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How to Choose and Buy the Best Electric Bike
- What is an Electric Bike?
- What Can I Use an e-Bike For?
- Types of Electric Bikes
- Pedal Assist
- Throttle Only
- E-Bike Classes and Laws
- Further Reading and Useful Links
What is an Electric Bike?
Electric bikes use an electric motor, along with pedals and some of the gearing of a traditional bicycle. This helps riders to travel longer distances and up more hills, than would otherwise be possible with their own energy.
Most bikes use a system known as ‘pedal-assist’. This means that rider input is ‘helped along’ by the motor. Electric bikes are great for anyone looking to travel further than they could on an unpowered bike. This makes ‘e-bikes’ suitable for senior cyclists and riders with compromised ability.
Some e-bikes offer throttle-only power, which means that riders can accelerate without pedaling at all. In most nations, it’s a requirement that electric bikes are partially human-powered.
The uses for an e-bike are as varied as the uses for regular bicycles.
What Can I Use an e-Bike For?
There are probably more electric bikes designed for commuting than for any other purpose. The benefits are multiple.
You can use an e-bike to replace a vehicle commute. By doing so, you can avoid the costs of fuel, car maintenance, registration, tolls and parking. You’ll also reduce your carbon footprint and any emissions you would otherwise contribute by driving.
It can replace your public transport commute. You won’t have to pay for bus or train tickets and you can avoid standing in crowds and queues. By switching to e-biking, you’ll never have to waste time waiting around at bus stops and train stations.
Your electric bike lets you commute much longer distances than you could by pedal-power alone. Not only this, but you can arrive at your destination without being exhausted or drenched in sweat.
Some folk decide to go-the-distance by using an e-bike to replace their car, outright. For this, you’ll need a hefty steed that can haul your groceries and / or up to two children.
For some riders, it’s all about ‘ripping it up’ off-road. There are dedicated, high-powered e-MTBs (electric mountain bikes) made just for this purpose. They’ll help you make those exhausting climbs that precede an awesome descent.
E-Gravel is the most recent off-road e-biking genre. E-Gravel bikes give riders the option to hit higher speeds and longer distances on flatter dirt roads.
Weekend Rides, Family Rides and Jaunts
Many casual cyclists are seeking an extra boost on a weekend ride or family outing.
E-bikes have the potential to even-out the fitness level between energetic youngsters and easy-going grandparents.
They also offer a less exhausting way to run errands or make shop-runs.
Deliveries and Cargo
Professionally, an e-bike can be an important part of a job or small business.
If this is you, you’ll be looking for a bike that’s powerful, durable, and sturdy enough to haul your required cargo.
Large battery capacities feature on delivery and cargo bikes, in order to handle big loads and long days.
Rehab and Limited Ability
For whatever reason, you may have limited ability to cycle. This could be due to age, injury or a physical disability. E-bikes can be a great way to supplement or rebuild strength.
Depending on your intended use, you’ll have different requirements concerning motor wattage, battery capacity, torque, build and configuration.
Consider these factors while reviewing the following information and when choosing a new e-bike.
Types of Electric Bikes
Electric bikes are available in almost every style that regular bikes are available in. Whether you’re looking for something to get you to work, or you want a hardcore full-suspension rig to help you get to the top of that gnarly mountain trail, there’s an e-bike available to meet your needs.
Commuters and Urban / City Bikes
At this time, the most popular types of e-bike are commuter and urban bikes. Many riders are looking for an e-bike that can get them to work over long distances or without working up a sweat.
For an electric commuting bike, you’ll want all the features that you would seek in a pedal-powered commuter, plus a moderately powered motor and battery capacity (unless you are commuting exceptionally long distances).
Tough U-locks and a removable battery are essential if you are locking up your e-bike in a public area.
Folding e-bikes are also popular as commuters. They suit a multi-modal work commute that also involves using a train, bus, car or ferry.
For some riders, they can be used in conjunction with travel, to suit being transported by car or stored in a mobile home or boat. A folder may suit you if you live in an apartment.
