An electric bicycle is the perfect mode of transportation, whether you’re cruising around town, commuting to work, or riding trails through the woods. With the electric assist, you can ride uphill or haul heavy groceries with relative ease. Although you still pedal an e-bike, it has a motor for help when you need it — like your very own extra set of superstrong, never-tired legs to pedal right along with you.
With all the added technology, it’s no surprise that e-bikes are more expensive than traditional bikes and that buying one involves considering a few more factors, including motor wattage, battery voltage, and top speed. You also need to choose one of three classes of e-bike: Class 1 boosts you to a maximum of 20 miles per hour as you pedal, and Class 3 gets you to 28 miles per hour. Class 2 is a little different: It peaks at 20 miles per hour as you pedal, but it also has a throttle-only mode, in which the bike takes over and pedals for you.
Beginners should make sure to get a bike with a few key features:
1. Look for bikes with different levels of pedal assistance so you can choose when you want to cruise on eco mode or call in the reserve power to muster you up a hill.
2. If you plan to use the bike for commuting, pick one with built-in lights (which run off the same battery as the bike itself) so you’re visible to vehicular traffic.
3. Integrated racks and bottle holders make it easier to haul everything from your work bag to your water.
4. Many e-bike systems have a small dashboard on the handlebars that shows the level of charge remaining in the battery, your speed, and the miles you’ve ridden. Many also allow you to make adjustments through a companion app. You want a bike that offers these things.
Even if you get all these features, it won’t mean anything if you don’t nail the bike’s fit to your body. That’s done most easily by visiting a bike shop, but if you’re not comfortable with that during the pandemic, most shops are happy to work with you over the phone. And of course, don’t forget to buy a helmet and the right accessories and learn how to fix a few common bike problems.
To make the buying process easier, we asked five e-bike riders and experts to recommend the best electric-bicycle options for a wide range of riding styles, from nimble commuter bikes to burly mountain bikes. They all agreed that Class 1 is the safest option for new riders; these bikes also generally cost less and have the fewest regulations. Here are the experts’ picks for every type of rider.
The best e-bike for commuting
Like many Class 3 bikes, this 10-speed version reaches 28 miles per hour, blurring the line between an e-bike and a moped. The front suspension fork helps to ease your ride on rougher surfaces, while the rear rack is a nice lashing point for your bags. “If you’re looking for a fast and sporty commuter, look no further,” says Chris Nolte, owner of Propel Bikes.
The best e-bike for cities
When we interviewed photographer Catherine Opie to learn what she can’t live without, she told us about her beloved e-bike. “I’ve been a proponent of electric bikes since they came out, and I’ve tested a lot,” she says. She rides the Charger3 Mixte on L.A.’s chaotic (and pothole-filled) streets. “It handles well and moves pretty quickly. Going downhill, the fastest I’ve gone on it is 35 miles an hour, but on a regular straightaway, it’s closer to 25 mph.” The bike has top-of-the-line suspension (including a suspension mechanism in the seat post for even smoother rides over those potholes), a digital display, daytime running lights, and a range of 95 miles.
The best e-bike for families
“This is the cargo bike of choice for young families,” Nolte says. “Powered by a Bosch motor and the very smooth gearing, the bike is great for bigger families that don’t want to break the bank.” The child’s lower seating position gives the bike a lower center of gravity, which improves stability. And as it hauls up to 600 pounds, depending on the model, you could put kids in the front and on an optional rear rack, giving each their own three-point harness. With a 50-mile range and 20 mph top speed, it’s plenty to get you to the park or the grocery store.
The best (less expensive) e-bike for families
“These have become more popular recently as people are stuck at home and want to take their kids out with them,” Nolte says of the Tern HSD P9, which comes ready to accept kid seats from Thule or Bobike without adapters and can hold a combined 375 pounds of rider, kid, and cargo. This nine-speed bike is compact: It weighs less than 60 pounds and, when the handlebars fold down, is just 34 inches tall. It can fit a wide range of riders, from four-foot-11 to six-foot-five in a comfortable upright position, and its battery provides about 70 miles of range with a max speed of 20 mph. “The HSD can carry your kid from one year old until they are ready to bike on their own,” Nolte says. “The bike can easily adapt and change as your family does.”
