Something that I was curious to know when I was recently looking to buy an e-bike was whether or not it would be able to charge while being used. So, I did some research to find out.
So, can electric bikes charge while pedaling? Yes, they can but it is very inefficient. Some electric bikes make use of regenerative braking which allows for the battery to recharge when braking. Manufacturers will often claim this can add 15% to an e-bike’s range.
Even though it is possible to recharge an electric bike while using it there are a number of reasons that you might not want to do it. Regenerative braking can add a lot to the price of an electric bike without adding much to the range. There are actually a number of much better ways to get a lot of range out of an e-bike than recharging it when you pedal.
How does regenerative braking work?
The details of how regenerative braking can get quite complex but the basics of how it works is that it puts the electric motor into reverse mode when braking and makes it run backward causing the bike to slow down. While running backward the motor acts as a generator and sends energy back to the battery.
The problem with using regenerative braking on e-bikes is that they have a very low mass meaning that for it to be effective the bike would need to be stopping from a high speed. Another problem with regenerative braking is that it requires the motor to be engaged all of the time which is not really necessary on e-bikes since you can coast along at times. This can actually cause the range of the bike to be reduced. You can read more about how regenerative braking works here.
Manufacturers will often claim that regenerative braking will add 10-20% to the range of the bike but that would often be very hard to achieve in reality. Regenerative braking adds a lot to the cost instead of paying extra for regenerative braking you could buy a second battery instead which would effectively double the range that you can get out of the bike.
Can You Solar Charge an E-Bike?
Yes. But, you would need a large solar panel and it wouldn’t be feasible for everyday use.
You can watch this video to see how a man cycled across America using a solar panel but you won’t be cycling across America (probably) so it’s not really needed. You can just get an extended range battery or a second battery instead if you are concerned about how far you will be able to go on the bike.
There are portable battery packs that you can get that get recharged using solar power. But, again, for everyday use, they wouldn’t be worthwhile. To charge the battery pack you will need to keep the solar panel spread out and the battery pack is normally quite bulky and a second battery would normally be a lighter easier to use option.
How Far Can You Go on an E-Bike Without Regenerative Braking or Solar Power?
Since some of the bigger names in the battery industry have entered the electric bike market in recent years the range that you can get out of an e-bike has been steadily increasing. Typically you will be able to get between 20-50 miles of range out of a single charge of an electric bikes battery with some of the newer more expensive bikes having claimed ranges of over 100 miles.
The range that you will be able to get out of the battery will greatly depend on the terrain that you cycle on, how hilly it is, the wind conditions, the age of the battery, the power of the motor and the level of assistance that you cycle on.
How to Go Further on a Single Charge
There are a number of ways to maximize the range that you can get out of an electric bikes battery that I have written about more extensively here. I will list the most beneficial things that you can do below.
The first thing that you are going to want to do to increase the range is to use a lower power assistance setting (ok maybe you won’t want to do that). The higher the level of power assistance that you use the more the electric motor is going to have to work to keep you moving and more power will be required from the battery to make it happen. So, by using a lower power assistance setting you will be able to reduce the amount of power needed from the battery and increase the range. If you use a throttle assist e-bike then that also means that you should try to limit the use of the throttle to when you need it.
The second thing that will greatly increase the range that you can get out of the battery is to cycle at a lower speed. As you increase speed, when cycling, the amount of power that is needed to keep you going increases rapidly which causes the battery to get drained more quickly. This means that cycling at a lower speed will reduce the power output needed out of the motor and increase the range that you can achieve.
Next you can make some adjustments to the tires including using thinner tires, using smoother tires and by pumping the tires up to a high pressure. Each of those things will cause the amount of drag being created by the tires to reduce and to allow for you to be able to reduce the amount of work that the motor needs to do.
Other important things that you can do include not allowing the battery to become too hot, checking the brakes are not rubbing on the wheels and reducing the amount of weight that you are carrying by cleaning off any mud on the bike and reducing luggage.
What Type of Electric Bike to Get to Maximize the Range
Since the different types of electric bikes all predominantly use lithium batteries the ranges of the bikes will differ more by the size of the battery but regardless of the type of bike you get it will still be possible for you to increase the size of the battery.
Instead, you should get an electric bike that suits your needs. If you are concerned about the range you will be able to get out of the bike then it is likely that you plan on cycling large distances on the bike. If that is the case then you should opt for a commuter electric bike since they are designed with longer distance use in mind. They use the handlebars of a mountain bike but have the thin tires of a road bike.
Cost of E-Bike Batteries
The batteries in electric bikes are often the most expensive part of the bike. To buy a second battery from the manufacturer then, depending on the size of the battery and the manufacturer then you can expect to pay anywhere between $300 to $800 for the battery with a handful of the more specially made batteries costing around $1000.
The batteries often come with 2-year warranties and, with good maintenance, you should be able to get a longer lifespan out of the batteries.
I have written about how to maintain batteries more extensively here but the main pointers are to store the battery at zero degrees Celcius (32 Fahrenheit), prevent it from getting too hot, maximize the distance you go between charges, use only the provided charger and to avoid allowing the battery from getting damaged from falls or the rain.
Where can I charge the battery? You can charge an electric bikes battery using a mains outlet.
Can the e-bike be used in the rain? I have written about this here but the short answer is that most electric bikes can be used in the rain but not always and if you live in a rainy area this is something that you should double check with the manufacturer before buying.