The 2021 E-Bike Buyer’s Guide
For the past 25 years, Merle Schloff of Salisbury, Vt., has been organizing what he calls the Tour de Merle: an informal gathering of friends for an all-day one-way mountainbike tour on a combination of forest roads, single track and snowmobile trails through Central Vermont.
“The first year we did it I was on Raleigh hardtail — no shocks or anything,” Schloff remembers. “When I finally got a mountainbike with full suspension, that was a revelation,” he says. Four years ago, Schloff rode an electric-assist mountain bike on the Tour de Merle. “That was an even bigger revelation,” he says. “Suddenly, there were no more hills. Those parts of the route I used to struggle over, were still hard, but so much more doable.”
This past year, Schloff rode the Tour de Merle with about 20 friends, ranging from his son Jesse, 36, a strong rider, and daughter Pearl, 41, to former bike racers to friends in their 70s. No one got dropped. Schloff, now 70, and five others in the group, were on e-bikes. “The e-bike is the great equalizer. It’s letting me ride longer and farther and to keep riding more than I ever imagined,” he says. He now owns two Haibikes—a mountain bike and a touring bike and he and his wife Kathryn spend weekends touring backroad loops they’ve scouted out on their Delorme Gazeteer. “Now I’m doing 40 miles on roads and trails where I used to only do 20 or 30 miles,” Schloff says.
Whether it’s a mountain bike souped up enough so you don’t have to dab on the hills, a gravel bike that can carry you a few miles farther, or a touring or commuter bike that replaces the car for short trips, the electric-assist bike or e-bike is here to stay.
In 2020, half a million e-bikes were imported to the U.S. — nearly double the amount in 2019. At present, Green Mountain Power and some other utilities are offering rebates on e-bikes of $200. And the E-Bike Act proposed this winter by Democratic Reps. Jimmy Panetta of California and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon could offer a tax rebate up to 30 percent of a bike’s price with a cap of $1500.
“Perhaps the biggest challenge this year is simply getting the bikes – the demand is way up and the supply has been limited by shipping and other challenges brought about by the Coronavirus,” says Matt Nicholas, the owner of Bootlegger Bicycles in Jeffersonville. Adding to that challenge is the fact that many European countries currently have incentives for e-bike purchases in place, further straining the supply.
At Green Mountain Bikes in Rochester, where Schloff bought his bikes, Doon Hinderyckx has been working with and selling e-bikes in various forms for over 20 years. “I used to sell a lot of e-bike conversion kits, but now, the new bikes are so good you really don’t have an excuse not to buy one. They have really come a long way,” he says.
Hinderyckx sold Schloff his Haibikes and also rents e-bikes. “A lot of our customers are doing inn to inn tours but more and more are mountain bikers who want a little help up the hills,” he says. Green Mountain now has a fleet of nearly 50 e-bikes for sale or rent.
Other shops are also seeing a growing demand. “I admit it, for or five years ago we had only two e-bikes in our shop and I thought it was just a fad,” says Dan Rhodes of Bradley’s Ski and Bike Shop in Manchester. Now, Bradleys and many other shops are finding it’s hard to keep e-bikes in inventory. “The thing about cycling is that it’s a social sport. Most people go out and ride with friends. Being dropped or having someone have to wait for you doesn’t feel very good. E-bikes solve that problem,” says Rhodes.
For many people, the biggest question is which e-bike? With prices ranging from just under $2000 to well over $12,000 there are as many e-bikes now as there are bike models so it’s not an easy choice. “You really need to think about why you are buying an e-bike and where you will use it most and it’s a good idea to try one before you buy,” says Jayne Trailer of Hanover Adventure Tours in Norwich, Vt. “We find a lot of people really want to use them to explore the backroads and tour.”
The Upper Valley bike shop evolved from being a hostel and touring company, to an e-bike rental operation and is now one of the largest e-bike dealers in New England. “We were originally doing brewery and cheesemaker tours by bus but when Covid hit, we switched to self-guided e-bike tours,” she says. The shop loads up the bike computers with maps and you can go out for self-guided tour, with the bike rental, for about $80.
The company focuses on cruisers and touring bikes but has everything in its 50-bike rental fleet from fat bikes to bikepacking and cargo bikes like the Magnum Payload to road bikes like the Yamaha Civante that can hit 28 mph.
A few things to consider when considering the type of bike you want. The first is where you will ride it. As of now, many mountain bike networks, including Kingdom Trails, most of the Stowe Trails Partnership trails and many other Vermont Mountain Bike Association chapter trails don’t allow e-bikes e-bikes. On Vermont State Forest land, they are technically classified as “motorized vehicles” so only allowed where say, dirt bikes and ATVs are. Both Vermont and the Green Mountain National Forest are currently considering how to allow e-bike usage on trails. Some ski areas, such as Stratton and Killington do allow e-bikes but only on certain trails and under certain conditions.
