Ebike Buying Guide: What to Look for in an Electric Bike?
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If you’re wondering what to look for when buying an electric bike in 2022, here’s a comprehensive ebike buying guide to help you out. From discussing the various types of each ebike component in detail to listing their pros and cons, this e bike buyer guide will help you choose the perfect bicycle for you. So, let’s start!Before we get into the nitty-gritty of our ebike buying guide and what to look for while buying an electric bike, let’s first discuss their classes.
- Class 1/ Pedelecs: These ebikes have an electric motor that works to assist the ride only when the rider is pedaling, and their top speed is limited to 20 mph.
- Class 2/ Throttle: Their top speed is also limited to 20 mph. However, they have a throttle that propels your ride even when the rider is not pedaling.
- Class 3/ Speed Pedelecs: These ebikes are required to have a speedometer and their speed is limited to 28 mph. They may or may not have a throttle, depending on the state and local regulations.
Types of Electric Bikes
Every electric bike buyer must know the main types/ categories of ebikes so as to fully know their options and make the right decision. While there are practically no hard and fast types of ebikes, they are generally divided into the following groups
Electric Road Bikes
Electric road bikes are light, fast, and sporty. They are designed to deliver a real road bike experience over extensive ranges and are perfect for long-distance adventures.
Electric Folding Bikes
These ebikes have a compact design with a foldable mechanism so that users can easily bring them into a carrying size for storage in their trunk or under their desk at work.
They don’t have a powerful motor and are kept light so that the electric bike buyers who need to carry their rides on public transport can easily do that.
Electric Cargo Bikes
These ebikes can help you haul loads of up to 250kg and are perfect for carrying camping gear. You can even seat small children in them while you’re on a family trip.
Image Credit: Fiido
Electric Mountain Bikes
If you live in a remote area and will be looking to take your ride off-road, an electric mountain bike (e-MTB) provides exactly what to look for in your ebike.
An e-MTB has a powerful motor, fat off-road tires, sturdy build, and resilient suspension to let you move around on hills and rugged terrains.
Types of Pedal Assist
Selecting the right pedal assist sensor is important because it dictates how the power of your ebike would feel to you.
As we narrow down this electric bike buying guide to help you choose the right ebike, let’s now discuss the two main types of pedal-assist systems that you can find on the market.
A torque-based sensor adds power to your ride depending on how hard you push the pedals.
Driving an electric bike with this pedal-assist system makes you feel as if you’re not getting any motor assistance at all, even though you do.
If a responsive pedal assist that kicks in faster is what you look for in an electric bike, a torque-based sensor is the way to go.
Cadence-based sensors add a constant amount of pedal assist, depending on the assist level you choose via a controller.
It starts assisting only when you push the pedals and stops if you turn the pedals faster than the set limit. You will keep getting the assistance as long as you pedal lightly. Though this pedal-assist system feels easier, it doesn’t feel as natural as the torque sensor system.
However, the ability to switch between different pedal assist levels, usually ranging from an eco mode to a turbo/ boost mode, adds fun to your ride. The more pedal assist levels you have, the better it is!
Motor placement is one of the most important things to look for when buying an electric bike. Motor lies at the heart of any electric bike and its placement within the frame significantly impacts your ride feel.
There can be three possible arrangements, depending on whether the motor is placed centrally or at either of the hub. Some ebikes come in a dual motor configuration, with one motor placed at either hub, to enhance off-road capability.
Front Hub Motor
A motor placed at the front wheel hub is the simplest design an electric bike buyer can get.
This kind of arrangement is mostly used on throttle (Class 2) bikes because if the motor is not part of the drivetrain, providing pedal assistance in accordance with the rider’s input becomes a challenge.
Front hub motors usually have problems with traction and when cornering at accelerating speeds and are mostly found on inexpensive underpowered bikes.
However, they are easier to install as well as to maintain, as the absence of gears makes navigation around them much easier.
Rear Hub Motor
If you want a capable rider that you can confidently take on any terrain, a rear hub motor is what to look for when buying an ebike.
The rear hub arrangement is the most common motor configuration and can accommodate both the pedelec and throttle ebikes. In fact, most ebikes offer both systems with an easy switching mechanism.
Rear hub motors are more powerful and offer an incredibly natural ride than their front hub counterparts. However, they create an uneven weight distribution which can negatively impact the ride handling. They are also fairly tricky to service and maintain.
Mid Drive Motor
If you want to experience a comfortable and balanced ride, a mid-drive motor is what you should look for in an ebike.
Located within the center of the frame midway between the bike cranks, a mid-drive motor places most of the weight at a low position, keeping the center of gravity at an optimum point.
