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6 Mistakes To Avoid When Buying E-Bikes
Feb 10, 2023
With a gazillion different brands, categories, price ranges, and levels of quality among e-bikes (trust us, we checked), it can seem difficult to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff. For many folks, the number of variables can be overwhelming, so they may feel inclined to make a purchase based only on a price tag or the repetition of an advertisement. Doing so can result in disappointment when an e-bike does not meet their expectations – whether in comfort, functionality, or longevity. To help prevent unfortunate results and unhappy customers, the friendly folks at Electric Bike Report have assembled this list of the 6 mistakes to avoid when buying e-bikes.
The most important thing we can recommend is doing a healthy amount of research; we’ll provide a brief overview of topics in this article, and link to sources you can explore for more in-depth information (for starters, you might also consider reading our buyer’s guide for electric bikes). There are many factors that go into finding an e-bike that is right for you, and fortunately there is a wealth of information available on the internet (we strive to be one of the most reliable and comprehensive) to help make that search easier. A thorough understanding of both the parts of a bike and your own needs in relation to those will help you find a model that you’ll be happy with for years to come.
Mistake #1: Being Unaware of E-Bike Basics
Motor, Battery, and Other Important Features & Terms
To put it bluntly, e-bikes are complicated machines. For many newcomers, looking over a spec sheet for an e-bike can be like trying to do your own taxes; there is usually a ton of potentially confusing yet relevant information crammed into a small space on a page, and much of it can seem esoteric when compared to just glancing at a price tag.
But the importance of learning what components make up an e-bike, what their various sizes/ratings/capacities mean, and how that translates into a bike’s performance and feel when you’re actually ON one cannot be understated.
For example, a 250-watt (250W) mid-drive motor (one that is mounted centrally with the bike’s crank arms) is likely going to feel and perform much differently than a 750W rear-hub motor (one that is mounted in the center of the back wheel). Conversely, while a 36-volt (36V), 14 amp-hour (Ah) battery may look much differently than a 48V, 10 Ah battery on paper, they should, in theory, provide similar range in the real world.
Learning the basics of e-bike anatomy is a great first step in understanding the big picture. Then, it’s a good idea to focus on expanding your knowledge of e-bike motors and batteries and how their types and ratings relate to things like speed, hill-climbing ability, and maximum range.
Finally, research the various types of e-bikes, what they are designed for, and how their design affects rider position, comfort levels, and handling. We’ll touch on some of these things further down on this list, but by no means will this be a comprehensive guide.
Establishing a working knowledge base should help you to differentiate e-bikes both visually and on paper, and it will aid in deciphering all of the technical jargon that really does matter when finding a great e-bike for you.
Mistake #2: Not Considering What You’ll Use It For
E-Bikes Can Be Great at One Thing or Balanced for Many
Being realistic about what you need in an e-bike is an important part of deciding which model to purchase. While it is certainly possible to find one that is capable of doing a little bit of everything, a bike such as that may sacrifice in some areas to expand its abilities in others.
For starters, e-bikes are separated into three classes that affect the speed limit at which their motor stops providing input, and determine whether they are equipped with a throttle. This also affects their legality on certain paths and roads. Knowing where you’ll be riding is a great first step so you can determine what class of e-bike to focus on.
E-bikes are also generally separated into categories that reflect their purpose. The “all-” or “multi-purpose” label mentioned earlier often applies to the Fat Tire e-bike category, but there are a host of more specialized designations as well. As an example, a dedicated road bike (such as the BULLS Alpine Hawk EVO) is going to travel extremely fast and efficiently over paved surfaces, but has no business attempting to tear up the wild, rough wilderness that an all-terrain model (like the Himiway Cobra) feels at home in. In many cases, an e-bike will also overlap across a couple of categories. A good example of this is the Blix Aveny Skyline, which serves as a comfortable cruiser for weekend rides around the neighborhood, but also takes itself seriously enough to function as a daily commuter for getting to and from work.
An e-bike’s category and purpose can greatly affect its level of comfort. This ties in to things like the shape, size, and squish of its saddle. Harder, narrower saddles such as those on road bikes are generally more performance-oriented, while the wider, softer versions on cruisers lend themselves to comfortable, casual rides. Rider position is also something that varies greatly between categories. To continue the road bike/cruiser comparison, road bikes tend to place their riders at a forward lean, which cuts down on wind resistance and allows for more efficient pedaling and higher speeds. Conversely, cruisers tend to be more upright, which again is more comfortable for casual rides where speed and wind resistance are not likely to be considered (although a lot of e-bike motors more than negate this, anyway).