Another thing to keep in mind is that e-bikes are generally quite a bit heavier than a regular bike and can weigh as much as 50 lbs. “If you are someone who likes to throw the bike on a car rack and go explore, you are going to need a rack that will support it and be easy to load and unload,” says Rhodes of Bradley’s. And if you are going to fly somewhere, remember that you can’t fly with the battery. “Fortunately, the batteries are becoming more standard and in Europe now you can often find a dealer that will rent you one,” says David Townsend of the West Hill Shop in Poultney.
The same questions arise with storage. E-bikes can stand rain and cold but you don’t want to leave them out in either and cold weather will drain the battery (fortunately most are easily removable so you can bring them indoors.). And you should also consider how much battery power you will need and what distance you plan to ride. The battery life depends on how much you pedal, how steep the terrain is and how far you go. “For most road bikes, it’s about 40 miles. But if you are doing a double Gap ride you might want to stop for lunch and charge your bike along the way,” says Hinderyckx.
For mountain bikes, where the torque is higher, the battery life will be lower. The good news, it’s still a bike and if the battery dies, you simply pedal,” says Hinderyckx.
“Technology has really changed in the past few years” says Darren Ohl a former mechanic for a number of pro cycling teams and the owner of the Vermont Bicycle Shop in Barre, Vt . “It used to be hard to get parts for a lot of the motors but now with companies such as Shimano, Bosch, Yamaha all making motors, the parts have become standardized and easier to get.”
E-bikes generally come in three categories, depending on the power of the motor. Class 1 and Class 3 bikes both have up to 750w motors, the difference being a Class 1 will power you up to 20 mph while pedaling and a Class 3 can assist up to 28 mph. But to reach those speeds you still need to peddle. A Class 2 bike has a throttle and can go up to 20 mph without continuously pedaling, more like a moped. The other major difference in bikes is where the motor is placed: on the rear hub or mid-bike on the crankset. A mid-mounted motor generally offers a smoother and more efficient ride and feels more like you are on a regular bike.
“We’re seeing motors across the board become more efficient and deliver a lot more output,” says West Hill’s Townsend. “On some of the new models from Giant and Cannondale, the watt-hours has gone up by 100. Townsend also likes the new Bosch Performance CX motors which have an algorithm that more proportionately matches the power output from the motor to the pedal power input from the cyclist, resulting in less of a power surge. “You can put your bike in ‘sport’ mode and still get a great training workout in. We are seeing a lot of elite athletes really appreciate this,” says Townsend.
And bikes are getting lighter. “The new Specialized “superlight” SL models really cut down the weight and feel more like you are riding a regular bike,” says Barrack Evans, the owner of Battenkill Bicycles. The Turbo Levo SL sacrifices some of the power of the straight Levo, delivering 240 watts, or double the pedal effort vs. the Levo which, with 565 watts puts in 4 times the effort. And it carries a smaller, lighter less powerful battery – 320 Wh (watt hours) vs. 700 Wh. But it also has the option of a battery extender which can fit in the bottle cage. “This really gives you a lot of options,” says Evans. The sister of the Levo, the all-around Vado, also has an SL version which shaves “about 15 or 17 pounds,” says Kip Roberts of Onion River Outdoors. “That’s the bike I want,” he says.
Of all the shop owners we asked, Evans, Kip Roberts of Onion River Outdoors and Val Cyr of Earl’s all said the same thing: If they were going to buy one e-bike it would be a go-anywhere mountain bike for any terrain.
Shopping and Choosing
Perhaps the biggest challenge this season is going to be finding and demoing a bike you like. After speaking with shops around Vermont, we narrowed our selection down to this sampler 6-pack of bikes. But don’t take our word for it. Visit our Bike Shop Directory (see page 32) and head to your local shop to see what is going to be right for you. Prices vary greatly depending on components and the bikes selected here reflect the high end of the scale.
Road & Gravel Rides
You’re a serious rider who loves to put in long loops in through Vermont’s paved and gravel roads but you want to go a little farther and faster. More and more, e-bikes built for road and gravel riding are getting lighter and nimbler, mimicking the ride feel of the sportier, no-powered forbearers.
