Best Electric Bikes

Before you spring for an e-bike, there are a few things you should consider.

Are electric bikes allowed where you live? City and state laws regulating electric bikes vary by locale, so it’s a good idea to check to see whether they’re allowed where you want to ride, whether that’s on public roads, bicycle paths, or trails.

Do you really want or need the added expense, complexity, and weight of an electric motor, rechargeable battery, and the electronics that control them? It can be a great convenience, but it does come at a cost.

Which kind of electric bike is best for you? There are different types. Some models require the rider to pedal in order for the electric motor to kick in, while others have a throttle lever that operates the motor. You should also decide which style of bike—commuter, cruiser, road, mountain, folding—best suits your needs.

There are three classes of e-bikes: Class 1, 2, and 3. Class 1 bikes require pedal effort to activate the electric motor, with e-assist topping out at 20 mph. Class 2 bikes also provide e-assist up to 20 mph, and they can power the bike using a hand-operated throttle lever up to 28 mph. Class 3 bikes may or may not have a throttle control, and electric power cuts off at 28 mph.

As with any bike, it’s a good idea to go to a local retailer so that you can ride each model you’re interested in. Each bike has a different feel, and you want to make sure the sizing and riding position work for you.

“Electric bikes tend to be more expensive than conventional bicycles, so most people will probably want a good all-arounder,” says Rich Handel, the engineer who leads CR’s electric bike testing program. “We especially liked the mid-drive models that apply electric power where there would normally only be pedals. That setup, plus a bunch of gears to choose from, made for a bike that was almost as good without electric assist as with it. But for pure fun, it’s hard to beat a Class 2 electric bike. Without needing to shift gears, their throttle controls and acceleration ability make them exciting to ride.”