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Buyer's Guide: Pre-owned e-bikes

By Bruce Lin

E-bikes can make the average person a cycling superstar. They allow you to go faster, use less energy, and can handle everything from your daily commute to big adventure rides. Best of all, e-bikes are just plain fun. With the joy and freedom of riding a bike enhanced by the power of an electric motor, it’s hard not to get addicted.

Orbea wild FS e-bike mountain bike full suspension enduro

E-bikes like this Orbea Wild FS mountain bike make climbing a breeze. | Photo courtesy of Orbea

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all of the different types of e-bikes, electric motors, and other technical details, don’t worry. This guide will help you find the perfect bike. If you’re worried about the expense of e-bike technology, consider buying used. Certified Pre-Owned e-bikes make it easier and more affordable than ever to get a reliable, high-quality used e-bike. If you have any questions, our Ride Guides are always here to help.

See our E-Bike Collection

Contents

What is an e-bike?

An e-bike is a bicycle that uses an electric motor for propulsion. A huge range of bicycles fit that description, but a "pedal-assist" e-bike (or "pedalec" or "pedal-electric") is most common. The Pro’s Closet and most traditional bike shops carry and recommend this type of e-bike

Orbea gain e-bike road bikeAn Orbea Gain road e-bike climbing with pedal-assist. | Photo courtesy of Orbea

Pedal-assist e-bikes rely on the rider to turn the pedals. When you pedal, the electric motor will engage and assist you with a boost of power. This allows you to accelerate easily, cruise up hills, and use less energy. You control your speed with your feet. The harder you pedal, the more the motor assists you. It feels very similar to riding a traditional bicycle, just enhanced.

E-bikes are divided into classes that denote their level of motor assistance. Figuring out which class of e-bike you want should be one of your first considerations before purchasing:

Class 1: Pedal-assist only. The motor provides assistance only when you pedal, and stops helping at 20mph.
Class 2: Has a pedal-assist mode that assists up to 20 mph and also a purely throttle-powered mode.
Class 3: Pedal-assist only (like Class 1), but the motor provides assistance until you hit 28mph.

The Pro’s Closet does not carry Class 2 e-bikes that use a throttle, so this article will focus on Class 1 and Class 3 e-bikes that are pedal-assist only.

The main difference between Class 1 and Class 3 e-bikes is the “top speed” of 20mph vs. 28mph. Top speed is in quotes because you can go faster by pedaling harder or going down a steep hill, for example. The motor is limited and will turn off after its listed top speed. This speed governor maintains e-bikes’ classification as bicycles rather than motor vehicles that require licensing and registration.

If you are comparing e-bikes listed at The Pro’s Closet, you will be able to tell whether they are Class 1 or Class 3 by the top speed listed in the specifications.

Class 1 e-bikes are the best choice for the majority of riders. They are the most common and, from a regulatory standpoint, the most universally accepted. You can ride a Class 1 e-bike on city streets and many bike paths. Access to mountain bike trails varies around the U.S., but Class 1 e-mountain bikes are the only type allowed in most areas.

Class 3 e-bikes are faster and more powerful. This is good for riders who need to keep up with car traffic, ride with heavier loads, or just have a need for more speed. Class 3 e-bikes are the fastest pedal-assist e-bikes that don't fall into the motorcycle/moped/scooter category. Depending on your state, these may not be legal to ride on bike paths.

Operating an e-bike

Giant Road-E e-bike road bikeThe display and controls on a Giant Road-E+.

With pedal-assist e-bikes, you can also control how much the motor assists you. Most e-bikes have a controller and/or display on the handlebars that lets you adjust modes, or the level of assistance from low (often called “eco”) to high (sometimes called “turbo” or “boost”).

Low/eco modes conserve battery power and increase range, but require more pedaling effort to accelerate and maintain high speeds. Higher power modes are useful when you encounter steep hills, are carrying heavy loads, or just want to go really fast for fun. Most e-bikes will have several modes between low and high and will allow you to switch on the fly.

Weight

If you’ve never felt the weight of an e-bike, be prepared for some scale shock. E-bikes are much heavier than traditional bicycles due to the battery, motor, and reinforced frame. Most weigh between 40 to 59lbs. Some high-performance road e-bikes will be just below 30lbs but these have smaller batteries and provide less pedal-assist. For ease of comparison, The Pro’s Closet lists the actual weight of each bike in the specifications.

Modern e-bikes handle well despite their weight, and of course, the electric motor makes the extra pounds disappear once you start pedaling. But keep weight in mind if you need to lift or transport your e-bike regularly. It takes some muscle to get an e-bike on a car rack or up and down stairs.

Is an e-bike right for you?

E-bikes are incredibly versatile and they are a good option for a variety of riders. But should you choose an e-bike over a traditional bicycle?

