I’m honored seeing the response this continually-updated post has received, including from the Recomendo community. Seeing growing public awareness and excitement around ebikes never gets old.
“Ebikes are a fantastic, but still underutilized, transportation option. Ryan Johnson wrote up the best roundup of buying advice for ebikes I’ve seen for anyone in the market for an ebike — and you should be!” - Kevin Klein, Recomendo
Ebikes are about to change the world, and they are already the best selling electric vehicles in the US.
They will be a big driver of shifting more car trips to other modes. And shifting more families to owning fewer, or even no cars. When we need fewer cars, that means we can build less parking, which lowers prices at grocery stores, restaurants, and other places. It lets us build things closer together, allowing us to build what consumers want — walkable neighborhoods like Culdesac Tempe.
I own over 70 ebikes, so some have called me the Jay Leno of ebikes. I’m still working on the jokes.
Ryan Johnson @ryanmjohnsonManaged to get (most of) the family together for a photo again
Ebikes are a big reason I've been able to go 12 years car-free. Owning so many bikes has also allowed me to understand the differences between them, and I've advised hundreds on their own ebike purchase.
My fleet has also allowed me to go on many group rides and lend them to many people. If you want to try some, just dm me and we’ll set you up to come to the Culdesac office in downtown Tempe.
Here are 11 rules for buying an ebike
- Just buy one. You will be happy with what you bought. Ebikes are a gateway drug to…more ebikes. Most people will spend $1-3k on their first ebike. Just get started and you’ll learn more in time for buying your second. It’s a lot of money for a bike, but you should be comparing it to a car instead.
- Gone are the days when the bicycle world was dominated by road and mountainbikers that looked down on ebikes as cheating. a) nobody cares. b) you don’t get as much exercise per mile, but you travel farther and c) this is about commuting and cargo. Even if you want to full throttle your trips like I often do, great. We’re here to shift trips from cars to bikes, not fight about one type of bike versus another.
- Don’t buy one on Amazon. They don’t have the best bikes. And many of the bikes on there I wouldn’t recommend. See below for my lowest priced recommendation.
- There are two good ways to buy an ebike. Online or from your local bike shop. The local bike store, if it’s a good one, offers a range of options and does repairs on site. They don’t offer many (any) of the direct to consumer brands, but again, see rule 1. Online, which usually means a direct to consumer brand, gives you the most options across companies. Servicing can be more painful, but the gap is smaller than you might think. The direct to consumer companies have even been developing servicing networks for a van to come to you. Some companies will even bring a test vehicle to you before you buy.
- Bike fit matters but fitting it to your needs matters more. Spend more time matching a functional bike to your lifestyle and follow the manufacture’s suggested size chart to find the proper fit.
- Safety first. I only recommend bikes that come with integrated headlights and disc brakes (mechanical or hydraulic).
- One of the first decisions to make is mid-drive vs. hub-drive (where the motor is located). Mid-drive is more expensive, but feels the most natural. One advertising campaign calls their mid-drive “you, but stronger” and that sums it up. When I want to get more of a workout, I grab one of my mid-drives. But usually I grab one of my hub-drives. Why? A THROTTLE1Throttles are magic and give you the option of pedaling as little as zero. Particularly for cargo bikes, a throttle is a major feature. You’ll appreciate it when you’re taking off from a standing stop with groceries or children on the back.
- Anti-theft will be THE killer feature for ebikes. Retailers that provide safe bike parking before anti-theft is widespread will be rewarded with customers. Customers that don’t need a 350 sqft parking spot for one vehicle.
- You might be surprised how much help you can get for free on Reddit or Facebook groups. Seriously, just post a video of what is wrong with your bike to the right group and people will line up to help you. But ignore them about doing complex modifications unless that is your thing.
- Tech can be overrated. For one, it’s more things to go wrong. One example is the VanMoof phone unlock feature. In most cases, it’s great that the bike unlocks as you walk up. But I’ve also heard instances of someone at a restaurant sitting near their bike and it unlocked the bike.
- I’m not the best person for scooters (being 6'5" means that many of them aren’t really tall enough for me), but consider them too. People love scooters. The shared scooters suffer from limitations imposed by local governments. Individual scooters do not.
Note: the below recommendations are for the US market. Check your local laws and regulations.
