Although electric bikes (also known as e-bikes) were once a niche item with little more than a casual following, these days, you’d be hard-pressed to go a block without finding one. And it’s for good reason. After all, e-bikes only serve to enhance your riding capabilities, allowing you to go further, go faster, and bring more along with you. Whether you’re commuting to work, ripping around town, or hauling groceries home, there’s no denying the advantages that e-bikes bring to the table.
However, as much with the growth in the market has helped to improve the existing offerings, it’s also made your search for the best electric bike that much harder. Because let’s face it. When you’re already struggling to digest the overwhelming amount of available component options and tire types, the last thing you need is to add electric motors and battery packs to the mix — especially if you can’t tell your watt-hours apart from your torque output. The good news is that we’ve broken down each class of e-bikes to make your search easier, with helpful considerations to get you started on your search. Save yourself the headache of having to figure it out for yourself and read on to see what we’ve picked for the best electric bikes.
Which Electric Bike Is Right For You?
The Three Classes
Before setting out to buy an e-bike, you should first determine what kind of performance you require out of your ride. In the United States, there are effectively three tiers or “classes” of electric assistance available. Below, we’ve broken them down in ascending order, from the least amount of added boost to the most.
Class 1: This class of e-bikes is limited to those that are exclusively pedal-assist with a maximum speed of 20mph. In practice, this means that they operate without a throttle, so the extra oomph will only kick in once you start pedaling. As such, Class 1 electric bikes can usually be ridden anywhere you’re allowed on a traditional bike. If you’re just looking for a bit of help to get you over tough hills or cart along some commuter bags, you’ll likely be fine with one of these.
Class 2: Like Class 1, Class 2 e-bikes have a top assisted speed of 20mph. However, where the above option was strictly pedal activated, these come with a handlebar-mounted throttle (usually taking the form of a twist-grip or a push-button). Thus, Class 2 e-bikes can be ridden at full power right from the get-go — no pedal operation required. In most places, you’ll be able to ride a Class 2 e-bike where you would a non-powered bike, though some cities are starting to tighten up their regulations. For those who find themselves riding in heavily trafficked urban areas, a Class 2 e-bike offers the advantage of immediate acceleration, allowing you to quickly get away from the stoplight and avoid holding up any cars that are behind you.
Class 3: Last but not least we have Class 3. While these electric bikes only come with pedal-assist, their maximum speed tops out at 28mph. Because of their high power, Class 3 e-bikes are typically only allowed on roads and in on-road bike lanes — they’re not considered safe to use around other riders on trails and paths. If you have a long commute that takes you along the road, your best bet will be to get a bike that’s considered a Class 3. Not only will you be able to cover greater distances more quickly; you’ll also be far safer around passing cars (in some cases you may even be able to ride at the speed limit).
What To Look For In An Electric Bike
Key Features To Keep In Mind
Having decided upon which Class of e-bikes is best suited to your needs, you should next consider what each particular offering brings to the table. What follows are our recommendations for what features you should be watching out for.
Range: Above all else, it’s important to look for the amount of range an e-bike offers with respect to its various amounts of electric assist. Most bikes on the market include anywhere from three to five different assistance levels, with the lowest among them adding some 25% towards your total output and the highest giving you as much as a 300-400% turbo boost. Granted, it’s entirely possible to commute using the most conservative setting, but let’s face it: one of the hallmarks of e-bikes is the experience of effortless pedaling. All that is to say — ideally, you should look for an offering that’ll be able to get you to and from your destination without the need for a recharge.
Battery: E-bikes were once unsightly affairs with bulky, protruding battery packs; however, they’ve since come to have a decidedly sleeker aesthetic. That’s because manufacturers are increasingly building their electric bikes with an integrated battery in the downtube. Not only does the design look significantly better; it typically has the added benefit of being completely removable with just a quick turn of the key. This means that you’ll be able to take your battery with you, allowing you to charge it away from the frame or ride your bike completely unpowered. What’s more, e-bikes are considerably lighter without their battery pack in-place, making having to heft them up the stairs that much easier.
Motor: In general, the higher the wattage of the motor, the more power any given electric bike will have. However, in practice, it’s not always that simple, what with battery output and range having a significant effect on an e-bike’s overall output. As such, you should also pay attention to metrics like torque and watt-hours. Much like in automotive applications, the former describes how much force is available to get your bike going, with a higher figure equating to a more immediate acceleration. And when it comes to the latter, you’ll find that e-bikes with more watt-hours tend to offer a higher sustained speed over a longer range.
Extra Features: Ultimately, the number of add-ons you need in an e-bike will be determined primarily by your needs. For instance, if you’ll be riding any time when it’s dark outside, it’s to your advantage to get a model with some sort of built-in lighting system. Sure, you can always attach your own, but having one included makes for a convenient set-and-forget setup. Similarly, if you’re going to be commuting with much more than a small backpack, you should look for an option that includes a front or rear cargo rack (or even both). Again, it’s entirely possible to spring for an aftermarket option; however, there’s no guarantee that it’ll perfectly fit your ride. Finally, many e-bikes offer some sort of provision for a second battery. When the standard range just won’t cut it, the extra juice can be the difference between an effortless ride from work and a slow walk home.
Aventon Pace 350
While most e-bikes in this price range aren’t worth the box they’re shipped in, Aventon’s Pace 350 is an exception to the rule. That’s because it comes standard with an assortment of high-quality components like reliable Tektro mechanical disc brakes, an easy-to-read backlit LCD display, as well as a cushy Aventon Velo Comfort saddle. And when it comes to performance, the Pace 350 is one offering that proves an excellent value proposition. Its brushless motor offers a peak output of 500W and a sustained output of 350W, translating to a 20mph top speed with an average range of about 35 miles.
