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How To Choose An Electric Bike

Electrify your next ride with an e-bike! There are more electric bikes on the market than ever, so Cranky’s Bike Shop is giving you a boost on how to choose an e-bike. 

We’ve created this guide to help all riders find their perfect e-bike, whether you’re trying pedal-assisted cycling for the first time or planning an upgrade. 

Keep reading to learn all about motors, batteries, and more to kick off the search for your dream e-bike.

Determine why you want an electric bike

There are a bunch of reasons why buying an e-bike is a great idea but when searching for the right model, it’s helpful to consider your own goals. 

Riders typically (but not always) fall into two main categories:

  1. people seeking a performance boost for the riding they already do
  2. recreational users with lifestyle goals like being more active or driving less

performance e-bikes

Performance e-bikes

E-bikers with a more performance-oriented mindset are focused on being able to ride farther or faster than they already do— this is where a motor comes in. 

Riders still want a workout and are drawn by the ability to go on longer rides to reach areas farther out. One popular example is electric mountain bikes— the boost on steep hills allows for more descents and keeping up with stronger riders in the group. 

Performance e-bikes typically come with premium components and lightweight specs to mimic analog bikes, only with additional built-in power!

lifestyle e-bikes

Lifestyle e-bikes

The other category of riders is attracted to e-bikes because of the lifestyle benefits. Most recreational riders are excited to hop on e-bikes to replace car trips, commute, execute errands, and be more active in general. 

Having a boosted bike takes the sting out of steep hills while still supporting light exercise and enjoying the fresh air. 

Common e-bikes for recreational use include hybrids, cruisers, cargo, and folding models.

the basic considerations for choosing ebikes are riding style, goals, and budget

Basic considerations

E-bikes have more going on than a typical bicycle, but the first steps in deciding which model is right for you are very similar:

  1. Figure out which type of e-bike fits your needs (like an electric commuter, mountain, road, or cargo bike)
  2. Consider your riding goals (riding more often, more comfortably, faster, or farther, etc)
  3. Settle on a budget range (ideally with flexibility so you make sure to get the right one first) 
  4. Compare offerings at local bike shops (so you can gather intel, get advice, and enjoy seamless service in the long run)

1. Types of electric bikes

The first step in choosing an ebike is deciding on the type of model that matches he kind of riding you want to be doing. Consider how and where you plan on riding to narrow your search and see how they match up to the following common categories: 

Electric cruiser/comfort bikes: for comfortable cruising
These laid-back e-bikes offer the most relaxed riding position and stability, perfect for recreational rides. If comfort is your priority, the upright posture and common step-thru frames make these bikes a solid choice.

Electric commuter bikes: for efficient urban transport
If you’re looking for a comfortable yet athletic e-bike, these lightweight perform great in the city and around town. Commuters love these e-bikes that often come with modern cargo capacity and handy accessories. You’ll want to stick to riding on smooth surfaces like paved roads and bike paths.

Electric cargo bikes: for hauling kids, groceries, and gear
For the utilitarian riders out there, these burly e-bikes make transporting cargo and extra passengers a breeze. Families can carry kids on the extended rear platforms, bring groceries home, and much more thanks to the range of compatible accessories. These heavy and stable bikes can effectively replace car trips to the store or around the neighborhood.

Electric folding bikes: for transportation that fits in tight spaces
When trying to save space, many urban riders rely on folding e-bikes with smaller wheels and collapsable components. Sizes vary but the most compact models can easily be brought onto the train, into the office, or stored in a corner. Many commuters swear by folding e-bikes to get to work or school even faster!

Electric mountain bikes: for riding more singletrack in less time
Mountain bikers looking for a boost up the steep climbs love eMTBs that flatten out the hills, letting riders explore farther and enjoy more descents on every outing. For riders who frequently hit the trails or want to keep up with stronger riders, eMTBs have all the right off-road components to handle those bumpy adventures.

Electric road/gravel bikes: for riding faster and farther than ever
These efficient performance e-bikes are the most lightweight of the bunch, ideal for road or gravel riders. These bikes keep power to a minimum, offering a nice balance of assistance and exercise for a more natural feeling boost. The skinny tires, drop handlebars, and slim profile are hallmarks of traditional road and gravel bikes. Roadie or gravel explorer searching for a few more watts? Try out these e-bikes!

