When choosing an electric bike, there’s tons to consider!

There are many types of e-bikes, from e-road bikes to e-mountain bikes, e-commuter bikes and e-touring bikes. There are also a huge number of components to compare such as motors, batteries, drive trains and more….

It’s good to be aware of these considerations whether you’re looking to rent or buy an electric bike – but of course they’re particularly pertinent if you want to buy an e-bike and go e-bike touring for months on end.

The best e-bike for you will depend on how you plan to use the bike and your priorities.

In this e-bike buying guide we look at the types of e-bike, what you need to know about e-bike components, the best e-bike brands and where to buy them.

We hope it helps you find the perfect e-bike for your next tour!

Read this if you’re wondering whether you should hire or buy an e-bike.

Types of e-bikes

For those that want to go e-bike touring, especially long range touring for many weeks or several months, there are important considerations when choosing the class and type of e-bike.

E-bike classes

Different countries have different regulatory and licensing rules for e-bikes. For example:

USA

In the USA, federal law provides a very broad definition of e-bikes and individual states can add their own legal framework. Some, but by no means all, have adopted the following three classes of e-bike, which limit the motor power to 750 watts.

  • Class 1 e-bikes are pedal-assist only, with no throttle, and have a maximum assisted speed of 32 kph.
  • Class 2 e-bikes also have a maximum speed of 32 kph but are throttle-assisted.
  • Class 3 e-bikes are pedal-assist only, with no throttle, and a maximum assisted speed of 45 kph.

UK and Europe

In the UK and Europe, there are four classes of e-bike. In broad terms they’re as below and it’s really the EAPC category we’re talking about for e-bike touring (use of the other classes requires a license):

  • Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles (EAPC) bikes can have a maximum motor output of 250 watts and a maximum speed of 25 kph.
  • Class L1e-A bikes can have a maximum motor output of 1,000 watts and a maximum speed of 25 kph.
  • Class L1e-B bikes can have a maximum motor output of 4,000 watts and a maximum speed of 25 kph.
  • Class L2e and L6e are like L1e-B class but have different rules over the number of wheels.

There’s more on EAPCs in the UK, here.

Check you’re legal!

Class 1/EAPC e-bikes are the most commonly used for e-bike touring. However different countries have different rules for what kinds of bike can be used and where. It’s worth bearing this in mind if you’re thinking of bringing an e-bike bought in one country to another country.

Some countries also have rules over where you can ride e-bikes, so they may be prohibited in some parts of some countries which otherwise accept them (some National Park trails in the USA and Canada for example).

If you’ve got specific requirements for where you want to ride your e-bike, check you can ride it there before you buy it!

E-bike touring in Austria

Happily e-biking in Austria!

E-road bikes

E-road bikes usually have narrow tyres and limited carrying capacity.  This makes them less useful for long range e-bike touring, unless you plan to tour on paved routes with a delivery service carrying most of your gear between destinations.

E-mountain bikes

E-mountain bikes have drivetrains geared for climbing, wider tyres for varied terrain plus front, if not both front and rear, suspension. These are all pluses if you’re touring, especially if you think you might need those knobbly tyres and gears!

However, e-mountain bikes are not usually equipped with bike racks for carrying large loads.  If the load you want to carry is limited, or you have someone else carrying the bulk of your gear, e-mountain bikes are a good choice to consider.

E-commuter bikes

E-commuter bikes are designed with bike racks to carry loads, have wide tyres for varied terrain and many have front suspension.

They can be a good choice for e-bike touring, but they vary greatly in quality of components and durability; these are important considerations when e-bike touring in foreign countries, where mechanical support may be limited.

E-touring bikes

These are e-bikes designed for long range e-bike touring on varied terrain with load carry capacity and either front or front and rear suspension.

As one might expect, such premium bikes are expensive.

What to look for when choosing an e-bike

The components that go into an ideal e-bike for touring are very important. The next part of this e-bike buying guide looks at the main components in turn.

Motor

E-bikes have front-hub motors, mid-drive or rear hub-drive motors.

Front hub drive motors are primarily offered in less expensive e-bikes used for short commuting around town.

