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Types of Electric Bikes: How to Choose an Ebike

Electric bikes offer an environmentally friendly, affordable, efficient, and fun way to get around. When it comes to choosing an e-bike, you have a number of options to consider. This guide outlines all of the types of electric bikes available.

In this guide, I explain the benefits and drawbacks of pedal assist (pedelec) vs throttle-controlled electric bikes as well as mid-drive vs hub drive electric bikes and torque sensors vs cadence sensors. I’ll also talk about battery capacity, battery placement, range, motor types, and much more.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve ridden a bunch of different e-bikes. In this guide, I’ll share my experience. Hopefully, this guide helps you choose the best e-bike for your riding style.

An electric mountain bike with a mid-drive motor
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Key Takeaways

Pretty much every type of bike is available in an electric version including commuter bikes, mountain bikes, folding bikes, fat bikes, hybrids, cruisers, road bikes, and more.

Electric bikes come in 3 classes. Class 1 e-bikes have pedal assist only and a max speed of 20mph. Class 2 e-bikes have both a throttle and pedal assist and a max speed of 20mph. Class 3 e-bikes have pedal assist and a max speed of 28 mph.

Electric bikes can come with pedal assist (pedelec), a throttle, or both. Pedal assist e-bikes can come with torque sensors or cadence sensors.

There are hub motor e-bikes with the motor built into the hub and mid-drive e-bikes with the motor mounted at the cranks.

Table of Contents

Pedal Assist Vs Throttle Controlled Electric Bikes

These systems determine how you control the motor power on your electric bicycle. In this section, I’ll outline the three classes of e-bikes and their power delivery systems. For more in-depth info, check out my complete guide to pedal assist vs throttle ebikes. 

Class 1: Pedal Assist (Pedelec) E-bikes

Pedal-assist, also called Pedelec, only provides propulsion when you pedal. When you stop pedaling, the power shuts off. With this system, you pedal normally and the motor transmits power to the rear wheel to make the pedaling easier. Pedal-assist allows you to ride in high gears and up steep hills almost effortlessly. This is the most common type of electric bike.

Most class 1 e-bikes allow you to control the amount of assistance. For example, you may be able to push a button on the handlebar-mounted display to change between low, medium, and high assist. The higher the setting, the more assistance the motor gives you.

In many jurisdictions, pedal-assist is the only type of electric bike that is permitted without a license. This is the case in much of Europe where pedal-assist bikes can’t provide power when you’re traveling over 25 kph (about 15 mph). In the US, most pedal-assist e-bikes can’t provide power over 32 kph (20 mph). Class 1 pedal-assist e-bikes are generally permitted anywhere that standard non-powered bikes are.

Pedal Assist Pros and Cons

Pedal-assist offers a number of benefits over throttle-controlled e-bikes. First, pedal-assist gets better range because your pedaling helps to power the bike along with the battery. Your battery will drain more slowly because it isn’t providing all of the power by itself. Pedal-assist also gives you more exercise because you have to pedal.

Another big benefit is that pedal-assist e-bikes are legal in more places. These bikes are usually treated the same as non-powered bikes.

Finally, pedal-assist feels more intuitive to most riders. There is a smaller learning curve. You just pedal and go. When you stop pedaling, the motor stops. You don’t have to learn how to use any new controls. Your hands are also free because you don’t have to hold the throttle. For this reason, pedal-assist is better for beginner electric bike riders.

The only real drawback to pedal-assist is that you have to pedal if you want to ride. You can’t just let the bike do all of the work for you.

Class 2: Throttle Controlled Electric Bikes

Throttle controlled electric bikes work just like a motorcycle or scooter. When you engage the throttle, the motor propels the bike forward. You don’t have to pedal at all if you don’t want to. The throttle allows you to control the amount of motor power that the motor sends to the rear wheel. Many e-bikes have a throttle feature in addition to pedal assist.

