Cycling is a wonderful way to explore on holiday, with amazing views, plenty of fresh air and the ability to set your own pace. However, when it comes to hills, a bike ride can rapidly become a gruelling endurance test rather than a fun expedition – especially if you’ve got a long drive back to the campsite after your day of adventure.
Why not give yourself a helping hand on your next ride with an electric bike? E-bikes are booming in popularity in the UK, as people discover they can have the joy of being on two wheels without the drudgery.
So, what do you need to know about e-bikes and how can you ensure they are protected through your motorhome insurance?
E-bike sales are booming
The pandemic has sent sales of e-bikes and scooters through the roof, as people seek ways to stay fit and alternatives to public transport. Halfords report that one in three of their electric bikes sold in 2020 were electric compared to just 14% the year before.
This is a great time to take to two wheels. Although only one in 10 UK adults cycle regularly, the government is determined to increase this figure in order to help address carbon emissions and tackle public health issues such as the obesity crisis. A £250 million emergency active travel fund unveiled in the COVID-19 pandemic has seen new bike lanes spring up all around the country.
E-bikes are not quite as popular in the UK as they are in other European nations, but the market is set to continue its growth. E-bike sales are set to triple as a proportion of total bike sales by 2023, and the market is predicted to grow 45% by the end of 2019, compared to 2019.
How are electric bikes different from traditional bikes?
A traditional bike relies on your feet pushing pedals around, which drives the chain that turns the wheels. It’s a simple but effective machine which has been in use for generations. An electric bike is essentially the same as a traditional bike, with additional components to provide an extra source of power.
E-bikes have two key additional components: a motor, and battery. The motor can be mounted at the rear, the front or the mid-section of the bike. It provides torque when you pedal, making the wheels move more. The more powerful the motor, the more power it can provide.
Batteries are there to power the motor. They can be mounted in different places on the bike, most commonly on the crossbar or the rear pannier rack. Batteries need to be charged regularly; depending on the make, model and type you might need to charge for longer or less time; average charging time is five or six hours. Charging is easy, as you simply plug the battery into a normal plug socket.
Just as with other appliances and vehicles, paying more generally means you get better performance; a battery that will take you further or a motor that offers more torque to boost your ride.
The battery and motor are operated using a display panel mounted on the bike handlebars. This lets you choose the level of assistance you require, including the option of riding with no help from the battery.
E-bikes also have sensors that monitor the speed of the wheel and control the assistance that is provided, with a legally required cut-off point of 25km/hr. Sensors can be either pedal force or rotation. A rotation sensor is simpler, picking up that you have started pedalling and adding to your efforts. Once you have set off, you get the support regardless of how hard you pedal, which feels a little strange at first.
Pedal force sensors register the amount of force you exert on pedals, tailoring the added support from the battery. This means that the system only works when you are pedalling, which feels more natural. This type of system costs a little more than a rotation sensor but also drains the battery less. There are pros and cons to both types of sensor, so it’s a good idea to carry out some research or speak to an advisor to make sure you buy a bike that meets your needs.
What are the main advantages and disadvantages of electric bikes?
There is a lot to consider when choosing between electric or traditional bikes. Let’s look at some of the main benefits and drawbacks of the two different bike types.
Pros and cons of traditional bikes
It’s likely you’re familiar with the pros and cons of traditional bikes, but let’s run through them as a refresher. Bikes are good for your health, helping to improve fitness, strength and reduce stress. They are a low-cost, environmentally friendly form of transport that really let you get to know a place, especially if you explore quieter paths and lanes or even do a spot of mountain biking. It’s easy to learn to ride a bike and it can be an enormously fun and rewarding experience.
The downside of traditional bikes? Well, you’re exposed to the elements and might need to battle wind, rain, sun and anything else the British climate throws at you. You might get sweaty riding, which can be tricky if you have limited space or washing facilities in your motorhome. Bikes can be expensive, and they are sometimes targeted by thieves – underlining the importance of good security and a comprehensive motorhome insurance policy.
Depending on the location, biking can be stressful if other road users are inconsiderate, or if you lack confidence as a rider. However, perhaps the main barrier to cycling is fitness and stamina. Cycling can be hard work, and although we might all aspire to be more athletic, a holiday is not always the best time to start a fitness regime.
Pros and cons of electric bikes
There’s no doubt that cycling is good for fitness, a great way to explore an area more closely than you can in a motorhome alone. However, should you go the extra mile and invest in an electric bike? What does an e-bike give you that an old-fashioned push bike does not?