RadPower RadCity 4
If you have room in your budget to spend just a little bit more, the RadPower RadCity 4 is a worthwhile upgrade. For starters, it’s equipped with fenders, an integrated brake light, and a front dynamo hub, meaning that this bike makes quite the capable year-round commuter. What’s more, it features a front suspension fork with 100mm of total travel, an addition that gives you greater flexibility to ride over rough roads or paths. And when you consider that its integrated rear rack can hold up to 250lbs of cargo, the RadCity 4 is one bike that undercuts offerings two to three times its price.
Electric Bike Company Model X
Just because you’re after 21st-century performance, doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice your sense of style. Rather, with options like the Model X from Electric Bike Company on the market, it’s entirely possible to have an e-bike that doesn’t just improve your efficiency — it also looks the part. So, while it looks for the most part like any old breach cruiser on the surface, give the thumb throttle a push and you’ll unleash a 1000-watt motor that’s good for a 120-mile range and a 25mph top speed. Add to that things like an anti-theft alarm, some 5 Star hydraulic disc brakes, and a drivetrain geared toward easy cruising, and the result is a bike that’s just as retro as it is redux.
With its sleek design aesthetic and intuitive tech integration, the VanMoof S3 is an e-bike that’s in a league of its own. For instance, as part of its built-in anti-theft feature, the S3 makes use of not only an onboard alarm and smart location tracking but also tamper resistance and a remote lockdown mode. To put it another way — it’s pretty much an iron-clad defense against bike thieves. And when it comes to the drivetrain, the S3 uses a four-speed automatic electric gearbox to give it an incredibly smooth ride, no matter how hilly your commute. Less of a bike than it is a complete, app-connected system, the VanMoof S3 is a great option for urban riders.
Cannondale Quick Neo SL2
For those who are after a fitness-oriented e-bike, the Cannondale Quick Neo SL2 makes for a pretty compelling pick. At just a hair over 35lbs, it’s not much heavier than your average traditional bicycle. However, under the hood, it packs a 250Wh battery pack, three levels of pedal-assistance, and a top speed of 20mph. Granted it may not have the longest range of the bunch — about 47 miles — however, it’s a much nimbler ride than the competition thanks to its C3 alloy tubing and skinny tires.
Giant Fastroad E+ EX Pro
When assisted top speed is a top priority, Giant’s Fastroad E+ EX Pro is the bike for you. That’s because it comes with a SyncDrive Pro motor that’s powered by Yamaha, an addition that gives it an 80Nm of torque output, up to 360% assistance, and a maximum speed of 28mph. But this isn’t just some one-trick straight-line speed pony. Rather, because it includes Giant’s patented D-fuse seatpost and rides on a set of plush 27.5 x 2.40″ Kenda Kwick Seven.5 tires, it’s surprisingly compliant over rougher roads. And thanks to its integrated rack, fenders, and front light, it more than capable enough as a commuter.
While there are tons of other travel bikes out there, no one does it quite like Brompton. First of all, it clocks in at a svelte 26 pounds, a figure that’s bordering on road bike-level light. And because of its innovative folding mechanism, it packs down to nearly 2/3 the size of its closet competitor. But the best part is that even despite its small stature, Brompton’s electric bicycle boasts a pair of hub motors fore and aft, giving it a top speed of 15.5mph and a maximum range of 45 miles. If you’re looking for a folding bike with a bit of extra oomph, you can’t go wrong with the Brompton Electric.
Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0
Specialized’s Turbo Vado is the product of years of bike-manufacturing expertise, wrapped into one complete e-bike offering. It features the brand’s patented Future Shock 1.5 technology, a micro-dampening system that absorbs impact at the handlebars. What’s more, it makes use of a set of 12x110mm Boost thru-axles in order to give it improved lateral stiffness and wheel compliance. And when you consider that it can take you all the way to 28mph and comes with room for a range extender that’ll give you enough juice for up to 120 miles of riding, the Turbo Vado is an option that can’t be beat.
Benno Boost E 10D Speed
One of the main advantages of e-bikes is their added hauling capabilities. This one from Benno comes with up to 45lbs of carrying capacity on the front rack and 130lbs on the rear rack. And that’s not all — it’s also compatible with a range of accessories, including a pair of child seats as well as specialty rails and hand-holds. Powered by a Bosche Performance Speed Cargo motor, it’s good for you up to 150 miles of range with the addition of a second battery pack. With its bold design and honest utility, the Benno Boost E E 10D Speed is one cargo bike that’s a cut above the rest.
Trek Allant+ 9.9S
If your pockets are deep enough, the Trek Allant+ 9.9s is the bike you want — it’s pretty much a purpose-built commuting bullet. For instance, the frame and fork are made from carbon fiber, making it impressively lightweight for its spec (51.5lbs) as well as excellent at absorbing hand-numbing road buzz. And when it comes to the drivetrain, the Allant+ has performance provisions abound. With a Bosch Speed motor, a 12-speed Shimano XT groupset, and an integrated 625Wh Bosch PowerTube battery, it’ll get you where you need to be — and fast. Top it all off with a Bosch Smartphone Hub display and the result is a bike whose capabilities speak for themselves.
The 6 Best Electric Mountain Bikes
While each of these e-offerings is capable enough in its own right, you’ll want something a little more specialized if you’re looking to go off-road. Head over to our guide to the best electric mountain bikes for a range of rides that are sure to supercharge your trail time.