In many places, including much of Europe, throttle-controlled e-bikes are not permitted. Sometimes they are only permitted with a license. For this reason, they are much less common than pedal-assist e-bikes. Throttle controlled e-bikes are more common in the US and Asia where the regulations are less strict.

Three styles of electric bike throttles include:

  1. Twist throttle- These work the same as a motorcycle or scooter throttle. You just twist a part of the grip toward you to increase the motor power and twist it back to decrease the power.
  2. Thumb throttle- This is a small paddle mounted near the handlebar grip that you push down with your thumb. The further you push it, the more motor power you get.
  3. Push-button throttle- This is a simple on/off switch. When you push the button, the electric motor gives a constant amount of power. When you let go, the power cuts off. You can’t control the amount of motor power with this type of throttle.

There are a couple of drawbacks to throttle-controlled e-bikes. First, it doesn’t feel as natural to most riders because you don’t have to pedal. The controls are more like a motorcycle than a bicycle. One of your hands is occupied by operating the throttle. There is a bit of a learning curve.

The range is usually shorter as well because you are relying only on the battery to move you along. You aren’t helping the motor by pedaling. You’ll also get less exercise because you don’t have to pedal.

Some e-bikes come equipped with both a throttle and pedal assist. In some cases, you might have to push a button to switch from one mode to the other. Sometimes you can use the throttle while riding with pedal assist to give yourself an extra bit of power.

Class 3: Speed Pedelec E-Bikes

This class of electric bike works just like class 1 pedal assist e-bikes. The only difference is the top speed. Class 3 speed Pedelec e-bikes can reach a maximum speed of 45 kph or 28 mph.

In many places, this class of e-bike is considered to be a motor vehicle. In this case, you’ll need some type of license to legally ride it on the road. Some places, there are no restrictions. Before buying a class 3 e-bike, be sure to check the laws where you plan to ride.

folding e-bike
A folding electric bike

Torque Sensor Vs Cadence Sensor Pedal Assist

E-bikes equipped with pedal assist have sensors that tell the pedal-assist system when to engage the motor and how much power to apply to the rear wheel. There are two different pedal assistance sensor systems available: torque sensors and cadence sensors. Most e-bikes have either one or the other. Some have both. In this section, I’ll explain the difference between the two and share some pros and cons.

For more in-depth info, check out my complete guide to cadence Vs torque sensors. 

Torque Sensor Pedal Assist

Torque sensors use a precision strain gauge to measure if you are pedaling and how hard you are pedaling. They measure the force that you are applying to the pedals up to 1000 times per second.

The sensor relays this information to the bike’s control system or computer. The computer then adjusts the amount of electric assist for you based on your pedaling power.

When you pedal harder, the motor’s output increases. When you pedal softer, the system reduces the motor’s power output. If you stop pedaling, the motor stops providing assistance.

Pros and Cons

This system feels very intuitive and smooth while riding. The reason is that torque sensors react more quickly to changes in the rider’s pedaling power. They almost change in real-time. The connection between the rider and the motor feels much more direct because of this.

Torque sensors are often found on higher-end e-bikes. In some parts of the world, torque sensors are required. The main drawback of torque sensors is the cost. The technology is much more advanced than cadence sensors.

Cadence Sensor Pedal Assist

Cadence sensors tell the motor to engage when you begin pedaling. The system works with a magnet mounted on the crank. Some cadence sensors can only tell if you are pedaling. Some can count the revolutions to determine how fast you’re pedaling. Cadence sensors cannot tell how hard you’re pedaling. This system is often found on lower-end e-bikes.

There are a number of different cadence sensor systems available. The most simple systems work like an on/off switch. When the magnet moves, the sensor tells the motor to engage. When the magnet stops, the motor cuts off.

More advanced cadence sensor systems can vary the motor power automatically based on the rate of pedal revolutions. For example, when you’re first starting out, the system might work at 100% power. Once you reach a certain pre-defined threshold the system may cut down to 50% power.