A good folding bike is small, light and often used for shorter distances. This means that you can get away with a less powerful motor and a battery of moderate capacity. These factors help to lower the overall weight of an electric folding bike.
Mountain – e-MTB
Electric mountain bikes (e-MTBs) are available in both hardtail (front-suspension) and full-suspension varieties. They are ideal for avoiding exhaustion on all-day rides, by hauling riders to the top of downhill runs.
Hardtail e-MTBs can be quite light
Some mountain bikers just like to ride for longer distances without exhaustion. If you’re a senior rider, less-able or recovering from an injury, these bikes can be ideal for keeping up with friends or family members.
You’ll be looking for a high-torque motor to get you out of difficult situations on less-stable surfaces.
Electric mountain bikes can be thirsty for power.
You may want a high-capacity battery. Alternatively, you can keep a second, fully-charged battery on-hand.
E-MTBs are now permitted in most National Parks. But in certain areas, they are still restricted. Check the relevant laws in your local area.
Fat Tire E-Bikes
Hauling heavy tires through snow, mud or sand can get tiring and limit rides to shorter distances.
The extra boost from a pedal-assist system can allow riders to carry more and ride further. A powerful motor and high capacity battery are important here.
But electric fat bikes are not just a niche choice.
Many first-time e-bike buyers head straight for a bad-ass, do-anything, monster-truck look and floaty ride style.
This can only be provided by a big bike with balloon tires. There are many models to choose from, in all price ranges.
Electric Road Bikes
Electric road bikes allow riders to ride for longer at faster speeds. They assist less-able or older riders to maintain pace with their riding group.
E-Road bikes can be discrete
Most electric road cyclists prefer to pedal actively throughout a ride. Accordingly, electric road bikes are configured to rely on active pedal-assist. Throttles are less common.
Most of these bikes are lightweight and are equipped with streamlined motors and batteries that are smaller than those found on other electric bikes.
Because e-Road bikes are so lightweight, the decrease in motor size and battery capacity does not necessarily translate to less power or battery range.
A recent sector of e-biking has appeared with the emergence of e-Gravel bikes. You’ll be looking for all the usual gravel bike bike features available in your price range, plus a few specific to the electric bike world.
Gravel is more of a performance sector. High-speeds, long distances and efficiency are priorities. As such, you might look to light-weight builds with high-capacity batteries.
For every household, e-Cargo bikes offer an exciting alternative to the family car. Some families have even sold their second or only vehicle, after purchasing a versatile cargo e-bike. High quality specimens can be configured to carry two children, in conjunction with a load of groceries.
For anyone employed in the delivery business, electric bikes provide a cheap means of transporting cargo, especially in urban areas. Running costs are low. Also, an electric bike can easily wend its way through heavy traffic and won’t need a parking spot when it reaches its destination.
Electric cargo bikes are usually quite heavy. In conjunction with the big loads that they’re expected to lug, the drain on batteries can be considerable. Look for a high capacity battery or a dual-battery system. You’ll also need a reasonably powerful motor and a system that expresses considerable torque.
For some, a retro-styled e-bike is the way to go. If this is the direction you’re heading, then performance and speed probably aren’t your top priorities. As such, you can get away with less torque and a moderately-powered motor.
Even so, some of these frames are large and heavy. So you’ll need at least enough battery and oomph to reach optimum cruising speeds.
Fill In many countries, pedal assist e-bikes are the only e-bikes that can be ridden without a license or registration.
In the United States, these are categorized as ‘Class 1’ and ‘Class 3’ e-bikes. The motor kicks in when you begin pedaling.
On the best electric bikes, this feeling is intuitive. It should allow you to maintain a desired level of input and fitness, according to the level of assistance that you choose.
Most e-bikes have 3 to 5 levels of pedal assist available. They’ll also give you the option of disabling the motor. With no pedal assist, your e-bike acts like a regular (but heavy) push-bike. Here’s a run-down of an average, three-level pedal assist system.
