Pro Tips for Buying a Transportation E-Bike
Specialized Turbo Como SL in roundabout
  • Any electric bike can be used for car-replacing transportation, but some are designed specifically for this purpose.
  • Thinking of buying one? Read the pros and cons of some electric commuter and e-cargo bikes we’ve tested.

Power on!

The United States is poised to achieve an electric bike milestone: one million e-bikes sold annually. 

“We are on our way to becoming the most profitable and largest western market for electric bikes,” says Ed Benjamin, chairman of the Light Electric Vehicle Association. The United States imported nearly 800,000 e-bikes last year, up from about 450,000 in 2020 and 250,000 in 2019, according to the association.

E-bikes come in many styles, from electric mountain bikes to sporty fitness models made for long road rides. But e-bikes built for car-replacing transportation are the most important when it comes to addressing climate change, reducing air pollution, cutting traffic congestion, and making our streets better for people walking and biking. 

So-called transportation or utility e-bikes are workhorses designed for commuting, errands, carrying cargo, and accomplishing tasks that might otherwise require a car. 

As an e-bike reviewer, I’ve had the opportunity to test many transportation electric bikes. My wife and I each own one, and they have transformed our lifestyle. We own a car but rarely drive it unless leaving Seattle. 

Thinking about buying an e-bike? Below is a sample of some models in a variety of styles, prices, sizes, battery ranges, and speed classifications that I’ve tested over the past two years. All the brands listed below offer multiple models in addition to those described. 

Class 3 e-bikes offer pedal assist up to 28 mph

Before buying, test ride multiple e-bikes to determine what works best for your lifestyle–and your bank account. Read the Washington state law on where e-bikes are allowed, and the differences between Class 1, 2, and 3. Class 3 e-bikes are banned from trails and multi-use pathways. 

Rad Power Bikes RadRover 6 Plus

RadRover 6 Plus Step-Through

Rad Power Bikes is a Seattle-based consumer-direct brand known for its affordability. Affordable is a relative term when buying an e-bike. The cheapest models cost more than $1,000, though that’s only a few car payments for most new and used vehicles. E-bikes with the highest quality motors, batteries, and components can cost $3,000 and up. 

The RadRover 6 Plus is a Class 2 e-bike, which means it provides pedal assist up to 20 mph, has a throttle, and is legal on Seattle multi-use trails. Weighing more than 70 pounds, it’s a “monster truck” whose humongous tires can roll over curbs, potholes, and railroad tracks. Large tires and a suspension fork improve stability and safety. 

Beefy tires for rolling over potholes

The RadRover 6 Plus comes in step-over or step-through frame styles. I prefer a step-through frame for transportation bikes as they are easier to get on and off–especially if carrying items on a rear rack. 

The RadRover comes with fenders and lights but I added a rack and front basket (both available in the company’s accessory shop) for more carrying capacity during my testing. $2,000, radpowerbikes.com

Rad Power Bikes RadMission

RadMission 1 on South Lake Union

The RadMission 1 is a Class 2 singlespeed e-bike with four levels of pedal assist. Singlespeeds have advantages and disadvantages. Because they have no derailleur, they are less expensive and easier to maintain. But you have to pedal harder, with no ability to downshift, on steep hills. 

Like the RadRover, the RadMission has a hub motor in the rear wheel. Hub motors are more affordable than mid-drive motors, which are located in the center of the frame between the pedals. But hub motors are typically less efficient and drain the battery faster than more expensive mid-drive motors.

Hub motor on RadRover

The stock RadMission comes with lights but no other transportation accessories. I added fenders, a front basket, rear rack, and panniers to make it practical for errands and shopping.  $1,200, radpowerbikes.com

Diamondback Union 1

Diamondback Union 1 on Eastrail

The Union 1 from Diamondback, based in Kent, is a Class 3 e-bike that provides pedal assist up to 28 mph. This is an example of an e-bike banned from multi-use trails. For city riding, however, I prefer a Class 3 e-bike as it allows me to take the middle of the lane on Seattle’s 25 mph streets. 

Traveling at 28 mph on streets shared with cars requires hyper-awareness to ensure people driving see you. That’s why I keep my front and rear lights on during the daytime, and why I always keep two hands on the bars when going fast.

The Union 1 is powered by a Bosch Performance Line Speed motor. Bosch mid-drive motors, batteries, and electronics are UL-certified, which means they have been tested for fire safety. Bosch motors are considered the industry standard for high quality and serviceability. E-bikes with Bosch systems are also significantly more expensive.

