With the temperature dropping and the daylight seemingly non-existent, it's easy to feel unmotivated to ride your electric bike through winter. What with the grit and dirt on the roads, sodden trails and cold air, it can feel like the weather is working against you and your riding plans. But before you ditch the bike for your car or hibernate to the sofa or even to the turbo trainer, we have a few tips to keep your bike running smoothly this winter.
A clean bike is a fast bike
Yes, it’s an old and equally annoying adage when the last thing you want to do is cower outside with a bucket of soapy water freezing your fingers off after a wet or cold ride. But even a quick five minute clean now will save you time and money in the long run. If your bike is physically dripping with mud, your best chance of getting rid of it is when it's still wet. If the e-bike has a detachable battery, remove it before cleaning. Same if there's a display unit, and make sure the charge port is sealed from water ingress. Otherwise, just try to be careful around these components.
Rinse it off with water either from a bucket or a hose (not a pressure washer) and for stubborn areas use a bike-specific degreaser. You can buy brush kits and fancy tools but the best thing you can buy is a chain cleaner tool. Of course, the belt drive riders among us are laughing, knowing they can skip this step, but by cleaning your chain properly you will prolong the lifespan of your entire drivetrain.
Once you’ve cleaned everything, apply some lube to the chain – but only once the chain has dried off. If it’s wet, which it usually is in winter, consider a wet lube. Otherwise ceramic or dry will work too. Once it’s had a chance to set in, wipe the excess off with a clean rag. If you get into a routine you can get this quick once over down to a couple of minutes, and it will become second nature.
Finally, make sure the bike is dry before bringing it into the house. Some e-bike battery and motor covers channel water away from the electronics and thus if you tilt the bike you may find some water pouring out at the bottom. From experience, don’t do this on your carpets – do it outside. Of course, this is all assuming you live in a dwelling with access to outdoor space, or a tap. If you’re in a flat, your shower and tub will be your best friend for cleaning your bike properly. Just maybe don’t tell your flatmates.
Looking after the battery
As we all know from laptop and phone batteries, if we don't look after them, we'll effectively end up back in the 1990s with devices that need to be plugged in constantly for them to work. We spoke to the experts at Bosch who shared some hacks to keep your battery and motor working efficiently this winter.
To avoid losing charge on your battery life, try and keep it charged between 30-60%. And if you're not planning on using your bike for over two weeks, either charge it completely or drain it before storing it. If you are storing your bike for a while, it's no good just throwing it under the tarpaulin in the garden. Instead, try and keep it somewhere between 10-20°C. If you've ridden in the depths of winter before, you've probably noticed that batteries do not enjoy being cold. So try to keep it at a reasonably comfortable temperature to maintain its lifespan.
This next point isn't just limited to winter, but a further thing to avoid with e-bikes is continuously exceeding their load capacity. There are weight limits for a reason, and if you go over these regularly, the battery power will be used up drastically by attempting to maintain the required assistance speed. Although we agree e-bikes can be used as alternatives to cars, perhaps leave the Ikea sofa shopping to once in a while rather than a regular occurrence.
How does the weather affect motor operation?
Just like cars, and humans, the cold weather can affect the way e-bikes run. Battery ranges may be lower than expected thanks to depleted performance caused by the low temperatures, so you may find yourself charging it up a little more frequently than before. And you may notice that parts wear out quicker due to the salt on the roads speeding up corrosion on your drivetrain.
But internally, there are a few things you can keep an eye on to help the motor work efficiently over winter. Like many of us focus on fuel economy while driving, the same thing applies to e-bikes. Concentrate on your gear shifting. It may sound obvious, but being in the correct gear for the terrain helps your motor run more efficiently. Try not to make big gear changes while putting the chain under load, i.e. anticipate gradient changes.
If you’re an urban rider, you may encounter a lot of stop-starting on your journey. And again, much like in a car, if you’re frequently doing this it’s less economical for the battery range as your power assistance fluctuates. If possible, try to coast to the lights, and avoid sharp braking or accelerations.
Just like an unassisted bike, cadence is key to a comfortable ride. Cadence is the revolutions per minute (RPM), or how many times you pedal in a minute. Most riders are comfortable between 75-90 but it’s down to personal preference and the type of terrain you ride. If you spend a lot of time riding at a low cadence, it’s not just your knees that will be begging you to stop – but your motor too.
And finally, tyre pressure. Everyone has an opinion on which tyre pressure is best for which application, but if you’re not sure, check the sidewall of the tyre for some guidance. They usually have recommended ranges for you to work with. Keeping your tyres inflated will help with battery range and mean you have the right amount of grip on the road or trail.