which electric bike should you choose out of this group

How to Choose an Electric Bike: The 2021 Buying Guide

In recent years, electric bikes have become hugely popular. Everyone wants to get their hands on one at the moment.

As electric bikes become more popular, they also become more specialized. These days, it seems that there is a different model for almost every type of cycling activity you can imagine.

So how do you choose an electric bike? Which one is best for you?

It’s a fair question and one that you should consider carefully. After all, depending on what kind of bike you get, this could be a big investment for you.

This electric bike buying guide covers the most common ebike types and what they can do. We’ll break down each variety and the kinds of riders they’re best for. We’ll also dive deeper and explore what to look for in an electric bike before buying it.

By the end of this article, you will have a much clearer idea of which ebike you need and which one to purchase.

Quick Answers: What electric bike should I buy?

  • Best electric bike(s) for commuting: electric road bikes, foldable ebikes, hybrid bikes
  • Best electric bike(s) for traveling: electric touring bikes, foldable ebikes, hybrid bikes
  • Best electric bike(s) for recreation: hybrid ebikes, electric mountain bikes, electric fat tire bikes
  • Best off-road electric bike(s): fat tire ebikes, beach cruisers, electric mountain bikes
  • Best ebikes for carrying things: cargo bikes

Which type of electric bike should I buy?

There is an ebike for every kind of rider out there!

Like to commute to work? You’ll need something fast and reliable.

Want to hit the mountain trails? Your bike will need to be tough and offer additional torque.

Looking to be a professional delivery biker? You will absolutely need some sort of cargo bike.

Below are some common types of electric bikes and who they’re most appropriate for.

Electric commuter bikes or road bikes

Let’s start with one of the most general types of electric bikes: the commuter bike. As the name implies these are intended for the average commuter: the person biking at 9 and 5, to and from work.

Electric commuter bikes really come in all shapes and varieties. There are casual all-purpose bikes, suped-up road bikes, and even hybrids. How serious you are when it comes to riding your bike to work and how much you’re willing to spend really dictates which ebike you’ll buy.

man riding electric bike to work commuter in suit

A good commuter ebike will give you tons of usage.

If you’re not biking vast distances to work and across varied terrain, a mid-level ebike should be enough to get the job done. The Linky EZY makes for an excellent commuter bike – it’s reliable, gets 60 kilometers (40 miles) on one charge, and, most convenient, features a detachable battery that you can take inside with you and charge.

If you’re going to be riding a lot though and want to get to work as fast as possible, you might want to invest in a specialized road bike instead. These are sleeker, lighter, and are better at longer distances. They are also much more expensive to buy and maintain.

If you opt for a faster electric road bike, keep in mind that there might be local speed limits. Sure, that speed demon can go 35mph tops but you might legally be able to reach those speeds.

Mountain electric bikes

If you want something you can take on the trail as well as the pavement, an electric mountain bike might be a better option.

Like their push-powered predecessors, electric mountain bikes are built to survive a beatdown. They have a bit extra suspension, a more solid frame, and special gears for ascending/descending. The only difference being that the electric mountain bike has a few extra bells and whistles, like a battery and motor.

electric mountain bikes on the trail

Though they’re intended for off-road use, there’s no reason you can’t use an electric mountain bike for commuting to work as well! You’ll have to worry less about busting a hub on a pothole and will conquer those hills even easier.

One thing to note is that electric mountain bikes are rated to handle uphill and downhill rides differently. Going downhill is way harder on the bike than the opposite, and the ones that are better at the former are a lot more expensive. eMTBs are already expensive as it is.

Foldable electric bike

If you’re looking for convenience above all, an electric folding bike will be best for you. Due to their compact nature, these are much easier to travel around with and carry.

Electric foldable bikes are ideal for those who want to take their bike with them wherever they go. This could be in the trunk of a car whilst on a road trip, on the train, or even into your office (no need to worry about locking your bike then!)

riding a folding electric bike

Foldable electric bikes are super convenient.

Whilst all electric bikes are easy to ride, electric folding bikes do handle a bit differently. They’re usually much lower to the ground and the wheels are often smaller to allow folding. For taller people, it’s a bit weird at first but they’ll get used to it eventually. The convenience is usually worth the initial awkwardness.

If you’re looking for a good option, then check out the Linky EZY Fold!

Electric hybrid bike

Electric hybrid bikes are usually a mix of several different kinds of ebikes. Generally speaking, they usually bridge the gap between road and mountain bikes.

A standard hybrid usually combines the speed and comfort of road bikes with the all-terrain capacity of mountain bikes. As such, they can handle more varied terrain. For commuters living in hilly cities, hybrids are among the best hill climbing electric bikes you can buy.

Because they wear many hats, hybrids may not be the best at any one thing. For example, they might be able to handle off-road conditions but won’t be as rugged as a mountain bike. On the flip side, they may do well on the road but will not be as comfortable or as ergonomic as a pure road bike.

