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It used to be you’d have to shell out a pretty penny to join the e-bike crowd. And while high-priced models still and always will exist—you can own a Specialized S-Works Turbo Levo mountain bike for a cool 12 grand—there are now some very affordable options that weren’t available just a year ago. But low prices sometimes mean quality issues, so we’ve tested dozens of bikes, each over a period of weeks or months, to make sure they won’t disappoint you with poor build quality or dodgy electronics.
Take a look below at quick info on five of the best, then scroll down for buying advice and more in-depth reviews of these and other top performers.
Every e-bike here uses a hub motor rather than a mid-drive motor. Hub motors (the original industry standard and more affordable of the two) can be located on either the front or, more commonly, the rear wheel. They typically don’t allow for the same natural maneuverability as today’s increasingly more common mid-drive motors because their weight is concentrated at the front or rear of the bike. In contrast, a mid-drive motor’s weight is low and centered over the bottom bracket, resulting in better control and a more balanced ride feel, much like a traditional bike.
Usually, the cheaper the bike, the cheaper the parts. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be riding around on a rattling tin can. It just means that the bike’s designers took into consideration where they could include lower-level parts without sacrificing safety while putting the money where it counts most—hydraulic disc brakes, decent tires, and a reliable e-system. And although the electrical components on some of these bikes might not be plastered with a familiar name, like Bosch or Shimano, that doesn’t mean they’re not capable. Aventon, for example, pieced together its own e-bike system for the Pace 350—rather than buying a complete one from someone else—in order to keep the price down and allow for higher-quality parts elsewhere.
Battery Range and Integration
At this price, most bikes don’t hide their batteries with much elegance. Most have theirs stuck to the top of the down tube, save for the Blix Vika+ folding e-bike and Rad Power Bikes RadRunner 1, which stow their batteries behind the seat tube; the Propella, which passes its battery off as a water bottle; the Aventon Level, which integrates it into the downtube; and the Electra Step-Thru Townie, which carries it on the rear rack. Don’t expect to ride across the state on these, either. The highest range in this list is 50 miles, but most average about 30 to 35. Check the bike’s battery range before you buy to make sure it fits your daily needs.
The Bicycling E-Bike Handling Circuit
How We Tested
Our team of experienced testers spent many hours and miles using most these bikes for their intended purposes. (We’ve also added a couple great options that we’ve researched but haven’t tested yet—keep scrolling to find those after the tested bikes.) We’ve commuted to and from work on them, used them to stock up on groceries and beer, tested their passenger-hauling capability, ridden them on questionable terrain to see how they handle, and run their batteries down to officially see how long they last on one charge. And in our latest round of testing, we built the handling course outside our office to help quantify the varying ride characteristics. We evaluated them on performance, price, comfort, handling, value, reliability, fun, and overall e-factor to come up with this list of bikes that will best serve the needs of anyone looking to add a little pedal assist to their ride.