By adding an electric motor to the humble bicycle, electric bikes make it easier to ride up hills or into a headwind, help older riders stay mobile and ensure that commuters don’t arrive at work a sweaty mess.
Popular electric bicycles
|Devinci DC NX/GX Eagle||$4,000||Aluminum||11||STEPS E8000||27.5″||Buy now|
|ORBEA Wild FS H30||$4,999||Hydroformed 7000 series aluminum||12||Bosch Performance CX Cruiser||26″||Buy now|
|NAKTO Electric Bicycle||$630||High-strength carbon steel||6||300W brushless motor||26″||Buy now|
|MZZK Electric Mountain Bike||$1,379||Aluminum 6061||7||48V500W||26″||Buy now|
|SwagCycle EB-5||$575||Aluminum alloy||1||250W brushless motor||14″||Buy now|
What is an electric bicycle?
An electric bike is a bicycle with an integrated electric motor powered by a rechargeable battery. Its aim is to help you ride further and faster with less effort.
Most models work by providing assistance to each pedal stroke as you ride. This is known as a pedal-assist system and ensures that, although you’re still exerting yourself, the motor takes some of the effort out of pedaling. Though much rarer, throttle-based systems are also available.
Modern e-bikes are starting to look more and more like traditional bicycles. Aside from the obvious inclusion of a motor, the other key differences you may notice are the extra weight that e-bikes carry – most models are 40lbs and up – and the use of tough frames, reinforced forks and components designed to handle the extra bulk.
Why should I consider an electric bicycle?
There are several reasons why an electric bike could be a smart purchase:
- You want to go further and faster. The assistance of a motor helps you travel longer distances and at quicker speeds.
- You need help getting up hills. If you live in a hilly area, the thought of tackling those steep slopes using pedal power alone can be daunting. An electric bike can give you the assistance you need to climb hills and keep on riding.
- You want to commute to work in comfort. One of the downsides of riding an ordinary bicycle to work is arriving as a sweaty, smelly mess. An e-bike allows you to arrive at work in a more presentable state.
- You want to feel more comfortable riding in traffic. An e-bike can help you keep pace with traffic and take off more quickly from intersections, ensuring that you feel more comfortable on the road.
- You’re less mobile than you used to be. If you’re recovering from an injury or simply getting on a bit, cycling with the assistance of a motor could give you the extra boost of power you need.
What types are available?
There are several varieties of electric bike to choose from, with each designed to suit a different riding style or purpose:
- Commuter e-bikes. Also known as urban e-bikes, these are the most popular form of e-bike and are right at home on city streets and bike paths. They regularly include racks for carrying bags and other goods as well as features that allow you to ride them in everyday clothes (e.g. chain guards to stop your pants getting greasy and pedals that suit regular shoes). They are also easy to use and maintain. Compare the most popular commuter e-bikes with our guide.
- Road e-bikes. A fairly recent phenomenon, these combine motorized assistance with the sleek and aerodynamic design of a road bike. Frames are usually aluminum or carbon fibre and use hydraulic disc brakes to stop. The tires are usually wider than those on an ordinary road bike for extra comfort and traction.
- Mountain e-bikes. Sometimes referred to as eMTBs, these rugged bikes are for those wanting to head off-road and hit the trails. Available in hardtail and dual-suspension models, they offer wide tires and other beefed-up parts to cope with the rigors of off-road use.
- Cargo e-bikes. Usually fitted with large racks, baskets or cargo beds, these two-wheelers are the load-lugging workhorses of the e-bike world. You can use them to commute to work as well as carry a load of shopping, your pet or whatever else you need to move from A to B. Some are even available as three-wheeled trikes for extra stability.
- Foldable e-bikes. These bikes are for those with limited storage space or who may need to take their bike on public transport. They have smaller wheels and typically feature fewer gears than other models.
How to compare electric bicycles
There are plenty of factors to assess when comparing electric bicycles, so make sure you consider the following:
- Motor. Most motors feature a drive unit, battery pack, wiring and a control unit. Bosch, Shimano and Yamaha are the major manufacturers, but some e-bike companies have their own proprietary units. Motors are usually mounted to either the rear hub for a less expensive bike, or bottom bracket to provide smoother acceleration and more stability.
- Battery life. Most new models use lithium-ion batteries. Check the size and quality of the battery to work out how much runtime you can get on a single charge. Battery power ratings are displayed in either Watt-hours (Wh) or Amp-hours (Ah). Under normal commuting conditions, the battery range could be anywhere from 35 to 95 miles.
- Control unit. All e-bikes have a control unit and this usually takes the form of a handlebar-mounted computer. However, you can control some units using a smartphone app.
- Tires. Wide tires provide additional traction, help absorb impacts and enhance stopping power. Check tire width and make sure they’re from a reputable tire manufacturer.
- Brakes. Stopping power is important if you’re going to be traveling at an increased speed and carrying the extra weight of an e-bike, so look for hydraulic disc brakes.
- Gears. There are single-speed and geared e-bikes available. Check the specs sheet to find out how many gears you’ll be able to call on to suit different terrain and conditions.
- Weight. E-bikes aren’t lightweight, with many tipping the scales at 55 lbs and above. While the motor can obviously offset these extra kilos when you’re riding, make sure you’ll be able to comfortably maneuver your bike around the garage or shed at home — or if you happen to run out of battery a long way from home.
- Warranty. Check the manufacturer’s warranty to find out how long it lasts and what it covers. Remember, repairs are likely to be more complicated and expensive with an e-bike than with a regular bicycle.
- Price. Entry level e-bikes start at around $1,500, but high-tech models with all the bells and whistles can nudge and even exceed the $5,000 mark.
Electric bike riders must comply with the same road rules as ordinary bicycles, but they’re also subject to power and speed limits in many states.
- While some states don’t have any maximum speed regulations for e-bikes, many impose a 20 to 30 mph limit.
- While some states don’t have a minimum age to operate an e-bike, many state that you must be at least 15 years old to operate one.
- Some states require you to have a driver’s license or class M license.
With prices ranging from $1,500 up to around $10,000, there are e-bike models to suit many different riding styles and budgets. If you’re thinking of buying an electric bicycle, start comparing e-bikes today. Or else consider buying an electric bike conversion kit to boost the pedal power on your existing bicycle.
How did we choose these products?
To choose our list of the best electric bikes, we conducted independent research to find the most popular models available. We narrowed our selection by weighing the overall features, weight, speed and performance against the price tag.
Frequently asked questions
Get even more questions about electric bikes answered here.
Do I need a license to ride an electric bike?
It depends on the state in which you live. Some states do not require any type of license to ride an e-bike, while others require a regular driver’s license or a class M license.
How fast can an electric bike go?
Most electric bikes don’t go faster than 20 mph under motor power alone.
Can I ride my electric bike in the rain?
Yes. The electrical components on most e-bikes are completely sealed, so it’s typically safe to ride an e-bike in the rain. That said, leaving your bike outside in an extended downpour or completely immersing it in water is definitely not recommended.