The pandemic biking boom is still going strong, and a lot of the credit should go to e-bikes. The best e-bikes make it easy to exist without a car, once an impossible thought in many cities. They also make bike riding more accessible for folks who struggle with hills or distances, as well as commuters who want to bike to work without arriving a sweaty mess.
For decades, cycling in the U.S. has been most popular among two groups: hardcore, spandex-clad athletes and children. Compare that to much of Europe, where cycling is a popular means of transport for riders of all ages. Fortunately, the tides are turning in the U.S., and cycling is becoming more accessible to commuters and casual riders of different ages and abilities.
The trouble is that the best e-bikes can be expensive. Really expensive. And with three different classes to choose from and a glossary of terms that are new to even experienced cyclists, e-bikes are confusing. Like any major purchase, a little research goes a long way in finding the right e-bike for you. To help make the decision easier, we talked to e-bike experts from leading bike shops in different parts of the country to get advice for first-time e-bike beginners and recommendations for specific e-bikes for different riders. In the end, we selected the top bikes from the best e-bike brands.
We spoke to Shane Hall, a buyer at Bicycles NYC with decades of experience as a buyer across New York City bike shops, and Kitty Monsalud of Bike Attack, an award-winning bike shop that was the first shop to sell e-bikes in Los Angeles. We also spoke to Heather Henderson, Senior Product Manager of bicycles for REI Co-op Brands. Henderson has experience as the senior product manager at Cervélo and Trek.
Arguably, the first thing to know about e-bikes is that they’re not going anywhere. Hall explained that after the pandemic hit, “I literally went from carrying two e-bikes, and there are probably a good 20 different e-bikes on the floor [now].” He added that e-bikes have made biking more accessible; “Many of our customers are 50+, 55+” In short, e-bikes are for everyone. Here’s what you need to know about buying an e-bike before pulling the trigger (or, rather, the throttle).
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The Different Classes of E-Bikes
Whether riding a single-speed or a racing road bike, traditional bicycles work essentially the same. You push the pedals, and the bikes go. E-bikes are different. There are three classes of e-bikes in the U.S., and they’re substantially different in terms of speed and how they operate. Before you start thinking about what kind of e-bike you like, read up on the rules. Shane Hall of Bicycles NYC says, “Know your local municipality and what’s legal. In New York, Class 2 was legal upstate, not in the city,” though the law was changed in 2020 to allow all three e-bike classes in the city.
Henderson of REI agrees. “Shoppers should consider where and how they want to ride the bike, as some trails and paths restrict access to certain electric bike classes. PeopleForBikes.org is doing great work to help make electric bike legislation easier to understand with their Model Electric Bike Legislation.”
Once you’re clear on your area’s laws and regulations, you can start to consider which class of e-bike you’d like to buy. Henderson explained, “Class I is pedal-assisted; for the bike to move forward, the rider must pedal but can be assisted by the motor up to 20 mph. Class II bikes feature a throttle so that the bike can propel forward by either the motor with a twist/press of the throttle or the rider pedaling with pedal assist, up to 20 mph. Class III electric bicycles offer pedal assist up to 28 mph.”
Hub Motor vs. Mid Drive
In addition to the classes of e-bikes, motor placement is also a major factor. The two main styles are rear hub and mid-drive. Rear hub motors feature a motor placed near the cogset of the rear wheel. Mid-drive motors are located near the front derailleur. In the simplest possible terms, a rear hub motor is located on the rear wheel, and a mid-drive motor is located where the pedals are. The type of motor you have will affect which class it fits into. Hall explains that throttle-assisted Class 2 bikes have hub motors.
Mid-drive bikes tend to be more expensive, but in terms of ride quality, the experts we spoke to agreed that mid-drive offers a better riding experience. Kitty Monsalud of Bike Attack said, “Mid-drive motor systems are Shimano and Bosch, which are superior over rear hub drives because they feel more natural when pedaling and provide better traction. Mid-drive systems are more expensive than rear hubs, but also have a longer life span and fewer warranty issues than rear hubs.”
Hall of Bicycles NYC also emphasized the importance of torque, a factor often overlooked because buyers tend to focus on speed and range. Torque allows you to climb a steep hill and move from a stopped position more quickly. Hall explains that “Bikes with more torque tend to be mid-drive. When you’re in New York City, torque becomes more important.” If you’re using your bike as your primary vehicle and hauling a lot of stuff, torque is also an important factor, and Hall cites the emerging popularity of cargo bikes (both electric and non-electric) as a reason to take torque seriously.
Beyond looking at the brand of the bike, it’s also a good idea to look at the manufacturer of the motor. Hall singled out Bosch’s mid-drive motors for their excellent quality and noted that “Shimano’s best motors tend to be mid-drive.” When considering electric bike motors and batteries, it’s also a good idea to look at safety. There have been reports of bike batteries catching on fire, and Hall pointed me toward this article, which recommends that customers look for UL certification on their batteries.
Despite the general preference for mid-drive e-bikes, you shouldn’t write off hub motors, and all of the experts I spoke to recommended at least one hub motor bike. Hub motors can be handy for folding bikes, for example, and they’re suitable for budget-conscious shoppers.
