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Shopping Guide for Best Electric Bikes

Once rare oddities, electric bikes are now common. That's nice from a consumer’s point of view, but with so many machines available, it can be difficult to choose the right model.

What you need is someone who can unravel the complexities, explain the jargon, and give you clear, unbiased advice. At BestReviews, providing answers to buyers’ questions is what we're here for!

We're completely independent, so you can trust our test results and reviews. Sure, we get offered free samples, but that might compromise our investigations – so we never accept them. We perform deep product research, interviewing experts and consulting with product owners to find out what’s best. An electric bike's style and construction are important factors to consider before making a purchase.

Most consumers want an e-bike that will accommodate its motor without being too cumbersome and will remain stable in spite of its electronic components. Some consumers want only the most basic of e-bike features, including lights, a cargo rack/basket, and a water bottle holder. Others are focused more heavily on safety features, such as brake type. And still others are concerned with convenience and portability.

If you don’t bike because your area is hilly or windy, an e-bike might be the perfect solution to get you pedaling.

The following report will walk you through your different options and advise you on how to choose the best electric bicycle for your needs.

If you’d like to learn more about electric bikes, please read on.

If you’re ready to buy a new electric bike, feel free to peruse our five favorite e-bikes in the matrix at the top of this page.

Product in Depth

Product in Depth

Pedego City Commuter Classic

Functionality

Visually, the Pedego City Commuter Classic Electric Bike is stunning – a smart blend of yesteryear's style and today's technology. Pleasantly high handlebars, a sprung seat, and lovely Schwalbe Fat Frank tires make it very comfortable. Stopping is taken care of by powerful disk brakes, front and rear. Lights are included, as is a useful cargo rack. From an e-bike standpoint, the Pedego Classic City Commuter sports a reliable, hub-mounted motor driven by a 36-volt, 10-amp battery. There's a digital display with a trip computer, odometer, speedometer, pedal assist level, and battery charge information.

Electric Bike Advantages

Die-hard cyclists might look at electric bikes as the lazy person's alternative, but that's a rather narrow view. An electric bike can be a godsend in many situations.

  • Electric bikes offer the chance for those with low lung capacity (asthma sufferers, for example), or a reduced fitness level to get out and enjoy the countryside. Even those who are moderately fit can appreciate some assistance when going up hills.

  • Electric bikes provide a convenient mode of transportation for busy adults who are towing a buggy full of children or picking up a few grocery items.

  • Electric bikes are a green alternative to driving a vehicle. Studies carried out in several towns and cities show that the average car speed in rush hour traffic can dip as low as 18 to 20 mph. Electric bike speed can be as high as 15 mph. With an electric bike, you can reduce pollution, improve fitness, and still arrive at the same time as your car-bound colleagues.

And let’s not forget the economic advantages of owning an e-bike. The annual cost of running a new family car is, on average, about $9,000 per year. Running an electric bike costs around $400 per year. And while filling a gas tank costs around $30, recharging an electric bike battery costs only about 50 cents. A tank of gas may get you further, but not 60 times further!

EXPERT TIP

Maintenance tasks for an e-bike – chain tension adjustments, brake adjustments – are often the same as they are for ordinary bicycles. You can probably handle these tasks yourself. When it comes to battery and motor maintenance, however, we recommend using an expert.


Staff  | BestReviews

How Does an Electric Bike Work?

The basics of an electric bicycle are simple. The electric motor propels it, a battery supplies the power, and a throttle provides speed control – although not all electric bikes have a throttle. The difference lies in how these components are arranged and what assistance they give.

The first electric bike was just a normal bicycle with an electric motor and a battery fitted to it. Kits are still available today that allow you to create this configuration.

As e-bikes became more popular, dedicated models were developed. Most of them still look very much like ordinary bicycles, but now they're built with the motor and battery as an integral part. Today’s electric bicycles are better balanced and more efficient than ever before.

Some assembly of your new electric bike may be required. Often, this merely involves attaching the front wheel, but assembly chores are sometimes more complex than that. Several manufacturers provide instructional videos to help owners with the task of e-bike assembly.