Bosch Performance Line Speed

The Union 1 is a practical commuter thanks to wide 2.4-inch tires, hydraulic disc brakes, fenders, and a kickstand. The only thing missing is integrated head and tail lights, which means you’ll have to add your own battery powered lights. 

Diamondback claims a battery range of 35 to 55 miles–well within the scope of most daily commutes. $3,500, diamondback.com

Priority Current

Priority Current with Range Extender

The Current is an all-weather, Class 3, low-maintenance commuter e-bike with an advanced drivetrain and lots of torque for hill-climbing. Instead of a chain, it uses a Gates Carbon Drive belt connected to a Shimano Nexus Inter-5E internally geared hub. 

Internally geared hubs cost more than derailleurs but they require almost no maintenance. Same for the Gates belt drive, which lasts longer than most chains, won’t stretch like a chain, and never needs lubrication. While internal hubs and belt drives are more expensive, I find them worth the extra cost because they simplify bike maintenance. 

Gates Carbon Drive belt and sprocket

With a 500-watt motor and 500 watt-hour battery, plus its low-maintenance drivetrain, the Current delivers a lot of value for the price. I own a Current with the addition of Priority’s range extender battery, which doubles the distance I can travel (up to 100 miles in the lowest power setting) before recharging. $3,300 (with optional $800 range extender battery), prioritybicycles.com

Specialized Turbo Como SL 4.0

Specialized Turbo Como SL 4.0

The Turbo Como SL 4.0 is a Class 3 e-bike with a 240-watt mid-drive motor, a five-speed internally geared hub, and a downtube integrated battery. It’s one of the prettier all-weather transportation e-bikes I’ve ridden, with all the necessities: fenders with mud flaps, integrated front and rear lights, a rear rack, kickstand, basket, step-through frame, and upright seating position to see and be seen.

Shimano Nexus Inter-5E internal hub

The bike has minimal branding and a sleek look. While most e-bikes have lots of wires and electronics on the handlebars, the Turbo Como SL 4.0 has just one on/off switch on the top tube, with a battery charge indicator and three levels of power assist illuminated with blue LED lights. 

Specialized Turbo Como SL 4.0 power switch and controls

The SL refers to the bike’s Super Light mid-drive, which Specialized introduced to shave weight. The Turbo Como SL 4.0 weighs about 48 pounds (light for an e-bike), though the lighter weight comes at the expense of power and range. 

The SL motor delivers 35 Newton meters (Nm) of torque, compared to 140 Nm of torque on the Priority Current. That’s fine for speeding along on flat ground, but it means you must pedal harder and boost the pedal assist on steep hills. $4,000, specialized.com

Tern HSD s8i 

Tern HSD s8i on a Vashon Island camping trip

Electric cargo bikes are amazing in their ability to replace car trips for carrying heavy goods or children. Read our previous post, “The Car-Replacing Power of Electric Cargo Bikes.” But e-cargo bikes typically require a lot of space to store. One exception is Tern’s Class 1 HSD models.

The Tern HSD s8i is both mighty and mini. It’s the length of a normal bike but has a large rear rack that can be fitted with child seats or extra-large panniers for grocery shopping, and front racks for extra hauling capacity. 

The HSD also includes top-quality components: a Bosch motor, battery and electronics, a Gates Carbon Drive belt, an internally geared hub, and Schwalbe 20-inch tires. 

Hauling dirt and garden supplies with the Tern HSD

A friend who works for Tern loaned me an HSD for a year, and it was with great sadness that I had to return it. My wife and I used it for weekly shopping, hauling garden supplies, and even overnight e-bike camping and glamping trips

Several of my colleagues at Cascade own electric cargo bikes, which are incredibly popular in Europe. Alas, they are expensive–but worth the investment for families that want to downsize from two cars to one. A used Honda Civic sells for about $17,000 to $20,000 in Seattle, for comparison. $4,300 plus accessories, ternbicycles.com

Evelo Galaxy 500

Take a gander at this e-bike

With its cushy saddle, swept-back bars that enable an upright seating position, 24 x 2.4-inch tires, and step-through frame, the Galaxy 500 is built for comfortable cruising. It’s a Class 2 e-bike with a 500 watt mid-drive motor, and it has a low-maintenance drivetrain consisting of a Gates belt drive and an Enviolo continuously variable transmission hub. 

