If an electric motor gets you outside, reduces fossil fuels, and reduces congestion, I think it's worth it. Over the past few years, we’ve tried almost every kind of ebike there is, from heavy-duty cargo bikes to high-end mountain bikes. Whether you're taking the kids to school or hauling yard equipment to and from the hardware store, these are our favorite electric bikes.
For most riders, this bike is the best pick on this list. It has that magic blend of affordability and usefulness. Seattle-based Rad Power Bikes ships its bikes direct-to-consumer, and rather than working exclusively with companies like Bosch and Shimano, it also develops its own custom hub-motor drive trains with a number of different vendors. The RadRunner (7/10, WIRED Review) is its latest hefty utility commuter ebike. The extras are stripped off, like plastic pedals and extra gears, in favor of a burly 120-pound rear rack and big, stable, custom Kenda tires.
If you've never been on a bike before, the Elby S1 also has an easy step-through frame and premium trimmings, like Tektro hydraulic brakes. It's much more expensive, though ($3,000 on Amazon).
The Tern GSD S10 (9/10, WIRED Recommends) is my favorite cargo bike (of those I've tested), and the one I would buy if I had the ca-ching. Tern used a number of creative design tweaks to make the bike easy to ride—for example, small 20-inch fat motorcross tires help keep the bike's length equal to an average road bike. The rear rack is also lower for better stability, and the battery and motor are under the rack, rather than mounted on the downtube.
You can also store it standing up on its end. That's in addition to a customizable Bosch motor, which you can upgrade to a double-battery system. My local bike shops have trouble keeping it in stock.
A gravel bike is a versatile choice for everything from daily commuting to gentle weekend bikepacking trips. I found myself hopping on the Yamaha Wabash (7/10, WIRED Review) for everything from heading to my local coffee shop to hitting (some) trails on the weekends. Yamaha's custom motor and zero cadence trigger was powerful enough to let me start up in the middle of very steep hills. It also has rear rack mounts, an LED headlight, and a little bell. I did find its slim wheels and lack of shock absorption quite jarring on rougher roads.
If reducing a bike's weight is worth $6,000 to you, Specialized also has a very nice gravel-ready electric bike.
A year after testing it, my husband and I still wistfully talk about how much better our lives would be if we had our own R&M Load 60 (8/10, WIRED Recommends). The full-suspension, double-battery Load uses a Bosch system to power its bakfiets-style cargo box around town.
You can customize the cargo box with low side walls, harnesses, and a rain cover, or you can strip everything off and pick up tools at the hardware store. It also comes with helpful extras, like Tektro hydraulic disc brakes, an easily adjustable seat, and a built-in wheel lock that lets you lock the bike up while it's free-standing.
Gocycle was founded by Mclaren Automotive engineer Richard Thorpe, and the GX (7/10, WIRED Review) is its fast-folding bike. The sleek aluminum frame hides a 300W lithium-ion battery inside. Instead of simply switching from four predetermined assist modes, Gocycle's app lets you tinker on a sliding scale to dial in different amounts of assistance in correlation with different levels of pressure on the pedals, which makes it a dream to ride. You can rubber-band your phone to the handlebars to serve as your console.
It also has only two hinges, which make folding and unfolding easy, and can be stored standing with the kickstand extended.
While many towns have restrictions on whether electric bikes are even allowed on single-track (thin) trails, reviewer Stephanie Pearson had a blast on Specialized's first pedal-assisted mountain bike (8/10, WIRED Recommends). It has a stiff, asymmetric frame that's longer in the front to make pounding the downhills feel smooth and safe, and a 500-watt motor with features like Smart Control that makes sure you won't run out of battery before you get home. It feels just as fun as a nonelectric bike, and lets riding partners of varied abilities tackle the same trails.
Ebikes are expensive, and we did review the Jetson Metro (6/10, WIRED Review), which rings in at under a grand. It has many of the bells and whistles that you need for a commuter ebike, like a 250-watt motor hidden in the crossbar, around 40 miles of range, three levels of pedal assist, a throttle, and a horn. However, in only a week of testing I chipped off part of the clamp that hooks the bike together, which doesn't bode well for the bike's longevity over the long haul.
I haven't written a full review yet, but I cannot get my friends off Juiced's CampScrambler. With the caveat that it's meant for riders 5'4" and above (at 5'2", I'm not comfortable on it), it feels much more like a comfortable, quiet motorcycle than an ebike. It has a huge, comfy padded seat; massive, fat knobby tires; and a front suspension, all of which combine to make it perfect for off-road excursions on the Pacific Northwest's enormous, empty beaches. If you're buying an ebike to slake your thirst for an ATV, this bike is for you.
Just like any bike, electric bikes come with a ton of different technical specs that you may or may not care about. More affordable ebikes use hub motor drives, in which the motor is in the hub of the bike's wheel. More expensive mid-drive motors, like Bosch or Shimano systems, are in the center of the bike and transfer the power to the wheel via the chain. Mid-drive motors let you shift gears and balance the bike's weight better.
If you live in an area that's wet or hilly, it's worth shelling out for a more powerful 500W or 750W motor and a few extras, like hydraulic or mechanical disc brakes, which will help prevent you and your cargo from skidding into traffic. If you have a longer commute, you may also want to look for a double-battery system, as the range on most ebike batteries is within 30 to 50 miles.
Before you buy your electric bike, make sure you can actually use it! Many cities and states have local laws regulating when and where you can use an ebike. Twenty-two states now use the three-class system, and may restrict when and where different classes of ebikes might be used, depending on if they have a throttle or can assist above 20 mph. Cities may also have laws about whether mountain ebikes are allowed on single-track trails. If your state classifies ebikes under the same laws governing motorcycles and mopeds, you may need a license to ride one. And no matter what, always wear a helmet.
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