One aspect of e-bikes not discussed that often but which is a very common point of advice for e-bike shop staff is the question of the ‘best’ e-bike for heavier riders.
As you would expect, there is no single ‘best’ e-bike but most e-bike manufacturers give a recommended maximum rider weight rating for each particular model of e-bike. These can be a useful guide, but certainly no more than a guide. They may have been conservatively rated to ensure that e-bikes are not loaded to anywhere near their safe maximum limit, or a manufacturer may have been overenthusiastic with the rating in an effort to boost the performance credentials of their e-bikes. In any event, it is up to the manufacturer to make clear what is the maximum suitable weight and many manufacturers go above and beyond the minimum legal limit that might be specified in national law, or that specified in international standards. On some e-bike spec descriptions you won’t find any recommended maximum weight at all whilst others, like Rad Power, advertise weight ratings prominently.
What is a Heavy Rider and What Rating Should be Looking For
The average US male weighs around 200lbs / 90kg and the average female around 170lbs / 77kg so you can figure out if you class yourself as a heavy rider based on these benchmarks!
An obvious first step in looking for an e-bike suitable for your weight is to look at the e-bike spec to see what the weight rating is. It’s essential you are clear whether the figure includes the weight of the e-bike or just refers to the rider and any extra cargo or passengers they load onto the e-bike. So, for example, Riese and Muller’s 2020 e-bike catalogue gives ‘Gross Vehicle Weight Capacity’ so you need to subtract the e-bike weight off of this to get the max rating for rider and luggage. You might also see a ‘total weight limit’ given by other manufacturers, and often this includes the weight of the bike. By contrast, phrases like ‘maximum rider weight’ or ‘maximum load’ will clearly exclude the weight of the e-bike itself. If there is any doubt make sure you clarify with the dealer (preferably in writing) exactly what it refers to if the description is at all unclear.
Yes – it can be confusing, but it’s best not to get too hung up on what an e-bike’s stated weight limit is – as we say, they are only a guide and manufacturers’ weight ratings can vary from the overly cautious to the rather optimistic! Just as important is using your own judgement on what is a suitable e-bike for your weight and whether a test ride reveals it to perform as you would want. So let’s dive into what particular features make for a good e-bike for heavier riders.
What to Look for in an eBike for a Heavier Rider
Frame build: This can certainly be a clue as to potential strength of an e-bike. Chunky frames with large section joints and plenty of weld between the elements of a bike frame are generally a good sign. That said, bike frame construction and strength have been revolutionised over recent decades and most e-bike frames from reputable manufacturers will be of very high quality and very strong.
One specific point to consider is on full-suspension frames where a lot of rider weight will be over the rear suspension – you need to check that there is enough travel and enough resistance in the rear suspension unit to stop bottoming out of the suspension, causing damage to it. A good dealer should be able to ascertain if a rear suspension unit is suitable for your weight.
Motor Power and Battery Size: The more weight your e-bike needs to move about the more important becomes a more powerful motor and a good sized battery. Mid-drives are inherently good at moving heavier loads as they leverage the gears over a range of speeds to move the load easily. That said, larger hub motors geared correctly can do a good job too (look for one with a high Nm torque rating); smaller, lightweight hub motors are not the ideal choice for very heavy riders.
500Wh is a good battery capacity benchmark for a daily commuting machine for a heavier rider covering moderate distances. There’s plenty of options above 500Wh too (to well beyond 1000Wh) – advisable for much heavier riders covering longer distances and of course spare batteries are usually an option as most e-bikes let the rider swap the batteries out.
Strong Rims and Wide Tires
Double-wall rims are pretty standard and offer plenty of strength and load-bearing. Wider is better too as that will help spread the forces throughout the rim. More and thicker spokes are better – 36 spokes per wheel (36H) being a good standard. Smaller wheels are stronger than larger ones, all other factors being equal, but do have a test ride as smaller wheels generally offer a livelier ride than larger ones. Wide tyres are good too for load-bearing, grip and stability – above 2″ can be considered wide. Thru-axles are bigger thicker axles and another good feature to look out for (commoner on emtbs).
Seat and Seatpost
A wide platform to sit on with plenty of comfort on sturdily constructed seat rails is a great idea for heavier riders; not just for comfort but to isolate stresses from your bodyweight travelling into the seatpost and frame. A suspension seatpost can serve the same purpose though as they are rare as a standard feature on e-bikes but may be a worthwhile upgrade. Some models even allow the end-user to change the spring or elastomer to a harder one to take extra rider weight.
Hydraulic disk brakes now offer far more stopping power than older systems like cable operated v-brakes and are very commonly specced on good quality e-bikes and a heavier rider would definitely want them – larger rotors give more stopping power too and anything beyond 160mm is a large rotor on an e-bike.
Gears and Drivechain
Heavier riders may pedal harder and put more force through the pedals, cranks, chain and bike gears. Pedal axles can snap off so a heavy-duty spec pedal is a good idea and is easily upgraded to without too much additional cost if not on the original bike. If you will be regularly cycling up steep hills the powerful motor mentioned above together with lower gearing on the bike is particularly important. Hub gears are low maintenance options tend to be more robust than derailleur gearing systems.
Five E-bike Picks for Heavier Riders
Here’s our selection of heavy duty e-bikes for heavier riders – note e-cargobikes and emtbs are included as they often a good choice for heavier riders as by their nature they are built to take plenty of weight / trail punishment respectively and so are often ‘overbuilt’ for many of the purposes they actually end up being used for. We also focus on reputable makes as they often have exhaustive and stringent testing standards that make sure their e-bikes really are suitable for the weights they specify.
Rated: Payload capacity 300lbs / 136kg
A mini-cargo bike with superstrong small wheels and a frame made to take loads of weight. The only box not ticked is a wide range of gearing as this is a single-speed bike – though the super high torque hub motor will help counter this.
Rated: Max cyclist weight 275lbs / 125kg
Riese and Muller build e-bikes to extremely high standards and their HS option on suitable models mean saddle, seatpost and pedals are all upgraded for heavier riders. The Supercharger2 GT Vario looks ideal for heavier, heavy riding e-bikers as it features huge 1000Wh battery capacity, mega-strong Enviolo continuously variable hub gearing, suspension seatpost and the HS upgrade.
Rated: Max carrying capacity 330lbs / 150kg payload including rider
HD stands for heavy duty with the added benefit of an easy step-thru frame and frame size suitable for shorter heavier riders.
This BULLS model packs true off-road capability in the form of a Performance Line CX motor, 612Wh battery, 120mm front suspension, 2.6″ wide knobbly tyres and a large 203mm front brake rotor, all on a super strong frame. A 42 tooth bottom gear means tons of hill climbing ability too.
Rated: Max carrying capacity 400lbs / 181kg including rider
A great option if you need to carry roomy cargo or even small children on the bench seat. Looks very comfortable and stable-handling. It will easily venture off-road too, on the likes of fire roads and railpaths.
Stay tuned for more e-bike news and reviews and thanks for reading!