We will be the first to admit that, when electric mountain bikes hit the scene, some of the Bike Perfect team were sceptical, but that apprehension melted away about three-seconds and two pedal strokes after we first threw our legs over an e-MTB.
Riding an e-MTB is anything but cheating, and you can still finish a ride on an electric mountain bike just as gassed, if not more so, than on a standard mountain bike. They are an absolute hoot to ride and allow people of all types to ride faster and farther.
The common refrain surrounding e-MTBs are 'it's cheating', or 'that's a motorcycle, not a mountain bike.' Neither of these are true. Once you take Strava segments out of the equation, forget the notion that everything must be a competition, and remember that experiencing the journey itself is why we ride, you can begin to appreciate how any e-bike fits into its intended market, especially e-MTBs.
First and foremost, all of the electric mountain bikes featured here are pedal-assist, meaning to get any help from the motor you still have to pedal. There is no throttle, but there are different levels of assistance, allowing the rider to determine the intensity.
Best e-MTB available today
While the eONE-SIXTY is pegged as an enduro bike and certainly has the travel and clout to back it up, I had the most fun exploring areas and zones that I wouldn’t have otherwise explored on a regular bike. Simply hurling down a double black route misses the adaptable utility that Merida has instilled in the eONE-SIXTY.
Otherwise, torturous access is made possible with the eONE-SIXTY’s determined climbing ability which makes exploration fun rather than a hardship. Capable suspension alongside grounded geometry figures means that, whether the trail back down is flowing singletrack or littered with technical features, you are aboard a bike that can not only handle almost any track with composure but encourages playful riding that squeezes as much fun as possible from the returning descent.
Shimano provides the drivetrain and braking as well, with an XT derailleur and SLX shifter providing dependable performance that is synonymous with the brand’s benchmark groupset. There’s a four-pot Shimano MT-520 disc brake with a 203mm rotor on the front and two-pot MT-500 with 180mm rotor at the rear. Bump taming is handled by RockShox’s 35 Gold RL fork and Super Deluxe Select+ rear shock. The mullet setup of 29er front and 27.5in rear wheels uses Merida own brand boost wheelset with a 29mm internal rim width. The bike comes specced with Maxxis Assegai 2.5 and DHR II 2.8 rear Maxxterra tyres.
Specialized has a real knack of making bikes feeling welcoming straight away and that’s definitely one of the Levo’s real strengths. You’ve also got to remember that with the monster 180mm-travel Kenevo covering gravity duties, the Levo is deliberately designed as a trail bike. Specialized have factored in the extra weight that needs controlling on descents though and the slight slacker and longer geometry than the Stumpjumper gives it more stability on descents or in slippery situations. While it’s only 10mm shorter the stem makes a noticeable difference in terms of reaction speed when lines need tweaking.
The overall character is bang on for its likely customers too, in that it can more than handle itself on technical downhill sections but you don’t feel like you’re boring it if you’re just putting in the climbing meters between them or out for all-day kilometres making the most of the massive battery.
The motor itself is really good. It’s got an impressive 90Nm of torque (Bosch is 75Nm) that comes in over a broad cadence range and is totally drag-free when you overtake its speed limit. While it’s noisier than the original Brose-powered Levo, primary belt drive means it’s still quiet compared to most of its peers. Having the big battery as standard also makes 100km rides possible even on taxing terrain.
Commencal has long been delivering bikes that well outperform their price tag (especially when the trail points down), and the Meta Power 29 is no exception. For 2020 the geometry gets longer, lower and slacker, and if you can stay off the brakes, it will hang with anything.
With the comparatively low price tag, the Meta Power 29 Ride comes with a 140mm RockShox Deluxe Select + rear shock, a 160mm Lyrik Select fork, SRAM NX Eagle drivetrain with Guide RE brakes and 200mm rotors doing the stopping.
The Meta Power 29 Ride has a Shimano STEPS E8000 drive system but lacks the slick integration of its more expensive compatriots with the battery occupying the space for a water bottle.
Putting out up to 80nm of torque and a claimed 360 per cent of pedalling input Giant has tuned the Yamaha motor attached to the Trance E+ 1 Pro to provide consistent power, even at low cadence.
