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The 10 best electric bikes in 2021: Rad, Electra, Norco and more

Cannondale, Specialized, VanMoof: Cycling experts explain how to choose the right electric bike for you.
Illustration of the Cannondale SuperSix EVO Neo 2 E-Road Bike in red and a woman riding the Urban Arrow Shorty from Propel, with her dog
Electric bikes, or e-bikes, fall into several distinct categories. We consulted cycling experts on the best electric bikes out there and how to figure out which type is right for you.Cannondale ; Curbside Cycle

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Does the idea of stepping into a crowded subway right now make you shudder? You aren’t alone: Many Americans are ditching public transportation in favor of other ways to commute. And for many, that means using two wheels as opposed to four. Electric bikes sales are skyrocketing, said Nate Nielsen, REI’s general manager for cycling, as consumers look for more environmentally-friendly, healthy ways of getting around.

“In some areas, our sales have just quadrupled in the past few months,” Nielsen said. “It’s growing faster than any other category. It’s inspiring to see how people are embracing them.”

SKIP AHEAD Best electric bicycles

Electric bikes, known as e-bikes, are regular bikes with an electric motor and battery attached to the back of the bike. The motor assists in pedaling the bike, but it’s not like a motorized scooter or motorcycle: You’ll still have to pedal, and you can’t go as fast. In fact, you don’t even need to use the motor if you don’t want to — "most models allow you to easily turn it on and off," said Nielsen.

“E-bikes really only provide an extra boost to your own pedal power, allowing you to ride longer distances, tackle tougher climbs, and maintain a faster pace,” explained Andy Levine, founder and CEO and Duvine Cycling and Adventure Company, a bicycle tour company. While electric bikes are faster and more powerful than traditional bicycles, they’re also heavier.

We’re calling them ‘The Great Equalizer.’

Andy Levine, founder and CEO, Duvine Cycling and Adventure Company

Is the electric bike for you?

Yes, said Nielsen: Electric bikes are for everyone, no matter their lifestyle.

Maybe you’re an avid cyclist who wants to go on longer rides. Or maybe you’re a bit older or are rehabbing an injury and want to keep up with your friends and family. Or maybe you’re a commuter that wants to avoid public transportation but not show up to work sweaty, added Levine. For a company like Duvine, electric bikes have proven much easier for travelers to enjoy destinations otherwise might be too challenging to bike.

“Electric assist gives you a fallback: more gain for less pain,” Levine said. “I feel the stigma surrounding e-bikes is swiftly disappearing and they’re beginning to be rebranded as the cool new tech in the cycling world. We’re calling them ‘The Great Equalizer.’”

How to choose the best electric bike

To get it out of the way: Electric bikes are more expensive than non-electric bikes, said Nielsen. It will be difficult to find a solid bike under $1,000 — the average cost is typically between $2,000 and $3,000, added Dax Downey, owner of Greenline Cycles, a bike shop in Chico, California. Spending a little more to get a durable bike will pay off in the long run, he explained. While you’re shopping for your electric bike, you’ll generally be looking at three “classes” of electric bikes:

  • Class 1 electric bikes are pedal-assist only, have no throttle and their maximum assist speed is 20 mph.
  • Class 2 electric bikes are throttle-assisted (as its name implies, this regards a throttle component on your handlebar like on a motorbike) and offer a maximum speed of 20 mph.
  • Class 3 electric bikes, typically best for road or trail riding, are pedal-assist only, with no throttle: They allow a maximum speed of 28 mph.

These classes determine the type of motor the bike uses, and if it’s able to be used in certain areas. All three classes’ motors are limited to 750 watts.

When shopping for an electric bike, consider what you want to use it for. If you live somewhere flat or plan to ride mostly for short stretches on city streets, a commuter e-bike would work best for you — that’s typically a class 1 electric bike. Avid bikers looking for a road bike should pay attention to battery life and max bike speed. Like with electric cars, you’ll need to charge your electric bike regularly (though not for as long as a car), and you’ll want to consider where to charge your bike. Most electric bike models allow you to remove the battery, but it’s not necessary in order to charge the bike.

Beyond the general guidance above, the cycling experts we consulted noted other and more specific features to consider before buying an electric bike.

  • Bike parts are important. Downey recommends looking for a bike with Shimano or Bosch bike parts (most of the listed bikes below adhere to these specifications). He believes these companies produce high-quality parts that are more durable than other brands. .
  • E-bikes typically require more maintenance. Consider those extra costs when determining how much you’re willing to spend the electric bike, itself an already substantial investment.
  • Buy from a company that makes non-electric bikes. “The experience needed on how to spec a bike properly and design the bike to ride properly is very important in the end,” explained Downey. “Companies who only make electric bikes tend to be poorly designed.”
  • Some states have specific laws and regulations regarding e-bikes. Some local governments are banning certain classes of electric bikes, Downey noted. Make sure you understand your region’s rules before buying a bike — the National Conference of State Legislatures offers a helpful guide.
  • Get comfortable with riding before going electric. Even the lowest class bike can go up to 20 mph, reminded Downey. For context, professional bikers can only hold 20 mph for about 20 minutes at a time on non-electric bikes. Riders need to be careful and comfortable navigating city streets or crowded roads at such a high speed.