Riders who will benefit from a pedal-assist e-bike:

  • Want to enjoy the outdoors and get exercise with less of the effort of riding a traditional bicycle.
  • Have faster riding partners and need a boost to keep up.
  • Lack the time or fitness to accomplish the rides they’re interested in doing.
  • Have a commute that is too exhausting on a traditional bike.
  • Want to add another bike to their current quiver.
Orbea Katu e-bike

Pedal-assist e-bikes like this Orbea Katu can help less serious cyclists get outside and exercise. | Photo courtesy of Orbea

Speed, distance, and terrain aren’t limiters with e-bikes. The motor reduces your physical strain and allows you to determine the amount of effort you’re comfortable exerting. People who would otherwise struggle on a traditional bike can go out on an e-bike, ride for an hour or more, and get a significant amount of exercise.

Researchers at the University of Colorado performed an e-bike study and found that when non-exercising men and women e-biked for about 40 minutes, only three days a week, they improved their cardiovascular fitness and blood sugar in just one month. Riding an e-bike is still an effective exercise, especially for people who would otherwise be sedentary.

Spencer Powlison dad e-bike ride

E-bikes are also a great option for people who want to ride with faster friends but lack the fitness or experience to keep up. For example, our Content Marketing Manager, Spencer Powlison was able to experience a great ride with his dad thanks to an e-bike. It allowed his dad to keep up and even drop him on a notoriously difficult climb.

For day-to-day errands, an e-bike will help you save gas and make your commutes, grocery runs, and general transportation needs less grueling. You can travel quickly by bike without arriving at your destination drenched in sweat.

If you’re already an avid cyclist, an e-bike can be a great addition to your bike collection. They are great tools for time-crunched riders because they allow you to cover more distance in less time. They’re great for quick after-work spins or recovery rides. For mountain biking, an e-bike is an effective tool for working on riding skills when time is limited or when you’re too tired to do large amounts of climbing.

What type of e-bike is right for you?

Name any type of riding and there will be an e-bike made for it. Road, gravel, mountain, and city riding are all covered. There’s everything from small folding e-bikes that will fit under your bed to large cargo e-bikes that can haul 400lbs at 15mph. For the purposes of this article, let's focus on the types of e-bikes we carry at The Pro’s Closet. These e-bikes will satisfy the needs of the majority of riders.

Road and gravel e-bike
Giant Road-E+ e-bike road bike

A Giant Road-E+.

Road e-bikes are a sportier e-bike option. They use drop (curved) handlebars, narrower tires with smooth, slick, or minimal tread, and no suspension. This allows road e-bikes to feel quick and agile on paved road surfaces. Gravel e-bikes are geared more toward dirt and gravel roads with the addition of wider tires with more tread.

Ideal use: Riders looking for quick handling and a sporty feel for cruising, long-range exploration, and spirited rides.

Performance road e-bike
Orbea gain e-bike road bike

Performance e-bikes like this Orbea Gain look very similar to traditional road race bikes. | Photo courtesy of Orbea

To the untrained eye, performance road e-bikes might be indistinguishable from traditional road bikes. Compared to a road e-bike, the main difference you’ll notice is a more discrete battery and a motor located in the hub of the rear wheel rather than the center of the bike. These e-bikes are made to feel more like traditional road bikes and often weigh less than 30lbs. They can be easily pedaled without assistance from the motor and are designed to enhance the traditional riding experience by providing subtle assistance.

Ideal use: Road cyclists who want to blend in and just need a little extra boost to keep up with fast groups or accomplish their riding goals.

Mountain e-bike

Haibike Dwnhll Pro e-bike downhill mountain bikeThe Haibike Dwnhll Pro e-bike is a long-travel downhill mountain bike that will get you up and down the gnarliest trails. 

Mountain e-bikes have flat handlebars as well as knobby tires and suspension for handling rough off-road terrain. Mountain e-bikes can be ridden comfortably on the road and on gravel, but they are generally geared more toward singletrack trails. Mountain e-bikes can be either a hardtail or full-suspension design.

Hardtails are good for riders mixing bike paths, gravel, dirt roads, and smoother singletrack trails. Full-suspension e-bikes are more common and they improve comfort and traction on rough and technical terrain.

Orbea Wild FS e-bike mountain bike descending

Descending rough trails on a 160mm travel Orbea Wild FS e-bike | Photo courtesy of Orbea

Full-suspension mountain e-bikes at The Pro’s Closet can be filtered into three categories based on the amount of suspension travel: 111-130mm rear travel, 131-150mm rear travel, and 151-170mm rear travel.

Shorter travel bikes (110-130mm) will feel more agile and playful, especially on smooth and flowy trails, while longer travel bikes (151-170mm) will feel more planted and capable on rough downhill trails. Bikes in the mid-travel range (131-150mm) try to split the difference.

Travel should be matched to your terrain and riding style. In general, the rougher, steeper, and more technical your trails are, the more travel you will want. If you’d like to learn more about how travel affects mountain bike performance, check out our in-depth mountain bike buyer’s guide. The guide is written for traditional mountain bikes, but the principles for mountain e-bikes are the same.

Ideal use: Singletrack mountain bike trails.

Commuter / city e-bike
Haibike Sduro e-bike commuter city bike

A Haibike SDuro Trekking commuter / touring e-bike with rear rack, lights, fenders, and a low top tube design.

