Turning mountains into molehills

The best electric mountain bikes give you assistance up to 25kph, so it’s possible to pack twice as much riding into the same amount of time.

>>> Eight reasons why e-bikes are good

We guide you through the process of buying an electric mountain bike, from explaining what they do and don’t do, through to recommending specific bikes.

Electric mountain bikes

Mountain biking is all about having fun, right? About getting out there, enjoying the great outdoors, exercising your body and freeing your mind. So what if we told you there was a type of bike that lets you ride further, faster, and have even more fun? One that even made you LOL on the climbs? You’d still have to work for your rewards, but by assisting your efforts, it allowed you to wring every little drop of enjoyment out of your rides.

Of course we’re talking about the e-bike, or, as it should be called, the don’t-judge-it-until-you’ve-tried-it-e-bike.

As all our lives get busier, and we increasingly struggle to juggle work and family pressures, the e-bike is the perfect solution. In just a few hours you can ride the same route that took you all day. And it winds back the body clock too; we defy you to ride one and not spend the whole time giggling like a school kid.

It’s true that the early e-bikes were heavy, ponderous and, once you’d got over the novelty factor of the motor, hardly engaging to ride. But the pace of development has been, well, electric, and the latest models ride and handle every bit as well as their assistance-free relatives.

With more and more compelling reasons to experience the benefits of e-bikes, we’ve put together this special issue packed with information on how to get the most from an e-bike, a guide to the main motors and batteries and a showcase of the latest models on the market. So read on, watch the accompanying videos on our YouTube channel and book a test ride to try one for yourself. We guarantee you’ll be hooked.

If there’s one category in mountain biking that polarizes opinion more than any other it’s ebikes. It’s a complex debate that charged further because of issues with land access, trail sustainability and even the legislation governing the maximum speed of the bikes.

Seeing as you’re reading this, chances are you’re one of a growing number of riders that have fully embraced the new technology and the riding possibilities that pedal assist mountain bikes have opened up to both young and old riders alike.

Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on there’s one thing we can all agree on and that’s ebikes are a hotbed of technological development.

electric mountain bikes

Progress is so rapid that in many ways it’s feels like the dawn of mountain biking once again. Geometry is all over the map, new bands like Bosch are entering the mix, and MTB household names like Fox, SRAM and Shimano are all scrambling to develop bespoke ebike components.

We also have new metrics with which to compare bikes, toque, power and battery life, not just travel, geometry and weight. It’s an amazing time to be testing bikes and this month we have four of the most exciting ebikes on the market.

electric mountain bikes

Mountain bikers love to moan. If we’re not complaining about the advancing tide of new standards, then we are bitching about never having enough time to ride our soon-to-be-out-of-date bikes. Talk about First World problems!

And with the rapid pace of current tyre and wheel size development, the discussion about standards is unlikely to abate any time soon.

What if, however, there was a First World solution that enabled you to ride more? We’re not talking about stretching the space-time continuum, knocking off early from work or making mountain bike orphans of your children every weekend… even if the solution is just as socially unacceptable to some. No, we’re talking about electric mountain bikes!

electric mountain bikes

Power assist motor

With an electric mountain bike (or e-MTB) that gives you assistance up to 25kph, it’s possible to pack twice as much riding into the same amount of time. Those five great trails that you normally ride after work can now be ridden twice. That boring singletrack climb on your lunchtime loop suddenly becomes the highlight of your day. With the extra push from the motor it’s easy to double the distance covered, or do the same ride in half the time.

You’re probably thinking that if you can pack twice as much riding into the same amount of time, then surely the bikes are going to wear out twice as fast? The short answer is, yes! And if you’re always riding the same trails, that means more wear and tear on Mother Nature.

The environmental impact of battery production and increased electricity consumption can’t be ignored either, but if owning an electric mountain bike means that you no longer need to drive to the trails, they could prove to be the greener option.

electric mountain bikes

All of these are legitimate concerns, but they are a topic for another article. The purpose of this test is to find the best electric mountain bike, not to debate whether the category is an inspired idea, or the most evil development in the history of mountain biking.

There is no denying that e-bikes bring a whole new dimension to the term drivetrain, and with them come new players to the world of mountain biking. Bosch, Shimano, Brose and Yamaha are vying for pole position in this burgeoning category.

