The 2019 Electric Bikes Buyer's Guide
Learn About the best electric bikes, the technology that makes them humm, and find the one that is the best fit for you.
Electric Bike Buyer’s Guide
Electric bikes, also called electric-assist bicycles or simply ebikes, are human-powered bicycles with integrated electric motors that provide cyclists with additional power and speed.
The latest generation of electric bikes feature lightweight, removable, rechargeable batteries – making them easy, practical and fun to use in a variety of settings. This style of bicycle is wildly popular in Europe and is one of the fastest growing segments of bicycles in the US because they make cycling more approachable.
Why do bike owners choose electric models?
People who decide to buy electric bikes do so for a variety of reasons. If any of the below descriptions applies to you, you may find that this type of cycling is particularly compelling:
- Eco-conscious cyclist – You may not know anything about electric bikes but want to get around as sustainably as possible. You would love to use your bike more and your car less for your daily tasks, but sometimes it just seems easier to hop in the car rather than ride your bike from errand to errand. If you could ride a little faster and haul groceries more easily, you’d definitely prefer to ditch your car in favor of doing more on two wheels.
- Daily commuter – You may use your bike to ride to work, day in and day out. You love the time that you spend on your bike but want to arrive at work a little faster and a little less sweaty. You would like a little extra help carrying life’s necessities to and from your workplace.
- Older cyclist – You may be advanced in years but want to keep riding. You love being active and exploring the outdoors, but you're not as young and fit as you used to be. You want the youthful joy of riding your bike, but your body just isn’t up for conquering tough hills anymore. You’re looking for something comfortable, dependable and fun.
- Physically limited cyclist – You may have a medical condition that reduces mobility or makes exertion difficult. You long for the joy of cycling but struggle with a traditional bike's function and physical demands. You’re looking for a bike to exercise and explore the outdoors, but you know that a traditional bike doesn’t always work with your limitations or disability.
How fast can you go on an electric bike?
People will often buy automobiles because they assume that an electric bike is too slow. While you cannot move as fast on a highway, you can make pace at a similar rate to cars when you ride throughout a city – and that is because of all the stop lights, stop signs, and heavy traffic that might obstruct cars’ ability to move along at a consistent speed.
After all, in the United States, traffic keeps getting worse, and that makes life more and more difficult for drivers. The US currently has worse traffic congestion that any other developed country, according to a report from transportation analytics firm INRIX; throughout the country, the average driver lost 41 hours per year to peak-hour (6 am to 9 am, and 3 pm to 6 pm) traffic congestion. During those same peak periods, drivers in the Bay Area lost 79 hours to traffic jams – with the average congestion speed at 10.5 miles per hour. An electric bike beats that average car speed, typically going about 15 mph. Plus, because you are on two wheels, you can cut through paths and natural areas that cars can't. These advantages are appealing to any commuter but particularly those who are eco-conscious or have physical restrictions.
What is the range of an electric bike?
The ebike also may not be able to get you as far as an automobile can, but its range is nonetheless impressive. Typically a single tank of gas will allow a car to cover 280-300 miles. Meanwhile, electric bikes can go as far as 100 miles if you have the right model and the extent to which you rely on the motor over pedaling. Plus, you do not incur nearly as much in maintenance costs if you choose an ebike (foregoing the expenses of oil changes, car tires, and general wear-and-tear).
How do ebikes work?
In addition to the standard components of a traditional bicycle, an electric bike has a powerful motor that makes it easier to climb hills, deal with wind, and otherwise cover ground without undue strain. The ebike or electic bike may not match the pace of a motorcycle; however, the motor is an add-on to the physical efforts of the rider, so (since it does not need to provide all the power) the motor is not as loud.
The motor and battery are the primary elements that electric bikes have over traditional models. These parts typically weigh 20-40 pounds, which means the bike is a little more cumbersome to lift. That amount of extra weight is a small matter for the ride though, and the load the bike can handle is greatly improved by the motor. It is possible to recharge the battery as you go if you pedal more rapidly than the motor turns the pedals – but you will not want to rely on recharging en route. Once you get back home or to another destination, you can plug the bike into an outlet to charge it, typically achieving a complete recharge in a couple hours.
Do you need a license to drive an electric bike?
In some areas, you need a license for an ebike, but in other areas, you do not. In twenty states, you do need a license, generally since there are not yet ebike laws, meaning that they are treated in the same manner as automobiles. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the state of California and nine other states – Washington, Michigan, Illinois, Connecticut, Colorado, Utah, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Arizona – define ebikes and use a three-tiered classification system to categorize them. In the ten states with the ebike classification system, all but Illinois exempt ebike riders from the need for a license, registration, and insurance.
A class 3 ebike is the most strictly regulated because it assists up to a higher maximum speed. This class has a speedometer and assists the rider up to 28 miles per hour, while class 1 and 2 models both stop assisting the rider at 20 mph. A helmet is only legally mandatory for class 3 ebikes in California, as is also true in Tennessee. Also in California, you cannot drive a class 3 ebike unless you are at least 16 years old, which is true in Utah as well.