2. Riding goals

Riding goals tie into whether you want to primarily ride faster, farther, longer, more often, more comfortably, for recreation, for transportation, or to expand your limits. If you can hone in on the reasons you want to ride as well as the style of bike that will help you get there, you'll be well on your way to finding an electric bike that's perfect for your needs.

3. Budget

With so many e-bikes available, there are choices for every budget. Decide on a target budget and think about saving some cash for useful accessories you may want to add at the time of purchase or later on. Similar to standard bikes, e-bikes often come in several versions with different component packages— the more premium the parts, the higher the price. 

As a general rule of thumb, e-bikes with hub motors are cheaper than models with mid-drive motors. Upgrades like carbon frames, hydraulic brakes, and torque sensors also increase the price of an e-bike. It’s often worth investing in nicer parts with better longevity and performance, but there are still many excellent entry-level e-bikes out there, too.

4. Local bike shop offerings

If you find this article helpful, just think of how working with a local bike shop can add to your e-bike experience! We definitely recommend popping into your hometown bike shop and browse their offerings. Buying from a local shop has a few advantages:

  • You'll be able to try different models and decide what you like a don't like without committing to a purchase
  • You can take advantage of expert knowledge and advice to guide you in the right direction
  • You'll be buying a bike that the shop stands behind and is equipped to service (which is not usually the case with direct to consumer brands)

Our top e-bike recommendations

Here are some of our top model recommendations for readers who are ready to start browsing. If you want to keep learning, we have a whole list of advanced considerations to follow for those who want to dive deeper into the considerations surrounding e-bike motors, batteries, controllers, and accessories.

Popular electric cruiser bikes

Electra Townie Go! 7D Step-Thru

Electra Townie Go! 7D Step-Thru

Super comfy, easy to get on and off, and plenty of power for zipping along bike paths and streets.

Electra Townie Go! 7D Step-Over

Electra Townie Go! 7D Step-Over

The step over version of the Townie Go! 7D is equally comfortable and quick, but without a step thru frame.

Popular electric city and commuter bikes

Giant Anytour E+1

Giant Anytour E+1

A daily driver you can feel proud of that features a step thru frame and shock absorbing fork.

Trek Allant+ 7

Trek Allant+ 7

A stylish electric commuter that prioritizes both comfort and speed.

Trek Verve+ 1 Lowstep LT

Trek Verve+ 1 Lowstep LT

A super comfortable step thru commuter bike that's lightweight and rides naturally.

Popular hardtail electric mountain bikes

Trek Marlin+ 6

Trek Marlin+ 6

A durable and capable eMTB for a boosted trail riding experience.

Rocky Mountain Fusion Powerplay 10

Rocky Mountain Fusion Powerplay 10

Another great eMTB option for trail riding bliss and adventurous exploration.

Trek Powerfly 4 Gen 4

Trek Powerfly 4 Gen 4

A more performance oriented hardtail eMTB that will help your ride faster and farther.

Popular full suspension electric mountain bikes

Giant Trance X Advanced E+ EL 2

Giant Trance X Advanced E+ EL 2

A high performance eMTB that flattens the climbs and acts as a magic carpet on the way down.

Trek Fuel EXe 9.5 Deore

Trek Fuel EXe 9.5 Deore

A very lightweight trail oriented eMTB that keeps the ride quality feeling natural but adds that extra boost.

Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay A50

Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay A50

A super versatile eMTB that can handle the steepest climbs and the most technical descents on the mountain.

Reign E+ 2

Giant Reign E+ 2

An enduro eMTB that floats over the most technical trails you're willing to point yourself down.

Advanced considerations

There’s a lot to geek out on when it comes to e-bikes and focusing on these additional details can help you get the most out of your ideal e-bike. Dive deeper than a bike’s listed specs and marketing jargon with these helpful tips about drive units, tech features, and recommended accessories.

electric bike motors

Electric bike motors

E-bike motors boost riders up hills and even faster along the flats— and they’re getting more efficient every year. 

Riders can’t typically choose the specific motor that’s installed on their e-bike, but it’s a good idea to understand the power specifications of the e-bike you’re thinking of buying.

Pedal assist vs throttle e-bikes

Every ebike out there has some sort of pedal assistance and some even have throttle modes. Riders can toggle through the pedal assist (PAS) levels to extract more power from the motor. The higher assist levels increase the speed and torque, coming in handy on steep hills. These modes are numbered or referred to as Eco, Sport, Turbo, etc.

