I review e-bikes for a living, and these are 5 features I always check before I buy

Buying an e-bike is easy, but a few core features can make all the difference to your new ride

Angell electric bike
(Image credit: Angell)

The best electric bike options out there might be plentiful, but for me, there are five key features that I have to have in order to seal the deal. After all, buying an e-bike is a big-ticket purchase, so you want to be sure it's going to live up to your expectations, right?

1.  Motor location 

Not all e-bikes are equal, and this is down to a raft of different reasons, with the price point often being the deciding factor on just how well your two-wheeler will be spec’d. Central to the action is the motor, which can be mounted in more than one place, depending on the bike.

A rear-mounted hub motor is most common and works to great effect if you’re looking for extra grip due to the added weight. Any electric mountain bike fans will find it a boon. Alternatively, look for a crank-based motor if you want equal weight distribution for road-going duties. Some e-bikes, like the electric version of the iconic Brompton folding model, have the drive on the front wheel.

Person riding a Rad Rhino e-bike

(Image credit: Leon Poultney)

2. Assistance levels

Having an e-bike is a great way for the battery and motor to take the strain, but I’m always keen to retain my control over cycling and have some input too. So I always want to have a good range of options when it comes to assistance levels. 

Depending on the e-bike, a hub motor will likely have up to 250 Watts of power and how you get the assistance varies depending on the design, but can use a torque sensor to offer pedal assistance or a cadence sensor. This can be good but sometimes delivers the power a little more erratically.

The other thing to factor in with the latter ‘always on’ type of setup is that your battery levels will drop more quickly. If you’re not sure which of these is going to suit you, then it’s something you definitely need to try before you buy. 

3. Range and charging

Buying an electric bike might not give you the same range of anxiety issues that are associated with owning an electric car, but anything with a battery is going to need recharging at some point. So I always look out for battery size and the estimated range of the bike it’s fitted to. Remember that a manufacturer will often milk the range figures for all they’re worth in a bid to persuade you to buy their machine.

However, lots of factors contribute to just how well the battery will fare during real-world use. How much power you’re using for the motor and the assistance will obviously be the main thing, but cold weather can deplete battery life too. 

Keep your battery topped up, especially if you’re not using it for a while, or keep it in a location where the elements can’t get to it, either on or off the bike. I also always look out for ease of charging because some electric bikes have integral batteries that are not easy to get off or can’t be removed at all.

Rad Power Bikes RadWagon 4

(Image credit: Future)

4. Computer and controls

Having an electric bike and all that lovely power at your disposal is great ‘n’ all, but being able to control it easily is another big thing for me. If you get a decent e-bike, it should come complete with a handlebar-mounted computer, which is really the brains of your new machine. I look out for a range of assistance levels and the ability to change settings dynamically. These things can really make your cycling life that little bit easier. 

Being on the go and able to alter assistance levels, especially if you hit a hill, is a must-have. Equally, being able to do this without fuss or bother is a big thing. A quality e-bike should also offer access to lights and travel data on-screen too, though in many cases, a supplementary app is mighty handy, especially if you like to keep and analyse ride data using third-party cycling apps.

5. Everything else

If I’m buying a new electric bike, I also like to check off a few other factors that will help to make my purchase complete. A decent saddle is an essential ingredient for me, although it also depends on what you’re using your bike for. Everyday commuting demands a comfy seat as far as I’m concerned. 

Also, look out for comfortable handlebars, decent-quality pedals and, ideally, lights if they come included. If not, don't skimp and get yourself the best bike light set to ensure you can be seen and be safe. Quality wheels and tyres complete the package, and having a decent set of component parts should mean your electric bike will last longer and require less maintenance and upkeep over time.

Rob Clymo

Rob Clymo has been a tech journalist for more years than he can actually remember, having started out in the wacky world of print magazines before discovering the power of the internet. Since he's been all-digital, he has run the Innovation channel for a few years at Microsoft, as well as turning out regular news, reviews, features and other content for the likes of Stuff, TechRadar, TechRadar Pro, Tom's Guide, Fit&Well, Gizmodo, Shortlist, Automotive Interiors World, Automotive Testing Technology International, Future of Transportation and Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology International. In the rare moments he's not working, he's usually out and about on one of the numerous e-bikes in his collection.