Last Updated on May 17, 2023 by Matt
It seems like everyone is into electric bikes these days.
Commuters consider electric bikes efficient and eco-friendly modes of transport, especially with the rising fuel prices. This has caused a spike in the global e-bike market, expected to reach 77.2 billion U.S. dollars by 2028.
In this detailed electric bike buying guide, we explore some of the most important factors or criteria to use when choosing the right e-bike for you.
Finding the right model can take time and effort, as there are many options available. We’re here to help you with that decision.
Factors to consider when choosing an e-bike
These are the most important factors you need to keep in mind when thinking of buying an electric bike.
Electric bikes are available in numerous frame styles.
Hybrid e-bikes have the widest variety of frames. There are various step-through frames and standard crossbar frames. Some have dipping top tubes, while others don’t, determining how easy it is to get on the bike. Moreover, some frames have a cargo rack fitted at the front or back.
Step-through frames have numerous names, including open, low, drop, mid, or trapeze. Such frames offer a more upright, comfortable, and relaxed riding position, and I recommend them as the best option for less experienced riders.
There are three drive systems available for e-bikes:
- front hub
- rear hub
- central drive motors
Each mechanism does a good job for its intended use cases, and there’s no clear winner on which is the best. Moreover, all have their pros and cons.
Front hub motors
The electric motor is fitted onto the bike’s front wheel, which isn’t directly connected to the pedaling drivetrain. The motor effectively pulls you along and is equivalent to a front-wheel-drive car.
Front motor hubs are found in entry-level electric bikes and are typically best for beginners.
Rear hub motors
The electric motor is fitted to the bike’s rear wheel. This system is more technologically advanced, as it usually integrates with the chain and gears. Moreover, it feels more stable and provides more traction on the road because most of the rider’s weight is on the rear wheel.
Rear hub motors can be designed at a lower cost because they don’t require engineering the bike’s central part. This reduces manufacturing expenses and provides better value to the rider.
Rear hub motors are used in mid-range and higher-end electric bicycles, which is why they will typically be better suited for more experienced riders.
Central drive motors
In the central drive motor system, the electric motor is attached to the frame at the bottom of the bracket. It sits where the pedals are, directing all the power through the entire chainset. This technique aligns the rider’s center of gravity with the motor’s weight, enabling assisted pedaling to feel more natural.
Central drive motors are found in high-end and middle-range electric bicycles and are common in mountain e-bikes. However, central drive motors require extra maintenance due to the added stress on the drive train.
Electric bikes are available with either a derailleur or hub gear systems. The derailleur system is more common.
In a derailleur system, the rider changes gears using a derailleur, which physically moves the chain to a different gear. One of derailleur systems’ key benefits is offering more gearing ratios. Furthermore, it is easier to fix in case of a problem.
In contrast, a hub gear system changes gears internally, and everything is hidden. One significant benefit of the gear system is that it is more durable and has lower maintenance needs because the components are protected from external elements, but that also makes it harder to fix in case there’s an issue.
The drivetrain has components that push and pull the bike and rider along. In most electric bikes, the drivetrain includes the electric motor, cogs, chain, and sometimes the derailleur.
An excellent alternative to the chain is the belt drive mechanism, which has a single or multi-gear system but doesn’t have a derailleur. The belt mechanism saves you from the chain, which gets grimy quickly and dirties your clothes.
A belt drive doesn’t have a chain to oil and can go as much as 500 miles without tightening. Thus, it is a low-maintenance and clean alternative for riders.
Advancements in battery technology have allowed manufacturers to build smaller batteries that fit in the bike’s frame, while also squeezing more power into them.
While the battery’s size significantly depends on the use, mountain e-bike enthusiasts desire smaller batteries integrated into the frame for aesthetic and performance reasons.
On the other hand, urban commuters prefer more functional and larger batteries that are attached outside the frame. Such batteries are more cost-effective to produce without affecting quality.
Removable batteries also offer convenience when it comes to charging. You can safely store your bike where power is unavailable and remove and carry the battery for charging elsewhere.
Battery capacity and charging speed are also vital considerations. A fast-charging or higher-capacity battery is ideal if you rely more on assisted pedaling or will cover longer distances. A higher capacity battery will also offer a bigger range.
Mode or power settings
Electric bicycles have various power settings depending on the model and motor systems. Usually, riders can set them to max, high, medium, or low. Some have as many as five settings or more, while others have only two.
The number of settings may be a minor concern as long as you get what you want and you can quickly shift between these modes using the control interface. Deciding what works for you daily may take a little experimenting, especially if you are a first-time e-bike rider.