LEVEL 1 – ‘ECO’
This is the lowest mode and is optimized for maximum range. Some manufacturers will claim up to – and in excess of 60 miles. The level of assist offered here is usually 25% to 80% of the maximum available. It suits level terrain and a decent amount of rider input.
LEVEL 2 – ‘NORMAL’
At this level you’re looking at 100% to 150% assist, in addition to the rider’s pedal input. This level provides more torque on take-off, from a standstill.
LEVEL 3 – ‘HIGH’
At this level, you can expect a maximum of 200% assistance from your motor. It’s great for steep climbs and headwinds. Your range is greatly reduced at this level, and is best reserved for short bursts when in need.
This is fairly self-explanatory. Some e-bikes offer a throttle-only option, activated by a grip-shift lever or button. Using this method, you can activate the motor without pedaling. These bikes come under the legal category of a ‘Class 2’ e-bike.
Many of these bikes also feature multi-level pedal assist options. Keep in mind that working the throttle unassisted will drain the battery fairly quickly.
Before you can make sense of the e-bike options available to you, it’s helpful to get a basic understanding of e-bike terminology.
Sometimes, approaching the world of e-bikes can be daunting. Even if you are a clued-up cyclist and bike aficionado, the additional knowledge needed to make a discerning e-bike purchase can be bewildering. But it needn’t be. You don’t have to be an electrical or electronics engineer, but it’s handy to have a few terms under your belt.
Watt Hours (Wh)
On your e-bike, ‘Watt hours’ is a measure of available energy. This is probably the most important measurement to look for in your e-bike specs. It will be abbreviated as ‘Wh’ and is the most reliable measurement of your bike’s battery capacity.
In gas-guzzling terminology, think of it as the size of your fuel tank. In simple terms, the higher the number of Watt hours, the more range that is available to you. The amount of energy that your battery has available is known as its ‘capacity’.
Watt hours can be calculated if you have access to the voltage and amp hour figures for a bike’s battery. It’s a simple calculation.
- 24v x 20ah = 480Wh
- 36v x 10ah = 360Wh
- 36v x 11ah = 396Wh (≈ ‘400wh’)
- 48v x 17.5 ah = 840Wh
So what does it mean, this term ‘Watt hours’ ? A ‘Watt’ is a unit of power. ‘Watt hours’ is a measurement of power used over a period of time and represents a measure of ‘energy’.
In terms of what you need to know, regarding your e-bike purchase:
A 250wh battery can deliver:
- 250 watts for 1 hour
- 500 watts for 30 minutes
- 125 watts for 2 hours
How does this translate to your ride? If you are really working the throttle at its limit, your battery will last half the time that it would if you were running the battery at half of its capacity. Simply put, if you lay off the juice and contribute some pedal power, your battery lasts longer.
A bigger battery will take you further, but can add considerable weight.
“But how far?”, I hear you ask. This varies according to a number of factors, including:
- Bike weight
- Rider weight
- Rider input (pedal power)
- Wind speed (and direction) – this can dramatically affect energy consumption
One expert puts it like this:
“On a lightweight electric bike, on typical fairly flat roads, not much wind or none at all, while barely pedaling… not working up a sweat, on pumped tires, typical 200lb or less rider, expect burn rates of 17 watt hours per mile on average (= 10Wh per km)… It can be much more or much less depending on countless factors but this is a realistic number to start with.”10
Therefore, as this same expert goes on to say, “A 36v 10ah battery pack with 360Wh of capacity would… in theory provide 22 miles (36km) of range, from a full 100% charge.”
These calculations are much more straightforward if you pay attention to the kilometer figures in the calculations (and convert them to miles). From this info, you can easily work out what battery would be suitable for you. Is your commute longer or shorter than 22 miles, return? If so, and you were using the battery mentioned above, you wouldn’t have to charge at your destination.
Amp Hours (Ah)
In reference to an e-bike’s battery and on manufacturer’s specifications, Amp hours should always be listed.
For the buyer of a new bike, Amp hours is useful in calculating Watt hours.
This is done by using the aforementioned formula:
VOLTAGE x AMP HOURS = WATT HOURS.
