Stiftung warentest on electric bikes: cycling with electricity and risk

The demand for electric bicycles in Germany is huge. But more than half of all tested vehicles are defective.

Buyers should inform themselves well in advance. Photo: dpa

The result is catastrophic: 9 out of 16 electric bikes tested, i.e. more than half, failed extensive technical checks by Stiftung Warentest and the ADAC motorists’ club. In some cases, there were even serious safety deficiencies. The test results were presented by both organizations in Berlin on Tuesday.

With an electric bike, the rider is assisted in pedaling by an electric motor up to a speed of 25 kilometers per hour, allowing him to reach and maintain this speed much faster and more easily than without motor assistance – the often-described "built-in tailwind." Without pedaling, however, the user does not make any progress, so that – depending on the driver’s temperament – the sporty aspect is not neglected either. The battery can be recharged at power outlets.

The overall market for electric bicycles is growing rapidly. According to industry figures, a total of 1.3 million e-bikes are now on the road in Germany. Manufacturers sold just under 380,000 bikes last year – 15 percent more than in 2011 and almost twice as many as in 2010. Electric bikes are seen as ecologically beneficial because they can encourage motorists to switch to bicycles even on longer journeys or in mountainous terrain. They also make cycling easier for older or less fit people.

But are these still fairly new products technically mature? To test this, the testers said they did not randomly select bikes from the wide range on offer, but chose a mix that is representative of the largest sub-segment of the overall market. Only so-called comfort bikes – those with a low step-through – were tested. They account for around 80 percent of the total market.

Electric bikes from the manufacturers Leviatec, Kreidler, KTM, Sinus, Flyer, Top Velo, Fischer, Victoria and Raleigh failed the test. In five bikes, the frame, handlebars or the mounts for the rear axle broke in the stress test; three models were devalued because of poor brakes. An electric bike emitted such strong electromagnetic interference waves that the – vital – radio services of the police and fire department could be massively disrupted.

Cheap does not work at all

The models from Pegasus and Kalkhoff also slightly exceeded the electromagnetic limit; nevertheless, they received the test grade "sufficient". Only two models (E-Courier SX from Stevens and Obra RT from Kettler) received the test rating "good".

What was also striking was that all bikes were "good" to "satisfactory" in terms of handling, and in most cases the battery range was 50 kilometers or more. Problematic in some cases was the long recharging time of the bike battery that powers the motor.

Quality also has its price. All models that scored "good," "satisfactory" or "sufficient" cost well over 2,000 euros. In contrast, both expensive and cheap bikes were deficient. In other words, bikes costing less than 1,500 euros failed.

The situation is not easy for interested consumers, said Holger Brackemann from Stiftung Warentest. In the store, you can hardly judge the quality. "In any case, you should keep your hands off cheap products around 1,000 euros and make sure that hydraulic brakes are installed on the bike." In the event of damage within the warranty period of two years, the consumer can demand rectification or repayment of the purchase price. In addition, the manufacturers are liable for damages for ten years if a cyclist is injured due to breakage or insufficient braking effect.

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