Many cadence sensor pedal-assist e-bikes offer several settings that allow you to adjust the amount of assistance. You can usually adjust this setting manually on the handlebar-mounted display.

Pros and Cons

The main benefit to cadence sensor pedal assist is that it is inexpensive. The technology is pretty simple. This allows manufacturers to offer pedal-assist on low-end e-bikes. This system also works well for people with knee problems because it takes very little pressure on the pedals to engage the system.

The main disadvantage of cadence sensors is that they make the pedal-assist feel less intuitive. The ride might feel a bit jerky or rough. This happens because the system can’t adjust as quickly to changes in your pedaling speed. Some systems cant adjust at all. They just provide a constant amount of power.

Electric Bike Motors: Hub Drive Vs Mid Drive

Hub-drive e-bikes place the motor in one of the bike’s hubs. The motor propels the bike by spinning the wheel where it is mounted. This was the most common design when e-bikes were first introduced. It is also common on lower-end e-bikes. Most electric bike conversion kits use hub motors as well.

Mid-drive e-bikes place the motor in the center of the bike near the crank at the bottom bracket. These transfer power from the motor to the bike’s rear-wheel through the chain. This design is becoming increasingly more popular. You find mid-drive motors on all high-end e-bikes.

In this section, I list the pros and cons of hub drive motors (including front and rear hub motors), as well as mid-drive motors.

For more in-depth info, check out my complete guide to mid-drive vs hub motor ebikes.

Hub Drive Pros

  • Less maintenance- All of the motor components are sealed inside of the hub. Because the system is enclosed, there is nothing for you to maintain. Hub motors don’t connect to the bike’s drive system so they don’t put any additional stress on the chain or shifters.
  • Redundancy- Hub motors work independently from the drive system on your bicycle. This means you could still ride home even if your chain broke. If your hub motor fails, you can still ride normally by pedaling. You basically have a backup drive system if one fails.
  • Less mechanically complex- There are two types of hub motors: geared and gearless. Gearless hub motors have no moving parts inside other than the bearings. There is really nothing mechanical that can wear out. Rust or worn out bearings are the only things to look out for. Other than that, these motors can last pretty much forever. Geared hub motors, on the other hand, use internal planetary gears to reduce the RPMs of the motor. Over time, the gears can wear down and eventually strip. These are a weak spot that will eventually cause the motor to fail. Having said this, geared hub motors are still less mechanically complex than mid-drive motors.
  • Easy to replace- When the motor eventually dies, you can easily swap it out for a new one.
  • Cheaper- Hub motors are mass-produced. The designs have also remained unchanged. They are also not bike specific. Any hub motor works on pretty much any bike. For these reasons, prices are low.
  • Can be retrofitted to most bikes- You can convert pretty much any bike into an electric bike by installing an e-bike conversion kit. These almost always use a hub motor.
  • Your drive system may last longer- If you’re using a throttle, your drive system will sit idle while you use the motor. Your chain, cassette, and chainrings don’t wear while they’re not being used.

Hub Drive Cons

  • Hub motors only have one gear ratio- This means you can’t change the motor’s gearing to help you up a steep hill or cruise faster on flat surfaces. Ideally, you would choose a higher torque gear for climbing and a faster gear for cruising on flat roads. This is is the case with almost all hub motors.
  • Less efficient- Because of the lack of gears, you don’t have as much control over the RPM of your motor. You can’t shift to a higher torque gear to climb a hill. You end up depleting your battery faster.
  • Harder to change tires or repair flats- To remove the wheel, you’ll need to disconnect the motor. The wheel is slightly harder to work with due to the added weight of the hub motor. It’s also more fragile.
  • Heavier- Hub motors typically weigh more than mid-drive motors.
  • The ride may be rougher- The weight of the motor is unsprung. By that, I mean that your bike’s suspension system doesn’t hold the weight of the motor. This can reduce the efficacy of your bike’s suspension system. The added weight of the motor in the wheel can make bumps in the road feel a bit rougher as well.
  • Can limit component choices- Due to the added width of hub motors, you limit your choices of cassettes. Usually, 7 speed is the largest you can fit.
  • Hub motors usually use cadence sensors or a throttle instead of torque sensors- When it comes to controlling the motor power to the wheel, cadence sensors are a bit less intuitive than torque sensors. They often feel jerky and a bit rough.
  • The bike can become unbalanced- Hub motors put a lot of weight on either the front or rear of your bike. This can make the bike front or rear heavy.
An electric bike with a rear hub motor

