Imagine: it’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining and you’re cruising down a wide open path on your electric bicycle. You and your ebike crest a hill and begin the descent as the whoosh of a gentle breeze rustles the leaves around you. The weather is fantastic and so you decided to take a longer scenic route on your joy ride today. The birds are singing in the trees, admiring your ebike as you cruise off towards the horizon.
Then disaster strikes! Your battery gauge flickers and then the lights abruptly go out. The battery is empty and there’s not an outlet in sight!
You gasp and awake abruptly in a cold sweat. It was a nightmare, just a dream. But a scary dream nonetheless. That fear of running out of battery before you’ve reached your destination is known as “range anxiety” and it affects thousands electric vehicle owners.
Range anxiety and electric bicycles
Electric bicycles have one big advantage over other electric vehicles when it comes to range anxiety: pedals. If your battery ever dies in the middle of a ride, you can always pedal to your destination. However, depending on where you are this can be easier said than done.
For many people, pedaling either isn’t an option. For others, pedaling still isn’t a very convenient option.
A lot of ebikes are heavy and use direct drive motors which can make them extra hard to pedal without any motor assistance. When I pedal my ebike with a large Nine Continent motor, I have to keep it in low gear and go slowly if I’m not using any motor assist. It’s great exercise, but if I’m on my way to work or running errands then I’m usually not in the mood for some strenuous aerobic fitness.
Electric bicycles also allow people to travel to places they normally wouldn’t think of visiting on a regular bicycle. With increased range, speed and power, ebikes open up a whole new world of possibilities. I love climbing big hills on my ebike and then flying down the other side. This often takes me to new places that I never would have seen on a regular bicycle. The problem is that running out of battery here would mean I’m far away from home and in terrain that is very unfriendly to pedaling a heavy bike.
A lot of people use their electric bicycles for errands around town. Running out of battery can be a huge inconvenience when you’re trying to get somewhere on time or have a full load of groceries.
There’s no two ways about it, range anxiety can have a big effect on people who use their ebikes regularly. But don’t worry, there are things you can do to calm yourself and better prepare both yourself and your ebike.
Beat range anxiety, know your limits
One of the most important ways to remove the worry of running out of battery is to know exactly how much battery you have left. There are many different types of battery gauges for ebikes, but the two most common ones are LED based voltage indicators and LCD screen watt meters such as the Cycle Analyst.
The LED voltage indicators are usually found integrated into throttles and they work by measuring the voltage of the battery, not the actual capacity of the battery. Voltage gives a rough indication of the battery capacity because as the battery capacity diminishes, the voltage reduces.
However, this decrease in voltage with decrease in capacity isn’t a linear relationship, so LED battery indicators that measure pack voltage are notoriously inaccurate. At best, they give you an approximation of whether your pack is full, partially depleted or fully depleted. What they can not do is tell you exactly how much battery capacity you have left.
Wattmeters and Cycle Analysts, on the other hand, measure the exact amount of power being used at every instant and can thus tell you exactly how much energy you’ve consume from your battery, even down to two or three decimal places. These gauges are highly accurate and over time can give you a really good idea of exactly how much energy your battery can provide.
Ebike batteries often don’t live up to their rated capacities because ebikes usually draw higher amounts of power than the batteries are rated for. So a battery that is rated at 10AH may only put out 9AH when used on an ebike. But with a watt meter or Cycle Analyst, you can see exactly how much of that usable 9AH has already been consumed.
If you’re riding along and see that the wattmeter tells you that 4.5 AH has been used already, you know your pack is half empty. Even better, Cycle Analysts can tell you exactly how many watt-hours you use per mile or per kilometer, which tells you roughly how many miles or kilometers you have remaining if you continue with the same style of riding.
Increase range, decrease range anxiety
Another way to reduce your range anxiety is to do everything you can to maximize your range. Check out the article I wrote about small changes that can help you eek out every last mile or kilometer from your battery here.
You can also increase your effective range by keeping a charger on your bike. I recommend that ebike owners buy a second charger so they can take one with them if they know they will be on a long ride. Chargers aren’t very big and can easily be thrown in a backpack or stashed in a bike basket with little notice. You’ll be happy to have it though if you end up needing it.
If you commute daily to the same location, such as to work, you can also leave a second charger there. Consider a smaller, low powered charger without a fan so you can charge your battery silently under your desk.
Stay strong and defeat range anxiety
Getting rid of range anxiety is all about learning to be comfortable on your ebike. Keep the following important tips in mind:
- Know your battery and how far it can take you
- Use a battery indicator, preferably a Cycle Analyst
- Use some sort of bicycle computer or watt meter to keep track of your distance
- Charge your battery every day to make sure it’s always full when you need it
Any vehicle powered by any kind of onboard energy source will always have a range limit. As batteries grow smaller and cheaper, ebike ranges will continue to increase. In the meantime, learn to be comfortable with your ebike and you’ll enjoy many hours and miles of pleasant riding. And if the worst ever happens and you run out of battery, remember that those pedals aren’t just for keeping your feet off the ground.