If you’re looking to enhance your lung health and soak up some vitamin D to support immune function, an electric bike, or e-bike, is a great way to avoid public transit and help support better air quality through lower emissions, especially if it’s been a while since you powered up a hill unaided. We check out the best road e-bikes, looking at companies with a keen eye for sustainability initiatives, eco-friendliness, and solid ethics.
Table of Contents
- Why might you want to buy an electric bike?
- How to choose the right electric bike for you
- E-Bike classes in the US
- E-Bike drive systems
- Hub-drive vs mid-drive motor
- One final consideration: Carbon frames vs. aluminum
- The best eco-friendly electric bikes on the market
Why might you want to buy an electric bike?
Here are my top seven reasons to get an e-bike this year:
- E-bikes are eco-friendly, offering an emission-free way to get around, assuming you recharge those batteries from renewable energy sources.
- A zippy little e-bike means you can skip the traffic and park with ease.
- E-bikes make it a far less sweaty endeavor to cycle to work, so you can switch your sweaty spandex for office casual attire.
- Big, daunting hills become a breeze with an e-bike, meaning you can explore areas that felt too challenging without pedal assist.
- E-bikes are way cheaper than a gas-guzzling car! It will likely cost you less than 20 cents to fully charge your e-bike battery, with no need to go to the gas station!
- An e-bike is a great way to gradually, safely, improve your fitness. E-bikes don’t do all the work for you, they just make the work feel a heck of a lot easier. That way, you’re likely to cycle far more. E-bikes are also fantastic for rehabilitating after injury or illness, and for pro athletes on their non-training days.
- Oh yeah, and e-bikes are fun! Try zipping around on an e-bike without grinning with glee.
How to choose the right electric bike for you
If you’re new to e-bikes, all the terminology can be a bit overwhelming. Don’t let the sales hype lure you into buying a bike that’s overpriced or has features you’ll never use. Here’s a quick rundown of things to consider when buying an e-bike.
E-Bike classes in the US
Your best bet when buying an e-bike is to shop local. This means that whoever you’re buying from should have a good sense of the rules and regulations in your state.
Most e-bikes sold in the US are class 1 or 3.
Class 1 bikes are pedal assist, up to 20 mph, with a motor putting out a max 750 W.
Class 2 models are less common and feature a throttle. These aren’t purely pedal assist as the throttle means the motor can propel a bike even if you’re not pedaling. Some states don’t allow the sale or use of Class 2 e-bikes in bike lanes, or mandate that a company cuts off the throttle at the 20 mph mark.
Class 3 bikes are speed pedelecs, which means you get pedal assist up to 28 mph, but still with a max 750 W.
Once you’ve figured out the class of bike you’re after, you’ll want to consider the drive system and other components.
E-Bike drive systems
Most e-bikes incorporate a motor in either the rear hub or the bottom bracket. The best of these motors have long been made by Bosch, Yamaha, and Shimano, though newer e-bikes with integrated systems have popped up recently using motors from Fazua and others.
Fazua’s drive system is typically lighter than competitors, and some models (such as the Focus Paralane2 9.7) allow you to completely remove the motor and battery, turning an e-bike into a much lighter weight pedal bike.
I tend to favor e-bikes with a Bosch drive system, battery, and monitors, given their impressive environmental platform and solid CSR. This is also why I’m a fan of Bosch for stoves, refrigerators, and other appliances.
Hub-drive vs mid-drive motor
One bit of terminology you will encounter when looking at e-bikes describes the position of the motor providing pedal assist. In short, a hub-drive e-bike has a motor positioned on the front or (more typically) rear wheel and a mid-drive motor is positioned directly between the pedals, at the bottom bracket of the bike.
A hub-drive motor spins (drives) the tire on which it’s mounted. This positioning can, in some cases, affect the maneuverability of the bike, making the bike feel either like it’s being pushed (rear wheel) or pulled (front wheel) forward. If you’re not a confident cyclist, weight at the back of the bike can make things feel less stable, while a hub-drive on the front wheel can make the bike harder to steer.
