I started commuting via e-bike several years ago, and there are some non-obvious things I wish I knew first. here are a list of tips and tricks from a ‘veteran’ e-bike commuter, to help you find your feet and avoid wasting time and money on things that are not important!
1. Choose your Route with Care
Test out the route when not under time pressure. Use Google Maps or OsmAnd to discover the route initially.
Take the time to figure out your best route to work when you’re not under time pressure. This way, you can discover how long it will take in the morning, at a relaxed pace and you avoid the risk of trying to figure out a new route while rushing to make it to the office by 9am. Then, take the expected time your journey will take, and give yourself an extra 10 minutes or so. This way with a time buffer you an ride at a relaxed pace and clear your mind.
Don’t be hesitant to test out difference routes too. It took me a few weeks to discover my optimal route- luckily it’s mostly along a riverside walkway, away from vehicle traffic. It’s very relaxed for the most part!
2. Consider your Storage Needs
Everyone will have different e-bike storage needs for commuting. You can choose from a wide array of baskets, bags, racks and other storage options.
When you’re starting to commute with an e-bike, try to keep your cargo to the minimum – for me, it’s my laptop, a notepad in a backpack. I can quickly throw this into the rear basket and away I go. Occasionally, in summer I might take a change of clothes with me in case of sweat, this also fits in the backpack.
After a few weeks you will figure out how much stuff you need to transport, and you can start exploring the various e-bike storage options. But wait until you gain some experience, so that you don’t end up buying stuff you don’t really need.
3. Shower Access at Work
This one is more specific, depending on your personal needs. If you are perspiring a lot – depending on how your body reacts to exercise, the time of year, the local climate and terrain – you may still find yourself sweating more than you’d like to, even with an e-bike.
If you are lucky enough to have a shower at work – take full advantage! However, in my opinion, it’s certainty possible to e-bike to work and not need a shower most of the time. I don’t have shower access in my place of work, so I have some ways to avoid or reduce sweating in the first place.
Some tips to mitigate sweating are:
- Don’t carry a backpack on your back while riding. Doing this causes me to sweat as it acts like an insulating layer on my back. Instead, put the backpack into a rear basket, looping the shoulder strap around the saddle for peace of mind and extra security
- Wear slightly lighter clothes than you are comfortable with when you start your ride. What I mean by this- if you are slightly too cold when you set off, you will be at the perfect temperature in less than 5 minutes!
- When it’s very sunny, avoid wearing dark clothing, especially t-shirts. They will heat your upper body much faster.
- Leave for work in good time! This will avoid the need to rush at a speed that you’re not comfortable with
- Use more pedal-assist on hills, so you don’t have to put much effort into them
- Use a desk fan when sitting down to cool off faster. I have a small USB fan (similar to this one on Amazon). Point it at your face and neck for the maximum effect
- Wear enough deodorant. You’ll be sweating a bit more, don’t be afraid to use a generous amount
- Bring a change of clothes if it’s practical. There is no dedicated changing room in my workplace, so I find an empty side room to quickly change into a fresh shirt when needed! If you have a dedicated changing room, this is the most effective thing to do
By following these tips, you will sweat less and won’t need any unpleasant hints from your work colleagues!
4. Is there Glass on your Route?
If you’re riding in an urban area, especially an area where people are often partying or drinking, glass will definitely be a problem you will face.
On my route, there are often people drinking in the evening in the summer months, then unfortunately smashing glass bottles on the cycle route.
It’s not possible to completely avoid glass, so your options are to take the risk that you might get a puncture, take another route, or to consider puncture resistant tires. Personally, I went with the third option. I had a few punctures on normal tires, which is very expensive due to the high cost of labor where I live. Taking another route would have meant driving next to a busy road, which is very unpleasant and not at all relaxing. So puncture-resistant tires are the option I decide on, and luckily I’ve not had a puncture since buying them.
5. When to Charge your E-Bike Before Setting Off for the Day
You have several options when it comes to deciding on when you charge up your e-bikes battery.
If you have a short commute and your batteries range can easily handle the distance there and back, both charging at home and charging at work are viable options. If you’re concerned that your battery won’t last the distance, consider getting a second charger for your workplace. The cost of charging the typical e-bike battery is minimal, so it shouldn’t really be a factor, but you will save some small amount of money by charging at work.
