Riding in the rain is a common enough occurrence for most cyclists.
Even if things start out sunny and fine, there’s always the chance you can get hit with a freak downpour when you least expect it.
But what if your ride is electric? Can electric bikes get wet?
Does this pose any safety issues? If an electric bike gets wet, will you get zapped?
We’ll sort the myths from the facts, teach you how to check the waterproof status of your electric bicycle and give you a step by step guide to waterproof your eBike if it’s not already.
With this information at hand, the only thing you’ll have to worry about when it rains is how quickly you can get dry again.
As a general rule, it’s best not to leave your bike out in the rain for extended periods, whether it’s electric or a traditional bicycle.
Any scratches you might have can encourage rust or paint bubbles if water is left to seep in, and rain will definitely affect the function and lifespan of your bearings, cranks and chain if they are not allowed to dry out properly after getting wet.
Of course, if you have no protection for your battery or motor, they can create a short in the electrical system and initiate a domino effect of problems from your controller and pedal-assist selector to the torque sensor and automatic motor-cut-off function.
Is My Electric Bike Waterproof? How to Tell
A brand new commercial electric bike should come with information about its water-resistant rating. You should be able to find this in the accompanying paperwork easily.
But what if you don’t have any paperwork, and if you find that different parts have different ratings marked on them? Read on to find out what they mean.
As a rule, you can generally count on water-resistance, but not necessarily waterproofing.
Gratefully, there are waterproofing standards that make it easy to understand just how well your electric bike can withstand the elements.
Called an IP number, IP stands for Ingress Protection. This number gives you an indication of how much liquid or solid can ingress (get into) a component.
Your bike may come with an overall IP number, or each component may have its own rating, so be aware if they are different on your bicycle and take precautions accordingly when you ride.
The Ingress Protection rating is always a two-digit number. The first number relates to its level of protection against foreign bodies (dust and dirt, as well as the encroachment of things like hands, fingers or toes, or tools) and the second is for liquids (such as water).
At this point, 6 is the highest rating for solids and 9 for liquid ingress protection.
Given a bike with an IP66 would be specified as ‘dust tight’ and has been tested to withstand heavy seas or powerful jets of water, you can be quite sure you’re protected against water seeping into the components.
Just for the record, IP67 rated components are ‘dust tight’ and protected against immersion for 30 minutes at depths 150mm – 1000mm.
I think if you’ve encountered water to those depths for that amount of time on your ride, you probably have more things to worry about than the integrity of your bike’s electrical components.
To compare the ratings, an ingress protection from moisture with a second digit of 1, only protects the components from vertically falling droplets of water (such as condensation).
A rating of 2 protects against water droplets that are deflected up to 15° from vertical and a rating of 3 guards against spray that comes from up to 60° from vertical.
Riding an electric bike with a rating of 1, in the rain, probably isn’t going to end well, and I would definitely avoid riding at any speed through puddles on a bike with a second IP digit of 2 or 3.
With a second digit of 4, you have protection from water splashing in all directions, making it a much safer option when riding in or after heavy rains.
A number 5 protects against low-pressure jets (down to 6.3 mm) of directed water that comes at it from any angle, and it is suggested that any ingress noticed will have no harmful effects. This means you can ride in a downpour or wash your bike off with a standard garden hose without any problem.
A moisture protection level of 6 means that direct high-pressure jets will not ingress into the components with any harmful effects.
So, washing the road grime or trail mud off these with a gernie or high-pressure washer is a simple and safe way to keep your ride clean. Just be sure to lubricate your chain again after you’ve done this to keep it rust-free and running smoothly.
Step-By-Step DIY Waterproofing
There are many measures you can take to protect your electric bike from the rain, but keep in mind that if you want true waterproofing, as opposed to water-resisting, you need to purchase parts (or whole bikes) designed and built accordingly.
But, there is definitely a lot you can do safeguard your ride.
