As electric mountain bikes grow in popularity there are more models available than ever before, and it can be tough to pick the right one. To help, we researched the top e-bike models and narrowed our selection down to three to test side by side over the course of several months. We rode these e-MTBs for hundreds of hours and thousands of miles while scrutinizing every aspect of their performance to find out which is the most powerful, has the greatest range, most user-friendly controls, and most importantly how they perform on the trail. We got to know all of these e-bikes very well, exposing strengths and weaknesses of each, and we present our findings here so that you can find the model that's right for you.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall E-MTB
Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie 2018
It was a close battle, but in the end the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie emerged as the winner of our Editor's Choice Award. Our testers universally agreed that it was the most well-rounded performer on the trail and offered a ride that felt the "most like a mountain bike" of the models tested. It was versatile, with a lighter and more nimble feel, yet it still managed to maintain its' charging chops and stability at speed. Specialized has done a wonderful job designing their Turbo Levo models with the battery and motor cleanly and stealthily integrated into the frame. The Specialized 1.3 motor also runs so quietly that you'd almost forget you were riding an e-bike, if it weren't for all that power. The Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie wasn't the most powerful e-MTB we tested, but it used its' power most efficiently and had an impressive distance range that bested the competition by 15% or more in our head to head range testing.
longest distance range
fits water bottle
looks least like an e-bike
lowest center of gravity
abrupt power cutoff
no digital display
Of course there is room for improvement, testers were underwhelmed by the Specialized's e-bike controls, most notably the lack of handlebar mounted digital display, and also found climbing performance to be hampered by the drive unit's more abrupt cutoff when the pedals stopped turning. The charger connection is poorly designed and located: we spent a fair amount of time carefully removing mud to get the bike to charge. Overall though, the Specialized still proved to be the test team's favorite for its' versatility and well rounded performance. We loved it and we think you will too, read the full review to find out more about our Editor's Choice Award winning e-MTB.
Read review: Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie
Top Pick for Aggressive Riders
Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+ 2018
Commencal has only just recently entered the electric mountain bike market, and their Meta Power Race 650B+ is a well designed and hard charging contender, the winner of our Top Pick for Aggressive Rider's Award. Commencal has integrated the Shimano Steps E8000 pedal assist motor into their proven Meta frame design, creating a bike that climbs well and also charges downhill. This bike comes to life at speed downhill thanks to a long and slack geometry and a great component spec which is highlighted by a stout Rock Shox Lyrik fork and a plush Super Deluxe Coil rear shock. The Meta Power Race took top honors for it's climbing performance, mostly due to the Shimano Steps E8000's consistent power output and extended power band, and testers also loved its' e-bike controls, with an ergonomic shifter, best-in-test digital display, and user friendly charging connection.
great component spec
stable and confident at speed
can't hold water bottle
shortest distance range
sluggish in technical downhill
On the descents, the Commencal felt somewhat one-dimensional, great when up to speed, but with sluggish and less nimble handling hindering its' performance in tighter, low-speed technical sections of trail. The Meta Power Race also had the shortest distance range in our head to head testing, another factor which kept this contender off the top step of the podium. That being said, this e-bike was built for charging, no pun intended, so if you're an aggressive rider who lives for eye-watering descents, then this might be the e-MTB for you. Read the full review to find out more about the Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+.
Read review: Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+
What is an E-Bike?
Already popular in Europe, electric mountain bikes are slowly but surely gaining in both popularity and acceptance here in the United States and throughout North America. There are various kinds and classifications of electric bikes on the market, but the more common type is the Class 1, or pedal assist, bikes which have electric drive motors that are activated only by pedaling and are limited to lower speeds. In the United States, Class 1 electric bikes are limited to a top speed of 20 mph and their motors are designed to have a speed governor to regulate this. These types of bikes resemble modern mountain bikes, but they have large batteries and small motors integrated onto and into the frame design. The e-MTB pedal assist motor is typically built around the bottom bracket and provides varying levels of pedaling "support" directly into the drivetrain while the cranks are turning. Most models offer several support settings that provide pedal assistance between 25% and 100% of the user's pedaling input.
E-MTBs come in both hardtail and full suspension models and are produced by a variety of bike manufacturers. All of the models we tested are full suspension all mountain/trail bike models with similar amounts of suspension travel, geometry, and wheel/tire size. The addition of a large battery and a small motor adds significant weight to an e-bike and they often tip the scales in the neighborhood of 50 lbs, roughly 20 lbs heavier than non-e-bikes, and the heavy weight of these bikes makes them a challenge to ride without the support of the pedal assist motor.