For a similar power hub motor, a mid-drive motor produces more torque and distributes weight more evenly. However, it’s the most expensive of the three, mostly because it increases the frame material.
Image Credit: Bosch
There are two possible drivetrain options to choose from: chain vs belt.
A chain-based drivetrain with a derailleur gear system is the most common and inexpensive option. However, the chain frequently needs to be oiled and tightened for optimum performance.
A belt drivetrain is low maintenance and clean but is more expensive.
An electric bike buyer can choose either a derailleur or hub gear system, both of which have their own advantages.
A derailleur system, which physically moves the chain to change gear, is more common and inexpensive. It’s easier to fix, offers more gearing options, but needs frequent maintenance.
A hub gear system, on the other hand, internally changes the gear. It is low-maintenance and long-lasting but, as you can guess, it costs more!
The type, size, and capacity of a battery along with its placement is the most important factor an electric bike buyer needs to consider in their buying decision.
Rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries, usually comprising of multiple cells enclosed in a case, are the industry standard today. Here are all the battery-related things you need to look for when buying an electric bike.
Batteries can be externally mounted in a detachable configuration or they can be internally integrated within the frame.
The external, removable placement can be crucial for those electric bike buyers who store their ebikes at a place with no power available. The battery placement can vary but it’s usually either mounted on the down tube or to a rack on the rear.
The internal configuration, on the other hand, makes space for bottle cages or small bike bags, besides adding to the aesthetics of the ebike.
Battery adds a considerable weight source to an ebike so the smaller and lighter it is (without any compromise on capacity), the better it would be.
Some ebikes might also use more than one battery to extend the mileage, which can never be bad.
Image Credit: Rad
If you’re wondering how to choose the right ebike, just know that it’s as easy as choosing the right battery, or to be more precise, a battery with the right capacity.
If you live in a remote or hilly area where you’d frequently need pedal assistance, or if you have to undertake a long commute to and from your work, battery capacity is what to look for in an ebike, since it dictates the range of bicycle.
Battery Ah, Volts & Watts
The battery capacity is measured in Ah (amp hours). As a thumb rule, batteries with high Ah have more capacity and, by extension, more range.
Like the Ah, the bigger the Volts and Watts of a battery, the better it would be. While a high Voltage indicates more torque and better acceleration, a high Wattage means that the ebike would be capable of hauling heavier riders.
To sum up, the Ah, Volts, and Watts of a battery are among the most important things you need to look for when buying an electric bicycle.
Battery Charge Time
The larger the capacity of a battery, the longer it will take to get charged.
Most ebikes are up and running for the next adventure within 3-5 hours, but the long-range ones might need up to 9 hours. Some electric bicycles also offer a fast or dual charging feature.
In the case of ebikes with removable batteries, you can charge them in-frame as well as by taking them out of the bicycle.
Though e bike buyers usually don’t give much attention to the frame while making their decision, it’s one of the most important things to look for when buying an electric bike. Here are the aspects you need to consider about ebike frames.
The usual frame material options can be steel, aluminum, or carbon fiber. Carbon-fiber is extremely light in weight and gives a premium look to the bicycle, but it’s not as durable as aluminum.
Though Aluminum is heavier than carbon fiber, it is lighter than almost all other alternatives and provides a good value for money. It’s also sturdy and reliable.
Most ebikes use a pre-heated aluminum alloy frame which is resistant to not just rust and corrosion, but also falls and accidental damage, as aluminum can easily endure a significant amount of strain.
There are a number of frame styles available on the market, however, the two most common styles are standard crossbar and step-through frames.
If you usually haul loads with yourself or you just find it hard to raise your leg to the saddle height, a step-through frame is what you should look for while buying an ebike.
Step-through frames are either completely devoid of top tubes or have them in a dipping position which makes riding on the bicycle a lot easy.
That’s a no-brainer. If you don’t have a garage or storage space for an electric bicycle, or you use your bicycle along with public transport, or you just love to throw it in your trunk whenever you want, go for a foldable frame.
Image Credit: Brompton
The selection of tires, much like everything else on this e bike buying guide, depends on where you’d use your electric bicycle. Here are your options.
Thin tires are ideal for urban commuters who would mostly drive their electric bicycles on city pavements. Not only do these tires weigh less, but they also cost less too. E bikes with thin tires are not only more portable, but also more quick, and often have better range.
For those e bike buyers who encounter rough terrains more often, fat tires are what to look for when buying an electric bicycle.
Being thicker and sturdier, fat tires provide better stability and balance besides also helping with shock absorption. However, they cost more and consume more battery power due to a heavier weight.
