Electric road bikes have the potential to save relationships, change lives, and maybe even elicit a smile from the most dedicated roadie. We’ve tested two pioneering and promising new models to find out how the road bike world will be changing in the near future.

For more information about electric road bikes head to our review on the Orbea Gain and to our review on the Focus Project Y. Right here you can find our 5 most important things we’ve learnt about electric road bikes.

Wouldn’t it be cool to get out on the road with your dad who taught you how to ride bikes countless years ago? Or not to have to argue with your other half because despite different fitness levels, you’re both having fun riding together? How would your life change if you could keep up with your quicker friends and enjoy the freedom of the road with them? What would you give to be able to finish your hilly post-work loop before sunset instead of sinking into the couch after a hard day at work? There are lots of reasons – and excuses – for riding an electric road bike. However, in order for these visions to become reality, the tech has to be right as well. E-mountainbikes have already changed the industry. The time is ripe for the electric road bike revolution!

Democratisation of the road bike

The statistics speak for themselves. In our most recent website survey with 1,200 participants, 48 % expressed interest in the ability of electric road bikes to balance out performance differences between riders. 18 % want to own an electric road bike because it will remove some of the suffering on the hills. Those 48% have also illustrated how the aspirations of the cycling community are changing. It’s now less about pure performance and competing against your riding buddies; instead it’s increasingly about the experiences you have on your bike – preferably to be shared with close friends. E-mountainbikes are so popular for exactly this reason, you can ride with your friends, parents or partner, despite any difference in fitness.

Commuters, or those using their bike as a means of transport, also welcome an electrically assisted bike. It’s finally possible to get to work without being soaked in sweat.

What’s GRAN FONDO’s view on electric road bikes?

For those who think they can dictate how others can and should ride, we have to disagree with you. GRAN FONDO is not a magazine that will encourage you to out-ride your peers on the hills just to prove your worth, or to follow arcane and archaic rules just because that’s always been the done thing. We believe in supporting each other, especially your friends, weaker or older, or for whatever other reason less fit than you. We don’t need an ego boost by beating them up the hills. Instead, we would much rather spend time riding with those whom we enjoy spending our time off the bike with as well. Lower fitness levels or abilities shouldn’t disqualify anyone. When we go out riding we’re part of a team and the company we keep is more important than the watts we produce. And that’s it. Instead of ignoring or nay-saying this trend, we want to take an active role in the development of the market. We want to help steer it, with your feedback, together with the industry, in the right direction. Equipped with the experience and know-how of our sister magazine E-MOUNTAINBIKE, the leading E-Mountain bike magazine, we’re more than ready for the challenge.

Electric road bikes have existed for a number of years already, though in most incarnations these have been 20kg + behemoths. In the following articles we’ve looked at two of the most exciting new concepts which, with their slick and innovative designs, have the potential to fundamentally change road biking: The Orbea Gain with a rear hub motor, and the Focus Project Y with a frame-mounted motor.

We’ve answered the most important FAQs below – these cover everything you need to know about electric road bikes:

1. What’s the range of an electric road bike?

More than 20 factors influence the range of an electric road bike. Apart from external factors like elevation profile, road conditions, and wind direction, parameters like rider weight, cadence, and pedalling style will also have a significant impact on the achievable range. With our test bikes, both fitted with a 250 watt-hour (Wh) battery, we managed around 50 km and 1,000 metres ascent from a full charge. Traffic lights, i.e. stopping and accelerating, requires a lot of power, just like ascending metre after metre. On longer climbs, motors can overheat and automatically reduce the assistance provided (known as derating) which can also reduce efficiency. If you’re interested in experiencing the effect of different parameters on your range, you can try the Bosch range calculator.

2. Can I ride in a group?

Depending on the average group speed, riding together isn’t likely to be a problem. On the flats you’ll easily be able to keep up in the slipstream, even without assistance above 25 km/h and the added weight of the motor and battery. On any final sprints you’ll have noticeably more to push along with that additional weight though.

3. How much does an electric road bike weigh?

Our test bikes weighed in around the 13-14 kg mark, though this obviously depends on the spec. You can calculate about 3-5 kg for the bike’s drive unit including the battery. Depending on your riding style, weight distribution is more important than the added mass itself – as we noticed comparing the Orbea and Focus.

4. What are the different systems available?

Compact frame-mounted and hub motors are currently the most interesting concepts for road applications. The well-known but larger drive units, like those made by Bosch and Yamaha, are less suited to electric road bikes because of their increased mass and noticeable drag above 25km/h. The Munich based start-up Fazua has produced possibly the most sought after frame-mounted motor on the market, with its Evation unit, which is drag free above 25 km/h, and compact enough to allow for sleek integration. The long-standing Austrian manufacturer Vivax offers an alternative that drives the cranks directly. Hub motors like the Ebikemotion unit used on the Orbea are generally easier to integrate, have little drag due to the freewheel on the hub, and are usually more cost-effective as they don’t require the complicated integration of a frame-mounted unit. They also have the added bonus that the power produced doesn’t run through the chain, reducing wear and tear on drivetrain components.

5. Why is the assistance limited to 25 km/h on e-bikes?

Electric road bikes with assistance up to 25 km/h and 250W power are considered Pedelecs which are legally classified as bicycles. This means that there’s no requirement for insurance or number plates in most European countries. For the manufacturers this also means there’s no requirement for type-approval, just a CE mark. If the motor assistance goes above 25 km/h, then the bike is classified as a moped. This requires a number plate and needs to be registered.

6. Can I tune my e-road bike motor?

Yes. As of yet there are no tuning kits for the new motor units featured here, but technically it’s possible. However, if you value your money and your health it’s probably not worth it. With a tuned e-bike you’re legally not riding a bicycle anymore, but are driving an unregistered moped. There’s a hefty fine for this, but that won’t be the least of your worries. Crucially, you won’t have any insurance in case something does happen. Driving without insurance is a criminal offence as you are putting other road users in danger. Knowingly riding a tuned e-Bike is punishable with up to a year’s imprisonment in some European countries.

Furthermore, most motor manufacturers can tell during guarantee claims or servicing if a tuning kit has been, or was, installed. Tuning invalidates your guarantee – meaning things may get expensive even without any legal consequences.

In any case, considering the limited capacity of the 250 Wh batteries, a tuned electric road bike makes little sense anyway. That battery isn’t going to last long.

7. Who are e-road bikes aimed at?

We’ll have to wait until 2018 to see – but we’re impressed by our initial tests. Electric road bikes offer riders without the requisite fitness, health or even time chance to rediscover their hobby. Tech-geeks, road riders who hate steep ascents, professionals who prefer to conduct their business in the saddle rather than in a meeting room and want enough energy left to speak, partners with different fitness levels, and commuters – the potential customer base is huge.

For more information about electric road bikes head to our review on the Orbea Gain and to our review on the Focus Project Y. Right here you can find our 5 most important things we’ve learnt about electric road bikes.

We’re looking forward to your feedback. Feel free to give us your opinion at hello@granfondo-cycling.com

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Words & Photos: Robin Schmitt