When it comes to bicycle sales, the future is starting to look pretty electric. E-bike sales rose by 78 percent in 2018, and these bikes represent more than 10 percent of total sales at many U.S. bicycle retailers.
One of factors supporting this growth is the vast number of e-bike choices available. This plethora of candidates is a good thing, but it can also be overwhelming if you’re a shopper. Here are a few tips to help you choose the electric bicycle that’s the best fit for your needs.
Swagtron’s EB12 is light enough to serve as a capable city bike. (Photo: Swagtron)
Where and how do you plan to use your e-bike? If you’re shopping for a car, your choices range from city-friendly subcompacts to roomy minivans built for family travel. There is almost as much variety in the e-bike market, and there are picks that are purpose-built to tackle a host of scenarios.
- City travel: The best city bikes are those that are small, light and portable. A folding e-bike is a wise choice for urban travelers. Typically, these bikes can be folded into a package that’s about the size of a suitcase. This allows the bike to be easily stowed in a car trunk or carried with you on a bus or subway.
- Off-roading: If you’re planning on spending lots of time off the paved path, get an e-bike that’s built for off-roading. Electric mountain bikes fit the bill. Some of the less expensive choices in this segment are fine for light off-roading. For serious trail-busting, you’ll want to invest in a more costly downhill electric mountain bike, since these models have suspensions that are sturdy enough to tackle big jumps and harsh terrain.
- Family transportation: An e-bike may seem like an unlikely choice for family transportation, but there are selections available that can accommodate more than one rider. A cargo bike is your best bet if you’re looking for an electric bicycle that can transport kids, and there are picks on the market that accommodate as many as four children. If you’re looking for an e-bike that’s built for you and your special someone, a tandem bike may be an ideal fit.
- Commuting: Pedaling can get very tiring when you’re commuting home after a long day at work. If you plan on using your e-bike for commuting, look for a model with a motor that’s potent enough to keep pedaling optional.
- Cruising: Bikes built for cruising tend to have seats that are broad and comfortable, and they’re designed so you can place your feet flat on the ground when the bike comes to a stop. Cruisers also offer superb design, and they’re among the most stylish e-bikes on the market.
A LCD display offers information such as battery range and miles traveled. (Photo: Swagtron)
Decide which features are important to you
Today’s e-bikes are offered with quite a few bells and whistles. Decide which amenities are must-haves for your situation, and choose your bike accordingly. Here are some of the features available on the current crop of e-bikes:
- Integrated lighting: In many American cities, your bike is required to have a front light for traveling after dark. Aftermarket options are available, but integrated lighting may be the best bet if you want nighttime illumination that fits organically with the look of your bike.
- LCD display: Some e-bikes come with an LCD display that’s mounted to the handlebar. This display is to an e-bike what a gauge cluster is to a car. It allows you to keep track of things such as miles traveled and remaining battery life.
- Smartphone integration: If you want to get really fancy, some of the more expensive e-bikes offer smartphone integration. This feature allows you to connect your smartphone to your e-bike via Bluetooth. In some cases, this amenity also includes capabilities such as GPS tracking and access to service records.
- Integrated security: You’ll want to make sure your e-bike is safe and sound when parking around town. Some e-bikes come with security features such as rear-wheel locks that are attached to the frame.
- Integrated cargo racks: Aftermarket cargo racks made for standard bikes may not be compatible with an e-bike, since they may intrude on the motor. Many e-bikes come with integrated cargo racks that can be quite convenient if hauling is on the agenda.
- Pedal-assist levels: With an e-bike, you can choose to have no support or full support from the electric motor, and there are varying levels of assistance available between these two extremes. The top choices on the market are available with three or more pedal-assist levels.
Choose the right motor and battery
When it comes to your e-bike’s motor, the pick that’s best for you will depend on your weight, as well as the type of terrain you plan on traveling. If your path includes steep hills, you’ll be best suited by a more powerful motor. The same is true if you weigh more than 200 pounds. Look for a motor with at least 350 watts of power if you plan on cresting steep hills or carrying heavy loads.
Battery range can vary from 20 miles to 100 miles or more. Some bikes allow you to use two batteries at once, and this can extend range.
Strike a smart balance with pricing
E-bike pricing spans a wide spectrum. There are choices available for as little as $300, and there are also luxury bikes on the market that cost more than five grand.
The thing to remember here is that you get what you pay for. Typically, bikes that cost less than $500 aren’t built for the long haul. Quality improves once you get to the $500 to $1,000 price point, and some of the best picks on the market cost between $1,000 and $2,000. Many of the bikes with pricing that exceeds two grand are the sports cars of the e-bike world, offering top-notch performance that will be appreciated by hardcore enthusiasts.
Also, the more features a bike has, the more expensive it’s likely to be. Keep your budget and your needs in mind when considering how much you want to spend.
An e-bike can help keep you fit, and it gets you to your destination with zero emissions. Use the guidance discussed above to find the model that’s best for you.