How to Choose an Electric Bike


When I was recently looking to get a new electric bike there were a lot of factors to be considered that many people might gloss over when buying a new electric bike. So, I have put together a resource for you to reference to help you to choose a new electric bike.

So, how to choose an electric bike? The most important things to consider when getting an electric bike are if you want pedal assist, throttle assist or both, if you need a long range battery, the terrain that you will be cycling on and the space that you have to store the bike.

Electric bikes can differ in a number of ways and the way one e-bike rides can be very different to the way another e-bike rides. There are actually a lot of considerations that you should take into account when buying an e-bike.

How to Choose an Electric Bike

There are a number of different components and types of e-bikes that should be considered. I will talk about them below.

Pedal Assist or Throttle?

One of the main things that you should consider is whether or not to get a pedal assist e-bike or a throttle assist e-bike. Pedal assist bikes use the motor to push you along when you pedal and throttle e-bikes use the motor to turn one of the wheels when you turn a throttle.

I have written in depth about how to decide between a pedal assist bike and a throttle assist e-bike before that you can read here. However, I will discuss the key aspects below.

The first thing that you should do is to find out the local laws in your area. There is a good resource made by Wikipedia on e-bike laws that you can see here. There are a number of areas where throttle e-bikes are not allowed, such as in the EU, so it could be the case that the choice has already been made for you.

You should also consider what your goals are. If you are looking to improve your fitness with the use of an e-bike then using a pedal assist e-bike could be a good idea since they have been shown to improve people’s fitness. Yet, if you just want to be able to get to work without being hot and sweaty then you might prefer a throttle assist e-bike (but pedal assist can still do the job here).

Depending on where you live, it might be possible to get a hybrid of the two that makes use of throttle and pedal assist. Many people like this option since they can get the higher range that the pedal assist provides and the benefit of a bit more power from the throttle when they need it.

Motor placement

The main things that electric bikes have that ordinary bikes do not is a motor and a battery. The placement and type of the motor and battery can have a big impact on how the e-bike performs and handles.

  • Front Hub

Front hub motors are placed on the front wheel. They will very rarely be found on pedal assist e-bike’s but are common on cheaper throttle assist e-bikes and on conversion kits since they are easier to implement. They work by making the front wheel turn when you twist the throttle. The main problem with this type of e-bike is that they cause an unnatural amount of weight to get placed towards the front of the bike which makes cornering more difficult. Having the front wheel move the bike can also feel somewhat unusual.

  • Rear Hub

Rear hub motors work by making the rear wheel turn using the motor using either throttle assist or pedal assist or even both. Rear hub motors are more popular on the higher end throttle assist electric bikes since having extra weight at the rear of the bike feels more natural than at the front. If you’re considering getting a throttle e-bike then you should try to get one with a rear hub.

  • Mid-Drive

Mid-drive motors are placed where you pedal and integrate with the bike’s drivetrain. You will only find these types of motors on pedal assist electric bikes. Having the motor placed in the middle of the bike allows for the bike to be more natural feeling and will usually allow for better performance. You will normally find mid-drive motors on the more high-end pedal-assist e-bikes.

If you are looking to get a hub motor type then there are two different types that you can get geared or direct drive.

  • Geared Hub Motors

These types of motors are the louder of the two but they also make use of the batteries power more efficiently allowing for a longer range to be achieved. If you expect to be stopping and starting or to be cycling up hills often then this is the type of hub motor that you should look for.

  • Direct drive hub motors

These types of motors are quieter but they cannot be freewheeled without creating extra drag due to their design. They are not as efficient at lower speeds and they weigh more but they are good for when you will be maintaining a higher speed.

Motor Power

The amount of power in the motor can have a big impact on the performance of the bike and is something that you should consider when getting one.

Depending on the area that you live in electric motors will normally have a limit on how powerful they can be. This can range from 250 watts to 750 watts.

Having a more powerful motor will mean that you can get up to speed more quickly which will be especially helpful when taking on obstacles such as hills or headwinds. However, the extra power also means that the motor will be using up more power from the battery which will reduce the bikes range.

