Electric bike buying guide: everything you need to know to choose the right bike

How to choose your electric bike? What are the criteria to check and how to find the right model, the one that will best meet your needs? Here are our answers to all the essential questions you should ask yourself before buying an electric bike.

Why choose an electric bike?

Sometimes mocked, the choice of an electrically assisted bicycle seems obvious today for some practitioners. Do not get sweaty at work, get back into sport smoothly after a period of inactivity or an injury, or simply be able to follow a group of friends more experienced or more athletic than yourself … the reasons to prefer a VAE are numerous and legitimate. At the time of deconfinement, it is even a serious option for longer or unthinkable “vélotaf” journeys on a classic bicycle. Anyway, the use of the electric bike is exploding today.

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A VAE, yes but at what price?

The price of an electrically assisted bicycle varies widely. The cheapest models sell for less than 500 euros, when the most successful cycles can reach several thousand euros. There is obviously a world of difference between a low-end entry-level VAE and a Turbo Levo SL at 15,000 euros. If it is not necessary to pay for your electric bike at the price of a car, you should still make sure that it has been manufactured with a minimum of seriousness and that it has equipment that makes it safe enough on the road. After all, the idea is to travel a few kilometers with it and why not make it your preferred means of travel. As a result, it is very rare to find a quality electric bike for less than 1000 euros. The Nakamura E-Summit 710 that we tested a few months ago and which is unfortunately sold out has long been an exception. It will therefore be necessary to plan a slightly higher budget and if possible close to 2,000 euros. At this level of pricing, quality is more readily available. A VanMoof S3 or X3 as well as a Cowboy are very interesting references at this price level.

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Finally, keep in mind that the purchase of an electric bike can be subsidized. Several municipalities can give you a boost in the form of an ecological bonus. As for the Ile-de-France region, assistance for the purchase of a VAE can reach 500 euros.

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What type of bike to choose?

The type of bike we decide on is often dictated by the use that will be made of it. With the very classic urban bike or VTC it is possible to prefer a VTTAE if one is a little player or an electric road bike if the idea consists in accumulating the kilometers. Finally, sometimes it is the available space that dictates the choice of the bike. And in muscle as in electric, the folding bike in its place. Even a brand like Brompton, the benchmark for folding bikes, offers an electric model in its catalog. In the end, electrification is not a brake on the type of bike desired. In fact, whatever the type of model envisaged, its electric counterpart always exists at an additional financial cost.

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Therefore, the main criterion becomes the type of use that will be made of it and the environment in which the bicycle will be driven.

Read also : our test of the Nakamura E-Summit 710, one of the few VTTAE at less than 1000 euros having managed to convince us. Simply excellent value for money.

The essential battery / motor couple

Who says electric bike says motorization and of course battery. This inseparable couple is obviously one of the main criteria when choosing a VAE. And the first indication of the quality of these two components is their integration. Indeed, whether for the engine or the battery, not all bikes make the same choice and this integration partly defines the price, but also the performance of an electrically assisted bike.

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Regarding the engine there are two main locations:

  • Central: at the pedal level
  • Off center (in one of the front or rear wheel hubs)
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VAEs with hub motors are less expensive and for good reason they do not require an adaptation of the overall geometry to be integrated. But they are also less efficient in that they slightly unbalance the bike and give, depending on their location, an impression of propulsion or traction. More balanced in its approach and in the sensations it provides, the central engine is difficult to find at less than 2000 euros. Finally, the engine alone is not enough. The best performers do not act alone. They are coupled to a power sensor and offer a gentle and gradual rise in speed.

Currently, Bosch offers the most advanced engines – 70% of cycle manufacturers use them –, including the Performance Line CX that we were able to test on the Cannondale Canvas Neo 1. But competition is constantly improving. If Yamaha and Shimano engines are still favored by a few manufacturers and users, the alternatives from China such as Brose or Bafang are progressing dramatically. Finally, some manufacturers like Specialized have embarked on the design of their own engine. Thus the Turbo Levo Creo and Vado SL run with an ultra compact house engine.