In contrast, a mid-drive motor puts the bike’s center of gravity lower down, which is handy for a heavier e-bike. This makes the bike feel and ride more like a standard non-electric bike, with neither wheel being pushed or pulled. And, if you have a bike where you can remove the motor and battery pack, you’re almost always going to be better off with a mid-drive motor because the bike has been designed for that lower center of gravity already.
A mid-drive motor helps stabilize the bike, for better tracking and, on hills, greater efficiency by working with the bike’s gears. This helps to keep the motor spinning fast, which makes for a happier electric motor and extended battery power too. Some companies, like Bosch, only use mid-drive motors for all of these reasons.
Some other reasons I prefer mid-drive motors for e-bikes include easiness of changing a tire. On a hub-drive e-bike, you will have to disconnect the motor to remove the wheel, then change your tire and respoke. Sounds like a recipe for being late to work or rather disgruntled ten miles into a day-long road ride.
Changing a flat on a mid-drive motor model is no different than with a regular non-electric bike. So, if you’re not confident about bike maintenance, or get a lot of flats and want speedy tube changes, a mid-drive motor is your best bet.
Also, a hub drive can overheat on steep hills, causing it to cut out. Not ideal, especially if you’re relying on that pedal-assist to get you up the hill! This happens because a hub drive spins very slowly on steep hills when your wheel itself is going round very slowly. As mentioned, electric motors like to spin fast, so a combination of increased demand on the motor but slower speed can lead to overheating and may even permanently damage the motor.
E-bike batteries make up most of the cost of an electric bike. They used to be big chunky things that made it obvious you were cycling an e-bike. These days, batteries are a little smaller and e-bike design has vastly improved, making it hard to tell the difference between a standard bike and an e-bike in many cases. If you’re wary of a battery failing, however, or if you plan on having a backup battery you can pop in for a little extra juice on longer trips, make sure that your chosen e-bike allows you to remove and replace the battery, even if integrated.
Smaller batteries do mean smaller capacities, though. Some manufacturers have found a great solution to this problem by offering add-on battery packs that slot into a bottle bracket. This can seamlessly bump up your daily run-about-town bike to a serious road e-bike with pedal assist for 60 miles or more.
The key thing to remember about e-bike batteries is that the range measurement given by a bike manufacturer or store is unlikely to match real-world ranges. If you live in a super hilly spot and make a lot of use of the pedal-assist, your battery will run down far faster than someone who lives in a flat area and just pootles about town at a super leisurely pace.
Bosch, conveniently, offers a Range Assistant calculator that gives a good indication of the mileage you can expect from an e-bike once you plug in your riding habits. They also offer impressive warranties that inspire confidence. And, if you buy a bike with a drive system, battery, and other components made exclusively by Bosch, or Fazua, this makes it a whole lot easier to manage any claims and repairs.
One last thing to remember is that a cheap e-bike likely means a cheap drive system. Why? Because the battery accounts for most of the cost of an e-bike, and if a bike is barely over $1,000, chances are the manufacturer has scrimped on parts elsewhere, which can make for a jerky, unsafe and uncomfortable ride. Or, they may have used an inferior battery liable to fail in just a few years (conveniently just after the warranty runs out).
One final consideration: Carbon frames vs. aluminum
A carbon frame makes for a lighter bike overall, which is an important factor when you’re already looking at the increased weight of an e-bike. Carbon frames are also corrosion-free, a bit livelier than aluminum frames, keep straighter wheels, and maintain their resell value almost indefinitely.
But… carbon is more expensive and arguably not as resource-friendly as aluminum, most of which is recycled and recyclable. The carbon in bike frames is rarely, if ever, recycled (though this may change in the near future) and is harder to recycle than aluminum. It may be less energy-intensive to produce though, and possibly less toxic, given the processes needed to recycle aluminum.
My advice: if you tend to break your bikes, choose an e-bike with an aluminum frame, which is easier to recycle. If you don’t ride them hard and would benefit from the weight savings, consider carbon.
The best eco-friendly electric bikes on the market
You can read about our unique research process here.
Highlights: The most eco-friendly e-bike around, pairing performance and style for a true road bike feel, but with a serious price tag.
