The Best Electric Mountain Bikes (e-MTB)
Best Overall E-MTB
Specialized Turbo Levo Comp
The 2020 Specialized Turbo Levo Comp returns to our electric mountain bike test and claims our Editor's Choice Award for the third year in a row. The 2020 model looks nearly identical to last year's updated version but has several notable changes, including a more impressive build kit and an upgrade to a 700Wh battery. Add to that the recent updates, including 29-inch wheels, new frame design, and display placement, and the updated Specialized 2.1 motor, and it solidifies its place on the top step of the podium. It still has the same on-trail performance that makes it "feel more like a mountain bike." It is more playful, agile, and well-rounded than the competition, yet it still manages to charge the fall-line just as hard. Like previous Turbo Levo models, Specialized has very stealthily integrated the battery and motor into the frame giving it a low center of gravity and a very non-e-bike look. The new motor is very quiet, plus it weighs less than most of the other models in this test, even with a larger battery.
Of course, there is still room for improvement, but we found little not to like about the Turbo Levo Comp. There is no handlebar mounted digital display, and while the top-tube mounted display works fine, it's outdone by the competition. The charging port is still located in a non-ideal location and is prone to collecting debris and moisture even when properly closed. The SRAM Guide brakes that came on our test bike also felt quite underpowered for the 50 lb weight of this bike. Overall though, the Specialized still proved to be the test team's favorite for its versatility, well-rounded performance, and very impressive range and efficiency.
Read review: Specialized Turbo Levo Comp
Best Bang for the Buck
Giant Trance E+ 2 Pro
There's a lot to like about the Giant Trance E+ 2 Pro starting with its reasonable price. Electric mountain bikes are expensive, and the Trance E+ 2 comes in under $5K with a nice component specification. The build is one reason why this bike performs so well on the trail, with a beefy fork, plush suspension, meaty tires, and powerful brakes that can handle the heavy weight of this rig. It's also got a nice modern geometry that helps it perform very well on the descents while still maintaining reasonable climbing abilities. It has a 500Wh battery and proved to be one of the most efficient in using that power in our distance range testing. There's no lack of power on tap when you need it, and it delivers it smoothly with little motor noise. Giant finishes it all off with nice integration of the battery and motor into the frame design for a super clean look.
While we liked the value, component specification, and versatile all-around performance of the Trance E+ 2, it wasn't all gold stars. E-bikes are heavy, that is a given, but the Trance is a little heavier than most at 52 lbs 3 oz. This weight is one of the reasons this bike feels somewhat sluggish at times, especially in low-speed sections of trail. It also has mediocre e-bike controls. Sure, they are functional, but the all-in-one control's display in the form of small LED lights is difficult to see by the left grip and near impossible to read when riding in bright light conditions. Beyond that, we feel the Trance E+ 2 is a quality e-bike offered at a reasonable price.
Read review: Giant Trance E+ 2 Pro
Best for E-Enduro
YT Decoy CF Pro
The YT Decoy CF Pro is a quality electric mountain bike with a serious preference for the descents. With modern geometry numbers and generous amounts of travel, this bike slays the downhills with authority, yet it isn't so long that it has no personality. It has a very smooth and ground-hugging feel, and this bike makes the chop and chunder all but disappear. The CF Pro comes with a very nice component specification for the price, including a quality suspension package and SRAM's Code brakes that are capable of handling its downhill smashing capabilities. The Decoy also comes with mixed wheel sizes, 29" front/27.5"+ rear, and beefy tires that also speak to its enduro riding intentions. It also has a respectable distance range and seems to use its power relatively efficiently.
While our testers loved the downhill performance of the Decoy, its climbing performance left a little to be desired. This was mainly due to the fact that it has a low slung bottom bracket and cushy suspension that made pedal strikes a common occurrence; line choice was more critical on this bike than most when climbing. In general, its performance was a bit more one-dimensional than our highest-rated competitors, though we feel its enduro-oriented and hard-charging downhill performance is worthy of attention.
