The eMTB market is booming! Almost every bike brand now has several eMTBs on offer and the range of options is steadily growing. But how do you navigate the jungle of products, different models, constant new releases and special offers to find the model that suits your personal riding style the best? We’re here to help you with your decision.
We’ve put together this buyer’s guide to help answer important questions for beginners and experts alike. In the first part, we explain some of the most important basics that you should know about eMTBing. Next, we give you a few tips on how to find the right bike for you and finally, we show you where and how to buy your bike. If you’re after even more depth, you’ll find pro-knowledge, hypes and trends in our big eMTB group test. In addition, we show you what you need to look for when buying an eMTB to avoid any nasty surprises. In addition, we point you in the direction of further helpful and interesting articles about bikes, equipment and much more.
Table of contents
- What is an eMTB?
- What kind of eMTBs are there?
- Full suspension or hardtail
- What is the range of an eMTB?
- Which eMTB is right for me?
- Aluminium or carbon frame?
- Permissible total weight: When are you too heavy for eMTBing?
- How much does a good eMTB cost?
- The best eMTB on test
- New or used? Tips for buying a used eMTB
- Can I buy my eMTB online?
- Discount ebikes?
- What are the maintenance costs of an eMTB?
What is an eMTB?
An eMTB is a mountain bike with an integrated motor that assists the rider when pedalling. It has no throttle, so if you don’t pedal, the motor doesn’t support you. In most countries, ebikes, also known as pedelecs or power-assisted bicycles, only provide motor assistance up to a certain speed limit in order to remain classified as a bicycle. That limit is 25 km/h in Europe and 32 km/h (20 mph) in North America. However, laws, terminology and systems of classification are diverse and in some countries like the USA they even vary between states.
Do I need a driving license for an eMTB?
For the eMTBs we review and present you don’t need a driving license in Europe. However, depending on where you live, you might need one. That’s because they only provide assistance when you’re pedalling and only to do so up to a maximum speed of 25 km/h (in Europe). Motors must have a maximum nominal output of 250 W on average. Legally, these are defined as pedelecs and are treated the same as a classic bike without a motor. However, you can also get S-pedelecs, which provide assistance up to 45 km/h. In Europe they are classed as a motorised vehicle meaning they need to be insured and can’t be used on bike paths. In Switzerland the law for S-pedelecs is slightly different.
What types of eMTBs are there?
Classic non-motorised mountain bikes have traditionally been divided into categories according to the amount of travel they have. From super-light XC hardtails to enduro and downhill bikes, there is an incredible variety of specialisations and niches. However, these categories can’t easily be transferred to eMTBs because the motor concept characterises the bike much more strongly than individual factors such as weight or travel. To test every bike seems like a herculean task and is somewhat absurd. Nor for us though – we tested the creme de la creme of eMTBs to give you an overview of the best options out there. In our group test, we tested bikes with the same travel, intended for a very similar field of application, but with weight differences of more than 7 kg and huge differences in the characteristics of the bikes’ motors. The result is an entirely different riding experience from model to model, despite some of the key specs being so similar – you can’t classify eMTBs by the components that are fitted to them. Instead, regardless of whether they are a hardtail or full suspension model, we feel that there are three distinct eMTB categories emerging.
- Light eMTBs
- All-round eMTBs
- Power eMTBs
Commuter ebikes, touring ebikes, off-road step-through bikes and E-SUVS are exciting concepts we encompass amongst the above classifications.
Mid-motor – the only sensible motor concept for eMTBs
In the early days of eMTB development, some models were fitted with a hub motor on the rear wheel. However, since these tend to quickly overheat on climbs and also make for a very uneven distribution of weight, this option has almost completely disappeared from the market. The only place you’ll still see hub motors being used is on some very low-end models and some electric road bikes. High-quality eMTBs are all based on mid-motor designs. However, there are major differences in terms of power, size and weight.
Full suspension or hardtail eMTB?
Unlike full suspension bikes, hardtails have no suspension at the rear. On an eMTB, there is no good reason to ride a hardtail, unless, of course, you only ride on well-maintained roads or in the city. Other than being cheaper, eMTB hardtails offer no advantage over those with full suspension when riding off-road. Regarding comfort, safety, traction and versatility, full-suspension bikes are unbeatable.
How much travel does an eMTB need?
