Whether you have $1,000 or $5,000 to spend, an electric bike is an investment. And it’s not a one-size-fits-all type of thing. In this electric bike buyer’s guide, we’ll walk you through the things to consider before buying an eBike. By the end, you should know what to look for and have a good understanding of what type of eBike is best for you.
What Is an eBike?
An electric bike is like a traditional bike, except that it has a battery-powered motor to assist you as you ride. Many ebikes are equipped with a digital LCD, mounted on the handlebars, that allow you to track your bike’s battery life, pedal-assist mode, speed, range, and more. Some displays also integrate with your smartphone, offering features such as GPS and remote bike unlock.
The advantages of an Ebike are many:
- It’s an eco-friendly transportation method.
- You can get to work without breaking a sweat.
- It’s much cheaper than a car.
- You can travel further and faster than a traditional bike.
- You can bring home groceries without much effort.
- If you struggle with mobility issues, you can enjoy all the benefits of cycling without pushing yourself too much.
Questions to Ask Before Purchasing
How Heavy is the Bike?
Because of its motor and battery, electric bikes are heavier than traditional bikes, normally weighing between 40 to 85 pounds. It’s essential to keep in mind if, for example, you live in a six-floor walk-up and need to carry your bike up numerous flights of stairs after each ride. Also, in case the bike happens to run out of battery, you’ll need more strength to power up a hill with a heavier bike.
Heavier eBikes might be more of a pain to lug around—but the upside is that they have generally have larger batteries and longer ranges (so each charge will last longer and take you further.)
How Much Does It Cost?
eBikes range in price, from as little as $700 to over $5,000. The cost will depend on several factors, like the battery, the type of bike, the quality of the components and the placement of the motor.
For example, the larger the battery is, the more the bike will cost (and the heavier it will be). Folding eBikes are typically less expensive than other types of eBikes. And electric bikes with the motor in the front or rear (hub motors) are less expensive than those with the engine in the middle (mid-drive).
What Type of Motor Do I Want?
Hub motors are often found on cruiser and commuter bikes. There are two types of hub motors: rear motors and front motors. Rear motors will give you the sensation that you’re being propelled forward as you bike, while a front motor will make you feel like you’re being pulled.
Mid-drive motors are more expensive than hub motors but make for a smoother, more balanced ride with higher torque (force) efficiency to help you get up hills and through rocky terrain. The motor responds more naturally as you pedal.
So which type of motor should you go with? It depends. If you live in a city without hills and are just using the bike to get to work or cruise around, you might be just fine with a hub or front motor. If you want a motor that will help you power up hills and want the most natural-feeling pedaling, then go with a mid-drive motor.
What Class is the eBike?
Class One is pedal-assist only, with no throttle, meaning that the bike’s motor only assists as you’re pedaling and stops assisting once the bike gets up to 20 miles per hour. Due to their moderate speed, these bikes are generally allowed anywhere where bikes are allowed (but check your state’s laws first). These are the most popular class of ebikes.
Best for: those looking for an everyday eBike who don’t mind having to pedal a bit.
Class Two eBikes are similar to Class One, but are throttle-assisted (no pedaling required), with a motor that can be used to propel the bicycle but stops assisting once the bike reaches 20 miles per hour. The downside is that throttle-assist uses much more power than pedal-assist bikes. These bikes are allowed in most places that traditional bikes are permitted.
Best for: Those who want to be able to ride their bike without pedaling.
Class Three eBikes are pedal-assist only with no throttle and stop assisting once the bike reaches 28 miles per hour. These bikes are not allowed on certain bike paths and trails.
Best for: Those who want a bike with more speed and don’t mind obtaining a special license to ride it.
How Long Does the Battery Last?
eBikes come with both a battery (determined by voltage) and a motor. Energy is stored in the battery and sent to the motor to create power.
Expect a full charge to take anywhere from 2.5 to 6 hours. A larger battery will last longer on a single charge and provide more power as you’re riding uphill. The downside is that it will cost more, be heavier, and take longer to charge.
Bikes with replaceable batteries cost more, as well. But they’re worth the investment because they give you the ability to store your battery separately from your bike and, if your battery dies, you can replace it, rather than buying a new bike.
So when will you need to replace the battery? Lithium-ion batteries, which are the most optimal type of battery, can last 800 full charge cycles (which equates to about three years of daily commuting).
To extend your battery’s lifespan, charge it regularly, and keep the battery in a dry area (lithium-ion batteries degrade faster when stored in cold, damp places, like your garage).
Lastly, be realistic about what type of battery you need. If you’re using the bike for simple purposes, a small battery might be all you need (and it will make the bike easier to carry!) If, on the other hand, you want a bike to haul groceries or to ride up steep hills against strong winds, then you’ll probably need a larger battery.
How Far Do I Want to Go?
Another thing to consider is range (which is the distance that the eBike can travel on one charge). The range will depend on several factors, such as the tire’s rolling resistance, assistance level, your weight, average speed, terrain, whether you’re riding uphill or downhill (or on flat ground) and most importantly, the size of the battery.
Pedal-assist bikes have longer ranges since you’re assisting (pedaling) the bike. Keep in mind that as the battery ages, the range will drop, so choose a bike with a higher capacity to compensate for any loss.
