An e-bike is quite an investment – you’ll pay at least $2000, and many nudge $10,000 or even more. So how do you find a good one? You might think most of them look similar and feel the same when you take them on a quick test ride.
But that’s where our unbiased, independent testing comes in: We assess their features and functions, then ride each bike for more than 125km on roads, shared paths and trails, up and down hills, around town and (where appropriate) on mountain bike trails.
How our scores work
It’s likely you’ll want a bike for more than one use. Our test shows which bikes can multitask and which excel at just one thing.
We score and recommend bikes for five uses:
Mountain. Confident tackling grade 3 and 4 mountain bike trails.
Trail. Good for riding on easier, unsealed grade 1 and 2 tracks – the sort of bike that’ll explore rail trails all weekend.
Road. Comfortable racking up kilometres on sealed surfaces – perfect for longer commutes.
Daily. A generalist e-bike suited to running errands around town and short commutes.
Cargo. Capable of hauling a lot of stuff, including precious human cargo.
E-bike performance: what we look for
We assess static and dynamic elements of the bike and its e-system.
Our assessments of the bike include its cargo-carrying capacity; the ease of mounting; performance of the suspension for comfort and offroad riding; convenience and weather protection; low-speed balance and steering; high-speed stability and braking; and its ability on rough roads and paths.
For the e-system, we include its response to pedalling effort and its lag when starting or stopping pedalling; the maximum assistance available and the usable assistance in lower settings; its ability to climb hills; the assistance at higher speed; and the riding range available from the battery.
We weight our assessments differently for each use. For example, the ability to remain balanced and stable while carrying a load and a powerful motor that responds well to pedalling effort are important for a CARGO bike. Meanwhile, a TRAIL bike needs suspension and tyres that are comfortable and confident offroad and an e-system that works well in lower assistance settings, so it has a good riding range.
We also create a quality score for each bike. This is an expert view of the bike’s overall quality, the parts fitted, and the ease of using the e-system controls and display.
Riding tests: four routes, 125km
Our experience testing more than 50 e-bikes shows that most are fine if you just want to tootle around the local shops, or cruise along flat paths. So we put each bike through much tougher riding tests to sort out the best from the also-rans.
We use a power pedal to measure the effort of our test rider, so we can compare bike performance objectively.
No two test rides are identical, but we follow defined routes, travel at pre-determined speeds and ensure weather conditions are similar for each one, so our testing creates a fair comparison of the bikes. We record GPS and power data for our test rides using the Strava app, so we can accurately analyse and compare the performance of different bikes.
Our test routes
This is a 5km route in and around Wellington’s CBD including city traffic, fast and flat roads, hills, kerbs, wooden bridges and a busy waterfront path shared with pedestrians.
This is a gruelling 25km route around Wellington’s western suburbs. The main challenge is a 1.35km-long hill that rises 100m at a gradient between 6% and 11% – a climb repeated five times. We use the maximum assistance setting and maintain a steady 19-20km/h during the climb, then descend the same twisty, narrow road. This route also includes a short 20% gradient grass climb, an undulating 10km of suburban streets, and two steep descents requiring good brakes to keep to the 50km/h speed limit.
One of five hill climb repeats, gradient between 6 and 11%, ridden in the maximum assist setting at a constant 19-20km/h.
This 80km round trip goes from Wellington to Upper Hutt and back, using the Hutt River cycle trail. We use lower assistance levels – how low depends how much battery we need to eke out to complete the trip. The route covers a mix of surfaces, including grade 1 and 2 trails, sealed paths, roads, and a cycleway alongside State Highway 2. It’s mostly flat, climbing gradually to the turnaround point as the route follows the Hutt River upstream (usually riding into a prevailing northerly). It ends with a 5km climb rising 200m – usually when the battery is almost drained.
The return rail trail journey. Mixed sealed and unsealed surfaces, gently downhill (until the final 5km climb), usually with a tailwind.
This is a ride of up to 20km around the Makara Peak mountain bike park. We start on grade 2 trails, then progress through grades 3 and 4 (if the bike can handle them). We only rate bikes in this category if they can confidently cope riding grade 3 trails. Our test rider is a competent mountain biker, familiar with the Makara Peak trails.
Riding Makara Peak mountain bike park on a bike that could handle the easier grade 4 trails.
Mountain bike trail grading
Easiest: Grade 1 Standard: Fairly flat, wide, smooth track or gravel road.
Easy: Grade 2 Standard: Mostly flat with some gentle climbs on smooth track with easily avoidable obstacles such as rocks and potholes.
Intermediate: Grade 3 Standard: Steep slopes and/or avoidable obstacles possibly on narrow track and/or with poor traction. There may be exposure at the track’s outside edge.
Advanced: Grade 4 Standard: A mixture of long, steep climbs, narrow track, poor traction and obstacles that are difficult to avoid or jump over. Generally exposed at the track’s outside edge. Most riders will find some sections easier to walk.