Radtouren 06/2022
Reading time: 3:50 minutes

When does “cheap” become dangerous?

E-bikes are offered every now and then at rock-bottom prices in DIY stores, online or at discounters, but by no means every bargain turns out to be a lucky find afterwards. There are some points that you should definitely check before buying. We asked the bicycle experts of GDFS, a company of Zedler-Group, which has been providing experts’ reports on bicycle accidents and product failures for courts, insurers, bicycle manufacturers and private individuals since 1993.

Sebastian Martin – Head of bicycle experts, GDFS
RADtouren: What should you keep in mind when buying “particularly cheap” e-bikes so that the bargain does not turn into a safety risk?
Sebastian Martin: For us, a price as new of less than 1,000 Euros means “particularly cheap” for e-bikes. Even for a non-professional, there are several things they can check first of all.
Is the manufacturer and type specified on the electronic drive components and especially on the battery? If this is not the case, it is not advisable to buy. The same applies to loose elements inside the battery. If there are rattling noises when you shake the battery or if something slides back and forth inside, there is an incalculable risk. Unfortunately, we see in practice again and again that there is reason for complaint in this point.
Out of ignorance or simply due to the fact that sales staff do not have the time, e-bikes are often not charged at all or at least not regularly at discounters and DIY stores. With today's battery technology, deep discharge is a critical condition that can result in permanent damage to the battery. If the e-bike is handed over with an empty battery, do refuse acceptance.
The wiring of cheap e-bikes often causes trouble or even more. Cheap plug connections that are not designed unmistakably can under certain circumstances lead to irreparable damage or, in the worst case, to the explosion of the battery.
Plug contacts that are poorly protected against moisture can lead to complete system failure. In addition, displays of cheap e-bikes are often not sufficiently sealed against water ingress.
In addition, one should refrain from buying supposed bargains with a front wheel hub motor. The enormous additional load caused by the front motor leads to damage to the rather simple suspension fork and the headset after only a short time and often results in an economic total loss of the e-bike. It is not advisable to buy from discounters, DIY stores, on the internet or the like. If only because experience has shown that neither expert advice, nor individual adjustment to the rider, nor after-sales service is provided there.
 
RADtouren: Are there any seals or certificates you should watch out for?
Sebastian Martin: One point you can check in the case of cheap e-bikes is the CE mark, which must be clearly visible on the e-bike ex works. Together with the declaration of conformity, which is typically found in the operating instructions, the CE mark is the manufacturer's or distributor's confirmation that all requirements imposed on the product have been met. However, the conformity procedure can also be carried out on one's own, so there is no final certainty. The CE mark is usually found on the frame and must indicate the year of construction or model year, the weight of the e-bike, the permissible overall weight, the rated continuous power, the maximum assistance speed and the address of the manufacturer. If the CE mark or the declaration of conformity is missing, it is strongly advised not to buy.
 
RADtouren: What are the experiences you make with cheap e-bikes at Zedler? What are typical weak points?
Sebastian Martin: Experience shows that after a short time already, e-bikes under 1,000 Euros can often no longer be used to their full extent. We know from our practice that this can sometimes be the case after only a few days to a few months. The reasons for this are of mechanical and electronical type. Electronic system failures are mostly caused by the points already mentioned, wiring and tightness. On the mechanical side we often see broken spokes and worn out bearings. The function of a worn out suspension fork quickly reduces, a breaking seat post or a breaking frame due to a design that is not sufficiently fatigue resistant can actually turn out to be dangerous.
Battery technology in particular is still a significant cost driver for e-bikes. The batteries from renowned manufacturers cost at least several hundred Euros. Reasons for this are the complex electronic system, the safety functions included and the tests completed in advance. All this cannot be existing on a cheap e-bike, which in some cases does not even have the sales value of a high-quality battery. This is also confirmed by our practice. We can only advise against buying such e-bikes. In the long term, you will neither have fun with it nor remain mobile to the full extent. Therefore our tip: Check the availability of second-hand branded e-bikes in the specialist trade.
 
The questions were asked by Ingo Effing
Photo: Zedler-Group