Electric bikes, also known as eBikes or pedelecs, are becoming increasingly popular. As car ownership becomes more expensive, commuting by eBike is a cheaper and eco-friendly alternative.
An electric bike works the same way as a normal bike except that it has a small motor to assist the rider. The electric motor on an eBike helps increase acceleration and top speeds, while also reducing fatigue from climbing hills or lengthy distances. So, an eBike provides the perfect way to get from A to B… and is unarguably one of the most convenient modes of transportation in congested urban metropolises.
Not just urban centers, electric bikes can let you defeat rugged tracks and tricky terrains in a safe and comfortable manner. Besides being efficient, lightweight and fun to ride, they can also help you burn calories and build cardiovascular endurance. Electric bikes have already replaced cars in many European cities and it’s just a matter of time before they take over the rest of the world.
Being the future of personal mobility, the eBike industry is growing rapidly, and more and more manufacturers are popping up every week. With so many different models on the market, it can be difficult to know which eBike you should buy – which is exactly why we have put together this buying guide. In this guide, we will highlight some of the most important things that you should look for when purchasing an electric bike.
So, Are You Ready? Let’s Begin…
What to Look for in an eBike?
Before we get into the details of the different eBike components, the first thing you need to consider while buying an eBike is the purpose you’ll be using it for.
Are you looking to climb hills? Do you want something to ride on sand? Or do you just want a lightweight ride that you can carry up the stairs to your 3rd floor apartment? So, you first need to decide what type of electric bike can serve your purpose.
There are at least a dozen different types of electric bikes designed for specific types of riders, but they can be broadly categorized into the following four classes:
City Electric Bikes
City electric bikes can be used in a number of ways. You can use them as a way of commuting to work/ school or for going on long leisure rides. They can provide a great mobility option for those who have trouble walking because of an injury or due to any other reason. They can also be used to get light exercise and have some fun at the same time.
Folding Electric Bikes
Folding electric bikes are the perfect solution for anyone looking to ride a bike but who doesn’t have a dedicated space for it. They’re small and lightweight, so they can be folded up and stored in a closet or under a bed. When you fold them up, they’re easy to carry around as well. You can take them on public transit with you or can throw them in your car trunk when you go out for a camping trip.
Fat Tire Electric Bikes
Fat tire electric bikes are a great way to get into the sport. Being perfect for all-terrain riding (such as on sand, snow, mud, dirt, and gravel), they can allow you to travel anywhere and explore new places. They provide a comfortable ride, strong torque and decent speed, and can also become a great urban commuter for those who prefer more cushioning over city bumps and potholes.
Mountain Electric Bikes
Mountain electric bikes (or eMTBs) are great for tackling hills or inclines and can also be a good way of keeping yourself healthy. By helping you to burn more calories in challenging rides, they can reduce your risk of becoming overweight or obese. Mountain eBikes are perfect for trail riding and for visiting the national parks.
When it comes to choosing an electric bike, one of the most important factors to consider is the type of motor that is best suited for your needs. There are two main types of motors that are commonly used in electric bikes today: hub motors and mid-drive motors.
Each type of motor has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s important to choose the one that’s right for you.
Hub vs Mid-drive Motor
A mid-drive motor is located at the center of the frame between the cranks, placing most of the weight at a low position. It can produce an astonishing amount of torque to accelerate you on steep hills. The enhanced torque output, low center of gravity, and balanced weight distribution makes mid-drive motors ideal for hill climbing – but the biggest downside of these motors is that they are extremely expensive.
Due to their unique placement in the bike, they require the frame to be built around them, which increases the cost. They also use intricate internal controllers and advanced gear-reduction systems as well.
Being relatively inexpensive, hub motors are the most common type of motor used in electric bikes today. They’re simple to install and maintain. Moreover, hub motors are also compatible with throttle, that can allow you to use your bike on motor power alone with no pedaling at all. The presence of throttle can be really important for the riders who have joint/ knee issues or other similar problems, as well as those who simply don’t want to pedal their rides.
Even though hub motors are less efficient as well as less capable than the mid-drive motors, they still provide a great value for money. The eBikes with hub motors may start from as little as $500 and you can get pretty good units for around $1500. On the other hand, even the cheapest eBikes that use mid-drive motors have a starting tag of around $3000… and the premium models can cost as much as $12000.