Staff
BestReviews

Electric Bike Technology: The Motor

There are three different types of e-bike motors available: brush motors, brushless motors, and friction drive motors.

Motor technology

Brush and Brushless E-Bike Motors

Brush motors are common because they're durable and rather inexpensive to produce. However, modern brushless motors are lighter, smaller, and more powerful than brush motors, and they can be almost silent. E-bikes with brush motors cost more, but they require no maintenance. As a result, most electric bikes now have a brush motor.

Motor technology

Friction Drive E-Bike Motors

In a friction drive motor, a small, solid wheel rotates against the side of the tire in order to drive it. The first motorcycles used the same concept, with a motor mounted above the front wheel. The problem is that the drive rubs at the side of the tire. It's inefficient, and it quickly wears the sidewall away. Tires need to be replaced every couple hundred miles. For this reason, you'll seldom see electric bikes with this type of drive anymore.

EXPERT TIP

Since e-bikes are substantially more expensive than regular bikes, we strongly recommend getting insurance for your new set of wheels.


Staff  | BestReviews
Motor technology

Where is an Electric Bike’s Motor Located?

An electric bike’s motor is fitted to one of three places: the front hub, the crank (where the pedals are), or the rear hub.

Though rear-wheel versions are available, most e-bike conversion kits are for the front wheel. They are easier to fit. However, they do change the balance of the bike, and brakes should also be uprated to cope with the additional weight. We're not aware of any front hub motors on purpose-built electric bikes.

Mid-mounted crank drives produce the most bicycle-like feel, because the pedal crank turns and drives the chain, just like when you pedal. Crank drives are efficient at transmitting power, which makes them popular, especially for fast, off-road electric bikes.

Rear hub motors are also popular. Some owners suggest they make the back of the bike feel a bit heavy (the battery is often back there, too), but balance is still good. In many ways, this is rear-wheel drive like you get with a scooter or motorbike. The rear hub looks larger than usual, but in profile, it looks much like an ordinary bike.

Specialist off-road electric bikes aren’t legal for road use, so we’re not spending a lot of time on them in this review. However, you may be interested in learning a few facts about these monstrosities. They’re lightweight yet tough with fat, all-terrain tires, advanced brakes, and speeds in excess of 50 mph.

Staff
BestReviews
Motor technology

How Much Motor Power Does an E-Bike Have?

Motor power varies and can be restricted depending on whether it's used on- or off-road. A typical electric motor for a road bike will deliver between 250 and 600 watts.

The most powerful off-road model we found during the course of our research was rated at 6,000 watts.

Torque is a consideration, but actual figures are rarely quoted by e-bike makers. Owners will frequently comment on whether their electric bike offers plenty of torque or lacks it, but these comments need to be taken in context. Road conditions, as well as the weight of the rider, have a big impact.

Product in Depth

Product in Depth

Pedego City Commuter Classic

Design

In full-electric mode, the Pedego City Commuter Classic Electric Bike is capable of moving at up to 20 mph for anywhere from 15 to 30 miles. There are two further options: power-assisted pedaling or fully "unplugged” riding. Renowned Shimano gears are easy to select. Seldom do we come across a product so universally praised by owners. It's not cheap, but comments like "Everything I hoped for!" and "Outstanding!" tell us that it's money well spent.

Electric Bike Technology: The Battery

Lithium-ion batteries are almost invariably used in e-bikes. Though they cost more than nickel-cadmium batteries, they produce more power from the same size unit and remain efficient for longer.

Around 90% of electric bikes are powered by standard lithium-ion batteries, but there have been further developments in the technology. These developments include lithium-ion polymer batteries, lithium manganese batteries, and lithium cobalt batteries.

  • Lithium-ion polymer batteries have the same electrical properties as standard Li-ion batteries, but the material can be shaped more easily. There's the potential for some interesting designs, though we've yet to see them.

  • Lithium manganese batteries are used in the latest Nissan Leaf electric car. It's claimed they generate more power and last longer. The new Leaf has double the range of its predecessor, but we've seen these batteries in very few (and very expensive) e-bikes so far.

  • Lithium cobalt batteries are said to be lightweight while offering a great range, though they are not commonly used.

