There are so many electric bikes on the market that it can be overwhelming to decide which is the best eBike for your needs.
Sorting through all the different eBike types and specs can lead to analysis paralysis.
In this article we will take a look at some of the basic features of electric bikes and provide some ideas for narrowing down which electric bike is best for you.
Types of Electric Bikes
There are a wide variety of eBike types to fit almost any riding conditions and stylish looks that you could want.
For instance, do you want a retro beach cruiser with a swooping frame and balloon tires for a nostalgic style and easy going comfortable ride?
Or would you like the fat tire eBike that can ride on almost any terrain (including sand and snow) and has the unique all terrain style?
This article of eBike types will provide a look at the following: Commuter, Beach cruiser, Mountain, Road, Touring, Gravel, Moped style, Folding, Compact, Fat Tire, Cargo, Tandem, Trike, Recumbent, and Kids. In addition there are some wild additions like the Penny Farthing and a few Water eBikes!
How Much Should I Spend on an Electric Bike?
A good rule of thumb would be to look at start spending a minimum of $1,000 to $2,000 range to get an eBike of decent quality and features.
As you go up in price you will generally get an eBike that has higher quality, features, accessories, and in some cases a lighter weight eBike.
The higher quality will generally be found in longer lasting components and the way the systems operate more smoothly.
For instance, the pedal assist may use a torque sensor to blend in the assist in a smooth and intuitive way compared to a cadence sensor that can have a more on/off assist style.
Similarly a higher priced bike may have hydraulic disc brakes that generally have a smooth, solid, and powerful brake feel when compared to cable actuated disc brakes or rim brakes.
As you go up in price some features to consider for your eBike are motor type (mid-drive, hub), larger battery (or double battery), suspension (front, rear, or seatpost), internally geared hub (vs. derailleur), belt (vs. chain), cargo capacity, smartphone connectivity, and more.
Accessories like lights, fenders, racks, kickstand, bell, etc. can be found on a wide price range of eBikes. As you go up in price you generally find higher quality accessories are included. If you find your dream eBike but it doesn’t come equipped with all the accessories you want, don't worry because they can always be added later.
If you are looking for a lightweight eBike then spending more money can bring the weight down. There are some economical eBikes that are fairly lightweight but they generally sacrifice some features like a small battery, single speed drivetrain, skinny tires, etc. The more expensive lightweight eBikes generally have few feature sacrifices, except for the lighter wallet sacrifice!
You can always start with an economical eBike to test out eBiking to see if you really get into it. Once you get a feel for eBiking you can always upgrade and sell your existing bike to someone who wants to try it out.
How an eBike fits you is an important aspect because you could be spending many miles in the saddle!
There are generally 2 frame types that are the step-over or step-through frame. The step-over is probably the most common frame type that has a high top tube. The step-over frame is a bit more effort to get on and off because you swing your leg over the frame or seat. Step-over frames are found on almost all types of eBikes but they are especially found on the performance types like eMountain bikes, eRoad, and eGravel because they provide a very strong and stiff frame design for more demanding riding conditions.
The step-through (or low step) frame has a lower top tube or no top tube at all for easily getting on and off the bike. This frame style is usually found on the more moderate riding style eBikes like commuter, cruiser, cargo, etc. An advantage to the step-through is that they can fit a wide range of rider sizes so family or friends can enjoy sharing an eBike. Denago's City Model 1, for example, is available in both traditional top-tube style frames, as well as a step-thru option.
In addition to the fit of either the step-over or step-through frames there is the style that it adds to the bike and that can be an additional factor in determining which one to go with.
As we touched on before there is a spectrum of bikes that range from easy going and comfortable to performance style bikes that have an efficient riding position that is not as comfortable.
The more comfortable types of eBikes are the commuter, beach cruiser, touring, moped style, folding, compact, fat tire, cargo, trike, and recumbent. These usually have an upright position for a comfortable back position as well as easily being able to see around you. They also tend to have a wider, more comfortable saddle and possibly a suspension seat post. Many eBikes that are in the comfortable category come equipped with easily adjustable handlebar and seat positions to fine tune the fit.
The performance types are the mountain, road, touring, and gravel eBike types. They tend to have a lower handlebar position and narrower saddles for a riding position that focuses on pedaling efficiency and control of the bike through challenging terrain.
