Cheap Electric Bike Problems

Electric bikes can get expensive fast. But going for a cheap e-bike comes with its own set of problems. Here's a guide on what to watch out for with cheap e-bikes.
robb dorr
Written by Robb Dorr

Electric vehicles are playing an increasingly significant role in addressing critical issues like climate change, carbon emissions, improving people’s health, and transport poverty. And electric bikes are no different, offering an alternative to using cars or motorbikes for daily commutes and enabling people to travel further than they might consider on a regular bicycle.

In 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden set a target for 50% of all vehicles sold in the country to be net-zero greenhouse gas emitters by 2030. Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency has issued a rule to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and California has plans to only sell zero emissions passenger vehicles in the state beyond 2035.

However, a common problem facing many potential e-bike owners is cost, considering an electric bike is typically more expensive than its traditional bicycle alternative. For example, a good quality e-bike starts at around $1,500 to $2,000, while high-end e-bikes will set you back $6,000 or more.

While that upfront price can be off-putting, the benefits of a top-quality e-bike are significant, and the alternative of buying a cheap one isn’t worth it.

Why Are E-Bikes More Expensive?

E-bikes cost more than traditional bicycles because they’re fitted with an electric motor and battery that help riders cover larger distances, ride faster with less effort, and climb hills with greater ease.

Electric bikes cost more because they have a motor fitted. An e-bike motor boosts acceleration and provides extra power to push riders up steeper hills and an extra kick of speed. E-bike motors come in a wide range of sizes and power levels, which dictate the strength of pedal assist. Motors range from 250W to 750W; typically, higher wattage means more effective power.

Greater battery capacity delivers more riding time per charge, enabling you to ride further with battery assistance. Battery capacity is measured in watt-hours (Wh), ranging from 250Wh to 650Wh, which affects the e-bike price.

The build and design quality, power, range, and reliability also dictate the cost of an e-bike. While high-end durable components, including quality brakes and drivetrain to enhance control of a faster, heavier bike, also add to the price.

What’s Wrong With Cheap E-Bikes?

Low-end e-bikes can be picked up for $500 or less, but scrimping on cost will only deliver a poor-quality vehicle and health and safety concerns. A cheaper e-bike is likely to be heavier, have less range and power, and be more unreliable while also having ineffective brakes, gearing systems, and suspension. And let’s be honest, none of the above sounds like an enjoyable ride experience.

Cheap e-bikes are likely more cost-effective because they’re fitted with poor-quality motors or batteries. That’ll significantly impact your ride quality, as the battery won’t deliver the range you need, and the motor won’t provide the level of power you expect. Furthermore, the battery and motor are unlikely to perform for as long as you want.

Inexpensive e-bikes fitted with low-price lithium-ion batteries, in particular, may pose a significant threat to people’s health and well-being. Research by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found 19 people in the U.S. died due to fires or overheating incidents involving batteries in electric bikes, scooters, or hoverboards in 2022. Furthermore, as of March 2023, the New York City Fire Department claims fires caused by lithium-ion batteries have resulted in two deaths and 40 injuries.

But, as a recent New Republic podcast episode discussed, cheap and unregulated batteries are the issue, not e-bikes themselves. The podcast pointed out the poorly designed Samsung devices and a spate of hoverboard fires as examples of the risk of purchasing cheap, untested, and uninspected technology.

As a result, the CPSC has called on manufacturers to ensure electric vehicles comply with UL safety standards. In other words, if you purchase a cheap e-bike, you’re effectively skimping on safety. By putting extra dollars into trusted manufacturers ensures a safe riding experience.

Another consideration is the build quality of an e-bike, including the factory environment the bike was built and the level of quality control the manufacturer provides. Less expensive e-bikes are more likely to have less testing and be more prone to errors, poor levels of manufacturing, and questionable assembly lines.

Why E-Bikes Are Growing In Popularity

E-bikes are rapidly growing in popularity worldwide. More than 130 million e-bikes are expected to be sold worldwide between 2020 and 2023. And this year alone, 40 million e-bikes are estimated to be sold worldwide, which will generate upwards of $19 billion in revenue, according to Deloitte research. That’ll take the total number of e-bikes globally to around 300 million, a 50% increase since 2019.

The U.S. imported over 1.2 million e-bikes in 2020 and 2021, which surpassed the number of electric car imports in the same period. While in Austria, Belgium, and the Netherlands, e-bikes now account for nearly one-third of all bicycles. Across Europe as a whole, e-bikes are outselling all other forms of electric vehicles, according to a Bicycle Association report.

This rise in popularity is primarily due to the aforementioned environmental benefits, such as reducing carbon footprint and pollution. E-bikes are ideal for commuters as they avoid using carbon dioxide-emitting vehicles and help them avoid the ever-increasing traffic jams blighting our roads.

Despite being powered by a motor, e-bikes are great for exercise as they boost riders’ cardiovascular systems and offer a great leg workout. So e-bikes provide environmental benefits while helping you to exercise and stay fit and healthy.

Avoid Cheap Electric Bikes

Now is very much the time to get on board the electric bike revolution. There is a wide range of choice of e-bike designs and models from a vast number of high-quality manufacturers.

However, there’s no point going in on an electric bike only for it to offer low ride quality, poor range and power, and risk your health and safety. Buying a high-quality e-bike will more than make up for the extra investment, offering greater safety and comfort while doing your bit for the environment and avoiding those frustrating traffic jams. A top-quality e-bike will also last longer, meaning you won’t have to shell out for a replacement anytime soon.

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About Our Editorial Team

robb dorr
Written by Robb Dorr
Robb is a massive cycling enthusiast who has more than 20 years of non-motorized cycling experience. He started to lower the barrier of entry to cycling and reduce the intimidation people can experience when getting into the cycling world.

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