The electric bike should come with a handlebar or frame-mounted control panel. Smartphone apps for electric bikes enable riders to switch between modes and monitor specific metrics. Such apps also allow you to update the firmware and run system diagnostics. More importantly, the control panel will show how much battery remains and estimate the range it can cover.
An electric bike’s range will mostly depend on how you ride it.
You will drain the battery faster if you ride it using the most powerful range most of the time. Hilly terrains may also consume more battery power because the motor will provide more assistance. Your riding mode will also affect the range significantly despite the terrain.
Some systems have apps that offer insights and tips on how to get more range.
Ultimately, three critical factors will determine your e-bike range:
- The motor’s power output
- The battery capacity
- How you ride the e-bike (mode)
Manufacturers almost always provide ranges for their e-bikes. However, take this with a grain of salt, because most figures are based on favorable conditions and may not translate well into real-world conditions.
The most significant drawback of electric bikes compared with their ordinary counterparts is the additional battery, motor, and electronics weight. Thus, riding an e-bike with the motor system off is more complicated.
However, different models have varying weights, with the average e-bike weighing between 40 and 50 lbs / 18 and 23 kg. Some, especially large electric hybrid bikes, can weigh as much as 70 lbs / 32 kg, while others can weigh as little as 30 lbs / 14 kg.
You also need to know the maximum weight limits of an electric bike before you buy it.
Weight limits for electric bikes refer to the maximum weight or load the e-bike can safely carry. It includes the weight of the rider, accessories, and any cargo you may carry on the bike. You can find this information on the technical specification of the e-bike you want to buy.
Typically, most adults will be able to ride most electric bikes, as they usually have weight limits of at least 220 lbs / 100 kg.
Built quality and reliability
Different states have varying rules and regulations that control overall designs, ensuring manufacturers adhere to good build quality and reliability.
This doesn’t mean the buyer shouldn’t be concerned about these factors.
Retailers and online shoppers can offer seemingly great deals with claims of the same quality and performance but at lower prices. However, buyers should be careful, as some sellers don’t necessarily source their components from reputable sources. Moreover, they offer warranties that are limited in many cases.
You should also approach unbranded electric bikes with caution. Riding your e-bike in the rain shouldn’t be an issue, but fake batteries, motors, and low-quality electronics can be faulty and dangerous.
Electric bike laws in your location
An important factor to consider when looking for an electric bike is the laws and regulations for electric bikes in your location. Ensure the model you are eyeing complies with these laws in your location before you buy it.
Most places in the United States have a top speed limit of 20 mph for class 1 and class 2 electric bikes. Some local governments have additional provisions targeting electric bikes.
Compared to ordinary bicycles, e-bikes tend to be pricier because they have a battery, electric motor, and other components to support the electronics. Other factors that affect the e-bike price include:
- Motor specification
- Frame material
- Battery capacity
- Manufacturer’s reputation
- Mechanical components
Typically, you get what you pay for when you buy an electric bike in any price range. For instance, budget bikes will come with smaller motors and batteries, which means you get less power and range.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the three e-bike price categories and see what you can expect from each.
Budget electric bikes
Pricing for popular budget electric bikes is usually between the $1,000 to $1,500 mark, although you can find cheaper models from smaller manufacturers.
Examples of popular budget electric bikes in this price range include the Rad Power RadMission 1 and the Pure Flux One. The Chinese E-Trends Fly is one of the cheaper models if you are looking for a starter e-bike.
What can you expect from a budget e-bike? Well, most e-bikes in this category tend to have just enough electric bike features to get you around but barely enough for longer trips. Most come with a 200-320-watt motor and small 250- 500-watt batteries. This is enough for a top speed of around 15 mph / 25 kmh and a range of about 20 to 30 mi / 32 to 48 km with pedal assist.
Most budget electric bikes are also equipped with simple mechanical disk brakes which provide enough stopping power for the type of speed you are likely to get. However, they are not that responsive or durable. Of course, it is possible to replace the stock brakes with after-market ones, but this means spending more, and possibly voiding your warranty.
Budget electric bikes also have aluminum frames that have a simple design. Depending on the model you get, you are more likely to come across flimsy frames in this category. The suspension system and other functional features on the frame in budget bikes are simple.
You are likely to get 26-inch to 28-inch wheels on most budget e-bikes which are slightly bigger than comparable regular bikes but small than more expensive models. However, don’t expect to get the most comfortable-riding tires on budget e-bikes stock.