There are some good tips you can easily follow on extending your e-bike battery’s usable lifetime, such as keeping the charge between 30-80% or so, or not charging directly after using the e-bike, so check out my battery guide article for more.
6. Parking Options
Parking when at work is a big risk for theft for many e-bike owners. This is especially true if you normally park in a public area, on a street or in a bus or train station. In the ideal scenario, you will be able to park off the street when at work, out of sight of any potential bike thieves.
If that is completely impossible, there are still some other tips that you can take to reduce the risk- locking the e-bike to something ultra secure, like a steel railing, looping the chain though both the frame and the wheels, covering your expensive e-bike in ugly decals to deter casual thieves, removing the battery, and parking up the e-bike where there are many other bikes so your doesn’t stand out. For more useful tips that could save you an unpleasant experience, check out this article on where to park your e-bike.
8. Keeping Dry
You can bike to work in virtually any weather, as long as you have the correct clothing.
With this in mind, make sure that you have a good, breathable rain jacket to keep the rain off you but to avoid sweating too much at the same time. A good rain jacket will last for years and pay itself off quickly, if it keeps you out of the car even in wet weather!
Check out these e-bike clothing recommendations if you’d like some more specific tips.
9. Keeping Warm
Equally, keeping warm with the right clothing is very important to keep you enjoying your e-bike year round.
Two areas that will become quickly obvious to you about keeping warm in colder weather are keeping your hands and neck warm.
You hands are obviously exposed to the cold onrushing wind in front of your e-bike, while at the same time they are not moving and in a gripped position. Having good bike gloves is very important in cold weather to avoid your hands turning into ice blocks, which is not only unpleasant but also impedes the usage of the brakes and gear changes.
Your neck is often exposed in many jackets and coats, and needs to be protected from the cold wind too. Therefore, a good scarf is a must have. I particularly like merino wool Buff scarves (Amazon), which are especially suited to exercising in cold weather. They even double up as a mouth cover in these times of pandemics and lockdowns!
10. Keeping Safe
Wear a helmet. Have front and back lights. Don’t be an idiot with traffic- keep your distance. Stay visible. Keep your bike light well adjusted. These are obvious safety tips that everyone knows- some more include knowing the rules of the road, assume that other car and truck drivers cannot see you, look both ways and so on, but I have discovered some others that are not so obvious.
Pay attention to foot traffic and other bikes on your route- especially since an e-bike is faster than normal bikes! The onus is on you to be the careful, responsible person since you are traveling faster in a heavier-than-normal bicycle.
One thing that always surprises me is how aggressive other cyclists on bike paths can be. At least in my area, they shoot around blind corners while overtake others, go around groups of slower pedestrians at full speed, blind everyone on the path with badly adjusted bike headlamps and generally take unnecessary risks on the road or cycle path. Fortunately, most cyclists are well behaved, but it seems that at least once per week I come across an idiot on a bike (sometimes an e-bike!!) who is doing something dangerous. The advice is similar to what you’d tell a new car driver- practice defensive driving, keep your distance, slow down and give extra attention on blind bends, don’t look directly at the blinding light, and always, always wear your helmet.
Another tip is to make yourself as visible as possible, even more so than a typical pedestrian would. This is important as you’re moving faster than someone on foot, so a car driver, other cyclists or pedestrians may not see you until it’s too late. A headlamp is a great idea (see bike lights recommendations), both to add illumination to your path, and to make yourself more visible to others. A highly visible reflective jacket is always a good idea, or if that’s not possible, a reflective strip over your jacket is a decent alternative. It should go without saying, but you should always have working front and rear headlights on your e-bike!
11. Put Away your Smartphone
Even though there are endless smartphone holder options out there, including some that I recommend, try to put away your phone and use the time to get away from screens and let your thoughts flow. You don’t need a navigation app to bike through a route that you’re already familiar with! It’s also not a good idea to listen to loud music either when cycling- it’s a distraction and not particularly safe!
Instead, try to use the time particularly in the morning to ride at a relaxed pace, and just let your mind wander. As you feel the effects of oxygen pumping through your brain, you’ll feel relaxed and de-stressed on the way to your work and arrive feeling refreshed and focused. In this way, you’ll get the full benefits of a nice bike ride combined with your morning commute, instead of just a means of transportation.
