Top 10 Tips for Buying an E-Bike

December 6, 2012

Thanks to Brett Thurber, the owner of the  New Wheel (electric bike shop in San Francisco) for this insightful buying guide.

Just like in Europe and Asia before it, the electric bike has begun to transform the way Americans move. Whether it is for hauling goods, commuting long distance, or just a leisurely ride, more and more people are finding that the electric bicycle is the most economical, practical, and fun way to get around. Unfortunately, deciding on what electric bike is not nearly as easy as riding up a steep hill on an ebike. Enter our electric bike buying guide, with ten tips to help you make the right decision and start riding.

10. Consider Your Needs
Electric bikes are designed for different people and different purposes. It’s up to you to decide what is most important to you, what is not important at all, and then communicate that to the retailer. If comfort is key, then a step-through frame might be best. If hill-climbing is crucial, then a hub motor over 250 watts or a mid-mounted motor is what will work. If riding long distances is your cup of tea, then a large battery of over 400 watt hours is paramount. Understanding your personal needs will help you focus your attention toward the right bikes.

9. The Warranty Matters
Buying an electric bike is a big investment, regardless of whether it is $1000 or $6000. The  warranty will allow you to rest assured that your investment was worth it. A two year warranty on parts, motor and battery is reasonable to expect from most electric bike manufacturers with product selling for over $2000.

8. Choose Your Retailer Wisely
Buying an electric bike should be as much about buying into a bike shop, as it is simply buying a product. You should judge your place of purchase on three points: vibe, commitment, and quality. The vibe is the feeling you get when you walk into the shop. Is the staff friendly, knowledgeable and helpful? Commitment refers to the shops evident enthusiasm for electric bikes. Do they have many ebikes or just a few stuck in the back of the shop? Knowing that the shop is committed to the ebike movement means they will be willing and wanting to help you make the most of your ebike years down the road. The last point, quality, refers to the types of bikes that the retailer is selling.  Are they brand names that you can research, or are they bikes that information is hard to come by on? You want to be sure the retailer is in the business for the right reason and not just to make a quick buck.

7. Have Confidence in Your Intuition
It may seem like a jungle of contradictory information out there, and that is not far from the truth. There are many choices, lots of opinions, and not much in the way of trusted organizations that  certify and review electric bikes in a systematic manner. What is a consumer to do? The best strategy is to put your trust in your intuition. If something is too good to be true, it probably is. If a bike is from a brand you’ve never heard of and can’t find information on, it is probably best to stay clear.

6. Quality Counts, but Service Counts Just As Much
Electric bikes are not toys, they are transportation. The quality of the bicycle itself, irrespective of the drive system, is extremely important. It is doubly important if you plan on riding it day-in and day-out. While bicycle component quality is fairly easy to judge by looking over the listing of parts…motors and batteries can be a little more difficult. When in doubt, research the motor and battery brands. But remember that the quality of the components won’t make a bit of difference if  your electric bike is not setup and tuned correctly. Your local independent bike dealer is your best ally in maintaining the quality components you invested in.

5. Take a Longview
Being environmentally sustainable is more than just running on electricity: it’s about the way the bike was built, the quality of its construction, and the after-purchase service to keep it in good condition. You should expect that your bike should last from five to ten years at a minimum with regular service, and that your battery should last from 600 to 800 full charge cycles.  And when the battery needs to be replaced, your retailer should be ready to have it rebuilt or recycled, but not thrown in the trash.

4. You Get What You Pay For
The old adage works for electric bikes as it does for many other things in life. It is not cheap to build a good lithium-ion based electric bike that is reliable and has quality components. For throttle operated bikes or bikes with a cadence sensor, expect to pay at least $1500. For ebikes with a torque sensor, expect to pay over $2500.  The good news is that a quality ebike can pay for itself very quickly. (read article on how an ebike can save you money)  And this does not even account for the happiness dividend! (read secret intrinsic values of owning an ebike)

3. Buy Local
If at all possible, buy local. In the best case scenario you will have questions about your bike, and in the worst case scenario you will have problems, but for both scenario’s you want to be within 50 miles of your place of purchase so that they can help you. Besides, your patronage assures that local ebike experts will be there for you when you need them.

2. Test Ride
Perhaps the most important and fun part of buying an electric bike is test riding. Trying an electric bike allows you to put aside specs and reviews and research and just answer the most basic question: ‘Do I love this bike?’ If yes, then start asking a few other questions: ‘Does it climb hills in the way I need it to?’; ‘Does the bike fit me in the way I would like it to?’, ‘Does it have the quality and functionality I would like?’

1. Have High Expectations
If you are purchasing an ebike with a proprietary electric system, you will need to have trust in the bicycle manufacturer. A good rule of thumb is to stay away from electric bike brands with proprietary systems if the brand is not being sold widely in North America or Europe.

Eric has been involved in the electric bike industry since 2002 when he started a 6000 square foot brick and mortar Electric Bike store in downtown San Francisco. He is a true believer that small electric vehicles can change the way we operate and the way we think.


  1. I would have to agree with this article. In July, I had a 350 watt motor kit installed on my bike, and I’ve been very happy with the results.