Motors and batteries explained

Bosch PerformanceLine CX

Bosch’s flagship mountain bike system uses a mini drive ring with internal gearing to send its power to the drivetrain. There’s some resistance in the system over 25km/h, but when you first press down on the pedals there’s an impressive surge of power, and it offers good support over a wide cadence range. Its size has an impact on the width of the cranks (the Q-factor) as well as the chainstay length of the frame, and it’s not the lightest system on the market at 4kg for the motor. On the other hand, Bosch is the most established player on the market, and its system has proven itself over many years.

Tour features among four different ride modes

Bosch produces three display units of varying sizes. The most common units fitted to mountain bikes are the compact Purion and larger Intuvia. Should you want to stay in touch on epic rides, there’s even a Nyon unit that links to a smart phone, records data and displays navigation, texts and e-mail.

Bosch offers four ride modes (Turbo, e-MTB, Tour and Eco) with a single walk mode. The e-MTB is the intelligent mode, offering tailored assistance from 120 to 300 per cent, depending on cadence and pedal pressure.

Two external batteries (400 and 500wh) are available and there’s a 500wh PowerTube battery for internal use. Charge time for the 500wh battery is 4.5hrs.

Giant SyncDrive Pro

Giant’s drive unit is based on a Yahama PW-X motor, but at 3.1kg, it’s a little bit lighter and also produces a whopping 80Nm of torque in all five modes and more assistance on full power.

The RideControl Evo display features a button control on the grip and a readout on the stem, giving you control over ride time, distance and cadence. Best of all, it gives you as very accurate percentage readout of how much battery is remaining, so no excuses for running out of juice! The five rides mode are Eco, Basic, Active, Sport and Power and there’s also a walk assist button.

Data displayed includes the all-important battery life

The Q-factor (distance between the pedals) is 168mm, which mimics a standard mountain bike. The motor features fully sealed bottom bracket bearings, which are covered by a two-year warranty.

Giant’s Panasonic-produced lithium ion fuel cell doesn’t have a memory (so you can charge it as little or as often as you like) but Giant did say it should be full discharged at least once every three months.

Shimano STEPS

The STEPS motor from Shimano has quickly become the go-to option for most manufacturers. Not only is it very light at 2.8kg, it’s also one of the most compact, with a standard q-factor and it gives frame designers the option to run short chainstays.
STEPS offers really good support throughout the cadence range, builds power really progressively and, once over the 25km/h threshold, doesn’t see a big increase in friction. Functionally it’s also very intuitive to use, especially the Trail mode, which automatically adapts its power output and support to rider inputs.

STEPS display snuggles up discreetly beside the stem

The STEPS display and Firebolt switch unit also take up very little space on the handlebar and are well protected, so you can actually flip the bike upside-down without damaging the screen or having to remove it.

Shimano produces a shorter 165mm XT crank for the STEPS, which mounts to a standard Hollowtech II bottom bracket.

Currently Shimano only offers a clip-on 504Wh lithium-ion battery, but several manufacturers are using their own internal option.

Left to right: Giant EnergyPak, Bosch PowerTube, Focus T.E.C. and Shimano STEPS

Batteries

If you want to carry a spare battery with you on a ride here are all the different sizes, shapes and prices.

Giant EnergyPak 500, lithium-ion internal. Weight: 3.36kg, 500wh. £540

Bosch PowerTube 500, lithium-ion internal. Weight: 2.8kg, 500wh. £699.99

Focus T.E.C, lithium ion external. Weight: 2.2kg, 378wh £459

Shimano Steps BT-E8010, lithium-ion external. Weight: 2.65kg, 504wh. £599.99

Removing the Focus Fazua Evation battery and motor converts it into a regular ride

The future for e-bikes

In our view, e-bikes are approaching a crossroads in concept and design. Heading off in one direction are longer travel, enduro-style e-bikes, which are largely designed for cruising up and then blasting back down. Plotting a slightly different course is the idea of a lightweight model that rides much more like a normal mountain bike, but requires more work from the rider. Of the two approaches, both have their benefits, but it’s the latter that gets us the most excited. Once the overall weight falls into the 16-17kg range (the lightest bikes are currently19-20kg) it’s going to be really hard to tell the difference between an e-bike and a regular trail bike on the descents and the flat, but you get the benefit of a gentle push up the climbs.