Read review: YT Decoy CF Pro
Best for Blurring the Lines
Specialized Turbo Levo SL Comp 2020
Specialized recently introduced the Turbo Levo SL, a line blurring e-bike that splits the difference between the non-powered Stumpjumper and the full-power Levo. For an e-bike, the new Levo SL is impressively lightweight thanks to their new SL 1.1 motor and a smaller 320Wh battery. While it's about half as powerful as the competition, it still roughly doubles your output to help you ride faster and farther, albeit with more effort than a full-powered model. With a geometry that is nearly identical to the Stumpjumper along with the reduced weight, the Levo SL is more nimble and handles a lot more like a normal a trail bike than any other e-MTB we've tested. On the descents, it is impressively stable and ground-hugging, yet easy to maneuver and get off the ground. On the climbs, it is comfortable with just enough power to help you scramble up just about anything. The build of the Comp alloy model we tested is mostly great and contributes to its overall performance.
The new SL 1.1 motor puts out a maximum of 35Nm of torque and 240 Watts of power. That is a little less than half of the regular Levo's output, and this difference is quite noticeable. The battery storage capacity is also a bit less than half at 320Wh, although you can add 160Wh with the optional Range Extender battery. While a lighter bike with less power output is the whole point of the Levo SL, it might not be the e-bike experience that many riders are looking for. Then again, it could be the ticket for the rider who still wants to push some watts of their own and is seeking a more agile, playful, and "normal" feeling ride.
Read review: Specialized Turbo Levo SL Comp 2020
Why You Should Trust Us
Our team of testers has strong backgrounds in the bike industry. These riders are racers, mechanics, shop owners, and adventure lovers who are all passionate about all things pertaining to bicycles.
Jeremy Benson eats, sleeps, and breathes mountain bikes. This native New Englander started mountain biking in 1992. He got more serious in college and started racing bikes in 1999. After moving to Tahoe, Jeremy continued his obsession with riding. He continues to race mountain bikes and has racked up some impressive results at the Downieville Classic and the Lost and Found Gravel Grinder. Jeremy authored Mountain Bike Tahoe, which was published in 2017. Kurt Gensheimer is a bike industry veteran and freelance writer. He brings decades of bike testing expertise to the table and has an affinity for exploring remote places in the Lost Sierra abord electric mountain bikes. He is a former singlespeed rider, and his alter ego is known as the Angry Single Speeder.
Chris McNamara spends a whole lot of time in the saddle. This rock climber turned mountain cyclist loves huge rides covering obscene distances. He is working on a few gigantic rides, including a singletrack route around Lake Tahoe and a ride from South Lake Tahoe to Mammoth Lakes. Joshua Hutchens has spent decades in the bike industry. He has been a racer, bike shop owner, mechanic, and a guide. Joshua has a great eye for the subtleties of a bicycle.
Related: How We Tested Best E-MTB Bikes
What is an E-Bike?
There are various kinds and classifications of electric bikes on the market. The most common type is Class 1, or pedal assist, bikes that 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 it. 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 pounds heavier than non-e-bikes. The heavy weight of these bikes makes them significantly more difficult to ride without the support of the pedal-assist motor. An exception to this rule is the new Turbo Levo SL Comp, a lower-powered and lighter weight model that tips the scales at just 41 lbs and 10 oz.
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.
It is important to note that adding a motor, battery, controls, wiring, and sensors to a mountain bike creates additional potential for these components to have issues or fail altogether. We recommend doing some research about warranty coverage and buy from a knowledgeable local dealer whenever possible to ensure that if problems should arise, you will be taken care of.
Analysis and Test Results
Over several months, our team of 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 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, climbing performance, power output, and distance range. Each of these metrics is 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 always stick. It was essential for us to test the different models head-to-head and make direct comparisons to flush out the differences.
With mountain bikes already carrying hefty price tags, the cost of adding an electric pedal-assist motor might be enough to send the value-conscious rider's head spinning. In many cases, you get what you pay for, and the most expensive models are the highest performing. This isn't always the case, however, and models like our Best Buy Award winner, the Giant Trance E+ 2 Pro cost less and performs nearly as well as its more expensive competition.
The bikes we tested all use a variety of e-bike motor systems, and the controls, the primary user interface, are an important element we rated but didn't weight as heavily as some of the others. Each motor system and its associated controls are slightly 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. We don't feel the apps are necessary for the use of any of these e-MTB's, but those with an affinity for technology or personalizing your ride may be inclined to use them.