This style of e-bike is geared toward comfort and practicality. It splits the difference between road and mountain e-bikes with road-oriented wheels and tires and flat handlebars. Commuter e-bikes may include accessories like racks for carrying luggage, lights for night riding, or fenders for wet weather. Some have suspension for added comfort and some come in a “step-through” design for easier mounting and dismounting.

Ideal use: Commuting, city transport, bike path cruising, casual and recreational riding.

Crossing disciplines

The electric motor makes your energy and fitness less of a factor in bike performance. With an e-bike, you aren’t as reliant on the efficiencies built into traditional bicycles that make them more discipline-specific. If you wanted, you could tackle fast road rides and high mountain climbs on a commuter e-bike instead of a road e-bike. You could do your daily city commute on a long-travel full-suspension mountain e-bike and you won’t feel gassed riding it around town. E-bikes are extremely versatile and you don’t always need to match your bike to the type of riding you’re doing.

The one exception is taking a road or commuter style e-bike on a technical mountain bike trail. That’s a universally bad idea.

Motors and batteries

There are many e-bike motor manufacturers but the most common brands you will see in our inventory are Bosch, Shimano, Yamaha, and MAHLE ebikemotion. Some companies like Specialized and Giant also have their own proprietary motors.

The motor’s power is measured in watts (w). More watts equates to more power. More powerful motors let you accelerate faster and carry more weight, but use more battery power and have less range. Most Class 1 e-bike motors in our inventory will be 250w motors which provide a great balance between power and range. Class 3 motors are generally 350-500w to achieve the 28mph top speed. All e-bike classes are restricted to less than 750w.

Motors for Class 1 and Class 3 e-bikes are all very similar so if you’re aren’t concerned with technical details, you’ll likely never notice the difference between them. If you are concerned with technical differences like weight, torque, power delivery, and ride feel, then there are some great e-bike motor tests out there that compare popular options. 

Giant 500wh e-bike battery

A common 500wh battery.

Of course, e-bikes give you yet another device to charge. Battery capacity is measured in watt-hours (wh), the number of hours a battery can sustain one watt of power before dying. Motor power affects your battery life so a 500w motor paired with a 500wh battery drains power more quickly than a 250w motor with the same battery. 500wh is the most common battery size for most types of e-bikes. High-performance road e-bikes often use smaller 250wh batteries to reduce weight.

There are a lot of variables that affect range, but for e-bikes with standard 500wh batteries, you can expect your battery to last anywhere from 35 to 100 miles before recharging. The range will depend on how you ride and the power modes you use. Obviously, if you stay in low/eco mode the battery will last longer, and if you zip around on high or “turbo” all day, you’ll run out of juice faster.

Most batteries are easy to remove and will require three to five hours to fully charge from empty. If you use your e-bike heavily or do extreme long-distance rides, you can buy extra chargers or batteries.

Know where you can and can’t ride

This point is extremely important. Research your local laws before making a final choice on purchasing an e-bike. Laws and land-management rules will vary from state to state, and are still evolving. Check out People for Bikes’ state-by-state guide for e-bike regulations around the country.

E-bikes are still a controversial subject in the mountain biking world. Many mountain bike trails currently prohibit motorized vehicles like e-bikes. Be sure to check e-bike access at your favorite local trails before riding them and stay out if e-bikes are prohibited.

IMBA, mountain biking’s largest public advocacy group, recently shifted its stance to support allowing access for Class 1 e-bikes on some trails. With the popularity of e-bikes booming and more manufacturers making mountain e-bikes, more trails will open up to e-bikes in the future.

Update:

On Friday, Oct. 2, the Department of the Interior released final rules for electric bicycle use on public lands. This new regulation more clearly defines electric bicycles and gives local land managers the authority to permit their use on non-motorized trails.

The new rule applies to the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Reclamation. Generally speaking, these rules mean that:

  • Electric bicycles are no longer defined as motor vehicles or off-road vehicles, but are properly defined within three classes.
  • Electric bicycle riders have similar rights, privileges and duties as traditional bicycle riders.
  • Local land managers can authorize some or all classes of electric bicycles on roads, paths and trails where bicycles are allowed.
  • Local land managers maintain significant control, in partnership with the public, to make access decisions.

FAQs and links to the individual agency regulations are posted on People for Bikes' electric bicycle webpage. As always, check your local laws and with local landowners before riding. 

Final thoughts

Orbea Gain road bike e-bike group riding

Riding the Orbea Gain in a group. | Photo courtesy of Orbea

E-bikes are a lot of fun and can help you discover the exciting world of cycling. Enjoy yourself, but remember to be kind and courteous to other road and trail users! Even though e-bikes can accelerate quickly and achieve high speeds, they are still bicycles and you should behave the same as you would on a traditional bicycle.

Good e-bike etiquette includes not using high/turbo power modes on multi-use paths with pedestrians and other cyclists. Consider mounting a bell to warn other trail users of your presence. E-bikes are heavier and less agile in emergency situations. Don’t go too fast, pass dangerously, or follow others too closely, and ensure you have enough room to stop and avoid obstacles.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to our expert Ride Guides for help.

Browse our E-bike Collection


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