Modular batteries will really help this evolution, allowing you to tailor the number of batteries, and therefore the weight, depending on how far you plan to ride. Once you combine this with more efficient and lighter weight motors (we suspect Bosch and Shimano both have lighter designs coming) it will add up to significant weight savings.

If you really want to see the future take a look at the Fazua Evation, with a battery and motor this system weighs an incredible 4.7kg! The battery only has 250wh, but at 1.3kg you could easily carry a spare in a pack. The really interesting thing about this system though, is the motor and the battery can be removed from the frame, so you really do have two bikes in one.

electric mountain bikes

Our latest electric mountain bike reviews

We’re reviewing e-mountain bikes more and more these days. Every edition of mbr magazine has an electric bike review or two in there somewhere. Here are the latest ebike reviews…

electric mountain bikes

Lapierre Overvolt AM700i

Price: £5,249.00

A discreetly housed battery and bombproof build offers all-day action on Lapierre’s latest e-rig, the Lapierre Overvolt AM700i electric mountain bike.

Read the full review of the Lapierre Overvolt AM700i

electric mountain bikes

Trek Powerfly 9 LT Plus

Price: £5,250.00

Up hill or down, ebikes take an absolute beating, so the new Trek Powerfly LT 9 has a beefed up the parts package to handle the additional abuse.

Read the full review of the Trek Powerfly 9 LT Plus

electric mountain bikes

Merida EOne-Sixty 900E

Price: £5,200.00

With the new Merida EOne-Sixty 900E they’ve done an amazing job. It has a fun, playfully ride quality that few e-bikes can match.

Read the full review of the Merida EOne-Sixty 900E

electric mountain bikes

Rocky Mountain Altitude Powerplay 70

Price: £6,499.00

The Rocky Mountain Altitude Powerplay isn’t differentiated from regular trail bikes on their website. This speaks volumes about a unique approach to ebikes.

Read the full review of the Rocky Mountain Altitude Powerplay 70

electric mountain bikes

Specialized Turbo Kenevo

Price: £5,500.00

Most great ideas start with a simple two-word question, “what if?” The new Specialized Turbo Kenevo is how they answer the question, “What if we could have our own personal uplift?”

Read the full review of the Specialized Turbo Kenevo

electric mountain bikes

Cube Stereo Hybrid 160 HPA SL 500

Price: £4,199.00

With the 2017 Cube Stereo Hybrid 160 HPA SL 500 the ultimate power-assisted enduro rig is no longer just an electric dream.

Read the full review of the Cube Stereo Hybrid 160 HPA SL 500

electric mountain bikes

Specialized Levo Carbon S-Works

Price: £8,999.00

The Specialized Levo Carbon expands Spesh’s eMTB range for 2018 to include three new carbon framed models. Reduced weight and increased stiffness.

Read the full review of the Specialized Levo Carbon S-Works

electric mountain bikes

Merida EOne-Twenty 900E

Price: £5,000.00

The Merida eOne-Twenty provides a thrilling and intoxicatingly addictive ride. Great geometry, rapid and flickable. One of the lightest e-mtbs available.

Read the full review of the Merida EOne-Twenty 900E

electric mountain bikes

Cannondale Moterra 1

Price: £5,199.99

At nearly 24kg, the Cannondale Moterra is certainly a brute — even for an e-bike — but clever engineering means it stops short of being a blunt instrument.

Read the full review of the Cannondale Moterra 1

electric mountain bikes

BMC Trailfox AMP 01 LTD

Price: £9,999.99 (approx)

Two years in development, the BMC Trailfox AMP ebike is finally ready. A showstopper at Eurobike the Trailfox AMP is powered up and ready to shred.

Read the full review of the BMC Trailfox AMP LTD 01

electric mountain bikes

Some conclusions

At the outset of our electric mountain bike testing we were convinced that the deciding factor would be the performance of the motor. Could a small independent company like Brose compete with a household name like Bosch, and what, if anything, would Yamaha — with its wealth of experience in motorcycles — bring to this e-bike roundtable?

We genuinely thought the best bike would be the one that had the smoothest power delivery or provided the best range on a single charge. The test crew bandied around new terms like grunt, torque, resistance and revs, in an attempt to describe the subtle differences between each system.

