Where can I test ride an electric bike?
It’s easy to order an electric bike online for home delivery. But if it isn’t right, it’s a pain packing it up and sending it back. A good way to avoid this is to test ride an electric bike first. It’s a lot of fun, usually free and you can confirm the bike is the right size and feels good to ride.
Most electric bike shops (and pedal cycle shops with a sideline in e-bikes) will allow you to call in for a test ride. Some places don’t mind if you walk in off the street while others prefer you to book ahead – call or check online to see how it works. A few places are appointment only. Worth checking before you go out of your way to visit!
My electric bike shop was flexible – most test rides were booked via our website or over the phone but we were happy to offer test rides to anybody who called into our stores.
Visiting an electric bike showroom that offers test rides is a good way to find the right ebike for you without spending hours researching on the web. Go in with an open mind, try several models and you may find you really like an ebike that might otherwise have slipped through the net.
Some online retailers offer remote test rides on a trial basis. You purchase the bike, unpack and assemble, ride it and then decide whether or not you want to keep it. If return it within a specified number of days, you’ll receive a refund. But in that case, we’re getting back to the pain of packing and returning. It is possible, but not ideal.
Don’t forget Cycle Shows and Demo DaysBicycle exhibitions are a great and often overlooked opportunity to test ride many different electric bikes brought to the show by brands and their dealers. Most of them have test tracks in the show. It’s a little different to riding out in the real world but an unrivalled opportunity to test a wide variety of the very latest machines.
Interbike in the USA, Eurobike in Germany and The Cycle Show in the UK each have dedicated electric bike test tracks and the latest models.
Before you arrive
So you’ve found a good electric bike shop, they offer free test rides and you’ve booked a time and date. What should you do before you arrive?
Remember to take ID
Electric bikes are expensive items and some shops are very cautious when it comes to test rides. They’ll ask for photo ID, proof of address and a signed disclaimer against injury for their insurance. They may also insist you wear a helmet.
If they’re really cautious, they may also ask to take a swipe of your credit card before you ride, but that’s unusual. But, if that’s what they require, make sure you have everything you need.
You can expect the bike shop to keep a selection of cycle helmets and possibly more cycle wear to use. If it’s cold, it’ll feel even colder once the wind is rushing past you on your ride. If it’s hot, it’ll feel hotter once you work up a sweat on a longer ride, so a bottle of water will be a good idea.
Get your bearings
It’s easy to cover a lot of ground on an electric bike. If you’re cycling in unfamiliar territory, check out the area on a map (Google Maps on your smartphone is great for this and easier to carry than a paper map) first and drop a marker the shop. That way it’ll make it easier to find your way back if you lose your way.
Give fair warning of any special requirements
If the bike you want to ride needs some modification or special feature, please let the shop know in good time. For example, if your height or weight means you need a very large or small bike, let them know. If you don’t get on with certain types of brake handle or gear shifter, or want to ride a bike with a specific kind of pedal, let them know.
This way you can both avoid disappointment and rule out unhelpful shops
Ask a friend to come along
Test riding an electric bike solo is fun but taking a friend along with you is even more so. It’s also a smart way to test ride two bikes if you and your friend swap midway. You then get two opinions about two bikes from the same ride. So think about who can spare the time and would be interested in test riding with you.
And if your friend is also interested in buying an electric bike you could ask the salesman for a discount if you both buy one. They’ll usually say yes, of throw in some free accessories. Two bikes from one visit is a very welcome boost for any bike shop owner.
How much time should you allow?
We’ve had customers who turn up the shop, ride the bike once around the block and immediately place an order. We’ve had other customers who test ride every bike on the shopfloor, sometimes multiple times each, then leave after a couple of hours, never to return.
But if you have a good idea of what you want and need to a test ride to make sure it’s the right bike and right shop, you should be done in an hour or less. Quite often its parking that is the biggest pressure on your time, so make sure you get a ticket that will cover all the time you need.
That’s another thing, if you do plan to drive there, definitely check the availability and cost of parking before you arrive.
At the shop
Preparing for your ride
Once you have completed the pre-ride formalities, it’s time to check out some bikes. The shop will most likely have several different models to test ride. They may strongly recommend a certain bike or let you choose yourself.
They should also have a range of size and frame styles to choose from and what’s suitable for you may determine what you can try.
Generally speaking, bike shops tend to put smaller models on the shopfloor as a taller person can safely, if not comfortably, ride a small bike, but a small person on a way-too-big bike is a no-no.
Every bike made available for customers to ride will have been checked and serviced recently, but not necessarily immediately before your ride. So it is definitely worth checking for yourself that it is safe to ride on the road. Things to check:
- Are the handlebars firmly in position?
- Do the brakes work properly?
- Are the pedals firmly attached?
- Is the saddle at the right angle? If it’s tilted front or back it can make for a very uncomfortable ride
- Which assistance level and gear is the bike in? An electrically-assisted bike in its most powerful setting and lowest gear could surprise you by shooting away or pulling a wheelie.
- Be on your guard in the first moments of riding the bike – even modest power assistance makes a big difference compared to a regular pedal cycle and electric bikes usually provide maximum power from a standing start
- Are the tyres properly inflated?
- Do the lights work? This won’t be an issue for daytime rides (unless the bike happens to use a brake light), but lighting should be available for evening or winter test rides.
