What can an ebike owner to do to ensure the long life of their ebike?
Ebikes are still bikes, so keeping them clean, oiling them regularly, checking tyre pressures at least every other week, and just doing general maintenance is important.
With the electrics, the easiest way to keep things in good order is simply to use them — generally speaking, the more you use your ebike, the better. The battery is the main thing to look after. When not in use, that should be kept indoors where temperatures are kept fairly consistent. In terms of battery maintenance, beyond that basic measure, longevity tends to depend on the quality of the battery itself. Batteries from leading manufacturers such as Bosch, Yamaha and Shimano can be pretty much left to look after themselves.
Should ebike owners only charge the battery once it is completely flat or can they charge the battery whenever they wish?
These days, you don’t really want a battery to run completely flat. We say at about 50% you should recharge — that’s a pretty safe bet for almost all batteries. Some batteries need to be charged every three months, so if the bike is being stored during winter, whenever you get a nice day, get the bike out, ride it just to keep everything working and moving, then charge it. Some battery manufacturers specify that if their products are not charged within 90 days that invalidates the warranty. Each brand is slightly different, so if in doubt, get some advice from your local ebike dealer or carefully read the instructions.
Early rechargeable batteries were always said to have a memory and you had to charge them carefully not to corrupt that memory. Is it the same with modern rechargeable batteries?
With modern Lithium Ion batteries there is no memory at all so you can literally charge them whenever you want. I’d say, if you’ve used 20% or more of the battery, feel free to recharge it. You’re not going to do it any harm. With Bosch batteries and other similar products, manufacturers talk about each battery being able to do 500 full cycles of charging before you start to see a significant drop-off of power. But that refers to full cycles, which means you can charge 20% of the battery five times to equate to one single full charging cycle. With the old batteries, whenever you charged it, the battery management system and the charger would count that as being one charging cycle.
That’s one area where battery technology has really improved in recent years. The big 500watt/hour batteries now are capable of anything between 20 and 120 miles on a single charge depending on how you use the system. Multiply that by 500 recharging cycles for the total mileage assistance they provide and you can see, that’s pretty good value.
Once you notice the battery is giving out less power, is there any way to fix the battery?
You could replace cells and do things like that but that process would be tricky and expensive. The OEM (original equipment manufacturer) products are so good now and they have the best cells, so realistically, when the battery is starting to die, it’s time to buy a new one. There are places that refurbish batteries but getting hold of grade ‘a’ cells, which is what you need, is getting more difficult — there are lots and lots of fakes out there. Probably the best and simplest approach, if your battery has come to the end of its life, is to see your approved Gazelle dealer.
Does extreme heat or cold affect the battery?
Batteries don’t like extremes of temperature. If the temperature is well over 40 degrees it will damage the cells to some extent. A battery will accept it every now and then but you wouldn’t want to store a battery in a window where the sun shines in directly. That will regularly put it in temperatures that will degrade the cells.
In terms of cold temperatures, you’d need to be well into minus temperatures for it to really cause an issue. Again, you can use ebikes and their batteries in those conditions every now and then, just make the sure the battery is indoors over night and when not in use so that its core temperature stays good.
How should an ebike owner wash their bike — do they need to be careful with any of the electronics?
As long as you use a bit of common sense and recognise that water and electricity doesn’t mix, it’s not a big issue. Pressure washers are a big no-no, but that’s the same for any bike — a hosepipe is absolutely fine. If you soak the bike during washing, make sure the connections and any components you plug in afterwards, such as the display, are absolutely dry. Use WD40 or an equivalent water displacer and a clean, dry cloth to make sure there is no residual moisture.
I’ve taken ebikes on car racks in the pouring rain, on fast motorways all the way to Scotland, but after giving them a spray of WD40 and a quick clean with a cloth, they’ve worked very happily. So you don’t have to panic too much, especially if you have a really decent quality ebike, such as one of Gazelle’s models. Just keep a couple of cans of WD40 or an equivalent water displacement product and some clean cloths in your maintenance pack.
Should ebike owners look to clean the chain every so often and if so how should they do so?
Clean an ebike chain just as you would clean a normal bike chain. There are endless products on the market but I just spray WD40 or GT85 all over the chain then wipe it down with some old rags. Then I relube it with a good quality oil. Go steady with the oil — people plaster their components in oil but that does as much harm as good because it attracts dirt that then gets in everywhere.
Do ebike chains wear out faster than normal bike chains?
It really depends on how you use the system. I recently had a customer whose chain was slipping after 300 miles. I told her to bear in mind that the ebike motor is capable of 80Nm or torque, which is a lot of torque. I could see by the cassette that she had only used her three bottom gears, so she was going up steep hills putting all the power she could through that bike. That’s effectively the same as setting off in a car in fifth gear.
On an ebike you want to change gears often and use all the bike’s potential. The temptation for a lot of people is to stop using gears because they have this extra power on tap, but that approach will wear everything out much quicker. Cycling at a good cadence will be best for both you and your ebike.
Are there any general maintenance jobs on an ebike that differ greatly from a normal non-powered bike?
Make sure connections are clean. A lot of ebikes have removable control and information consoles and, as with a mobile phone, static can build up on those. At the Electric Transport Shop York we recommend taking those off and using cotton wool buds with electrical cleaner just to give them a wipe over every now and again. Keep battery connections clean and tidy. The same for sensors at the back.
One last thing. As ebikes are becoming more sophisticated, they are becoming a lot more reliant on software, especially ebikes that use systems from high-level manufacturers such as Bosch. Firstly, make sure you buy from a proper dealer because they are the only people who have the real Bosch equipment for servicing. Without that equipment, a technician can’t even plug the bike in and do the initial set-up or check for problems. And secondly, for the Bosch system, we also recommend our customers get a software update every year.
Thanks to John Campbell at the Electric Transport Shop York for his help.