Electric cargo bike

Cargo bikes are great for those who need to move more than just themselves: they need to worry about groceries, kids, even making deliveries. A normal ebike may not have the storage space or torque to be able to handle the extra demands, but a cargo bike will!

There is a huge variety of cargo bikes out there. We’re talking about your classic longtails, the biggie box bikes, the bike trucks, cargo trikes, and then some. If and which cargo bike you need depends on your own demands.

If you’re an urban dweller and need something to carry groceries – or the occasional buddy – a simple bike truck will be more than useful. This is the type of cargo bike that Linky offers.

cargo bike at flower stand

The flower girl has upped her game as well.

If you use your bike for business purposes though – perhaps as a delivery service – then you will definitely need something more specialized. Box bikes or “Long Johns” would be more appropriate: these are those limousine-like bikes you see around town with enormous front-ends. These will carry all that and then some.

Just be mindful that as the front of the bike is extended to accommodate a larger bucket, the handling does change a bit. Like riding a folding bike though, you’ll get used to the extra length with time.

Fat tire electric bike

Fat tires are the ultimate off-road electric bike. The exaggerated width of the wheels plus the additional traction allows one to ride over all kinds of terrain.

Heading to the beach? Fat tires can handle the shifting sands, no problem.

Looking for something to do in the winter? Fat tires bikes can coast over the snow without sinking.

fat tire cruiser beach electric bike

Photo by Marco Verch (source/license)

Fancy a leisurely ride in the woods? Fat tires will have no problem dealing with all the roots and rocks on the trail.

Despite having a motor and battery though, fat tires are not the fastest electric bikes out there. They’re great for recreational activities but may not be best if you’re in a rush. Commuters and long-distance bikers: stick to a road bike or something hybridized.

Electric cruiser bike

These are the Cadillacs of the electric bike world: the thing that you want if you just want to (literally) cruise around looking good. These are, above all else, comfortable to ride and are stylish as hell.

Electric cruiser bikes are particularly popular at the beaches 1) because they have wider tires that can handle the sand better and 2) where else is a better place to cruise? Honestly, nothing beats a slow ride on the beach at sunset.

Like fat-tire bikes though, electric cruiser bikes aren’t exactly built for speed and they tend to be a bit heavier as well. This is ultimately a leisure bike and not something you would take off-road or into traffic.

Less common ebike varieties

None of the ebikes already mentioned seem right for you? Here are a few other kinds that might be more up your alley:

  • Electric hunting bikes – These are like a three-way cross between a cargo bike, an electric mountain bike, and a fat-tire. They’re strong enough to tow the extra weight (of the prey) and strong enough to handle varied terrain, which hunters usually navigate often. Hunting bikes also have super wide tires to help deal with the off-road conditions. In recent years, hunters have become quite fond of these.
  • Tandem ebikes – Yes, you and your main squeeze can ride together if you want! To accommodate the extra weight of two riders though, tandem ebikes usually come equipped with two batteries.

What to look for in an electric bike before buying

There’s a lot that goes into choosing the right ebike. Parts, modes, styles, prices, the list goes on. Here is a breakdown of some common things that you need to consider before purchasing anything.

frame what to consider before buying an electric bike

There’s a lot that goes into choosing an electric bike.

Classes

In the United States, ebikes are assigned classes based upon how they function and how fast they can go. Classes also dictate where you can ride the bike legally.

Ebike classes are important to consider because, depending on which bike you have, you may not be able to ride it everywhere. Another important thing to note is that whilst class 1 and 2 bikes offer pedal assist up to 20 mph, most European countries, as well as the UK, have laws that limit ebike speeds to 25 km or 15-16 mph.

Back in the USA, electric bikes fall under three different classes:

  • Class 1 – The motor will only work up to speeds of 20 mph. Once you go faster, it stops helping. The motor only starts when the rider is pedaling and the throttle will only work then as well. Class 1 bikes can be ridden in the same space as regular bikes i.e. in dedicated bike lanes.
  • Class 2 – Also limited to a top speed of 20 mph but throttle will work even if the rider is not actually pedaling. Can be ridden in the same place as class 1 bikes.
  • Class 3 – The motors on these bikes will work up to 28 mph but the bikes usually can’t be ridden in the same places as conventional bikes. Usually, you need to ride with regular traffic or on the far edge of the bike lane. Rules vary from region to region.

Battery

The wattage and capacity of your battery will largely dictate how far your ebike can travel (also called max range).

A larger battery will obviously allow your ebike to go further without a recharge. A bike battery lasts around 3-4 hours and works for around 25-50 miles. Long-range electric bikes have larger batteries and can go for 50-100 miles. The latter will normally take longer to charge though.

removable ebike battery

This guy’s taking his ebike battery inside to charge at work.

When deciding which electric bike to buy, consider what you’re actually going to use it for. If you’re just going to commute to work and the office is less than 20 miles away (the average bike commute is 10 miles one way), stick to something more convenient like a road bike or a foldable.

