Article by Ryan Johnson, CEO and Co-Founder of Culdesac
Ebikes are about to change the world. They are already the best selling electric vehicles, and are selling as fast as factories can make them.
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 60 ebikes, so some have called me the Jay Leno of ebikes. I’m still working on the jokes.
Ebikes are a big reason I've been able to go 11 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, often using Buy Now Pay Later services such as Affirm or Klarna. 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 THROTTLE! Throttles 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: RadRunner
When I think of what an ebike is, I think of the RadRunner. It looks nothing like a traditional bicycle, which I now call a legbike. 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”. 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: $1300 on 11/24/21 on Rad’s website for the base version that most people buy. $1800 for Plus Version with front suspension, a passenger seat, and some other upgrades.
2. 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.
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.
Price: $2300 on 11/24/21, plus $400 for optional (and outstanding) anti-theft plan, on VanMoof’s website.
3. The speed demon: Juiced Bikes HyperScorpion
The definition of what an ebike is is getting blurred. Sonder 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.
4. 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.
5. Portability champ: GoCycle
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.
Weight is the most important for this, and there are a proliferating number of options in the sub 30 lbs space.
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.
Price: $4000 for the GoCycle G4 on 11/24/21 on Gocycle’s website.
6. Lowest price I recommend: Lectric XP
This is the second most common purchase from people that try my bikes. Price matters, a lot. The lectric comes in under $1000 and when I’ve bought from them they also included pannier bags. That somehow gives you a class 3 bike (up to 28mph) a suspension, and a comfy seat.
The immediate sacrifice 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.
Other bikes in the sub $1000 range are the RadMission (which is rarely picked by people that test my bikes. Usually they pick the RadRunner if they get a Rad).
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.
Price: $949 (usually $999) on 11/24/21 on Lectric’s website.
7. Car replacement trio: Radwagon, Tern GSD/HSD, Urban Arrow Family
Perhaps the most important category of all, cargo bikes are car replacement at its finest. People are always surprised how much you can carry with a cargo bike. There are many options.
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, 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 Urban Arrow family is one of the type of cargo bikes called bakfiets, meaning the “box” is in the front. This gives it a large carrying capacity, plus a bench for children, or a Belgian Malinois if you’re a certain someone on my team.
It’s easier to drive than it looks, and is frequently the favorite of all bikes anyone tries once they get used to it.
Prices: RadWagon, $1900 on Rad’s website. Tern GSD starting at $5100, HSD $3200, from a dealer I price checked with. Urban Arrow Family. Urban Arrow Family Performance Line $6000, from a dealer I price checked with. On 11/24/21.
8. 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.
9. 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.
This is one of the reasons why 65% of their customers are women.
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.
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.
10 & 11. Bike snob champ: Specialized (Vado & Levo for Road and Mountain)
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 legbike 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 have one on the way I hope to write about.
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, $5500 for Turbo Levo.
- The government doesn’t subsidize bikes nearly as much as it subsidizes cars, but there are still some subsidies nonetheless. The recent infrastructure bill has a nice sweetener for a new ebike purchase. I haven’t seen a definitive breakdown of the benefits, but I will link to one when I do.
- This is a common question from people. I’ll put something together one day. But today I’ll mention three.
- The Loud Bicycle horn gives bikes a horn as loud as a car horn.
- Helmet cameras such as a GoPro or the Insta360 can be invaluable, particularly if there is a road safety incident.
- 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.
- 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 long time mechanic who focuses on cargo bikes.
- Here is a guide to black friday 2021 discounts