Within each category of e-bikes, there is still a huge amount of variance in price, quality, and performance. Much of this has to do with the various components that make up the e-bike, but these are not the only factors. Once you decide what class and category of e-bike suits your needs best, you can start to consider capability in relation to cost. If you’re curious for more, you can always check out our e-bike reviews page where you can sort by category and see these bike styles for yourself.
The Aventon Aventure is a well-rounded e-bike that we highly recommend for multi-purpose use.
Mistake #3: Looking Only at Price Tags
E-Bike Prices Factor In Quality, Purpose, and Features
This may seem like a given, but an e-bike that costs $1,000 is not going to perform at the same level as one with a $6,000 price tag. That said, in our experience, you’re starting to really take a gamble on quality with anything less than $1k (with a few notable exceptions like these e-bikes that are under $1000).
Generally speaking, our experience suggests that an e-bike priced somewhere within the $1,000 – $6,000 range will offer a great balance of affordability, performance, and longevity. That is, of course, a huge range! Understanding the realistic scope of your personal needs from an e-bike will go a long way toward helping you find one that satisfies both you and your wallet.
Establishing the initial limits of your budget is the first step in making a purchase, but it is important to consider that, like a car, e-bikes can require some maintenance over time. This, of course, depends on how much they are used, but also on the parts used to build them. High quality components from name-brand manufacturers like SRAM and Bosch may add more up-front cost to an e-bike, but should offer more reliable, longer-lasting performance over that of lower-quality parts. All components will break down over time, so it’s important to consider the cost impact of continued maintenance as well. Will you perform the work yourself (which is cheaper but requires tools and know-how) or pay a mechanic at a local bike shop to do the work for you (which is easier but also more expensive)?
Additionally, even the best e-bikes and their components can fail. Many established brands offer various lengths and qualities of warranty that may cover manufacturing defects, abnormal wear, faulty performance, etc. – it’s worth looking closely to see the specifics. Some brands, like Pedego or Evelo, offer plans that rival what you’d see on a new car. But with these things, initial costs do rise, so it’s important to weigh the options. Whatever you consider in terms of brand and warranty coverage, we definitely recommend that you stick with companies that actually know their bikes. Though it is possible to purchase extremely affordable e-bikes online through Alibaba or at a big box store like Wal-Mart, these tend to fall below the threshold of quality needed to call the product reliable.
Finally, as with the differences between economy and luxury vehicles, e-bikes at opposite ends of the price spectrum can differ greatly in their features. Related to what we covered previously, less costly models can try to match more expensive bikes by using less reliable, lower quality components. But better quality e-bikes with lower prices will just have fewer bells and whistles than their higher-end cousins. Models on the more expensive side can offer more extreme performance-related features, like ultra-lightweight carbon fiber frames, or automatic shifting systems; things that the average consumer may like to have, but don’t feel they truly need.
Mistake #4: Forgetting to Check the Reviews
Get to Know an E-Bike Through Others’ Experiences
While this may seem like a shameless plug for our own content (and that’s one element of it, sure), we genuinely do recommend at least some level of research into what people who have actually had their hands on a particular e-bike have to say about it. There are a couple of reasons for this:
First, while it’s not a guarantee, if a bike has obvious mass appeal, it’s more likely to live up to its reputation. The big names in the world of e-bikes didn’t get there by chance; they proved themselves by creating machines that matched well with a wide range of potential users, and which also stood the test of time (which equals reliability).
Second, getting input from an outside source (again, ideally us) who has tried and tested a bike can help you get some idea of how it’s going to feel for you. This is especially useful when considering the fact that so many e-bike brands are direct-to-consumer, and as such are not available for test rides at your local bike shop.
Again, personal preferences will always play a part in finding something you love (so take that outside perspective with a grain of salt), but the input of people who have extensively tested e-bikes – and who have already logged some miles on one you are considering – can help reveal if a bike will deliver the experience you’re hoping to have.
The Mokwheel Basalt comes standard with exceptional range, which can be increased even more with the addition of a solar panel and power inverter for mid-adventure charging.
Mistake #5: Being Unrealistic About How Far You Need to Go
Are You Paying for Mileage You Won’t Actually Use?
As covered previously, e-bikes are complicated, and one of their most complicated components is their electrical system (which includes at least one battery). We have an entire article that covers battery basics, but for the purpose of brevity, just remember that, in general, a battery’s capacity determines how many miles an e-bike can travel. There are a host of factors that influence and affect range, including motor efficiency, weather, terrain, rider/cargo weight, etc; but the starting point is going to be the battery’s watt-hour rating, or capacity.