If money is no object, treat yourself to the Specialized S-Works Turbo Creo SL. This e-bike, described by Bicycling magazine as ‘the bike that changes everything,’ really is the best of the best, offering impressive range, performance, style, and a road feel second to none. The company launched this new model by giving bikes to Tour de France pro-cyclists to ride on their rest days. And if it’s good enough for them, it’s certainly good enough for most road-riders looking for a high-end ride that’s incredibly lightweight (just 27-pounds; less than half the weight of the Cannondale Synapse Neo 2!).
The Creo’s motor keeps giving you a boost up to 28 mph, has a range of up to 80 miles (conditions dependent, of course), provides up to 240 Watts and 35 Nm or peak and sustained power. There’s even an option for a water bottle cage range extender that provides 160 Wh for an extra 40 miles of range for those serious road adventures.
After years of using some of the best drive motors around, Specialized decided they could do better, so they designed their own motor, battery, and controller. These all seem to be top quality, and because they’re all in-house models, you’re well covered under their two-year warranty.
Specialized’s Creo comes with shock damper and a companion app that makes the bike smart enough to adjust to your idiosyncratic riding style. The company itself is also pretty darned smart and adaptable, especially when it comes to environmental protection and corporate social responsibility.
Of all the bike companies I researched for this series on e-bikes, Specialized are one of the few to take a serious approach to CSR. They take an eco-friendly approach to packaging, which forms a larger footprint for most bike manufacturers than the bikes themselves. They manufacture their products in partnership with bluesign-certified factories, i.e. those meeting strict environmental and safety requirements, and they take an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) approach to end-of-life for their products. This means they’re motivated to make bikes that have a long and happy life, but will take back and recycle the frame and other components should you get sick of your bike down the line.
Specialized are committed to using the highest quality materials in their bikes and to eliminating the use of hazardous materials. They maintain a Restricted Substance List and Packaging Restricted Substance List, based on stringent (read: European) global legislation and they’ve even added substances to these lists voluntarily and are working to pus this as a standard list for the bike industry.
The downside? The Creo costs more than my car. At $13,500 from Specialized, this road e-bike is a pipe dream for most of us. But what a dream it is!
Highlights: US-made top quality road e-bike with Bosch drive system and battery for smooth sailing on even rougher roads.
If you’re looking for a road bike that can handle a bit of rough, the Trek Domane+ is for you. This stylish ride makes room in the frame for 35 c tires and has an IsoSpeed decoupler in the seat tube, making it a great choice for comfort even on longer, tougher road rides.
If you’re in the US, your Trek Domane+ will be engineered as a Class 3 ride to offer pedal assist up to 28 mph. The Domane+ boasts a 500 Wh battery offering up to 70 miles on a single charge. The battery is integrated but removable without tools and is mounted inside the downtube.
This fantastic e-bike has a carbon frame, Bosch Performance Line Speed motor, SRAM Rival 1×11 drivetrain and SRAM Force flat-mount brake calipers and an 11-36 cassette. The Domane+ also has built-in LED lights, front and back, powered by the Bosch battery, so you’ll never be scrambling for your bike lights again.
At just over $2,000, the Trek Domane+ is a top choice for more experienced riders looking to move into the e-bike market, after injury or for other reasons. It’s also a really good choice for slower riders in a group to help keep up with the crowd. A capable electric version of Trek’s popular Domane, this e-bike is reliable, comfortable, capable, and downright fun.
Every Trek bike is covered by a lifetime frame warranty and a two-year battery warranty, and because they’re homegrown, Trek are a good option for getting simple certified e-bike service in the US. Trek are also signed onto the California Transparency Act which means they’re committed to manufacturing products free from human trafficking and forced labor, and with respect paid to workers and their rights.
The downside? In this case the downside may also be an upside, depending on your preference. That carbon frame makes for a lighter bike but arguably one that’s less resource-friendly.
Highlights: An epic road bike for all-day adventures with a range up to 229 km!
