Which e-bike is the right one?
The e-bike – more precisely: the pedelec is trendy. Riding an e-bike is not only fun, but it also has positive health effects: it is a gentle sport. The cardiovascular system is promoted – overloading is avoided. With the e-bike, you cover more distances by bike and leave the car at home more often. Anyone who wants to do something good for themselves, their health, and the environment buy an e-bike. But which one?
Buying an e-bike is difficult for many. The selection is now overwhelming. Almost every bicycle manufacturer has an e-bike in its range. Almost every bike category is also electrified. It’s difficult to keep perspective. Therefore, here is purchase advice that does not end in the recommendation of a specific e-bike – but in 10 questions that help to find your own needs. These are the questions every buyer must answer for themselves.
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There is no “best e-bike”.
Since everyone has a different riding profile, there is no “best” e-bike – only the e-bike that best suits the individual person. The individual riding profile is a mixture of personal riding habits (e.g. “feel good” cadence, desired personal performance, preferred seating position, etc.), physical conditions (maximum cadence, physical performance, possible motor limitations, etc.), and the planned area of use or the intended use of the pedelec. In addition, of course, wear and tear, maintenance effort, and price are limiting factors for the selection of an e-bike.
1. Where do I want to pedal: city, country, mountain?
That’s the first question you have to answer yourself, it’s about the location: where do you mainly want to drive? The answer to this not only narrows down the bike category – but also decides which class of e-bike I need. If you mainly want to be out and about on single trails in your free time, you are wrong with an e-bike or S-Pedelec that requires a permit, as these are not allowed to be used as motor vehicles on most field and forest paths. On the other hand, if you want to commute several kilometers to your employer by two-wheeler every day, you are welcome to consider an S-Pedelec. A direct comparison ride has to show whether you can really reach your destination faster with a 45 km/h e-bike that requires registration than with a 25 km/h pedelec that does not require registration.
Are you more into the city? Then a city bike is a right choice.
Think outside the box
Many buyers go to the bike shop with the intention of buying a certain category of bike. For example a “mountain bike”. But – does that really correspond to your own driving profile? If you want to be 80% on paved bike paths and 20% in the forest? Of course, you can also cruise along there on a mountain bike. However, it only makes limited sense. Conversely, a city and trekking bike is more off-road than you might think. Since the e-bike will throw old riding habits overboard anyway, you can now also think about bike categories that you wouldn’t ride without motor support – but which thanks to the e-drive are a lot of fun. Former niche categories such as cargo bikes and fat bikes suddenly become suitable for the masses with an “E”. And thanks to the “E”, the compact bike and the cruiser are even suitable for traveling.
Consider the increased possibilities
And that brings us to an important point: when they buy their first e-bike, many buyers have no idea how much their usage behavior will change. The eBiker goes out more often and travels much longer distances. With the electric drive as a motivator, he may be thinking for the first time about using the two-wheeler all year round as a replacement for the car. This places special demands on the bike. Thanks to the motor, mountain bikers also surpass themselves. His learning curve will be just as steep as the paths he will now conquer and the 120mm of travel on the hardtail that was sufficient for him so far will quickly become too little. Therefore: mentally buy an e-bike “one size larger”. If you prefer a mountain bike, then a full Suspension instead of a hardtail. And prefer 160mm instead of 120mm. If urban bike, then it is better to be suitable all-year-round instead of purely as a leisure vehicle. Better the qualitatively higher equipment with belt drive and gear hub instead of the minimum quality for the commuter. And if you’re already transporting your groceries, why not use the cargo bike instead of panniers on the city bike?
2. Which type of driver am I: sporty or comfortable?
Once you have decided on the intended use and the place of use, you should ask yourself whether you are more of a sporty driver or a comfortable driver. This determines the sitting position. Each bike category requires its own riding position on the bike. The differences in top tube length and stem length may only be a few millimeters – but they determine whether you sit stretched out or upright on the bike. This sitting position can only be corrected later to a limited extent. Because a sporty category like an MTB requires a more stretched sitting position with core tension.
With an e-mountain bike, things really get down to business!
Each bicycle category requires its own seating position
What you immediately feel as a layman is the weight on your hands. With a sporty eMTB, around 20% of the bodyweight rests on the hands. So that the front wheel can be guided safely and with “pressure” through the curve in rough terrain. The entire geometry of the bike is designed around this sporty purpose. With a trekking bike, it is only about 10% to 15%. And for city bikes only about 5% to 10%. With a compact bike, you can use height-adjustable handlebars (e.g. Speedlifter) to reduce the load on your hands to 0%. So if you want to sit on your bike in a sporty and comfortable way, you should look at the compact bikes with different eyes – and not reflexively reach for the MTB.
3. A fundamental decision: hub or bottom bracket motor?
This is a question that is linked to both the place of use and the purpose of use. A rear wheel hub motor is less suitable for sporty use on the mountain. It can be sufficient for tourist use in a rather hilly terrain. The hub motor shows its advantages in urban areas: it responds directly, is low-wear, and whisper-quiet. In the sporty area, some urban city runabouts offer very chic, very light, and almost invisibly integrated solutions with a hub motor and frame battery. In addition, some hub motors have a recuperation function. When braking or driving downhill, the motor then works like a dynamo and recharges the battery a little. This ensures increased range.