The best e-bike for mountain biking
Legendary mountain biker Mark Weir rides the Class 1 Cannondale Habit Neo 2. “This bike will do cross-country touring and devour any hills, up or down, that you’ll face,” he says. “This is the bike you use to go deep in the mountains, and you can’t have a failure, and the crank engages with the slightest movement so even when you can’t get a full pedal stroke — say, over a big rock — the motor engages.” The 12-speed, full-suspension Habit Neo 2 has monster breaks for confidence-boosting stopping power on 29-inch tires.
The best e-bike for touring
Drumm says this 11-speed bike is “light, comfortable, and has the ability to ride gravel, pavement, and anything in between.” And its range of up to 120 miles between charges makes it “the ultimate touring e-bike.” The SL Comp Carbon EVO shares the same Specialized-designed integrated battery, motor, and frame as the brand’s speedy, road-focused Turbo Creo bike but with a wider tire clearance that makes switching to chunkier, gnarly off-road tires easy. The whisper-quiet motor packs up to 240 watts of power, which can help you reach about 28 miles per hour. And when you want to go solo, the system offers no resistance to your pedal strokes, so it feels like a regular bike. (Lesser e-bikes can feel slow when the assistance is off.) Fender and rack mounts let you outfit the ride with gear for extended bikepacking trips.
Best e-bike for shorter riders
The frame’s low bar allows riders to easily step off and steady themselves, making this a great bike for beginners and shorter riders, and the nearly one-inch-wide, puncture-resistant tires provide stability on all sorts of surfaces. Plus, says David Drumm, the technical-operations manager for VBT Bicycling Vacations, this bike comes with important safety features, like front and rear lights, and a full fender set to keep you dry on wet roads. You’ll hit speeds up to 20 miles per hour over nine gears, while the suspension in the seat post helps smooth out bumps in the road.
The best e-bike for hauling cargo
Nolte describes this 11-speed Class 3 bike as “the cargo bike Batman would ride.” It’s his favorite “because it’s fast and fun, but it can still haul everything from a week’s worth of groceries to a friend.” Deceptively agile, the Load 60 has a front and rear suspension that keeps you in constant contact with the road and helps to smooth out the ride. Various accessories are available for the storage area, ranging from a set of two five-point harnesses for kids to high side walls that’ll help you carry up to 200 pounds of groceries, gear, or nearly anything else. One caveat: It’s over eight feet long, so you’ll need to be ready to face some storage and transportation headaches.
Note: This bike is shown with optional equipment.
The best foldable e-bike
“This looks great, and it was designed by McLaren’s former Formula One car designer,” Nolte says. The three-speed, 40-pound GX has features like a rear suspension and a concealed chain to keep your pants clean, and it folds down to the size of a small suitcase. You’ll want to get the custom bag that straps securely onto the front of the bike then pops off easily to haul your lunch, laptop, or gym clothes into the office.
The best (less expensive) foldable e-bike
Strategist contributor Diksha Basu chose this foldable bike when she didn’t want to invest in a vastly more expensive Vespa scooter. The price was too good to ignore. She describes the 70-pound bike, when folded, as “about the size of a piece of luggage you might try to carry onto an airplane but will almost certainly have to check.” Charging the bike is simple, she says, although the instructions ominously warn you never to charge it longer than five hours. “The electric part is simple: Using a switch on the frame, you can power it on and twist the handle or simply pedal to accelerate; powered off, it functions like a basic, gearless bicycle,” she says. “When it’s charged, I can go up and down hills and not arrive at my destination looking as though I’ve gone through a car wash.” Although Swagtron says its max speed is 15.5 mph, Basu clocked herself at 18 mph on a street-side speed radar: “It’s not exactly a sexy ride, but it’s great fun. I’ve been using it every day, and I haven’t had to charge it more than once a week.”
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