But Why Are They So Expensive?
If the last time you bought a bicycle was when you were a teenager, you might be stunned to learn how much a regular bike costs, to say nothing of an e-bike. A bicycle might seem like a fairly simple machine without much room for improvement, but from the rise of disc brakes to the growth of carbon fiber, every single component of the average bike has gradually improved over the years. Plus, the pandemic has caused demand for all types of bikes to skyrocket while slowing the supply chain, meaning basic market economics are at play when considering the cost of bicycles.
Shane Hall of Bicycles NYC pointed out that when you buy an e-bike, “You literally almost have two bicycles. You have your shifter, your brake and an electronic part of the bicycle: a motor, a battery, a controller, and obviously the wiring.” In effect, you’re paying for all of the mechanical components of a bicycle, plus all of the electronic, motorized components. That, in short, helps explain the high costs of an e-bike.
But yes, it is fair to say that e-bikes are expensive, and Hall said that even as a bike seller, he was stunned by some of the costs of e-bikes. He pointed out, “One of our brands makes a $9,000 cargo bike. Five to seven grand is normal for us [and] they’re sold out for the year. Who the hell is buying a nine-grand cargo bike? The people that are buying nine grand cargo bikes? They’re not buying a used car.” If you invest in a cargo bike, you can potentially use that to replace many of the things you used a car for. That includes commuting, handling groceries and even potentially getting the kids to school.
Beyond their use as a replacement for a car, they can also be a great alternative to public transit. Public transit is a great option that’s usually more economical than a car, but not every service is reliable, and you can’t always count on them at all hours of the day. With an e-bike, you can get around on your own schedule, while paying only a fraction of the cost in charging your battery that you would in bus passes.
With e-bikes, you also get what you pay for. But just looking at a cheap e-bike and a more expensive one, you can’t always tell exactly what that is. That’s because most of the improvements will be in components, which isn’t necessarily obvious to the eye.
Hall emphasized the importance of torque when you start going up in price, pointing out that “When you get to about $3,500, you’ll see 63 to 65 Nm of torque. When you get to top-end bikes [above $4,000], you’ll get 85 Nm, and you tend to get a bump in battery capacity.” Even if you don’t know exactly the Nm of torque or the battery capacity, the differences will be appreciated, especially on long rides or when hauling cargo.
Other Factors: Battery and Weight
The range of an e-bike is an important spec to look at when considering an e-bike. If you’re planning on going long distances, you want a bike that can keep up. Hall noted that you shouldn’t simply take the range at face value, because that will be affected by terrain, the weight of the rider and other factors. But most e-bike listings will let you know what the range of the battery is, which is useful in deciding which bike to buy.
In addition, an e-bike with a removable battery is an important factor for many riders because you can securely lock up your bike in the garage, take the battery up to your office or home, and easily charge it. However, there are some trade-offs, as lighter-weight bikes don’t always have removable batteries but replaceable ones. These can be removed by a mechanic but not by a rider.
The weight of the e-bike itself is important, and it’s arguably one of the largest drawbacks of an e-bike. Hall says on the lighter end, an e-bike will weigh around 45 pounds, which is still substantially heavier than the average regular bike. A heavier bike might push into the 55-pound range. Should the bike run out of juice, your legs will have to work much harder. It’s also important to think about if you’ll ever need to carry the bike, whether that’s onto a bus rack or up to your front door.
E-Bike Service and Maintenance
All of our e-bike experts agreed that where you buy your bike matters. Talking with a representative will help you find a bike that’s right for your needs. Additionally, e-bikes are complicated machines that require maintenance, so having a shop you can take your bike to is important.
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In short, it’s important to have a knowledgeable service center that can take care of both the mechanical part of the bike and the electronic part. Monsalud noted that “a bike shop will also take care of all your assembly, service and warranty needs (and you will need them).”
Hall added, “There are some good online brands out there. But if you have an issue, who’s going to fix it? That’s really, really important.”
A local e-bike store or a bike shop with a good selection of e-bikes will give you somewhere to bring your bike for maintenance if you run into issues. Even as an e-commerce site, we’d encourage buying a bike in person, but we recognize that that’s not an option for everyone, especially as not every market is well served by bike shops. In that case, there are plenty of online retailers where you can buy an e-bike.
The Best E-Bikes To Buy Online in 2022
Even once you’re equipped with detailed information about motor types and e-bike classes, it’s still easy to be overwhelmed by the number of choices. The explosion in the popularity of e-bikes is good for shoppers who want one because more brands are making them, and they are all competitive with one another in terms of performance and price. Hall points out that all major bike brands are making e-bikes, and “honestly, most of them are pretty good.” He adds, “These companies are competition; no one wants their bike to be a crappy one. The price ranges are very competitive.”
These are some of the suggestions our experts offered for the best e-bikes. We’ve included options for different kinds of riders and budgets, so you can find the e-bike that works best for you.