The exact number of PAS levels is not as important as their power settings— each jump up to the subsequent PAS level should feel well-spaced and natural, and often these thresholds can even be customized.

A throttle mode is available on Class 2 e-bikes for pedal-free cruising. They utilize a thumb throttle or a motorcycle-style twist throttle on the handlebars.

Many e-bikes also have a Walk mode that provides a slight push while walking alongside the bike, enabling riders to move off the bike or push it up a ramp. This is especially helpful for heavy e-bike or less strong riders.

Reliability and efficiency

The electric drive unit is the bike’s beating heart and is a huge factor behind the longevity and performance of an e-bike. Although the motor and battery’s inner workings are out of view, considering the quality of these parts is crucial to selecting your dream e-bike.

The most efficient motors out there come from trusted manufacturers like Bosch, Yamaha, Brose, and Shimano which focus mainly on higher-end mid-drive motors. Riders can also look for batteries with UL certifications and cells from LG or Samsung that are safer and more efficient.

We recommend users concentrate less on overall power or wattage and prioritize quality and reliability.

Mid-drive vs. hub motors

The two main styles of e-bike motors are mid-drive and hub motors.

Mid-drive motors: Named for their central position between the pedals, mid-drive motors deliver a more natural-feeling boost and balanced weight distribution. These motors are often higher quality with smoother acceleration and increased torque. Top mid-drive motor brands include Bosch, Yamaha, Brose, and Shimano.

Hub motors: These motors sit in the middle of the front or rear wheel (most common), pushing the bike along. Hub motors are typically more affordable, but can skew the weight balance of the bike as well making changing a flat tire a more complicated process since you have to disconnect the motor to remove the wheel.

Watts and torque

The numbers you’ll see attached to e-bike motors describe the watts and torque output. The watts determine the power the motor can sustain continuously without overheating, including the peak power for steep climbs or accelerations. Most e-bikes have motors around 250W or 300W but there are many higher-powered e-bikes, too.

Torque is the rotational force of the motor to drive the bike forward that’s especially important on steep hills and accelerations. Torque is measured in Newton meters (Nm) and allows riders to pedal comfortably without stomping on the pedals to get going. Typical torque capabilities sit around 60Nm but many powerful motors come with 85Nm of torque or more.

Cadence vs. torque sensors

E-bike motors utilize either a cadence or torque sensor to determine how much power to apply and when. But which one is better?

Cadence sensors: detect that a rider has started to spin the pedals, sending a signal to the motor to assist. This style of sensor is more basic and is essentially an on/off switch for the motor. Many entry-level electric bikes come with these more affordable sensors.

Torque sensors: detect how hard a rider is pushing on the pedals, responding with a scaled power output for a more natural-feeling boost. Torque sensors provide smoother acceleration with little to no lag in power delivery. Mid-tier and high-end electric bikes are almost always outfitted with torque sensors.

electric bike batteries

Electric bike batteries

E-bike batteries store the energy the motor uses while you ride and determine the bike’s range. These battery packs are often the first visual clue that a bike is electric, although batteries are getting increasingly compact or hidden. Higher-end batteries are more efficient and will last longer.

Bigger batteries aren’t necessarily better— smaller batteries weigh less and can preserve a sleek design. Hybrid and road models with moderate pedal assist do just fine with slim battery packs, often neatly integrated into the bike frame.

If you’re expecting to put high mileage on your e-bike or go on long rides, it’s a good idea to choose a large-capacity battery. Commuters love long-range bikes that keep enough juice for extra city errands or if you forget to charge the e-bike daily.

Battery location: E-bike power packs either attach to the frame externally or fit inside the downtube. External batteries are easier to swap for a fresh one or remove for off-bike charging but aren’t as sleek-looking. Internal batteries are hidden inside the downtube for a more protected, streamlined appearance.

Battery removal: Most e-bike batteries can be removed so riders can charge them easily. Riders often have to use a key to detach the battery that’s locked onto the bike. Some batteries come with carrying handles for convenient transport.

Watt hours (Wh): Batteries are rated according to watt-hours, or the number of hours a battery can sustain 1 watt of power before running out of juice. Simply put, the higher the Wh rating, the larger the capacity and longer the range.

