When I was recently looking to get a new electric bike, mountain bikes were the type that I was most interested in. There are a number of things to consider when getting one. So, I have put together this guide to help you to decide.
So, how to choose an electric mountain bike? The main things to consider are the range of the e-bike, if it has front or dual suspension, the power of the motor, its weight, if it’s pedal or throttle assist, the battery replacement cost and the overall cost of the bike.
There are actually a lot of things to consider when deciding on what electric mountain bike to get and one mountain bike can differ a lot to the next.
How to Choose an Electric Mountain Bike
Electric mountain bikes have a number of benefits over other types of bikes. They can be cycled on the road as well as off-road making them ideal for when you are unsure of what surface you will be riding on. They have a wide selection due to their popularity. They also are one of the types of e-bikes that can have the most high-quality components.
There are a number of special considerations to be made when getting an electric bike of any kind. Below I will detail the important things to consider when you’re looking to get an electric mountain bike.
- Dual vs front suspension
Electric mountain bikes can either have suspension only at the front (also called hardtail) or it can have suspension at the front and at the rear of the bike.
By only having suspension at the front of the e-bike it will be able to reduce the shock from bumps as they hit the front wheel but they don’t do much when the rear wheel goes over them. This can make the ride feel bumpy and sitting down when riding over bumps can feel uncomfortable. The benefit of not having suspension at the back is that it reduces weight helping you to cycle faster it can also help to lower the cost of the bike.
Having suspension at the back as well will help you to be able to go over bumps without feeling too much discomfort. Unless your goal is to cycle as fast as possible then this would probably be the better option since it allows for a more pleasant riding experience.
- Motor power
The motor, in the e-bike, can have a big impact on its performance. Having a more powerful motor will help you to get up to speed more quickly but it will also cause the range of the e-bike to be lower. The motors in electric bikes will be limited in how large they can be and the max size will depend on where you live. In the US they will vary between 250 watts and 750 watts.
The best sized motor for you will depend on what you intend to do with the electric mountain bike. If you intend to cycle quickly or you have a lot of hills in your area and don’t intend to cycle it very far then go for one with more power. If you need more range then a smaller motor is what you’ll probably want to go for.
It should also be mentioned here that electric bikes typically have a limit on how fast they can go. The limit will depend on where you live but in the US it will normally be 20 mph. This means that having a more powerful motor won’t help you to reach a higher top speed so much due to the speed limit. However, it will help when more power is needed such as when going up hills.
- Throttle or pedal assist (or both)?
There are two types of electric bikes that you can get and they are throttle assist and pedal assist e-bikes. Throttle assist e-bikes only require that you push the throttle to make it go and you don’t have to pedal similar to a scooter. Pedal assist e-bikes work by pushing you along as you pedal.
Having the throttle assist available to you when coming up to difficult areas to cycle through such as hills can be useful. You might also want to consider getting a throttle e-bike if you don’t want to pedal and just want to get around more easily. However, using the throttle can drain the battery quickly and you won’t get the fitness benefits of cycling. These types of electric bikes are not allowed in Europe and have may have some restrictions depending on where you live.
Pedal assist mountain bikes are useful if you want to be able to get a workout while still being able to get around quickly. The level of assistance can be adjusted with the high levels offering a lot of assistance and the low levels offering a small amount of assistance or none. Being able to control the level of assistance is ideal since it can help you to increase the range that you can get out of the battery.
If you’re unsure of which to get then you might want to consider getting a hybrid which has both pedal and throttle assist options. Many people like this option because it gives them access to the extra power from the throttle assist while being able to get more range by mainly using the pedal assist.
- What class?
There are three classes of electric bikes that you can get that have different laws surrounding them.
Class 1 electric bikes are pedal assist electric bikes that have a max speed of 20 mph. You can go faster than 20 mph if you want but you will have to pedal by yourself without the assistance of the motor to do so.
Class 2 electric bikes are throttle assisted electric bikes.
Class 3 electric bikes are pedal assist e-bikes that can go up to 28 mph. These types of electric bikes might not be allowed on bike trails and they might require you to have a license to use them.
You can read more about electric bike laws, on Wikipedia, here.
- Battery size
The range that you will be able to get out of the e-bike will be one of the most important things for you to prioritize. If the quoted range isn’t higher than the distances that you intend to cycle then you should either find a different electric mountain bike or upgrade the battery. When buying the e-bike most manufacturers will have a long-range battery option that will cost more but it will increase the e-bikes range. Something to be aware of is that the quoted range will normally be under perfect conditions so you should expect your actual range to be lower.