Amp hours will almost always be within the range of 8Ah to 28Ah.
Voltage relates to the entire system on an e-bike. Voltage pushes the flow of energy and generally relates to speed. The higher the voltage, the faster your e-bike can go. A 36V system won’t necessarily use a battery that’s exactly 36V, but it will be close.
Usually, new e-bike systems sit between 24V and 48V. There are also 52V options.
Now that you get the basics, let’s look at the important components that make up an e-bike.
The battery-pack you see on e-bikes looks like a singular unit. It usually takes the appearance of a long, black box.
Within this ‘battery pack’, a number of smaller battery units are connected together in succession (as a pack).
Individual battery units are clearly visible within this battery-pack
Once you’ve got the basic technical factors sorted, you can understand your battery needs. The experts advise to seek out a battery that offers slightly longer range than what you’ll usually need. This will cover you when you inevitably get lost on a lonely, unlit highway, far from home.
Many first-timers aim for a huge battery, in an effort to cover the longest possible ride. The problem here is that large batteries add considerable weight. This extra weight slows you down and requires more power to overcome, creating a Catch 22 situation. In any event, ‘slightly more than what’s needed’ is a good yardstick.
Some bikes come pre-configured to accept a dual-battery setup. This means that you can keep weight down and use a single battery on less-demanding trips, while having the option to slot in a second battery on epic quests and trips to the lumber yard. A second battery means double the range, but double the weight.
Many bikes come with a lockable battery. You will be provided with a key that allows you to lock your battery pack to your bike’s frame.
Almost all modern battery packs are removable. This allows you to charge the battery wherever a convenient outlet is located.
Just as importantly, it allows you to remove the pack to prevent theft. But if you’re just spending two minutes to dash into the bodega for a loaf of bread, it could be more convenient to lock the pack and leave it where it is.
We’ve discussed how technical factors relate to range, but what should you expect when you’re shopping around? If you are consulting a seller about your needs, they should be able to give you advice based on a few factors. It’s a good idea to either consult an expert who can give you trusted advice or use the information available to assess the specifications listed for new e-bikes.
The reason for this, is that some vendors and manufacturers may overstate range expectations.
Using either of these methods, an expert or yourself should assess your needs based on your genre and style of riding (commuting, mountain bike, gravel, cargo etc), the amount of pedaling you’ll contribute vs. the amount of pedal-assist that you’ll require and your own weight.
The average range of an e-bike, using moderate levels of assist, is around 20 to 35 miles. Do you need more than this in a day? For most riders’ commuting needs, this is ample.
For bigger cargo needs, you may need more power and a bigger battery. Previously, we mentioned how range is affected by a number of factors including; wind, elevation, pedal effort and the combined weight of you and your cargo.
Your range is also influenced by how you use the motor. A lot of stop-starting and throttling will tear through juice in a rapid fashion.
The resistance of muddy, slippery or snowy surfaces will require more effort from your battery to overcome.
One of the factors that is mostly outside of the rider’s control, is the outside temperature. Both extremes of weather can lead to deficits in battery capacity. First in the short-term, then eventually degrading the capacity on a long-term basis.
Most batteries are expected to last for 300 to 1000 charge ‘cycles’ or for around 3 to 5 years. After this period, your battery will not last as long as it did when box-fresh. It’s natural for battery life to reduce over time.
Most major brands give their batteries a 2-year warranty.
Temperature extremes can be detrimental to battery capacity
Experts advise e-bikers to seek a battery that has a two year warranty, at minimum. Other factors that affect battery life include:
- Use with heavy cargo loads
- Exposure to extremes of temperature
- Frequency of charging (a battery should be charged at least every three months)
It’s a good idea to make every effort to prolong your battery’s life, as they can cost from a few hundred to as much as $1500 to replace.
Manufacturers will often state how long it takes to fully charge the battery on an e-bike model. This information can be invaluable. If you’re someone who has a long commute, you might need to charge-up for a few hours at your destination. Or, you might not have this opportunity.
