent battery and guards for wheels and the chain, making bike commuting a cleaner prospect.

How much do electric bikes weigh?

Whether you use a conversion kit to turn your current bike into an electric version or buy an electric bike ready-made, you're going to end up with a heavier-than-average set of wheels. Some ready-made bikes even exceed 30kg. If you want to transport your electric bike by car, you might need to invest in a bike rack that can take the extra weight.

The weight of each electric bicycle is going to vary based on the options you decide on. A bigger battery, lights and panniers all add kilos (and price) to your final purchase. The weights shown in our e-bikes test results are with the standard options fitted and shown in the table. 

E-bikes range from less than $800 for a basic bike and battery to more than $12,000 for a high-end model with all the trimmings

If you're buying online, give the retailer a call to see how much the final electric bike will weigh and they'll be able to give you an estimate – you're less likely to find it on their website except maybe as an indicator.

While electric bikes are gaining traction in the cycle market, there are some height limitations. Taller riders may find their choices limited as the majority of electric bikes are designed for riders of average height and there isn't yet a large selection of bikes designed especially for taller people. Taller or heavier riders will need to look for stronger, larger frames and tyres.

How long does the battery last and how far will it get you?

Most electric bikes have lithium-ion battery packs with 8–28Ah capacity, and voltage from 24–48V. Your Ah (Amp hours) is an indicator of its theoretical distance – the greater the Ah, the greater the distance.

Electric bikes only get you so far before needing a recharge. Some claim a limit of 30km, while others claim up to a more impressive 100km between charges, although be aware that some manufacturer estimates are likely to be generous. Most give a broad claim because it depends on a number of variables, including: 

  • the rider's weight
  • how fast you pedal
  • the weight of your load
  • wind strength and direction
  • temperature
  • incline and surface type
  • the power level you use.

In the past year of e-bike assessments, our testers feel the claims manufacturers make about battery life are usually on the conservative side, meaning you shouldn't expect any nasty surprises with your battery giving up on a long trek, as long as you stay under the maximum claimed distance. 

We perform test rides with a weighted load to check how fast the battery runs down. Our results generally show that they are capable of travelling their claimed mileage on a single full charge.

How to charge an electric bike

Electric bikes come with a battery charger and most have a removable battery pack. To charge your electric bike, you need to remove the battery pack from the bike (if it's removable), plug the battery charger into a mains outlet then connect the battery pack to the charger. 

You can expect the batteries to last for about 500 charges, and replacements cost between $350 and $1000 depending on their size. Budget for a replacement every three years.

Typical recharge time is 4–6 hours. If you charge only partially, this doesn't count as a full recharge but a fraction of a full charge. Check the manual for proper battery charge maintenance. Many shops will recommend not charging to full but to operate the bike on a mid-charge, and to not run it down completely.

charging an ebike

Taking charge: it typically takes 4–6 hours to recharge an electric bike.

What are the laws on electric bikes?

According to federal law, an electric bike must be able to function by pedalling alone, but it also has a motor attached which can assist the rider. If it doesn't have pedals, it's a moped or a motorbike and a whole different set of laws apply.

In 2012 the federal government adopted the European standard (EN 15194: 2009 or EN 15194:2009+A1:2011), making 'Pedelec' electric bikes legal in Australia. This is now the most common type of electric bike used in Australia.

A Pedelec (taken from 'pedal electric cycle') must be labelled as complying with EN 15194 and it must have an electric motor that requires the rider to pedal in order to activate (Pedelecs equipped with a throttle that starts the motor without pedalling up to 6km/h are also allowed). 

What is the maximum power output?

Pedelecs can have a maximum power output of 250W (500W in NSW), while other electric bikes are capped at 200W. 

What is the speed limit for electric bikes?

Pedelec motors must cut out once the bike reaches a speed of 25km/h. If you're riding without the motor, you can go faster (by pedalling harder or going downhill), but you still need to observe speed limits for roads and shared paths, just like other cyclists.

Other electric bikes don't have a speed cut-out but they also have less powerful motors (maximum 200W) and the same speed limits for roads and shared paths apply.

If you're riding on private property, these speed limits don't apply and you're also allowed to ride a bike with a higher watt-rating than what is legal to ride on public roads.

Pedelec motors must cut out once the bike reaches a speed of 25km/h

The limits on electric bike motors that can be ridden in public mean that they're unlikely to be able to keep up with city traffic, so keep this in mind if you're considering buying one for this reason.

The laws surrounding the maximum power of e-bike motors have been under discussion within the industry for several years, with many feeling that the power and speed of e-bikes is currently too limited.

For comparison, New Zealand laws allow motors of a maximum sustained power output of 250W and a maximum speed of 32km/h for off-road or mountain e-bikes, and up to 45km/h for commuter e-bikes.

Do you need a license or registration to ride an electric bike?

