Electric bikes, or e-bikes, combine the function of a regular bicycle with a battery-powered motor making it a lot easier to reach top speed, tackle hills, or simply cruise in the bike lane.
These intriguing mobiles have been gaining a lot of popularity over the last few years and it doesn’t look like they’re gonna be slowing down anytime soon.
Which makes sense when you think about it – they’re great for the environment, easy to handle, fairly affordable, fun to ride… what’s not to like?
That said, there’s a lot of e-bikes to choose from these days, so before you decide on one, it’s a good idea to have a game plan – you know, to help narrow your search and make sure you really get what you want.
And that’s exactly what this guide is for.
In this article, I’ll go over all the stuff you should look for and think about before deciding on an e-bike.
After reading, you’ll be more than ready to find the best option to meet your needs.
How Do Electric Bikes Work?
First things first though.
We’re talking about electric bikes here, not dirt bikes, mopeds, or scooters.
And even though a lot of e-bikes are designed to look like mopeds and motorcycles (or dirt bikes), e-bikes are unique in that you can still pedal them manually.
These are still bicycles, they just have an electric motor too- which means charging the battery instead of messing with gas tanks.
The way that motor works will depend a little on the class of e-bike you have (more on classes below), but all e-bikes will offer some degree of pedal-assist.
This means as you start pedaling, the motor kicks in to make pedaling a lot easier.
Some e-bikes have pedal-assist only, while others also come with a throttle that lets you run the motor without pedaling (but these come with pedal-assist as well).
And by law, all e-bikes have a top speed that motor can reach – usually 20 mph or 28 mph, depending on class.
Although there are e-bikes out there that can go faster than this, they might not necessarily be legal to ride in all areas.
There are a lot of really cool e-bikes out there and when looking through these it’s easy to forget that these are still bicycles, but they are.
They just come with motors, electric batteries, and pedal-assist/throttles to make pedaling them a lot easier.
Ok, I think we’re all on the same page now, so let’s move on.
10 Things To Look For When Buying An Electric Bike
The first thing you should probably look at when checking out a new e-bike is its class.
California was the first state to come out with a classification system for e-bikes and many of the other states have since adopted their same rules… but not all have.
It’s a good idea to check your local state’s rules and regulations regarding e-bikes, their classes, and where you can legally use them before buying anything.
But that said, most states use some variation of California’s class system, so the below info is a great place to start.
E-bikes come in 3 different classes:
- Class I e-bikes are pedal-assist only and the motor tops out at 20 mph; these bikes don’t have a throttle
- Class II e-bikes come with pedal-assist and throttles, but the motor tops out at 20 mph regardless of whether you’re using pedal-assist or the throttle
- Class III e-bikes are technically supposed to be just like class I bikes, but with a top speed of 28 mph, but this is where things get a little tricky. Some manufacturers make class III bikes they do have a throttle and that can go well beyond 28 mph. This means most of these bikes probably aren’t street legal, but again, it depends on local laws and regulations (and these bikes may be legal for off-roading or trail use). Some manufacturers will also give class III bikes a throttle, but have the throttle max out at 20 mph, essentially combining the functions of a class II and class III bike.
One more word on laws – most states don’t require a driver’s license to operate e-bikes but there are usually age requirements and/or helmet requirements, especially for class III bikes. For more info, check out the e-bike laws by state.
2. Type of Bike
E-bikes come in all varieties, so it’s a good idea to consider the type or style of bike you want too.
This will depend a lot on where and how you plan on using your e-bike – city, bike lanes, trails, just for fun on your own property, etc.
There are e-bikes designed specifically for city commutes and there are electric mountain bikes designed for, uh, mountain biking.
There are also plenty of all-terrain bikes that can go pretty much anywhere you want.
Some e-bikes are better suited for hauling cargo and carrying stuff than others as well.
And of course now, we have a lot of really cool looking e-bikes to choose from too – many look like motorcycles and dirt bikes, but there are plenty that resemble mopeds too.
Basically, regardless of what you’re looking for, there’s probably an e-bike to meet that need.
When it comes to the bike specs themselves, the motor might just be the most important consideration to make.
There are a few different things to look for regarding the bike motors and these include the location of the motor and its power ratings.
E-bikes can come with either a hub motor or a mid-drive motor and each has its advantages.
A hub motor is attached near a tire (usually rear), while a mid-drive motor is attached in the middle of the bike, near the cranks.
Hub motors are nice because they’re more affordable, but they do put more weight in the rear of the bike, which can throw off your balance a little.
Mid-drive motors are more expensive, but they offer better balance and are usually more efficient as motors.
When it comes to motor power, you’ll want to check out the bike’s watt output.
Wattage is the measurement of the motor’s power and seeing higher numbers here indicates a stronger motor.