The frame itself is made from Giant's ALUXX SL alloy with a 500WH battery integrated neatly into the down tube. At the back, the Maestro suspension design is supple, it simply glides over the small stuff, and the 140mm Fox 36 fork doesn't get squirmy under pressure. Rolling on 27.5 inch wheels and tyres, the smaller hoops help to lessen the weightiness of the bike.
Finished with a SRAM GX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, and Code R brakes, Giant also supplies the Trance E+ 1 Pro with tubeless valves and rim strips factory-installed - they even include sealant so you can take full advantage of the Maxxis Minion tyres.
The analogue Genius is a bike that loves to ride at full-send, and the electric version is no different. Depending on where you live, the Scott Genius eRide will either come with 29er or 650b wheels and tyres, although should you want to swap, a flip-chip allows for the necessary change in geometry. With the big wheels, plenty of travel and the heft of the motor, the Genius eRide is a veritable sled, allowing you to point it through nasty terrain and come out the bottom upright.
The Shimano STEPS drivetrain gives you upto 250watts of assistance and has three modes, Eco, Trail and Boost. With up to 70nm of Torque, Trail mode gives you every newton-metre available, but dials back the watts to extend battery life.
The Fox suspension is paired to Scott's TwinLock dampening remote, which allows you to cycle the damper from closed, to half and fully open without compromising grip on the bars. But, when you add in a shifter, brakes and dropper remote, it creates quite a busy cockpit.
The Rise certainly makes good use of the speed or height it adds. The combination of reasonable steering stability and long reach gives it confident control through the big FSA cockpit. Big volume Maxxis tyres and wide Sector rims back that up with plenty of grip so you can properly push it on smoother, more groomed trails. At under 20kg it pops and hops a lot more easily than most E-bikes, although you’ll need the skill to land it without a slam.
The steep effective seat angle and smooth power delivery are a big help on climbs so you don’t have to go the longer, easier way round to get your next descending fix. The geometry isn’t so freaky that it becomes a chore when you’re cruising more mellow, natural trails and making the most of the extended Fazua efficiency though.
Pivot's new Shuttle is the pinnacle of e-MTB's, with a high-end carbon frame, Kashima coated Fox Factory suspension, and Shimano XTR. The bike can take 29in wheels and tyres or 650b with a 3in tyre — you could even mix wheel sizes to go full enduro. The Shuttle gets a DW-link rear suspension setup for best in class pedalling and traction, with a 140mm rear shock, which is mated with a Fox 36 160mm fork at the front.
Tipping the scales at a little over 20kg, the Shuttle comes with a STEPS E-8000 drive unit and a 504Wh battery. You'll need an Allen key to remove the cover, but Pivot say it allowed them to create a stiffer downtube.
The Sight VLT 2 looks just like its analogue cousin, with only a slight variation in the geometry; the BB is a bit higher, the reach is a touch longer, but the chainstays are the same length.
Using a Shimano STEPS E8000 drive unit, Norco has opted for a 630Wh battery over the typical 500Wh, and integrated it cleanly into the down tube — though it's not removable. The STEPS motor provides plenty of power that kicks in without the jolt of some systems and is manageable even in turbo mode trying to navigate tight singletrack.
Specced with Sram Eagle NX 12-speed drivetrain, the Guide brakes offer plenty of power and modulation with four positions and 200mm rotors. The Sight VTL also gets RockShox suspension with the base tune customised for the added forces that come with an e-bike.
Rocky Mountain was somewhat late launching its first e-MTB, but that's because they designed their own drive system. Based around a standard crank and bottom bracket, Rocky Mountain fashioned its Powerplay drive system to use parts which are readily available at any bike shop.
Made with aluminium, the frame mirrors the geometry of the non-powered Altitude, including the short-for-an-e-bike 425mm chainstay. The Altitude Powerplay is powered by a 500wh battery, and gets the Ride9 flip-chip allowing for three variations of the geometry - the steep position makes for a 65-degree head angle and 74-degree seat angle (size M).
At the back, Altitude gets a 150mm RockShox Deluxe Select +, and at the front is a 160mm Yari RC fork.