12. Remember, it’s Not a Race!
A commute on your e-bike should generally be relaxing, if not, something is wrong. One of the main benefits of commuting by e-bike is to switch off and unwind somewhat to get in a good headspace for the day. Rushing and racing defeats the purpose. A nice ride on your e-bike can be quite meditative and a great way to be both relaxed and focused on the job.
The night before, charge your e-bike battery if needed, and place it back on the bike’s frame. Place any items you need the following morning, like your work laptop, work phone, bike lock, helmet, pump, or e-bike charger in your backpack, or in your e-bike’s bags or baskets.
In the morning, leave your home in good time. Check your tires and set off on your journey at the right pace for you. If there are some minor delays, it’s not a big issue. Let others fume and work themselves into a frenzy stuck in gridlock while you whiz along in style!
13. Investigate if there are Tax Subsidies for Biking to Work
This is more of a bonus tip, but it’s worth a quick google. In some countries, there are ‘bike to work’ schemes designed to give bike commuters tax breaks for using a bicycle or e-bike. So make sure to check local tax rules- google your country/ region/ municipality +”bike to work scheme” – you never know what might show up!
There are several bike to work schemes active in Europe that support this already, and with more “Green” legislation in many countries becoming more prominent, expect more of these bike to work initiatives in the future.
14. Long Commutes- Is a Partial Commute with Public Transport or Car Possible?
If you live a very long distance from your workplace, you may think that commuting via e-bike is impossible. However, with a bit of imagination, you maybe be able to squeeze an e-bike workout into your commute alongside other forms of transport (known in fancy terms as ‘Multimodal Commuting’) and save the headache of traffic at the same time!
On public transport in my local area, it’s quite common for commuters to combine a short bike ride to the local train station, stow the bike on the train into the city, get off at the station and bike the last mile or two to the office. This saves time, as you no longer need to walk to the train station and obviously you save a lot of time on the train portion of the journey compared to biking all the way. If there is decent public transport in your area, don’t dismiss this option. It also keeps extra cars off the roads and still allows you to squeeze in exercise into your day.
Another possibility is to mount your e-bike on a car bike rack and drive a certain distance to a convenient parking spot, and then cycle the remaining distance on your e-bike- typically the congested city portion of the commute. This saves you the headache of being stuck in gridlock and searching for parking spots.
15. Use Less Pedal-Assist for More Exercise and Longer Range
I use a pedal assist e-bike (aka a ‘Pedelec‘) and I recommend that this is the best type of e-bike to purchase. If you buy a throttle only e-bike, it’s basically an electric moped and you don’t get any exercise.
One of the cool features of a Pedelec is that you can adjust how much boost you need, from a slight boost to a huge kick. Normally, I ride on the second-lowest or middle setting. If you want to get more of a workout, simply reduce the boost, or even switch it off in the flat and downhill sections and get the blood pumping more!
16. Check your Tires Regularly
I have noticed that on my e-bike, my tires lose air pressure much faster than on a regular bike. This has probably got something to do with the heavier load causing the tires to deflate faster. Deflated tires will require more energy from the motor (and from your legs!) to keep the e-bike moving along at a nice pace. Therefore, you should check the tires before and after every ride, and pump them up if needed.
My recommendation is to use a foot pump, I use a model similar to this Topeak Joe Blow Sport III Pump (Amazon). There are numerous advantages to this type of pump– its easier on your knees and back versus a traditional hand pump, it’s much faster as it delivers the air more quickly, and you have a handy gauge that shows the current air pressure, so that you never under- or over- inflate your tires. This will save you time and battery range, and perhaps even a flat tire.
The other thing you should look for is any glass or other sharp objects sticking into the tire. Dislodge them as soon as possible, it may not have worked itself into the tube yet and caused a flat!
17. Don’t Worry about Fancy Biking Gear in the Beginning
It’s easy to get caught up in all the fancy gear, expensive e-bikes, and cool e-bike accessories that you can buy.
However, my advice is to simply start with what bike and gear you already have, and determine after a few weeks what your requirements really are. It’s easy to blow a ton of cash on an overpowered e-bike motor, which means you don’t get much exercise and you are not using the battery capacity to the fullest extent. Even worse, you might find later on stuff you wish you’d had the budget for, but now it’s too late.
So, simply experiment at the start by getting on the bike and traveling to work. Take the minimal gear possible- a helmet, working front and rear lights, the correct jacket, and discover the delights of biking to work. Later you can figure out the optimal gear, but in the beginning, just enjoy the ride!