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It’s estimated that a million e-bikes were sold in the United States in 2023, and the holidays have no doubt brought an army of excited new riders to the fold. If that’s you, congratulations on your new ride and hobby! But please read this before you ride off into the sunset. E-bikes are faster and heavier than normal bikes, making them more dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. The following tips will lessen your chances of breaking your fool neck on your new ride.
If you didn’t get an e-bike this year for Christmas, show Santa that you can take care of yourself by buying one these awesome e-bikes.
Aventon Pace 500.3 e-bike
Five Ten Freerider DLX Mountain Bike Shoes
CXWXC Road/MTB Bike Pedals
AstroAI Tire Inflator Portable Air Compressor Pump
Before you go on your first ride
Read the manual
Don’t take your first cruise around the neighborhood until you’ve read the manual. Most e-bike controls are easy to understand but some have unusual quirks, and it’s better to learn about them before you’re on the road.
Wear a helmet
The benefit of wearing a helmet in preventing serious head injuries during bike accidents is obvious, but it’s even more important to protect your brain if you’re riding an unfamiliar, motorized vehicle. All helmets are not the same, so make sure yours is solid, comfortable, and properly fitted. While any helmet is better than no helmet, the best solution is a helmet designed for the faster speeds of e-biking.
Wear the right shoes
When it comes to safety, your shoes are not nearly as important as your helmet, but they still matter. You could pick up a pair of stiff-soled shoes specifically made for biking, but for casual riding, you can get away with a pair of tennis shoes, as long as they fit snugly enough to stay on your feet and don’t have anything that winds around the pedals or chain—watch the laces. Never ride barefoot, in flip-flops, or in sandals. If you get more serious, a decent pair of mountain biking shoes and some good pedals will keep your feet in place while you ride.
Wear brightly colored clothing
Wear brightly colored clothing to stay as visible as possible to drivers and other bikers. Make sure nothing you have on can get entangled in the pedals or in the chain. Bike shorts aren’t mandatory, but they do a lot to keep your bum from hurting.
Install a mirror
I confess, I hate bike mirrors, but I recognize the wisdom of not having to take my eyes off the road to glance behind me.
Check your ride
Before you head out, check the following on your bike:
Tire pressure: Read the manual for proper PSI and pump ‘em up. A decent pump with a pressure gauge is mandatory.
Battery stability: Many e-bikes have removable batteries. Make sure they’re seated correctly and snapped into place.
Nuts and bolts: Before you ride a new bike, check that everything is securely affixed together. This is especially important if you bought it at a chain store, where it was likely assembled by someone with no special knowledge about bikes—but check even if your new bike came from a bike shop or arrived pre-built. You never know. Make sure the handlebars are securely in place, the brake rotors are seated correctly, the pedals screwed in all the way, and the saddle secured at the right height.
Check the brakes: Roll your bike forward and squeeze each brake lever to make sure they’re on-point.
Check the front wheel: Most bikes have easily removable front wheels—useful, but they can look OK at a casual glance, even though they’re not seated correctly. So get in there and give it a close inspection, and make sure the release skewer is tight enough while you’re at it.
Drop test: If everything seems good with your new ride, give it one more test: Lift it six inches or so off the ground and drop it. There shouldn’t be any alarming rattles or bangs, and nothing should shake loose.
Visit your local bike shop for an inspection
If you have any doubts about your new bike’s assembly (or your own ability to tell whether your bike is properly assembled) take it to your local bike shop and ask ‘em to take a look.
Find and use the speed limiter
It’s not usually advertised, but most e-bikes allow users to tinker with the top-speed to set their own speed limit. Until you know what you’re doing, it makes sense to dial it down a notch. Changing the speed limit on some e-bikes can be done in 30 seconds using an iPhone app, but for some bikes, it’s a fairly complex operation, so check the manual or the manufacturer’s website for instructions.
Plan your route
Before you head out on your first trip, plan where you’re going. Keep it to bike paths or roads with very few cars until you know what you’re doing. Don’t be like me on my first e-bike ride and end up having to make a left on a busy, five-way LA intersection on a bike I could barely control. Also: Make a longer route than you think you need: Riding an e-bike is stupid fun, and you’ll probably end up going farther than you planned.
Tips for staying safe on your first e-bike ride
Now that you’ve done your pre-ride inspection and planned a route, here are some on-the-road things to keep in mind.
Practice in a parking lot
Before you hit the road or bike path on your first e-bike ride, practice in an empty parking lot or other open, mellow spot. It takes a little time to get used to riding a powered bicycle, so start with no obstacles around, make some turns, test the brakes, and play around until you feel ready to hit a bike path.
Push it without power
Whenever I ride a new bike, I pedal it a little with no assist to get a feel for the weight and handling without the added torque. Then, I gradually go through the assist levels and gears to get an idea of how it will perform on the road.
Respect the throttle
If your new e-bike comes with a throttle, don’t use it until you feel somewhat comfortable with the pedal assist. And when you do, take it gradually. Throttles can deliver a “jolt” of power that can be alarming and result in a crash.
Once you’re headed out on the bike path, start slowly; only increase your speed when you’re confident and comfortable. Part of what makes e-bikes uniquely dangerous is that riders don’t have to “earn” their speed. If you’re moving at 28 mph on a regular bike, It’s because you’ve ridden a ton, and successfully controlled yourself at lower speeds first (or made a bad decision at the top of a hill). E-bikes don’t have that learning curve. A class 3 e-bike can reach 28mph without much effort, and an untrained rider going nearly 30 mph without proper respect for their velocity is a recipe for disaster.
Watch your weight
E-bikes are much heavier than analog bikes. Not only does this make mounting and dismounting them more difficult, it also adds to the momentum and changes the way they handle. Be aware of this and don’t take risks or try to ride your new, heavy bike like an Italian road bike.
Mind the brakes
Because e-bikes are heavier and faster than analog bikes, they almost all require disc brakes. These are far superior to caliper or coaster brakes of older bikes, but they take a little getting used to. Remember to brake earlier than you would on a non-electric bike to account for the longer stopping time.
Stay off the sidewalks
Most new bikers are leery of riding on the street—that’s where the cars are, after all—but riding on the sidewalk is almost always the more dangerous option, even though it can feel safer. Sidewalks are narrow and filled with obstacles. They’re more likely to be uneven, there’s no set traffic pattern, and no one expects you to be there. Streets, on the other hand, have rules. There are cars there, sure, but if bikers and drivers follow the rules, no one needs to get hurt.
Know your local bike laws
If you’re going to ride on streets with traffic, brush up on your local laws and rules regarding biking. In most places, e-bikes follow the same rules as pedal bikes, but not in all places.