If you’re new to electric bicycles, you’re probably overwhelmed by all the different styles and choices. Even after you find the type of ebike you want, you’ll notice some electric bikes cost a lot more than others. Is it always worth spending more?
To answer that question, we have to look at why some electric bikes cost considerably more than others. It comes down to a variety of factors, but the main reasons are:
- They often have Custom Frames or Higher Quality Frames
- Offer Multiple Frame Size
- Offer Dealer Support
- Use Higher Quality Bike Components (brakes, shifters, rims, pedals, tires, etc)
- May Have More Sophisticated Sensors
- May Have a Mid-Drive Motor Which Cost More
- Offer Ongoing Support for Repairs and Parts
There are big differences when comparing ebikes from Tern, Specialized, Trek, and other higher-end brands to direct-to-consumer brands like Lectric, Rad Power Bikes, and many others. The most important difference for many is dealer support.
With higher-end ebikes, you can typically visit a dealer, test ride the bike, and enjoy customer support long after the sale. With some cheaper brands, customer support will vary.
Dealer support can be a deciding factor for many. Beyond that, more expensive bikes are usually higher quality in their build. It’s like comparing a Chevrolet to a BMW. Both will get you down the road, but one will have a better ride and performance. We hope it’s the BMW.
Custom Frames and Parts
Something else to consider is that more expensive brands usually offer multiple frame sizes. It doesn’t matter how great an ebike is, if it’s too big or small for you, it won’t be a great experience for you. It costs more to manufacture multiple frame sizes, and that’s one reason why companies like Specialized or Trek have to charge more. Many direct-to-consumer ebike companies only have one frame size, except for Aventon.
Higher end ebike companies, like Tern, (now available at REI) have purpose-built custom frames, offer tons of accessories, and use Bosch motors and batteries, which are considered top of the line in the ebike world. They obviously have to charge more than a company that uses stock frames from China that are used by many other brands.
Some Ebikes Are Overpriced
Be aware that some ebikes are overpriced for what you’re getting. Don’t pay an excessive amount just for a brand name. When comparing dealer bikes with direct-to-consumer bikes, sometimes the direct-to-consumer bike wins on price and quality. You can’t just assume a bike bought from a dealer, or one that is priced higher, is always the best choice. You have to look at what the bike offers.
If you’re simply wanting an ebike to haul on the back of a camper, or cruise around the neighborhood, there’s no need to spend a lot. You can buy an ebike for less than $1k and be completely happy with it, as long as it suits your needs.
If you’re a more serious cycling enthusiast, who demands quality and an excellent riding experience, then you’ll have to spend more.
Look for High Quality Bicycle Components
Even though you’re looking to buy an electric bike, don’t forget that it’s still a bicycle. It should be equipped with good quality components that you would find on any quality bike, such as the choice of derailleur, shifters, tires, rims, crankset, spokes, grips, etc. They will make a big difference on ride quality and safety. Don’t skimp out on these things.
Ebike components include the motor, controller, display, sensors, battery, and possibly a throttle. Look for batteries with Samsung or other name brand cells and UL certification. You don’t want to bring some strange bike into your house with unknown battery cells. Both Tern and Buzz Bicycles advertise the certification of their bikes. I hope to see more companies display this.
Don’t get wowed by high wattage motors and huge batteries on some bikes. An ebike that is designed well, especially with a mid-drive motor, will often be more efficient and plenty powerful, compared to an ebike with a higher wattage hub motor.
Personally, I like the 36-volt, mid-drive ebikes that I own. They’re quiet and light enough for me to pick up and put on a car rack. They also have plenty of power to be a commuter or gravel bike. If you’ll be climbing a lot of big hills, then spending more on a more powerful motor is justified.
More expensive ebikes also usually use torque sensors, instead of cheaper cadence sensors. Torque sensors provide a more natural and satisfying pedaling experience. Higher-end mid-drive motors are equipped with several sensors that allow the motor to deliver power more intelligently. Having ridden many different styles of ebikes, I know that there is a very noticeable difference between riding a bike with so-so parts and one that has been outfitted nicely.
I’m able to ride farther and more comfortably on a better quality bike that pedals well and fits me properly. If I’m always trying to find the right gear and being annoyed by a motor that either delivers too much or too little power, it’s not so enjoyable. Many cheaper ebikes leave something to be desired in the way they deliver power.
Higher Quality Motors
The electrical system on more expensive ebikes should be outfitted with better quality motors from companies like Bosch, Shimano, Yamaha, or Brose. You’re probably going to spend in excess of $3k to get such a system. One exception is the Ride1Up Prodigy from Ride1Up that goes for closer to $2k. It’s a direct-to-consumer brand, but you save a ton and still get a great Brose motor.
Hydraulic Brakes and Gears
Any ebike that cost more than $2K should have hydraulic disc brakes, in my opinion, and a decent spread of gears. Many cheaper ebikes have insufficient gear ratios which cause hamster pedaling, which can limit the performance of the bike. I’ve found that a 14-28 spread isn’t enough for any ebike I’ve ridden, but many cheaper ebikes, and even more expensive ones, use such a cheap freewheel.
Look for Shimano or other good quality branded derailleurs and shifters. A good mid-range derailleur like a Shimano Deore is noticeably better than a budget Shimano Tourney derailleur. Both get the job done, but you’ll be happier with better quality components. Of course, these are things that can be upgraded.
Are More Expensive Ebikes Worth It?
So, are more expensive ebikes worth it? Okay, I guess we should first define what is expensive for an ebike. To me, a more budget friendly ebike is less than $2k. Electric bikes that I would expect to have good components range from $2k – $3k. So, to me, an expensive ebike is more than $3k. I think most people can find a terrific ebike in the $2k-$3k range, and even for less. There’s probably not much reason to spend more than that, unless you want high-end components or a very niche-style bike with a lot of customization, like a Tern or Xtracycle, which are higher-end cargo bikes.
Should You Only Buy from a Dealer?
If you are spending a lot, or prefer to have local service, I’d recommend buying from a dealer. Personally, if I was spending more than $3k, I would definitely use a dealer, or buy from a company like REI, who services the bikes they sell. Knowing that you can speak to someone in person about your bike can justify paying a higher price.
That said, just because you buy from an online company doesn’t mean you’ll have a bad experience. I’ve had good luck with direct-to-consumer ebikes such as Aventon (who sells online and from dealers), Ride1Up, Rad Power Bikes, Lectric, and Buzz Bicycles. Others I’d recommend are Magnum (also has dealers) and Priority Bicycles.
So, no, you don’t have to buy from a dealer or spend a fortune to get a good electric bike or decent service. But for more expensive bikes with higher-end components and motors, I’d stick with a dealer.
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