Like many places in the world right now, we’re roasting in the town of Mariposa—a town in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Consistent 90- to 100-degree temps for weeks have kept most people inside with their ACs humming, or seeking respite in the Merced River for a cool dip. But with e-biking, I can get out daily, regardless of the heat; the wind generated from cruising around keeps me cool. This is my first season e-biking and, like many new riders, I could’ve been stuck with a bike that didn’t work in the heat, couldn’t climb big hills or epic routes, and was prone to breaking down in the middle of nowhere. Which is why I want to share e-bike buying tips with you—because it’s not all about how cool a bike looks (although we do love vintage styling).
After learning this lesson the hard way and having to return an Amazon purchase, I consulted my local bike shop, who sold me a reliable Specialized Como Turbo. It cost twice what I wanted and it’s not as fast as many bikes on the market (it’s a class 1, which means pedal assist only), but this no-frills e-ride gets me where I want to go and home every time. That peace of mind alone made my purchase worth it.
Today, riding under the power of electric assist, suddenly I have access to the endless fire roads, impossibly steep streets, and all the forgotten paths surrounding my home. And I can ride them all without being a super-athlete.
“We’re learning that people who ride e-bikes are riding farther and more regularly than they ever imagined possible, no matter their experience level,” says Ian Kenny, a Specialized e-bike expert.
“I want to see more people on a bicycle even if it’s assisting them to get around,” adds Rick Garner, 67, owner of Yosemite Bicycle and Sport. Together, we rode up the 2,000-foot mountain outside his shop. “E-biking allows the customer to go up hills easy and go on long rides without worrying they’ll have a heart attack.”
Below are five e-bike buying tips from Garner for riders like you and me, people who don’t know this exciting pedal-assist world but want to make a smart purchase.
Expert E-Bike Buying Tips for First-Time Riders
1. Don’t Buy a Cheap Bike From a Fly-by-Night Company
If you do buy online, take your bike to a shop, and get it set up correctly.
Most people don’t take their e-bikes in the bike shop when they order them online, but all sorts of things need to be checked before you ride. Many brands have generic parts from a generic factory, where there’s no phone number to track them down if parts need to be replaced.
With an e-bike, there can be issues with the motors, batteries, switches, and wires that make them much more problematic down the road than a regular pedal bike. You don’t want to be caught pushing your bike. The experience can be so bad that you’ll never want to get on an e-bike again.
2. Do Shop From Reputable Brands for E-Bikes
Specialized has been around for 50 years and they have a good warranty. Giant is good too. Those two brands are your best bet right now for e-bikes because they have good-standing relationships with bike shops and make top-quality bikes. You get service, quality, and replacement parts years down the road. In my shop, I have e-bikes that’ve been used for fives years that are just now coming in for service. It’s easy to get parts too, because these are name brands.
3. Be Wary of E-Bike Conversion Kits
Buying a pre-made kit to install on your pedal bike can be a good solution to buying an e-bike if you source from legit brands. If it has a Bafang name on it, yes, it’s a good deal. If it’s from an unknown brand, it’ll have cheap parts written in languages you don’t understand. Sending parts back to get fixed is risky. Be wary of scams. Bafang isn’t that much more expensive, but it’s worth it.
4. Understand the Expected Maintenance
The big thing is chains. When you stick a motor on a bike, you wear things out faster than a regular bike. In fact, e-bikes wear them out more than twice as fast. If you ride the chain for too long without replacing it, you’ll ruin all your sprockets. Also note you’ll go through a lot more brake pads on an e-bike because it’s heavier—and you’re going faster. Another note on speed: You only have so much leeway for people to see you since you’re moving faster than drivers would expect, especially with throttle bikes.
5. Notable Features to Look For—and Some Final Tips
Most people prefer a heavy e-bike that goes farther and faster; they’re not worried about the weight. or aerodynamics Thing is, these bikes don’t work well on technical switchback trails. I prefer more efficient motors—mid-drive—that make the bike lighter so it handles like a pedal bike. The goal for me is to exercise. I ride e-bikes with minimal assist that help me get up steep, long hills comfortably. The problem is most bike shops don’t have the inventory. The pandemic created a low supply, with factories being shut down, and high demand, with people desperately trying to get outdoors. While the world is opening up, many major manufacturers are still shut down.
Some nonnegotiables to stand by: Read reviews (aka do your homework), test ride a few different bikes, and ask your local shop if they can service the bike for you before you make a purchase. This ensures you don’t make an impulse buy and get a rig that serves you well.