A NZ Guide to Electric Bikes

A NZ Guide to Electric Bikes
By Rob McEwen and Alex Kendon
Table of Contents
What is an ebike?
What’s the point?
Benefits for:
Your lifestyle
Your health
Mountain bikers
Range & speed
Frequently Asked Questions
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“I love my electric bike because it is liberating - fresh air and
exercise without the hills or headwinds.” Daphne Bell, Hamilton.
What is an ebike?
An electric bicycle, also known as an e-bike, is a bicycle with
an integrated electric motor which can be used for
propulsion. There are a great variety of e-bikes available
worldwide, from e-bikes that only have a small motor to assist
the rider's pedal-power (known as pedelecs) to somewhat
more powerful e-bikes which tend closer to moped-style
functionality. All, however, retain the ability to be pedalled by
the rider and are therefore not electric motorcycles. E-bikes
use rechargeable batteries and the lighter varieties can travel
up to 25 to 32 km/h, depending on the laws of the country in
which they are sold, while the more high-powered varieties
can often do in excess of 45 km/h (28 mph).
https://www.nzta.govt.nz/vehicles/vehicle-types/lowpowered-vehicles/ for info on low powered vehicles that do
not require registration or a driver’s license.
What’s the Point?
Ride faster versus a conventional bike
Enjoy riding up hills and into head winds
No need to sweat
Easy on the joints
–  Ebikes put less pressure on knees, hips and other joints
Keep up with younger or fitter riders
Avoid using the car
–  Save money
–  Save CO2 emissions
Have more fun
Benefits for Commuters
Won’t break a sweat on the way to work
Parking is a breeze
No more waiting in traffic
Monthly costs of between $4 - $8
“Oh the joy of riding my ebike. I can put as much or as
little effort into it as I want.” Lucy Casey, Auckland.
Lifestyle Benefits
Ride further afield without worrying about having enough energy to ride back
Run errands quickly and easily, replacing the car and its emissions & costs
Flatten out hills
Spend quality time with your partner, children or grand children
Ebikes come in many different styles. This fat tyre ebike is
perfect for fun at the beach and on trails.
Health Benefits
Become more active and work on your fitness goals
Burn calories, getting the level of exercise you choose
Spend more time outside in the fresh air
Reduced commuting stress è a calmer start to your day
“When I bought an ebike in 2012, I weighed 457 pounds.
Riding an ebike was my first form of exercise. I could
barely walk 150 steps at a time. With my ebike I began a
journey to a new shape and a new life, losing more than
270 pounds in the process.” Rhonda Martin.
Benefits for Mountain Bikers
Tackle challenging ascents you wouldn’t normally attempt
Avoid needing a car to drop you off at the top of a hill
Ride to the trail instead of driving
Significantly increase your range
"I love my eBike because it makes me want to get out
and ride. A 30km ride becomes not only possible, but fun
as well as good for me.“ John Curtis, Taupo
There are three main types of electric bike motor: A front wheel motor, a rear wheel motor
and a mid-drive motor. The following pros and cons of each are derived from an article in
Electric Bike Report, February 2015 and have been edited by the authors of this guide.
A Bafang 8fun mid drive motor
Front Wheel Motors
Creates an all-wheel drive bike because the
motor drives the front wheel and you can
power the rear wheel with your pedal power.
This can be advantageous for riding in snow or
in sand. Some fat e-bikes are coming with front
hub motors to create this all-wheel drive system.
Any type of bike drivetrain (gears) can be used:
traditional gears with cogs, chain and
derailleurs or internal geared hubs (IGH) with a
chain or belt drive.
Front hub motor systems are easy to install or
remove from the bike because there are no
gear systems to deal with (chain, derailleur,
etc.) when compared to a rear hub motor. This
is handy for fixing a flat tire or adding/removing
electric assist from a conventional bike.
Front hub motors can provide for a more
balanced bike weight distribution if the
battery is mounted in the middle or back part of
the bike. This helps when lifting the bike onto a
car rack or carrying the bike up stairs.
•  Since there is much less weight over the front wheel
there is a tendency for the wheel to spin when
accelerating on roads that have a layer of loose
material or when climbing a steep hill. This is more
noticeable on the powerful front hub motors.
•  Front hub motors generally have a throttle and/or a
cadence sensor pedal assist. It is rare to find a
torque sensor based pedal assist system for a front
hub motor.