Charging time: Riders can expect their e-bikes to fully charge in between 3 to 7 hours depending on the size of the battery and the ampage of the charger. Be sure to always use the charger that was provided with the bike.

electric bike accessories

Electric bike accessories

E-bikes are a playground for new tech ideas and innovative features boosting the user experience. Whether they actually increase performance or are simply fun to have, tech features like integrated lights, connected apps, displays, USB ports, and more can add to a bike’s appeal. Think about which pieces of tech will make a difference to the way you ride and explore the relevant models.

E-bikes have a leg up on analog bikes because of their ability to power up accessories and innovative features. Many e-bikes have integrated lights powered by the battery so you’ll never get caught without bright lights at night. Other models have built-in USB ports.

Carrying cargo is a breeze on e-bikes with sturdy front or rear racks, especially considering the assistance from the motor. Utility and cargo e-bikes are often compatible with child seats or large panniers for even more options. Don’t hesitate to trick out your new e-bike with handy cargo-carrying features for better commuting, city errands, and more!

E-bikes are increasingly connected to apps that can track rides and access additional settings. Many brands have their own app to give users even more control of their e-bike. For the tech lovers out there, app integration is an exciting new feature of e-bikes.

Keeping your e-bike safe and secure is a top priority, especially considering that they cost more than their analog counterparts. For ultimate peace of mind, purchase an e-bike with included anti-theft systems. Various security solutions include bike tracking via the brand app, rear wheel lock, motion sensors, and key activation.

electric bike controllers

Electric bike controllers

The electric drive unit is the bike’s beating heart and is a huge factor behind the longevity and performance of an e-bike. Although the motor and battery’s inner workings are out of view, considering the quality of these parts is crucial to selecting your dream e-bike. 

The most efficient motors out there come from trusted manufacturers like Bosch, Yamaha, Brose, and Shimano which focus mainly on higher-end mid-drive motors. Riders can also look for batteries with UL certifications and cells from LG or Samsung that are safer and more efficient. 

We recommend users concentrate less on overall power or wattage and prioritize quality and reliability.

Electric bike FAQs

How many watts should a good electric bike have?

A good-quality electric bike will have a motor rated between 250 and 750 watts. Nominal wattage can’t tell the entire story as performance depends on the controller, battery, and riding conditions, but that range will let you easily tackle hills and cruise at speed.

Are electric bikes waterproof?

All e-bikes are highly water-resistant although specific waterproof motor and battery casings ratings vary. Riding an e-bike in heavy rain isn’t a problem. Riders should try to avoid washing their e-bike with a pressure washer, though.

How long do electric bikes last?

E-bikes should perform well for several years depending on use and maintenance. Riders can easily replace batteries after a few years if they begin to decrease in performance. Like any bicycle, e-bikes will require regular servicing to ensure they’re properly taken care of throughout their lifespan.

What is better a 36V or 48V ebike?

A 48V battery delivers more power to the e-bike drive unit than a 36V battery, allowing for quicker acceleration and hill climbing. A 36V battery provides a slightly gentler boost to achieve a longer range, perfect for extended rides or less challenging terrain.

What specs should I look for in an ebike?

The most important specs to consider when purchasing an e-bike include motor type, battery capacity, and quality of components. We recommend prioritizing reliability and efficiency over factors such as top speed or peak power, but these specs will depend on your riding preferences.

Is a 250-watt e-bike powerful enough?

Yes, a high-quality 250W e-bike motor is powerful enough for most types of riding. A common nominal wattage for mid-drive motors from the likes of Yamaha or Bosch, 250W motors offer a great balance between power and range for pedal-assisted riding. For throttle e-bikes, you may want to increase motor wattage.

Are electric bikes street legal?

Electric bikes are generally legal to ride on most streets and bike paths, but there are often speed restrictions to watch out for. For example, Class 2 and 3 e-bikes are typically banned from popular mountain bike trails. Check your local area’s regulations for the most accurate and up-to-date rules about e-bikes.

How much does an ebike cost?

Electric bikes vary in cost from under $1,000 to well over $10,000. Budget e-bikes under $1,000 have reduced longevity and ease servicing while mid-tier models undr $2,500 offer excellent value. Performance e-bikes costing $2,500+ feature high-end motors and premium components.