If you go with a no name made in china bike you can get a descent lithium powered electric bike for the $1000-1200 range. China has millions of e-bikes flooding their streets. Manufacturers are cranking them out in huge numbers and at very low price points. The bike is mostly designed for the chinese market..it has to be cheap and it has to be dependable.
Ebay is loaded with such bikes. People in the US import 50 or so of them and then sale them from their garage. Basically what you are buying is a bargain basement bike with no warranty, but no problem, replacment parts are interchangeable on these bikes and therefore easy to come by. Also it is easy to find local people with the minimal skills required to swap out parts, repair the bicycle etc. If all you want is a commuter bicycle, buying one of these is well work the risk.
Here is what to look for if you are looking to buy an inexpensive bike from ebay or online.
The battery is the biggest factor since it is by far the most expensive component on the bike. First off at this price range you will be looking for lifepo4 battery (lithium). Do not even consider wasting your money if the bike has older and much heavier technologies sla (lead acid) or Nimh (nickel metal hydride). The next question you should ask yourself is the capacity and voltage of the battery. 24 volt 10ah is about the minimum you want to consier (240 watt hours) which will get you around 10 miles slowly. 36 volt 10ah is very nice, and 48 volt 10ah is the cats meow if you can find a bike for under $1,200 with this large of a battery. Also the higher voltage, generally the faster the bike.
Notice where the battery is mounted. Is it build into the frame? Or is it bolted to a rack on the rear of the frame? Batteries built into the frame have the advantage of offering better weight balance for the bike. In general, on a bike of this price range, figure the battery weighs around 10 pounds. However its harder to replace a battery thats built into the frame or add exta capacity by adding an extra battery. If the bike has some kind of book rack on the back, you can always use that space as a battery mounting location no matter where the stock battery is located. You could either replace the stock battery utilizing this rear rack or add an extra battery thus doubling your range.
Electric Hub Motor
Almost all electric bikes from china have hub motors either rear or front. A hub motor is a very nice commuter solution. It is realiable, water proof, powerful enough (depending on motor and voltage can be very powerful), and is very interchangeable in case of failure. What is the wattage of the motor? 1000 watts or higher usually means a motor that is being cranked above its rated capacity but that is fine and makes for a very fast bike. 500 watts is very nice on a $1200 bike, and 250 watts is going to give you a very small power boost and very little hill climbing capacity. Is the hub motor geared or direct? A geared hub motor will give you more hill climbing ability and top speed on a smaller motor. Geared hub motors are generally more expensive and nicer.
At this price range look at the size of the hub motor. In general the larger and beefier the hub motor is the more durable and powerful it will be. However keep in mind that geared hub motors are much smaller than direct drive hub motors.
All e-bikes require a controller to interface between the battery and the motor, however, at this price range there will be little difference between controllers. Your biggest question would be how much amperage does the controller put out? The higher the amperage the higher the speed.of the bike.
The bike above straight from china is great exaple of what to look for. A solid looking e-bike with disc brakes. Disc brakes are almost required on a e-bike capable of high speeds. Also they are less maintenance and less headache than caliper brakes. If you upgrade your e-bike later to a more powerful hub motor, you are going to wish you bought one with disc brakes to start with.
See our story on eibke suspension. Understand that the suspension at this price range is going to be very cheap quality and mostly intended for appearances and wont work very well. IT is recommended you go without suspension at this price range. click here
The bike above has a clean looking e-bike frame. Notice the convenient rear rack that you can also eventually mount an extra battery to. Since e-bikes are heavy, the step through option is a real nicety (not just for women in skirts anymore)..the above example has a geared hub motor that puts out 300 watts. This would be a descent bike to score on ebay for $1200.
Steel frames are best on e-bikes since extra pounds are not big of an issue and extra strength is. Its best to get steel frame in case you upgrade components later to a higher power set up frame can handle the stresses of higher output. Folding capacity: Do you need it? Dont get a folder unless you really need it because you pay extra for this feature and the frame is weaker than a traditional triangle design.
Unlike a regular bike, you dont need the most efficient wheel set up on an e-bike. In general the wider the tires the better….and shorter wheel bases (down to 20” works really well on e-bike since a smaller wheel bike actually has better hill climbing capacity (but lower top speed)
Does the bike have some kind of meter on the handlebar to let you know how much battery you have left? Usually bikes at this price range are going to have a green to amber to red 4 light led array or something similiar if any indicator at all…but is is a nicety to have one.
Now lets take a look at some sample made in china $1000-$1200 bikes and evaluate the quality. Check out this article on current bikes on ebay: click here
Happy e-bike bargain hunting!