But don’t worry… until and unless you’re looking for hard-core trail riding, a hub eBike can be perfectly suitable for you. You can even use a hub eBike on mountains provided that it has a good transmission system.
What About the Power Output?
Selecting the right size/ power output of the motor is important so that you don’t end up overpaying for something that you won’t even use.
The power output of a motor, which is measured in Watts (W), can vary depending on the type of eBike. For instance, most city eBikes have 250W motors, while most fat tire eBikes have 750W units. Some hub eBikes meant for daring rides – such as the Tesgo Strength-STT – can have 1000W motors as well.
While ‘watts’ can give you an idea about how powerful a motor is, you might also want to consider the torque output of the motors, which is measured in Newton-meters (Nm). In fact, torque can be a better measure to estimate the capability of a motor at hills.
The type of pedal-assist sensor is another important thing to look for in an eBike.
The pedal-assist system senses your pedaling input to control how much assistance the motor will provide you at any given instant. Selecting the right pedal-assist system is important because it’s what decides how the power of your motor would feel to you. There are two types of pedal-assist sensors: cadence and torque.
Cadence sensors measure your pedaling speed or ‘cadence’ to determine your needs and add a constant amount of assist, depending on the pedal-assist level you have chosen. It means the more pedal-assist levels you have, the more control you’d have over your motor output.
In the eBikes that offer a single pedal-assist level, the cadence sensors work just like an on/off switch. They give you a fixed amount of assistance, no matter if you’re climbing a hill or steering a corner. Such systems are grossly inefficient and unresponsive to your power needs. Luckily, most eBikes on the market that use cadence-based sensors offer 4-5 levels of pedal-assist.
Unlike cadence sensors, torque sensors measure how hard you pedal… you don’t even need to rotate the cranks. Just apply pressure on the pedals, and the bike will move forward. Torque sensors have an EXTREMELY high sampling rate when compared to cadence sensors. They can sense your pedaling input up to 1000 times a second and can therefore adjust your motor output in real time.
It means they’re highly responsive to your needs. The motor assists you the moment you press the pedals and stops the moment you stop. There are no delays in the power delivery, and the overall ride is extremely efficient, natural, and intuitive.
What About the Cost?
Torque sensors are much more expensive than cadence sensors, which is why they’re only found in premium eBikes. Luckily, a few exceptions are there as well. For instance, the Fiido D21 and the Fiido X are equipped with torque sensors and cost less than $2000. Fiido also offers a fat tire eBike with torque sensor – the Fiido M21 – at a really affordable price.
Almost all eBikes today use rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries, that comprise multiple cells enclosed in a case. Being the costliest component of an eBike, selecting the right size of battery is crucial to make the right buying decision.
The capacity of a battery to hold charge is what determines how long you would be able to go. Measured in Amp-hours (Ah), battery capacity – along with the battery voltage (V) – are some of the most important things to look for in an eBike.
While a battery with more ‘Ah’ gives you more riding range, a battery with more ‘V’ translates to better acceleration on roads and more torque on hills. If you’re looking for an eBike for longer commutes, you must make sure to buy one that has a bigger capacity battery.
For instance, the Fiido L3 has an astounding range of 124 miles (200km), all thanks to its massive 48V 23.2Ah Lithium-ion battery. Also, keep in mind that the larger the capacity, the longer the battery will take to get charged. However, some bikes offer a fast or dual charging feature for user convenience.
Battery adds a considerable amount of weight to an eBike so the lighter it is, the better it would be… provided that its capacity and mileage is adequate for your needs.
Some eBikes – like the Gosen Q7-DB fat tire eBike – use two batteries to extend their mileage and give you a whopping range. For instance, the Q7-DB has dual 48V 18Ah & 48V 13Ah batteries with a net capacity of 48V 31Ah. Understandably, this fat tire eBike can let you go up to 140 miles (225km) per charge.
Besides the capacity and size of a battery, its placement in the frame is also what you should look for in an eBike. The battery should not impact the overall weight distribution. For instance, if a battery is placed on the rear rack of a rear hub eBike, the weight distribution will get skewed to the rear, resulting in poor handling at inclines.