Front Vs Rear Hub Motors: Pros and Cons

Hub motors can be installed in either the front or rear hub. Each setup has its own set of benefits and drawbacks. In this section, I’ll list the pros and cons. For more in-depth info, check out my guide to front vs rear hub motors.

Front Hub Motor Pros

  • Front hub motors help distribute weight better- Most bikes naturally have more weight on the rear. Installing the motor in the front hub can help balance the bike. This can improve ride quality.
  • Front tires generally get fewer flats- You won’t have to disconnect the motor and remove the wheel as often. Repairing a rear flat will be easier without the added weight and complexity of the motor.
  • Better parts compatibility- The motor is completely separate from the drive system. This reduces the likelihood of encountering compatibility issues. Particularly with the cassette.

Front Hub Motor Cons

  • Usually limited to throttle-controlled- Because they aren’t connected to the drivetrain, front hub motors usually don’t offer pedal assist. There are exceptions to this. For example, the Brompton folding e-bike has a front hub motor that offers pedal assist.
  • Problems with traction- Because most of a bicycle’s weight sits on the rear wheel, you can easily lose traction on some surfaces. You might burn out if you give it too much power.
  • Can damage the fork and headset over time- Forks aren’t quite as robust as rear dropouts. A front hub motor can put additional stress on the forks and can damage them over time. For this reason, it’s best to limit the front hub to 750 watts or less. The constant pulling can also put more stress on the headset. You might need to grease or replace it more often.

Rear Hub Motor Pros

  • Better traction- More weight sits on the back of the bike. You won’t burn out while accelerating hard.
  • Compatible with pedal assist and throttle- Rear hub motors often offer both drive systems. You can usually switch between the two with a button.
  • More sporty ride feel- For whatever reason, it feels better to be pushed by the rear wheel rather than pulled by the front wheel. Maybe this is why almost all sports cars are rear wheel drive.
  • Easier on the frame- The rear dropouts are much stronger than the fork. You don’t have to worry about wear and tear on the fork and headset.

Rear Hub Motor Cons

  • Slightly harder to fix flats- The rear hub ties in with the bike’s drivetrain. This can make repairing flats a bit more complicated because you have to deal with the chain and motor.
  • Compatibility issues- Due to the width of the hub, you limit your cassette options with most models.
  • Worse handling- Rear hub motors unevenly distribute weight in the rear of the bike. Particularly if the battery is mounted on the rear rack.
a mid-drive electric bike

Mid Drive Pros

  • You can use the bike’s gears- This is the biggest benefit of mid-drive motors. The motor sends power to the rear wheel through the same chain that you use to pedal. This means you can gear down to climb a hill and gear up for speed on flat surfaces. This allows you to tackle more varied terrain more easily. For this reason, mid-drive motors are better for off-road use.
  • More efficient- Having the ability to change the gear ratio means you can keep the bike in the ideal gear for the terrain you’re riding. This helps you save power and improves range. For example, it doesn’t make sense to run at a high RPM on a flat surface. You can gear up so your motor isn’t working so hard.
  • More torque- Shifting into a low gear allows you to power up steep hills or accelerate quickly from a stop.
  • Longer lasting- Mid-drive motors don’t have to work as hard because they can take advantage of the bike’s gears. This means they are less likely to overheat on steep hills or burn out from extended use.
  • Better weight distribution- Having the motor mounted in the middle of the bike distributes weight more evenly over the front and rear wheels.
  • Smaller and Lighter- Generally speaking, a mid-drive motor weighs less than a hub drive motor. They are physically smaller as well.
  • Easier to change and repair tires- You don’t’ have to deal with a heavy and fragile motor in your hubs when removing your wheels to change the tires or repair a flat. You don’t have to disconnect the motor either.
  • Greater parts compatibility- You can use whatever rims, hubs, spokes, brakes, and tires that you want. You aren’t limited by the odd-sized hub motor.
  • Most mid-drive motors use torque sensors- This makes your pedal assist smoother and faster to respond.
  • Stealthier- Because the motors are smaller and lighter, they can be integrated into the e bike’s frame. This way, many people won’t even realize that your bike is electric when you speed by.

