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How Much Power Does My Electric Bike Need?

Electric bike image and various motor wattages

This is a question you should ask yourself when buying an electric bike. Power is likely to be one of the main considerations, in determining which electric bike you opt for. When talking about the power of an electric bike, you’re referring to the power of its motor, measured in watts.

The amount of power you need for your electric bike, will depend on what you’ll use it for. The more demanding the situations you’ll be riding in, the more power you’ll need. Demanding riding situations can include, carrying heavy cargo, riding up steep hills and being a heavyweight cyclist.

When buying an electric bike, you need one that’s powerful enough for your needs, whilst still within your budget. The power of an electric bike’s motor, will most often be any one of the below wattages.  

250w, 350w, 500w, 750w or 1000w. 

I will talk about each of these above motor power wattages in this article. Covering such aspects as what sort of performance and suitable uses, you can expect from each. This is to help you determine which would be the most appropriate for you. But firstly, some considerations you can make, when deciding on what power motor for your electric bike

Disadvantages with Increased Power

A high-powered motor on your electric bike is not always better. This is because of the 2 below factors.

The Cost

The more powerful the motor, the more it’s going to add to the cost of your electric bike. At least generally speaking. I say generally speaking, because other factors, like build quality and motor type, can also affect the cost.

If a motor is powerful enough for your needs, you may deem it’s not necessary paying extra, for a more powerful one. You may find a 250 or 350 watt motor is powerful enough, for the cycles you intend to make. 

Battery

There’s also the battery efficiency to consider. The more power the motor is utilizing, the more battery you’ll need to go the same distance, as you would with a lower powered motor. This can reduce battery range. So as a general rule of thumb, higher powered motors need bigger batteries. This means extra weight on your bike, as well as the further increased cost. As you may gather, bigger batteries mean bigger price. 

Battery for electric bike

Legal Requirements

You need to consider the legal requirements of the country or state (if you’re in America) that you’re living in.

Different countries and American states, have different legal limits, as to what power motor your electric bike can have. 

Having a legal limit, for motor wattage, allows countries and American states to determine what is an electric bike. Any electric bike that has a motor wattage higher than the legal limit, is considered a motor vehicle. In which case, you would need the applicable license, insurance, taxation etc. 

There’s also the safety aspect as well. You’re not allowed to ride/drive a motor vehicle where it’s going to endanger people, like on a public path.

In America, most states currently have a legal limit of 750 watts, for electric bikes. But this is different in certain other states. In the EU, UK and Japan, it’s 250 watts. The limit is 500 watts in Canada and 400 watts in China.

Ultimately, the power of your electric bike should not be higher than what’s legally required for where you live, or at least currently based. 

250 Watt Motor 

This is the entry level of power you’re going to find for an electric bike. 

For general road use, as well as if you’re anticipating not cycling up many steep hills (if any), or if you’re not a heavy rider, this can be a suitable option. Particularly, if you’re looking for an extra boost, without paying for more power than you need. 

Cyclist riding in the town

Below are scenarios, where you may find the extra boost beneficial, without needing all out power.

  • If you want to keep active whilst commuting to work, but you want to get there quickly, without being in a sweat. 
  • You may enjoy going out on long leisurely cycles, for example on a pleasant ride in the country. The electric boost may be the extra help you need, to go further distances than what you would normally. It may give you the extra confidence to put in a few more miles, knowing that if you get tired, the motor will get you home. 
  • If you’re rehabilitating after an injury or illness, currently lacking fitness, or enduring a condition like arthritis, the extra assistance can be the kick-start to get you out there cycling at all.  
  • You may be often cycling with your friends or partner, or even with a cycle group, but lagging behind. Here, a little extra power can help you keep up. 

If you live in a hilly part of the world, a 250 watt motor may not be your best bet. You’re going to slow down with this level of power, whenever you hit a steep hill, especially if you’re a heavier rider.   

250 watts can be good enough for steep hills, if you’re of average weight and good fitness. This would be more if you’re looking for just a little assistance, to compliment your own pedaling power. But if you want to flatten those hills, then you want to be looking at more power

350 Watt Motor

Here, we have a small bump up in power, compared to the 250 watt motor. A 350 watt motor is a valid option, even if you expect a 250 watt motor to be satisfactory enough for your needs. This is because you can have the assurance of having a bit of extra power available, for if you ever need it. You still won’t be forking out here, for a super powerful electric bike. 

I would say this is the recommended minimum level of power, if you’re opting for an electric bike with a throttle. A 250 watt motor may not cut it well enough, if you’re using a throttle only, on hilly terrain. This is because when you’re using a throttle only, you’re not pedaling to compliment the motor’s power. Here, the motor is doing all the work.