Interestingly, bikes with less travel usually don’t have more range and don’t climb better either. If the geometry is right, you’ll have the most fun and confidence riding a bike with at least 130 mm travel, while also having more traction on the climbs. It doesn’t matter whether you use the bike as an SUV in the urban jungle or rag it around the bike park: as a rough guide we feel that 130 to 170 mm travel is ideal for all-round use. Bikes with less than 130 mm travel only make sense as trekking bikes. More than 170 mm travel is suited to extremely demanding terrain, though often comes at the cost of riding efficiency.
Where can I find the newest eMTBS?
In the news section on the E-MOUNTAINBIKE website you can find news about the most current ebikes and eMTBs, as well as information about updates, new motors and components – usually together with at least a first ride review.
What is the range of an eMTB?
The range of eMTBs is heavily dependent on countless factors including battery capacity, the selected assistance mode, rider weight and elevation profile of the route. It’s impossible to make a blanket statement about range. It can vary between 10 km (with a full load, in the highest mode and only going uphill) and over 100 km (with moderate assistance along with frugal and efficient riding). If you want to know more, you can find out the truth about lab tests that claim to offer clear-cut figures.
Key terms that you should know before buying:
The battery capacity is indicated in watt-hours (Wh). Depending on the bike, this varies from 250 Wh to 1,000 Wh.
Motor output (W)
On an ebike, the motor’s power output is specified in watts. In Europe, the average power output of a pedelec is legally limited to 250 W. However, in short bursts all motors are capable of much more.
Torque, measured in newton meters (Nm), describes the driving force with which the motor supports the rider when pedalling. The higher the torque, the more forceful the assistance.
27.5″, 29″ or a mix of 29″ at the front and 27.5″ at the rear are the three common wheel sizes on eMTBs.
Like a car, an eMTB also has suspension with which to absorb bumps and irregularities and maintain traction. Depending on the purpose and the model, the travel varies between 100–200 mm.
The gear range of the drivetrain is given as a percentage. The larger the gear range, the greater the difference between the smallest and the largest gear. A gear range of 500% is ideal.
With this terminology, you’ll be prepared enough not to sound like an amateur when you head to your bike dealer. If you really want to talk shop, then you should definitely take a look at our dictionary of the most important eMTB technical terms.
Which eMTB is right for me?
Our mission is to help you find the bike on which you’ll have as much fun as possible for as long as possible, allowing you to tackle whatever terrain you want with confidence. There is no such thing as “one perfect bike” for everyone, but everyone should be able to find a bike perfect for them. This is where we’ll help you find that bike.
Application: Where and how do you want to use the bike?
1. Completely relaxed: extended tours, mainly on gravel roads
If you prefer to enjoy the countryside with relaxed rides that are mostly on well-maintained roads, ride comfort is crucial. An upright riding position and high-quality contact points ensure a pain-free back on long rides. You shouldn’t underestimate the importance of reliable brakes, functional suspension and grippy tires for your riding confidence, even on easy terrain. If you intend to go on very long rides, we recommend you take a closer look at bikes with dual battery options. Good options include bikes like the SCOTT Axis eRide Evo, or the Design & Innovation Award winner, the CENTURION Lhasa E R2600i EQ. If you’re looking for maximum comfort combined with superb trail performance, you’ll also find an option in the form of the Moustache Samedi 27 Trail 10 from our big eMTB group test. For longer rides, bikes with dual battery systems are an interesting option.
Modern off-road step-through bikes can also be a great option for trekking and longer tours. The times when step-through bikes were dismissed as granny bikes are over! Riding without a top tube offers lots of advantages. These bikes open up new perspectives and make it possible for beginners to have a great eMTB experience. From sportier models for light trail duties to options for extended tours with luggage all the way to knobbly-tired city bikes there’s a step-through option for every application.
2. Flowing off-road: singletrack and trail adventures
Do you like riding up and down singletrack? Do you enjoy challenging yourself on technical trails and improving your riding technique? Have you always dreamed of crossing the Alps by bike? Then you need a bike with capable suspension and at least 140 mm travel, as well as balanced geometry and reliable componentry. The best bikes in this category include the Specialized S-Works Turbo Levo, the COMMENCAL META POWER 29, the SIMPLON Rapcon Pmax with a dual-battery option and the comfortable Moustache Samedi 27 Trail 10.