Mid Drive Cons

  • Mid-drive motors are hard on your bike’s drivetrain- While casually cycling, the average person puts out about 100-150 watts of power. During a hard sprint, you might put out 250-300 watts. A mid-drive motor can run at 250-750 watts continuously. That’s the equivalent of having a pro cyclist hammer on your pedals as hard as they possibly can all day. Cheap cassettes and chains can’t put up with that much stress. You’ll probably end up going through more drive parts. Most e-bikes come with premium chains that are built for strength. Belt drive e-bikes are also available. This solves the problem but comes at an added cost.
  • More expensive- Mid-drive motors are mostly found on higher-end electric bikes. One of the reasons is that they can’t be mass-produced as easily because they are generally designed for specific bike frames. Often times the motor is built into the frame. The technology is also a bit newer than hub motors.
  • More complex- Mid-drive e-bike motors have more moving parts than hub drives. This means there are more points of possible failure. The added complexity can reduce reliability.
  • Mid-drive e-bike motors are usually built into the frame- This looks cool but makes the motors harder and more expensive to repair or replace if something fails. You can’t easily swap out the motor like you can with a hub drive.
  • You can’t shift gears while under power- The torque of the engine will damage or break the chain. Some e-bikes have a button on the handlebars that momentarily disconnects the motor so you can shift. Otherwise, you’ll have to let off the throttle and pedal when you want to shift gears.

A Note About Electric Bike Motor Size

Electric bike motor sizes are measured in watts. The more watts, the more powerful the motor. The most common sizes are 200w, 250w, 350w, 500w, 750w, and 1000w. Larger motors in the 1100-1500 watt range are also available. One thing to remember when choosing a motor is the bigger the motor, the bigger battery you’ll need to power it.

Before choosing a motor size, you’ll also want to read up on the local laws regarding electric bikes to find out if there is a motor size limit where you live. For example, in much of Europe, China, and Japan, e-bikes are limited to 250w motors if you want to ride without a license. In the United States, most places limit e-bike motor size to 750w.

Having said this, in many places laws regarding e-bikes aren’t really enforced. If you obey the rules of the road, your chances of getting pulled over and ticketed for riding an overpowered bike are slim. Most police officers couldn’t identify the size of an e-bike motor by looking at it unless they look at the sticker on the side. Of course, it’s always best to obey the law.

Below, I’ll outline a few of the benefits and drawbacks of the more common motor sizes.