Best electric bikes

To help you navigate the world of e-bikes, here are some of the best options on the market right now, according to the guidance we got from cycling experts above.

1. Cannondale Mavaro Neo City Electric Bike

This classic, class 1 bike is slightly more affordable than other models, and the “Neo” series from Cannondale is one of the most durable lines out there, said Downey. This model is made from Shimano parts and a Bosch battery, which can charge in 3.5 hours and lasts up to 65 miles without a recharge. It can hit a max speed of 20 miles per hour and weighs about 54 pounds. Another recommended Neo Bike is the Quick EQ, a pricier option but can last twice the distance with a single charge.

2. Cannondale SuperSix EVO Neo 2 E-Road Bike

If you’re an avid rider looking for an electric upgrade, this class 3 model may be worth the high price tag. This bike is extremely lightweight — just over 26 pounds — and allows you to track your ride via a dedicated app. The Neo 2 is made of high-quality Shimano parts and is designed for road riding. The battery lasts up to 75 kilometers and charges within hours. For experts, this model perfectly captures what you’ll get for a higher price tag.

“You can take it to the Alps and pretend you’re in the Tour de France,” said Levine.

3. Electra Townie Path Go! 10D Step-Over Trek Bike

Designed for both short trips around town and longer trail rides, the class 1 model has step-over pedals, typically found on racing and mountain bikes, which offers additional pedal power and a more balanced ride. This model is made of Bosch parts and sports 27.5-inch tires and a battery that lasts up to 65 miles. Additional unique features include a SmartphoneHub controller, which monitors ride data and Electra’s patented Flat Foot technology, which moves the pedals forward relative to the saddle. This allows riders to get a full leg extension while riding (which can be more comfortable) and be able to put their feet flat on the ground when shopping.

4. Norco Scene VLT Electric Bike

Downey recommended this versatile, class 1 electric bike from the brand’s “Urban” line. The hybrid electric bike, made of Shimano parts, has a low center of gravity, making it easy to mount and dismount, ideal for commuters or those taking shorter trips. It has a seat you adjust with a button on the handlebars and sports large, 27.5-inch tires. It falls in the middle of the electric bike price range.

5. Rad Power Bikes RadMission 1 Electric Metro Bike

This class 2 e-bike is an affordable option for a novice cyclist or someone who wants an easy way to get around without many bells and whistles. Bikes come in two sizes based on the standover height of the frame. The light, seven-pound battery fits under the seat and has a 25-45 mile range, depending on how much you rely on the motor. Other basic features include a twist-grip throttle and LED control panel for adjusting between gears.

6. Schwinn EC1 Cruiser-Style Electric Bike

This class 1 model is an affordable, highly-rated option from well-known bike retailer Schwinn. It’s perfect for commuters — with five different pedal-assist modes and seven speeds (up to 20 mph). Riders can get only 30 miles on the battery (which charges in under six hours), much lower than other models on the list. But the low price makes this bike perfect for beginner cyclists or those biking shorter distances. The bike weighs a little over 50 pounds and has 26-inch tires.

7. Specialized Turbo Vado E-Bike

This sleek model is another class 3 e-bike, with strong acceleration and smooth turns, said Downey. The Vado comes with three assist levels, four sizes and a rear rack to attach your belongings. The model is made from Shimano parts, and the battery charges in a little over four hours and promises up to 50 miles in battery life. This bike is another good option for avid riders looking for a road electric bike at a more affordable price than the Neo 2.

8. Tern HSD S+ Folding Bike

This foldable, affordable, class 1 bike is perfect for commuters or those who are low on storage space. The battery sits in the back on the bike for a lower center of gravity and it is made of Bosch electric parts. The battery can charge in between 2.5 hours and 4.5 hours and can last between 32 and 74 hours. It can reach up to 20 mph and weighs 58 pounds. Whether you’re taking your child for a ride or lugging your work bag to work, riders easily can attach an extra seat or bag in the back. The bike’s wheels are much smaller than other models, at 20 inches, which makes the entire bike frame lighter and easier to carry.

9. Urban Arrow Shorty Electric Bike

This e-bike is ideal for anyone with cargo, including commuters. It comes with Shimano disc brakes (to avoid skidding) and has a very low center of gravity. Of course, it includes a wide basket that can fit gym bags and packages — and even some pets, assuming they won’t jump out of the basket. Parents can even attach a seat in the back for kids. The battery lasts up to 75 kilometers on a single charge.

10. Vanmoof S3 Electric Bike

Falling in the middle price range, the Vanmoof S3 brings a sleek and stylish design to their electric model, which is designed for riders 5’8” to 6’8”. Bikes come with an automatic gear-shifting system and disc brakes — the brand also promises “puncture-resistant” tires. A key feature of the S3 is the theft defense system — you can track your bike’s location or set off an alarm from your smartphone via Vanmoof’s app, which also tracks ride data. The battery has a range of 37 to 93 miles, about on par with other models.

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