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In densely populated areas around the U.S., electric bicycles are becoming an increasingly popular option for transportation. As a result, a raft of new manufacturers have sprung up to compete in this marketplace. Even Harley Davidson is getting in on the game. Potential e-bike customers can find it difficult to navigate this landscape, full of unfamiliar brand names and categories that don’t necessarily map to traditional bicycles.
Prices of e-bikes can vary wildly as well, with some models within the range of an old school foot-powered bike starting at a few hundred dollars, to those costing more than an actual motorcycle at several thousand dollars. With that in mind, Consumer Reports has issued a list of recommended electric bikes after testing 17 different models. Each bike was given a numerical score out of 100 and ranked on four criteria: range, acceleration, control response and braking. It turns out, as with cars, the most expensive options are not always the best.
Consumer Reports‘ rankings are divided into Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes. If you’re not familiar with this terminology, Class 1 e-bikes are pedal-assist only. That means the rider has to first start pedaling before the electric motor will kick in for an auxiliary boost. These are allowed to share bike lanes with traditional bicycles powered only by your feet — bike paths, bike lanes, mountain bike trails or the street.
In this category, the $2,600 Raleigh Retroglide Royale 2.0 iE Step Over ranked highest. With an estimated 16-mile range, great acceleration and top marks in handling and braking, it ranked highest with a score of 84. The Tern Vektron D8 Folding was second with a score of 83, but it also costs significantly more, at $4,000 (at that price point we’d rather have a Honda Grom). The $2,700 Cannondale Adventure Neo 4 also ranked highly with a score of 81.
Class 2 e-bikes act more like motorcycles, with a hand-twist throttle or button that accelerates the bike with no foot input at all. Some require nominal leg movement in order to engage the throttle, but the point is that acceleration can be controlled by your hand. Top speeds vary, but in most cases these are also allowed where traditional bicycles can go as well.
In this category, the rankings were far more stratified. The $1,800 Blix Aveny Skyline (no relationship to the Japan-market Nissan) was far and away the clear winner with a score of 81. The runner up, the $1,000 Lectric XP 2.0 Folding, came in at 71.
Consumer Reports didn’t rank these, but there’s also a Class 3, bikes that are faster and more powerful. Because of their speed, they’re typically allowed only on streets, not bike paths, and there could be age or licensing restrictions as well.
As with cars, there’s a lot more nuance than numbers can tell, though. We encourage you to check out the full Consumer Reports, uh, report (subscription required) for details.