  • 250-watt motors- These are the standard in much of the world. 250-watt e-bike motors work great for shorter rides of 10-15 miles. On a flat surface, they reach a top speed of around 20 mph. These work great with pedal assist but are a bit underpowered for throttle control. Steep hills can be a challenge due to the lack of power. One benefit of having a smaller motor is that they use less power. You can get away with a smaller, cheaper, and lighter battery. This motor size works great for exercise bikes because they don’t do all of the work for you.
  • 350-watt motors- This motor size offers a nice extra boost of power over 250w e-bikes. The extra power helps greatly with climbing hills. This size is also a good choice for heavier riders. 350w e-bikes are still a bit underpowered for throttle control. You’ll have to pedal when climbing hills.
  • 500-watt motors- This motor size is a great choice for longer journeys of 20-40 miles where you plan to encounter some serious hills. They also work well for commuting. You’ll still have to pedal uphill but you probably won’t break a sweat. Heavy riders will also benefit from the extra power. A 500-watt motor should be able to reach a top speed of around 28 mph. These work great with pedal-assist or throttle controls. The drawback is that you’ll need a bigger and more expensive battery if you want a decent range.
  • 750-watt motors- This motor size provides some serious power. Enough power to haul you up most hills without pedaling. These are great for those who need performance. They are also powerful enough for off-road riding.
  • 1000+ watt motors- These usually require some type of license to ride. In many parts of the world, they are illegal. With over 1000 watts of power, you can ride your bike basically like a moped. You don’t have to pedal if you don’t want to. These are great for riding at high speeds or riding through very hilly places.

One thing to remember is that you don’t need to use all of your bike’s power all the time. It’s nice to have some extra get-up-and-go when you need it. Your motor will probably last longer as well because you aren’t running it at full speed all the time.

Types of Electric Bike Batteries

The battery is probably the most expensive component of your e-bike. In some cases, the battery alone costs as much as the rest of the bike. There are two types of e-bike battery technologies available: lithium and lead-acid. When selecting a battery, you will want to consider the capacity, cost, lifespan, weight, and time it takes to charge. In this section, I’ll outline each to help you decide.

Lithium Vs Lead Acid Electric Bike Batteries

  • Lithium E-Bike Batteries-These days, almost all e-bikes use lithium-ion (Li-Ion) or Lithium Polymer (LiPo) batteries. These are the same battery technologies that are used in phones. The battery packs are made up of many cells. Lithium e-bike batteries usually last 500-2000 charge cycles before they need to be replaced. Charge times usually range from 4-6 hours. Some lithium batteries offer a quick charge option where they reach 80% of capacity in just over an hour. Lithium batteries are pretty light at just 5-8 pounds. Expect a range of about 20 miles (32 km) from a battery of this size. Unfortunately, lithium batteries expensive at around $500-$800. They often cost as much as the rest of the bike.
  • Lead-Acid E-Bike Batteries- Some lower end or older e-bikes use lead-acid batteries. This is the same battery technology that is used in car batteries. These batteries are significantly larger than lithium options at around 30-40 pounds. Lead-acid batteries also don’t last nearly as long. Most need to be replaced after 200-300 charge cycles. Charge times range form 5-8 hours. No quick charge option is available. Lead-acid e-bike batteries cost around $150. Even though lead-acid batteries cost much less than lithium, they can cost more in the long run because they need to be replaced about 4 times as often.

Electric Bike Battery Capacity

One of the most important electric bike battery specifications to consider is battery capacity. This determines the range you can get out of your e-bike. The best way to measure battery capacity is in watt-hours (Wh). Watt-hours basically tells you how much energy your e-bike battery can hold. This allows you to compare different batteries apples to apples.

Usually, the battery’s watt-hours will be listed in the bike’s specifications. If you need to calculate the watt-hours by yourself, simply multiply the volts by the amp hours (Ah). These measurements are always given. For example, you have a 24-volt battery with 20 Ah, you get 24 x 20=480 Watt-hours.

Once you know the battery’s watt-hours, you can compare different batteries directly. For example, maybe one bike has a 500 Wh battery and another has a 200 Wh battery. You know that the 500 Wh battery will offer more range because it holds more energy, assuming everything else is equal.

A good way to think about watt-hours is the number of watts that the battery can run at continuously for 1 hour. For example, a 500 Wh battery can run at 500 watts for 1 hour. The same battery could run at 250 watts for 2 hours. This will give you an idea of how long your battery will last depending on the size of your e bike’s motor.

Battery Voltage

Voltage is described as the ‘force’ or ‘pressure’ of electricity. Electric bike motors are designed to work within a specific voltage range. Common e-bike voltages include 24v, 36v, and 48v. 52v is now available. Higher voltage e-bikes have better performance. Your battery needs to deliver power in the voltage range of your motor.