•  Front hub motors generally need a sturdy fork,
especially for the higher powered motors. This is
very important if you are installing a front hub motor
kit on a conventional bike. Check with the kit
company for their recommendations on what is
required for the front fork. If the bike has suspension
forks, the unsprung weight of the motor will reduce
the efficiency of the suspension.
•  The higher torque hub motors (generally the more
powerful) need larger spokes and sturdy rims.
Rear Hub Motors
•  There is significantly less tendency for the rear
wheel to spin on loose road conditions because
the majority of the rider’s weight is over the rear
•  Rear hub motors are a little more cumbersome to
install or remove because the gears (chain,
derailleur, etc.) need to be worked around.
•  There is a wide range of power options (250 watts
to 750 watts and beyond) because the bike’s
frame provides a good structural platform to
handle high torque from the motor.
•  Rear hub motors can provide assist with a throttle
and/or cadence or torque sensor pedal assist.
•  Some direct drive rear hub motors provide
regenerative braking.
•  They have a tendency to “bog down” on long
steep climbs. •  Bikes that have a rear hub motor with a rear rack
battery are back heavy and that can affect the
handling of the bike. Some riders may not notice
this if they are riding in a more cautious manner vs.
a performance riding style. Back heavy ebikes can be hard to handle while lifting onto a car
rack or carrying the bike up stairs. Removing the
battery can help with this.
•  If the bike has rear suspension the unsprung weight
of the motor will reduce the efficiency of the
•  The higher torque hub motors (generally the more
powerful) need larger spokes and sturdy rims.
Mid Drive Motors
•  Able to climb long steep hills because they can
leverage the lower gears of the bike and keep their
rpm’s in an efficient range without getting bogged
down – great if you ride in areas that have long climbs.
•  Since the power is being transferred through the
drivetrain of the bike there can be more wear
applied to the drivetrain components (chain, cogs,
derailleur, etc.)
•  Leverage the higher gears of the drivetrain to cruise
along at high speeds on the flat or inclined roads.
•  To keep the mid drive motor operating efficiently you
need to be shifting the gears properly for climbing hills
or cruising along the flats.
•  Provides a low and centred weight distribution. •  Some mid drive systems can sense when you are
going to shift the gears and they will reduce the
power for a smoother shift. There are some systems
that don’t have these sensors and that can lead to
abrupt shifts when the motor is applying full power,
which increases wear on the drivetrain.
•  Removing the front or rear wheel is easy because there
are no motor wires or hardware to remove.
•  Can use a throttle and/or cadence or torque sensor
pedal assist. Some mid drives are pretty sophisticated
with sensors that measure the pedal power, wheel
speed & crank speed to provide assist that blends with
the riders power to create a very intuitive ride feel.
•  Mid-drives are generally quieter and more efficient
than comparable hub motors as they only have to
cover the rev-range of the rider’s cadence.
•  A majority of mid drives have a single chain ring
which limits the gear range to a rear cog set or to the
gear range of an internally geared hub. For most
riding conditions this is okay because the motor
makes up for the gear range that is missing and the
gear range of a rear cog set or IGH is pretty wide
these days.
Today’s batteries are Lithium Ion, a chemistry that has proven highly reliable in laptops and cell phones for
many years. Lithium batteries have become the gold standard for electric bicycles. Their light weight and
long cycle life have made them a great fit for any small electric vehicles where weight and efficiency
often take a premium over cost. When it comes to choosing the right electric bicycle battery, you need to
consider the following criteria:
Voltage. Most modern systems in the range of 200 – 400W use a 36 volt battery and 500 – 1500W systems use
a 48 volt battery. Some older/cheaper systems run 24 volt, but these are becoming less common. The main
thing to check is that you select the correct voltage for your system.
Capacity. There are two main factors to consider when choosing battery capacity: range, and maximum
discharge rate. As a rule of thumb, a 300W mid-motor will deliver about 8km of range/100wh of capacity at
maximum assist on a flat road. Higher capacity batteries will always deliver more range. The maximum
discharge rate determines what power of motor the battery can support. This generally increases with battery
capacity. Check with your battery supplier to ensure it is compatible with your motor.