Rear-hub motors can be found on e-bike hybrids although there are some premium e-road bikes that use them too.

Mid-drive motors are by far the most common.

Mid-drive motors

Mid-drive motors are the most common type of motor, particularly for e-bike touring.

Mid-drive motors sit at the bottom bracket and are integrated with the crankset of the bike.

They deliver assisted power to the rear hub and wheel through either a standard chain and derailleur or belt drive and geared hub (there’s more on drivetrains below). This is an advantage for balancing the bike’s weight when carrying loaded panniers on a rear rack.

Being the most common type of motor, they are also the most widely serviced worldwide; this is an important consideration if e-bike touring in foreign lands.

Torque

While an e-bike’s power output is often measured in watts, with a legal limit of 250 watts of continuous output, the torque an e-bike produces is a more important measure, measured in Newton-metres (Nm).

The four main e-bike motor manufacturers (Bosch, Brose/Specialized, Shimano and Yamaha) all sell high performance e-bike motors that produce at least 85 Nm of torque.

Combined with reasonable gearing and sufficient battery capacity, this is adequate torque to cycle long distances with steep climbs when e-bike touring.

Motor manufacturers

Interestingly, while there are well over 300 e-bike manufacturers, there are only a handful of e-bike motor manufacturers. So all the e-bike manufacturers are using one of the big-name motor brands mentioned above.

Battery

E-bikes are powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, which vary in capacity.

Removable

Any e-bike you’re considering for e-bike touring should have removable batteries that can be charged separately to the bike. After all, you can always take a battery to your room for charging, but you can’t always take your e- bike.

E-bike batteries are usually removable, but it’s worth checking.

Position of the battery

Most newer e-bikes have batteries that are internally mounted in the down tube of the bike frame. Dual battery bikes will have them mounted in both the down tub and top tube of the bike frame.

Some e-bikes, particularly older models, have batteries that are externally mounted on either the down tube, seat tube, or in a few cases part of the rear bike rack.

Internally mounted batteries are best for protecting the battery from weather, as well as the aesthetics of the e-bike.

Single v double battery capacity

Most e-bikes suitable for e-bike touring have single batteries with a capacity ranging from 500-750 watts. Generally the larger the battery capacity, the more expensive the e-bike, but the greater the touring range.

A few premium e-bikes offer double batteries with total battery capacity as high as 1,500 watts. 

How much battery capacity do you need?

How much battery capacity you need is dependent on your e-bike touring ambitions.

  • If you’re e-bike touring 40-60 km per day on relatively flat trails, you might be able to get by with a single 500 watt battery.
  • If you’re cycling 80-120 km per day, with 1,000 metres of climbing, you may require dual batteries with a capacity over 1,000 watts.
  • There are other variables that impact battery capacity as well, such as how fit you are, the level of motor assistance you prefer and the weight of the load you expect to carry.

The general rule is that your battery capacity should be at least equal to how far you want to cycle, how high you want to climb and the level of motor assistance you prefer in order to complete a single day of cycling.

This is not easy to determine on paper!

Ultimately, the only way to determine battery capacity required is to spend some time on trails doing climbs with a loaned or hired e-bike.

Consider carrying an extra battery

One final point: as single battery e-bikes are the most commonly available, one solution if you want to e-bike tour over longer distances or with bigger climbs is to carry a second battery in your panniers.

Of course, the additional battery adds additional weight. However, there is no such thing as an e-bike too heavy, only a battery too small. Better to have more battery capacity than less to e-bike tour with ease.

Other tips

Note that battery capacities are often not an exact science. If you’re planning to ride somewhere subzero you might find the battery capacity is lower.

We’ve also noted that some e-bike brands say they have very high ranges. It’s worth digging into these as in some instances they may have been achieved in particularly favourable conditions, such as a silky smooth road with a very light load. The motto “try before you buy” applies here.

Load

If you’re planning on long range e-bike touring you’ll probably want to carry a considerable amount of clothes and gear. These might weigh as much as 20-25 kg and be stored in two or more panniers and bags.