Amps and Amp Hours (Ah)

Amps are a measurement of electrical current. Amp-hours is the number of amps your battery can sustain for 1 hour. Most electric bike batteries are either 6, 10, or 20 amp-hours. This number will be listed in your battery’s specs.

To make sure a particular battery is compatible with your bike, you’ll need to look at the specs of your bike’s controller. This component controls the amps that are allowed to travel between your bike’s battery to the motor. It essentially limits the max power and speed of your bike.

E-Bike Battery Placement Options

Downtube mounted battery

The battery is probably the most expensive and most fragile component on your e-bike. It’s also heavy. You want to mount your battery in the safest place where it is unlikely to be damaged during an accident. You also want to consider the weight. The bike should be balanced so handling doesn’t suffer. A few options include:

  • Down tube mounted battery pack- These batteries mount to the water bottle attachment points on the down tube. It places the weight centrally and fairly low to the ground. This keeps the bike balanced and keeps the center of gravity low. The frame and cranks provide some protection for the battery in the event of an accident. Down tube mounted battery packs are also visually appealing. This is probably the most common e-bike battery placement location these days. Particularly on mid to high-end e-bikes. Some manufacturers partially integrate the battery into the down tube.
  • Rear cargo rack-mounted battery- This is a common mounting point on lower-end e-bikes. Probably because it’s easy and there is plenty of space for a large lead-acid battery. The drawback is that cargo rack mounted batteries raise your center of gravity and make the rear of the bike very heavy. This can hurt handling and make lifting the bike awkward. The battery also takes up much of your luggage space. Some e-bikes have a welded-on rear rack for the battery.
  • Triangle bag mounted battery- Inside the triangle is probably the best place to mount your battery. A simple option is to simply store your battery in a bikepacking style triangle bag. These attach to your bike’s triangle tubes with velcro or straps. The battery simply sits inside. The bag closes with a zipper.
  • Seat tube mounted battery pack- The battery mounts to the water bottle attachment points on the seat tube. This is very similar to mounting the battery to the down tube. The weight of the battery sits near the center of the bike. This helps with balance and handling.
  • Backpack- With this option, you simply carry the battery on your back in a backpack. A wire runs from the backpack to the bike. This works well if you ride a full suspension e-bike that can’t accommodate a battery in the triangle because of the shock absorber in the middle of the bike. The biggest drawback to this system is that you have to wear a backpack. This gets uncomfortable fast. The battery can also get hot which will cause you to sweat. In my opinion, this is the worst e-bike battery placement option.

A Note About Electric Bike Conversion Kits

If you’re on a tight budget, your best option is to install an electric bike conversion kit on your existing bike. This way, you’re not buying a whole new bike, just the components that you need.

Several different styles of electric bike conversion kits are available. You can choose from front or rear hub motors as well as mid-drive. You can choose from pedal assist and throttle versions as well.

After deciding on the design you want, the easiest option is to buy a complete kit. These usually cost about $200-$300 and include everything you need to make the conversion with the exception of the battery.

Most e-bike conversion kits include a hub motor, controller, handlebar-mounted display, throttle, pedal assist sensor, brake levers with safety switches, torque arm, and the necessary installation hardware.

These kits are fairly easy to install. The job takes just a couple of hours if you’re comfortable working on bikes. For the most part, it’s just a matter of mounting the parts and plugging everything in. If you’re like me and you’re not much of a mechanic, the job will probably take most of an afternoon.

For more info, check out this guide to e-bike conversion kits.

