What to look for when buying an e-MTB

Mondraker e-bike live
(Image credit: Mondraker)

Electric mountain bikes have exploded in popularity in recent years, so much so that nearly every bike brand is making them now. Pedal-assisted bikes now mean that newer riders can have an easier time getting into the sport. But that's not all. More experienced riders are turning to e-MTBs, too, to get in more mileage in less time. 

There are different things to consider when buying the best e-MTBs, most obviously the motor and battery. Since the motor and battery add additional weight, it's important to consider component selection as well. Higher weights and higher speeds put further demands and strain on components over regular bikes. 

Here is our rundown of what to consider when buying an e-MTB. 

Types of e-MTBs

It seems like the sweet spot of e-MTBs is the trail and enduro category of mountain biking. Most of the best e-MTBs seem to fit into the 140-160mm of travel range and are meant to be efficient on the uphills yet tons of fun on the downhills. 

There are e-MTBs that don't fit in that category though. There are more cross-country-focused bikes such as the Trek E-Caliber. These bikes take inspiration from pure-bred XC race bikes and are designed to favor climbs and smoother trails rather than prolonged technical downhill trails. 

There are also e-hardtails, though full-suspension e-bikes are definitely more popular. In our view, if you're buying an e-bike, it's better to pony up for the added performance benefits of suspension. 

It all comes down to what types of trails you want to ride and your personal riding style. At the end of the day, it's all about fun anyway, so buy whatever brings a smile to your face. 

Merida eONE-SIXTY 9000 and Shimano EP8

(Image credit: Graham Cottingham)

Motor and battery 

When it comes to motors, it seems that Shimano and Bosch are dominating the competition when it comes to what's getting specced by bike manufacturers. The reason why you're buying an e-MTB in the first place is the pedal-assisted nature of it, so having the best e-MTB motor from a reputable brand will save a lot of heartache down the line. 

When looking at power units, it all comes down to power vs. energy. E-MTBs are powered by rechargeable battery packs, so just like your body, energy is finite before it has to be recharged. 

A high-power motor will require lots of battery power. That means that the battery will either run out faster, or you will need a bigger and heavier battery. The opposite is also true. A lower power motor requires less battery power and will be more lightweight. 

If you don't need tons of motor power for your riding style, you probably don't need a huge motor or battery. On the converse, if you like doing high-intensity rides with lots of power, a higher-power motor might be worth it. 

It's also worth considering the charging and general interface of the units. Decide whether or not it's worth it to own a bike with hard-to-access electronics. Batteries should be easy to charge and swap out, although most systems aren't too bad. 

Mondraker e-bike live

(Image credit: Mondraker)

Brakes and suspension 

As mentioned above, e-MTBs are heavier and require beefier components to handle the additional forces. One of the most important components to get right are the brakes. 

A lot more mass is traveling downhill, so e-MTBs require bigger, more powerful brakes. All e-MTBs will come with disc brakes, and the rotors should be an adequate size. The overall brake system should be powerful and have adequate modulation. 

Another area that's impacted by the increased mass of e-MTBs is suspension. E-MTBs are ridden at higher speeds, so the suspension should match that. Suspension is responsible for absorbing impacts and also keeping traction with the dirt. The area where this is most critical is on the downhills, and luckily most e-MTBs come with solid suspension packages from companies like RockShox or Fox. 

The suspension's tuning needs to address the added weight as well. That's why e-MTBs often come with e-MTB specific suspension that's already been sorted out with special tunes and designs. 

Other components 

Another component area that's important to think about is wheels and tires. A bike is only as good as the components are on it, and that's especially true with wheels. A wheel that gets bent out of shape after one ride is no good. 

E-MTB wheels should prioritize durability over all else. Like mentioned before, e-MTBs are heavier, which creates more forces for the wheels to deal with, so a solid pair of wheels is essential. 

Tires go hand in hand with wheels. E-MTB tires should primarily feature strong sidewalls and puncture protection along with bigger knobs. Tires are what allow for traction with the dirt, and you don't want a flimsy tire folding under the weight of you and your bike. The best e-MTB tires are strong and grippy, but you don't necessarily need e-MTB specific tires. A solid pair of enduro or downhill tires will work too. 

A nice thing to have on an e-MTB is a dropper seatpost. Dropper posts allow the seat to easily move out of your way on the downhills and pop back up for the climbs. Even on XC-focused e-MTBs, we'd recommend a dropper post. You have the motor to get to the top quicker, so you might as well enjoy the descents. 

Mondraker e-bike live

(Image credit: Mondraker)

Local restrictions 

We should mention that different locations have different laws and rules about e-bike and e-MTB usage. This varies from country to country and even between different locations within a country. We won't go into exact details here, but it's up to you to know your local regulations. 

If your local trails don't allow e-MTBs, maybe you shouldn't buy one quite yet. Or if you do, maybe don't brag too much about it on social media. 

How to buy an e-MTB

Hopefully, this article gave a solid explanation for the most important things to look for when buying an e-MTB. Evaluate what type of riding you will be doing and what components are on the models that are in stock at your preferred shop. Everybody has a certain budget, so think about what are must-haves versus what can be compromised. 

When buying any bike, we recommend test riding a bike to see how it feels in person. This can be done through a bike shop or even brands and industry events. If you'd like to see what the experts think of some of the top e-MTBs on the market right now, check out some of our reviews and buyer's guides. 

Ryan Simonovich

Ryan Simonovich has been riding and racing for nearly a decade. He got his start as a cross-country mountain bike racer in California, where he cultivated his love for riding all types of bikes. Ryan eventually gravitated toward enduro and downhill racing but has also been found in the occasional road and cyclo-cross events. Today, he regularly rides the trails of Durango, Colorado, and is aiming to make a career out of chronicling the sport of cycling. 

Rides: Santa Cruz Hightower, Specialized Tarmac SL4