    I started out with a high quality bike with a strong steel frame, sturdy rigid forks, and good quality components. I bought a good Ping battery that meets my needs, and had everything installed by a local shop that specializes in E-Bikes (the E-Bike Store in Portland OR.) I’ve put almost a thousand miles on the bike since then with absolutely no problems.

    My financial situation no longer lets me afford a car. Before the conversion, I had a used motorcycle that was expensive to maintain, unreliable, and not very good at hauling stuff like groceries. Public transportation was OK, but didn’t always work with my schedule and was inconvenient. My E-Bike has proven to be the most reliable, most affordable, and most fun of my transportation alternatives.

    I did my homework, chose a good, knowledgeable shop, and I’m extremely happy with my purchase.

  2. The Stealth Bomber has good components but the assembly workmanship is a joke had to return mine as the rear rim bent on first ride, before I took the bike I inspected it and found many loose spokes the shop assured me they were torqued to spec but after the rim bent and I tried to straighten it I found lock tight on all the spoke threads on the wrong side so you could loosen them but not tighten them that’s amazing . when you pay 10k for a bike you have expectations of quality. I also found that all the rear spokes were preloaded and actually bent at the spoke nuts every spoke was this way the owner of the company just wanted to argue that this assembly was acceptable and it isn’t they can never be torqued properly with an excessive spoke nut inducing a side load to the spoke. Then we found all the brake hard where excessively to long where they attach and would hit the rotors if the wheel was not perfectly centered and when it was there was maybe .030 clearance. This hardware should have been trimmed or shimmed properly. Ended up performing a charge back as they had no fix for the rim and no shops had the tools or training to work on their product also the owner would argue with me on all these issues and said be aide I straightened the rim I had modified the bike and refused to let me retun it with 40 miles on it. I had to remind him that he or his shop had modified it prior to delivery by altering the govenor as they snipped the controll wire without my knowledge or permission. Their customer service is nonexistent and if you want to throw 10k out the window get one of these management and quality controll are also nonexistent. total POS.They even removed me from their owner’s forum as I tried to tell other owners how to correct these issue’s what a joke as this clearly shows they don’t care about their customers as these were all safety concerns !!!!!

  3. This is a great article! I think most electric bike enthusiasts who don’t know too much about the E bike world should read this before making there final decision on an Electric bike or Conversion kit. A huge advantage to customers prior to ordering anything is to Research companies before you invest in them and read reviews, forums, comments and customer feedback, and anything else you can find on the company. Now a days its easy to find customer satisfaction stories and or popularity by searching Google, or even Facebook to see what people like and why they choose certain brands over the other hundred E bike companies out there. A big thing for me is when i am able to find info easily on a companies webpage or Facebook and they offer great customer service rite from the start, whether its answering the phone and having a few minutes to talk about the product, receiving a reply via email within 24 hours, or if there site is easy to navigate and answers most questions upfront before having to dig into the site or elsewhere. Most Companies say they have the best, lightweight freewheel, electric assist motors out there and this is what makes buying a bit hard for some as they don’t know where to start. My best recommendation is to get out there and see for yourself what you like and if you have a friend or family member who already has an E Bike then goto them as to point you in the rite direction. I did the same thing and found a great company that i am very happy with and they have helped me along the way to make my bike the best i could possibly ask for. The E Bike i went with came from Ampedbikes and i found them threw one of there customers who i saw riding along a trail in my city who i ran into one day and chatted about his bike for some time and i figured on how happy and insightful he was about his bike and everything he told me that was a good company to start looking at for an Electric conversion kit of my own.The system he had was very lightweight, discreet and most of all quietly powerful which is what i was looking for myself as i didn’t want to worry about investing in something where it may bring attention to my bike and get stolen or harassed when i was not around to keep after it, So after i got home i went to there site and found it to be very informing and by the looks of it was exactly what i wanted, a fun DIY project with an easy plug and play installation and many options as to what i could do with the system and how i could install it on my bike. After reading reviews, there forums and a few other places i decided that i had found the system i was looking for and would invest in there company, I ordered there 450 Watt Geared Hub Motor that can freewheel 100% ( which is awesome for serious bikers like myself) weighs only 8 Lbs and can be installed in place of the current front or rear wheel and for the battery type i went with there water bottle in frame mount 36 Volt Lithium Ion ‘Tube’ Battery that is great and light weight as well. Another bonus i found with the company is that they over engineer all of there product to work with upto a 72Volt battery pack, which i think is unnecessary for my comfort zone but is nice to know if i ever want to upgrade to a 48V battery. The installation went very smooth and all of there components are plug and play and they use small easy electric connectors to make it easy to put the speed controller in a seat bag to hide from rain and still provide ventilation to prevent overheating it. I have now been riding my setup for almost a year and put in almost 2000 miles with no issues or regret that i chose the wrong electric bike company! i look forward to seeing how far i can travel and how many people i can meet and talk to who also are interested in converting there bicycle to electric and recommending Ampedbikes as a great company with excellent product and customer service.

  4. Is there a decent electric bike with pedal assist that is under $2000?

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