How to Choose Your First Electric Bicycle
Where to Begin
Electric bicycles have become the fastest-growing segment of the bicycle industry. While standard pedal bike sales are either flat or falling in nearly every category, electric bicycles continue to see double or triple-digit growth year over year.
With their ease of use and thrilling performance, e-bikes are drawing more and more first riders. If you’ve been considering getting your own electric bicycle but don’t know where to begin, then this guide is definitely for you!
It can seem like a daunting task when you look at the number of electric bicycles out there.
In the past, there were at least a half-dozen companies to choose from. Now there are hundreds – perhaps even thousands. Where do you even begin?
When it comes to buying an electric bicycle, there are two main differentiators that will help you narrow down the field: style and price. Both of these factors will help you cut through the noise and find the right e-bike for your specific needs.
I find it easiest to start with the style of an e-bike, which can be divided into the following categories:
Electric mountain bikes
Electric cruiser bikes
Electric commuter bikes
Electric folding bikes
Electric fat tire bikes
Electric Mountain Bikes
Electric mountain bikes are certainly great for riding trails and heading off-road. But don’t count them out on the street either.
Electric mountain bikes on the lower end of the price range can make excellent commuter e-bikes. Such bikes are usually hardtails, meaning they lack rear suspension. Instead they often have just a front suspension fork. Their suspension might not be good enough for hardcore trail riding, but it is usually sufficient for hitting a few pot holes on the way to work.
If you actually want to jump your e-bike and do any serious downhill mountain biking, you’ll be looking at a downhill electric mountain bike. These bikes are built to much higher standards and are designed to survive years of punishment. Things like dropping off 10 ft (3 meter) tables and reliably hitting jump after jump are par for the course with electric downhill bikes.
Electric Cruiser Bikes
Cruisers are built for, well, cruising. Electric cruiser bikes all about comfort and style. They typically have wide, plush seats and higher handlebars that are swept back towards the rider. And the pedals are generally mounted further forward, which allows you to rest both feet flat on the ground at stops.
Cruisers are the epitome of a beach bike, and often have larger balloon tires (in the 3″ range), though the tires are not as large as those on dedicated fat bikes.
Cruisers are a heckuva lot of fun for leisurely riding. However, they are both larger and heavier than nearly any other type of e-bike. That can make them a bit less maneuverable at low speeds. If your goal is cruising along the local beach paths though, a cruiser will fit in perfectly.
Electric Commuter Bikes
Electric Commuter is a very broad category and includes a number of different types, ranging from hybrids to racing to leisure and even gravel bikes. Most share a number of characteristics, including narrower tires, a more forward-leaning geometry, narrower saddles, lack of suspension, and emphasis on lightweight design.
If your goal is cycling as a hobby and you ride mostly on the street, an electric road bike is an excellent choice. These bikes are designed for the most efficient pedaling and are often the lightest options. They can often be ridden easily without any e-assist at all, which is great for cyclists that only want help on the hills. If you plan to use an e-bike as a commuter vehicle and not necessarily for pleasure riding, you’ll likely want to look at hybrid or even cyclocross style bikes. These usually have slightly wider tires and their designs place more of an emphasis on sturdy multi-terrain frames.
Electric Folding Bikes
Electric folding bikes are one of the most popular categories due to their extreme portability. Most e-folders have a folding point in the middle of the bike and on the handlebars. This collapses the bike into a package usually no larger than a suitcase. If you plan to put your e-bike in a car trunk or you plan to carry it onto the bus or train, then a folding e-bike is likely in your future.
The downside to many folders is that they are often heavier than comparably sized e-bikes and sometimes suffer from lower quality parts.
Electric Fat Bikes
Electric fat bikes are one of the most fun categories of e-bikes. They excel in off-road conditions with loose soil, sand, or even snow. Their large tires, usually 4″ or greater, help electric fat bikes ride up and over nearly any surface.
They can, of course, be ridden on streets, sidewalks or bike lanes, but also offer the ability to hop a curb and right straight down the middle of a park. Most won’t have suspension, though some have suspension forks. But with such large tires, the suspension isn’t quite as important – the fat tires absorb many bumps and potholes. Electric fat bikes used to be a small niche, but now there are dozens of companies offering competing models.
Start with your goals and budget
To choose your first electric bike, you’ll need to determine the type of riding you want to do and the price level that you want to pay.
You don't have to break the bank. By choosing the right type of bike at the right price level for you, anyone can have a great time on an e-bike.