How much does an electric bike cost?
Here are top ebikes for under $6000, from the lowest to highest price:
How to get started with electric cycling
Some people are already convinced that they want to buy an electric bike and simply want to know how to make the selection. After all, an ebike is an investment that you want to last.
Here is how to move forward with theebike selection and purchase:
- Think about what you are looking for in an electric bike – your main concerns. Perhaps you are most interested in hill climbing capability, or maybe your chief priority is comfort or ability to be used for a century ride (provided there is adequate pedaling). You may also want a heavier, more powerful model, or one that is foldable and lightweight.
- As you think about the shop you use to purchase, look at the commitment the store seems to have toward its customers, and assess quality. Also look over some customer reviews.
- Consider what your budget is for an ebike. Of course, you are likelier to be able to get the power and features you want if you spend more – but that only makes sense if the value is clear. Generally, electric models help to reduce your expenses in many categories, including healthcare, parking, maintenance costs, insurance, and fuel. Factor in your degree of experience. You may be a skilled rider interested in an upgrade, or new to cycling and considering electric as your initial model. You may be someone who will need the bike to maintain power for all-day riding, or you may just want to use it for hour-long trips. In other words, is this ebike your commuting transportation, or is it for long, environmentally friendly adventures? Thinking about what you expect in the bike will help you determine whether you need a higher-end model or could be satisfied with something that is more inexpensive.
Our Favorite Electric Bikes
Raleigh Electric Retroglide iE Step Thru (2018) – $1,899.99
Founded in the United Kingdom, Raleigh has been in business since the 19th century (1887), so they certainly have credibility. Its bikes include a one-year comprehensive warranty, in addition to two years of protection for the motor and lifetime for the frame. The Retroglide iE Step Thru is purpose-built – with a custom motorized bottom bracket interface and internally routed cables. When using appropriate consideration for gear-shifting, this drive system will deliver optimal efficiency and balance. While the motors that you get with higher-end models may be more powerful, you can improve the output of the Retroglide iE with a trigger throttle.
Electra Townie Go! 8i Ladies' (2018) – $1999.99
Electra was founded by Benno Bänziger in 1993 in Vista, California. Bänziger started designing and manufacturing snowboards in Germany when he was a teenager before studying graphic design and moving to California to start a bicycle company. Electra is now a subsidiary of Trek Bicycle Company. The Bosch Performance System – with four power modes from Eco to Turbo – is a primary technical strength of the 2018 Townie Go! 8i Ladies'. This model also excels in its comfort: you can maintain a smooth ride in an upright posture thanks to the bike's balloon tires and lower center of gravity provided by Flat Foot Technology.More on the Townie Go! 8i Ladies'
Raleigh Sprite IE (2018) – $2249.99
This bike had a rave review in Bicycling. The bike and gear magazine noted that the price of the 2018 Sprite IE was reasonable and that it was a perfect fit for novices. "Priced comparably to a decent entry-level road bike," wrote Molly Hurford, "the Sprite is ideal for casual commuters or anyone intimidated to ride up big hills." The ebike is a great tool to help you avoid the perspiration of traditional cycling when you want to look fresh at the office. To achieve commuter-friendly status, the Sprite IE features a rack-mounted 50-mile-range battery, easy-to-use step-through frame, and disk brakes.
IZIP E3 Dash Step Thru (2018) – $2299.00
You may not recognize IZIP as you do another brand such as Trek. However, the fact that IZIP is not known as a bikemaker is also its niche focus: these bikes "are manufactured from scratch at their premises with the idea of being electrified," explained Jeff Balton's Bicycle Guider. IZIP was originally formed as Currie Technologies in 1998; under that name, it pioneered electric bike technology, especially their patented drive system. The E3 Dash Step Over is powered by a Class-3 pedal-assist TranzX Center Motor, with a maximum speed of 28 mph.
Trek Verve + (2019) – $2299.99
This bike gets great reviews. All of the on-site rankings by Trek customers are 4 (8 people) or 5 stars (20 people). One of the reviewers, Mike, noted that he uses the bike to get his son to school each morning. Explaining that the hill his son's school was on was too extreme for a traditional bike, Mike additionally noted that he liked the ability to choose any of four modes. He is able to get where he needs to be even if it is hot, without getting sweaty. Finally Mike said that there were weight-loss benefits: "[A]fter just 3 weeks, I lost 8 lb," he wrote.
Trek Verve+ Lowstep (2019) – $2299.99
A key positive of the Verve+ Lowstep is its mid-drive motor, the 250-Watt Bosch Active Line, which can keep you rolling at assisted speeds up to 20 mph. Reviewers on the Trek site revealed how helpful this model has been for people with chronic pain or reduced mobility. One rider from Annapolis, "Queen without a Kingdom," said that she had not been able to ride anymore following three ankle surgeries and that this bike had gotten her back on two wheels. "I will be 64 soon, and I can ride like I was a kid again," she wrote.