To give you an idea, here is just a short list of items you will likely consider carrying with you:

  • Clothes for both on the bike and out on the town.
  • Rain gear
  • Toiletries and medications
  • Food and water
  • Tyre and bike repair parts and tools.
  • Battery charger and perhaps spare battery
  • Smart phone and electronic accessories
  • Camping gear if camping
  • Cooking gear, tableware and cutlery
  • Room for purchases along the way

Many e-bikes are not built to carry such weight and are not equipped with bike racks that are able to carry that many bags.

So when choosing an e-bike, it’s important to consider what the e-bike will have to carry and how. Weigh it all, store it in panniers and bags and see if it can all be mounted and carried on the e-bikes being considered. Then, go one more step, and actually mount it on the e-bike being considered and do a test ride, while also determining battery capacity.

E-bike with red panniers for touring

Classic pannier setup for long range bike touring

Drive trains

Chain drive trains

Essentially all e-bikes can be purchased with chain drivetrains, which consist of a front chainring, rear cassette with derailleur and chain. Sprockets are sized for climbing, such as e-mountain bikes, or for speed, such as e-road bikes, or somewhere in between. However, just as with conventional bikes, no chain drive with a derailleur can cover the full range.

Worse yet, e-bikes are hard on chain drivetrains.  The added power of motor assist wears them out twice as fast as on a conventional bike. Even with regular maintenance they may still only last a few thousand kilometres or less before needing to be replaced. The chainring and cassette sprockets may wear out in only a few thousand more. This may prove a real inconvenience for those doing long range e-bike touring.

Still, chain drivetrains are the most economical solution and by far the most common.

Carbon belt geared drives

Some premium e-bikes use Gates carbon belts (if you haven’t heard of Gates before, they are to carbon belts what Kleenex are to tissues).

These last tens of thousands of kilometres and require virtually no service beyond normal washing. Sealed gear housings replace derailleurs and sprockets for shifting.

For e-bikes with mid drive motors, manufacturers such as Enviolo, Rohloff and Shimano provide geared hubs. For e-bikes with rear hub drive motors the manufacturer Pinion provides a gear unit mid- mounted.

Some cyclists riding conventional touring bikes often chose carbon belt geared drives because they have several advantages. These advantages apply equally to e-bike touring but are only available on a few premium e-bikes.

  • The gear shifting range is wide, as low as a mountain bike for climbing and as high as a road bike for speed.
  • They require minimal servicing. The carbon belt requires only washing about as often as a bike needs washing itself. The gears are all housed in sealed units, which require replacing the oil between 5,000-10,000 kilometres or yearly depending on the unit.
  • Finally, they are highly reliable, most outlasting the life of the bike itself.

The only real downside of carbon belt geared drives is they are considerably more expensive than chain drivetrains. Still, wide shifting range, minimal service and high reliability are significant benefits for cyclists doing long range e-bike touring, making them well worth considering.

Tyres

Cyclists who e-bike tour any reasonable distance will encounter varied surface types, from paved asphalt to loose gravel and everything in between.

Narrow tyres roll faster on pavement, but are generally unsuitable on loose gravel.  Mountain bike tyres are wider with nubs for traction on loose ground, but noisy and slow on pavement. There is no one perfect tyre for all surface types.

For e-bike touring, as most cycling will be on paved asphalt, a road tread is most desirable. However, as trails with loose gravel are not uncommon, it’s worth considering a wider tyre for stability.

In our opinion, this is the best combination for e-bike touring.

Adding tyre liners is also worth considering minimising flat tyres.

Different tires for e-bikes

Wide tyre v narrow tyre

Suspension

Surfaces

You’ll come across a wide variety of surface conditions when e-bike touring. Paved cycle streets and cycle paths will often be cracked with potholes. Cities in Europe often have cobble stone streets. The hard shoulder on roads are often fractured or nonexistent, requiring cyclists to ride in the rough if a vehicle passes close by. Europe’s Eurovelo trails, considered the best in the world, often have sections with packed or loose gravel. There are even some rough single tracks with roots and rocks.

This can be wearing on your body over the course of a long distance bike tour and it’s the primary reason to consider suspension when choosing an e-bike for touring.

Front suspension

Fortunately, most e-bikes suitable for touring have at least front suspension, albeit the quality varies greatly.  We’d suggest that front suspension should be your minimum requirement.