I confess, I have a soft spot for Cannondale, thanks to one lovely bike that took me over many hills and dales back in England. That all-day epic feeling I associate with Cannondale remains strong in their e-bike offerings, thanks to the Synapse Neo 2, which is also a wonderfully nerdy name seemingly designed to tempt me to upgrade my current bike.
With a Bosch Active Line Plus motor and Bosch’s PowerTube 500 Wh offering 250 W of pedal-assist, the Synapse Neo 2 has a stunning range, claiming up to a 92 km range on Turbo mode and a whopping 229 km range on Eco mode. Epic indeed. The battery is removable too, so if you feel like going for an unaided jolly, the Synapse Neo 2 is a treat.
The downside? The Cannondale Synapse Neo 2 is a bit hefty, at 18 kg (39.7 pounds), but it manages to be nimble thanks to smart design. Most of the weight is at the bottom bracket, and there’s still a decent bit of tire clearance, in case you’re inclined to really go for a spin.
Highlights: An absolute beast of a bike for road trips where you’re packing plenty of gear or for commuting with a heavy load or passengers.
Looking for an inexpensive 7-speed e-bike to plough through terrain, with or without a pannier or two attached? Rad Power Bikes RadRhino is worth a look. This beast is a great choice for commuters packing a lot of gear, or for those taking on an overnight road trip or longer daytrip.
Sure, it’s a bit of a chunkier at 32.7 kg (72 lbs!), but the RadRhino can carry up to 125 kg (275 lbs). So, if you’re looking for a bike for hauling stuff around, but don’t fancy a full-on cargo e-bike, this is just the ticket.
The RadRhino has a range of 50 miles on a 6-hour charge, thanks to the 672 Wh battery pack and is compatible with other Rad Power Bikes models. This model has five different power levels, a bulletproof frame (yeah, me either), as well as chunky tires to make for a comfy ride. It’s a Throttle on Demand Class 2 e-bike, so make sure it’s legal in your state. The motor is Bafang, and the battery Samsung, so not quite as common as Bosch, Yamaha, or Fazua, but seemingly as reliable.
The downsides? As mentioned, it’s extremely heavy, so is not a bike you’ll be carrying up the stairs to your apartment or workplace. On the plus side, the battery charger is pretty lightweight! Other potential concerns include the rear-hub motor, which some riders might find throws them off balance. The different power levels help smooth out the ride though, so there’s less of the jerky start that can happen with rear-hub motor models. Also, as a new European model, it may be a little tricky to find in the US until later this year.
Highlights: A truly powerful road e-bike ideal for anyone wanting to climb higher and ride farther.
Making use of a Yamaha SyncDrive and EnergyPak battery, the Giant Road E+ 1 Pro is a high torque (up to 80 Nm!), heavy duty electric bike that doesn’t skimp on power but could be accused of skimping on looks. The Giant has an ALUXX SL frameset and the company’s own firmware to perform better at higher cadence (up to 170 rpm, according to Giant). Choose between five power levels and customize those levels through the Giant Ride control app.
New for 2020, the Giant Road E+ 1 Pro has an integrated compact 375 Wh EnergyPak to pair with that mid-drive Yamaha motor, making this a real beast out on the road. Even though it weighs around 20 kg (44 lbs.), it doesn’t feel quite as hefty as similarly heavy e-bikes and the walk-assist power mode is very welcome.
This is a tubeless tire out-of-the-box type of ride, making it a great choice for anyone raring to go and who doesn’t want to fiddle around setting up a new bike. There’s a reliable Shimano Ultegra drivetrain, hydraulic disc brakes, and 160 mm rotors. So, even though this one is chunky, it’ll stop when you want it to.
Highlights: Two bikes in one! Easily remove the motor and battery for a lightweight standard bike or use pedal assist for a powerful ride capable of managing varying terrain.
The Focus Paralane2 9.7 might not have the snappiest name but it’s certainly got some pizzazz. As a versatile road e-bike with good tire clearance, the 9.7 can handle a broad range of terrain and provides up to 400 W of power and 60 Nm of torque.
The Paralane uses a Fazua drive system and 250 Wh battery, which is removable and replaceable (so you can have a spare for longer or harder rides or multi-day trips). This means you basically get two bikes in one: an e-bike and a superb circa 10 kg (22 lbs.) standard bike without pedal assist.