If you put particular stock in light footed handling, you should take a look at the new eMTB Light models on the market. Interesting options include the Lapierre eZesty AM LTD Ultimate, NOX HeLIUM 6.9 ALL-MOUNTAIN Pro and the 16.9 kg light Specialized S-Works Levo SL.
3. Extreme eMTB: bike park, technical climbs and descents
Those who want to explore their limits on the roughest and steepest terrain out there need a bike up to the task. Similar to non-motorised mountain bikes, there are also eMTBs made specifically for bombing down hills and mountains, with extreme geometry and long travel suspension. For maximum trail performance up- and downhill, we can recommend the Orbea WILD FS M-LTD and the MERIDA eONE-SIXTY 10K.
If you want to go all out and are looking for an ebike for downhill use too, you should take a closer look at the Specialized Turbo Kenevo and the Whyte E-180 RS V1. One warning: with such downhill-focussed ebikes, you will have to accept some compromises on the climbs.
4. Everyday heroes – eMTBs to replace the car
You want to use your eMTB for the daily commute, whether in the city or the countryside? Will your ebike serve as your daily driver and car replacement? Then you need a low-maintenance, sturdy eMTB fitted with mudguards, racks and lights. A hardtail is usually sufficient but a full-suspension model will offer more comfort, confidence and riding fun. Before buying we recommend you double check the bike’s maximum permissible weight, to ensure you can load it up with all the luggage you need to carry.
For urban use, eMTBs aren’t just finding use as commuters, but are becoming a new status symbol. SUV eMTBs are one of the biggest trends for 2020. Since we introduced the term to the ebike world in 2016, it’s been used for many different bikes and applications that are equal parts misunderstanding and further development of the initial idea. We don’t just see E-SUVs as a car replacement but also as a new kind of status symbol. The best examples of the genre are the Haibike FLYON XDURO AllMtn 10.0, the NICOLAI G1 EBOXX E14 with the Explorer Kit and the Riese & Müller Superdelite GT Touring GX – you can find our more in our current Print Edition.
5. Electrify your children – eMTBs for kids
Good eMTBs that are specifically designed for kids have several advantages over adult bikes. They aren’t just lighter, but often come with specific components such as short cranks and optimised brake levers. It’s sufficient to have a less powerful motor with a smaller battery. Two options worth considering are the Woom UP and the Ben-E-Bike TWENTYFOUR-SIX, which both use the same FAZUA Evation drive fitted in some Light eMTBs.
Ride feel: as natural as possible or as much power as possible?
Or in other words, how much support do you want? As mentioned in Part 1, there are different types of eMTBs with their own unique ride feel. Despite all the motors we tested having an average rated output of 250 W and cutting off at 25 km/h, they all handle very differently.
Light eMTB: Perfect for anyone who values a very natural riding experience, needs little support and often rides with friends on non-motorised bikes. We recommend taking a closer look at bikes fitted with FAZUA systems as well as Specialized’s SL 1.1 motor. This segment blurs the lines between eMTBs and analog mountain bikes, offering a new type of riding experience with much lighter handling on the trail, as well as being easier to pick up and chuck in the back of your van or park in the basement. The range of bikes in this category is guaranteed to grow rapidly. Currently, the most exciting models include the NOX HeLIUM, Specialized Levo SL and Lapierre eZesty AM.
All-round eMTBs: Classic eMTBs as we’ve known them for over five years now. They are the largest and most well-known group of motorised bike and usually have large 500–700 Wh batteries. Many brands have started offering bikes with dual-battery systems and it is not uncommon to see a maximum possible battery capacity of up to 1000 Wh. However, this also changes the bike’s centre of gravity, which often has a marked influence on handling. All-rounders are super powerful in the highest mode, can be economical when you select a lower assistance mode and usually offer a very natural ride feel.
Power eMTB: If you’re looking for the most powerful motor and don’t feel like slowing down on the climbs, you should take a look at bikes equipped with the TQ motor. This is the most widely found motor of this category, offering a maximum torque output of 120 Nm. In the highest modes the motor will quickly drain your battery, but thanks to lower support modes they can also be economical if you want. Due to their design, bikes like the Haibike XDURO Nduro currently weigh well over 25 kg. Similar to light eMTBs, the range of motors here is limited for now.
