The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

How We Tested Best Budget E-Bikes

By Jeremy Benson ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Thursday September 3, 2020

Rating Metrics


We tested all of the electric bikes in this review over the course of several weeks and hundreds of real-world riding miles. Each bike was put through the same rigorous testing process for consistency and comparison to one another. Throughout our test period, we paid close attention to the ride quality, distance range, power output, user interface, and ease of assembly of each model. When testing concluded, we scored each bike on those predetermined rating metrics, and the sum of those scores determined our award winners.

We rode these bikes a lot during testing  with tests specific to handling  range  and power output. We also had multiple testers try each one for our comfort and fit assessment.
We rode these bikes a lot during testing, with tests specific to handling, range, and power output. We also had multiple testers try each one for our comfort and fit assessment.

Ride


To test the ride quality of each electric bike, we rode each model for several hours while testing range and power output, as well as performing a variety of handling specific tests. In a flat, empty parking lot, we rode each bike through the same series of figure 8 turns around cones to assess turning radius, stability in turns, steering, and general handling. Some bikes are comfortable, consistent, and smooth while turning, while others feel a bit twitchy and unstable; the differences are quite obvious. In order to test straight-line and high-speed stability, we rode each bike down the same moderately steep hill as fast as they would go, which was approximately 20 miles per hour for most models. Factors like wheel size, length of the wheelbase, body position, and handlebar width all influence the way a bike handles.

Testing handling in our figure eight course.
Testing handling in our figure eight course.

Our assessment of ride quality also included how well each bike performs on its own without using the throttle or any pedal assistance. Is the bike still reasonable to ride around without any power, or does it feel like dead weight? Each bike's non-powered ride performance depended heavily on the bike's drivetrain components and geometry. For example, the folding single-speed models have only one gear and a cramped geometry that inherently makes them more challenging to ride than their full-sized multi-speed counterparts when they run out of juice.

During all of our ride testing, we also paid close attention to the performance of all components on the bike, including the shifting/drivetrain, brakes, and tires. Our testers are skilled mechanics who made sure that each bike's shifting and brakes were set up correctly and closely scrutinized their performance while riding. A braking test was also performed where each bike was taken up to full speed while using pedal assist, and the distance needed to bring each bike to a complete stop was measured.

Our ride quality assessment is a combination of handling  comfort  and performance of the bike's components.
Our ride quality assessment is a combination of handling, comfort, and performance of the bike's components.

Rider comfort was also a consideration in our assessment of ride quality. Comfort is subjective in nature, but we did our best to evaluate the relative comfort of each model we tested. This included but was not limited to things like the seat's shape and padding, the bike's geometry, and the range of adjustability of things like the handlebars and seatpost. Our six-foot-tall male tester was assisted by a 5'7" female in order to get varying opinions on the fit and comfort of the test bikes. In addition to comfort, we also considered additional user-friendly features, such as fenders, racks, lights, and bells/horns, as a part of each bike's ride quality.

To test each bike's range we had the same rider ride each one on the same course doing out and back laps using the throttle only until the battery died.
To test each bike's range we had the same rider ride each one on the same course doing out and back laps using the throttle only until the battery died.

Range


The range of an electric bike refers to the distance it can travel on a single battery charge. A bike's range is typically directly related to the size of its battery storage capacity, and, not surprisingly, larger batteries will generally allow you to ride further on a charge. Many other factors influence a bike's range, including rider weight, terrain, temperature, rider input, and pedal-assist output setting, to name a few. One of the most significant factors affecting the range of pedal-assist electric bikes is how much effort the rider puts into pedaling. All other things being equal, it stands to reason that a rider who is pedaling hard will be able to ride farther than a rider who is pedaling very lightly. For this reason, it can be hard to measure a bike's range accurately.

In an effort to level the playing field, we chose to perform our range test using the throttle only. We feel that removing the external variable of rider input allows us to get a more accurate apples to apples comparison. For this test, we had the same 170 lb male tester ride each of these e-bikes back and forth on the same stretch of road, in the same weather conditions, to see how far each model could travel on a single charge with the throttle wide open. The test course was gently rolling with approximately 100 vertical feet of elevation gain/loss per two mile out and back. Each battery as fully charged at the beginning of the test, and we did not stop recording until the battery was fully depleted. For consistency, all range test data was recorded using the same Garmin Edge 520 Plus cycling computer that was mounted to the handlebar on each bike.