Dual suspension

Dual suspension is available on many e-mountain bikes, with all the caveats about touring on e-mountain bikes mentioned previously. Only a few premium e-touring bikes have both front and rear suspension, once again at a premium price.

Dual suspension e-bikes have one other advantage worth being aware of: control. Cyclists on mountain bikes know this all too well. Full suspension means essentially continuous full contact of both tyres on the surface while cycling regardless of the terrain. This limits the tyres bouncing off the ground on rough surfaces providing more contact and thus more control of the e-bike.

Still, if cost is an important consideration, a high quality full suspension e-bike may be a low priority; but none the less, worth considering.

Brakes

While e-bikes make cycling uphill easier they make braking downhill harder.

As already discussed, fully loaded touring e-bikes are heavy. They put tremendous wear on brakes and brake pads.

Disc brakes

Fortunately, virtually all e-bikes have disc brakes. Most are hydraulic. Those should be minimum requirements for e-bike touring.

Callipers come either two piston or four piston and vary greatly in quality as well as cost. The heavier the load and the steeper the hills a cyclist descends, the more wear there will be on the brake pads.

Brake pads

Brake pads vary in performance characteristics such as, material, braking performance, lifetime, noise and heat resistance, a discussion well beyond the scope of this article. Whatever brake pads you choose, check and replace them often. If e-bike touring long distances with steep hills, carry a spare set of brake pads and know how to replace them when necessary.

Close up of disc brakes on an e-bike

Disc brakes

Displays

All e-bikes come with a display showing, at a minimum, battery life, speed, distance travelled and a few other metrics. Some have a full chart display for route planning and navigation. As is always the case with electronics, additional features are continuously being added.

For more serious cyclists that are e-bike touring, a second display (e.g. a Garmin) for route planning and navigation is common. However, some people prefer smartphone apps, like Komoot, Ridewithgps, Strava and even Google Maps, partly because most cyclists already own a smartphone and also these navigation apps are extremely comprehensive. Beyond route planning and navigation they offer a wealth of information specific to cycling.

One final point about independent navigation displays, especially smartphones: GPS navigation can run a battery down, especially a smartphone battery. Some e-bike displays, like the Bosch Kiox, have a USB charging port that you can connect to, keeping your navigation display or smartphone charging continuously.

Iphone and garmin display on an e-bike touring setup

Our display set up for e-bike touring

Cost of an e-bike

The price of the electric bike is another very important factor in your decision over which e-bike to buy.

Purchase cost

E-bikes meeting the minimum requirements suitable for e-bike touring can be purchased in the range of 3,000-4,000 euros. A premium e-bike that meets all the requirements above can cost over 10,000 euros.

In comparison, hiring an e-bike costs around 40-50 euros per day. Weekly rentals tend to be roughly 25% less per day and monthly rates are about 50% less per day. This is reasonably inexpensive if e-bike touring for a few weeks. If e-bike touring for several months over several years, however, it can add up to more than the cost of buying an e-bike.

Also, the cost of purchasing an e-bike is actually one of the least costly elements of long range e-bike touring, and needs to be put into perspective.

Other costs

For those camping and cooking their own meals, e-bike touring at 50 euros per day would be a minimum.  For those staying in hotels and eating meals out 200 euros per day would be a minimum.  Some would spend far more per day.

At 200 euros per day, the cost of one month of bike touring is the same price as the cost of a quality e-bike.

Two months of e-bike touring is more than the cost of a premium quality e-bike.

Moreover, these costs while touring are all consumed.

An e-bike is an investment, whose cost is depreciated over many trips and many years of use. It has residual value and can be resold as used. This puts the cost of the e-bike into perspective. If you have the means, why compromise ease, reliability and comfort just to save a few thousand euros when purchasing an e-bike for long range touring used on many trips over many years.

Other factors

Quality

Think about build quality and reliability. Consider whether an e-bay e-bike deal might be too good to be true. Where are the parts and frames coming from? Are there warranties? Can those warranties be relied upon? Similar issues apply if you’re buying a used e-bike secondhand.

Logistics

There are also logistical considerations to bear in mind when buying an e-bike. Where will you store your e-bike? And how will you transport it? (It’s likely to be heavy!).