Another important consideration can be whether or not a battery can be removed from the frame. This can be really important for those riders who don’t have an electrical socket in their garage or storage place… as well as for those who need to charge their batteries by their desk at work.
The removable batteries can either be externally mounted, or they may be fully or partially integrated within the frame and have a detachable mechanism. Either way, you need to make sure that the battery comes with a lock and key for safety purposes.
The type of drivetrain (and the number of speeds/ gears) is another important thing to look for when buying an eBike. Electric bikes can either have chain or belt drivetrains.
Belt vs Chain Drivetrain
A belt drivetrain is clean, silent, and zero-maintenance, but it’s also more expensive. The biggest downside of belts is their incompatibility with derailleurs (which physically moves the chain to change gears in the chain drive eBikes) as belts can’t stretch or operate at an angle, like the chains do.
That’s why most belt drive eBikes on the market are single-speed bikes, which means they have no gears. The only possible way to have a multi-speed belt drivetrain is to either use internal hub gears or crank-based gearboxes – both of which are extremely expensive.
A chain drivetrain with a derailleur gear system is the most inexpensive and therefore, the most common drivetrain option. As for the downsides, chains need frequent maintenance (cleaning, oiling, lubing, etc) and may lose their efficiency with time due to ‘stretching’. Still, their inexpensive nature, their universal availability, and their perfect compatibility with derailleurs make them a great option.
What About the Number of Gears?
The number of gears or speeds is also an important thing that you should look for (when buying a chain drive eBike).
As a thumb rule, the more gears you have, the better it would be. It’s because the presence of gears gives you a huge mechanical advantage. You can shift to a larger cog to amplify your power output and get more capability at hills. Likewise, you can shift to a smaller cog to rotate your wheels more times per crank revolution whenever you need more speed.
It means you can instantly adapt to your terrain to get more power or speed. So, an 8 or 9-speed eBike will be faster and more capable than a 6 or 7-speed eBike. This is why mountain eBikes – like the Metakoo C300 – come with 21-speed gears (3×7).
The single-speed eBikes are extremely inefficient at hills, so you should only go for them if you’ll be using your ride on flat urban roads.
If you’re looking for a bike that can handle a variety of terrain and that will be comfortable to ride, then suspension is an important factor to consider.
Suspension helps to absorb shocks from bumps in the road, and it helps to keep the tires in contact with the ground when you’re riding on rugged tracks and off the road. This is important because it helps to make the ride smoother and more comfortable. It also helps to improve traction and handling, which is important for safety.
Types of Suspension
There are a variety of suspension systems available, and the best one for you will depend on your specific needs. The three most common types are: spring, pneumatic, and hydraulic.
The spring suspension is inexpensive, but it weighs more than other systems. The pneumatic suspension – that uses a sealing gas for dampening the shocks – is the lightest but it’s prone to frequent gas leakages.
The hydraulic suspension – that uses oil instead of air or compressed gas – is the best among all. It’s fairly lightweight, provides a great shock absorption effect, doesn’t fail over time, and requires little to no maintenance.
Single vs Full vs No Suspension
Besides the type of suspension, you must also decide the number of shock absorbers as per your riding needs. You can have three options in this regard.
- Front/ Single Suspension: Having a single/ front suspension fork is more than adequate for comfortable riding on city roads. It’s also suitable for most mountain bikers and off-roaders.
- Full/ Dual Suspension: You should only get suspension on both wheels if you plan to undertake challenging off-road rides or explore rugged tracks/ hills.
- No Suspension: If you can do without any cushioning on city bumps or potholes, you can save some bucks and opt for an eBike with a rigid front fork (with no suspension). However you should only do that if you’re 100% sure you’ll never go off the road.
Though it may not appear too big a deal, the frame is one of the most important things you should look for in an eBike. You must make sure its size, material and nature is in accordance with your needs.
The eBikes can feature steel, aluminum, or carbon-fiber frames. The steel is the cheapest, but the heaviest. And the carbon-fiber (such as on the Tesgo Runner) is the lightest, but the costliest.
