One of the most frequently asked questions concerning ebikes is their speed. Most people seem to be worried that an electric motor would not be powerful enough to help them reach a decent speed.
The first thing you have to remember is that though ebikes have a motor, we are still talking about bicycles. They are means of transport designed for low speeds, with their thin tyres and their simple brakes. They are not petrol-powered scooters, which as you know have much bulkier tyres and big and heavy brake systems for maximum security.
Ebikes are a great way to move around the city for short trips. The average distance you would ride on an ebike as a commuter is probably 5 to 18 km (3 to 11 miles). For these short distances, speed is not a great problem, and a few miles per hour more or less do not make a great difference. Moreover, many studies have demonstrated that for short trips within town, normal bicycles (without an electric motor) are usually the fastest means of transport (after all, what use is a powerful car when you are stuck in traffic?). If that is true, then the problem of the maximum speed which you can reach on an ebike is put into perspective.
We hope we have shown that for a typical use in town speed should not be an issue. Let us now try to answer more specifically the question with which we have started this article: how fast can you go on an ebike?
Let’s start by taking the example of Europe, which has one of the most stringent regulations in the world, concerning ebikes. In Europe, in order to be classified as a regular bicycle (and not be subjected to taxes and more red tape), an ebike has to have a motor capable of a maximum power of 250W, assisting the ebike to a maximum speed of 25 km/h (15,53 miles per hour); if you try to go faster than that, the motor will turn off. It is very easy for those who have just a little bit of training to reach and maintain the speed of 25 km/h, which is a very decent speed within town when you consider that the average speed of a car in London is 18 km/h (11 miles per hour). When going uphill, it takes a little more effort, but ascents within cities are generally not steep nor long.
And remember, we are still talking about ebikes in Europe, where the regulations are probably more limiting than anywhere else.
In Canada for instance, electric motors for ebikes can have a maximum power of 500W (double what the European limit is), and assist the ebike to reach a maximum speed of 32 km/h (19,8 miles per hour). The US federal laws set the same limit on speed, while the power of the motor can reach 750W. In other countries the limits are similar. Please refer to our page on ebike laws for further reference.
Could ebikes go faster? Yes, sure, in theory ebikes could go much faster. However, there are the problems we have mentioned earlier: a faster ebike would have to have bigger tyres and better brakes.
Moreover, one of the great benefits of ebikes is the fact that they can make use of the same bicycle infrastructure open to normal bicycles. There is a reason why cities build segregated cycle lanes along main roads: to separate them from faster vehicles. Ebikers should coexist with 80-year-olds pedalling with their 8-year-old nephews at 5 miles per hour on a cycle lane; would it be safe if ebikes could overtake them at 30 miles per hour? We don’t think so.
Also, powering a more powerful engine to go faster discharges the battery more quickly, meaning that you would need a bigger and heavier battery. Go a little further down this line of reasoning and you have…an electric motorcycle! These are very interesting and promising vehicles, but they are something different from an ebike. You should think of an ebike as a normal bicycle with something more, rather than a motorbike with a lot less. In this way, it is easy to understand that the question of the speed of an ebike is at the end of the day not that important.
What do you think? Do you find the speed of your ebike satisfying, or would you like to be able to go faster?