If you have installed a DIY electric bike kit or your battery and motor aren’t integrated and/or sealed into the frame, you can start by putting some silicone where the wires enter the motor (on the hub of the wheel or near the cranks if you have a mid-mount motor).
A layer of silicone provides an initial barrier for water to penetrate before it seeps into your electricals.
Also, apply silicone to the seams of the battery or controller components and over all of the screw heads. While most of these pieces have an interior gasket that helps to limit water and dust ingress, the silicone provides some front-line water resistance before it gets that far.
If you have pins or plugs that become exposed when you take your battery off, for instance, applying some good quality dielectric grease is a smart move.
Not only will this protect the connections if water does make its way in, but it also prevents the corrosion that comes from humidity and general exposure to the air. A cheaper ‘cheat’ for this is to use petroleum jelly (Vaseline) if you can’t source the professional option.
The connectors are the next thing to warrant concern.
The build quality of your components certainly determines what steps you might need to take to keep the water out of this critical piece of your bike’s wiring.
High-quality connectors are resin filled. This filling means that when they are jointed, they have an individual built-in seal that keeps dust and water out.
If you have simple, generic connectors, you can use a heat-shrink sleeve over where they join, but be aware that this, on its own, isn’t watertight. Sure, it adds a layer of protection you didn’t already have, but it also has the potential to trap moisture inside.
If you are going to do this, we would suggest using a professional quality electric ‘Liquid Tape’ on the ends to create a more flexible seal over the edges of the heat-shrink as this works better than standard electrical tape.
Alternatively, you could use double-walled heat-shrink. Each of the two layers is made out of a different compound, to create a tighter, more robust and pliable seal than the regular material.
If you really want to protect your connectors though, you may be able to get access to the even higher quality resin-filled heat-shrink sleeves.
Bear in mind, the cost of each of these solutions is relatively proportional to their effectiveness.
An old rubber inner-tube is a quick fix that protects any exposed wiring.
If you cut it across its width, you can secure one end and wrap it around the length of the cables to provide a shield from the weather.
Attaching it to the lowermost location first and winding up the tube means that the overlaps cause the water to run down off the bike, rather than pooling across the joins or seeping into the covering.
If your battery is in a bag, Scotch Guarding it gives it some protection from the rain.
Or if your battery mounts to the frame or on a rear rack, you could source a good quality, sealable box.
Depending on your budget, there are IP rated cases on the market. Just be aware that if you do have to make modifications to these, for wiring access, for example, you’ll need to make sure that it is not in a position that allows water access.
If you’re worried about your controller and/or pedal assist selector and can’t find or can’t afford a waterproof option, keeping a plastic bag and a rubber band or zip-tie in your kit bag is an excellent quick fix.
Ok, so it won’t look very flash, but as long as you get it on quickly and fix it there well, it certainly gets you out of trouble in the rain.
The last thing you want is water getting in around the buttons of your selector. In no time it can run through your wiring and short the motor.
So, although it might be a bit ugly, it will protect the mechanism, and you can still push the buttons through the plastic, so it certainly makes the cut.
Some related questions:
Can I make my own electric bike?
Yes, you can.
You can buy individual components or kits and do the work yourself or employ someone else to do it.
The best protection is always prevention. Look after your bike.
If you can’t store it out of the rain, get yourself a bicycle cover. Bike covers are specifically designed for this exact purpose and do a great job of keeping the rain out. Just be sure to take it off and let the air circulate once the inclement weather has passed to ensure that you’re not inadvertently holding any moisture in there.
As a quick fix, or if you’re looking for a cheaper option, you could use a tarp or plastic sheet to do the same job. Just make sure it is weighted down well, because not being tailored to the shape of your bike, it could easily get blown off or let the water in.
This information should help you understand what level of water resistance your bike has, so you can take appropriate precautions where necessary and ride accordingly. Doing so will ensure you’ll have a fully functioning electric bike to ride come rain or shine.