- Is the battery adequately charged? It’s no fun running out of power miles away from the shop.
It’s likely that your bike shop can recommend a local route that’s safe and varied enough to see how the bike performs. If they’re really on top of their game they’ll provide a map for you and tips on hills and dedicated cycle routes in the area.
Some high-end e-bikes come with pretty sophisticated navigation apps – picking up on the earlier point, ask the shop staff if their premises is set up as a destination.
Electric Bike Controls 101
There is a small number of electric bikes where you simply climb on, press a switch and ride away. That’s quite rare though. Most e-bikes have some sort of display and control panel that you will need to operate to test ride the bike properly.
There’ll be an on/off switch, at least one other button that changes the assistance level and another than changes what appears on the bike’s display: speed, distance travelled, remaining range, navigation functions, cadence, calories burned, heart rate… it really depends on the system.
Then there’s the gear shifter. This could be a twistgrip, a couple of levers or something fully automatic. There may even be a throttle that activates the motor without pedalling, though these are now outlawed in many territories. It would be unusual to find one of those fitted to a new bike in any European country, for example.
Whatever the case, the person you’re dealing with in the shop should take a minute or two to show you basic functions on the bike. If they do not, definitely ask before you set off to save frustration out on your ride.
Some electric bike retailers have a policy of accompanying their customers on test rides. If you’re not familiar with the area or terrain, this may be a great opportunity. Your companion may also have advice on how to get the most out of the bike and where to ride it. If you’re offered an accompanied test ride, don’t be shy, take them up on it.
Unless they’re short-staffed and it would mean closing the shop, your request for them to join you on the ride should be no problem. They might even welcome the opportunity to get out into the fresh air for a time!
Out on your ride
For most people, electric bikes are all about taking the strain out of cycling and there’s nowhere you feel that more than climbing hills. So it’s vital that you find somewhere to test the bike’s climbing ability.
This need not be a fully-grown hill or mountain. A short but steep ramp from a standstill is usually enough to check that the bike has enough power to make a difference.
Riding down a hill is almost as important as riding up one. Why? Because some electric bike motors slow you down when coasting downhill or cycling above the maximum assisted speed.
You should also try cycling without any power assistance at all. This is a good test of the bike’s quality. The motor should not slow you down or resist your pedalling. The bike should still be rideable, even if a little heavier than a pedal cycle. There may be times when you decide to ride without power (just because you can) and even times when the battery runs out and you still need to get home without exhausting yourself. How an e-bike rides without power could be the deciding factor when it comes to choosing between two similar models.
Take your time on your test ride. I’ve ridden bikes where the first impression was ” this is amazing, I never want to stop”, only to be followed a few miles later by a sudden desire to get off the thing and never ride it again.
Similarly, a bike that seems disappointing at first may only reveal its winning qualities after a longer time. How comfortable a bike is (or isn’t) may only become clear after half an hour of riding. Its power assistance might need a long hill to prove its stamina.
There’s no rush, a test ride isn’t a race (unless the friend you’ve invited along is really competitive).
Hearing is believing
Finally, one sense it’s easy to negect on a test ride is hearing. A bike can ride like a dream but be intolerably noisy, with a motor that turns heads for all the wrong reasons. A bike that seems quiet in traffic could have an annoying whine, squeak, click or hum that only becomes apparent in quieter back streets.
That might not be a big problem for you, but remember that you’ll be taking that irritating sound everywhere you go. The bike could be in need of a simple adjustment or it may be a sign that something is about to go badly wrong – it’s certainly something to ask about on your return.
When you return from your test ride
You’re at your most vulnerable in the moment after you return, especially if you enjoyed your ride so much you’re grinning. This is when the salesman senses the best opportunity to take an order. So compose yourself and remember any questions that came up during the ride, such as
- How far can I expect to ride on a single battery charge?
- How long does it take to charge the battery
- What is the warranty on this bike?
- Are there any must-have accessories I should consider?
- Is there any model that you think is better for me than this one?
- Which bike would you choose? Would you choose this one? If not, why?
This will help put your test ride into a wider context and gives you time to come down from your post-ride high. Electric bikes are unusually good fun, so it’s important to do this to avoid making too hasty a decision.
It also makes the sales guy work for the next bit…
Cutting a deal
What if your test ride goes better than planned and you’ve already decided to order the bike, there and then?
I’ve seen this a lot and sold hundreds of e-bikes fresh off the back of a good test ride. But you hold all the cards here. They’ll be just as pleased that you enjoyed your ride and will be receptive to cutting you a good deal.
So why not ask what their best price is? Or if there are any free accessories they can throw in? There may be a active discount that the shop has shared with its mailing list, see if you can smoke it out. Or you may have come pre-armed with information about a sales promotion offered by a competitor.
It may be that they honestly cannot do anything with the price – either because they need to make a profit or don’t have the authority to discount further. That’s fine. So ask for a free service in six weeks’ time.
But on the other hand, if your test ride has convinced you that this is the bike for you, don’t hesitate to commit there and then.
If you walk away and keep researching and weighing up the pros and cons of this bike or another, or even waiting it out until next season… think of all the thrills, enjoyment and rewards you’ll miss by not owning an e-bike. Sometimes it’s just best to go for it, especially if you’ve gone out of your way to test ride an electric bike and had a taste of how much fun they can be.