Get the Right Electric Bike for Commuting: Complete Guide


When it comes to choosing the right ebike for cycling to work, there are more factors to consider than you might think. As such, I just want to break down some of the key points for you think about and then give some recommendations to meet your needs and help you to get that right ebike for your commute.

Price

Before you think “yeah, of course!”, I actually mean price in a slightly different way for your ideal ebike to cycle to work on. The main concern for price is more around where you will leave your bike during the working day. I work at my local university and, despite what you might think, it’s well known that bikes often gets stolen from campus. So, before you commit to buying any ebike for cycling to work, make sure you have a very clear idea of where you will lock it up it during the day.

As you probably know, electric bikes are extremely conspicuous given that some have the battery built into the frame and also it’s obvious from the design that they are electric bikes even when the battery is not there.

This means that thieves can identify them easily as more expensive bikes. With that in mind, consider the price of the bike in the sense of how vulnerable it is to thieves. If you can check on it easily most of the day, then that might make you more confident in buying a slightly more expensive bike. If you’re too busy or unable to do this, then you might want to get a slightly less expensive ebike for cycling to work. Likely the safest electric bike for commuters currently on the market is the VanMoof Electrified S2. This is relatively new on the scene but the company has been around for about a decade and they have built what appear to be the most secure bikes on the market.

These VanMoof smart bikes include an alarm (think car alarm + flashing lights) and a lockdown mode if anyone other than the owner tries to move the bike. If you decide to get a VanMoof bike, you can also pay extra for their “peace of mind cover”. Think of this like insurance but the great thing about it is that it actually means a team member from VanMoof will come and Hunt your bike if it gets stolen and bring it back to you. This is because all their bikes have trackers built in and the team can quite easily find them, as they have been doing for several years already.

The added bonus of the VanMoof Ellectrified S2 is that it is not obviously an electric bike, meaning it doesn’t stand out as a target for thieves. It also has inbuilt lights so you will never get caught out by leaving your expensive lights on the bike, only for them to get stolen!

Your Route to Work

Make sure you have a very clear plan of the route and that you have ridden along it several times before committing to an ebike specifically for your commute. The main points to think about here are the battery life on your chosen commuter ebike and how comfortable it will be.

Battery

The battery on an electric bike is a key feature for bike commuters for several key reasons.

Range & Distance

The range of your electric bike battery is an estimate of how far you can ride in miles before the battery will run out. These estimates vary greatly depending on whether you have the pedal assist function on the maximum setting, so the bottom of the range, or on the minimum, meaning you should be able to get to the top end of the mileage range for your battery.

You really only need to esimate your daily commute distance, and any other regular trips you will be doing, along with setting you’re likely to use most often, to have a good idea of how often you will need to charge your battery.

If you take my commute, a nice and short 2.3 miles each way (a distance that I know from Google Maps!), that means 4.6 miles each day (which I’ll round down to 4.5 to keep the math simple :D), 5 days a week. My route does not have any major hills so likely I would use an ebike on a medium power setting (remember that I still don’t have an ebike for my commute so I’m working through it as anyone should!). Let’s say 4.5miles/day x 5 days/week = 22.5 miles for my weekly commute mileage. 

Now, let’s say I am considering something like the Trek Super Commuter 7+ Hybrid electric bike which has a 500watt battery, I would likely get around 45 miles on a single charge on medium usage, meaning approximately two weeks of use without charging.

That sounds fine to me and is definitely something I could live with, but if your commute is double mine, or even quadruple the distance (at a not-so-crazy ~18-mile round trip), then you would be charging pretty often at that distance, making your choice of ebike all the more focused on getting the right battery range for you.

If you have a short commute, then a cheaper ebike with a lower range will be plenty for you. This will have the added advantages of not being such a concern to leave outside your work.

Try to think of it in the following terms: 

What capacity battery do you need so that it gets you to work and that you don’t have to charge after every trip, without being crazy expensive?

Answer this point and you have half the battle won with your commuter ebike selection!

Battery Removal

A good electric commuter bike will have a battery that is easily removable. This is key for two reasons:

  1. Removing a battery that is awkward and cumbersome will get tiring quite quickly and add needless amounts of time to your daily commute
  2. Taking a battery on and off regularly can add to the overall wear of the ports that connect it to the bike, meaning that the battery’s performance may be lessened over time and that you might have to replace it sooner that you’d like.

Again, these points usually come back to price, with cheaper options having more frustrating mechanisms and cheaper parts that will wear out more quickly.

Visibility of Battery

The visibility of a battery on an electric bike for commuting should also be a key point for consideration.

The main thing to ask yourself for a good commuter bike is “does the battery make the bike stand out clearly as an electric bike?”

Don’t laugh just yet – I say this before ebike batteries are incorporated into bikes in a number of different ways, some of which are far more obvious than others.

Frame-mounted Battery

Some ebikes incorporate the battery into the structure of the frame. These are usually mountain bikes but some commuter bikes do this also. These are the worst kinds of ebikes for commuters since they are extremely conspicuous from their design. This makes an appealing target for thieves as they know that they are likely worth about upwards of $1,000 more than the other bikes on display. Added to this is that you will probably be leaving your ebike outdoors for many hours each time you commute, so the fact that your bike will be on display for a long time makes them more likely to attract unwanted attention from thieves.