Battery Types: Lithium Ion
Most new electric bikes are equipped with lithium-ion batteries. Of the battery types commonly used on
eBikes they offer the best energy/unit weight and energy/unit volume. There are actually a number of
different chemistries that are referred to as lithium-ion, including LiMn2O4, LiCoO2 and LiNiMnCoO2 but there
is a huge amount of research happening in this area and new chemistries are entering production. Lithiumion cells produced by reputable manufacturers such as Samsung, LG, Sanyo and Panasonic offer good
reliability, safety and charge/discharge rates (Charge times can be as low as 2.5 hours without significantly
affecting battery longevity).
The cells used in the battery are just one component in the complete battery though. A quality battery will
also include a battery management system (BMS) that shuts the battery down under fault conditions like short
circuit, over-temperature, over-charge, over-discharge etc... The BMS should also keep the cells “balanced”,
which extends the service life of the battery. The quality of construction is also important. Since lithium-ion
batteries are relatively complex there are a lot of interconnects and joints that can fail if they are poorly
made of if the cells are not well supported within the battery casing. This is generally only an issue on rockbottom priced batteries though and well manufactured batteries have proven very rugged.
In addition to their high energy density lithium-ion batteries have a very “flat” discharge characteristic, which
means the output voltage doesn't fall much as the battery discharges. For e-Bikes this means you won't feel
the power from the motor reducing as the battery empties out. This can also help keep the motor operating
at optimal efficiency so your effective range is slightly higher than with other battery types. Effective range is
also increased by the weight savings that lithium-ion batteries offer.
Battery Types: Lithium Ion (cont’d)
Cycle life and shelf life varies quite a lot with chemistry and manufacturer. Most common types now offer a
minimum of 600 cycles at 80% depth of discharge (which is where the BMS normally disconnects the battery)
before the battery capacity drops below 80% of its original capacity. The number of charge cycles is much
higher at a lower depth of discharge and for some types it can stretch to thousands of cycles at 20% depth of
discharge. If the batteries are properly looked after they should last 3 to 5 years. One thing that’s clear is that
really cheap lithium-ion batteries need replacing a lot sooner than ones using decent quality cells.
About the only thing that really tends to “kill” lithium-ion batteries that have a good BMS is letting them go totally
flat. The BMS will disconnect the battery before it can be run dead flat but, like all batteries, they will gradually
self-discharge when left unattended for long periods. Most types will only need topping up every 2 or 3 months.
Lithium Manganese cells have a higher self-discharge rate and should be topped up every month.
The cost to purchase and replace lithium-ion batteries is still higher than lead-acid, NiMh or NiCd. Prices have
been gradually reducing but at the time that this article was written the lithium cell price had been relatively
constant due to limited supply of raw materials (lithium). The global lithium-ion cell price is expected to drop
when the Tesla/Panasonic “Gigafactory” comes online.
Lithium-ion batteries are not currently recycled in New Zealand, but many recycling centres will accept them.
They are generally shipped off-shore to be recycled. Due to the high-value materials the cells contain recycling
is financially practical so cells that are dropped off to be recycled most likely will be. For the purposes of disposal
in landfill current lithium-ion chemistries are considered benign, although some do contain nickel, which can be
toxic to plants.
Battery Types: Lithium Ion Phosphate
Although less common than “lithium-ion” batteries in the e-Bike market LiFePO4 batteries are quite common
in China's domestic electric car market. It is, in fact, another lithium-ion chemistry but in the e-Bike community
it is not often referred to as such. You'll often see LiFePO4 batteries called LFP (for lithium-ferrophosphate),
lithium-ion or incorrectly as LiPO. They are constructed in the same way as other lithium-ion batteries and
should also have a BMS.
LiFePO4 cells have a lower energy density than other lithium-ion cells. In general about 70% of the capacity
for a given volume and weight. This is, in part, due to the lower cell voltage of 3.3V, compared to a cell
voltage of 3.6 or 3.7V for most other lithium-ion chemistries.
Despite their lower energy density LiFePO4 batteries remain popular due to their high shelf life and cycle life.