Recuperation is usually possible with rear engines.
This is a detail that the mid-engine cannot provide due to its design. The middle motor or bottom bracket motor, on the other hand, can show off when it comes to sporty use in alpine areas. The mid-engine also doesn’t overheat when the driver calls for maximum power on steep climbs when driving slowly. This is ideal for e-MTB and trekking e-bikes. Of course, a mid-engine also works in urban areas. But there is higher wear on the chain, cassette, and sprocket compared to the hub motor. But its power pulls in addition to the driver’s power on the entire drive train, which is why wear increases. The frequent driver and commuter can therefore be better served with a rear hub motor – while the sporty leisure driver tends to use the mid-motor.
4. A question of character: Which engine suits me?
First things first: there is no such thing as the “best” motor. The pedelec is a human-machine hybrid. It is therefore important to find the most suitable supplement for the person. Because every engine manufacturer gives its system its own character. Some motors provide more support (such as the Brose motor), some require more personal effort (such as the Fazua drive). Some work better at low cadence (like the Yamaha), others work best at a higher cadence (like the Bosch motor). Tests in magazines are helpful for advanced information.
Area of use and application also play a role when selecting a motor. Do I need the powerful motor that heaves the E-MTB over every obstacle in the high alpine area? Or would it not make more sense for a city or touring bike to have a slightly less energetic drive that not only causes less wear in the drive train but also offers a longer range with the same battery capacity due to its lower performance? Am I dependent on maximum support? Or am I trained and have the ambition to pedal more of my own effort into the system? An analysis of your own driving profile is necessary to choose the right motor. However, if you often go out with a group in which a certain drive system predominates,
5. Battery and range: What distances do I want to cover?
A lot helps a lot – everyone knows this saying. However: is this also the case with e-bikes? If I only have to cover a distance of 30-40 kilometers a day as a commuter, I don’t need a large and therefore heavy battery on my bike. Choosing the size of the battery to suit my needs helps to keep the system weight small. This is noticeable in everyday life. Then smaller can actually be smarter. And if you should go on a long journey from time to time, the larger spare battery can do it.
The battery determines how long the journey lasts.
The smaller, weaker motor may seem unattractive at first glance – but it has the advantage that it consumes less electricity. So it makes sense in the city. Because you create a greater range with the same battery capacity. Even if, as an e-bike buyer, you first of all, orientate yourself on the top motorization: there are good reasons why the motor manufacturers have lower-performance variants for urban use in their portfolios. In addition to the range, lower wear and tear is also one of them. There is a noticeable difference in the operating cost calculation whether a Bosch CX Line motor pulls on the chain in a trekking bike, for example or a Bosch Active Line on the toothed belt drive.
It is slowly becoming more specific: the bike category has been selected, the application has been defined, the fundamental decision has been made between the drive systems, and the motor power and battery size that are optimal for the application have been narrowed down. Now it’s about the ergonomics of a bike. Does it fit – or not? Everyone knows that a bike is not just a bike. Of course, there are differences in the seating position between a Dutch bike and a racing bike. But what many do not consider: there can be big differences even within the same vehicle category. Even a cargo bike is not always a cargo bike. The spectrum ranges from the Dutch bike-style upright seating of an Urban Arrow to the sporty, stretched Douze. When it comes to mountain bikes, there are both sporty cross-country bikes and comfortable enduro bikes. Each manufacturer also pursues its own philosophy when it comes to ergonomics. No other recommendation can be given here, except a test drive! And trust the expert opinion of a bicycle dealer.
The right frame size also means safety
You should always be suspicious if the dealer wants to make the bike fit by making major modifications to the handlebars and stem. These conversions are questionable for several reasons: firstly, it indicates that the wrong bike was chosen – either the inappropriate bike category or the wrong frame size. Secondly, such a dealer conversion must be approved by the manufacturer. Because a pedelec is not subject to the registration requirement and therefore does not require an operating permit when replacing safety-relevant parts. But a pedelec is subject to the Machinery Directive, which ensures safe operation. And thirdly, with an extreme conversion of the handlebars and stem, you can very quickly build a driving dynamic catastrophe into the e-bike: the so-called handlebar wobble.
Modifications to the stem and handlebars can be dangerous
This describes the physical phenomenon that the front of the bicycle sways due to superimposed resonance and then swings or flutters more or less independently. The cause is usually a sitting position that is too upright, which is forced on the e-bike. Therefore: develop a healthy skepticism when an e-bike is made suitable by such handlebar conversions. It’s better to ask for another manufacturer and another model that comes with a suitable seating position.