YT took a slightly different approach launching its first electric mountain bike. Instead of aiming to make the most powerful, or the lightest bike on the market, instead, they sought to make the best gravity e-MTB — a point they drove home in the launch video showing Adolf Silva making absolute mincemeat of a downhill track before sending a double backflip.
With 165mm of rear travel and a 160mm fork, the Decoy borrows a lot of its geometry from the Capra enduro bike, but YT has lowered the BB which in-turn creates a lower centre of gravity. The frame is carbon and sees YT's Virtual 4 Link suspension, designed to have a sensitive beginning, supportive mid-stroke, and progressive end as you move through the travel.
Using a STEPS E8000 Motor, YT says it designed its own 540Wh battery using the same technology you see in Tesla cars. The YT comes with mixed wheel sizes, with the front wheel offering roll over and control and the rear, specced with a 2.8in tyre offering grip and stability.
What you need to know about E-MTBs
Most e-bikes will either use a drive system from Bosch, Shimano or Yamaha, however, depending on where you live, the wattage output and maximum speed will vary.
The UK adopted a lot of the EU's regulations regarding e-bikes, but with Brexit still up in the air, it's hard to say if these restrictions will change as things move along.
The 'Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycle (EPAC) Amendment Regulations' mandates; electric assistance can only provide 250-watts of aid and must cut out at 25kph. It also stipulates the rider must be at least 14-years old and the bike must be in motion before the motor kicks in.
Electric bikes (and riders) that meet these standards have the same legal standing as regular bicycles and are allowed on roads, bike paths and singletrack.
In the US, rules for e-bikes vary from state to state; with 30 states classifying e-bikes as ordinary bicycles, while the remaining 20 label e-bikes as mopeds, scooters or something else altogether.
Federal law defines an electric bicycle as a "two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts, whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20mph."
It's worth noting this statute defines the maximum assisted speed of the bike propelled solely by the motor, not when it's being pedalled. To make things more confusing, state regulations can supersede the federal statute.
The Bicycle Product Suppliers Association has proposed a three-class system which divides electric bikes up based on their maximum assisted speed:
For all three classes, the motor can only put out a max of 750 watts, and the class needs to be clearly labelled.
Even still, the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the National Parks Service categorise e-MTB's as 'motorised', and they are only permitted where motorised vehicles are allowed. This means that trail network near your house might not be open for electric mountain bikes, however, some local and state land management agencies have made exceptions.
Our friends over at People for Bikes and MTB project have put together a pretty comprehensive map of trails where electric mountain bikes are permitted. You can see the full map here.
In Australia, e-bikes are split into throttle operated and pedal assist. Both systems must be limited to 25kph, and the throttle-operated motors can only output 200 watts while pedal assist is legal up to 250 watts. Anything that exceeds these figures is considered a motorbike and must be licensed and insured.
E-MTB motors and batteries
While electric bike motors can be placed in either wheel or at the bottom bracket, e-MTBs should have a mid-drive motor system. The motor and battery are the heaviest parts on the bike, and with this weight between the wheels and close to the ground, it doesn't throw your centre of gravity out of whack.
Mid-motor systems also perform more efficiently at a lower cadence and have sensors to measure how hard you're pedalling to tailor the level of torque and maintain grip. The motors are optimised for trail use, with a few levels of assistance; ranging from low-watt 'eco' modes to gradient flattening 'turbo'.
Batteries will be described in Watt-hours or WH, taking both output and capacity into account — a bigger number means the battery will take you farther on a single charge, but those with more capacity are heavier.
Frame and components
Many e-mountain bikes come with robust aluminium framesets, but brands are rolling out more carbon options as they get the hang of this new segment of bikes. As with analogue mountain bikes, full suspension reigns supreme when it comes to e-MTBs, and with the right suspension tune, the extra weight can improve descending. Look for robust suspension and a fork with at least 34mm stanchions.
With the extra weight from the motor and battery, it takes considerably more force to slow an e-MTB down, and when you're hurtling toward an unsuspecting hiker or a hairpin corner, you're going to want four-piston brakes and 200mm rotors.
The additional weight also means the wheels will be built solid, with more spokes and wrapped in 2.5in (or bigger) tubeless tyres. With rolling resistance being less of a consideration, manufacturers opt for puncture-resistant casings and more aggressive tread.