They will generally offer at least 1000 cycles at 80% depth of discharge and under heavier loads than other
lithium-ion chemistries. Since the cycle life and maximum discharge rate varies widely from manufacturer to
manufacturer and even between models of cell it's hard to compare the maximum discharge rates, but rates
of 5C and even 10C are not unusual for LiFePO4. This is about double the maximum discharge rate of most
other lithium-ion types. The self-discharge rate of LiFePO4 is also very low. It's still recommended to charge
them every couple of months but good quality LiFePO4 batteries can retain up to 70% of their charge after
being left to sit for a year at 20 degrees Celsius (note that self-discharge rates increase at higher
Battery Types: Lithium Polymer
Non-rigid “pouch” cells are often referred to as Lithium Polymer cells (also LiPO, Li-Polly and others), where the
casing is a flexible polymer and the cell format is “prismatic” rather than cylindrical. There is such a thing as a
solid polymer electrolyte cell, which does not contain any liquid at all, but these have never entered large
scale production. Most lithium polymer cells use a micro-porous sheet containing a gel electrolyte, while
cylindrical cells referred to as “lithium-ion” use a plain gel electrolyte. While many in the industry regard lithium
polymer batteries as a totally different animal to lithium-ion, they are from a technical standpoint still a type of
lithium-ion battery. Like other lithium-ion batteries lithium-polymer types should have a BMS fitted.
Energy density is typically 10-30% better than cylindrical cells and the space inside the battery casing can be
better utilised when using pouch cells, which are usually rectangular and relatively flat.
Pouch cells are not as mechanically rugged as cylindrical cells, which are always manufactured in a metal
cylinder. The often lack internal protection devices, such as a PTC, that are pretty standard in cylindrical cells,
so rely completely on the BMS for protection. Shelf life, cycle life and maximum discharge currents are similar
to cylindrical cells of the same chemistry.
The manufacturing process for lithium polymer pouch cells is more expensive than cylindrical cells, so uptake
on e-Bikes has not been widespread.
Range and Speed
Range is approximately 8km/100wh for a 300W mid-motor and slightly less for a 300W hub motor. Top speed
on electric only is about 25 km/hr for a hub motor and 32 km/hr for a mid-motor in high gear. Range and top
speed are dependent on riding conditions and rider weight.
“I love my electric bike because it is so versatile ~ I can go
on the road or along the river paths. No excuses for not
getting out-and-about and taking the scenic route or long
way home, knowing I have assistance when needed.” –
Jane Lawrence, Hamilton
Many people love the bike they already have but just haven’t ridden it much lately due to the effort involved.
Converting an existing bike to electric is generally straightforward and can be tackled by anyone with basic
DIY skills. The process generally takes about 4 hours, It is more environmentally friendly (makes use of an
existing bike rather than requiring the manufacture of a new bike) and will save you money.
What does an ebike conversion involve?
To convert any standard bicycle into an ebike, four parts need to be installed: the battery, controller, motor
and throttle. Most ebike parts come packaged together with those four crucial parts and everything is
designed to attach easily to the bicycle. The battery and controller simple bolt onto the frame or bicycle rack
using the supplied hardware. The motor is installed by removing your existing crank case. Finally, the throttle
just slides over the end of your handlebar.
A mid drive conversion kit
Helpful Hints for DIY Converters
Consider taking your bike into a bike shop and having them remove your cranks and
your front derailleur.
If you’re installing a mid-drive motor (most common now), then this video will walk you
through the steps involved - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jf6BMf28ats
Make sure your rolling chassis is sturdy enough and is worthy of you investing $1600 or so
to convert it to electric. (Be aware that production electric bikes come in a wide variety
of prices, starting at under $2000, so get some advice and weigh up your options before
See if your bike is suitable for conversion.
When you’re doing e bike maintenance, it’s important to remember that there are both mechanical
and electrical elements that need your attention. Electric bikes have all the mechanical parts of a
regular bike but with the addition of an electrical motor that also requires maintenance. Here are a few
do-it-yourself electric bike maintenance tips:
Regular cleaning
Cleaning the bike often will help to keep dirt, dust, and debris from getting into the engine and messing
with the motor. It also helps to keep all the mechanical parts moving properly without grinding against
each other or blocking the chain. Like all bikes, ebikes should be washed regularly and cleaned after
trail riding.
When you clean your e-bike, do not use a pressurized hose or stream of water. This might compromise
the integrity of the seals around electrical equipment and wear them down, eventually leading to
exposed and wet electrical systems that will then malfunction. Instead, use a low-pressure water stream
or a wet rag and dry the bike off once you’re doing washing it.
In order to keep all the mechanics in working order, you can apply lubrication on the major moving
parts such as the chain. You should use a special cleaning solution to clean off the chain before
applying a bike lubricant to it. This should ideally be done at least once a week if you use the bike
often, though with more advanced lubes, you don’t need to apply this often as long as the drivetrain is
kept clean.
