• Phone0437 798 896
  • Address106 Grant Street, Port Macquarie
  • Open Hours9 AM - 4 PM Monday - Friday. Saturdays by appointment
  • Phone0437 798 896
  • Address106 Grant Street, Port Macquarie
  • Open Hours9 AM - 4 PM Monday - Friday. Saturdays by appointment

The problem with cheap eBikes

The dark side of ebikes

I think it’s safe to say that ebiking is now mainstream. They are not only accepted in their own right, but a well and truly established form of personal transport. It’s been a boon for the cylcling industry. It’s also been pretty bad for the environment and as you’ll find out, the industry itself to a certain extent.

Firstly, I love ebikes. I own several and they’re an integral part of my working life as a bike mechanic. What I want to discuss in this article are the two biggest challenges that I see from the ebiking world and how we can address them. Remember, this is just the world according to me, but I think it’s a good place to start.

Cheap products, the environmental cost

Firstly, let’s look at why many people are tuning to ebikes now. Many of my customers sight the main reason for choosing an ebike is the ability for them to continue cycling as they age. Our region has a lot of short, but rather steep hills that become more challenging as you age, especially if you are a casual or commuter cyclist. Speaking of commuters, this is another group who choose ebikes as it’s possible to ride to work and still arrive reasonably refreshed and not need a shower. Others just like the idea of owning and using an electric vehicle to get around.

You can buy an ebike these days for under $1000, new, online from places like eBay or AliExpress. On the face of it, these prices put ebiking in range of those people who only have a low budget to work with so you can understand their appeal. Some consumers are wary of spending a lot of money on something when they don’t know if they’ll like it. So the attraction is easily understood. But, why is this not a good thing?

Cheap consumer products are cheap for a reason. They’ve been made cheaply, using cheap components with questionable quality control standards. A $10 toaster from a department store is not likely to last long past its warranty expiry and ebikes are no different. On the outside it can be difficult to see where the corners are cut, but here’s a list of the likely culprits:
1. Electronics – the components of the controller and display are essential for the safe and efficient operation of your bike. However, they can be made cheaply with poor quality and as a result, have a high failure rate. The problem with this is that it’s often more expensive to diagnose and repair the issue than it is to replace a component such as a controller – a common point of failure in cheap ebikes. This also includes batteries which I go into in a bit more detail later on.
2. Motors – these also house electronic components that are susceptible to failure. As with the example above, diagnosing and repair can be costly, often putting people off the repair option.
3. Wiring – poorly protected wiring can lead to the plastic sheath of the wires wearing away which can cause a short. At the very least, a short will damage or destroy a component. At worst it can cause a fire. More on this side of things a bit later.

Less than $500 on AliExpress with free postage. Would you risk it?

On top of this, the remainder of components on the bike are cheap too. The shifters, derailleurs, wheels and tyres etc are, almost without exception, cheap and not built to last. Yes, these are a lot easier to fix or replace than electronics, but the poor quality means they will wear out sooner than expected.

So for many people, repairing their cheap bike is cost prohibitive. The customer becomes jaded to the ebiking experience and the bike ends up in landfill. A loss for the customer and a loss for the environment as the bike is rarely, if ever, dismantled to the point where the components are separated and disposed of in the appropriate manner.

Available on eBay for less than $400, plus $50 postage. It’s almost certainly rubbish.

Safety – the issue of battery fires

Consider this, if all of the rest of the components are cheap and prone to failure. What about the battery? The bad news is, it’s probably crap. The even worse news is, it’s potentially a death trap in a “worse case” scenario. Here in Australia there have been a lot of stories in the media about battery fires leading to structure fires and in a local case, it appears that a recent fire in a garbage truck was caused by a battery that was improperly disposed of. Worse than a fire in a garbage truck, two people died recently in NSW due to a house fire caused by a battery fire.

So what causes a battery to catch fire? I’ll try to explain it without going too much into the science of battery technology. Battery fires are caused by something called thermal runaway. This is when something has caused a short circuit, either externally to the cells that make up the battery, or internally within a cell or cells. Here’s a video that briefly explains what thermal runaway is:

Each battery has a circuit board in it’s case called the BMS – Battery Management System. The role of the BMS is to regulate charging and discharging by balancing the load across the cells, but also to monitor the temperature of the battery and cut off charging if the temperature gets too high. The temperature sensing feature is often left out of cheaper BMS’s. When you pair this with cheap, poor quality cells, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that bad things can easily happen.

The other difference between a cheap battery and an expensive one is the type of cells used. If your battery is made using either, Sanyo, Samsung, LG or Panasonic cells, you’ve got a quality battery. It will also have a BMS that has high temperature cut-off. This is what you are paying for when you compare a $400 dollar battery to an $800 one.

The final point of difference is the inclusion of fuses within the battery. A good quality battery will always contain a fuse in both the input and output circuits. This guards against a short occurring when connecting the battery to the bike or charger.

Cheap eBikes are a lose – lose situation. The consumer loses out in their investment and the reputation of ebikes and the industry is further damaged. You’ve just got to look at some of the hate on social media surrounding battery fires in e-vehicles of all sorts. But what are we to do? Well presently there is no solid legislation surrounding the build quality and safety standards of batteries in ebikes. Many manufacturers have very high standards and probably exceed any legislation that is likely to be enacted. They are not the problem. The manufacturers of cheap ebikes get away with it because they can. So if this issue is important to you, get in touch with your local member and ask them what they are doing about it. Let them know that you think it’s important. It’s their job to listen to you believe it or not!

The ebike conversion kits and components used here at Bikefix are of very high quality and are not prone to any of the issues mentioned above. I source my kits from Rev Bikes in Melbourne who have been in business for 15 years (as at 2024) converting and servicing electric bikes. They are the only supplier in Australia to offer a two year warranty on batteries. Try asking for your money back on a battery from eBay and see how far you get.

So I hope this has given you something to consider before purchasing your first ebike. If in doubt, speak to a reputable retailer (one who has been around from before COVID preferably) and ask questions. It’s your money, you can ask questions if you want. If you’re a Port Macquarie local, give us a call if you’ve got any further questions. Cheers!