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Finally, note that under European regulations, a VAE motor cannot exceed 250W. But if the power is restrained, this is not the case for the couple. On a technical sheet, more than the number of Watts under the pedal, it is therefore the Newton meters (Nm) that must be looked at. It is this criterion that determines the real assistance capacity of the bike, especially on the steepest slopes or particularly technical passages. In this regard, the rule is simple: the more “torquey” an engine, the easier it will allow you to overcome obstacles. In general, refuse a VAE that does not offer at least 30 Nm. For the rest everything is a question of use:

  • From 35 to 45 Nm: the minimum level of assistance for urban journeys.
  • From 45 to 60 Nm: this is the most comfortable beach and the one that offers the most versatility.
  • More than 60 Nm: the most powerful engines, to be favored especially in the search for an ATV.
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The debate on batteries is of the same ilk as that concerning the engine. Again, the location of the battery will largely determine the price of the bike. Four options prevail:

  • Independent battery (often fixed under the luggage rack): it is the cheapest but also the least recommendable of our proposals. It greatly affects the balance of the bicycle and can also be damaged. To avoid.
  • Built-in non-removable battery: it is the choice of aesthetics which is essential compared to that of practicality. The battery is hidden in one of the tubes of the bicycle but cannot be detached from the frame to be charged independently. This is a pleasant solution when you have a garage and an outlet, much less when you have to carry your pedelec on four floors to charge it.
  • Semi-integrated or removable battery: this is the interesting solution which consists in placing a battery on the lower tube of the bicycle in order to lower its center of gravity, without harming its balance. Aesthetically, the battery denotes the rest of the frame, which is not ideal, but it can be removed for easy charging.
  • Built-in removable battery: the privilege of the most expensive bikes. Beyond 2500 euros, it is possible to have both the best in terms of design with a battery that blends into the frame, but also the most practical, it is to say the possibility of withdrawing it at will.
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Anyway, on a pedelec as on an electric car, the size of the battery is not the only criterion to be taken into account to determine the autonomy. Choosing between a 300 Wh or 600 Wh battery obviously makes sense, but it is not an absolute guarantee of endurance.

The capacity and quality of the cells, the efficiency of the engine, but also the weight and the way of pedaling of the cyclist or the type of route and the tire pressure… all these criteria have an impact on the range. That said, the only way not to be wrong is of course to refer to the electric bike tests but also to know your needs. For a mountain biker or for long journeys, a 500 Wh battery is not superfluous.

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Finally, be aware that some brands and models of bikes offer to stack two batteries or to combine the original battery with a range extender. It is the ideal solution for large breakaways.

Read also : our test of the Cannondale Canvas Neo 1, equipped with the high-end central motor of Bosch, the Performance Line CX, it offers a very flexible and progressive assistance.

The display: the great forgotten

If we summarize the importance of the display to its simple role, it is easy to understand why it is the poor relation of electric bikes. This small screen placed on the handlebars is most often limited to checking its speed, the remaining battery and choosing the level of assistance. On the strength of this observation, it is a largely despised piece to which manufacturers attach little importance. However, the quality and readability of a screen (especially in the sun) should not be secondary criteria, just like the solidity and appearance of its displays whose low-end plastic does not always inspire confidence.

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Unfortunately too few displays are up to the bike they equip. One of the reasons invoked by the manufacturers to explain the poorer quality of this accessory, is that it is the part which is most often degraded by malicious people. It is also one of the most exposed electronic components in the event of a fall. So the ideal is to be able to remove it at will. But bikes that offer this option are rare and often quite expensive. This is the case for pedelecs equipped with the Bosch Kiox display which is removable in addition to being of good quality. Unfortunately, with the exception of the Electra Vale Go 9D EQ launched at less than 3000 euros, Kiox is often only found on much more expensive electric bikes.

Read also: Where to buy your electric bike?

Weight: the stubby argument

The electric bike is good, but it’s heavy. The argument is indisputable. The weight of the engine and the battery can hardly be reduced, a pedelec weighs on average 23 kg, against fifteen pounds for a classic muscular VTC. This overweight can be a brake, especially when you have to carry your bike on several floors, or when the battery runs out and you have to pedal.

Caution is advised regarding the weight communicated by certain manufacturers. Some simply announce the weight of the frame while others forget to weigh certain accessories. Finally, the weight also depends on the equipment of a pedelec. The Cowboy bike can certainly boast with its 17 kg on the scale, it has no mudguard, no luggage rack, nor stand.