In the United States, electric mountain bikes have proven to be somewhat polarizing, and the debate and contention over where they can be used is ongoing and is likely to continue for years to come. That said, there are many places in the U.S. where you can legally and responsibly ride e-MTB's, and take it from us, they are a heck of a lot of fun. We suggest checking with local land management agencies to find out where you are allowed to use an electric mountain bike before taking to the trails. One thing is certain, e-bikes can be used on any trails that are legal for motorized use, so we took advantage of the wealth of OHV trails in the greater Lake Tahoe area and had more fun than any of us expected while testing out these rigs.
Analysis and Test Results
Over the course of several months, we had four professional mountain bike testers ride each of the electric mountain bikes in our test selection on a variety of trails and terrain, and a range of weather conditions. We had each tester ride every bike numerous times, often riding the different models back to back for comparison. We didn't go easy on them, instead, we treated each bike as if it was our own and put them all through the wringer in an effort to identify their strengths and weaknesses. We scrutinized every aspect of each bike's performance and scored them all on several rating metrics, e-bike controls, downhill performance, uphill performance, power output, and distance range. Each metric, and the winner of each, are described in greater detail below. It is important to note that during the course of our testing our impressions of these e-bikes changed dramatically. Our first impressions didn't stick. It was essential to test these head to head and make direct comparisons to flush out the differences. For example, everyone was a little underwhelmed with the Specialized's power and excited about the Haibike. But after hundreds of miles of testing, those impressions changed dramatically. We go into more detail on this below.
The three bikes we tested all use a different e-bike motor system, and the controls, the primary user interface, are an important element that we rated but didn't weight too heavily. We were mostly interested in how user-friendly is it to interact with the system, how intuitive and ergonomic is the shifter, how good is the display, and how easy is it to charge the battery? Each drive system also has a smartphone app that is intended to allow the user to fine-tune the motor's support settings, create custom settings, monitor battery charge and health, and a whole lot more. While we don't feel the apps are necessary for the use of any of these e-MTB's, those with an affinity for technology or personalizing your ride may be inclined to use them. Each motor system and their associated controls are different and they are not created equal.
When all was said and done, the Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+ proved to have everyone's favorite e-bike controls. Commencal uses the Shimano Steps E8000 motor and system which features ergonomic thumb shifters, a small but easy to read digital display and a simple and secure charging connection. The ergonomic shifter of the Shimano system was preferred over the electronic buttons found on both the Specialized and HaiBike. The Commencal's digital display also proved to be a favorite for its small size and out of the way mounting location, easy to read at-a-glance information, and color-coded support settings information that was by far the best-in-the-test. The HaiBike's Yamaha PW-X motor and system also featured a digital display, but testers thought it was a little too big, displayed too much information, was more difficult to read, and generally felt a little more clunky and less refined than the Shimano system. Our Editor's Choice Award winner, the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie scored the lowest in this rating due to the lack of a handlebar mounted display and a less user-friendly charging connection.
The downhill performance was our most highly weighted rating metric because we feel that the most important element of an e-bike is how well it performs out on the trail. All of our testers rode the bikes and formulated their own opinions of each model, considering how factors like the geometry, component spec, and frame design could play a role in its' downhill performance. All of the bikes we tested were fun to ride, way more fun than any of us e-bike virgins ever expected, but they all had a different demeanor and trail manners. To test this, we rode the bikes downhill, a lot, and took them down varied terrain, from fast and flowy open trails to tight low-speed technical, and everything in between.
In the end, the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie proved to be the tester favorite, offering the most well-rounded downhill performance that felt the "most like a mountain bike" that the other models simply couldn't match. The Specialized was the most nimble and agile by far, with the lowest center of gravity, shortest wheelbase, least rear wheel travel, and shortest reach, yet still managed to be confident and stable at speed. By contrast, the Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+, our Top Pick for Aggressive Riders, felt much more one-dimensional with its' long and slack geometry and ultra plush suspension, excelling at speed, but sluggish at lower speeds or technical downhill sections. The HaiBike XDURO AllMtn 8.0 proved to be our least favorite downhill performer, with a heavy feel, rattling battery, and a generally unrefined feel, although it was good at going straight and fast.
You've gotta get up to get down and e-bikes are designed to make it much easier to do so. Since we spend more time climbing than descending we felt it was important to rate how well these bikes perform when pointed uphill. Climbing on an e-MTB with pedal assist support is obviously somewhat different than climbing on a bike without a motor. These bikes are capable of carrying some serious speed uphill, changing the climbing dynamic with a much faster pace, finesse is often out the window in favor of power and momentum. The heavy weight of these bikes and plus sized tires give them incredible traction, keeping them planted on the ground, and dampening switches are often left wide open to enjoy the added traction benefits of active rear suspension. The bike's geometry, handling, and power output all played a role in how well these bikes performed while climbing.
