Thinking of getting yourself an electric bike and stuck on how to choose an electric bike?
Well let me tell you, you’re not alone.
When I tell you that the e-bike industry has taken the world by storm, I am not joking– electric bike sales jumped massively in the past two years. There are now thousands of e-bikes for you to choose from right at your fingertips.
But this isn’t always a good thing, since it is such a new market; in 2022 it very much went through the trial and error stage, so while designs are very advanced, being savvy on what to look for is always handy.
Now, wait, let me tell you something.
To make things easier, I’m here to guide you through everything you need to know about buying an electric bike, from understanding terminology to knowing all the different types.
So don’t worry, your first electric bike will be a good one!
Understanding E-Bike Terminology:
Now I know that if you’re new to e-bikes, the terminology and jargon may be slightly confusing at first but understanding how it affects your riding experience is super important.
Electric bicycles have a motor and a battery; there are different types and different positions.
Rear-wheel hub-drive motors send pedal power straight to the rear wheel, so it gives you the feeling of being pushed along. At the same time, front-hub drive motors use the same technology and idea as front-wheel cars.
They also use a standard drivetrain which is found on the rear of the bike.
A front or rear wheel hub will still offer a good level of power, but they can add weight to the front or rear of the bike, which is why you tend to find them on cheaper models.
Mid-drive motors tend to be housed around the bottom bracket of the e-bike, where you’ll find the crank and pedals; it looks like a thick cylinder you would find on a conventional bike.
Mid-drive motors tend to be the most expensive but deliver the most power and better balance as their central location can offer better balance; they help keep the central gravity low which is a good thing.
There are three different classes of e-bikes in the United States, which is the level of motor power permitted in your area/state. I broke this down for the USA and other countries in my article about all the laws and regulations around e-bikes here.
But as a general rule of thumb in the US, you are legally allowed to use up to 28mph pedal-assist e-bike, but there are certain laws around where you can use it per class of e-bike.
Class 1 e-bike:
This is an electric bicycle equipped with a motor that assists only while the rider is pedaling. It can reach maximum speed limits of 20mph and has a power output of 750W.
Most new riders start with a class 1 electric bike as they are the most affordable; they’re also universally accepted by law. You’re legally allowed to ride on city streets and many bike paths.
As electric bikes are becoming more and more popular, it is becoming more common that you’re allowed to ride on traditional mountain bike trails. While this may not be all it is a start, be sure to check before you go.
Class 2 electric bicycle:
This is an e-bike equipped with a motor that can be used exclusively to propel the bicycle; it doesn’t assist when the bicycle reaches a speed of 20mph.
Class 2 e-bikes are typically allowed in the same places as class 1 as they cannot really exceed 20mph of motor assistance. They’re not as commonly made by manufacturers like REI and TREK, so I recommend getting either class 1 or 3.
Class 3 e-bike:
This e-bike is equipped with a motor that assists only while the rider is pedaling. It stops assisting when the bicycle reaches 28mph, and it is equipped with a speedometer.
Class 3 e-bikes are more commonly found in commuter e-bikes as they’re much more powerful and faster than the other two classes. These are popular for commuters as you can keep up with traffic easier.
Class 3 electric bikes can also climb hills better and make it much easier to carry heavier loads; the only downside is that you can’t ride on most bike paths or mountain bike trails.
The term torque is also often mentioned when talking about power and pedal-assist e-bikes. The torque is the additional force around the axis. It is the rotational power of the motor.
It generates acceleration when you start pedaling.
Battery Life/ Battery Capacity:
The battery life refers to how long the battery lasts before giving in. On average, you should expect e-bike batteries to last around 3-5 years before needing replacing.
But if you want to know more about how to remove, charge or replace an e-bike battery, then I run it down in a full guide.
The battery capacity refers to the voltage; most electric bikes are rated for a specific voltage range. Most common e-bikes deliver power between 36V-42V, but if you can afford the splurge, then the 42 is better.
The battery range refers to how far the e-bike can go per one battery charge. On average most e-bikes can travel between 50-100 miles per charge.
Before you buy an e-bike from your local bike shop, make sure you consider how far you aim to travel on the bike and how long you expect to be riding. If you’re commuting to and from work, then around 50 miles will be enough.
Some bike shops even offer a test ride, so you can potentially try out your typical bike ride to see if it’s a good fit.