Charging times vary according to the capacity of your battery and the amperage of your charger. 2-amp and 3-amp chargers are common stock options that are often sold with new e-bikes.
If your e-bike comes with a 4-amp charger, you’re in luck. This is considered to be a ‘fast charger’.
It’s possible to charge a battery at either a fast or slow rate, though persistent ultra-fast-charging would lessen the life of your battery.
Here are some rough averages of how long it takes to fully charge an e-bike battery, using the charger provided by the manufacturer.
- Average time to full charge: 3.5 to 6.0 hours
- Average time to half charge: 1.5 to 2.1 hours
- Average time to 80% charge: 2.0 to 2.5 hours
According to recent figures, the average price of electricity in the United States is 13.72 cents per kilowatt hour. There are 1000 watt hours in one kilowatt hour, so a 250Wh battery will cost less than four cents to fully charge.
A fully juiced 500Wh battery would cost you less than seven cents! Removable battery packs are now common. They keep your battery safe, by allowing you to take it with you when you lock up. They also allow you to charge your battery separately from your bike.
This device is the brain of your e-bike. It’s connected to your bike’s battery, motor and (if present), your throttle. It controls the movement of power from the battery to the motor, by pulsing on and off very quickly. This function is known as ‘Pulse Width Modulation’ (PWM).
It prevents excess stress and overheating of your battery, as well as ensuring that your motor doesn’t overheat. What this means, is that you can’t instantly slam the throttle from a dead stop to full bore.
The controller sets a limit of how many Amps are allowed to flow to the motor. This is known as the controller’s maximum amp rating. As we’ll soon see, this radically affects how much power is available to you.
A front hub driven motor
Many sellers will advertise their e-bike models according to the motor’s wattage. Mostly, you’ll see 250, 350, 500 and 750-watt e-bikes. At first, this may come across as a straightforward way to determine the power of your desired e-bike. However, wattage means very little on its own. It’s important to take into account your battery’s voltage and the maximum current (in amps), that your e-bike’s controller can handle.
An e-bike with a 36 volt battery and a 15A controller is capable of putting out 540 watts at peak power. 36 x 15 = 540. This is the case, even if it’s advertised as having a ‘250 watt’ motor. So you might be getting more power than you originally expected.
The intricacies of e-bike power ratings can become very detailed. You can find resources online to satisfy your deepest level of curiosity. For now, let’s go into the other characteristics of e-bike motors.
There are two main types of e-bike motor, each being positioned differently on your new e-bike. They both have benefits and drawbacks.
Hub motors are situated within the hub of an e-bike’s rear or front wheel. On new e-bikes, rear hub-driven motors are common. They are the most affordable option available. Front-driven hub motors are becoming less popular and are usually found on electric conversions of standard bicycles.
A direct-drive rear hub motor
Hub motors can be either Geared or Direct Drive.
Geared hub motors use internal nylon gears to reduce the motor’s output to optimal speed and efficiency. This makes them more complicated but lighter than direct drive systems.
They offer more torque and are a bit noisier than direct drive systems, which are simpler, more reliable and more powerful. But they’re heavier and larger than geared options, resulting in more demand on your battery.
- Hub motors are usually the cheaper option
- As a reliable, self-contained system, it requires minimal maintenance
- If your chain breaks, you can ride home solely on the power of the electric hub
- If your hub motor fails, you can pedal home using your bike’s drivetrain
- Hub motors put less stress on the bike’s other gearing components
Things to Consider
- Hub-driven systems can overheat on long, steep climbs
- They’re heavier than mid-drive options
- Tire changes can be complicated, involving disconnecting motor wires
- Direct-drive motors don’t have any internal gears
- Geared hub motors have a single gear ratio
- Having a heavy hub motor on the rear or front wheel can imbalance an e-bike
- Spokes are more likely to break, due to the weight of the hub in the wheel
- The width of a hub motor may limit cassette gears to seven speeds
- Tire widths are limited by the rim that’s attached to the hub motor
- Hub motor cadence sensors may result in lurchy or awkward motor timing
Internally-geared hub motors can be discrete
Rear wheel hub motors may place too much weight at the rear of your e-bike.