DID YOU KNOW?

To make sure your electric bike’s battery is working to maximum potential, always keep your tires properly inflated.

Battery technology

Battery Charging and Battery Life Expectancy

Charging an e-bike battery is simple; it requires nothing more than a household outlet.

The time or distance an electric bike battery will run between chargings is impossible to judge with much accuracy. There are too many variables: terrain, speed, rider weight, bike load (shopping, kids, luggage), and more. However, we can make a few generalizations about an e-bike’s recharge time and overall working life. These generalizations should be used for comparison purposes only.

  • Cheap batteries are available, but they can take six hours or more to charge and have a life of around 500 charges.

  • High-quality batteries charge in two to four hours and can last through approximately 1,000 chargings.

The generalizations above should be used for comparison purposes only.

EXPERT TIP

Keep in mind you will probably have to replace the battery at some point during your bike’s lifespan.


Staff  | BestReviews

Electric Bike Technology: The Throttle

The last e-bike component we’re going to discuss is the throttle. A few e-bikes use levers much like you'd find on some lawn mowers. Some just have a button, but most use motorcycle-style twist grips. These give a positive feel and more precise control.

Notably, quite a few electric bikes have no throttle at all. Instead, sensors judge the effort required for pedaling and, at a predetermined level, the motor kicks in.

The important thing to note is that these are “assisted pedaling e-bikes,” also known as pedelecs. They help you out when the going gets tough, but they do not supply constant power.

DID YOU KNOW?

The world's fastest e-bike can reach 75 mph. You won't be using it for your daily commute, though – it isn't street-legal.

Choosing Your Electric Bike

We've spoken about the technology, but how does that translate to road use? How do you choose the best electric bike for your personal requirements?

No e-bike is perfect for every situation, so you need to think about what you'll use it for most of the time. Will you use your e-bike for commuting and/or shopping? Leisure rides? Serious off-roading?

You'll also want to ask yourself a few other questions. How far do you plan to travel on your e-bike? Will you transport it to a destination in your vehicle, or will your trips always begin at home?

Do you hope to get some exercise with your e-bike, or do you want a full-time electric drive? And do you want to buy an e-bike that provides trip information and journey feedback?

EXPERT TIP

Electric bikes can be much heavier than manual bikes. If you plan to travel with your e-bike, keep this in mind.


Staff  | BestReviews

How Far Can I Go On an E-Bike?

In terms of how far you can go, there's a big difference between a pedelec (pedal-assisted electric bike) and full-time electric bike. If you're prepared to pedal and only need help on hills, you could get anywhere from 50 to 100 miles on a single charge with the former.

If you're going for a full-time electric bike, the distance you travel on a single charge will be reduced considerably, though it's difficult to offer precise figures. Manufacturers will quote anywhere from 20 to 40 miles while simultaneously using phrases like "in ideal conditions."

Whether the terrain is flat or hilly impacts the distance you can travel, as does the weight of the bike, your own weight, the gearing available on the bike, and how much juice you give it. We suggest that a distance of 10 to 20 miles is a realistic expectation. Of course, if you're prepared to do at least some pedaling, you can extend that dramatically.

Braking technology

A Note About Regenerative Braking

A few electric bikes incorporate a technology that started in racecars: regenerative braking. When you brake, you create energy. That energy can be harvested and fed back into the battery, prolonging its life. Regenerative braking is only just being introduced to e-bikes, but it's certainly something to watch out for.

Product in Depth

Product in Depth

e-JOE Epik Sport

Performance

The e-JOE Epik’s 350-watt motor and 36-volt battery will carry you up to 30 miles (in ideal conditions) at up to 20 mph. It's sturdy, too, with a weight rating of up to 300 pounds. Yet it's quite light and easy to stow in your trunk or trailer. You can get some exercise (or not), and beat the commuter rush.

Which E-Bike Features Matter Most?

There are e-bike styles to suit all tastes, and it's nice to have a lot of choices when shopping. Here are a few features you might wish to consider when selecting an electric bike.

  • Gears: An electric bike with multiple gears is easier to pedal and can reduce the drain on the battery.

