It’s interesting to me how many blogs have done articles on how to buy ebikes, but frequently their articles highlight a bunch of different ebikes that are almost always boring low-end geared-hub underpowered ebikes. I’m not sure if these authors have ridden the bikes they are promoting or if they have ever tried a 750W mid-drive but this article is about a flow chart I created to help make intelligent ebike purchasing decisions that you (probably) won’t regret in the future. I have purposely NOT mentioned specific bikes for people to buy, I feel like you should do your own research and make your own decisions (you’re a big boy/girl now). This article is a template to get you looking in the right direction for an ebike that will actually meet your needs without all the marketing crap you’re used to having to wade through.
Mid Drive or Geared hub?
One of the first things you notice while navigating this flow chart is that it separates mid drives and geared hubs based on whether you live in a hilly area. If you have long steep hills that are 10-degree grade or higher, you will likely not be super happy with any geared hub motor. Hub motors are great when the ground is mostly level, or with slight inclines, but they really struggle with big hills. The other problem with geared hubs is that they don’t shed heat as well as DD or mid-drive motors because the motor is generally smaller and mounted inside a shell that traps the heat from getting exchanged with the outside air. Hub motors are damn cheap though and are often 1/2 the price of a comparably powered mid-drive. One of the first articles I ever wrote about the differences in geared hubs vs DD vs mid drives. I reread it and it’s still completely relevant today.
To cargo bike or not to cargo bike?
If you’re getting or building a commuter then you have to decide if you want to do it with a cargo bike frame. If you don’t have to carry your ebike upstairs or on trains then getting a cargo bike is smart because it will allow you to carry another passenger or all your groceries or whatever else you need to move around town. A hub powered cargo ebike will run about $1200-1500 and a mid-drive will be $2000 or more. A mid-drive cargo bike is going to be able to do much better than a geared hub on hills, especially when it’s fully loaded. I recommend the BBSHD for cargo bikes, because it is a beast that is hard to kill.
Should I build or buy?
Almost any bicycle can be converted to an ebike and some are easier than others. Hub motor kits can be bought with the wheel already laced up and swapped out, although avoid front wheel kits and focus on the rear wheel kits. Mid drives can be installed on most bikes by removing the crank and installing the drive unit, although you will lose your front derailleur and the gearing range that provides. I’ve never met a hub motor I haven’t destroyed and I can do a mid-drive install in about an hour, so mid drives are always what I recommend if you can afford them.
Belt drives are great on ebikes especially if you like rubbing up on your chain
If you have to carry your ebike upstairs then you will almost certainly want a folding ebike or at the very least one with a belt drive. A normal chain has to be lubed regularly and it seems that anything that touches a chain gets nasty ass black marks that spread all over everything else you then touch.
Get the right tool for the job
If you try to ride singletrack with a cargo bike, you’re not going to have a good time. If you try to ride in the deep snow with anything other than a fatbike, it will just suck. Don’t try to get one ebike to do everything you want to do. Focus on specific tasks that you need done and purchase the right ebike from the get-go that will fill the specific need that you have.
Do your damn homework (my dog ate it)
It takes time to make an informed decision and getting an ebike almost certainly can change your life. If you just buy the ebike you see, you might end up regretting it. There are lots of sellers out there and for the most part they sell reputable cells. Beware of buying ebikes direct from Alibaba and the like because although the initial ebike price seems cheap, you will get slammed on shipping and if anything on your ebike fails it is extremely unlikely you will be able to get parts for it. Also, counterfeit 18650 cells are still a thing, so if you want your house to burn down then, by all means, shop for the cheapest ebikes and batteries you can find directly from China.
Why would you ever buy anything less than 750 Watts?
I don’t understand why any intelligent human being would ever buy an ebike in the USA that is less than 750 Watts nominal. If you want to ride around at 250W or whatever you can just take your 750W ebike and set it to a low PAS level and BAM you have a crappy low power ebike. My first ebike was 350W and it sucked, so I sold it very quickly. The price difference between something that is 750W and anything less than that is usually pretty nominal. Don’t buy anything less than 750W, just don’t.
You should also consider buying an ebike or motor that is more than 750W because this arbitrary limit on power for ebikes in the US is just silly. You can buy a 3000W ebike and not scream around at 50mph making a nuisance of yourself. It’s nice to have the power when you need it so you can go 28mph up that insanely steep hill, trust me, no one is really going to care. People obsess over what other people will think about them and I can assure you that most people don’t spend all that much time thinking about you or whether your ebike is less than 750W.
On my personal blog several years ago I wrote an article about how not to get punked when buying an ebike. Much of the advice still holds true today, although many of the products that are available are much cheaper now. Since Trump has decided to lift those silly tariffs on ebikes and Black Friday is coming up, there really has never been a better time than now to buy ebikes.