As it turns out, what makes an e-bike tick isn’t really that different to a regular mountain bike. Sure, e-MTBs are a lot heavier and unless you’re taking performance-enhancing drugs, it’s unlikely that you’re blasting up every trail as quickly as you normally bomb down them.

Still, once the novelty of having power assistance wears off, it’s the basics like sizing, geometry and balance that take precedence. If anything, these fundamental attributes that influence handling are even more pertinent on an e-MTB as the suspension becomes less of a focus; the steady power supply from the motor eliminating pedal-induced bob, while the extra weight of the battery and motor on the frame ensures that the suspension is working overtime to iron out even the smallest creases on the trail.

electric mountain bikes

Notes on geometry

We’ve established that it’s not motor size that matters on an electric mountain bike, so let’s take a closer look at what really counts… the geometry.

All three bikes have slacker head angles than normal and that’s critical for providing a controlled steering response when bombing along at 25kph.

They all have relatively long chainstays too, which further boosts stability. While this is normally related to tyre size, the orientation of the motor plays an even bigger part, which is why the Giant has the longest chainstays, even though it has the smallest wheel size.

electric mountain bikes

Some older e-bike reviews

For one of our earliest e-bike group tests back in August 2016 – in association with JE James – we selected three full-suspension bikes from the biggest conventional players, albeit each with a different motor…

First up, we have the Giant Full E+ 1 at £3,199 with the Yamaha X94 Motor. It’s the only bike on test not to have Plus-size tyres, so it’ll be interesting to see if that works in its favour.

Brose is represented by the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie at £4,000. With its integrated approach to design, it’s undeniably one of the best looking e-bikes to date.

The final bike in our trio is the Bosch-equipped Trek Powerfly 9 LT Plus. At £4,350 it’s the most expensive bike in the test, but it also has what looks to be the best specification and sizing.

So, three new electric mountain bikes; each guaranteeing to turbocharge your ride and provide electrical assistance to ease the miles, but which one will light up the trails? Let’s find out…

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Giant Full E+ 1 (2016)

Price: £3,199

Score: 6/10

It wouldn’t take much to bolster the Giant’s rating. A shorter stem, wider handlebar and some thicker casing tyres would be all it would take. If, however, Giant wants to turbo charge the Full E+ 1 and compete with the likes of Specialized and Trek, it’s going to need a compete overhaul. The length of the frame needs to be increased, the gear range needs expanding and that old square taper crank spindle on the Yamaha motor really needs to be put back in the museum. As it stands, the Full E+ 1 is more of a towpath power-house than a genuine singletrack slayer.

Read the full review of the Giant Full E+ 1

Buy Now: Giant Full E+ 1 at J E James

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Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie (2016)

Price: £4,000

Score: 8/10

If this were a beauty contest the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie would have wooed the judges with its stunning aluminium frame, dazzling LED control pad, clever design and easygoing personality. It helps too, that it’s the most robust design in this test. Get past its devilish good looks, however, and you quickly realise that the Turbo Levo isn’t without fault. Power delivery from the Brose motor can be a little erratic, especially if you prefer to spin rather than mash on the pedals, and the frame sizing isn’t as generous as the Trek.

Read the full review of the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie

Buy Now: Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie at J E James

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Trek Powerfly 9 LT Plus (2016)

Price: £4,350

Score: 9/10

Trek’s latest e-bike isn’t simply about climbing higher, riding further or exploring more; it’s also about having a total blast in the process. With dialled geometry and great sizing the Powerfly 9 LT Plus lets you reap all the benefits of its 150mm travel ABP suspension on the descents, while the Bosch Performance CX motor gives you the control you need to attack the most technically challenging climbs. Yes, the battery rattle is annoying and the mount for the Bosch Purion display could be more robust, but neither were enough to distract from what is a truly capable bike.

Read the full review of the Trek Powerfly 9 LT Plus

Buy Now: Trek Powerfly 9 LT Plus at J E James (including 10% back in points)

Trek’s latest e-bike isn’t simply about climbing higher, riding further or exploring more; it’s also about having a total blast in the process. With dialled geometry and great sizing the Powerfly 9 LT Plus lets you reap all the benefits of its 150mm travel ABP suspension on the descents, while the Bosch Performance CX motor gives you the control you need to attack the most technically challenging climbs. Yes, the battery rattle is annoying and the mount for the Bosch Purion display could be more robust, but neither were enough to distract from what is a truly capable bike.