Here are the 11 ebikes by category I most highly recommend
1. The standard: Rad Power Bikes RadRunner 2
There was a clear choice for which bike to bring when the NYT visited the Culdesac site.
When I think of what an ebike is, I think of the RadRunner. It looks nothing like a traditional bicycle. Some would call the RadRunner a utility bike, but I just call it the standard because this is the most frequent purchase of people after I show them my collection.
Rad Power Bikes is the gorilla in the ebike space. I often tell people to look at their full line and that shows them a range of different bikes and they can choose what they want. Rad’s bikes are basically all good and well-priced in the $1–2k range.
The RadRunner has a number of features that make it great. The 20 x 3.3" tires are wide enough for a range of scenarios and short enough to make turning easy and fun. It has a step-through design. Thirty years ago, a step-through might have been called a “girls bike” in the US. But now even the tall men that try my bikes usually want a step-through. This bike also has a quite good set of upgrades available, showing its flexibility.
Price: $1500 on 6/1/22 on Rad’s website for the base version that most people buy. $1900 for Plus Version with front suspension, a passenger seat, and some other upgrades.
2. Lowest price I recommend: Lectric XP Lite
This is the second most common purchase from people that try my bikes. Price matters, a lot.
Lectric has grown rapidly over the past two years by focusing on low price points. Their flagship XP has remained at $1000 even despite inflation. That gives you a class 3 bike (up to 28mph), seven gears, and a front suspension.
Then in April they introduced the Lectric XP Lite, at $800. They removed non-essential features such as gears and a suspension, and a smaller motor means it is only a class 2 bike (20 mph).
The immediate sacrifice of the XP and XP Lite is that the battery range is lower than other bikes. But there’s a reason this bike is selling so well.
This Phoenix-based company also has a great reputation for service.
You can go even lower on price, but again I wouldn’t buy the budget bikes on Amazon. There is also a whole category of mini bikes, including some sold at Costco, that are compelling.
Also great: The RadMission is what you get when you you want your bike to look as much like a traditional bike as possible, and recently got a price drop to make it quite competitive.
Price: Lectric XP Lite: $800 on 8/18/22 on Lectric’s website. RadMision $910 with kickstand on 8/18/22 on Rad’s website.
3. The anti-theft revolution: VanMoof S3/X3
Anti-theft is going to be THE killer feature for ebikes. Besides road safety, theft is the #1 concern I’m asked about from people. VanMoofs S3 and X3 excel here for two reasons.
(note that VanMoof has announced the S5 and A5, which succeed the S3 and X3. I expect them to be as good or better than the prior versions. I’ll update this when I receive mine!)
First, it has an integrated kick lock, so the bike can lock without requiring any external lock at all (I’d usually still want one…). You can either unlock it with your phone (which I don’t recommend) or you can enter a code using a button on the handlebars. Especially for low risk parking situations, I love bringing the VanMoof. It also has a Find My integration with Apple.
Second, they sell an insurance policy with the bike where if it’s stolen, they replace it for free up to three times. They try to find the bike for 2 weeks (and if you’re lucky you’ll be featured on their Bike Hunters YouTube series), then mail you a new one if they don’t find it.
As even they’ve said themselves in the press, these have a higher percentage of bikes with an issue than they’d like. In my experience, that meant sending the bike back and getting a replacement. So I wouldn’t want this to be my only bike. But it is one of the most sought after bikes in my fleet, and one I’m thrilled to own multiple of.
There is much more innovation to come with bikes and technology. My Cowboy 4 recently arrived and I’m waiting for more people to try it see how it compares to the VanMoof.
Price: $2510 on 6/1/22, plus $400 for optional (and outstanding) anti-theft plan, on VanMoof’s website. I added the $60 in the price for shipping. It is more often included free from other brands. Cowboy 4 ST, $2990 on Cowboy’s website on 9/7/22.
4. Bakfiets: Urban Arrow Family, Riese & Muller Load
The Load 75 parked in front of some of the offices where Culdesac Tempe residents will work along Tempe Town Lake
Urban Arrow Family doing work at Culdesac’s popup Little Cholla.
Perhaps the most important categories of all, bakfiets and cargo bikes (next category) are car replacement at its finest. People are always surprised how much you can carry #carryshitolympics. There are many options.
Bakfiets, which is Dutch for box bike, are a force of nature in the Netherlands, which is the world’s best example of how bikes can transform a city into something much more pleasant. The box is in front, giving the bike a large carrying capacity, plus a bench for children, or a Belgian Malinois if you’re a certain someone on my team.