These are also important considerations in the decision on whether to hire instead of buying your e-bike. More on that in this article.

Accessories

Also consider the lights on your e-bike and how you’ll secure your pride and joy once you’ve bought it. These are the little things that will make a difference to how you ride and enjoy your bike.

Insurance

Consider how much it will cost to insure your e-bike and have a policy lined up to start the moment you’ve bought your pride and joy. If the worst happens and it’s stolen, you’re likely to want some recourse…

Close up of an alarm lock on an ebike

Alarm lock

Compare before you buy

There’s lots to think about when finding the e-bike for you. Once you’ve narrowed down what you’re looking for, it’s time to make a detailed comparison between models. Focus in on what differentiates the e-bikes on your shortlist.

As we’ve suggested, for those looking to make a big investment for a bike they’re going to tour on for months on end, it might well make sense to try before you buy. This way you can really know whether the e-bike you think is perfect is going to work for you in the long term.

What are the best e-bike brands

Choosing an e-bike manufacturer and which e-bike to buy from them can be a daunting experience. There are well over 300 e-bike manufacturers with most offering a number of different models to choose from.

Most are not suitable for e-bike touring.

The following short list of major manufacturers are at least worth considering as they offer models suitable for e-bike touring, that I have seen on the trails in Europe.

  • Bulls
  • Cube
  • Focus
  • Giant
  • Gazelle
  • Haibike
  • KTM
  • Liv
  • Mustache
  • Riese & Muller
  • Scott
  • Specialized
  • Stromer
  • Trek

Why we chose Riese & Muller

After researching all these major manufacturers of e-bikes we found potentially suitable for long range e-bike touring, we bought the Riese & Muller Superdelite.

The short answer to why is because it is the only manufacturer we found that ticks every box of the items we have been discussing above. On the down side, at over 10,000 euros each, they are the most expensive e-bike of them all.

On the up side, as stated above, considering we e-bike tour up to four months per year in Europe, the cost of these e-bikes is not our greatest expense. Moreover, they are generally considered by almost everyone, the best long range e-touring bike one can buy. As such, we expect they will hold their resale value very well.

Other options

We know people who e-bike tour on Cube e-bikes with 750 watt batteries that love them, and they cost half the price.

Similarly, Specialized, Giant and Trek, have e-bike offerings. Being the largest bike manufacturers in the world they have dealer service centres worldwide; an important issue if you plan to e-bike tour far and wide. Gazelle has a carbon belt drive e-bikes with an Enviolo geared hub. KTM e-bikes seem very popular as we see many riding them on the trails in Europe.

All these manufacturers are worth considering. Your decision will depend on what features you consider important, how far you want to ride, for how long and how much you can afford to spend.

Where to buy e-bikes

E-bikes can be bought online, at bike dealers or even at big box stores.

However, generally speaking, the same e-bike will sell in the same region for roughly the same price.

Considering all the potential features you might want to select for your e-bike, as mentioned above, you are most likely to want to purchase your e-bike from a dealer in your area, where you can test ride the bike, as well as get it fitted out to your specifications and be able to easily go back if there are any problems. If you already have a relationship with a bike shop or there are other factors involved (e.g. you’re buying two bikes at once!) then you might want to also consider who might offer you a discount!

One exception to buying local is if you plan to buy your e-bike overseas, to avoid shipping difficulties (see our e-bike shipping article). If you do this, it is worth tracking down and purchasing from a dealer in the region you intend to begin touring in, who you can rely upon to fit out the bike for you to pick up and ride off on the day you arrive.

Final thoughts

We hope this guide to buying an e-bike has helped you with choosing an electric bike that will make you very happy!

Thanks for reading and don’t miss the rest of our e-bike series:

 

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John Vincent is a retired tech entrepreneur. He continues to mentor young entrepreneurs and is a guest lecturer at universities on entrepreneurship. His wife, Darlene Horne, is a retired teacher.

They are both avid cyclists. They live in British Columbia, Canada, which allows them to cycle on their conventional road bikes year around when at home.  They cycle tour on e-bikes during the spring and autumn months in Europe.

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