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Electric Bicycle Buying Guide

Row of electric bicycles, man riding electric bicycle

Electric Bicycle

Buying Guide

Electric bikes are versatile, stylish and energy efficient. With an electric motor, these vehicles can help you power up hills and through rough terrain with minimal strain. It’s no surprise e-bikes and other types of electric transportation have become increasingly popular in recent years.

An e-bike represents a substantial investment. Below you can find information to help you make an informed purchase.

E-bike classes.

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Which class is best for you?

A key factor in buying an e-bike is its classification. Although state laws can vary, e-bikes generally fall into three classes. If you plan to ride bike trails or offroad, a Class 1 or Class 2 e-bike is the smarter choice. These types of e-bikes are also good for city streets. Class 3 e-bikes have a faster maximum speed and are typically limited to street riding only.

The use of personal electric transportation may be limited in some localities. Please check your local regulations prior to purchasing and riding. Find out more information about each class by reading below. You can also read more about each state’s e-bike, helmet, license and insurance laws.

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Man with his e-bike looking at mountains

Class 1 e-bikes.

Generally speaking, a Class 1 electric bicycle has pedal assist, a maximum speed of 20 mph, and does not have a throttle. Pedal assist means the electric motor does not start until you begin pedaling and stops when you stop pedaling. You could potentially go faster than 20 mph, although the motor will stop supporting your efforts at maximum speed. Class 1 e-bikes are legal to ride on city streets and most bike paths and trails.
Man and woman straddling electric bicycles, woman riding electric bike

Class 2 e-bikes.

The main difference between Class 2 and Class 1 e-bikes is that Class 2 e-bikes have a throttle. A throttle will let you start up your e-bike’s motor without pedaling. Most throttles are a grip-twist or button on the handlebars. Like Class 1, Class 2 e-bikes also have a maximum speed of 20 mph, although you can exceed this speed if you can pedal faster without the assistance of the motor. Class 2 e-bikes are legal on city streets and most trails and bike paths.
Woman riding an electric bicycle

Class 3 e-bikes.

If you want to go faster, you want a Class 3 e-bike. These e-bikes have a maximum speed of 28 mph. The motor operates via pedal assist and does not have a throttle. Given their speed, Class 3 e-bikes are typically not allowed on bike trails or bike paths. These e-bikes are a viable option for commuters and those who will be biking on city streets.

E-bike classes at a glance.

Class 1 Class 2 Class 3
Maximum speed
20 mph 20 mph 28 mph
Pedal assist
Yes Yes Yes
No Yes No
Ride on city streets?
Yes Yes Yes
Ride on bike paths and trails?
Yes Yes No

E-bike sizes.

Woman riding a bicycle

What size bike is right?

Before making a purchase, we advise reviewing the specifications of each bike to find maximum weight capacity, recommended user heights and more.

Comfort is key when riding an e-bike. You’ll want an e-bike that is small enough for you to easily reach the pedals, but large enough to fully extend your legs and not feel cramped while riding. At Best Buy you can sort e-bicycles by rider height. You can find e-bikes with maximum rider heights ranging from 67 inches (5' 7") to nearly 77 inches (6' 5"), and minimum heights as short as 59 inches (4' 11").

Weight limits can also be found in the specifications of each e-bike’s product detail page, with a typical maximum limit between 198 and 270 pounds. Riding above the recommended weight can lead to safety problems and performance issues.

E-bike frames.

Choose from two types: step-through and step-over.
Electric bicycle

Step-through e-bikes.

These bikes do not have a bar connecting the front and back of the frame. This design ensures you will ride higher, in a more upright position. Step-throughs are ideal for riders who may not be as flexible as they once were and are also nice for cyclists who make many stops, as it is easier to get on and off. If you commute to the office on your bike and won’t be wearing workout gear, a step-through is probably your best bet.

On the other hand, step-throughs tend to be heavier than step-overs. To compensate for the lack of a crossbar, these bikes are made with more durable — and therefore — heavier materials. Riding uphill puts added pressure on the bike frame, which means that step-throughs can be wobbly going up hills.

Electric bicycle

Step-over e-bikes.

These bikes have a crossbar securing the front and back of the frame. Consequently, step-overs tend to be sturdier. They are also lighter and more balanced than step-throughs, so you will use less energy to get up to full speed. For these reasons, step-overs tend to be preferred by serious city bikers.

On the downside, step-overs are not necessarily built for extreme conditions. Therefore, if you plan to use a step-over bike on mountain trails or harsh terrain, you may want a custom-designed e-bike. At minimum, you will want to consider picking up specialized tires for your bike.

What size motor is right for you?

A major benefit of an e-bike is that the motor can help you up hills, on challenging paths, and on longer rides. The size of the motor will determine how much assistance you will receive. If you plan to take your e-bike on longer journeys, or need help going up hills, you’ll want a more powerful motor. E-bike motor sizes are measured in watts.

  • 250W: This motor is made for recreational rides, shorter rides, or rides where you plan to do a lot of pedaling.
  • 350W: A more powerful motor that is better for intermediate-length trips.
  • 400W: If you need to commute longer distances, this powerful motor will get you to your destination more quickly.
  • 500W–750W: The most powerful motors you will find, these are great for longer rides, hilly terrain and other travels.

The power of the motor is also a major factor in the cost of the e-bike. Typically, the more powerful the motor, the more expensive the e-bike.

Other e-bike factors to consider.

In addition to class, frame type and motor, there are other things to think about when buying an electric bike, including:

  • Battery: Most e-bikes are powered by lithium-ion batteries. The higher the wattage rating of your battery, the more power supplied to the motor, and the longer your e-bike can travel on electric power.
  • Wheel size: Larger wheels allow for a smoother, more stable ride, while smaller wheels are more maneuverable.
  • Brakes: Most e-bikes feature hydraulic disc brakes. Hydraulic disc brakes can feature four pistons, two pistons or one. A four-piston brake allows for more consistent and faster braking, as four pads are pushing together to stop the bike. Two- and one-piston brakes are slightly less responsive than four-piston brakes. Mechanical disc brakes are typically found on less-expensive e-bikes and are operated by cables.
  • Pedal assist: As the name implies, this indicates how much electric assistance a rider will get. There are levels to pedal assist, with lower levels of pedal assist getting less power from the motor.

Safety gear and accessories.

Woman and man wearing helmets while riding bicycles

Bicycle helmets.

If you haven’t yet bought a helmet to protect your head, now is the time to do so. A multidirectional impact protection system (MIPS)-equipped helmet includes a thin layer of plastic that allows for additional absorption of energy during a crash, which protects the head. Best Buy carries an assortment of helmets with MIPS technology.
Man locking helmet and bicycle

Locks, lights and GPS.

A lock is a must to protect your e-bike investment. The main types are cable locks and U-locks. U-locks tend to be heavier than cable locks but offer greater theft prevention. Cable locks are more convenient and can sometimes secure multiple bikes. On the other hand, determined thieves may have an easier time cutting through or breaking the cable.

If you plan to ride at night, you will want a light for your own visibility and so other vehicles can see you. We carry an array of front lights and wheel lights. A GPS unit is helpful if you’re planning rides to unfamiliar places.

After you’ve made your purchase, get the most out of your e-bike experience. Review information on assembly, regulations, and much more.

More accessories for e-bikes.

Once you’ve protected your head and your bike, consider picking up a phone mount so you can follow directions while maintaining control of your bike with both of your hands.

We also carry a variety of bags so you can easily carry your belongings while riding.

Find your electric bicycle.

If you like what you’ve seen so far, now’s the time to take the next step. Check out our entire assortment of e-bikes from a variety of top brands.