It’s particularly exciting to examine the difference between All-round eMTBs like the Levo and Light eMTBs like the Levo SL. Since the launch of the Specialized Levo SL, the boundaries between analog mountain bikes and eMTBs have been getting ever blurrier. We took that as the excuse to test Specialized’s Stumpjumper, Levo and Levo SL side-by-side. We’ll tell you which one is right for you here.
How much does a good eMTB cost?
A reliable, full suspension eMTB for trail riding will, depending on the brand, set you back at least € 4000 to around € 5,500, special offers excluded. Cheaper bikes tend to sacrifice on components, the motor or frame and quality inevitably suffers. That results in worse handling and often, reduced durability. You can find out more about what details you need to focus on and which is the best bike in this price bracket in our budget group test, where we searched for and found the best eMTB under € 5,500. Generally hardtails cost around € 1,000 less.
What’s the best eMTB?
EMTBs are getting more fun, more versatile and better! In the biggest group test we’ve ever done, 25 of the most exciting 2020 eMTBs went head to head. Which eMTB is best for all-round use? Which is best for heavier riders, bike park fans or long-distance fans? And what are the trends of the new season? You can find out here.
Which bikes do your friends ride?
We don’t usually recommend making decisions based on what other people do, but if you mostly want to ride with a group of eMTBers, then you should. With a light eMTB, you’ll easily be able to keep up with sporty, non-motorised mountain bikers but you’ll soon tail behind your friends if they’re all aboard all-round eMTBs and riding in the upper support modes. The same applies to a group ride of all-round eMTBs and power eMTBs. You can only compete with riders on power eMTBs if they ride in a low support mode.
The best eMTB motor
No other topic is as hotly discussed as the motor when it comes to eMTBs. Is it all about raw power? Or do the details matter too? We tested 10 of the most important models in detail.
What is the best wheel size?
Most eMTBs currently roll on either 2.8 x 27.5″ tires, 29″ wheels with up to 2.5″ wide tires, or have a mix of a narrow 29″ tire at the front and a wide 27.5″ tire at the rear (MX concept). Each configuration has its advantages and disadvantages, but we find the MX concept is able to combine most of the respective benefits. It combines the good rollover of a 29″ front wheel with the added traction of the 27.5+ rear wheel. However, disadvantages arise with breakdowns and carrying spares as you’ll always need to carry two different sizes and can’t swap front and rear tires. In the end, of course, it’s the integration of the overall concept of the bike that counts here as well, and not whether a bike has 27.5″, 29″ or mixed wheels! Even more important than the width or size of the tires are their tread, the rubber compound and a robust casing. We tested more than 50 tires for you and currently, Schwalbe’s Super Gravity or MAXXIS’ Double Down tires are our preferred choice for rough trails, on flow trails, a lighter casing will do.
Aluminium frame or carbon frame – what’s better?
The choice of frame material will primarily be a question of your own budget. On average, carbon eMTBs are about € 1,000 more expensive than comparable aluminium models. The benefits that a carbon frame offers in terms of riding performance are minimal. A good carbon frame can be stiffer and save 500–600 g in weight, but that weight is not as important for eMTBs as it is for conventional bikes. Carbon does give manufacturers more freedom in frame design, allowing for a more beautiful, integrated bike. Ultimately, the decision to buy a carbon eMTB is purely emotional.
How many gears does an eMTB need?
The days when mountain bikes had 27 or even 30 gears are long gone. Modern bikes with and without electrical support only have one chainring up front and rely on drivetrains with 8 to 12 gears, which cover a similar gear range while shifting better and more reliably. However, if the range of the cassette is too small, you’ll be missing an easier gear on steep climbs. 500% range is ideal.
Is 90 kg too heavy for eMTBing?
Like with cars, eMTBs have a maximum permissible weight limit. This weight is specified by the bicycle manufacturer and ensures that all the components on the bike are able to withstand the load. The bike is always limited by the weakest component. The total permissible weight is calculated from the weight of the bike plus the weight of the rider including all his gear (helmet, backpack, clothes etc.). We’re still seeing bikes with very low rated loads, where a rider weighing just 90 kg might already be too heavy. In our article on ebike load ratings, we tell you all you need to know and look out for when it comes to weight limits. However, many manufacturers are currently working to increase these figures. For the future, we see a total weight limit of 150 kg as a new standard, especially as many riders want to use a child or dog trailer (which also gets added to the total weight). We’d particularly advise heavier riders to inform themselves about the total weight limit of a specific bike before buying.