If you’re planning a big bike tour though, you’ll probably want something with a bit more battery power, like a long-range tour bike. It’s not to say you can’t take your touring bike to work either although adding extra mileage to the bike isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Motor type

Ebike motors will determine how fast your ebike travels under pedal-assist mode and will be more or less better at certain types of terrain. They will also affect the rate at which the battery is drained depending on which riding more you tend to use.

There are several kinds of ebike motors; each excels more or less in different ways:

  • Mid-drive motors – These kinds of motors generally offer the most power and torque, which makes them great for climbing hills. They can also be quite light compared to others. Mid-drives are a bit bulkier than usual though, which will make the bike bulkier as well.
  • Rear hub-drive motors – Hub-drive motors – which include rear and front versions – are found directly on the wheels of the ebike. Hub drives are more easily installed on bikes and are more common in the market. Rear-wheel hub-drives are considered higher quality than front-wheel due because they are more powerful and handle better.
  • Front hub-drive motors – Front-wheel hub-drives are more popular with kit enthusiasts who like to convert regular bikes to ebikes. Front-wheel is not a great choice though because it isn’t as effective on slopes nor varied terrain. Front-wheel drive can also be awkward to ride as some feel like they’re being pulled forward.

Whichever electric bike you choose, make sure that the motor it has is right for you. If you’re going to be climbing a lot of hills and riding long distances, a mid-drive motor would be best. If you’re looking for a more portable bike (and a less expensive one) a rear-wheel hub-drive works great too.

Frame

There are a lot of different ebikes out there and a lot of different frames to go with them. There are frames that fold, frames that you can step through, narrow frames, frames with built-in buckets to carry cargo, and a whole lot more.

Frames are also an overlooked part of the buying process when they are in fact very important to consider. A hybrid bike with a lighter frame but also be weaker, thus making it more vulnerable in off-road conditions. Folding bikes, though super convenient, are actually heavier to accommodate the extra parts and components.

When looking to buy an electric, be sure to consider the frame carefully. It’s the one part of the bike that will last the longest.

Throttle

When your ebike has a throttle, you can use it to gain an extra boost in speed. Hit the throttle and the motor will start to work on its own regardless of how fast you might be pedaling.

Usually, the throttle comes in the form of a twisting mechanism on the handlebars or some sort of button/switch. Not all throttles can be used immediately or at any speeds though. Some throttles only work if you’re pedaling; others switch off automatically after you go a certain speed. Class 2 ebikes feature a throttle that can be used right at the get-go like a moped.

monk riding an electric bike in city

You see a lot of electric bikes with a throttle around Asia. Photo by J.G. (source/license)

Throttle is not a total replacement for pedaling though and you’re not going to gain nitrous levels of extra speed. It’s just an extra helper or something nice to have when you want to coast.

Riding Modes

Every bike and bike brand has its own set of riding modes. This bike has an eco-mode whilst this one has a coaster mode. One bike may have a booster mode whilst another might have a mode that caps the speed at which the pedal-assist works (good in case you’re taking a class 3 bike into a zone where you normally couldn’t).

In short, the more riding modes your ebike has, the better. More modes mean more control, and with more control, you can ensure that the bike performs as efficiently as possible. You’ll preserve the battery, extend the range, and make it work when you need it to.

Price

This is a BIG factor for a lot of people when they’re deciding which electric bike to buy. Ebikes are an investment – sometimes an expensive one – that you will make maybe a few times in your life. Buy the right ebike for the right price and your quality of life can improve dramatically.

The costs of an electric bike can vary a lot. The cheapest ebikes go for less than $1000; the most expensive can be in the low five figures.

A lot of people make the mistake of buying the cheapest thing they possibly can, which is a mistake. A cheap ebike will break much faster and those hundreds of dollars spent will all be wasted. Once you cross the $1500 threshold, the quality of bikes improves vastly and keeps these running smoothly for years to come.

Here is a breakdown of ebike price groups:

  • Budget ebikes ($500-$1,500) – Cheap and sometimes complete pieces of garbage. These feature subpar parts and break on sooner rather than later. Most people prefer these kinds of bikes because they are pretty much disposable. With a little higher budget, you can get something that will last much longer
  • Mid-range ebikes ($1,500-$3,000) – Offers good performance for a longer period of time and at the right price point. Midrange bikes feature more robust components and more advanced electronics. The first thing that will probably go is the battery but, these days, most electric bikes feature replaceable batteries anyway. If you’re looking to buy a good ebike, this is the place to start.
  • Premium ebikes ($3,000-$6,000) – These bikes start to become more specialized. These might offer better suspension, more features, larger batteries, more advanced components, among other things. This is the point where you get serious about what you use the bike for, be it touring, delivery, commuting, or whatever else.
  • Ultra-premium ebikes ($6,000-$10,000) – Now we’re talking about some real cash. If you’re willing to drop this much, you must really hate driving cars! Admittedly, these ebikes can be pretty incredible and can ride like a dream.

Find out what kind of ebike you need and then how much you’re willing to spend.

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