Mistakes to Avoid When Buying an E-Bike

Electric bicycle parked on agricultural field on a sunny day


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Electric bicycle parked on agricultural field on a sunny day

E-Bike Boom

The pandemic caused a biking boom. Bicycles became popular as people searched for ways to stay fit outside gyms, as well as for public transportation alternatives. E-bikes led the pack, with sales rising 145% from 2019 to 2020 — twice the rate increase even of classic bikes. Rising gas prices have further fueled the bicycling trend, and experts are forecasting another sales surge in 2022. But e-bikes’ price tags of anywhere from less than $1,000 to upward of $10,000 make them serious investments. To spend wisely, read on for the top mistakes to avoid when buying an e-bike.

Related: Fun Facts About Bicycles, From Boneshakers to the Wright Brothers

Close up of an e-bike in the sunshine

All About E-Bikes

E-bikes look and ride like traditional bikes, but they have a key difference: They have an electric motor and battery that make pedaling easier and the bike travel faster. E-bikes may have pedal assist, which lends the rider a helping hand when pedaling, and throttles, which can use the motor to propel the bike even without pedaling. E-bikes have three classifications. Class I e-bikes provide motor-powered pedal assistance up to 20 mph; Class II e-bikes do the same, but also provide a throttle to power the bike even without a rider pedaling. Class III e-bikes provide pedal assistance up to around 30 mph, though the throttle still limits speed to around 20 mph. Some states have age and safety requirements for e-bike riding (such as requiring riders to be over 16 and wear a helmet), so be sure to check local laws.

Related: The Best Places to Buy Bikes Online

active senior couple cycling on mountain bikes through rural landscape

Who’s Riding E-Bikes

E-bikes are popular among America’s aging population. Sales are skewed to people in their 50s and 60s. They’re a good fit because the bikes’ mechanical boosts make them easier to ride. E-bikes are also popular among commuters, who use them to opt out of public transportation and bypass traffic.

Related: Where Your State Ranks for Bicycle Safety

man showing female customer new e- bike in bikeshop

Mistake 1: Buying the Least Expensive Bike

You might be wondering if spending thousands on an e-bike is worth it. It is, according to Bryan Dean, of the eBike Store in Portland, Oregon, who has a reminder of why quality is worth paying more for, especially for e-bikes”: “Cheap parts wear out within the first 500 miles, and the replacement parts are difficult to source.”

Man Riding E Bike Bicycle In City

Mistake 2: Believing the Manufacturer’s Mileage Range

Treat manufacturer-provided ranges like the sticker information in a car window — that is, take them with a grain of salt, Dean suggests. Bike manufacturers provide mileage ranges of how far an e-bike can travel before needing a charge based on optimal and very particular circumstances. The range you achieve when you get the bike home will vary widely based on your weight, the terrain you’re riding on, and your speed.

Related: The Best Bike Trails in All 50 States

Happy senior man standing talking at mobile phone. Metal wall in background. One caucasian people. Using e bike with helmet

Mistake 3: Not Understanding Drive System Differences

E-bikes have two types of drive systems: mid-drive and hub motors. A mid-drive drivetrain has a classic chain, chain rings, and a cassette, just like on a typical bike, and adds force to your pedaling effort; a hub motor is an electric motor that provides power via the front or rear wheel. Which is better? It depends.

Mid-drive systems are typically lighter, more efficient, and feel like a natural extension of your efforts, Dean says. They perform well if you’re riding over flat ground and plan to go one speed. The bikes are also easier to service because everything outside the motor is similar to a bike; bike shops will work on them. Hub-motor bikes are typically heavier, but have more power for hill climbing. Many bike shops won’t service them.


Woman leaving on e-bike

Mistake 4: Not Buying the Right E-Bike for You

Some families think it’s fun to buy sets of matching bikes, like getting a fleet of the popular Rad Power Bikes. It may be fun, but it’s not wise. It’s important to find the right bike for each physique. Someone who’s 5-foot-2 isn’t likely to fit on the same bike comfortably as someone who’s 6-foot-4. You may also have different needs, like having a collapsible bike such as the Tern Vektron that folds to go on trains or into apartments; or an Xtracycle for carrying kids. Dean says the Turbo Vado SL by Specialized is one of the most versatile e-bikes. “It rides like an analog bike, is lightweight, wonderful for gravel to groceries and under 35 pounds. It’s very reliable and you can fine-tune the [power] assistance to your exact desire,” he says.

A rear view of businessman commuter with electric bicycle traveling to work in city.

Mistake 5: Believing Manufacturer Speed Claims

There’s no federal regulation of e-bike manufacturer claims, from mileage ratings to speed claims. So you may find that a top speed advertised for a bike is possible only during short bursts, rather than over long distances. Commuters, with their need to reach destinations on time, should be especially aware of this potential buying misstep.

man changing electric bicycle battery

Mistake 6: Not Getting a Warranty

Batteries for e-bikes are the most expensive components, and the items most likely to fail. Although batteries have increased greatly in performance and quality in recent years, they aren’t infallible. Most e-bike manufacturers will issue warranties on their bikes overall, or the batteries. If you see a bike that doesn’t have one, that’s a clue to the bike’s quality — or lack thereof. Even with a warranty, the bike must be serviced within the manufacturer’s recommendations to not void the warranty.


man checking tire pressure of e bike, inflating air with hand pump
Maya Jane/istockphoto

Mistake 7: Failing to Have a Service Plan

From tuneups to fixing or replacing flat tires, all bikes must be serviced. E-bikes’ motors and batteries mean they need even more attention over the long haul. Having an e-bike serviced regularly will enhance its reliability and lifespan, though it also adds to the overall cost of owning one. This is a long-term cost best planned at the outset and calculated when setting a buying budget.

Related: Is a Group Tour for You This Bike Season?