If you don’t think that you will be cycling long distances but expect to be cycling on hills or in difficult terrain then having higher power could be more appropriate for you. However, if you plan on cycling longer distances, perhaps to commute to work, then a motor with less power would likely be better.

Another thing to keep in mind is the amount of weight that the motor will be moving. If you plan on having heavy luggage and you weigh a lot yourself then you should look to get a more powerful motor since it will need to work harder to move the extra weight.

Battery Location

The battery will be adding to the weight of the bike and where it gets placed on the bike will impact how the bike handles.

There are two main areas that you will find the batteries on electric bikes and they are above the rear wheel or on the main frame where the bottle holder tends to be.

Having the battery behind the wheel will mean that it will be easier for you to put the battery back in and to remove it but it will also mean that there will be more weight to the rear of the bike. This can result in the bike being harder to turn.

Having the battery on the main frame will cause the extra weight to be distributed more evenly allowing for a more natural feel to the bike. However, removing the battery will be a bit more difficult but this isn’t really much of an issue for the most part.

The battery placement that you should get will depend on the riding style that you want. If you expect to be cycling quickly then you’ll want to have the battery in the middle of the bike. If you want a more leisurely ride then having the battery above the rear wheel is fine. You’ll usually find that the more premium e-bikes will have the battery placed on the main frame except for cruisers and comfort e-bikes.

Battery Range

The range of the e-bike is something that will be very important. You will want to get an e-bike where the minimum claimed range is above what you expect to be needing. Often, e-bike manufacturers will give a range of distances that the bike can go since it the range will depend largely on the riding conditions. For example, they might say that their bikes range is 20-50 miles.

When getting an e-bike you should try to make sure the lower end of the range isn’t much lower than what you expect to and ideally higher since that way you can be sure that the bike will be able to go as far as you want it to.

If you expect to be using the e-bike over long distances then you should try to get a long range battery that you can normally get as an add-on when you buy the bike. The other option would be to get a second battery that you can use to replace the other battery with if it runs out of power.

There are also a number of things that you can do to increase the range that you can get out of the battery including cycling more slowly, using a lower level of assistance, pumping the tires up to a high pressure, using thinner tires and using smoother tires. You can read more about how to increase the range of an e-bike here.

Another thing that you might want to consider is the charging time of the battery. Electric bike batteries can take between 2-6 hours to fully charge if you don’t think that you will be able to wait 6 hours for the battery to charge then you should get one with a lower charging time. But, the range of the battery is what’s more important for the most part and you should try to maximize that even if it means that the charging time is a bit higher.

There are also some newer electric bikes that come with two batteries mounted on the main frame of the electric bike. This could be useful for you if you expect to be cycling quickly for a prolonged period of time. However, these types of electric bikes typically start at $4000.

Which Class to Get

There are three different classes of electric bikes each of which have different laws surrounding them which will change based on your area.

  • Class one

Class one electric bikes are pedal assist electric bikes that are normally limited to 20 mph in USA and 15.4 mph in Europe. You can cycle more quickly than those speeds if you want to but it will be without the assistance of the electric motor.

  • Class two

These are throttle assist electric bikes that make you go when you twist or push on a throttle. These types of electric bikes are allowed in the US for the most part but you might not be able to use them on bike paths and they are not allowed in Europe.

  • Class three

These are e-bikes that have a max speed of 28 mph. These types of e-bikes will often have more rules surrounding them such as having to have a license, not being able to use them on bike paths and needing to be a minimum age. They are, however, ideal if you expect to be cycling with traffic on roads.

Storage Space

The location that you will be storing the bike is something that should be taken into account. If you do not have a lot of room to store the bike then getting a folding electric bike could be the best option since they can be stored in smaller spaces.

Also if the area that you will be storing the bike is not secure then you should consider whether or not it would be worth getting a more expensive electric bike since you will be running the risk of having it stolen.

Type of Electric Bike

There are a number of different types of electric bikes that you can get and each of them are built with a different purpose in mind.