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Finally, weight is the area in which manufacturers concentrate their efforts to make the VAE more attractive. Miniaturizing engines as they progress is one way to do this, as is changing some heavy accessories such as suspension forks for other damping systems. This is the case of Mustache for example on its Friday 28.3 whose handlebars are slightly flexible to absorb shocks. But when it comes to diet, it’s Specialized who has managed to get everyone to agree with their Turbo Vado SL. Thanks to a 1.95 kg engine and a suspension system above the fork, the American manufacturer manages to offer an urban electric bike of only 15 kg.

Read also : our presentation of the Specialized Turbo Vado SL, the light weight of electric bikes.

Read also: Have we tested Véligo, a real incentive to switch to an electric bike or a discounted experience?

Frame and geometry: the need for testing and adjustment

The geometry of a bicycle is the complex science that defines the length of each part of its frame. This is different from one model to another and has a great influence on the position of the cyclist, his comfort but also on the behavior of his mount.

Unless you are a keen cyclist, it is difficult to get an idea of ​​the posture allowed by a bicycle from a diagram of its geometry. Whenever possible, you should try the VAE of your dreams in store before buying it.

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Finally, it is also essential to have your bike adjusted by a professional. On the contrary, this advice, which may appear to be overrated, is essential. Proper adjustment of the bicycle (electric or not) not only makes it possible to produce a better proportioned effort, but above all it avoids many injuries and muscle pain.

Read also : our test of Mustache Friday 28.3, an excellent electric bike for the city.

Some regulatory points

In France, the sale and use of electric bikes are regulated by the legislator. In fact, all of the models on sale must meet a certain number of criteria.

To be considered an electrically assisted bicycle, the highway code provides for example that the assistance of the latter is cut at 25 km / h. This effectively excludes the category of Speedbikes. This rule does not prevent brands such as VanMoof or Cowboy from offering bikes whose assistance can reach 30 km / h (by switching to North American regulations in the application). Please note that if you choose this method or any engine unlocking, you are liable to a fine.

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The regulations also limit the engine power to 250W. Finally, manufacturers must provide guarantees on the quality of manufacture of their chargers and the possibility of recycling their batteries in order to obtain certification.

On the other hand, it is not necessary to register your bike to ride electric. As for wearing a helmet, it is at the discretion of each user, provided that the user is 12 years of age or older.

Read also : our Cowboy test (2019), an electric bike built for the city.

The mechanical part: classic

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The electrification of a bicycle has little effect on its mechanical components. As a result, the classic part of brakes, transmission and suspension are often the same between a muscular bike and its electric version. On this point, there is therefore no particular approach to adopt, but simply you have to make sure that the bike is equipped with good quality equipment.

Read also : our test of the electric gravel of Mustache, Sunday 29.3 (a very well equipped VAE with accessories cut for a mixed practice).

Connectivity, application: should a pedelec be connected?

Electric bikes don’t always mean connected bikes. The presence or not of an application depends essentially on the will of the manufacturer. As for its usefulness, it too is very disparate. In new manufacturers, such as AngelBike or VanMoof, the place of the application is preponderant. It is used not only to activate your bike but also to change the settings. Sometimes, this is the case at Cowboy for example, it is even essential to unlock your bike and be able to ride with it.

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On the side of conventional manufacturers, the use of the application is not systematic and not always happy. Among those who have succeeded, there are Cannondale and Specialized who offer something other than an aggregator of the latest releases. The first allows, for example, to have access to all the user manuals for the accessories it has and even offers an augmented reality view of certain parts to help you disassemble them. As for the second, it offers not only a personalized adjustment of the assistance levels but also an option allowing to optimize its journeys according to the available battery.

Read also : our handling of the VanMoof X3, successor to one of the best connected bikes of the year.

Think of the essential accessories

This is probably the last thing to check, but not the least useful. If you plan to use your electric bike for bicycles or for longer rides than a block tour, some accessories are essential. Mudguards, luggage rack, stand, and of course the sufficiently powerful front and rear lights … the list is not exhaustive and may be supplemented according to your needs. Some models are richly equipped where others are sold almost naked. It must be kept in mind that such frivolous expenses as they may seem may one day prove to be indispensable.

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