Class 1 includes pedal-assist bikes, which power the electric motor as your foot applies pressure to the pedal. There’s no throttle control on the handlebar to get the bike going; the electric part works only when the rider is pedaling, and the e-assist cuts off at speeds above 20 mph.
Class 2 bikes also have an electric motor that works up to 20 mph, either while the rider is pedaling (pedal-assist) or with electric propulsion alone, via a throttle control.
Class 3 limits an e-bike’s top speed to 28 mph. These faster, powered models might not be legal to ride in some areas, such as on bike paths.
Of the 16 e-bike models CR tested, seven were in the Class 1 category, and nine were in Class 2. We did not test any in Class 3. The prices ranged from $600 to $4,000. The highest-rated e-bikes were also the most expensive we tested, although none was anywhere near the $6,000 to $7,000 high end of the price range consumers are likely to encounter at bike shops. More selectable gears made for a better riding experience once the battery was drained and pedaling provided the only motive power. Single-speed bikes aren’t as versatile. Depending on the model, electric assist was applied either at the hub of the rear wheel, or in what’s called a mid-drive, in which power is applied at the bottom bracket, where the pedals are located.
“Electric bikes tend to be more expensive than conventional bicycles, so most people will probably want a good all-arounder,” says Bernie Deitrick, the engineer who leads CR’s e-bike testing program. “We especially liked the mid-drive models that apply electric power where there would normally only be pedals. That setup, plus a bunch of gears to choose from, made for a bike that was almost as good without electric assist as with it. But for pure fun, it’s hard to beat a Class 2 electric bike. Without needing to shift gears, their throttle controls and acceleration ability make them exciting to ride.”
The full ratings from our latest e-bike evaluations are available to Consumer Reports members. Below, we have listed the three highest-rated models from our testing program.