The most important tips for buying an eMTB
We hope these tips will have given you a clear idea of what type of eMTB you really want and need. Now it’s all about where and how to buy it. With the following tips, you will find the right dealer and ultimately save even more money.
Online vs. local bike shop?
More and more brands will deliver their eMTBs directly to your doorstep using a direct sales model. By eliminating the middleman, the bikes are usually cheaper. However, you will then have to do the final setup yourself, such as tuning the suspension or adjusting the contact points. You usually won’t have someone you can speak to locally either if problems arise, though there are a few manufacturers who work together with regional service partners to help you out. It is definitely worthwhile informing yourself beforehand. If you’re not sure, it’s better to buy from a qualified dealer.
Lease your bike like a car
Leasing can save money! In some countries, such as Germany, you can save money (up to 25%) by signing a leasing contract for your ebike. This is made possible by a special tax law, which is similar to that offered for company cars. How this works in detail is country-specific so we can’t give more specific advice here, but it’s definitely worth checking whether such a program is available in your country.
New or used?
This decision needs to be made on an individual basis. In general, eMTB’s are exposed to significantly higher stresses due to their increased weight and power output. Experience has shown that the drivetrain, brakes and tyres are subject to high levels of wear and tear. After less than 700 km the chain often has to be replaced and depending on the bike’s components, many more parts besides. Nevertheless, with a flawless service history and a recent model, you’ll definitely be able to find bargains in the second-hand market. Pay particular attention to the person you’re buying from, their know-how and the type of rider they are! Many eMTBs get ridden exclusively on tarmac or gentle gravel roads, which limits wear and tear. We’ve put together an article detailing important questions and answers and a checklist detailing what you should look for. You’ll also find online platforms like rebike1.de, which sell fully serviced, hardly used bikes at a reasonable price and with a warranty.
If you’re interested in cheap ebikes, then you should be clear on the fact that they will be lacking in terms of components, motor, frame and overall quality. We just wouldn’t advise buying a full suspension eMTB under € 4,000. If you break a frame or your brakes give up the ghost on the trail, that can be very dangerous or even life threatening. You can find more information in the “How much does a good eMTB cost” section.
One last tip: you’ll need to buy more than just the eMTB to get started!
Unfortunately, once you’ve bought the bike there will be some additional costs – especially for newcomers. Besides the bike, you’ll need the right kit. Apart from a proper helmet, you’ll need glasses, a backpack and a stylish outfit (you want to look good for your riding buddies), which includes pedals and suitable shoes. If you’re going to ride clipless pedals, it would be best if you’ve already had some experience with them. After all, the “shit-my-foot’s-not-coming-off-the-pedal” scenario is a whole lot worse with the weight of an eMTB crashing down on you. If you commute to work or have to contend with a lot of pedestrians and cars, you should also invest in decent lights, mudguards and a nice bell – yes, there is such a thing as a nice bell! You can find all our gear reviews here.
You need to make sure to stay secured against thieves. Physical deterrents like locks are just as important as where you leave your eMTB – we sat down with the security experts at ABUS and put together a security special. Additional GPS tracking solutions like the Design & Innovation Award winner PowUnity BikeTrax or Riese & Müller’s RX Connect System, offer an increase in security. Greyp have even incorporated a Kill Switch to immobilise the bike if it gets stolen.
And oh, if you’ve got a partner, we’re afraid you probably won’t get around buying a second eMTB – sooner or later, they too will catch the eMTB bug!
What are the maintenance costs of an eMTB?
Just like when you buy a car, you’re not quite done with the purchase alone. Regular inspections, repairs and costs of consumables are just part of the running costs if you don’t leave your eMTB as a showpiece in the living room. That can easily add up to € 500 in a season. We clear up the potential maintenance costs you’ll be faced with and what else you should add to your calculations.
It's finally here: The E-MOUNTAINBIKE Print Edition 2020 is our third annual edition and ultimate test bible, with which we aim to help you choose the perfect eMTB. More than 250 pages of extensive buyers advice, tons of eMTB know-how as well as reviews of the 35 most exciting eMTBs and the 7 best motors. You’ll also find many helpful tips and a guide to the most exciting eMTB trends – all of this is wrapped in a high quality print format. Click here for more information or order it directly in our shop!
Words: Christoph Bayer, Jonas Müssig Photos: E-MOUNTAINBIKE Team