Belt drive plus hub shifter means low maintenance

Enviolo offers the same advantages of other internal hubs–including never being stuck in the wrong gear at a red light. You can shift while stopped, unlike with a derailleur. 

What sets the Enviolo apart from other internal hubs such as Shimano’s Nexus Inter-5 E is the fact it has no pre-set gears. The twist shifter allows infinite micro adjustments between the highest and lowest gear settings.  

The Enviolo twist shifter enables micro adjustments and no pre-set gears

Evelo is based in Seattle and Boston, and its Galaxy 500 is a powerful, compact e-bike that is comfortable for small- to medium-sized riders. $3,800, evelo.com

Charge XC

Powering uphill on the Charge XC

Charge is a direct-to-consumer electric bike brand from the parent company of Cannondale. The XC is a Class 1 e-bike powered by a high-quality Shimano STEPS E5000 mid-drive motor and frame-integrated Shimano battery with an advertised range of 50 miles. 

As with Bosch motors, which have a nationwide network of certified mechanics, the Shimano STEPS system is likewise easier to get repaired due to the ubiquity of Shimano dealers.

Charge XC

The XC comes with knobby tires that allow for light off-road touring, as well as a rack, fenders, kickstand, front and rear lights, and a suspension fork. Other nice features for apartment dwellers include handlebars that can be rotated and pedals that flip down for flatter storage against a wall.  

Internal cable routing makes for a cleaner style

With its mountain bike geometry, 29-inch wheels, wide tires with reflective sidewalls, and suspension fork with optional lockout, I found the XC to be confidence-inspiring and safe to ride on Seattle’s rough streets. The XC is ideal for individuals who want to ride city streets on weekdays and gravel roads on weekends. $2,700, chargebikes.com

Juiced Bikes CrossCurrent X Step-Through

This is a powerful and utilitarian “outside of classification” e-bike made for getting across town in a hurry. It can be set to provide pedal assist up to 28 mph–or even higher, though this could put you outside of the law depending on your location.

Juiced up

The CrossCurrent X Step-Through is a real muscle car. The 750-watt Bafang hub motor and humongous 52V/15Ah battery with 777 watt hours of power provide an advertised range of 65-plus miles per charge.

While power is the main selling point, the CrossCurrent X Step-Through comes with all the necessities for commuting—hydraulic disc brakes, fenders, a kickstand, front and rear lights, a rear rack, and a comfortable saddle.

hydraulic disc brakes offer great stopping power

Ordering a bike from Juiced or any online-only brand is a great way to save money, but it requires some basic assembly. Typically, these e-bikes require you to install the front wheel and handlebars and pedals, and often the fenders as well. 

The Juiced bike I tested arrived in a foam-stuffed box, and I assembled it in about an hour by following instructions in the assembly video. Juiced offers a one-year warranty. That’s good, because repairing an e-bike bought online can be challenging if your local bike shop doesn’t have the right parts. Buying from a local shop costs more, but it’s nice to know that a mechanic is available should problems arise. $2,200, juicedbikes.com

Schwinn Coston DX

Schwinn Coston DX

The Coston DX is a Class 2 e-bike with a 250-watt hub motor, a throttle, a 360 watt-hour battery, and an advertised range of up to 45 miles. With an aesthetically pleasing frame, upright seating position, headlight and taillight, metal fenders, and rear rack for panniers, the Coston DX is designed for comfortable commuting. And it’s legal for a Burke-Gilman or Eastrail commute. 

Throttle on Schwinn Coston DX

Individuals with hilly commutes of more than 20 miles might find the battery small, but the Coston DX is built to satisfy the broad swath of the market that Schwinn caters to: older bicyclists and individuals seeking a good-looking electric bike that can replace some car trips without breaking the bank.

Unfortunately, I had to contact Schwinn due to a failed electronic sensor during my testing. If I had gotten this e-bike at a shop, I could have returned it. Instead, I had to contact Schwinn online and have them send a new part to install. It worked out OK, but this points out a problem with the online economy: consumers can be on the hook for fixing problems with faulty products.

Mechanical disc brakes

Aside from that one hiccup, the Coston DX offers lots of value for the price. $2,100, schwinnbikes.com

Before buying an e-bike, test multiple models and styles to see what works best for your life and budget. Replacing car trips with e-bike voyages has made us happier and healthier, saved us money, and reduced our carbon emissions.

Pedaling to the pub  

Paul Tolmé's picture
Paul Tolmé