One defining feature you are likely to compromise on when buying a budget e-bike is the level of pedal assist. Most have between two to five levels of assistance or a single linear mode in the cheapest models. It’s sufficient for beginners or short distances, but not that customizable or responsive for more demanding trips.
Mid-tier electric bikes
Mid-tier electric bikes are the most popular, with pricing ranging between $1,500 to $5,000 for the most popular models.
I recommend buying a mid-tier e-bike if you are looking for a balance between performance and affordability.
Examples of bikes in this category include the Aventon Aventure 2, Cannondale Treadwell Neo 2 EQ, and the Globe Haul ST.
Most mid-tier electric bikes have the ideal amount of power and range for daily commutes and leisurely trips. Expect electric bikes in this category to have a more capable 500-700 Watt mid-drive motor and a 400-600 Watt-hour battery. This setup is not only more capable in terms of power, but has a better range of around 30 to 40 miles per charge.
Other features and design elements to expect in mid-tier electric bikes include aluminum or carbon fiber frames, advanced suspension systems, and hydraulic brakes. Electric bikes in this category also come with standard 5-9 levels of pedal assistance. They also come with advanced LCDs that show more information and are more intuitive.
For most people, mid-tier electric bikes are ideal because they provide all they need from a modern electric bike. Many electric bike manufacturers also target this buyer demographic, which means you will have a wider variety of similarly priced models to choose from.
The premium pricing segment for electric bikes is where you will find top-of-the-line models from top manufacturers like Rad Power, Shimano, Giant, etc. Pricing for premium electric bikes starts from $5,000 and can go as high as $25,000.
I would recommend you buy a premium electric bike if you demand the best quality and performance and are a serious electric biking enthusiast.
Electric bikes in the premium category generally have the best performance components and may be upgraded with additional features like dual-battery systems, adjustable suspension, GPS tracking, remote control, and companion apps for configuration and monitoring.
The standard motor output for premium electric bikes ranges between 700 to 1500 watts. Most come with large-capacity dual-battery systems with 600 to 1000 Watt-hours for a range of about 50 to 100 mi / 80 to 160 km per charge.
They are also equipped with high-end hydraulic disk brake systems, carbon fiber frames, and large wheels, usually at least 29 inches in diameter.
Expect any premium electric bike to have both pedal assist and throttle with pedal assist top speeds of up to 28 mph / 45 kmh. They also have all levels of pedal assist for ultimate ride customizability and expert-level control. Most premium e-bikes are class C.
Electric bike brands comparison
The electric bike brand you choose also determines the kind of experience you get in terms of reliability, build quality, support, and other important aspects of your ownership. To help you choose the right brand, we analyzed customer ratings from various sources and our own experiences with the top 20 electric bike brands. The table below shows our findings.
|Electric bike brand||Reputation||Customer support||Reliability|
|Rad Power Bikes||2.8||A+||A-|
|Riese & Müller||3.6||A-||A|
|X-Treme Electric Bikes||3.6||A-||A|
Understanding electric bike classification can also help with the purchase decision. Electric bicycles come in unique styles to suit varying needs. They serve different purposes, from going to and from work or school to riding steep mountain terrains.
Electric bikes supply power to the drive wheel in unique ways. Deciding your ideal choice depends on the distance you want to cover and how you want to use it.
Class 1 electric bikes
This pedal-assist e-bike powers the motor as you pedal. It doesn’t have a throttle control to start the motor. The electric motor works when you pedal and cuts off power when you hit 20 mph / 32 kmh.
Class 2 electric bikes
These bikes have a throttle control that allows the electric motor to supply power using electric propulsion alone or when the rider pedals. The electric motor also cuts off when you reach 20 mph / 32 kmh.
Class 3 electric bikes
Class 3 e-bikes are faster and more powerful, with a 28 mph / 45 kmh top speed. Riding in areas such as bike paths isn’t always legal.
Types of electric bikes
E-bikes come in different types, each with varying features. The numerous options allow riders to choose what best fits their needs. These are the most common electric bicycle types.
Commuter electric bikes come in various styles and are designed for practical transportation. Some models feature straight handlebars and narrow tires, while others have thicker frames and wider wheels. These bicycles are also available as folding e-bikes, which makes them easier to load onto a train or bus.
Most people prefer them because they offer a more cost-effective option than fuel-powered scooters, motorbikes, and cars. They allow riders to commute without getting too sweaty. Moreover, they don’t get stuck in car traffic.
