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

How We Tested Best E-MTB Bikes

Monday June 10, 2019
Prepping for a day of e-bike testing in Nevada high desert.
Prepping for a day of e-bike testing in Nevada high desert.
To test the electric mountain bikes we gathered an experienced team of four professional mountain bike testers to ride and scrutinize the four models in our test selection. Each model was ridden by each tester numerous times, sometimes back to back to really get a feel for the differences between the various models. We rode them on motorized legal trails in the greater Lake Tahoe area on a variety of trails, conditions, and weather, everything from dry and dusty to wet and snowy. Each tester took detailed notes on each bike's performance so that nothing would be forgotten.

E-Bike Controls


E-bike controls are important because they are your interface with the pedal assist drive unit system while you are on the bike. E-bike controls include a handlebar mounted shifter which allows you to shift through the various support settings of the pedal assist motor. A digital display is also a common component of the e-bike controls typically mounted on the handlebar near the stem and shows information like battery charge, speed, and support setting at-a-glance. Apps are all the rage these days and we included the associated smartphone app for each bike's drive system. Since charging your battery is another way you interact with your e-bike, we included this in this rating metric as well.

The digital display is a nice feature  but it is quite small and somewhat difficult to read while riding.
The digital display is a nice feature, but it is quite small and somewhat difficult to read while riding.

To test the e-bike controls, we simply used them, over and over, and often back to back. We adjusted the shifters to our preferences and determined which we liked the best based on ergonomics, intuitiveness, and overall user-friendliness. We rated the digital display based on their size, location, the information presented, and how easy they were to read while riding. To test the smartphone app for each model we downloaded it to our phone and used, or attempted to use each one. Using an e-bike requires charging them regularly, so testing this was easy as we did it all the time, and we learned that some of the charging port locations and plug designs are more user-friendly than others.

Testing downhill performance.
Testing downhill performance.

Downhill Performance


The only way to test an e-bike's downhill performance is by riding them downhill, so we did, a lot. The beauty of an e-bike is how quickly you can get back to the top for another lap, this facilitated riding them downhill repeatedly to get a feel for the handling, suspension, traction, geometry, cockpit, components, and everything that goes into the way a bike performs while descending. We rode lots of trails with a variety of trail types, terrain features, and conditions to test their performance in everything from fast and flowy to low speed and technical. We traded off bikes and had a chance to compare them in back to back laps on the same trails for reference.

The way a bike performs while descending is somewhat subjective in nature and depends on the rider's preferences, skill level, weight, etc. That being said, each bike we tested had a unique character and performance out on the trail, and tester's notes on downhill performance were all very similar. Bike designs, geometry, center of gravity, suspension components and the like are less subjective, and those aspects of the bikes were also analyzed and judged in relation to the way the bikes performed while riding downhill.

Testing climbing performance on absurdly steep moto trails.
Testing climbing performance on absurdly steep moto trails.

Climbing Performance


Since the majority of time spent on a bike is while climbing, we had plenty of time to consider the climbing performance of each e-MTB in our test. The presence of a pedal assist drive unit makes these bikes climb quite a bit differently than bikes without, as you have varying levels of pedal assist support helping you along the way. The motors and batteries of e-bikes also make them quite bit heavier than traditional mountain bikes, and that weight combined with knobby plus sized tires tends to provide heaps of traction. The power output and delivery of each model also played into each bike's climbing performance, as well as the handling, geometry, and rider position.

Between downhill laps we rode the bikes back uphill on a variety of trails and terrain, testing each model's abilities in fast and open sections as well as tighter and more technically challenging stretches. By feel testers evaluated the way each bike handled in these situations and compared the different models to each other on the same sections of trail. Testers also considered the power of the drive unit and what role that played in each bike's performance.

You gotta get up to get down  and e-bikes make it easier  much easier.
You gotta get up to get down, and e-bikes make it easier, much easier.

Power Output


Based on the numbers, the e-bikes in our test selection all offer similar levels of power output. Those numbers don't exactly translate to the same thing out on the trail and each drive unit provided subtle differences in power output during real-world testing in the field. Levels of torque, maximum speed, power band initiation, and cutoff all varied between the different models, and although these differences weren't huge, they were very apparent.

To test the power output we didn't set the bikes up on a dyno in a lab, instead, we rode the bikes and felt these differences while out on the trail. How power transfers from the drive unit feels different when riding, and was readily apparent to our hypersensitive test crew. Torque is a measurement of the force applied to cause rotation, and a motor with more torque feels more powerful. Power band initiation and cutoff are also based on feel and could be determined by how much far into a pedal stroke you went before feeling the support from the motor, while the cutoff could be observed by feeling when the drive unit stopped delivering power after stopping pedaling. Max speed was determined by looking at the digital display and seeing the speed where the governor no longer allowed the motor to support pedaling, this typically involved a power cutoff that was easy to feel. We also made observations of the smoothness and consistency of the power output, as well as the transition when shifting between support modes.

Testing the power output of electric mountain bikes can be a challenge  but at least its fun.
Testing the power output of electric mountain bikes can be a challenge, but at least its fun.

Range


The range of an e-bike refers to the distance you can travel on a battery charge under a certain set of circumstances. Variables like rider weight, terrain, trail conditions, weather conditions, pedaling input, and support setting all play a role in how far a bike will travel before the battery is depleted. To test this, we leveled the playing field and took all of the bike to our range test hill. We had the same tester ride each model (not on the same day) in the same support setting up and down a steep paved road by the office doing laps until the batteries went from a full charge to completely depleted. We tracked the ride and the information gathered provided us with each bike's distance range relative to each other.


Conclusion


When all was said and done we compiled all of our data and tester notes and had meetings to discuss our impressions of the various models tested. We present this information in the form of detailed reviews of each model with a comparative analysis to explain how each bike performs in each rating metric and how they compare to each other. We hope you find this information helpful in deciding which e-MTB is right for you.