There are a number of ways that you can increase the range that you can get out of the e-bike that I have talked about here.
- Battery location
The location of the battery can have an effect on the performance of the bike. The batteries on e-bikes can either be above the rear wheel or somewhere on the middle of the main frame of the e-bike. Having the battery above the rear wheel makes it easier to remove the battery but it also adds weight towards the back of the bike. Having the battery in the middle of the bike makes it a little bit harder to take the battery out but it distributes the weight more evenly around the bike.
- Battery replacement cost
The biggest cost on e-bikes are their batteries. When buying an e-bike it’s important to consider how much it costs to replace the battery. The batteries are normally rated to last for 500 full charging cycles before they’re 60%-70% as good as they were new. This means that you’ll probably need to replace the battery every few years so you should factor this in when deciding on the e-bike.
- Motor location
The type and location of the motor will have a large impact on the performance of the bike. The motors on electric bikes can either be a front hub, rear hub or mid-drive. Each of them has advantages and disadvantages that I will mention below.
A front hub motor will be found on some throttle assist e-bikes. It gets placed on the front wheel and it works by making the front wheel turn when you push the throttle. It is popular for conversion kits to use front hub motors because it is easier to replace the front wheel. They are also popular on lower end throttle assist e-bikes since it’s cheaper to make them. The problem is that having the front wheel generating power is unnatural feeling and it adds more weight to the front of the bike.
A rear hub motor gets placed on the rear wheel and it makes the rear wheel turn when you pedal or when you push the throttle. These types of motors can be found on either pedal-assist e-bikes and throttle assist e-bikes. They are preferable over front hub motors for many people because they add extra weight to the back of the bike which is more natural and it makes turning less difficult than front hub motors do.
A mid-drive motor gets placed where you pedal. These types of motors only get used on pedal assist e-bikes and they are common on the higher end models. They work by making the rear wheel turn faster when you pedal. The benefit of these motors is that they allow for the extra weight to be distributed more evenly.
If you’re considering getting a front or rear hub motor then be aware there are two different types that you can get, geared hubs or direct drive.
Geared hubs are louder but they are more efficient, especially at lower speeds and they can be freewheeled without causing extra drag. Direct drive motors are quieter but they’re heavier, less efficient and can’t be freewheeled without creating extra drag.
- Torque sensor or cadence sensor?
Pedal assist e-bikes will vary the amount of power provided by the motor based on how hard you are pedaling. So, when you are cycling slowly they will provide a lower amount of power and when you’re cycling quickly they’ll provide more. This allows for a more pleasant riding experience without sudden jolts of power. They calculate how much power to provide by using a sensor where you pedal which are either torque or cadence sensors.
Torque sensors are the more efficient of the two and is what you’ll find on the higher end e-bikes. They allow for more precise measurements of torque and allow for the power from the motor to be given in a more controlled manner.
Cadence sensors are less efficient but they are cheaper. They can cause slightly larger amounts of power to be released when changing speed but they are good for when you will be maintaining a constant speed.
Other things to consider
Due to the extra weight caused by the motor and battery, electric bikes can be 30 pounds heavier than they would have been if they were an ordinary bike. This means that if you think that you will have to be carrying the bike a lot then you should try to get a lighter one. However, be aware that this can compromise on the range of the battery since lighter bikes often have smaller batteries.
- Storage location
The location that you will be storing the bike is something to consider. If you do not have a lot of space then you might want to consider getting a folding electric mountain bike since they take up less space. If you will not be able to store it in a very secure location then you might want to opt for a cheaper option as well.
- Quality of components
Since you will likely be riding an electric bike faster than on an ordinary bike it would be wise to get good quality components. When you are going at over 20 mph, on a bike, it is important that you can rely on the bikes. This means that, when buying an electric bike, you might want to stretch your budget slightly so that you can get a more reliable option.
- Do a test ride
Ultimately, the best thing that you can do is to go and try the e-bike out for yourself. you can do a change the type of e-bike that you want based on your needs but no two bikes will ride with the exact same feeling. So, it would be a good idea to go to a local bike shop and try one out.
How heavy are electric mountain bikes? Electric mountain bikes will usually weigh between 40-70 pounds. They weigh more than ordinary bikes due to the added weight of the battery and the motor. I have written about e-bike weights in the past here.