The onward march of technology has only made our lives easier as time has gone by. The humble bicycle, which has been with us since the 1800s, is no exception to this fact. The Electric Bike has radically changed how we view biking by making it more comfortable, less harsh on our muscles on joints, and just overall more convenient.
But if you have been bit by the eBike bug and you’re in the market for one, how do you know which to pick? Electric bikes might not have been around for quite as long as traditional bikes yet, but the options on the market are already dizzying in number.
Don’t worry though, that’s exactly what we’re here for. Let’s take a quick look at everything you need to consider when choosing the best eBike for casual city riding.
Understanding eBikes – a Short Glossary
First, let’s go over some lingo. Just like “regular” biking culture has led to the coining of dozens of new words in the English language, so do eBikes have their very own terms to become
acquainted with if you want to make an informed buying decision.
You should know that eBikes are grouped into distinct classes. These are not manufacturer-specific marketing terms, but actual regulatory definitions that include every eBike sold anywhere in the world. Since they’re universal, they’re easy to memorize!
Class I eBikes are considered the most basic. Their electric motor is only there as a pedaling assist, and when you ride at speeds of over 20 mph, it automatically turns off.
Class II eBikes are some of the most widespread, particularly higher up the pricing ladder. They include a throttle control, so you can leave the motor running to power the bike even when you’re not pedaling.
Class III eBikes are a special case – they do not have throttle control, but unlike Class Is and IIs their motor keeps supplying energy to assist your pedaling up to a higher max speed of 28 mph.
For casual riders, we recommend either a Class I or Class II bike. Class I eBikes are generally the beginner’s choice since they’re simple, act very similarly to conventional bicycles and are the most affordable of the three. Class II bikes are more costly, but the throttle control adds an extra layer of convenience that many find attractive.
Class III eBikes are mostly used by errand runners, delivery workers, and the like, and while their extra horsepower makes them much more useful in daily traffic, they are more expensive and more strictly regulated. You cannot ride them on many bike paths and public trails, for example.
Motors and Batteries
Assuming that you are already familiar with the ins and outs of traditional bikes, the most foreign aspects of the eBike to you will for sure be the electric motors and batteries.
The motor powers the eBike while you’re pedaling (and in the case of Class II models, the electric throttle), whereas the batteries hold the charge necessary for the motor to function. Almost all eBikes today use lithium-ion batteries, which can pack a lot of energy into a small and light form factor.
However, the primary concern with choosing between different motor-battery combos is the resulting range that you can ride until your charge runs dry. This is where things get tricky.
Looking at listings of the best electric bikes both new and used, you will often see very broad range ratings quoted, such as 30-120 miles for example. This is because your range ultimately arises from a combination of many factors.
- Your average speed affects range, as the motor won’t be active, or at least operating at a lower level of effort, at higher velocities
- The terrain you’ll be riding on also makes a difference – flat plains are best, lots of elevation changes tax the battery more
- Similarly to how lots of stop-and-go inner-city traffic can ruin your gas mileage, eBikes benefit from as little acceleration and deceleration as possible
- Compare the KWh (kilowatt-hour) rating of the battery with the KW (kilowatt) rating of the motor – a higher ratio of battery-to-motor power generally means your charge will last longer
Also, note that many eBikes let you continuously adjust the intensity of the pedal assist. Obviously, lower settings will preserve battery power at the cost of not pushing you along with quite as much oomph.
What to Look Out for When Shopping for an eBike
So, now that we covered the basics, what should you watch out for to make sure you choose the best eBike for city riding?
Generally speaking, eBikes can either have mid-drive motors or hub-drive motors. They differ in where exactly the pedal assist power on your eBike comes from.
Like front-wheel-drive cars, mid-drive motors place the weight of the motor and its torque relatively far forward. Many consider them more comfortable and stable to ride because of this.
Meanwhile, hub-drive motors have the whole motor assembly located in the hub of the rear wheel, hence the name. They ride in a more sporty manner that has its fair share of fans, though you should consider that because of the design, changing the rear tire in the case of a flat gets a bit more complicated than usual.
Here, you won’t really discover any surprises if you’ve got experience shopping for bikes in general. eBikes are generally made of the same aluminum, steel, or carbon frames that you’ll be likely familiar with already. Weight management is slightly more important here as eBikes are heavier than their muscle-powered cousins, but as usual, you’ll be paying top dollar for carbon or composite frame.
Accessories and Gadgets
There are many many accessories in the world of eBikes, and it will be up to you to decide which are worth it for your needs.
For example, handlebar-mounted LCD monitors can give you detailed info on your battery life while allowing you to observe and change your pedal assist settings. They also often come with a built-in digital odometer and speedometer.
Other nice-to-haves include exterior lighting (essential on a city bike) as well as racks and baskets for storage. Some eBike brands also offer discounts on purchasing a spare battery along with your eBike – useful for longer trips!
If you want to be really fancy, higher-end eBikes can wirelessly integrate with your smartphone to offer features such as GPS navigation and messaging.
Fit and Comfort
In a bike optimized for inner-city handling and gentle touring, comfort is key. As you would expect, this is largely down to the frame (in both shape and size) and key items such as the handlebars, saddle, and suspension.
Here, there’s no alternative to a good old-fashioned test drive. I suggest always taking a bike out for a spin before buying it, whether it has a motor in it or not!
Only that way can you truly make sure that the bike you’re looking at feels right to you.
After all, besides some technicalities like the ones we just covered, bikes are a very personal thing. Good luck!
About the author:
Trevor Fenner is the founder of Electric Bike Paradise, the #1 online retailer of electric bikes, electric scooters, electric skateboards, mobility scooters, electric wheelchairs, electric golf caddies, solar kits, and trolling motors. Trevor has been selling bicycles, electric bikes, and electric scooters online since 2010 and eventually established Electric Bike Paradise in late 2013 when he happened to meet a car enthusiast that introduced him to electric bikes. Trevor spent time searching for electric bikes online but couldn’t find a website that offered a wide selection of electric bikes, scooters, and informational articles. That is why he decided to start a website where everyone can shop conveniently, browse buying guides, and read educational posts. The website is called Electric Bike Paradise.