Front hub driven systems have decreased in popularity. With minimal weight on the front-end of most bikes, riders can easily spin-out under torque, on wet and slippery surfaces. This has led to a number of wipe-outs.
Mid-drive motors are situated between the cranks of your e-bike. These motors require a specific kind of frame, that accommodates a motor in place of a regular bike’s bottom bracket. What’s the skinny?
A mid-drive motor on an electric mountain bike
- A central location leads to even weight distribution on your e-bike
- They are typically lighter and smaller than a hub motor of comparable power
- Direct pedaling input leads to more range, especially across climbs
- Tire changes are unaffected by mid-drive motors
- A torque sensor accurately meters out assistance according to pedal power
- Riders generally report a smoother ride quality
- Tackles steeper hills for longer than a hub motor of similar power
- More open to different set-ups that use standardized bike components
Things to Consider
- They are the more expensive option
- These motors depend on more rider input, through pedal-power
- Mid-drives wear harder on chains and cassettes
- They are more complex and require more maintenance than hub motors
- Most brands don’t offer repair options outside of warranties
Choosing a Motor
Hub-Driven Motors offer maximum assistance for less pedal effort. This suits senior riders or those with a disability, as well as anyone seeking physical rehabilitation for an injury.
But they’re also great for anyone who’s a less-experienced or less-frequent cyclist. If you’re a new rider or returning to cycling, a hub-driven e-bike may be for you.
Mid-Drive Motors suit riders who want a boost, but who still want to stay fit. They are the preferred option for experienced cyclists. Riders who know how to change gears will be able to attain an efficient ride and extend the life of a mid-drive e-bike.
To simplify, torque describes the amount of power available to you at lower revolutions (RPMs). In straightforward on-road terms, the benefits are two-fold. A motor with higher torque will give you more power from a dead stop. It will also help you climb hills at a faster speed, for a longer period of time.
This motor claims up to 160Nm of torque
Torque is measured in ‘Newton Meters’ and you’ll see it listed in e-bike specs, using the abbreviation ‘Nm’. Lighter bikes require less torque, so 40 to 50Nm should be plenty, while e-mountain and cargo bikes need more torque to overcome heavier loads and troublesome terrain. Expect figures up to and beyond 75Nm.
Direct-drive hub motors have less torque than geared hub motors.
Geared hub motors are the choice for more torque, from a hub-driven option.
Mid-drive motors in low gear, can climb steeper hills for longer than a similarly powered hub motor.
An hydraulic brake on a rear hub motor e-bike
There’s nothing unique about e-bike brakes. But with consistently high speeds and extra weight (compared to a regular push-bike), you’ll be seeking ample stopping power.
Almost all e-bikes use disc brakes. Mechanical disc brakes are reliable and easily adjusted. Hydraulic brakes are more powerful but may require professional adjustment and repair.
Some cheaper e-bikes come fit with rim brakes, usually as v-brakes. You may also find drum brakes on a rear wheel, sometimes used in combination with a front wheel rim brake. Be wary of the increased stopping distance and foresight that these brakes will require.
Lightweight e-Road bikes sometimes conceal their electric components
Electric bikes are heavier than their pedal-powered counterparts. That’s just a fact. Maybe one day, this won’t be true. But for now, it’s unavoidable. A motor, battery and cabling all add up to decent heft.
Eventually, most e-bikers run into the unexpected situation where they run out of battery. It’s important to consider how heavy an e-bike is to pedal unpowered. Some e-bikes are relatively easy to propel on flat ground, without juice. Others can be a real slog.
e-Cargo bikes are heavy but capable
There is another situation where the weight of your bike can have heavy implications.
If you live in an apartment or walk-up, carrying some e-bikes can be almost impossible. Others aren’t too much of a problem.