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1. Tern GSD
BEST CARGO BIKE
Monsalud and Hall suggested looking at Tern for cargo bikes if you have the money. Hall explained, “They make the best e-cargo bikes in the business, not just in terms of the quality, but they have an entire ecosystem built around the bike.” The bike is the same length as a regular bike, but it has an extended rack in the back that can accommodate up to two children plus groceries. Tern’s larger bike is its GSD bike (Get Stuff Done), and if you want a smaller bike, you can go for the HSD line (Haul Stuff Daily).
2. Aventon: Pace 500 – Next-Gen
Aventon is one of the best e-bikes for a budget, and you get impressive performance for, in many cases, less than $2,000. Kitty Monsalud of Bike Attack suggested this bike specifically for riders on a budget. It offers 28 MPH Top Speed and an average range of 40 miles. It has built-in lights, too, which is another convenient feature for new riders.
BEST FOLDING BIKE
For a folding bike, Hall suggested GoCycle. “You can fold it in under 30 seconds with no tools required.” He also pointed out that they’re “one of the lightest weight” e-bikes, and they’ve won multiple tech awards.
4. Cannondale Treadwell Neo 2 EQ Electric Bike
Cannondale is a reputed brand name-checked by our experts, Kitty Monsalud and Shane Hall. They did not mention this specific bike, though it’s a reputable brand with good features. Like other more economical bikes, this is powered by a rear hub motor. The 250 Wh battery can provide up to 47 miles with pedal assist. It also has built-in accessories for rider comfort and convenience. There are fenders, which protect your clothes from mud and water. There’s also a kickstand, as well as a front rack that’s ideal for groceries or your work backpack. Lights are also included.
5. Gazelle Medeo T9 City HMB
READY TO RIDE
Gazelle is a Dutch brand with 130 years of experience, and they’ve also been selling e-bikes for many years. The Medeo T9 City HMB has a low step frame that makes it easy to get on the bike, and a Bosch mid-drive motor powers it. Hall pointed out that “they come with bikes, fenders, racks, kickstands, lights out of the box. All you need is a helmet and maybe a lock.”
6. Giant Talon E+ 3
BEST NEW RELEASE
Giant is one of the biggest bike manufacturers in the world, and they excel at making budget-friendly bikes for all levels of riders, as well as high-end performance bikes. While our expert Shane Hall didn’t mention any specific Giant e-bikes, he did note that Giant and Specialized are his shop’s top-selling brands. Giant’s Talon E+ 3 has thick tires capable of conquering tough terrain. This bike is powered by a Yamaha mid-drive motor and has a removable battery.
7. Brompton C Line Electric Explore Mid Folding Bike
BEST URBAN BIKE
Brompton’s C Line is an e-bike built for the urban commuter. These bikes fold into a highly compact size, making them easier to take into your office or apartment. At 38 pounds, it’s a substantial bike, but still lighter than most e-bikes. Unlike most hub-driven bikes, this option is powered by a front hub motor. It’s a class 1 bike, meaning it’s pedal assist.
8. Heybike Explore Electric Bike
BEST FAT TIRE BIKE
Our tech editor John Velasco has used Heybike’s affordable e-bike, which has some features that make it a good buy for the average rider. The bike has a step-through frame, so less flexible riders or anyone wearing restrictive clothing can still easily get on. The hub-driven bike has fat tires for easily managing poorly paved roads, and the battery is removable for easy charging.
9. Surface 604 Twist
Monsalud recommended the Canadian brand Surface 604 for riders looking for a folding e-bike. Twist is a folding electric bike powered by a hub motor, and it’s a class 2 e-bike that is class 3 ready. It’s equipped with a torque sensor to supply the right power. Surface claims, “You’ll swear it’s as smooth as a mid-drive motor.”
10. Cannondale Topstone Neo Carbon 2
Many brands exclusively focus on e-bikes, but traditional bike brands are still an excellent option for the best e-bikes. Cannondale is a great brand for riders willing to spend more, and Monsalud recommended the Topstone for road riders. It’s a gravel bike, meaning it can handle different terrain, and the Class 3 e-bike is powered by a Bosch motor that can give you up to 28 MPH of speed.
11. Co-op Cycles CTY e2.2 Electric Bike
BEST CITY BIKE
Co-op Cycles CTY e2.2 offer “affordable city fun,” according to REI’s Heather Henderson. It’s a class 1 bike, meaning it can reach speeds of up to 20 mph. A mid-drive Shimano motor and battery power it. In addition to its reasonable price, it comes equipped with handy features like an integrated rear rack for panniers, built-in front and rear lights, and even a kickstand.
About the Experts: For this e-bike review, we spoke to experts at some of the most popular bike shops in the country. Our experts have decades of experience riding and selling bikes, including the best electric bicycles for adults. Not all of the e-bikes above were specifically recommended by one of our experts, and we noted which models were expert picks.
- Shane Hall, a buyer at Bicycles NYC with decades of experience in New York City bike shops
- Kitty Monsalud of Bike Attack, an award-winning bike shop that was the first shop to sell e-bikes in Los Angeles
- Heather Henderson, Senior Product Manager of bicycles for REI Co-op Brands and experience as the senior product manager at Cervélo and Trek
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