At the end of our test, our testers all agreed that the Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+ was the best climber of the bunch. The bike felt comfortable, with a slightly longer reach than the competition, but the highlight was the Shimano Steps E8000 motor. The Shimano motor's power band extends for just a moment after the pedals stop turning, providing the rider with just a little more push to get over obstacles or carry speed when you stop pedaling for a second. This extended power was brief, but it made a huge difference when tackling technical uphill sections or playfully ripping berms or over rocks on the climbs. While agile and quicker handling, the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie lost ground in this metric due to the somewhat abrupt pedal assist cutoff that occurred the moment you stop pedaling. This abrupt power cutoff made for awkward moves in slow technical sections when jockeying pedals to avoid rock strikes. The HaiBike didn't climb quite as well as the Commencal, but it had traction for days and a motor that also extended the power band slightly beyond the last pedal stroke.
One of the primary purposes of an e-bike is transferring power from the motor into the drivetrain to "support" your regular pedal stroke. All of the different motors do this in relatively the same way, although they all feel slightly different due to subtle differences in their power output. Please note that all of these systems worked impressively well and the differences between them are relatively subtle. We tested this metric primarily based on feel, as opposed to any sort of scientific measurement, and our testers could all notice the differences between the various models. All of the e-bikes we tested have several support modes offering varying levels of pedal assist support. The Commencal and Specialized models both offer three support settings, while the HaiBike has five levels of pedal assist support. All three models also have a walk assist setting which provides up to 3.7 mph of support to help you push these heavy bikes uphill in the event you have to hike-a-bike.
Over the course of our testing, our testers universally agreed that the HaiBike XDURO AllMtn 8.0 had the most responsive and powerful feeling motor. The system felt almost twitchy, raring to go with a torque-y feel that started the moment you started to pedal. It got up to speed quickly and had the fastest top end, 20 mph, of all the models we tested. The power was smooth and consistent, and shifting between the system's 5 support settings went off without a hitch. Testers also loved that the power band extended for moment after you stop pedaling, not quite as long as the Commencal, but enough to be a benefit on the climbs. The Commencal has a similarly strong motor, but couldn't quite match the torque-y feel of the HaiBike or the top speed, although it has an even longer push of the power band when the pedaling stops. Specialized's motor system felt the least powerful of them all, still offering plenty of pedal assist support mind you, but that also resulted in the most efficient motor and longest distance range of the models tested.
The distance range of an electric mountain bike refers to the distance you can travel on a single battery charge given a specific set of circumstances. All of the e-MTBs we tested have roughly the same battery storage capacity, but variables like rider weight, pedaling input, terrain, trail conditions, and weather conditions can all affect the length of time or distance that a battery charge will last. To compare the distance range of the three models in our test we took three different riders, on three different bikes, on the same trail, at the same time, in the highest support setting and did out-and-back laps until the batteries ran down from fully charged to completely dead. We recorded the distance and vertical gain that each model was able to complete and very easily and objectively determined our winner.
In our head to head range test, the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie proved to be the most efficient and took the win by travelling 20.6 miles and 3,455 vertical feet, 17% farther than the Commencal Meta Power Race 650B+ at 17.1 miles and 3,100 vertical feet, and 15% farther than the HaiBike XDURO AllMtn 8.0 at 17.8 miles and 3,215 vertical feet.
It is important to note that the less power you use while riding your e-bike, the longer the battery will last, makes sense right? All of the pedal assist drive units we tested also have smartphone apps that can be used to customize your support settings to your liking, and such changes may allow for more or less range on your own personal e-bike. Specialized's Mission Control app has a feature that allows you set a predetermined route, and the app then regulates the motor's support to ensure power lasts to finish your ride.
Electric mountain bikes are really a lot of fun to ride, and our team of professional mountain bike testers thoroughly enjoyed themselves during the testing process. It wasn't all fun and games though, as every aspect of each bike's performance was scrutinized to find the strengths and weakness of each model and compare them to each other. The bikes were ridden hard, then ridden again, and again. Detailed notes were taken and meetings were held to be sure that we had comprehensively tested each model. Here we present our findings with thorough individual reviews and a detailed comparative analysis to help you find the e-MTB that best suits your needs.
— Jeremy Benson, Joshua Hutches, Paul Tindal, Chris McNamara