Trek Neko+ (2018) – $2477.99 to $2999.99
The primary reasons that ebike riders choose this model are four-fold. First, you are able to go quite fast – up to 25 mph – because of the Shimano STEPS system. Second, the battery is easily removable but nonetheless very stable while riding and can be charged on or off the bike at any household outlet. Third, you are able to tackle any terrain, including off-road. Finally, you are able to get steady and smooth pedal-assist and not experience any imbalance on the way because of the mid-drive motor.
Trek XM700+ (2018) – $2999.99
If you want a bike you can use on California Class 2 and Class 3 bike trails but still make great time, the Trek XM700+ may be your chariot. The 28 mph Class 3 ebike is suitable for those trails as well as Class 1 routes (the latter provided that you have disengaged the power system). You will have a great hybrid model even if you do not use pedal-assist; but assuming you do, you will have battery power that will get you to any conceivable local destination. In Bob Becker's review for Bicyclist, he noted that the Trek XM700+ "accelerated rapidly to a top assisted speed of 28 mph, and could be maintained at that level for long intervals on flat terrain."
Electra Townie Commute Go! (2018) – $2999.99
California-based Electra, a Trek subsidiary, has a track-record that goes back 25 years to 1993. That history is worth noting, according to Digital Trends, because the bikemaker helped to make cruisers cool again. Along with the midframe, 25-Watt Bosch Performance Series motor, the battery allows for as much as 100 miles of power (although you will be limited by terrain and degree of pedaling). The bikes offers four modes, Turbo, Sport, Tour, and Eco. The 700c Schwalbe Fat Frank Balloon Tires are puncture-resistant.
Electra Townie Commute Go! Ladies' (2018) – $2999.99
The combined forces of the Bosch Performance System and Flat Foot Technology enable four power modes, from Turbo to Eco. Feature highlights include the hydraulic disk brakes and puncture-resistant 700cc Schwalbe Fat Frank tires. The range of the bike is up to 100 miles, depending on the terrain and mode you use. You can leverage pedal-assist up to 20 mph on this bike. You get a 2-year Bosch warranty on battery life.
Trek Powerfly 5 (2018) – $3399.99 to $3499.99
The Powerfly gives you as much as 250 Watts of pedal-assist, as well as up to 300% more torque. The 500 Watt-hour motor has five modes, which are usually assigned as Turbo, Sport, Tour, Off, and Eco. With the 2018 Powerfly 5 though, the Sport mode was replaced with EMTB, which self-adjusts between Turbo and Eco based on the amount of energy coming from you. This new setting “makes you ride the eMTB more like a normal bike, using the gears, and not just spinning and whirring away over terrain,” wrote Mike Blewitt in Australian Mountain Bike.
Trek Powerfly 5 Women’s (2018) – $3399.99 to $3499.99
This Powerfly Women's model has the same high-performance geometry and frame as the standard hardtail. The handlebars are a bit narrower, saddles are women-specific, and the colors are different. Most importantly, though, these bikes are designed for ease-of-use by shorter riders – who can more easily mount and dismount due to the reduced standover height allowed by curved top tubes (on all sizes but the 18.5"). You can get assisted speeds up to 20 mph with this bike.
Trek Super Commuter+ 7 (2019) – $3599.99 to $3899.99
Electric Bike Review noted in its review of the 2018 version of this bike that the Bosch Performance Line motor is incredibly responsive, allowing the chainring to start and stop very rapidly. EBR noted that it was very comfortable thanks to its vibration dampening, rigid fork and all-aluminum frame. Ease-of-use is the great advantage of this bike, with the review site stating, "Frankly, you can ride however you’d like and the motor will be there to support you in a powerful but intuitive way."
Trek CrossRip+ (2019) – $4499.99
In a glowing review for Bicyling, Matt Phillips humorously noted that you should not ride the bike unless you are comfortable with its pricetag, because you will not be able to resist buying after your testride. Phillips noted that the CrossRip+ resembles a traditional road bike in its handling, riding position, and general experience. Since that's the case, he noted that people who have experience with road cycling will immediately feel comfortable on this model and "quickly fall in love with the speed and the sensation of floating up hills offered by the smooth Bosch motor."
Trek Super Commuter+ 8S (2019) – $5199.99
This bike is certainly a high-end model among electric bikes. The 2018 model received rave reviews from Jason Fogelson in Forbes, who explained how user-friendly the bike's system was and how its weight was unnoticeable once he was in motion. He rode it on a gravel trail and said the ride was totally stable. All in all, Fogelson noted that "[t]he high quality and premium level of equipment and accessories included certainly justify the price." This bike can legitimately replace a car with its 28 mph maximum speed, allowing you to cruise along faster than cars during rush hour.
Taking off on your electric bike
Whether you are older, have limited mobility, are concerned with sustainability, or simply need a reliable commuting vehicle, an electric bike can meet your needs. You have many high-quality options under $6000 from which to choose. By considering your needs and budget, you can select the right model and enjoy rapid travel without all the sweat.