Skip to main content

How to ride an electric bike safely

Electric bike
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

E-bike safety has become a hot topic after TV presenter Simon Cowell was badly injured in a fall from what was widely reported to be an ‘electric bike’. We wish him a swift recovery – but there's no need to panic.

It later emerged that the bike in question was a powerful off-road vehicle with a top speed of 60mph, believed to be Swindon Powertrain's SWIND-EB-01. While that is technically a type of electric bike, the term is more commonly reserved for a pedal-assisted bicycle – also known as a pedelec (short for pedal electric cycle) – with a small motor that cuts out at speeds above 15-20mph, depending on local laws.

Cowell’s vehicle bears little resemblance to any of those in our roundup of the best electric bikes. "We intended it to be an off-highway toy that wealthy people will probably use on their private estates or where they have permission to ride," said Raphaël Caillé, managing director of Swindon Powertrain, in a 2019 interview.

"Please ride carefully and use protective clothing such as helmets and clothing with protectors etc," says a disclaimer on the company's website. "Do not endanger yourself or other persons. Talk to your insurance to make sure all areas of your activities are legally protected."

A pedelec is nowhere near that powerful, and you certainly don't need a motorcycle jacket to ride a Ribble Hybrid AL e or Gocycle GX. However, there are still some steps you can take to make your e-bike even safer, so we asked the experts at Pure Electric for their advice.

“Anyone riding an e-bike can take a few simple steps to maximise their safety,” says Tom McPhail, director of public affairs at Pure. Here are his top tips to protect yourself (and your bike) on the road:

The vehicle

Read the manual! Check it over before you go out. Check the tyre pressure; if you don’t have a pump, get one! Given the extra weight of e-bikes it is even more important than with conventional pedal bikes to make sure you’re running your tires at the right pressure.

Ordinarily you can find the recommended tire pressure written on the side wall of the tire. Keep your bike clean and well lubricated, especially the chain, which should be lightly oiled regularly (at least every few rides). Keep the brake cables well tensioned. If the battery can be lifted out then make sure the contacts are clean and dry. Keep the battery well-charged.

If it is a new bike then start by riding it in its lowest power setting (if there is a choice), until you become familiar with its performance and power delivery. Be especially careful if it is wet or icy as the extra power from a e-bike could cause a skid if you are unfamiliar with how the bike behaves.

The rider

Wear a helmet. Always. Hi-viz clothing is a good idea but not to everyone’s taste. Wear suitable clothing; you don’t want to lose control of your bike because you wore inappropriate shoes or clothes.

Riding

Be mindful of riding conditions. You’ve got extra power at your fingertips, which is great news when riding up a hill but could mean you approach hazards a higher speeds than could be the case on a conventional pedal bike.

If you’re riding an e-bike for the first time, you might want to start on quiet roads and cycle paths until you become familiar with how the bike behaves. Always obey all the rules of the road, it’ll keep you safer and avoids antagonizing other road users.