Aluminum provides a good balance between the two. It’s lighter than steel but sturdier than carbon-fiber… which is why most eBikes on the market (and all eBikes with folding design) feature aluminum frames. Carbon-fiber is usually found on high-end premium eBikes.
Besides the material, you have to be very careful to choose the correct frame size for your height; otherwise, you may not be able to reach the pedal in a comfortable manner.
In addition to that, you should also consider how easy it will be to fold and carry your frame when the bike is not in use. As discussed before, this can be really important for people who want to store the bike away or travel with it, as it would be an inconvenience if the bike is too heavy or unwieldy to carry around.
For example, the Fiido D11 weighs just 39lbs (17.5kg) and folds with a quick 3-step mechanism, making it one of the most portable options out there.
The type of tires, along with the diameter of wheels, is yet another important thing to look for in an eBike. Again, you must think of the type of riding you’ll be doing.
Thin vs Fat Tires
If you would be using your bike on urban pavements, thin on-road tires are perfect for you. They cost less, weigh less, and won’t hinder your portability. On the other hand, if you plan to take your ride off the road, you must go for fat tires. These tires feature a wider and thicker profile with an anti-skid knobby tread to provide greater traction when riding over rough terrain.
While the extra weight of the fat tire eBikes improves stability, the large skid-resistant tread provides better grip on all types of surfaces (such as wet or muddy pavements), which helps prevent falls and injuries. Also, since these tires distribute your weight over a larger surface area on ground, you don’t dig into soft-packed terrains such as sand and snow, making them ideal for beach riding.
Besides the thickness of the tires, the wheel/ tire diameter is another thing to look out for in an eBike. The 16” or 20” on-road tires are perfect for compact folding bikes, the 20” or 26” tires with 4” width are suitable for off-roading, and the 26” or 27.5” tires are suitable for city as well as mountain use (though the mountain tires have a wider knobby tread).
Larger tires can easily roll over obstacles but they are not so maneuverable, so you must make the final decision based on the type of terrain you encounter everyday.
Besides the main components, there are a lot of safety features and integrated accessories that you should look for in an eBike. Let’s start with the most important of them all: the brakes.
Most eBikes on the market have either mechanical or hydraulic disc brakes. Both of these are good, though the latter are more capable. Your brakes need to have all-weather stopping ability and should preferably come with motor-inhibitor brake levers for efficient and safe braking.
Some eBikes come with outdated brakes, such as drum, rim, and V brakes. These brakes are not so reliable and you should try to avoid them.
While almost all eBikes come with a front headlight, some also feature an integrated brake or rear light to make your night drives safer and more convenient. Some premium eBikes also feature side/ turn lights, which are just nice to have.
Most eBikes feature an LCD display to let you monitor your battery status, mileage, speed, riding mode, and other parameters in real-time. A backlit and color LCD is the best to have, as it makes ride monitoring extremely convenient.
The low-cost eBikes don’t come with LCD, and they just offer an LED meter to monitor battery level. On the other hand, the premium eBikes may also offer app sync functionality to let you monitor and control your ride through your smartphone.
Having a rear rack can make your life more convenient than you can even imagine. Likewise, it’s always nice to have a front rack or a front basket. The more storage options you have, the better it would be.
Mobile Phone Holder
Some eBikes offer a smartphone holder with a USB charging port to let you stay connected on the go. Such features aren’t a need, per se. But these little features can come real handy at times… and are just nice to have!
Electric bikes are becoming increasingly popular in many parts of the world. They offer a number of benefits, including being able to help you get around more easily and keep you healthy while they’re at it. They can also be used for long-distance commuting as well as to explore sandy beaches, steep mountains, and rugged tracks.
Electric bikes are surging in popularity and with so many eBikes on the market these days, finding the right one can be overwhelming. In this detailed guide, we tried to outline all the important things that you need to look for when buying an eBike. We hope we’re able to add to your knowledge.
In case you want to buy an eBike, make sure to check out our line-up. We have a wide variety of electric bikes for all types of riders in all budget ranges. No matter if you’re looking for a feathery foldable eBike or a mighty hill climber, we’ve got something for everyone.
You can visit our line-up here!