To estimate the bike’s range, first, multiply the battery’s voltage (V) by the amperage (AH) to get the estimated watt-hours. If you’re energy-conscious, each mile you ride will cost you about 20-watt-hours. So divide the battery’s watt-hours by 20 to get the estimated range.
For example, the Ecotric Fat Tire Beach and Snow Electric Bike has a battery of 36v and 12AH. 36 x 12 = 432 watt-hours. 432 divided by 20 = an estimated range of 21.6 miles.
What Will I Be Using the Bike For?
Do you want an eBike that you can use to commute to work each day? Bike in the mountains on weekends or after work? Cruise around just for fun?
Commuting to work
Looking for a bike to get you to and from work each day without breaking a sweat? The commuter bike, specially designed for long commutes to work, is what you’ve been looking for.
This type of eBike has a lightweight frame and narrow tires. It might also come with extras like a luggage rack, basket, and fenders to prevent mud from splattering all over you as you’re riding—so you can arrive to work presentable (and sweat-free).
Want a commuter bike that folds inconspicuously in your office? Check out our selection of portable folding bikes.
Exercise & off-roading
If you want an electric bike that you can ride off-road, you’ll want to go with a mountain or fat-tire eBike.
A mountain eBike rides well on both smooth terrain (like if you’re commuting to work) and off road. But if you want to be able to ride any time of the year in virtually any type of terrain (like sand and snow), go with a fat-tire bike.
Thanks to its massive tires (between three to five inches wide), fat-tire bikes are perfect for all types of off-road adventures. The tires have lower pressure, which gives them better traction and allows you to ascend easier. Thanks to the large size and low pressure of the tires, you get the sensation you’re floating over the ground so you barely feel rocks and bumps that you would feel on a mountain bike.
The only downsides are that when riding over muddy or loose terrain, the fat tire doesn’t dig into the ground like other bike tires do, making it more likely to lose traction. It also has more rolling resistance, which can make riding on smooth pavements less than ideal.
One last thing: Take your height into consideration. Our fat-tire bikes are best suited for those who are between 5 foot 5 and 6 foot 3.
Our picks: Ecotric Leopard (mountain)
Travel & storage
Looking for a bike that can travel easily with you wherever you go? Or fold away in a closet in your tiny apartment? If yes, you should consider a portable folding bike which has a collapsible bar frame that allows you to pack and store it away.
Just a few drawbacks: Folding bikes have smaller, straight frames and smaller tires than standard bikes. As a result, they aren’t as comfortable as regular bikes. They’re also slower and harder to control. Finally, most folding bikes have a hub motor, which, as mentioned, results in a less balanced ride.
Regardless, you can’t beat the convenience of a folding bike. If you’ve decided that a portable folding bike is the right choice for you, you’ll next want to decide on the type of folding bike you want, such as fat-tire, cruiser, or commuter.
Looking for a comfortable bike to cruise around town? A cruiser bike offers a snug, upright riding position, and a large seat, with swept-back handlebars for ultimate comfort.
If you’re female or comfort is important to you, you might want to consider a bike with a step-through frame (where the top bar of the bike is absent or set higher). A step-through frame allows you to easily swing your legs through and swiftly get on and off the bike. There’s also less risk of ripping or stretching your clothing when riding.
Our pick: The American Electric Veller Cruiser.
If you want an eBike that can lug around groceries, packages, or whatever else, you’ll want a cargo bike or, at the very least, a bike with a large basket.
Our pick: Eunorau 48V 750W Max-Cargo Bike
What Kind of Terrain Will I Be Riding On?
Another thing to consider is where you’ll be riding the bike. Uphill? On rocky roads, trails, and mountains? Smooth pavement? Sand or snow?
If you need a bike to conquer hills, then go with a higher-watt battery (and higher range). For off-road riding, consider a mountain bike. Or, if you want a bike that can handle all types of terrain and weather, a fat-tire bike is ideal. If you’ll be riding it primarily on smooth pavement, then a cruiser or commuter bike could be good for you.
Hopefully, now you have a better understanding of the different types of eBikes out there and which eBike is best for you. Our advice? Make a list of all the features you’re looking for in your dream eBike and start by asking yourself what you want to use the bike for and where you want to ride. The answers to those questions will largely determine the type of bike you buy.
From there, look into the battery life of the bike, since this will determine the power of the motor and the range or how far the bike can go on a single charge or incline.
Also, check out the frame of the bike, keeping in mind that a step-through frame will be more comfortable for women and those with flexibility or mobility issues.
Think about any additional features that are important to you, like a computer display and integrated lighting (especially important if you’ll be frequently riding at night.)
And if you have to haul the bike around at all, you’ll also want to factor in the weight of the bike and what you’re capable of carrying. More than 50 pounds might be too much.
Still not sure what eBike is best for you? Our team is here to help. Get in touch, and we’ll get you fitted with the eBike of your dreams.
Pedal-assist: A type of eBike that provides power only as you pedal
Range: The distance the bike will go on a fully charged battery
Throttle: A type of eBike that propels when the motor is engaged (no pedaling required)
Torque: How much electric power to feed the bike depending on how hard the rider is pedaling; the higher the torque, the more power the bike gives (and the more support the rider gets)
Walk assist: A mode that pushes the bike along as you walk it (so you don’t have to expend energy pushing it)
Watt-hours (WH): The battery capacity of the bike, ranging from 250 WH to 1,000 WH; the higher the WH, the heavier the battery (and the higher the range)