The quality of electric mountain bikes is changing dramatically. We set out to find the best ones you can buy today. After looking at 15 models, we narrowed it down to four in the $5,000-$5,500 price range. We then took to the trails. Over the course of several months, our team of testers rode these e-MTB's for thousands of miles and hundreds of hours to find out how each model performs on the trail, which one has the longest range, the most power, and most user-friendly controls. We rode these bikes hard, scrutinizing every aspect of their performance, exposing the strengths and weaknesses of each. We present our findings here in this detailed comparative review to help you find the model that's right for you.
The Best Electric Mountain Bikes (e-MTB) of 2018
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We just added in the Trek Powerfly to the review. While the power and range impressed us, the whole package was not as compelling as our other award winners. We go into more detail below.
Best Overall E-MTB
Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie 2018
It was a close battle and the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie emerged as the winner of our Editor's Choice Award. Our testers universally agreed that it was the most well-rounded performer on the trail and offered a ride that felt the "most like a mountain bike" of the models tested. It was versatile, with a lighter and more nimble feel, yet it still managed to maintain its charging chops and stability at speed. Specialized has done a wonderful job designing their Turbo Levo models with the battery and motor cleanly and stealthily integrated into the frame. The Specialized 1.3 motor also runs so quietly that you'd almost forget you were riding an e-bike if it weren't for all that power. The Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie wasn't the most powerful e-MTB we tested, but it used its power efficiently and had an impressive distance range that bested some of the competition by 15% or more in our head to head range testing.
Of course, there is room for improvement. There is no handlebar mounted digital display and the only way to tell your speed is to mount a phone or bike computer to the bars. To see your battery life, you have to stop and look to the side of the frame (or risk crashing). The climbing performance was hampered by the drive unit's more abrupt cutoff when the pedals stopped turning. The charger connection is poorly designed and located: we spent a fair amount of time carefully removing mud to get the bike to charge. Overall though, the Specialized still proved to be the test team's favorite for its versatility and well-rounded performance. We loved it and we think you will too, read the full review to find out more about our Editor's Choice Award winning e-MTB.
Read review: Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie
Top Pick for Aggressive Riders
Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+ 2018
Commencal has only just recently entered the electric mountain bike market, and their Meta Power Race 650B+ is a well designed and hard-charging contender, the winner of our Top Pick for Aggressive Riders Award. Commencal has integrated the Shimano Steps E8000 pedal assist motor into their proven Meta frame design, creating a bike that climbs well and also charges downhill. This bike comes to life at speed downhill thanks to a progressive long and slack geometry and a great component spec which is highlighted by a stout Rock Shox Lyrik fork and a plush Super Deluxe Coil rear shock. The Meta Power Race took top honors for its climbing performance, mostly due to the Shimano Steps E8000's consistent power output and extended power band, and testers also loved its e-bike controls, with an ergonomic shifter, best-in-test digital display, and user-friendly charging connection.
On the descents, the Commencal felt somewhat one-dimensional, great when up to speed, but with sluggish and less nimble handling hindering its performance in tighter, low-speed technical sections of trail. The Meta Power Race also had the shortest distance range in our head to head testing, another factor which kept this contender off the top step of the podium. That being said, this e-bike was built for charging, no pun intended, so if you're an aggressive rider who lives for eye-watering descents, then this might be the e-MTB for you. Read the full review to find out more about the Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+.
Read review: Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+
What is an E-Bike?
There are various kinds and classifications of electric bikes on the market, but the more common type is the Class 1, or pedal assist, bikes which have motor units that are activated by pedaling and are limited to lower speeds. In the US, Class 1 electric bikes, the type tested and reviewed here, are limited to a top speed of 20 mph and their motors are designed with a speed governor to regulate this. These types of e-bikes resemble modern mountain bikes, but they have significant battery packs and small motor units integrated onto and into the frame design. The e-MTB pedal-assist motor is typically built around the bottom bracket and provides varying levels of pedaling "support" directly into the drivetrain while the cranks are turning. Most drive unit systems offer several support settings that provide pedal assistance between 25% and 100% of the user's pedaling input.
All the models we tested are full suspension all mountain/trail bike models with relatively similar amounts of suspension travel, geometry, and wheel/tire size. The addition of a large battery and a small motor adds significant weight to an e-bike and they generally weigh in the neighborhood of 50 lbs, approximately 20 lbs heavier than non-e-bikes, and the massive weight of these bikes makes them more difficult to ride without the support of the pedal assist motor.
There are many places in the U.S. where you can legally and responsibly ride e-MTB's, and take it from us, they are a heck of a lot of fun. Check with local land management agencies to find out where you are allowed to use an electric mountain bike before taking to the trails. One thing we do know, e-MTB's can be used on any trails that are legal for motorized use, so we took advantage of the wealth of OHV trails in the greater Lake Tahoe area for our testing purposes and had more fun doing it than any of us expected.