No. Just like regular bikes, electric bikes don't require a license or registration, but riders are legally required to wear a helmet and follow road rules.

Can you ride an electric bike on the footpath?

It depends on which state you're in. Electric bikes have to follow the same rules as normal bikes, so check your state's bicycle laws. For example, in Western Australia anyone can ride their bike on the footpath, but in NSW only children under 16 and those supervising them can ride on the footpath.

State-specific laws

While 200W electric bikes and 250W Pedelecs are legal nationwide, it's a good idea to check your state or territory's transport website for any important information on the rules and regulations regarding electric bikes before you hit the road. CHOICE is monitoring the situation for any likelihood of changes to the regulations regarding the power of the motor or the limit for speed assistance.

Can you convert an existing bike into an electric bike?

Yes, it's possible to buy an electric bike conversion kit and have it fitted onto your existing bike, but it may not always be the best option. Here are some things to consider if you're thinking about converting your bike into an electric bike.

  • Is your bike suitable for conversion? Your bike should be in good condition with sturdy wheels and good brakes, or it may be unsafe to ride with an electric motor.
  • Will it end up costing you more? While conversion kits are cheaper than buying a new electric bike, your existing bike may require a number of upgrades in order to function safely with a motor. It may be cheaper to simply sell your existing bike and put the money towards a new electric bike.
  • Consider that your bike will be much heavier once the electric motor is fitted and may not be as comfortable to ride as a purpose-built electric bike.
  • Converting your existing bike might be a good idea for those with special requirements (such as needing an extra tall bike) or if you've snagged a really great bargain on a good quality bike that is appropriate for conversion.
older couple looking at electric bikes in store

Good bike stores will be fine with you borrowing a bike for a trial ride. Some may even let you hire one for a week or so to get a good feel for it.

Does the electric bike motor location make a difference?

The motor that utilises the battery energy to give the bike momentum can be located either in the middle of the bike (mid-drive) or in the hub of one of the wheels (hub drive).

Mid-drive pros

  • Sportier and smoother ride (better gear usage).
  • Lighter and smaller.
  • Spreads weight along the length of the bike.
  • Much easier to change the tyres.
  • Can use any combination of wheel, tyre or cassette.


  • If the chain snaps, you're not going to be able to throttle back to a repair shop.
  • Chains need to be better quality (mid-drive motors are hard on them).
  • More moving parts, so more areas that can break.
  • More expensive to replace than a hub drive.

Hub drive pros

  • You're more likely to have a throttle.
  • Snapping a chain means you can use your throttle to get back to a repair location (albeit slowly).
  • If your hub motor fails, you can pedal back on pedal power only.
  • Depending on where the battery is located, a hub motor location can balance the bike effectively (battery towards the front, hub motor in the rear).
  • Cheaper than mid-drive motors.
  • Better traction (if installed in rear).
  • Lower maintenance costs.


  • Much harder to change the rear tyre (if installed in the rear).
  • Not as much range for gear changing.
  • Heavier than mid-drives.
  • The weight of the hub drive can mean your tyre and spokes can wear out sooner.
  • You're more likely to feel bumps (the suspension is less effective).
  • Restricted in what wheel peripherals you use (wheels, tyres, cassette).

What to look for in an electric bike

If you're thinking of buying an electric bike, most of the tips in our bicycle buying guide will still be useful to you. It's also worth taking the following features into consideration.

Higher watt motor

This means more torque or take-off potential from a standing start. All will be set from 200–250W for legal reasons (with 500W allowed in NSW), but a higher rated motor (350 or 500W) limited to 250W will give greater torque than a 250W motor.


While generally electric bikes require you to pedal in order to activate the motor, some come with a throttle which can start the motor without pedalling. The throttle can legally power your bike up to 6km/h, so it can be useful if you need help taking off from a standing start – especially up a hill. However, using the throttle will drain your battery faster. 


Electric bikes are heavy – some are over 30kg because of that battery. Remember to take this into account if you might need to lift it, for example to carry up stairs or mount on a roof rack. Ring, or visit, the retailer you're purchasing from to find out the final weight after all the additions of batteries, lights, panniers, etc. 


Puncture-resistant tyres will save you from having to change as many flats – a particular hassle if you have a rear hub motor or if you struggle with the weight of the bike.


Look for hydraulic disc brakes – they'll be more expensive but require less maintenance than mechanical disc brakes or V brakes.


A helmet is a legal requirement when riding a bicycle of any kind. Lights, hi-vis clothing, locks, a pump, mudguards, a chain guard, racks and panniers are extras worth considering, but remember they all add weight.


Servicing your e-bike yourself is completely doable, but if you don't have the time or expertise, budget for around $150 every year for servicing if you want your hub, brakes, chain, cassette and gears to last and prepare to add to that for any parts needed. The cheaper your purchase, the more likely you're going to need to add a lot of spare parts in the near future.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.