Rack-mounted Battery

A common place for the battery on an electric bike is as part of the frame of the rear rack, just above the rear wheel.

This is definitely a more discreet option for commuters as it is less obvious than bikes with a frame that is almost twice as thick as anything else around!

I’ve seen many bikes for women and bikes with lower “step-through” frames using this kind of battery, so they’re certainly a common option for commuters.

The crucial differentiator here comes back to how removable the battery is because, as stated elsewhere in this post, if it’s not something you can remove quickly and easily, an electric bike like this is probably going to be less than ideal for daily use as a commuter bike.

On-frame and Removable

As you’ve probably guessed, the sweet spot for the ideal commuter bike battery is one that has the battery on the frame yet is quick and easy to remove and is discreet once the battery has been removed.

To get an idea of this, try to see how the bike looks once the battery has been removed as some will be almost indistinguishable from standard bikes, while others will still stand out like a sore thumb!

In short, the more discreet and inconspicuous the battery is on your commuter ebike, the better!

Charging

The battery on an ebike for commuting also has some key points to consider around charging time and how you will actually charge it.

Time to charge

The time that a commuter bike takes to charge means you can reliably charge it during your day at work without worrying too much about the battery dying on your journey home!

The other thing is that if you need to charge it at work, you’ll want to do it sparingly and not for very long. I know I wouldn’t really like to charge an electric bike battery at work for fear of annoying my boss, but it might be something you have to do one day as a last resort so keep this at least in the back of your mind when looking into a commuter electric bike.

Position/Ease of Charge

Think about where can you charge it, at home or work. Living in a second floor apartment, carrying a heavy bike battery with me every day doesn’t sound appealing, but that wouldn’t be as bad as having to carry the whole bike up and down the stairs (no elevator!) twice a day on work days!

Just to clarify, you might have the following question in your head:

Do all electric bikes come with a removable battery? No, not all electric bikes come with a removable battery. Although most do have this, some electric bike batteries will stay on the bike at all times, meaning that you need to physically place the bike near a charging point to charge it. Definitely something to be aware of!

Terrain

Specifically, when considering terrain for cycling to work, think about hills.

Hopefully you will have a flat route as this makes things that much more appealing in the depths of winter and less sweaty when you get to work! That said, with an ebike, hills should not be too much of a problem, provided that you get an ebike with enough gears. Without gears on a hilly route, you will be struggling if you forget to charge the battery!

For hilly commutes, get an ebike with at least 18 gears So that you don’t have to worry about the bike running out on you and you’ve been left they single-speed bike to get up with! You should also be aware that cheaper electric bikes will struggle with steep hills so you’ll want to avoid the cheapest ones on the market if your commute is hilly.

Weight

To continue on from the point above about terrain, you should also think about the weight of your electric bike for commuting and any other activities.

This is good to think about as the battery on an electric bike adds weight, with batteries differing in how much weight they add.

Of course, the type of bike you opt for and the frame will also be a key point in finding a lighter bike if needed. Although not all manufactures list the weight of their electric bikes on websites, you can expect that bikes built for more heavy duty use like touring or gravel bikes will weigh more, while road bikes and hybrids will be on the lighter end of the spectrum.

Another point is that cheaper electric bikes will likely be heavier as the manufacturers will often try to save costs by using cheaper parts than high end bikes. The real cost of using cheaper parts and components is often felt in the weight of the electric bike, which will weigh more.

There may also be more weight in bikes with a battery that has a greater range as the battery will need to store more energy to go those extra miles.

Storage

Yet another point to consider for your commuter ebike will be storage during the day. The main point here is whether your bike will be protected from the rain as this can have a detrimental effect on the battery over time with lots of exposure. Although most commuter ebikes should have waterproof batteries, the nature of bike commuting means leaving your bike outside for hours on end in a stationary position. This obviously means it will take all the rain (and maybe even for salt air for those on the coast) that comes its way.

If you can find a shelter with a roof, that would be a big help for the longevity of your ebike. You could also look into specific protective covers for ebikes which come in both battery covers and handlebar covers for the computer. If going down this route, make sure to check that it will definitely fit your exact model as many people on Amazon have commented that they were not happy with their purchase for this reason!

As for a whole bike cover, I must say that I cannot recommend them for daily use since all the covers I’ve had/used have been extremely frustrating and hard to put on, making for an annoying start/end to your ride!

Nonetheless, don’t let this put you off entirely – you can likely put a makeshift cover over your battery if the rain and other elements getting to it are a concern.

Frame

The last point to consider is the frame of your ebike for commuting. If you are in very formal work clothes while riding, you might like to get an ebike with a ‘stepthrough’ frame. These frames curve downwards sharply and are quite common in commuter ebikes. They are great for those in formal clothes as it means you won’t have to stretch your leg over your frame to get on or off your ebike and risk either showing the world parts you’d rather them not see or even ripping your pants!

An ebike with a stepthrough frame – great for those of you wearing more formal work clothes

The classic frame with a triangle at the centre is clearly the most common and is suited for those bike commuters who have more relaxed work clothes or are able to change clothes. This is the kind of frame I have and I wear semi-casual work clothes and it suits me just fine.

Whichever frame you get, think about your work clothes and your most suitable option when commuting. Hopefully you can find the ideal bike to suit your needs!

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