Different Types Of Electric Bikes:
Before you head off to buy just any random e-bike, there are quite a few different electric bikes to consider. These will all determine your riding style and what you’ll be using the e-bike for.
Commuter e-bikes were the ones that started it all; e-bikes were created as an eco-friendly alternative to replace mo-peds on the road.
Driving to work can be very expensive, but using standard bikes will leave you all hot and flustered by the time you get to work.
E-bikes will not only get you to your destination much quicker than conventional bikes, but it also means you get to work with more energy and arrived feeling refreshed rather than hot, sticky, and uncomfortable for the rest of the day.
E-commuter bikes can also save you a lot of money in the long run, they may be an investment to begin with, but it can save you thousands of bucks over the years as to recharge the battery it costs as little as 12 cents which in comparison to $100 on gas, it is over 100% cheaper.
The powerful motors and batteries can propel you up to 20mph so you can cruise past traffic, tame treacherous hills (I feel your pain San Fransisco), and get to work without a sweat on your back.
Electric commuter bikes can even go on cycle paths, which is their main selling point, especially if you live in a concrete jungle. You can skip past all the traffic and not have to worry about freshen up when you get to work.
Plus, you don’t need to worry about filling up at the gas station on the way or spending what feels like hours searching for a parking spot in the parking garage.
They make climbing hills easier, the commute to work much less stressful, pedal-assist commuter bikes beat a regular bike whenever it comes to commuting to work.
If you ride down quite rough roads, I would recommend going for an electric mountain bike or a hybrid bike with a suspension fork; this should help smooth your ride.
Electric Mountain Bike:
If you have never tried e-mountain bikes, then you’re missing out!! Mountain e-bikes have flooded the market. Some say it’s cheating, but while it might be easier, it makes it that much more fun.
With the high-performing motor and trail ripping capabilities of the mountain bike frame, you can attack the trails harder and faster, plus you can push further than you ever did before.
There are so many options to choose from when buying electric mountain bikes.
You can either purchase e-hardtails, which are a much more affordable option, or if you fancy the splurge, then full-suspension models offer insane levels of versatility and offer amazing performance whatever the mountains throw at you.
You can ride rougher, harder and longer with complete ease, comfort, and thrills.
Electric mountain bikes follow the same geometry as a normal bike, with different frame sizes, levels of fork travel, and wheel sizes to suit every kind of rider– which is the real beauty of it.
However, adding an electric motor and battery system means that there’s extra added weight while riding, which isn’t always ideal– but with the electric motor to boost you, you won’t even notice it!
Electric Hybrid Bike:
Hybrid bikes are often much heavier out of the lot because motors are less complex as they’re more designed for robustness than lighter weight.
The majority of e-hybrid bikes tend to have a front suspension fork, which helps to absorb the bumps and uneven surfaces when riding over rough ground, while some models come with mudguards and pannier racks.
Hauling them upstairs can be quite a challenge and can be quite awkward, so if you live in an apartment where the elevator is constantly broken, I wouldn’t recommend getting a hybrid e-bike.
However, most hybrid ebikes are designed for commuters. They even come in cargo options, which I thought was pretty cool; you can haul around heavyweight without feeling the toll on your body.
Hybrid E-bikes are also known as ‘town and trekking e-bikes.’ They have the same design as standard hybrid bikes as they can be used both on roads and light off-road use.
Things To Look Out For When Buying An E-Bike:
When you’re on the hunt for e-bikes, there are a few things to consider about electric bikes that cannot go unmissed. But don’t worry, we will break them down together.
Electric Bike prices vary a lot depending on their purposes. For cheaper rates, you can find bikes that will work for the commute. As the prices go up, you move to MTBs, hybrids, gravel bikes, and finally road bikes.
As a piece of advice, I wouldn’t recommend going for a pedal-assist e-bike below around the $1000-$1500 range. The components will be of poor quality and won’t be worth your money.
Instead of an entry-level rider looking for a commuter e-bike then I would recommend spending between the $1500-$2500 range for a good quality bike. The amount you will save on gas will pay this off over time, and it’s definitely worth the investment.
If you’re looking for a real trail ripper, then you should spend $2000+ and with $2000 is if you’re on a tight budget. You need to consider high-quality suspension components along with a high-quality electric motor.
$2000 is the lowest range of electric mountain bikes, but for the real good quality electric mountain bikes, you should expect to pay between 5 and 10 grand.