7. Operation: How do I get along with the operation?
This is a point that many underestimate. The e-bike does not only have to fit because of its frame geometry. The operation must also “fit” intuitively – this means that the user must be able to quickly understand the operating instructions on the display. Optimally, without staring and searching at the display for a long time. Every manufacturer has its own operating concept and sometimes even several operating options on offer. Such as BOSCH. You can choose between Intuvia, Purion, Kiox, and Nyon. Or opt for the purchased COBI. BROSE simply opens up its system to other manufacturers, so that a large number of different displays from third-party suppliers can be connected here – or there does not have to be a display at all. Like the Specialized Turbo Levo, for example.
Shimano works primarily with discreet but very easy-to-read displays.
Shimano goes the opposite way: one display for everyone! The only difference: colored or monochrome display. However, the setting options go so far that, in conjunction with an electronic circuit, even the switching pattern and the trigger sensitivity of the buttons can be set. And the fine-tuning is done via an app on the cell phone. The question to ask yourself is: how much information do I want or really need on my tour? Do I want everything bundled – or do I still have a separate navigation system and my cell phone on the handlebars anyway? It’s nice when you have a system that you can later easily equip with a different display because you notice that your habits may have changed with the e-bike.
8. Equipment: Which components are important?
The equipment of an e-bike is important – but it is no longer the central issue as it is with a conventional bicycle. Since the drive cannot be changed at all or only with enormous financial effort, the components behind it take a back seat. The frame used to be the “heart” of the bike – on the e-bike, it is the motor. Details such as the saddle, handlebars, shifters, and stem – all of this can be swapped out relatively easily on a pedelec. And as far as the lighting system is concerned: since July 2017, no bicycle – including pedelecs – has had to have permanently installed dynamo lighting. And with accessories such as mudguards, luggage racks, and stands, even sparsely equipped mountain bikes can be made more suitable for everyday use.
Of course, the question of the equipment is somewhat more important with the S-Pedelec than with the pedelec. Since the S-Pedelec has type approval for registration, it is not easy to replace its individual components. As with a car, the vast majority of components on an S-Pedelec cannot and must not be exchanged at will without an operating permit or a certificate of no objection from the manufacturer. And as far as the luggage rack is concerned: if an S-Pedelec doesn’t have one, then one shouldn’t be added afterward.
9. Don’t fall out of line: Which frame size is right for me?
Far too often, the frame height, measured from the middle of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat tube, is used as the only reference value for whether a frame fits. However, this is not a reliable measure for determining the correct frame size. Since seat posts can now bridge a large distance between the saddle and the seat tube, the actual height of the seat tube is arbitrary. There are even manufacturers who offer the same seat tube length for all their different frame sizes. At that point at the latest, the frame height is no longer a distinguishing feature. In addition to the frame height, the top tube length is the more decisive criterion for whether a frame fits or not.
The top tube length determines how you sit on the bike
The relevance of different top tube lengths can be seen when comparing women’s and men’s frames. Men and women differ in body proportions. A man has a longer torso than a woman with the same leg length. If he climbs onto a women’s frame, which fits him in terms of the frame height, the top tube length will be far too small for him. So top tube length is far more relevant to how the rider is positioned on the bike. It decides on a stretched or upright sitting position.
The measure of the pros: Stack-to-Reach
The professional reference values for determining the correct frame size are therefore the “stack-to-reach” specifications. Stack and Reach. They don’t specify tube lengths, but distances: Stack is the vertical distance between the center of the bottom bracket and the center of the upper edge of the head tube, Reach determines the horizontal distance between the two points. Seat tube length, seat angle, and actual top tube length can be influenced by seat post extension and offset. However, stack and reach are fixed quantities. A seat position analysis is necessary to determine stack and reach; The customer can then compare the values obtained with the data from the brochure provided by the frame manufacturer and make a much more accurate selection of the frame that suits him.
10. Service: dealer or internet?
Of course, you can of course also buy an e-bike online. But: Does that make sense? Since an e-bike is relatively expensive, the prices are of course compared in advance. With some offers on the Internet, you can save real money at first glance. But just looking at the price might be a bit too short-sighted. Because with an e-bike, service is even more important than with a normal bicycle.
The dealer offers advice
It starts with the purchase decision. The local specialist dealer can determine very precisely which bike is the right one. This starts with the determination of needs, the choice of model, the motor, and the right frame size. After selecting the right bike, the service provided by a retailer is by no means exhausted. An e-bike has shorter maintenance intervals than a bicycle and the technology is more complex. Do you really want to have the confidence to tweak it yourself? Often you don’t even have the tools you need. Let alone the expertise. Then you not only jeopardize the guarantee but also your health if a component is not installed correctly. Which components may be changed, exchanged for others, or only exchanged for original parts, the specialist retailer knows better than the layman. And in the event of an accident, this ultimately also decides on the not inconsiderable question of liability.
An e-bike has to be serviced more often
An e-bike not only has the mechanical component, but also an electronic one. The software for the display, battery, and motor needs to be updated at regular intervals. This can often only be done by the dealer with the appropriate diagnostic tools. Since the bicycle trade does not have the sales model of the authorized dealer as in the car sector, for example, you have no right to the e-bike bought on the Internet getting the necessary service from another dealer. By the way: the guarantee and warranty are tied to the dealer from whom you bought your e-bike.
A good bike does not necessarily have to be expensive…