Two excellent examples are the Riese & Muller Load, and the Urban Arrow Family. Both are easier to drive than they look, and they are frequently the favorites of all bikes anyone tries once they get used to how they drive.
There are other good options in this category. the Butchers & Bicycles MK-1 is a cargo tricycle that leans as you turn, countering the balance concerns that usually come with a trike. And the unique steering style of my Bunch Bikes Coupe is polarizing but might be for you.
These bikes are pricey, partly because they’re so rare in the US. As more are built, prices will come down. And a bakfiets with a throttle is going to be the next great American ebike.
Prices: Urban Arrow Family Performance Line $7000, from a dealer I price checked with. Riese & Muller Load 75, $13,150 as configured from a dealer I price checked with. On 6/1/22.
5. Cargo Bikes: Radwagon, Tern GSD/HSD, Cero One
The RadWagon carrying precious cargo
The Tern GSD R14 rivaling a Prius for carrying capacity
The Cero One looking hungry for cargo on either its big wheel or small wheel
I call the RadWagon the most important vehicle in America because it’s under $2k and can fulfill duties as both a regular bike and a cargo bike. It can carry up to 2 child seats.
Similar in shape but much upgraded (if you can get over losing the throttle of the RadWagon), the Tern GSD (pictured) or HSD are higher end cargo bikes. Above is the R14 which has a Rohloff hub that lets you push a button to shift gears, and downshifts automatically.
The Cero One is another favorite. Once you get used to the Japanese design with a smaller front wheel, you love it. It can carry a surprising amount of cargo, such as a full size suitcase, on the front rack alone.
Prices: RadWagon, $2000 on Rad’s website. Tern GSD starting at $5400, HSD $3700, Cero One $3800 from Cero’s website. On 6/1/22.
6. The speed demon: Juiced Bikes HyperScorpion
The definition of what an ebike is is getting blurred. Sondors is even releasing one that goes 80mph (yes, I ordered one. No, I don’t recommend any bikes that haven’t shipped yet).
One that is right on the line of what an ebike is is the Juiced Bikes HyperScorpion. It has a very powerful motor (too powerful for the new federal subsidy…), and has a setting with a full throttle to 31mph. It also has a setting to be a regular class 3 ebike. That flexibility and power is quite compelling. For example, people that have used motorcycles in the past gravitate to this one.
Price: $2500 on 11/24/21 on Juiced’s website. The base model Scorpion is $2200.
7. Comfort champ: RadRover & RadRover Step-Thru
Regular bike tires are nice when the roads are smooth, but when the sidewalks turn rough and the roads become cracked, look to the RadRover. This bike has huge 26 x 4" tires. And that’s a 26" wheel, with the tire 4" tall on top of it. Large tires act as a natural suspension (on top of the actual front suspension), absorbing bumps in the road. Tire pressure can be set anywhere from 5 to 30PSI to tune the comfort to your liking.
The tires are not easy to turn (but not as hard as, say, the very fun Phat Scooter). Also, you’re not carrying it up the stairs.
But there’s a reason this bike is Rad’s second most popular bike after the RadRunner. You’ll love the comfort of this ride.
Price: $2000 for the RadRover Plus or RadRover Plus Step-Thru (pictured) on 11/24/21. The older generation RadRover and RadRover Step-Thru are $1600. On Rad’s website.
8. Portability champ: LeMond Dutch
The LeMond Dutch is shockingly light, even if it doesn’t come with a kickstand
A frequent ask is for a lighter bike. The ask usually comes from someone that lives in a place like New York. But it also comes from someone in a second floor walkup in other cities. In addition to stairs, a common use case is to take it onto a train/bus.
Weight is the most important for this, and there are a proliferating number of options in the sub 30 lbs space.
The LeMond Dutch is a newer bike from the famous Tour de France winner. You have to lift it with your own eyes to believe it’s only 27lbs.
Folding also matters, and the GoCycle excels at both weight and folding. It’s not cheap, but this is a bike I recommend when it matters.
And when you really need to fold, like say to put a bike in an overhead bin on an airplane, a Brompton is your best bet. Their ebike doesn’t feel like it was engineered to be an ebike, but it gets a mention here until something else fits in an overhead bin.