It’s worth taking a second to mention that the range capability advertised by an e-bike’s manufacturer can be misleading. When it’s stated as a single number (maximum possible range), this most commonly means that the bike CAN go that distance, but under ideal conditions and in its lowest pedal assist system (PAS) setting. All e-bikes are different, but we often find the lowest PAS setting to be relatively ineffective and impractical for real-world use (who here wants to only travel at 6 mph? Yeah, neither do we). To elaborate, e-bikes are often heavier than traditional bicycles and low PAS settings sometimes don’t do much to offset this. For this reason, we perform range tests of our own based on how an e-bike behaves, and then compare that to the advertised claim.
To be fair, some manufacturers do perform real-world range tests of their own, but many others do not – so their advertised range can potentially just be the result of estimation or quick math instead of demonstrated performance. To tie things back to Mistake #4, this is another reason to check reviews.
Getting back to batteries and their capacities, no battery is cheap to produce. There are again plenty of battery variables that tie into what we covered in previous sections about brands and warranties, but as a general rule, the greater the capacity, the more expensive the battery.
All of this is to say: while it may sound great to have the largest-capacity, longest-distance-capable battery, you may be increasing costs unnecessarily by purchasing an e-bike with a potential range that far exceeds the distance you’ll most likely be traveling. Most consumers will generally keep their rides short – under 10 miles round trip. By that estimate, e-bikes with even a relatively low maximum range should be fine for casual use. And remember, they recharge! Sure, a lower capacity means more frequent recharging, but a lower up-front cost may be a worthwhile tradeoff for the few seconds of time required to plug in and unplug a battery (you will, of course, still need to wait a few hours between those steps for the battery to actually charge).
When considering battery capacity, a good rule of thumb is to expect a practical range between the advertised range and half of that number. So if an e-bike advertisement says something along the lines of “travel up to 50 miles on a single charge!”, just keep in mind that with practical use, you should more realistically expect to see between 25-50 miles instead.
Mistake #6: Not Buying an E-Bike That Is Sized Correctly
Frame Size Matters for Lasting Comfort and Enjoyment
The design and engineering of an e-bike frame factors in various angles and lengths between contact points (the parts of a bike a person touches, including the saddle, handlebar grips, and pedals), its wheelbase (distance between wheel hubs), and various heights (including saddle, handlebar, and standover). All of this is referred to as a bike’s geometry, and effectively defines a bike’s ergonomics.
E-bikes, like traditional bicycles, are designed to work in concert with the natural motions of the human body through their geometry. Both bikes and bodies are machines in the basic sense, and both operate most efficiently within a certain range of conditions. E-bike frames are designed to maximize the output of a limited height and weight range of potential riders, so it’s important to find an e-bike designed to fit you.
If you find yourself on an e-bike that is too large or too small for you, comfort is going to quickly go out the window. Whether you end up leaning unnaturally to reach controls that are too far away, or you find yourself unable to get a full range of motion due to being crammed in on a cramped frame, you’re going to be using muscles in a way that they’re not meant to function. This can cause pain, and over time, injury – which is obviously something you should take every precaution to avoid.
E-bike manufacturers should have a sizing chart available for each of their models that can help you find a frame that fits you. Many e-bikes come in at least a couple of frame sizes and/or styles. Most commonly, these include both a step-thru and high-step frame with differing height ranges that each is made to accommodate. Typically, step-thru frames, which do not require their rider to swing a leg over the saddle, are more accessible for shorter individuals, older folks, and those with disabilities that may prevent them from lifting a leg so high. High-step frames, as you might have guessed, are better for taller riders with a full range of motion. Some models will even come in a step-thru frame and multiple sizes of high-step frame to find the widest possible audience.
There are occasionally exceptions to the rule. Be cautious when looking at e-bikes that are offered only in a single frame size and marketed as having a one-size-fits-all capacity (or an extremely broad advertised height range resembling 5′ 0″ – 6′ 2″). In such a case, it IS possible for an e-bike to fit such a wide range of riders, but usually only if it has a long (and therefore widely adjustable) seatpost, as well as an adjustable stem. Even this level of adaptability generally won’t match up completely to a model with multiple unique frame sizes, but it could be close enough to fit you.
Bottom Line: Understanding E-Bikes and Your Needs in Relation to Them Will Help You Avoid Mistakes When Buying One
While it can be time consuming to research all of the points we discussed on this list, each is here for a reason. Consider that buying an e-bike is like buying a car in a lot of ways; it’s an investment that needs to fit your individual needs. Realistically, you most likely wouldn’t purchase a sports car with only two seats if you need to transport the whole family on a regular basis. An e-bike, however, may require some additional consideration; it will interface directly with your body and therefore it needs a more tailored fit.
With some knowledge of e-bikes and their components, and a realistic understanding of your purpose for buying one, you should be well-suited to finding a model that looks great, feels comfortable, and goes as fast and far as you need.