Here’s a rough idea of e-bike weight ranges:
Commuter, City and Hybrid Bikes commonly sit somewhere between 33lbs and 55lbs, but can get as heavy as 100lb. ‘Moped-style’ e-bikes can reach 120lb.
e-MTBs are powerful but hefty
Full-Suspension e-Mountain-Bikes: Lighter, more expensive models can be as svelte as 37lbs, which aids maneuverability on technical trails and jumps. Full-suspension fat bikes can weigh up to 100lb. Retro-style e-Bikes may have large, sweeping frames. They suit a casual riding style that isn’t radically affected by extra bulk. They often weigh between 55lbs and 65lbs.
The weight of a long, flowing frame keeps things ‘slow and low’ on a retro e-Bike
E-Road Bikes are the lightest of all, with an overall weight as low as 19lb. Most sit somewhere between 28lbs and 31lbs. These trim figures are reflected in the high prices of these bikes.
E-Cargo Bikes present the heaviest options, weighing in above 70lbs. But these rigs may be capable of carrying as much as 440lbs in extra baggage.
As it is with most other kinds of bicycles, there are options available at all price-points. Here is a rough idea of what to expect for your dollar.
$500 to $700
Hub motor, front v-brake and rear drum brake
At this price, expect e-bikes with a hub-driven motor in a configuration that may be similar to an e-bike conversion. You can source bikes at this price from big-box retailers. Componentry and gearing will be similar to the level of a low-cost big-box bike. Some folding e-bikes come in at this price range.
Most bikes in this range are urban commuters or present as ‘mountain bike-style’. Some will have mechanical disc brakes. Others are set up with rim brakes (v-brakes) or even drum brakes. Heavier aluminum and steel frames can be expected.
On low cost bikes, front suspension is not unheard of. At this price, it can offer limited benefits and durability. It’s possible that cheap suspension will only add complexity and weight, without real benefits. 36V systems are affordable in this price range.
The price savings you receive from online retailers are due to the fact that many of these manufacturers don’t have to pay for a ‘middleman’ or storefront. Your e-bike will be partially assembled for packaging and transport. Keep in mind that any warranty that’s offered may be contingent on having your e-bike professionally assembled by your local bike mechanic.
After-market servicing and parts may or may not be locally available.
$700 to $1400
Motors at this price range are mostly hub-driven. Frames are usually mid-range aluminum.
A rear hub motor and disc brakes
Componentry may be similar to that found on a $250 to $500 pedal-powered bike. Most bikes in this range are commuters and city bikes.
$1400 to $2500
In this arena, quality shoots up a notch. Known brand-name mid-drive systems enter the fray, including Bosch and Shimano. Frames may be of a lighter, higher-quality aluminum construction.
Handy extras include racks, mudguards and lights that are integrated into the bike’s electrical system. Many of these bikes are still urban / city / commuter types but some lower-end and flat-bar road bikes also become available.
A few mid-range, hardtail e-MTBs can also be found. Hydraulic brakes are now common.
$2500 to $3500
A mid-drive motor and hydraulic disc brakes
In this range, your dollar gets you a more powerful mid-drive motor and a higher-capacity battery.
Hydraulic brakes should be standard. Integrated lights and accessories can be expected, while name-brand components are a given.
At the least, frames should be high-quality aluminum.
$3500 to $10000 and Beyond…
A full-carbon, high-powered, top-end beast
In this corner, we have full-suspension electric mountain bikes, high-end commuters, performance e-Gravel, drop-bar e-Road bikes and reliable cargo machines.
Components are lightweight, high quality and durable. Racing rigs are fast and light, with concealed batteries and inconspicuous motors. Many are made from carbon fiber.
Motors will be powerful and batteries are high capacity. Some options come ready-built to incorporate a second battery in a dual setup.
Ready-to-go: fenders, lights and a rear rack
It pays to consider the inclusion of extras and integrated accessories as part of the cost of your new e-bike.
Some e-bikes come fit with front and rear lights. The best systems are connected to your e-bike’s battery and can be operated from a switch on the handlebar.
Other e-bikes are equipped with fenders and racks. A chainguard may be integrated into the design of your e-bike. It’s a sure way to keep your clothes grease-free on commutes.