Analysis and Test Results
Over several months, our team of four professional mountain bike testers rode each of the electric mountain bikes in our test selection on a variety of trails and terrain in a range of weather conditions. We had each tester ride each of the bikes numerous times, often riding the different models back to back for the sake of comparison. We didn't go easy on them. Instead, we treated them all as if they were our own, putting them all through the wringer to identify their strengths and weaknesses. We scrutinized every aspect of each e-bike's performance and scored them all on several rating metrics, e-bike controls, downhill performance, uphill performance, power output, and distance range. Each metric are described in greater detail below. It is important to note that during our testing our impressions of these e-bikes changed dramatically. Our first impressions didn't exactly stick. It was essential for us to test the different models head-to-head and make direct comparisons to flush out the differences. For example, everyone was initially a little underwhelmed with the Specialized's power and more excited about the Haibike, but after hundreds of miles of testing our impressions changed. We go into more detail on this below.
With mountain bikes already sporting hefty price tags, the cost of adding an electric motor might be enough to send the value-conscious rider's head spinning. Fear not! We created the table below to help you sort through which bike has the best performance to price ratio. Bikes that fall lower and further to the right, such as the Top Pick winning Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+ and the Haibike XDURO AllMtn 8.0 represent a relatively great value.
The three bikes we tested all use a different e-bike motor system, and the controls, the primary user interface, are an important element that we rated but didn't weight as heavily as some of the others. Each motor system and their associated controls are different. Our primary interest is in how user-friendly is it to interact with the system, how intuitive and ergonomic are the shifters, how good and easy to read is the display, and how easy is it to charge the battery? Each drive system also has a smartphone app that is intended to allow the user to fine-tune the motor's support settings, create custom settings, monitor battery charge and health, and a whole lot more. While we don't feel the apps are necessary for the use of any of these e-MTB's, those with an affinity for technology or personalizing your ride may be inclined to use them.
When all was said and done, the Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+ proved to have everyone's favorite e-bike controls. Commencal uses the Shimano Steps E8000 motor and system which features ergonomic thumb shifters, a small but easy to read digital display and a secure and straightforward charging connection. The ergonomic shifter of the Shimano system is better than the electronic buttons found on both the Specialized, HaiBike and Trek. The Commencal's best-in-the-test digital display also proved to be a favorite for its small size and out of the way mounting location, easy to read at-a-glance information, and color-coded support settings information. The HaiBike's Yamaha PW-X motor and system also featured a digital display, but testers thought it was a little too big, displayed too much information, was more challenging to read, and generally felt a little more clunky and less refined than the Shimano system. That Trek Powerfly's Bosch Purion shifter and display unit was easy to read and had a bright screen, but was in a less visible location on the left side of the handlebar. Our Editor's Choice Award winner, the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie scored the lowest in this rating due to the lack of a handlebar mounted display and a less user-friendly charging connection.
The downhill performance is our most highly weighted rating metric because we feel that the most important element of an e-bike is how well it performs out on the trail, especially when bombing down the hill. Each tester rode every bike numerous times and formulated their own opinions of each model, considering how factors like the component spec, geometry, and frame design play a role in its downhill performance. All of the e-bikes we tested were fun to ride, way more fun than any of our non e-bike riding test team ever expected, but they all had a different demeanor and trail manners. To test this, we rode the bikes downhill, a lot, and took them down a variety of terrain, from fast and flowing open trails to tight low-speed technical, and everything in between.
In the end, the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie proved to be the tester favorite, offering the best downhill performance that felt the "most like a mountain bike" that the other models couldn't match. The Specialized proved to be the most nimble and agile by far, with the lowest center of gravity, shortest wheelbase, less rear wheel travel, and shortest reach, yet still managed to be confident and stable at speed. By contrast, the Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+, our Top Pick for Aggressive Riders, felt much more one-dimensional with its long and slack geometry and ultra plush suspension, excelling at speed, but sluggish at lower speeds or technical downhill sections. The HaiBike XDURO AllMtn 8.0 proved to be a less inspiring downhill performer, with a massive feel, rattling battery, and a generally unrefined feel, although it was good at going straight and fast. The Trek Powerfly 7 FS was our least favorite e-bike to ride downhill, with a less impressive component specification that held it back and didn't inspire confidence on descents.
You've gotta get up to get down and one of the purposes of e-bikes is to make it much easier to do so. Since we spend significantly more time climbing than descending, we felt it was important to rate how well these bikes perform when pointed uphill. Climbing on an e-MTB with pedal assist support is somewhat different than climbing on a bike without a motor. These bikes are capable of carrying some serious speed uphill, changing the climbing dynamic with a much faster pace, often tossing finesse out the window in favor of power and momentum. The heavy weight of these bikes and plus-sized tires gives them incredible traction, keeping them planted on the ground, and dampening switches can be left wide open to enjoy the added traction benefits of active rear suspension. Each bike's geometry, handling, and power output all played a role in how well these bikes performed on the ascents, and we had plenty of time to test them while rallying back uphill for more downhill laps.
The Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+ was the best climber of the bunch. The bike had a comfortable climbing position, with a slightly longer reach than the competition, but the highlight was the Shimano Steps E8000 motor. The Shimano motor's power band extends for just a moment after the pedals stop turning, providing the rider with just a little more push to get over obstacles or carry speed when you stop pedaling for a second. This extended power was brief, but it made a huge difference when tackling technical uphill sections or playfully ripping berms or over rocks on the climbs. While it was agile and quicker handling, the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie lost ground in this rating metric due to the somewhat abrupt pedal assist cutoff that occurred the moment you stop pedaling. This abrupt power cutoff caused awkward moves in slower technical uphill sections when jockeying pedals to avoid rock strikes. The HaiBike didn't climb as well as the Commencal, but it undeniably had traction for days and a motor that also extended the power band slightly beyond the last pedal stroke. The Trek Powerfly had a long wheelbase, reach, and chainstay length, giving the bike a long rear end that kept impressive traction while climbing as long as you kept your momentum, the overall length of the bike, however, made it a little tougher to negotiate in the tighter stuff.
One of the primary purposes of an e-bike is transferring power from the motor to the drivetrain to "support" your regular pedal stroke. All of the different motors do this in relatively the same way, although subtle differences in their power output make them all feel slightly different. It is important to note that all of these systems work impressively well, the differences between them are relatively subtle but noticeable. We tested this metric primarily based on feel, as opposed to any sort of scientific measurement, and our testers could all notice the differences between the various models. All of the e-bikes we tested have several support modes offering varying levels of pedal assist support. The Commencal and Specialized models both offer three, the Trek has four, and the HaiBike has five levels of pedal assist support. All four models also have a walk-assist setting which provides up to 3.7 mph of support in the event you have to hike-a-bike to help you push these heavy bikes uphill.
Over the course of our testing, our testers universally agreed that the HaiBike XDURO AllMtn 8.0 had the most responsive and robust motor. The system felt almost twitchy, raring to go with a torquey feel that started the moment you pushed on the pedals. It got up to speed quickly and felt like it had the fastest top speed of all the models we tested. The power output was smooth and consistent, and shifting between the system's 5 support settings went off without a hitch. Testers also loved that the power band extended for a moment after you stop pedaling, not quite as long as the Commencal, but enough to still be a benefit on the climbs. The Commencal has a similarly strong motor, but couldn't quite match the torquey feel of the HaiBike or the top speed, although it has an even longer push of the power band when the pedaling stops. Both the Trek and the Specialized motor systems felt slightly less powerful, still offering plenty of pedal-assist support mind you, but that also resulted in the most efficient motors and longer distance ranges than the models with more brute power. Note that our Turbo Levo showed up with a top speed limit of 16mph and not the 20mph. We were very disappointed with 16mph as a max speed. Luckily, we were able to get it adjusted back to 20 and were then quite happy. If you buy a Specialized, make sure it's set to 20mph.
The distance range of an electric mountain bike refers to the distance you can travel on a single battery charge given a specific set of circumstances. All of the e-bikes we tested have roughly the same battery storage capacity, but outside variables like rider weight, pedaling input, terrain, trail conditions, and weather conditions may all affect the length of time or distance that a battery charge will last. To compare the distance range of the four models in our test we took the bikes out in their highest support setting and did out and back laps on the same trail until the batteries ran down from fully charged to completely dead. When we finished we recorded the distance and vertical gain that each model was able to complete and easily and objectively determined our winner.
In our head to head range test, the Specialized took the win by travelling 20.6 miles and 3,455 vertical feet, 10% farther than the Trek at 18.6 miles and 3,076 vertical feet, 15% more distant than the HaiBike at 17.8 miles and 3,215 vertical feet, and 17% more than the Commencal at 17.1 miles and 3,100 vertical feet. Each of these electric mountain bikes can take you a long way out on the trail, but the Specialized uses its power the most efficiently and can keep you out to play for longer than the competition.
It is important to note that the less power you use while riding your e-bike, the longer the battery will last, makes sense right? All of the pedal-assist drive units we tested also have smartphone apps that can be used to customize your support settings, and such changes may allow for more or less range on your electric mountain bike. Specialized's Mission Control app has a feature that lets you set a predetermined route, and the app then regulates the motor's support to ensure power lasts to finish your ride.
Every bike we tested was a blast to ride. However, they all had very different ride characteristics. All of these could stand to improve in different areas but the category is not mature enough to get a very capable bike for a reasonable price. We will continue to update this review as new bikes emerge and the electric mountain bikes evolve.
— Jeremy Benson, Joshua Hutchens, Paul Tindal, Chris McNamara