Pros of commuter e-bikes
Commuter electric bikes are designed for comfort and versatility. They can be fitted with lights, fenders, and other accessories, making them a viable alternative to other modes of transport.
Cons of commuter e-bikes
Most commuter bikes are heavier than their recreational counterparts. This is because they are designed with sturdy construction to withstand daily use. The robust frame, battery, and electric motor add to the weight.
Cruisers are designed with comfort in mind and share most of their features with commuter e-bikes. They feature plush seats and bigger tires, guaranteeing a softer ride because they soak up bumps.
Swooping handlebars provide a comfortable distance between the rider’s body and arms. The frame is also designed for a comfortable and relaxed upright seating position.
Pros of cruiser e-bikes
- They offer a comfortable ride with relaxed upright seating, wider tires, and cushier seats.
- They are ideal for leisurely cruises.
Cons of cruiser e-bikes
- Cruisers lack the gear selection available in more sport-oriented and commuter models. This makes them less ideal for longer distances.
Performance road e-bikes
Performance road bikes are designed to help the rider achieve a more aerodynamic position. Thus, they feature drop-down handlebars, a lightweight frame, and narrow tires. The lighter and slimmer components help these e-bikes increase efficiency.
Unlike conventional bicycles, the battery and motor in a performance road electric bike enables it to handle steeper grades and travel longer distances with less effort.
Pros of performance road electric bicycles
- They are lightweight and designed for speed, thus can cover longer distances.
- They are ideal for workouts.
Cons of performance road e-bikes
- They have an aggressive riding position that can be uncomfortable.
- They are costlier than other types of electric bikes.
Mountain e-bikes feature wider tires, more robust frames, and long-travel suspension components. They are designed to handle rough terrain, including the following:
- Mountain trails
- Large rocks
- Loose terrain
Downhill rides are the fun part of mountain riding because they are trilling, fast, and effortless. However, getting up the mountain involves pedaling up steep grades. Mountain e-bikes have a battery and electric motor that lets mountain bikers have much fun without much effort.
Pros of mountain e-bikes
- Mountain e-bikes help riders quicken their uphill pace and maximize their trail time.
- They help people who might not be fit enough to handle the off-road terrain with conventional mountain bikes.
Cons of mountain e-bikes
- Some trails don’t accept electric mountain bikes.
Cargo bikes are designed to carry extra passengers and haul bulky items. They feature robust components, including wide tires and strong frames. Although pedal-powered cargo bicycles have existed for a while, their electric counterparts make carrying more weight on two wheels easier.
Most cargo bikes have rear-mounted cargo boxes or seats. Some feature front-end racks supported by wheels.
Electric bicycle taxis are examples of cargo bikes and are popular for transporting children and urban delivery.
Pros of cargo e-bikes
- The electric motor and battery make it easier to carry more weight.
Cons of cargo e-bikes
- They are heavier and larger than other types of electric bikes.
Folding electric bicycles come in various styles, shapes, and sizes. They can easily fit in a car trunk or the luggage compartment of a bus or train. Most models have foldable pedals and handlebars, small wheels, and a frame that folds into two.
However, not all folding e-bikes are the same. You should ensure the folding bike you choose has all the necessary features. For instance, while most folding bikes have smaller and narrower wheels, some have wider tires and cushier seats that are better for bumps.
Pros of folding e-bikes
- Folding e-bikes are ideal for people who want a bike they can fit in their cars without purchasing a bike rack.
- They are portable and can fit in a bus or train luggage compartment.
- They are suitable for people living in small apartments with limited space.
Cons of folding e-bikes
- Lightweight, easy-to-carry models don’t ride as smoothly as large, heavier electric bikes with sturdier frames and wider wheels.
- The battery and electric motor in folding e-bikes makes them heavier than non-electric folding bikes.
Electric hybrid bikes combine the best of mountain and performance road e-bikes. This makes them more versatile and ideal for light touring, rugged rides, and challenging terrains. Hybrid e-bikes feature knobby tires, flat handlebars, racks, and mudguards.
Pros of hybrid e-bikes
- They are the most versatile electric bicycles. This makes them ideal general-purpose e-bikes.
Cons of hybrid e-bikes
- They are less specialized e-bikes because they combine the features of road and mountain electric bikes.
While electric bikes may seem expensive, you should consider the long-term benefits of investing in one. The best way to determine your best choice is to analyze what you’ll use it for, how often, the terrain you’ll ride it on, your everyday needs, and your budget. Also, identify what features you need the most and use that as a tie-breaker if necessary.