Having a stronger motor can be helpful when going up hill, pulling cargo, or trying to reach top speeds faster, but keep in mind -the more power you have, the faster you’ll likely use up your battery.
Most e-bikes these days come with motors somewhere in the 250W – 1,000W range.
An e-bike’s battery is like its gas tank and it’s a good idea to know what your range is before going on any long trips.
Sure, if the battery dies on you you’ll still be able to pedal yourself home, but depending on the size and weight of your e-bike, this could be a challenge.
Anyway, e-bike batteries typically come as either 48-V or 52-V and the volts basically refer to how much power the battery can send to the motor.
This means higher volt batteries can send more energy to the motor faster, making for better performance.
When it comes to how long your battery will last, it’s all about amps and amp-hours: the higher the amp-hours, the longer your battery will last.
Combining factors like voltage, amps, and amp-hours gives you the bike’s watt-hours, which basically tells you how long the battery will last with a full charge.
Luckily, most brands do the math for you and tell you the expected range for the battery.
For more info on amps, amp-hours, watts, and all that stuff, check out Juiced Bikes post on the subject (they go into a lot of great detail).
E-bikes come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, so that means they come in a wide range of weights too. Motors, batteries, bulkier frames, accessories… this stuff can really add up.
Most e-bikes weigh somewhere between 30 – 90 lb, again depending on their size and features.
If you’ll be carrying your e-bike up/down stairs or even have to pedal without motor assist at times, this is really something to consider.
The bigger motorcycle inspired e-bikes will be at the higher end of that limit, while the smaller, folding e-bikes will be closer to the low end.
Oh, it’s a good idea to consider the weight limits or payload capacities too because you want to make sure any bike you’re looking at can safely handle ya.
Keep in mind, these max weight limits include any cargo you’ll be carrying with ya.
The tires found on e-bikes can vary a lot too and you’ll want to consider these when choosing between different models.
The tires your bike needs will depend entirely on where you plan on riding – if you plan on riding in bike lanes in the city, you’ll do just fine with standard tires; if you like the idea of going off road, you’ll want a bike with fatter, more robust tires.
A lot of e-bikes also come with all terrain tires that do pretty well in both cases.
Regardless, it’s definitely a good idea to check those tires out before making any decisions.
Bike size is crucial when choosing a standard bicycle, but it’s also important to consider when searching for an electric bike.
Maybe not quite as crucial, especially for class II and III bikes, but still worth considering, especially since not all e-bikes come in different sizes.
Some e-bikes do come with different frame sizes (like Aventon), others don’t.
If you’re well over 6′ tall or under 5’2″, you might want to reach out to what ever brand you’re considering to make sure their bikes will comfortably fit.
8. To Fold or Not to Fold?
There are folding e-bikes out there and these can be handy when you’ve got limited storage space or you find yourself having to carry your e-bike often.
Someone living in a high-rise in the city comes to mind.
Folding e-bikes are usually smaller, lighter-weight, and may not come with as many accessories as the larger e-bikes, but the space-saving they bring can be worth it.
But even though these bikes are a little smaller, they can still be pretty powerful – and there are even folding all-terrain e-bikes that perform surprisingly well.
Ah, accessories, the fun stuff.
E-bikes come with a wide range of options and accessories to choose from, so you can pretty much find anything you’re looking for.
Some bikes are compatible with a lot more accessories than others, so consider this when choosing a bike.
Common accessories include horns, lights, brake lights, turn signals, LCD consoles, cargo attachments, racks, baskets, extra seats… you name it.
There’s some really cool stuff to choose from out there, but if you’re just looking for a good ol’ fashioned bike without all the fancy stuff, you get certainly find that too.
Last, but definitely not least, is price.
We all have a budget to think about and we need to keep this in mind when shopping for these e-bikes.
You can find some really affordable e-bikes in the $500 range, but most e-bikes fall somewhere between $1000 – $2000.
There are also plenty of higher-end e-bikes that cost well over $2k, which should come with more accessories, stronger motors, longer-lasting batteries, etc.
E-bikes with mid-drive motors usually start out around $2k, while hub motor bikes start out around $1k.
Ok, I have a feeling I’m forgetting something here, but I think that about covers it.
E-bikes are fun, exciting, and good for the environment and depending on where you live, one really could take the place of a full-size vehicle.
When shopping for an e-bike, I encourage you to consider the specs and features mentioned above, but again – make sure you check your local laws and regulations regarding e-bike use in public.
Comparing motor wattages, battery capacities, expected ranges, and all that technical stuff can get a little overwhelming, but don’t forget to have fun with this process.
Anyway, I hope you found this guide helpful and maybe even a little entertaining.
And as always, if you have any questions, comments, or think of anything else I left out, please leave a message below and I’ll get back to you shortly.