Benefits of electric bikes
The top speed of an electric bike is 25 km/hr or 15.5 miles per hour. This is not exactly going to set world records but it’s a decent speed that means if you choose, you can get somewhere faster than you would on a traditional bike. The average speed of a car in an urban environment is a mere 7mph. There are e-bikes that go over 25 km/hr, but these need to be registered with DVLA.
On a traditional bike, a 20 or 30-mile bike ride is about the extent of how far most people would want to travel. With an electric bike, the battery helps to carry you further, making it possible to travel around 40 to 75 miles in a single day – depending on the terrain and your riding style. Great if you’re short on time on your motorhome trip!
Using an e-bike is a great way to stay fit while actually going places. The battery support makes the bike into a more feasible form of transport, rather than something that you use to explore short distances or go for the odd pleasure ride. When it’s easier to travel, you’re more likely to leave the car at home and get your heart beating on the bike, helping to improve your fitness.
- Keep their value
The market for e-bikes is absolutely booming at the moment, meaning that your purchase is likely to keep its value. If you change your mind about the e-bike a few months or years down the line, you are likely to be able to sell it for not much less than you paid for it.
- Fun factor
Wheeeeeee! It cannot be stressed enough that e-bikes are tons of fun. The slog of working your way up a hill or riding against the wind is removed. You still need to pedal, giving you a cardiac boost and getting your endorphins racing, but you won’t have the kind of teeth-gritting, thigh-punishing experience that puts people off bikes.
- Perfect for older people
Electric bikes have a lot to offer those of us who are a little longer in the tooth. If you have health issues such as joint pain, asthma, heart problems and so on, e-bikes allow you to choose how hard you want to work, meaning you can relieve the strain at any point. Basically, you get to ride as if you were a fit 20-year-old even if your body is not quite at its peak!
If this has convinced you, take a look at some of the best new electric bikes available right now.
Downsides of electric bikes
E-bikes have extra components compared to traditional bikes, so it’s understandable that they tend to come in at a higher price. However, there is a huge range in the price of e-bikes. You probably want to pay at least £600 for a reliable bike, and the quality jumps around the £1,000 mark. Most bikes cost between £1,000 and £2,000, but there are flashier models costing £5,000 or more.
- Running cost
The cost of a single charge of the bike will be no more than a few pence, but every five years or so you are likely to need to replace the battery, which can cost £300 to £500 or more. The batteries will wear out faster the more you use them.
- Weight and size
This is possibly the biggest drawback of electric bikes, especially for people wanting to take them on a motorhome holiday. E-bike batteries are quite heavy, making an e-bike weigh up to 25kg compared to the average of around 10kg for a traditional bike. They are sometimes a little larger than traditional push bikes, too.
- Charging requirement
You need to charge an e-bike battery before a long trip, but this is not particularly onerous. It takes a few hours to charge the battery but this could last you 75 miles. When the battery is out of charge, you can still use the bike but you will have to rely solely on your own pedal power.
For the most part, bike maintenance for e-bikes is the same as for traditional bikes – keep it clean, apply oil in suitable amounts, fix punctures and check your chain and wheels from time to time. However, if your bike develops a fault with the motor or battery, you might need specialist help to sort it out. If you buy a bike from the fancier end of the market, you might need to use a network of qualified dealers to avoid issues with your warranty.
- Attractive to thieves
The thriving market for e-bikes unfortunately means there is also a growing demand for stolen bikes. You should always ensure your bike is covered by insurance, whether individually or as part of your motorhome insurance. Invest in a strong lock and use common sense about where you store and park it.
Top tips for taking an electric bike on your motorhome
If you want to join the e-bike trend, there are a few things you might want to consider that could make it easier to take your bike onboard your motorhome.
- Consider a folding bike
Folding e-bikes are available. They have the extra benefit of being able to be stored inside your motorhome, reducing the risk of theft, plus if you cycle out somewhere and decide to have a few drinks, you can always take your bike home on the bus!
- Plan your charging times
Charging an e-bike is no problem if you stay at a site with electrical hook ups, but if you’re unsure about your electricity supply or plan to do some wild camping, it’s best to charge your bike before you leave home or move site.
- Understand your motorhome insurance terms
If your motorhome insurance covers your e-bikes, are there any additional terms that apply? This might be a limit on the value that is covered, or an exclusion for cover when the bike is locked elsewhere overnight. Check your terms to avoid a nasty surprise if you need to make a claim.
- Get a sturdy bike rack
If you’re investing in a couple of e-bikes, the last thing you want is for them to become damaged or cause damage to your vehicle due to a poor quality bike rack. Weighty e-bikes might exceed the recommended load of your old rack, or you might find it harder to lift the bikes onto particular models.
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Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.