If you’re planning on using an electric bike for carrying cargo, either by attaching a trailer, or by opting for a dedicated cargo electric bike. The extra power you get from this motor, can be most welcome. Opting for a more powerful motor is likely to be better though, if you’re carrying a lot of cargo. 

500 Watt Motor

You will generally find 500 watts is enough power for the average person. Even if you’re a medium weight rider, you should still find this amount of power plenty, when you’re getting up steep hills or carrying heavier cargo. Anything more than this may be a bit excessive. 

Cargo bike graphic

If you’re a heavier rider, you can still find this power competent enough to get you up them tough hills. To give you even further assistance though, if you’re a heavier rider, you can make sure your motor is a mid drive one. The motor, on an electric bike, will either be a mid drive motor, or a hub motor. Mid drive motors are the more efficient of the 2. They will give you more help up steep hills and rugged terrain. This is a further consideration, other than the wattage, with regard to opting for a motor that gives you the assistance you want. 

Mid drive motors are more expensive, but more battery efficient compared to hub motors. So, remembering the more wattage the motor has, the more it can draw from your battery in general. Meaning a bigger and more expensive battery. You may find opting for an electric bike with a 500 watt mid drive motor, to be powerful enough for your needs. Whilst being a more cost effective/battery efficient option, compared to an electric bike with a 750 watt hub motor. 

Ultimately, opting for a mid drive motor instead of a hub drive motor, can reduce the need for more wattage. This is also useful if 500 watts is the legal limit for where you live.

750 Watt Motor 

You may want to cover your bases, if say you’re a heavier rider, anticipating going up a lot of tough hills and terrain and/or you’re carrying heavy cargo. In which case, this amount of power should be plenty enough. 

Again, you can maximize the assistance even more, by making sure the motor is a mid drive. Remember this will add to the cost though. The increased battery efficiency the mid drive motor gives, will help mitigate any extra drain on your battery, caused by the high amount of power you’re getting. As mentioned earlier, 750 watts is the legal limit for an electric bike motor, in many states in the USA. 

Man Riding Electric Bike Uphill

If you’re only riding on flat inclines, whilst being of average weight and not carrying much cargo, then this amount of power will be excessive. In these scenarios, paying the extra premium for this motor and bigger battery (likely to be required), is unnecessary.

Having said this though. Depending on how much money you’re prepared to stretch to, you may like having this amount of power available. It could always come in handy one day, even if you don’t need it most of the time. For example, if you were ever to go away on a cycling holiday, for long rides in the mountains. 

750 watts, is not going to give you a significant difference in performance riding on the flat, compared to the lower powered motors. Apart from the increased acceleration you get from a stationary position. This can get you out of dangerous situations, like busy junctions. 

Do be cautious though, if riding an electric bike with a 750 watt motor. This high amount of power and acceleration, can make you more prone to accidents. Especially if riding in urban areas, where there’s many potential hazards. Increased power, comes with increased responsibility!  

1000 Watt Motor

This is going all out. You’re going to get some very impressive hill climbing ability in deed, with this amount of power.  

In many countries around the world (if not most), electric bikes of this power, are too powerful to be legally classed as an electric bike. This means they would be classed as motor vehicles. Here you would be restricted to where you can ride them, as well as needing the applicable license and taxation etc.

Cyclist Riding an Electric Bike in the Mountains

You would expect electric bikes of this power to be in the higher price bracket. Most people, though, would not need this amount of power anyway. You may appreciate this level of power, if you intend to use your electric bike for carrying heavy cargo and/or if you live in a mountainous part of the world. 

If you opt for a 1000 watt motor electric bike, keep an eye on your battery juice whilst riding. You’re going to need a bigger battery to get a decent range, which will add to your bike’s weight. 

Conclusion

On the whole, there’s no harm buying an electric bike with a motor as powerful as you can afford. That said, as long as it’s within the legal restrictions of where you live and you ride it safely. As mentioned earlier, even if you don’t currently need all the power the motor offers, it’s nice to know it’s always available. You never know when it could come in handy.

Remembering, the more powerful the motor, the more battery charge it’s susceptible to guzzle, for the same distance as a lower power motor. If you’re prepared to pay the extra for a bigger battery to cover this, then this may not be an issue. After all, a bit of careful battery management can help you get the most out of your battery. You don’t always need to utilize all your motor’s power whilst cycling anyway. 

It’s good to know that if you don’t have a big budget and if you don’t need all out power, that you may still find an affordable electric bike that meets your needs. Not needing all out power, can help you narrow down which electric bike you want. This can be helpful, because there’s such a huge range out there to choose from, which can be overwhelming.

When it comes to budget, you may find that compromising on the power of the motor, may allow you to afford to have other features on your electric bike. For example, you may want your electric bike to have full suspension. Opting for a 500 watt motor, instead of a 750 watt motor, may allow you to afford to have this. This would be an ideal solution, if 500 watts is still powerful enough for you.

 

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