Charging Ahead

Electric bikes are gaining traction as commuters return to the roads. But buying a good one can be a tricky ride.


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When David Maxwell gets around the city these days, he isn’t taking the E train; he takes an e-bike. The 40-year-old New York City–based energy executive is one of the many urban dwellers who bought a bicycle during the pandemic. “Before all of this, I hadn’t been on a bike in years,” he says.

Indeed, in the months since “lockdown” and “social distancing” became part of our daily lexicon, the cycling industry has seen unprecedented growth. Bike sales in the United States hit a record-setting $1 billion in April, up more than 75 percent from a year ago, according to the market research firm the NPD Group. Sales of electric bikes in particular were up 92 percent.

With some people returning to work, experts say e-bikes, which come equipped with a motor, may offer commuters unique benefits—among them the ability to travel longer distances, navigate through traffic, and arrive at a destination without being drenched in sweat. But at anywhere from $1,500 to upwards of $10,000, making the purchase requires some real consideration.

Stick with a local retailer.

Deciding what kind of bike to get is important, but choosing a retailer may be even more crucial. “You want to find a local retailer who’s going to give you a test ride, put the bike together for you, support it, and keep the parts in stock,” says Ed Benjamin, senior managing director at eCycleElectric, an e-vehicle consulting firm. “Otherwise, you’re going to spend hours on the phone with tech support and even more time shipping parts back and forth when things break.” Benjamin recommends starting with an all-electric bike retailer such as Pedego to learn and test a variety of e-bikes.

Be clear on your needs.

Before you set foot inside a store, make sure you have a good sense of your ride. How far is your daily commute? Are you traveling on flat roads or hills? These considerations factor into your options: some bikes have a motor that shuts off once it reaches a speed of 20 miles per hour; some come with pedal assist; and others come with a throttle. The key is to find a bike that feels comfortable. “The test ride is very important,” says Lauren Butler, product marketing manager for city bikes at the bicycle maker Trek.

Be willing to put in some TLC.

The average e-bike goes 20 to 35 miles per battery charge, so depending on your commute, you may need to recharge several times a week. Experts recommend taking the battery off your bike and bringing it with you when you’re parked, because it’s small enough and the most valuable part. As far as maintenance, it’s best to have your bike checked once every six months. Finally, be sure you understand the rules of the road; get familiar with them by consulting the state-by-state regulations guide from the cycling advocacy group PeopleForBikes.

Don’t get duped.

It may be tempting to snag a preowned e-bike on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist, especially at a time when stores are struggling to keep inventory. If you go this route, experts recommend sticking with trusted brands and, if possible, bringing the bike to a retailer before you make the purchase. “A lot of times what’s happening is that regular bikes are being retrofitted with motors,” says Butler.


The Gear


Look for one that’s lightweight, well ventilated, and engineered with MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System) technology for additional protection. ($50 to $250)


Most e-bikes come with a locking system, but you can add a U-lock or chain version for extra security. ($15 to $180)


Store day-to-day essentials in a pannier, a bag that attaches to a bike’s rear rack. ($30 to $300)


A pair of full-coverage fenders can keep you clean and dry when driving through puddles. ($20 to $50)


In clothing descriptions, look for words like “moisture-wicking” and “antimicrobial” for items to double as work shirts for the office. ($50 to $150)