Cannondale Topstone Neo Carbon Lefty 3
If you want the ultimate e-assisted gravel bike that’s ready for rough Vermont roads (and you can afford it at about $9000), this bike may be it. The single front suspension fork (the Lefty Oliver) has 30mm of travel, matching the rear travel and, according to David Townsend of the West Hill Shop which stocks the Lefty, “the triangular shape of the single strut actually provides greater stiffness than the conventional two-strut round forks.” This bike has Bosch’s latest Performance CX motor and can speed up to 28 mph but more closely mimics the power output from the rider than previous Bosch models. Even with the carbon frame, this bike weighs in at 39.5 lbs. But with a motor like that, who cares?
Orbea Carbon Gain
The beauty of this bike is, well, its beauty: You could take this bike out for a ride with friends and they may never realize you are on an e-bike. Orbea has created a stunning steed that elegantly integrates the 248Wh battery (with an option to piggyback a second 208Wh battery), charger, cables and even lights internally in the frame. The battery control is an elegant small button on the top tube and there is a phone-controlled ebikemotion app, as well. The carbon version weighs in at just 25 lbs., making it one of the lightest e-bikes on the market, and the motor, located in the rear hub, delivers what Orbea calls “Enough Power” and can hit 20 mph. “The bike doesn’t deliver the power that some other bikes in this category do,” says Darren Ohl of The Vermont Bicycle Shop in Barre. “But the ebikemotion motor is lighter and riding this bike feels more like riding a regular bike. It’s the bike my partner got so we could ride together” says Ohl. Matt Nicholas of Bootlegger Bikes also loves the Orbea. “If you want one, you need to order now for maybe the fall,” he says.
Trail & Mountain Bikes
If you are someone who loves the downhills and cross-country and will say yes to a shuttle ride, these e-mtbs are your answer.
Trek Rail 9.9
“If you want that extra oomph to get you up the gnarly parts of the trail, the Trek Rail has it,” says Val Cyr of Earl’s Bikes in South Burlington. The latest and raddest edition of the Rail, the carbon Rail 9.9, uses the new Bosch Performance CX 250 Wh motor and has an intelligent eMTB mode that adjusts the power to meet the terrain. The long travel RockShox front (160 mm) and frame (150mm) suspension make this a great option for anyone who is is downhiller or enduro rider at heart but isn’t so into the grunting uphill climbs. “This bike is perfect for the new trails at Bolton Valley,” says Cyr, an accomplished cyclocross racer. The Rail comes in a variety of specs, starting with the aluminum Rail 5 at about $5,500 but at the most tricked out, the carbon 9.9 X01 AXS will set you back a whopping $12,000.
Specialized Turbo Levo SL Comp Carbon
First there weas the Specialized Turbo Levo. Now, Specialized has lightened that up shaving pounds to deliver a full-suspension electric assist 29-er, the SL, that’s 10 lbs lighter than its brethren and rides more like the traditional Stumpjumper. Thanks to the lighter frame and the proprietary 320 Wh motor (the same one that Specialized uses in its Creo SL road bike), the Levo SL weighs in at 36.5 lbs. You can add an extender battery to the bottle cage, too. Without it, and using its power save mode the Levo SL will run for about 3 hours. Like the Orbea Gain, this is an e-bike that doesn’t look or feel like an e-bike and could easily become your everyday steed – provided you have $8,000 to shell out.
Cruisers & CarGo Bikes
Call it a cruiser or a street bike, but one of the most popular categories of e-bikes on the market is the bike that people are using to get around town. Cut down on your carbon emissions with these rides.
Yamaha Cross Connect
With standard racks, fenders, front suspension, sidestand and front and rear integrated LED lights, the 18-speed Cross Connect is what might replace your car for short trips and errands—or become your bikepacking best friend. And that’s for just under $3000. Yamaha has been making e-bikes for over 20 years and its proprietary motors and batteries, if not the sleekest, are reliable and relatively light. The center mount 250w motor powers you up to 20 mph with a 500 Wh battery.
Yuba Kombi E5
If you see a woman riding through Montpelier with a kid, a computer and groceries all packed on her bike, it might well be Jen Roberts of Onion River Outdoors taking her daughter to school on her Yuba Boda Boda. Yu-ba makes a variety of cargo bikes and the latest, the 9-speed Kombi E5 compact cargo bike, weighs in at just over 50 lbs and is designed to carry up to 440 lbs in passengers and cargo. It can be fitted with monkey bars, sideboards and a cushioned back seat, and has accessories such as a front basket and back baskets as well. Says Kip Roberts (Jen’s partner at the shop and in life) “At under $3000 the new Kombi is going to be a little less expensive but may sacrifice some power in the Shimano STEPS E5000 mid-drive motor.” Still, with a 418 Wh battery, it can get you to school in time.