The 10 Best Electric Bikes
We spent 45 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. With rechargeable, battery-powered pedaling assistance, electric bicycles offer an increasingly viable alternative to fossil-fueled commuting, and e-bikes enable riders of various abilities to extend their cycling range. But the street legality of these hybrid machines remains a contentious issue, so be sure to check current state and local laws governing their operation before you hit the road. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best electric bike on Amazon.
October 05, 2018: Removed outdated models, adding both newer releases from established brands and promising newcomers in a range of styles.
Electric Motors And Bicycles Make A Perfect Pair
While the first functional battery was developed in the year 1800 by Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, a practical battery would not be seen for several decades yet.
His Rover bike had wheels of equal size in the front and back and used a chain connecting the pedals and the rear wheel as a propulsion system.
The first regularly produced device resembling the modern bicycle was unveiled in 1818. It was called the Dandy Horse. The two-wheeled ride-on Dandy Horse was the brainchild of German inventor Baron Karl Drais, and it featured a handle bar, a padded seat, and two inline wheels of nearly equal size. What it did not feature were pedals; this was a "running machine," thus its name in German, Laufmachine. The Dandy Horse saw only a flicker of popularity, and was largely an historical footnote within a handful of years, though its design is nearly mimicked in the child's balance bike of today.
Bicycles featuring pedal power were developed during the subsequent decades of the 19th century, with the most emblematic example being the bicycle we know today as the Penny-Farthing. The bike was named based on the substantial difference in its wheel size resembling the larger and smaller Penny and Farthing coins, respectively. These bicycles were wildly popular among the well heeled upper classes of Europe and America despite their penchant for launching riders head first over the large wheel, not to mention their relative difficulty to mount and dismount.
In the year 1885, a British man named J.K. Stanley introduced what can fairly be described as the first modern bicycle. His Rover bike had wheels of equal size in the front and back and used a chain connecting the pedals and the rear wheel as a propulsion system. It was often marketed as a safety bike in contrast with the unstable Penny Farthing, and was a smashing success. The company went on to develop motorcycles and automobiles, remaining in business until the year 2005.
The first functioning electric motor was displayed in the early 19th century, though the device constructed by British scientist Michael Faraday did little more than swirl a wire around a magnet when an electric charge was introduced. Still, the concept proved that electricity could do work. Functional electric motors would follow in many forms after that achievement in 1821. Soon scientists and tinkerers around the world, including visionaries such as Nikola Tesla, were experimenting with all manner of electric motors -- some worked with DC power, others with AC. By the end of the century, myriad electric motors had been produced, capable of exerting enough force with enough reliable control that they were practical for use in myriad applications.
While the first functional battery was developed in the year 1800 by Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, a practical battery would not be seen for several decades yet. By the end of the 19th century, practical and portable batteries were more widely available, this finally freeing the electric motor to be used in a wide new array of applications. It might come as a surprise, but the electric motor, battery, and a bicycle were first paired as far back as the 1890s. It would be approximately 100 years later that electric bicycle development finally entered the mainstream, but the technology and concept behind the electric bike were all in place generations ago.
Choosing Your New Electric Bike
There are two basic categories of electric bike, and their uses don't offer equal crossover value. The first category is essentially a normal bicycle that has been outfitted with an electric motor. These bikes are the same size as a standard bicycle, and handle almost identically, save for the obvious benefit of added motive power thanks to a motor and battery.
There are two basic categories of electric bike, and their uses don't offer equal crossover value.
Many such bikes are suitable for long distance rides, and some can even handle the same terrain as a rugged mountain bike. Other full-sized electric bikes come in the beach cruiser design and allow for comfortable longer distance rides in relatively accommodating conditions such as on sidewalks, paved paths, or roadways.
The second type of electric bike is a much smaller, often foldable unit designed for convenient urban (or suburban) commuting and for easy storage in minimal space. These compact electric bikes are perfect for trips of a few miles, and many are small and lightweight enough to be carried onto trains or buses, allowing their rider to make use of multiple types of transportation in a single trip, and to store their bike in a closet or even under a desk at work, at school, or at home.
These bikes, while convenient in most ways, are not suitable for longer use and can rarely handle unpaved surfaces. They are also inferior vehicles when driven solely by pedal power, thus it is inadvisable to ride them for distances longer than their batteries can last.
If you are a regular bicyclist who wants to add some excitement to your rides or wants some help with those hills, a full sized electric bike is the way to go. If you are considering a bike as a means of transportation more than an outlet for amusement, then a smaller, folding electric bike is the convenient choice. In each category, consider the speed and range you want, as these factors impact price.
Electric Bike Safety And Maintenance
While riding an electric bike is essentially the same experience as using a pedal-powered bicycle, accidents can occur more easily as a rider familiarizes himself or herself with the new bike. Many of these units can easily achieve speeds greater than twenty miles per hour, which is faster than most people ride their bikes.
Doing so will also reduce your risk of being left without movement power, other than your legs.
The dangers can often come when an electric bike is used around conventional bicycles, as the other riders around you will not be expecting your added speed. Your reaction times also must increase to compensate for your velocity. Therefore, as with riding any bike, always wear a helmet when atop your electric bicycle.
Unlike with many older batteries, where best practices are to drain the battery as much as possible prior to recharging it, an electric bike's battery will serve you well if you charge it to capacity as often as possible. Doing so will also reduce your risk of being left without movement power, other than your legs.
Make sure to keep your bike's chain and gears lubricated, its tires properly inflated, and its brakes clean and clear of debris. The better the bike is working overall, the less work the motor has to do, and that means a longer operating life of the motor and of the whole bicycle in general.
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