If you’re looking for something more higher-end, I recommend spending around $2500 to around the $6000 mark; you will be guaranteed to have a carbon frame and superior shock absorption; this is ideal for those serious trail shredders or those that ride on rugged city roads.
There are three materials commonly used and found in electric bikes, and that is aluminum, steel, and carbon. Steel is the cheapest material you’ll find. It offers good vibration dampening and comfort, but it is extremely heavy.
Aluminum is three times lighter than steel, and when paired with a carbon suspension fork, it can offer a good level of travel. If you’re looking for supreme suspension dampening, then carbon is your go-to material.
Aluminum is still a great choice compared to cheap e-bikes as it makes the frameset of the bike lightweight and reliable.
Most aluminum options come with a carbon fork which helps with the shock absorption while keeping the price low. So you can still get similar quality features of a carbon frame but without the hefty price on top.
Hub motors are either located at the front or on the rear wheel; they are the more affordable of the two; however, mid-drive motors tend to be much more popular thanks to their natural maneuverability as they don’t have weight concentrated at the front or rear of the bike like hub motors.
Mid-drive motors are also much more lightweight and targetted over the bottom bracket; this results m better control and offer a more feel; it also gives more of a natural feel like riding a regular bike.
The battery capacity and battery life is a super important thing to look out for when buying electric bikes. Cheaper electric bikes will have poor quality batteries that have poor battery life and poor battery range.
The more you spend, the more quality components you get, and this includes e-bike batteries.
To prolong the life of your battery, it is best to recharge the battery after every ride rather than let it deplete each time. In older batteries overcharging the battery can also damage the battery life.
But for newer models, manufactures have made it impossible to overcharge your battery.
With e-bikes around the $1000-$2000 mark, you should expect to get around 25-50 miles in one battery life. But some of the more expensive pedal-assist models will do around 50-100 miles!
Now while electric bikes are an investment, they definitely pay off over time, especially if you’re replacing an electric bike with your car on your commute to work.
On average electric bikes cost around 12 cents per full charge, which definitely beats spending $50-$100 on gas– plus you’re impacting the environment positively.
Ratings and Reviews:
While buying an affordable or cheap electric bike, one must be more careful. You should read the reviews of different people to know what people experienced about the product. The ratings and reviews will help you to get the best product in your range.
Before I buy any product, I always read the reviews, but I always take what they say with a pinch of salt, sometimes it could be down to issue during the delivery process rather than the company itself, such as if parts as missing.
Cheaper electric bikes don’t tend to have all the components you see in the regular road or mountain bikes, such as disc brakes, a quality e-system, or quality tires. I would recommend going for bikes that use renowned brands like Shimano or Bosch.
As you go up in the price range, you’ll notice that the type of Shimano or Bosch being used is different, so the more you pay, the higher quality components you get.
Where To Buy An Electric Bike:
Now you know everything you need to look for when you choose an electric bike, what about where you should buy one? Well, the best places to buy an electric bike are either online or at your local bike store.
Do your research first to judge what you’d like to get out of your e-bike and then research different brands of electric bikes. Whether you want an electric mountain bike, or an electric fat bike, or an electric commuter bike, or if you want to look at a range of different electric bikes.
The last place I would recommend buying an e-bike from is Amazon. Since e-bikes are so advanced, many of Amazon’s brands use cheap quality materials that will break after a year or two.
Not to say there still aren’t brilliant e-bikes on Amazon; just be careful when buying.
You might need to spend a little extra than you firstly may have hoped but remember buying an e-bike is an investment; it will be worthwhile over time.
Best Time Of Year To Buy An E-Bike?
Ahh, you’re wondering when is the best time to buy an e-bike, and yes, there are certain times in the year that are best to buy an e-bike– especially if you’re buying new.
So a handy trick is knowing when to buy!
The best time to buy electric bicycles is around fall time. Many manufacturers and bike shops generally get rid of remaining inventory to make room for new stock for the following year.
So if you buy an e-bike around this time, you’ll be sure to get a bargain of a deal for a high-quality bike!
So there you have it, the ultimate buying guide as to how to buy an e-bike. Whether you’re a beginner or looking or a city dweller looking to invest in an e-bike for your daily commutes, spending the time to choose the right e-bike for you will go a long way.
I have devised plenty of guides to help support you on your buying journey with my top recommendations, but it is probably best to visit the bike shop.
The e-bike market is soaring, and I’m ready for it!