These accessories can cut costs and make things easier, because your bike is ready-to-go from new.
E-Bike Classes and Laws
In the United States, electric bike laws vary massively from state to state.
It’s best to check your local laws before purchasing an electric bike.
This is especially true when you are ordering a bike online, as it may be tuned to match the laws of another state or country.
E-bikes are not illegal and you needn’t fear that you’re flouting the law by buying and owning one. Local governments and authorities are also users of electric bikes.
In many areas, electric bikes are classed into three categories. This affects where you can ride your chosen e-bike and how fast you can ride it. All classes are limited to a motor size of 750 Watts.
Pedal-assist bikes are also used by the enforcers of road regulations
Class 1 – Pedal Assist Bikes
On these bikes, the electric drive of the bike must be activated through pedaling.
Sensors measure pedal movement, pedal torque and / or bicycle speed.
In most parts of the United States, these bikes are limited to a top speed of 20 mph.
Because of their limited power, they are permitted to be used in the same areas as regular ‘push-bikes’; streets, bike lanes, bike paths and off-road trails.
Class 2 – Throttle Activated
These bikes are able to be activated by a throttle, without any pedal assistance.
Many of these bikes also have a pedal-assist function.
Like class one bikes, they are limited to a top speed of 20mph and are permitted to be ridden in the same areas as regular push-bikes.
Class 2 bikes are less common outside of the U.S. and China, where they are more highly regulated.
Class 3 – Speed Pedelec
These bikes are pedal-assisted, with a top-speed limit of 28mph. This speed must be achieved with pedal assistance.
Class 3 e-bikes are permitted on roads and on-road bike lanes but are not allowed to be used on bike trails and multi-use paths.
Even though the higher speed of a Class 3 bike may seem attractive, keep in mind that this may limit your access options to paths and trails.
Class 3 e-bikes are suitable if you enjoy on-road cycling and use your e-bike purely for commuting.
Feel the Spark!
In the last decade, cyclists have realized that e-bikes are a great way to ride for longer distances and at higher speeds.
Riding at the first UCI e-MTB World Championships in 2019
Electric bikes allow many cyclists to make that long-distance commute to work, while leaving their car in the garage.
In times past, e-bikes were sometimes seen as exclusive to a less-able or less-motivated rider base.
Some competitive cyclists looked down on them. This is no longer the case. They even have their own dedicated professional racing events.
In recent years, e-bikes have revealed themselves as one of the fastest-growing transport solutions in built-up metropolitan areas, worldwide.
Whatever your reason for choosing to go electric; shop around, choose wisely and ride on!
Further Reading and Useful Links
- See our guide to Electric Mountain Bikes in all price ranges.
- See our guide to Class 1 Electric Bikes.
- See our guide to Class 2 Electric Bikes.
- See our guide to Class 3 Electric Bikes.
- See our guide to Electric Bikes Under $3000.
- See our guide to Electric Bikes Under $2000.
- See our guide to Electric Bikes Under $1500.
- See our guide to Electric Bikes Under $1000.
- Have questions about which bike to choose? Ask in our Forum.
- Want to win a bike instead of buying one? See our bike Giveaway.
- Find out more about BikeRide.
- Energuide.be, How Long Does the Battery of My Electric Bike Last?
- Micah Toll, Electric Bicycle Hub Motors vs. Mid-Drive Motors
- Jim Turner, What Is Torque in an Electric Bike?
- U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electricity Monthly Update
- Micah Toll, The Myth of Ebike Wattage
- Electric Bike Review, What Are Electric Bike Classes and Why Do They Matter?
- Transportation Insight for Vibrant Communities, Electric Bicycle Laws by State
- NITC, Regulations of E-Bikes in North America
- People for Bikes, State by State E-Bike Guides
- Gaston Daigle, Electric Bike Batteries Explained
- Reece Stevenson, Electric Bike Batteries & Motors – Everything You Need to Know
- Juiced Bikes, Electric Bike Range Test