It is worth mentioning that each of the bikes we tested could have a potentially greater distance range if ridden in ideal conditions and perfectly flat terrain. It should also be noted that each bike's range can be increased dramatically, in some cases doubled, when pedaling and using the pedal assist modes.

We performed a number of tests specific to power output to determine top throttle speed  pedal assist speed  and ability to hold speed uphill.
We performed a number of tests specific to power output to determine top throttle speed, pedal assist speed, and ability to hold speed uphill.

Power


The power output of these electric bikes is twofold and includes both the pedal assist and the throttle/full electric modes. There are three classifications of electric bicycles and all of the bikes we tested fall into Class 2 because they all have a throttle to propel the bike forward without any pedaling input from the rider. In that regard, they are a lot like a motorcycle or electric scooter, although with top speeds ranging from 15-20 mph. All of the bikes we tested also have a pedal-assist system that provides varying levels of support when the user is pedaling. Most models have 3-5 pedal assist output settings. We performed power output tests specific to both the throttle and the pedal-assist on each bike with the same rider on the exact same test course using a Garmin Edge 520 Plus to track speed.

Specific to the throttle, we performed several tests aimed at determining the top speed, acceleration, and ability to carry speed uphill for each bike. On the same perfectly flat stretch of road, we timed how long it took for each bike to accelerate from a stop to its top-speed. We recorded that time and also made a note of the top-speed each bike was able to travel with the throttle only. While range testing each bike, we also paid close attention to their ability to hold speed up a short section of uphill on our range test course and made a note of the speed each bike was traveling as they crested the hill.

We also performed several tests specific to each bike's power output while using the pedal assist modes. In addition to the number of pedal assist modes each bike has, we paid very close attention to the strength and quality of the pedal assistance while riding. Does the power come on suddenly the moment the pedals start turning, or does it take a rotation of the pedals before it kicks in? Does the power come on strong, or does it ramp up gradually? Does the power shut off the moment you stop pedaling, or does it linger for a moment after? Is the power smooth and consistent, and how does it handle shifts between settings? In the highest output setting, we also brought each bike up to the maximum speed that we could achieve to determine each bike's top speed with pedal assistance.

The user interface consists of the controls and display. They vary wildly among the models we tested and they are not created equal.
The user interface consists of the controls and display. They vary wildly among the models we tested and they are not created equal.

User Interface


The user interface consists of everything the rider uses to interact with the bike's electric components. This is primarily the display and controls, but it also includes the battery in regard to charging and locking. Each bike's display and controls are different, and the ergonomics, user-friendliness, and quality vary dramatically among the models we tested. Some have simple single-button controls and LEDs that show limited information, while others have excellent ergonomically friendly controls with digital displays that show a wealth of information. We rated each model based on the ergonomics of the controls, as well as the quality of the display and the information that it provides.

Additionally, we considered several elements of the bike's battery, including its charging cord/port, as well as its locking/removability. Most of the models in this test have a nearly identical charging cord and charging port with simple rubber covers to keep moisture out. Most also have lockable and removable batteries for security or charging purposes. While the overall differences in this regard are relatively minor, some subtle differences set some models apart from one another.

Most bikes get delivered in a large box and show up looking like this. The ease of assembly varies.
Most bikes get delivered in a large box and show up looking like this. The ease of assembly varies.

Assembly


To examine the ease of assembly, we received each test bike in its original packaging and assembled it ourselves. This process began with unboxing each bike, removing all of its protective materials, and taking stock of everything inside of the box. We then assembled each bike using only the included tools and printed instructions. We kept track of how long each bike took to assemble and made notes on the relative difficulty of the process. We took note of any additional steps, as well as the quality and usefulness of the instructions.

We test the products we review so you don't have to.
We test the products we review so you don't have to.

Conclusion


There can be a lot to consider when searching for an electric bike, and it is usually unlikely that you can test ride one for yourself before you buy any of the models we tested. That's why we rigorously test every product that we review. We hope that our thorough testing process and detailed comparative review helps you find the best affordable electric bike to meet your needs and budget.