The Commencal Meta Power 29 Team scored relatively well in this metric, with a small digital display mounted by the stem. It features Shimano's ergonomically friendly and low-profile shifter, as well as the E8000 handlebar mounted digital display that is easy to read. The YT Decoy and the Ghost use the same drive unit and controls as the Commencal and scored just a touch lower. Both have easy to reach controls and a digital display mounted by the stem on the handlebar, but the E7000 digital display lacks the color-coded output settings and just isn't as easy to read. The Bulls E-Stream has an all-in-one system that features the controls and display on a single unit mounted by the left grip on the handlebar. The Bulls controls and display have good button ergonomics, an easy to read digital display, and more information available on separate screens.
Both the Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay and the Giant Trance E+ 2 Pro fell short of the bar set by the competition with their all-in-one shifter/display units. The Giant outperforms the Rocky Mountain here, but both attempts at LED displays integrated into the control unit are more challenging to read than digital displays. Our Editor's Choice Award winner, the Specialized Turbo Levo Comp, along with the Turbo Levo SL score just below average in this rating due to the lack of a handlebar-mounted display.
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, 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 SL Comp proved to be the tester favorite, offering the most versatile downhill performance that felt the "most like a regular trail bike" that the other models couldn't match. The Specialized is the lightest and proved to be the most nimble and agile by far, yet still managed to be confident and stable at speed. The full-power Turbo Levo was our second favorite on the descents. It has a similar trail bike geometry to the SL version and has more responsive handling than most of the other bikes we tested without giving up any stability or downhill confidence.
The enduro-oriented YT Decoy CF Pro is also very impressive on the descents. The modern geometry, low bottom bracket, generous travel, and quality component spec all combine to make this a hard-charging beast on the descents. The Decoy can't match the versatility or well-rounded nature of the Levo models, but it crushes downhill with authority. The Commencal Meta Power 29 Team falls into a similar category as the YT, basically an e-enduro bike. The Commencal's super long geometry and high-end component spec made this bike an absolute charger at speed and in loose, chunky terrain, though it too lacked the versatility that our testers loved about the Levo.
We were also thoroughly impressed by the versatility and confidence-inspiring manners of our Best Buy winner, the Giant Trance E+ 2 Pro. The Trance's modern geometry and quality component spec are the primary factors that help it outperform some of the competition. The Bulls E-Stream has a more one dimensional downhill performance, a stable and planted feel that absolutely charges downhill and excels as the speeds increase.
Our testers were a little underwhelmed by the downhill prowess of the Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay Alloy 50. This bike clearly has loads of potential with excellent geometry and trail-smoothing rear suspension, but the spec of a wimpy fork and non-aggressive tires detracted from its downhill confidence when the going got steep or rough. It's loads of fun to ride on mellower terrain; it's just limited by some mediocre component specs.
You have to get up to get down, and one of the purposes of e-bikes is to make it much easier to do so. Some of our testers even claim that climbing is now nearly as fun as descending when you've got pedal assistance. 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.
Since it is more agile and quicker handling, the Specialized Turbo Levo Comp bested the competition in this rating metric, especially now that the new motor system doesn't have the somewhat abrupt power cutoff that plagued earlier models. The 2020 Levo is powerful, and the geometry lends itself well to scrambling up just about any climb while remaining very maneuverable. Testers found the Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay to perform relatively well on the uphills. The steep seat tube made for a comfortable climbing position and the powerful pedal-assist drive unit felt dialed. Its traction could be improved with beefier tires, and the weight of the bike feels centered a little higher than the competition resulting in some awkward handling at lower speeds. The Giant Trance E+ is also a competent climber, with ground-hugging Maestro suspension, comfortable geometry, and plenty of power on tap when you need it.
The Bulls E-Stream had power for days and could mash its way up just about anything, but its overall weight and size made it a little more awkward in slower or more technical sections of climbing. Likewise, the Commencal Meta Power 29 Team has ample power for grinding uphill, but the long wheelbase and super slack front end made this bike a little unwieldy in super steep or tight terrain while climbing. The YT Decoy CF Pro also has plenty of power, but it seems clear that this bike was designed for the descents. The Decoy still climbs relatively well, but testers found the low bottom bracket height made it more prone to pedal strikes than other competitors. Our least favorite bike on the climbs was the Ghost Hybride SL AMR. The Ghost has solid geometry numbers, but the pedal assistance felt less powerful and was less consistent than the competition.
The Specialized Turbo Levo SL was a bit of an outlier in this metric. With roughly half the power output and torque of the full-power models, it makes you work a fair bit harder on the climbs. That said, it has a comfortable geometry and quick handling. Riders who enjoy laying down their own power will find the added boost of the smooth but lighter power output to be just what they need to get up most climbs with ease.