Besides considering the thickness of the tires, tires/ wheel diameter is another important thing to look out for while buying an e bike.
The usual options on the market include 16”, 20”, and 26” tires, with foldable and compact bikes usually offering a shorter dia. While ebikes with short wheel dia provide better maneuverability, the ones with larger wheels provide a smoother and balanced ride. So it’s kind of a tradeoff.
If you live in a hilly area, a sturdy and reliable suspension is what to look for when buying an ebike. A suspension system absorbs the vibrations produced by all bumps, potholes, and surface undulations to keep your ride smooth, balanced, and comfortable.
When making a buying decision, an electric bike buyer has three options with respect to suspension systems.
- Full Suspension: Suspension on both wheels absorb the most undulations, giving you a comfortable ride. Usually found on off-road and mountain ebikes, such bicycles are understandably the costliest.
- Front Suspension: The next best option is to have a suspension on just the front wheel. Besides providing a damping effect, a front suspension also protects the front fork from damage.
- No Suspension: For those electric bike buyers, who will be using their bicycles on smooth urban pavements, they can always save some bucks by opting for an ebike with no suspension.
Image Credit: Fiido
Types of Suspension
There are four main types of suspension systems that can go with an electric bicycle: pneumatic, rubber, spring, and hydraulic.
Spring and hydraulic are the most common suspension systems electric bike buyers can find on the market. It’s also very common for both of these to appear on the same bicycle, such as in the dual arrangement found on the mountain and off-road bikes.
We will have a brief overview of each to keep this electric bike guide as concise as possible.
This suspension system compresses a sealing gas and uses its pressure to create a dampening effect. The biggest advantage of this system is its super light weight. However, you need to repeatedly check the gas pressure as it can frequently leak out to avoid any damage to the fork.
Resistance rubber suspension is lighter than a spring system and requires little to no maintenance. However, it becomes solid after prolonged use which significantly reduces the absorption effect, leaving you with no choice but to replace it.
The spring suspension system is the first choice for most ebike manufacturers. It provides a considerable dampening effect at a significantly lower cost and doesn’t lose performance like the resistance rubbers. However, it weighs more than all other suspension systems.
Almost perfect in all ways, a hydraulic suspension requires minimal maintenance, provides a stellar absorption effect, and doesn’t fail over time. It is also very lightweight. The only drawback is that it’s costly to buy as well as to repair, in case of accidental damage.
As we near the completion of our electric bike buying guide, let’s not forget the most important safety feature to look for in an ebike – the brakes.
When it comes to brakes, there are three considerations that you need to make – the size of the rotor, the number of pistons, and the kind of brakes. As a thumb role, having a bigger rotor and more pistons never hurt.
As far as the types of brakes are concerned, the two most common options are mechanical and hydraulic brakes. While the former is more economical, the latter is more responsive, reliable, and efficient.
There can be no two opinions on this. The more ride accessories you get, the better it’s. Here are some common ones.
While a front headlight is almost standard on all ebikes, most electric bicycles also come with an integrated rear light. Some high-end bikes even offer side and turn lights, which adds additional safety to your night drives.
While buying an electric bike, make sure to look for a front headlight that has more range and a wide illumination angle.
An LCD display has also become kind of a standard, but its quality and features may drastically vary depending on your price point.
While the usual screens display your battery level, mileage, speed, and pedal-assist mode in real-time, the high-end LCDs even let users control their ride through it.
Always go for a backlit display with a weather-proof screen.
Image Credit: Bosch
By smartphone connectivity, we don’t mean a mobile phone holder/ charger (which is also not bad to have), we mean the capability of an ebike to get integrated with your smartphone.
High-end e-bikes can connect to your phones, allowing you to wirelessly control your ride or lock/ unlock it through an app.
Though a storage rack is always present on cargo ebikes, you can find them on other bicycles as well. Some ebikes don’t come with an integrated rack but offer a mounting mechanism for one.
Some electric bikes come with a built-in rear-wheel lock that saves you from the trouble of purchasing an additional lock to keep your bike secure while it’s parked outside.
A Final Word to End the Buying Guide
We would like to end our e bike buying guide with some quick things that you need to look for when purchasing an electric bike.
The trick is, it all lies in the ‘numbers.’ By the numbers of an ebike, we mean its weight, maximum payload capacity, range, top speed, motor output, battery capacity, riding modes, and obviously the cost.
If you’re new to the ebike world, start from entry-level rides. Otherwise, you can go for monstrous off-roaders or mountain bikes, like the Sivrock CJ500.
Hope it has been an informative read!