  • Mountain

These types of electric bikes are very common due to their versatility. They are designed to be used off-road and make use of front or dual suspension, have grippy tires, an aggressive riding stance and tend to have more high-performance components. They can also be used on the road making them a good choice for if you expect to be using the bike on and off-road.

  • Commuter

Commuter electric bikes are designed to be used on the road and are designed to make commuting as easy as possible. They have handlebars that you’ll find on a road bike but they have thin wheels like those you’ll find on a road bike to minimize their drag. If you expect to be cycling the bike over longer distances then this is the type to look at.

  • Cruiser/Comfort

These types of e-bikes are designed to be used in a leisurely manner. They have big soft seats, handlebars that extend out more, a more upright riding style, a step-through frame and wider wheels than normal. They are the type of e-bike that you should consider if you’re planning on getting an electric bike for leisure.

  • Fat Tire

These types of electric bikes make ues of the extra power that the motor provides and have very wide wheels. The wide wheels allow the bike to be used on surfaces that normally wouldn’t be able to be cycled on such as sand and snow.

  • Folding

There are a number of different types of folding e-bikes that you can get including folding mountain e-bikes, fat tire folding e-bikes, folding commuter e-bikes and mini folding e-bikes. You should consider getting a folding bike when you know that space is going to be tight.

  • Racing

These types of e-bikes are designed to be cycled on the road as quickly as possible. They have very thin tires, forward bending handlebars, thin frames and are made to be as light as possible.

Considerations

There are a number of different uses that will influence what electric bike you should get that I will mention below.

  • Terrain

The type of terrain that you will be cycling the e-bike on will have an impact on the type of e-bike that you should get. If you expect to be cycling on a wide variety of surfaces then the versatility that mountain bikes offer would probably be a good fit. Whereas, if you know that you will only be cycling on the road then a commuter e-bike would likely be a better fit.

  • Range

If you know that you will be cycling the e-bike over long distances on a single charge then you should try to get an e-bike with a bigger battery that allows for a higher range. The specific type of e-bike that you should get will depend on what you intend to use it for but all of the different types will normally have high range options.

  • Storage location

If you do not have a lot of space to store the bike then consider getting a folding e-bike that minimizes the amount of space that they take up.

  • The weight of the e-bike

Electric bikes will typically be about 20 pounds heavier than they would be if they were to be an ordinary bike. This means that e-bikes can be quite heavy if you do not want to have to carry a heavy bike around then you should consider getting one that minimizes on weight. Be aware though, that this can compromise on the range of the bike.

  • The weight of you and your luggage

The more weight that the motor has to push the more it is going to have to work. This means that if you think that the combined weight of you and your luggage will be high then you should try to get one with a more powerful motor and a bigger battery. If it’s high then you’ll probably be looking at getting a mountain bike or a commuter bike since they are often capable of handling more weight. Before getting the bike you should check on the max weight that the bike can handle.

  • Battery replacement cost

The main thing that causes e-bikes to be more expensive than ordinary bikes is the battery. The batteries, on electric bikes, can normally last for 500 full charging cycles before becoming noticeably worse than they were new. This means that it will eventually be necessary for you to replace the battery. The cost of doing so can vary largely and this is something that you should find out before getting the bike.

  • Warranty

If you are worried about the longevity of e-bikes then you should try to make sure to get one that comes with a warranty. There are a number that come with 2-year warranties but you should make sure that the battery is included it since they are the most expensive parts.

  • Try in store

The best thing that you can do to decide on what electric bike to get is to try it out. You can do that by going to most bike stores where they will allow you to have a test ride of the bike.

  • Quality of the components

Since you will be cycling the e-bike at higher speeds than on an ordinary bike it is important that you can rely on the bike at higher speeds. This means that you should make sure to get one that has high quality components including good brakes.

Related Questions

How much do e-bikes cost? Electric bikes will typically start at $1000 but if you want a higher quality e-bike then the cost will start at $2000. You can read more about e-bike costs here.

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