Some of these performance types can be modified to create more comfortable positions if desired. For instance; a higher stem and handlebar can be installed for a more upright position along with a more comfortable seat and/or suspension seatpost.
These are generally the types that fit into these categories but there can be exceptions.
Most eBikes on the market these days come with either a rear hub motor or mid-drive motor in a range of power between 250 watts to 750 watts. There are exceptions, but that is generally what you will find.
Rear hub drive motors are found on a lot of the economical eBikes because they are simple and easy to make, and they are easy to use from a riders perspective. Denago's City Model 1 eBike uses a 500 watt rear hub motor, for example. This provides plenty of power for climbing hills but doesn't increase the cost of the eBike too much, keeping them affordable.
Mid-drive motors are located at the cranks and they add pedal assist through the drivetrain of the bike. The power through the drivetrain leverages it like a car transmission to climb steep hills as well as fly along the flat roads. A lot of mid-drive motors have a torque sensor to blend the motor power with your pedal power in a smooth and intuitive way. Mid-drives are usually found on more expensive eBikes that focus on more of a performance style ride.
Here is an article with more of the pros & cons of the hub and mid-drive motor system.
How much power do you need?
Electric bike motors are usually found in wattages of 250 watts, 350 watts, 500 watts, and 750 watts.
The amount of power depends on the types of riding you will be doing and the motor type. Here are some examples considering a hub motor eBike.
If you are a casual rider who does an average amount of pedaling the 250 watt & 350 watt motors are a good fit. They have enough power to get up to speed and climb some moderate hills. Sometimes bikes in this power range will be lighter because the motor and battery will be smaller.
If you want quicker acceleration, faster hill climbing, higher speeds (up to 28 mph), and the ability to cruise on throttle (with or without pedaling) then the 500 watt and 750 watt motors are the way to go.
Now with the mid-drive motor the motor power is leveraged through the drivetrain of the bike and the performance of a smaller 250/350 watt mid-drive motor can be similar to a 500/750 watt hub motor provided that the rider shifts the drivetrain properly to maintain an efficient ride.
Motor torque is a more advanced topic that is more important for the performance style bikes (mountain, road, gravel) that we will cover in another article.
Pedal Assist, Throttle, eBike Classes
For those brand new to eBikes there are generally 2 ways electric bikes can be operated; pedal assist or throttle.
Pedal assist is the addition of motor power when you are pedaling the bike. There can be various levels of pedal assist from easy going, moderate, powerful, and turbo! The pedal assist levels are usually changed with a button on the handlebar and represented on the display.
Throttle systems are much like a throttle on a motorcycle. There are twist grip, thumb throttle, and push button types that add assist whether you are pedaling or not. Throttles can be fun for just cruising along as well helpful for getting up to speed quickly. For example, maybe you want to get through an intersection quickly and the throttle helps to get up to speed.
Here is an article with more background on throttles.
And while we are talking about pedal assist and throttles that ties in well with the 3 classes of electric bikes.
For all eBikes the max power is 750 watts to be in the following legal classifications:
CLASS 1: Bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the electric bicycle reaches 20mph.
CLASS 2: Bicycle equipped with a throttle-actuated motor, that ceases to provide assistance when the electric bicycle reaches 20mph.
CLASS 3: Bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the electric bicycle reaches 28mph.
Here is an article that goes into more of the details of where each class of eBike can be ridden and some of the nuances of each class.
The battery is a major component of the eBike system and it is also one of the most expensive parts.
Most eBike batteries are a lithium ion type for good energy density that provides a lightweight and compact battery. That is compared to lead acid batteries that older eBikes used.
The size of the battery is an important feature to consider because it affects the range of an electric bike but it can also affect how the bike handles.
Here is an article that looks at the pros and cons of eBike battery sizes.
Narrowing It Down
After reviewing those main topics you should have a better idea of the attributes of an electric bike you are looking for.
Focusing in on the price range and which eBike type and fit suits your riding preferences will initially narrow the field a bit. Then you can look into which motor types, power options, pedal assist types, and battery size. In some cases the price point will help to narrow what is available on the eBikes in that category.
With those you should be able to narrow down the field of eBikes to the top 3 to focus on the differences and which one will be the best electric bike for your needs.
And keep in mind that you can always start with a moderately priced bike to test the waters and upgrade once you get a better idea of what you want in your perfect eBike.
Have fun finding your eBike and enjoy the rides!