* Get to work faster and easier on an electric bike
* Our top pick is foldable for easy transport
* Save money on gas and public transport with an e-bike
Best Electric Bikes
Editor’s Choice: Prodeco Tech Phantom X2 v5 Folding Electric Bicycle
Bottom Line: Performance and practicality in one sleek and stylish package. It even folds up for easy storage.
Editor’s Notes: The Tech Phantom underlines Prodeco’s reputation for combining high-quality, lightweight, and low maintenance. It’s reliable, easy to live with, it looks great–and it’s just plain fun. It’s tough to find an e-bike that offers more.
Bottom Line: A compact, low-cost e-bike for the environmentally conscious commuter.
Editor’s Notes: Avoid traffic chaos by parking on the edge of town and biking the rest. The neat folding Swagtron weighs just 35 pounds. It is not the prettiest, or the quickest, but it’s decent for short work and leisure trips.
Best Value: X-Treme Trail Maker Electric Mountain Bicycle
Bottom Line: Take city and rural trips in your stride with this great value e-bike.
Editor’s Notes: A basic, all-rounder that offers everything you need. Disk brakes, renowned Shimano gears, suspension and luggage rack – plus a superb reputation for reliability – all at a remarkably reasonable price. Some assembly is required, but online instructions help.
Buying Guide for Electric Bikes
Whether for weekend jaunts in the country or convenient commutes, electric bikes have become very popular. With hundreds of models available, there’s an e-bike for all of us. But how do you pick the right one? Let’s look at what would make your perfect electric bike.
Type of Motor
Early electric bikes used friction drives: a motor rubbing on the tire. Unfortunately, they have a nasty habit of wearing through the sidewall or tread. So the majority of electric bikes use a brush or brushless motor. It’s proven, reliable technology.
Brushless motors are the best option. They’re smaller and more powerful than brush motors, and make much more efficient use of the battery.
Modern e-bike motors are quite compact. They don’t have a big impact on appearance, but they can change the feel.
Front hub motors are often cheapest. Putting a motor there is easiest. However, the extra weight makes steering heavier and increases tire wear.
Rear hub motors also add weight, but the feel is more natural at the back of the bike. Drive is much like how it works on a motorcycle.
Crank-mounted motors give the best balance and most bicycle-like feel. They’re positioned where the pedals are. They deliver power the same way your feet do – just more of it.
How fast your electric bike goes, and how far it takes you, depends on the power available from the motor and battery. Motor power is given in watts, battery power in volts. Batteries also have an amp hour (Ah) rating – important because it indicates how long they can maintain performance.
The technically-minded will look at those figures and work out all kinds of useful info. The rest of us will probably just look at the figures the manufacturer gives: top speed, and distance it travels on a full charge.
For best performance, make sure to check tire pressure regularly, and oil the chain and other friction points.
The Electrical Bits
All electric bikes have some kind of speed control. A few have a lever like you’d find on a lawnmower. They’re okay, but a motorcycle-style twist-grip offers much easier and more precise control.
Battery position might be part of your decision. Many are tucked away on the frame, but some are above the rear wheel where a rack might go. Is that important? Maybe you put a rack on the front instead?
Many electric bikes come with trip computers, giving all kinds of useful speed and distance information – including battery charge remaining. Each is different, so check details.
The Bicycle Bits
Many things you would think about when choosing an ordinary bike are equally important when you buy an electric bike:
- What style do you prefer: classic, modern, off-road…?
- How many gears do you need? It’s not important on flat terrain, but more gears gives greater energy efficiency on hills.
- Does it need to fold, to stow in your trunk?
- Does it come with lights, a rack, a water bottle?
- Do you want a sports saddle or a more comfortable one?
One vital aspect is the brakes. Electric bikes are a good deal heavier and faster, so the brakes need to cope. Disk brakes are recommended for their higher stopping performance.
So there you have it, a short but comprehensive overview of what to look for when buying an electric bike. Enjoy the ride!
Your electric bike is quite an investment. It’s a good idea to get it insured.
Q. Conversion kits can turn my existing bike into an electric one, are they any good?
A. They work, but they’re not our favorite solution. Most change the front wheel, affecting balance, tire wear and brake performance. They’re not cheap, either. You can get a purpose-built e-bike for not much more.
Q. Replacement batteries are quite expensive. How long do they last?
A. It’s impossible to say. Motor power, the terrain you cover, your weight, etc., all have an impact. Manufacturers quote anything from 5 to 10 years – which is not much help! One battery maker claims a life of 1,000 recharges. Multiply that by 25 miles per charge and you get a distance of 25,000 miles. Again, it’s just a guide. Bottom line? You should probably figure on replacing the battery eventually – but not for several years.
Q. Are there any restrictions on electric bikes?
A. U.S. federal law says an electric bike needs fully-operable pedals, a motor not exceeding 750 watts, and a maximum speed of 20 mph on level ground (with a 170-pound rider). More powerful e-bikes are available, but not for road use. Depending on your state, you may need a license. Best to check.
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