Check the bolts
Do a quick once-over and check for any loose screws, bolts, nuts, or anything else on the bike. If there
is too much play in the bolts, tighten them up a little bit and see if you can identify the cause of the
looseness. Don’t tighten the bolts too far. We recommend using a torque wrench or having your bike
mechanic do a safety check once in a while.
Tyre pressure
The sidewalls of your bike tyres should tell you how much pressure is ideal for proper use of the bike. You
can check to see what the current pressure is in the tires by using a simple pressure gauge. If it’s too
low, or if the tires can visibly sink when you push your finger into them, you should get out your bike
pump and inflate them properly to the pressure indicated on the tires. Operating tyres on low pressure
increases the draw on the battery and can lead to pinch-flats.
Brake pads
Take a good look at the brake pads on your bike every few weeks to see how they are holding up. It’s
essential that you have effective brakes or else you could end up in a serious accident. Brake pads can
easily and cheaply be replaced whenever necessary.
Battery care
The most important component on the bike is the battery. Read the manufacturer’s instructions on how
to properly charge it before you attempt to charge. Charging it improperly will probably end up
damaging the battery and wearing it out quicker. Battery replacements can be pricey, so take care of
the battery you have and help it last as long as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
How fast can they go? Most electric bikes designed for the NZ market will provide you with assist up to
30 km/hr or more. Bikes designed for the European market provide assist up to 25 km/hr. This includes
most European makes.
Why can’t they go faster? The intent of an electric bicycle is to be very similar to a conventional bicycle
and that includes the speed that it can travel. If eBikes provided higher power assisted speeds then
they would be regulated like a scooter/motorcycle which requires registration, licence, insurance, etc.
In addition, this would limit where eBikes can be ridden. Bicycles and electric bicycles are great
vehicles because they do not require registration, licences, insurance, and there are so many places
they can be ridden.
How far can they go? Most electric bikes have a range of 30 – 50kms and that depends on the riding
conditions (hills, headwinds, etc.), how much pedal power you are providing, and how much weight
you are moving (yourself + cargo). You can get eBikes with more range (up to 100kms ) but they are
generally more expensive and weigh more because of the larger battery pack. Quick tip: charging
your battery at work will help to increase your daily range.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to charge the battery? Most electric bike batteries will fully charge from empty in 3 to
6 hours depending on the battery size.
How much does it cost to charge the battery? In general it will cost $0.20 to $0.50 to charge an electric bike
battery pack. This will depend on what your local electricity supplier charges.
Can I charge the battery by pedaling? Some electric bikes have this feature but this requires a substantial
amount of your pedal power, so be ready for one heck of a workout! Some of these same eBikes have
regenerative braking that will charge the battery as you are braking, similar to the way electric cars do. This
feature is not that common however, as it increases cost and provides only a small improvement in range.
How much do they cost? Electric bikes range in price from $1800 to $10,000+ but the average price range
for quality electric bikes is $2200 - $4000.
Can you get any exercise on an electric bike? Absolutely! You decide how much exercise you want to get
by adjusting the power assist level on the bike. One strategy is to commute to work with higher assist so you
arrive with minimal to no sweat and then use a lower assist when riding home to get more of a work out and
unwind from a long day. You can also push yourself to the limit knowing the electric power is there to help
you get home.
How much do they weigh? Generally electric bikes range from 20 to 27 kgs. Of course there are the
exceptions on both sides of that range.
About MeloYelo
MeloYelo is the social enterprise arm of EVolocity, a registered charity which runs an electric vehicle design
& build competition in NZ high schools. It’s about turning NZ youth onto engineering, sustainability and clean
transportation technologies.
MeloYelo is building a network of regional electric bike experts, who are trained in retrofitting existing bikes
with electric motor kits and who can answer your electric bike questions. Many of these experts also offer
new ebikes for sale, and will gladly allow you to test ride an ebike.
Funds raised through the sale of ebikes and retrofit kits support our EVolocity programme in schools.
Buy through MeloYelo and help turn NZ youth onto engineering,
sustainability and clean transportation technologies.
Buy these electric motor kits through MeloYelo
300 Watt Mid Drive Motor Kit: $999
300 Watt Torque Controlled Mid Drive Motor Kit: $999
Buy these battery packs through MeloYelo
Coming Soon
An exciting range of affordable, factory-new ebikes.
Got a Question?
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Rob McEwen: 021 728 875