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 drive units 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 pretty 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 Bulls motor is claimed to have 90Nm of torque, but it was so smooth and quiet that it didn't feel outrageously powerful. The assistance came on smooth and strong thanks to the belt-driven system. The Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay Alloy 50 uses a drive system that claims to have up to 108Nm of torque. While their system felt quite powerful, it didn't feel stronger than the Bulls, and we noticed that it seemed to modulate its output in a way that the others didn't. The Rocky Mountain makes you work for it a little more than the rest.
The new Specialized 2.1 motor system also boasts up to 90Nm of torque, and we found it to feel among the most powerful of all the models we tested. This bike gets up to speed quickly and stays there. Power output was smooth and consistent, even when switching between modes, and there was no lag when you pushed on the pedals or abrupt cutoff of power. Three models share the same Shimano Steps E8000 pedal-assist motor, one of the most popular drive systems on the market. It would stand to reason that the YT Decoy, Commencal Meta Power 29 Team, and the Ghost Hybride would have nearly identical feeling power output. Interestingly, the Ghost felt less powerful than the YT and the Commencal, both of which felt as if they delivered more power more consistently and smoothly than the Ghost could.
Again, the new Turbo Levo SL falls into a different category than the rest of the bikes in this review. The new SL 1.1 motor is much smaller and puts out a max torque of 35Nm and up to 240 Watts of power. This is a little less than half of the competition, and that is the intention. The power output is impressively smooth, although it doesn't deliver the same strong power of the competition. It makes the rider work harder, and for some riders, it may be preferred.
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, 500Wh or 504Wh, except for the Bulls E-Stream, Specialized Turbo Levo Comp, and the Turbo Levo SL Comp, but external 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. E-bike battery technology is developing rapidly, and the "standard" 500-ish Wh battery is quickly being replaced by batteries with larger storage capacities. For example, the 2020 Turbo Levo Comp now comes with a 700Wh battery that has roughly 40% more storage and corresponding distance range.
To compare the distance range of the models in our test, we had the same tester take each of the bikes out in their highest support setting and do laps on a very steep paved hill 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.
Specialized upped the ante with their 2020 Turbo Levo Comp by giving it a 700Wh battery. This larger battery fits into the same amount of space as the 500Wh battery in the '19 model while adding only 2 lbs to the overall weight. The Levo has approximately 40% more battery storage than the competition, so it came as no surprise that it blew the doors off all of them in the range test. Our tester rode the Levo 29.6 miles and 6,140 vertical feet during our standardized testing. The other outlier in this comparison is the Bulls E-Stream with a 650Wh battery. We were not able to test the Bulls directly against the other competitors, but we did notice that you can ride it significantly farther than most of them. During one of our test rides, we rode the Bulls 24 trail miles and 4,500 vertical feet, and the battery still wasn't depleted. More battery storage equals longer rides; it's just that simple.
Among the bikes we tested with 500 or 504Wh batteries, the Rocky Mountain took the win by traveling 20 miles and 4,297 vertical feet. It is worth mentioning that our tester felt that he worked a little harder while range testing the Rocky Mountain than the other bikes we tested. The Giant wasn't far behind at 19.02 miles and 4,000 vertical feet, and the YT Decoy almost tied that with 19.01 miles and 4,039 vertical feet. The Ghost Hybride SL AMR was one of the least impressive with a range of just 16.75 miles and 3,559 vertical feet. The Commencal Meta Power didn't exactly impress us with its range either, coming in dead last with 16 miles and 3,350 vertical feet.
With just 320Wh of battery storage capacity, the Turbo Levo SL has the shortest distance range of all the models we tested. We rode it 13 miles and 2,858 vertical feet, plus an additional 5 miles and 964 vertical feet with the Range Extender battery. It took more effort on the part of the rider, but we were still impressed with the range regardless. During some test rides, we were able to ride well over 20 miles with more than 6,000 vertical feet of climbing using the trail mode, and still finished with gas in the tank.
It is important to note that the less power output 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, and as the market matures, the bikes continue to improve. We will continue to update this review as new bikes emerge, and electric mountain bikes continue to evolve.
— Jeremy Benson, Kurt Gensheimer, Joshua Hutchens, Chris McNamara