Types of E-Bikes

  • Electric Mountain Bikes (e-MTBs)– Electric mountain bikes are designed to handle rugged trails and tough terrain. They are equipped with powerful motors for climbing steep hills and robust suspension to handle bumps, roots, rocks, and potholes. Both hardtail and full suspension models are available. The motor can assist you up hills so you can spend more time descending. The extra weight of the motor can take some getting used to though. It’s also important to keep in mind that the motors aren’t waterproof. You can’t do stream crossings with an electric mountain bike.
  • Electric Road Bikes– Electric road bikes are designed for speed and efficiency on paved surfaces. They have lightweight frames and sleek designs. Most models are class 1 with a 250w motor and a maximum speed of 20mph. They often feature integrated batteries and compact motors, making them hard to tell from non-powered bikes. Electric road bikes are great for longer rides or riding on hilly terrain.
  • Electric Fat Bikes– Characterized by their wide, “fat” tires, these electric bikes are designed to offer stability on loose or soft surfaces such as sand or snow. The tires also help to absorb bumps and vibrations to make the ride feel smoother and more comfortable. The tires on fat bikes usually measure 3.7″-5.2″ wide. The wide tires do add a bit of rolling resistance and aerodynamic drag. These bikes need larger motors and batteries to overcome the inefficiency of the wide tires. For more info, check out my guide to fat bikes.
  • Electric Folding Bikes– Electric folding bikes are becoming increasingly popular among urban commuters and those with limited storage space. Electric folding bikes can fold down for easy transport or storage. Many cities allow folding bikes on public transport systems. This allows for multi-modal transport. You could ride your electric folding bike to the nearest metro station, ride the metro, then continue to work or school with your e-bike. Electric folding bikes are also ideal for those who live in small apartments. You can fold the bike up and fit it in a closet or under a desk. For more info, check out my guide to folding bikes.
  • Electric Commuter Bikes/City Bikes- Designed for urban environments, electric commuter bikes prioritize ease of use, utility, and durability. They often feature racks, fenders, and lights, making them perfect for daily urban rides. Most electric commuter bikes come are class 1. They come with 250W hub drive motors. They have large and narrow tires with an upright riding position. These days, many cities have bike-sharing programs that have electric commuter bikes available.
  • Electric Cargo Bikes– Built to carry heavy loads, electric cargo bikes have a reinforced frame and extended rear racks. These e-bikes are ideal for transporting goods, groceries, or even kids and pets around town. Electric cargo bikes feature powerful motors that make it much easier to carry heavy loads. A good electric cargo bike is capable of carrying loads of up to 400 pounds (180 kg). For more info, check out my guide to e-bike weight limits. These are some of the more expensive bikes due to their robust design.
  • Electric Gravel Bikes- Bridging the gap between road and mountain bikes, electric gravel bikes are versatile machines built for mixed terrains. They can handle dirt and gravel roads as well as tarmac. They aren’t quite as capable off-road as mountain bikes. Their design ensures comfort on long rides while handling off-road paths with ease. Most electric gravel bikes feature powerful and efficient mid-drive motors cadence sensor pedal assist. For more info, check out my guide to gravel bikes.
  • Electric Hybrid Bikes- Electric hybrid bikes are popular among commuters. A hybrid bike is a cross between a road bike and a mountain bike. They are designed for both road riding and off-road riding. They make great do-it-all bikes.

Final Thoughts

Electric bikes are becoming a major part of the cycling industry. In some parts of the world, they account for up to 50% of new bikes sold. E-bikes are incredibly popular among commuters, casual riders, older riders, and those who ride for exercise.

When it comes to choosing an electric bike for your style of riding, you have a number of decisions to make including hub drive vs mid-drive, pedal-assist vs throttle, motor size, battery size, and more. The options are overwhelming. Hopefully, this guide helps you with your decision.

If you’re still not sure if e-bikes are for you, check out my electric bikes pros and cons list.

Do you ride an electric bike? Share your experience in the comments below!

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Levi Armstrong

Monday 16th of November 2020

It's great to know the e-bikes in the price range of around $1200-$2000 is excellent for commuters because they're affordable and reliable. My husband and I plan to purchase an e-bike for our son since he has asked for one for months. He plans to use it to commute to school. Thanks for the tips!

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