The Paralane has a bar-mounted controller for easy interaction with the motor, and is resistance-free above the motor assist speed limit.
The downsides? The Paralane has Boost hub spacing, which creates a stiffer wheel but makes it trickier to find replacement wheels right now. This does mean you can have fatter tires, though, so this may be a plus for some riders.
Highlights: Beautiful, streamlined design that handles well and looks like a regular bike, but does have a rear-hub motor.
Thanks to its stellar handling and sleek good looks, you’ll soon be singing the praises of the Bianchi Aria E-Road. Based on the non-electric Aria, the Aria E-Road uses a rear hub X35 V2 Ebikemotion motor and a concealed 250 Wh battery in the downtube. The 28 mm tires make for a smoother ride on rougher surfaces, and the bike holds speed well and handles beautifully, with the pedal assist only kicking in as the road rises. And, when it does kick in, even though it’s rear hub drive, it’s pretty smooth. The Ultegra disc brakes and Shimano Ultegra drivetrain are a nice touch too.
The Bianchi Aria E-Road system is controlled by a button mounted on the top tube and it’s super easy to operate. Press once to activate the system (white light), press and hold until the light turns green (low assist), press again for an orange light (medium assist) and once more for a red light (full assist). This control button also indicates remaining battery: white is 75-100%, green is 50-75%, orange is 25-50%, red is 25% and flashing red is panic stations (well, less than 10%).
The Bianchi is also Bluetooth enabled and can connect to your phone using the Ebikemotion app. This app can let you know your battery level and a bunch of cool statistics, like how far you’ve travelled, your altitude, average speed, cadence, current speed, and your gradient. So, you’ll probably want to mount your smartphone on the handlebars to keep track of everything.
The Aria E-Road weighs more than the standard Aria (12.3 kg / 27 lbs.), but thanks to its carbon frame it actually weighs the same as our lightweight top pick, the Specialized Creo. And the pedal assist easily makes up for any extra weight. I like that you can quickly toggle the assist on and off while in motion to help save battery power.
The downsides? Well, it’s a rear-hub motor. So, as noted, wheel/tire changes are finicky, and some sensitive riders might feel a bit unbalanced and like the rear wheel is pushing the bike in pedal assist mode.
Gtech eBike Sport (discontinued)
Highlights: Great budget e-bike for getting back into cycling, with a clean, lean design.
Gtech may be better known for making vacuum cleaners, but they’ve done a sterling job with their first e-bike. Weighing in at a very reasonable 16 kg (35 lbs.) the Gtech eBike Sport is simple, effective, belt-driven, has a removable battery pack to make it a tad lighter if cycling unassisted, and is reasonably priced thanks to its simplicity.
If all the fancy gadgets and gizmos on e-bikes intimidate you and make you wonder where your money’s going, Gtech is the brand for you. The streamlined design is clean, unfussy, and quiet, offering value for money. This bike is basically a plain white aluminum frame, a carbon belt, with a motor and no gears or oily chain to maintain.
The bottle-shaped battery pack (200 Wh) has just one button for the controller and two modes (eco and normal). So, no fancy handlebar display or wizardry to understand. Just two modes and you’re good to go. It’s simple to click the battery pack in and out, but beware that the battery doesn’t lock in place, so take it with you when you leave your bike parked.
The downsides? The Gtech has V-brakes, which aren’t as good as disc brakes, especially in the rain, so I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this for regular riders in the Pacific Northwest where I live (in a rainforest!). This bike also requires a decent bit of home assembly (which is probably why there are V-brakes), so you might need to befriend a bike mechanic if you’re not comfortable with putting it together yourself. It can also be a bit hard to see the battery level while riding, so isn’t great for longer rides without dismounting.
All in all, the Gtech is a fantastic budget e-bike for people who… don’t like bikes. Seriously, if the idea of spending your Sunday removing ball bearings and chains and oiling everything up sounds like hell, but you want a bike with a bit of oomph to get you on the road, this super simple eBike Sport is for you.