Price: $4000 for the GoCycle G4 on Gocycle’s website. $4900 for the LeMond Dutch on LeMond’s website. On 6/1/22. Brompton Electric P, $4700 on Brompton’s website on 9/7/22.
9. Inoperable/no pedal champ: Segway c80
I haven’t seen many of these bikes around, but everyone that tries mine loves it. Bikes like this are more popular in Asia. It has non-functional pedals. It has a downright pleasant UI. You can use a key, but it also comes with two credit-card sized keys that you can use to lock and unlock it. I wish it went 28 instead of 20, but this is pure joy to ride.
Price: $2200 on 11/24/21 from Segway’s website.
10. The personality: Electric Bike Company
While all bikes are customizable, some bikes give more personality out of the box. Nobody does this better than Electric Bike Company. While buying one of their base models in all white is an excellent value, I challenge you to actually buy it as such. Instead, they have the ability to customize the color of almost every component of the bike.
I’d probably color mine differently in hindsight after hearing people say it looks like it belongs on the Google campus. But either way, picking the colors is the most exciting part.
They can do this because they build their bikes in the US. You can even visit one of their design centers if you’re lucky enough to live near one.
Of course, there are also other bikes that each individually have lots of style, even if they don’t allow full custom paint. The Blix Aveny is a notable example. Bikes by Super73 are another.
Price: Various models. Mine is the Model Y at $1950 before the $400 optional (and outstanding) paint upgrade. From Electric Bike Company’s website. 11/24/21.
11. Bike snob champ: Specialized Vado
Specialized Turbo Vado 5.0 Step-Through
One of our investors once asked which bike he should get for his wife. I said, your wife is one of the greatest athletes of all time. You should get Serena a Specialized.
If budget is no obstacle and you’re looking to transition from a traditional bike to an electric bike, the bike snobs will be happiest with a bike like a Specialized. You can spend up to $16k.
They also have lower priced models aimed at a wider audience. I bought a Vado and it gets heavy use from the Culdesac team.
But this section is here mostly to say these aren’t what ebikes are about. Ebikes that are used for commuting and cargo are going to change the world, so the rest of the list focuses on those.
Price: Sold out on Specialized’s website on 11/24/21, but you can go there to check local dealers. List is $5000 for Turbo Vado 5.0 Step-Through.
- The government doesn’t subsidize bikes nearly as much as it subsidizes cars, but there are still some subsidies nonetheless. The infrastructure bill had a provision to subsidize ebikes nationwide, so I’m monitoring if that passes or gets included in future legislation. Here is a tracker for ebike incentives
- This is a common question from people. I’ll put something together one day. But today I’ll mention a few
- The Loud Bicycle horn gives bikes a horn as loud as a car horn.
- Helmets, obviously, but put a cameras on it such as a GoPro or the Insta360. Drivers will respect you more knowing you’re filming, and it is particularly invaluable if there is a road safety incident. People used to say “were you wearing a helmet?”, but soon they’ll ask “were you wearing a camera?”
- Get a rear view mirror, so you can see behind you with less effort than turning. Also consider a Garmin safety radar such as a Garmin Varia.
- Especially if you live in a state with goathead thorns like Arizona, get tire slime or a similar product/solution.
- Bike theft is a reality, but there are ways to combat it. No lock can defeat an angle grinder. But you can prioritize retailers that have convenient and secure bike parking (and if you’re in Tempe, you can get a 10% discount from this set of retailers for arriving by bike).
- You can check with your home/renters insurance for if ebikes are covered. Kudos to Lemonade for making strides recently. A tailor made option for cyclists is Velosurance.
- Get an AirTag or Tile and hide it in your bike.
- I hope to find a list of attorneys that specialize in bicycle safety in each state. If you have one, let me know!
- Electric Bike Review has in depth reviews of many bikes.
- Bike Shop Girl is a longtime mechanic who focuses on cargo bikes.
I’m always looking to learn more, so send me your thoughts. Or if you want more specific thoughts on your purchase, send me a dm/tweet. Ebikes are more than a hobby for me. They are a big reason we’re able to build walkable neighborhoods at Culdesac. If our mission calls to you, check out our jobs page or send me a dm. If you’re a bike mechanic, I especially want to hear from you.
While it’s possible to have a mid-drive with a throttle, it is rare. I bought my Ariel Rider M-Class to have one such bike, and then they discontinued it later.