  • Size: Some electric bikes look a little small, but if you're going to drive to the edge of the city and ride the last couple of miles, a light, folding model that you can easily throw in the trunk has definite advantages.

  • Foldability: Not all folding e-bikes are small. Some full-size electric bikes with standard 26-inch or 27.5-inch wheels can be folded to fit into compact spaces. Make sure you’re aware of a folding bike’s weight before you buy it, though. “Foldable” doesn't always mean light.

  • Frame: Bike frames are usually made of a lightweight aluminum alloy, but magnesium alloy and carbon-fiber composites are available (though not common). Reduced weight helps extend range.

  • Seat: What is the seat like? If you're going to spend much time on your electric bike, a good seat with padding and springing adds comfort.

  • Trip Computers: A trip computer gives you all kinds of feedback, from speed and distance traveled to battery status.

The average e-bike speed is around 10 mph. This is adequate considering most cars average about 20 mph when driving around town.

Staff
BestReviews
  • Riding Position: You also may wish to check out an e-bike’s riding position before investing in it. For short trips, the riding position might not make much difference, but for long journeys, the upright "Dutch" style with pulled-back handlebars is very comfortable – particularly for tall riders. The same goes for mountain bike styles, though these bikes are not often designed to actually go off-road.

  • Brakes: Caliper brakes (the type found on ordinary bicycles) are common on e-bikes, but disk brakes offer better stopping power. In wet conditions, however, initial braking can be slowed as you first clear water from the disk. It's a minor thing, and you soon get used to it.

  • Batteries: Battery packs can be fitted in all kinds of different positions, but often, they are fixed to a rack behind the rider. If you plan on carrying anything, this configuration could be problematic.

  • Lights: Good e-bikes integrate lights into the power circuit so you don't have to worry about separate batteries.

  • Tires: Some e-bike tires are reinforced. They last longer and reduce the chance of a flat.

  • Weight Capacity: Most electric bikes quote a maximum weight capacity. This is important if you are larger than average.

FOR YOUR SAFETY

Always wear a bicycle helmet. Statistics show they reduce fatal head injuries by 65%.

How Much Does An Electric Bike Cost?

The cheapest way to own an electric bike is to use a conversion kit on an existing bike.

These can be found for under $200, but when a decent battery costs more than that, you have to ask how the manufacturer could make an electric drive for so little.

More expensive conversion kits from reputable manufacturers are available. In our view, this is a bit like strapping a turbocharger to a compact car.

The original vehicle wasn't built to handle the power. The result is likely to be disappointing and could be dangerous.

Product in Depth

Product in Depth

e-JOE Epik Sport

Features

The e-JOE Epik’s thumb throttle is not the most intuitive (it's a bit like some powered lawn mowers), but you soon get used to it. The handlebar-mounted display could be easier to understand. These minor negatives aside, owners love the e-JOE Epik's practicality and reliability. It delivers precisely what you expect from a folding electric bicycle.

Likewise, we advise consumers to steer clear of cheap electric bicycles because they're not likely to fulfill expectations.

  • Small, foldable electric bikes start at around $400. They'll manage 15 mph as they whisk you to the office.

  • You can get a classic in-road or mountain e-bike for around $800.

  • Top road-going electric bikes run from around $1,500 to over $3,000.

  • Then there are the dedicated off-road e-bikes. These bikes push the boundaries of what's possible, and the combination of materials and technologies doesn't come cheap. You'll pay a minimum of $3,500 for an off-road e-bike. During the course of our research, we found one for as much as $36,000.

Laws governing who can ride electric bikes, and where, vary from state to state. In some places, you can ride cycle paths; in others, you cannot. You may need a license – and even insurance – and there may be age limits.

Battery costs vary enormously. Cheap batteries are available, but you just don't know what you're getting. Our advice is to buy only those recommended by the manufacturer. You'll likely pay between $300 and $500, but the good news is you'll only be buying one every few years.

There are a huge number of electric bikes to choose from. That can lead to confusion, but with a bit of thought, and the help of this e-bike report, it won't take long to identify the best solution for your particular needs.

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