Don’t put it off any longer, because you could be having the best riding experience of your life right now!
We guide you through the process of buying the best electric mountain bikes, from explaining what they do and don’t do, through to recommending key bikes.
What is an electric mountain bike?
An electric mountain bike has a battery and an electric motor. The motor only works when you are pedalling, as a ‘power assist’. The motor stops assisting once speeds of 25 kph (15.5 mph) are reached.
The best electric mountain bikes
Our favourite e-bikes of the moment. Full reviews below.
- Vitus E-Sommet VR, £3,599 – BEST BUY
- Canyon Spectral:ON 8.0, £4,449
- Rocky Mountain Powerplay 70, £6,499
- Specialized Turbo Kenevo Expert, £5,500
- Focus SAM2 Pro , £6,699
- Canyon Neuron:ON 7.0, £3,899
Our current pick of the best eMTBs
If you’ve been thinking about getting an e-bike but you’ve been holding out, waiting to see if the development process shows any signs of settling down. Don’t put it off any longer, because you could be having the best riding experience of your life right now.
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 our favourite ebikes…
Canyon Neuron: ON 7.0
When we first saw that Neuron:ON 7.0 we weren’t sure quite what to make of it. After all, why would you want a short-travel 29er with steep geometry when you have a Shimano STEPs E8000 motor and 502Wh battery to get you to the top of every climb? Then we rode it… This bike relishes the fast flowing terrain where other e-bikes flounder. You can ride it beyond its limits and that of the motor, so it will take you places other e-bikes refuse to go – the 29in wheels and fast rolling tyres amplifying the whole experience.
Rocky Mountain Altitude Powerplay 70
With most ebikes the choice of motor defines aspects of the frame geometry and to a lesser degree the suspension characteristics of the bike. Not with new Rock Mountain Altitude Powerplay. With its bespoke motor Rocky has been able to design an ebike that reflects the ride quality of a highly evolved 150mm trail bike. With instant power pickup, extended battery life and streamline proportions it’s not just the handling of the Rocky that will get you charged up for riding. It’s the best bike in this test by some margin, but we had an issue with the motor momentarily cutting and raising questions over it’s reliability.
Vitus E-Sommet VR
E-enduro bikes aren’t as different to regular bikes as one might imagine. All of the fundamentals are the same and by nailing the geometry and sizing Vitus has produced an amazing e-bike with the E-Sommet VR.Sure there are a couple of little things we’d probably change, like the STEPS Di2 mode shifter and rear tyre, but that’s about it. And given how much cheaper the Vitus is compared to the competition, you can easily afford to make these changes and even buy a spare battery. The E-Sommet VR is no golf buggy, but Vitus has it’s certainly hit a hole in one with this bike.
Specialized Turbo Kenevo Expert
Before this test we thought more travel on an e-bike would obviously be better. After all, with the motor flattening out the climbs, why not have the extra suspension firepower to smooth out the descents? Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? But in the case of the Specialized Turbo Kenevo Expert, the extra travel and weight make the bike less effective and less engaging on all but full-on downhill tracks. And if that’s your bread and butter, the Kenevo could well be the perfect topping. Here in the UK though, the Vitus proved more versatile, just as capable and way better value.
Canyon Spectral:ON 8.0
For Canyon’s first e-mtb the Spectal:ON 8.0 hasn’t simply hit the trail running, it’s power up it in Boost mode. The geometry, sizing and handling are all on point, and details like the adjustable geometry, odd wheel sizes, tyre specific rim widths and short cranks make Canyon a market leader rather than a brand that’s simply playing catch up. With a Fox 36 Fit4 fork the Spectral:ON 8.0 would probably have won the test, the more basic Grip damper never having the measure of Canyon’s superb rear suspension.
Focus SAM2 Pro
With 170mm travel, aggressive angles and Shimano’s superbly calibrated STEPS motor, the Focus Sam2 is an enduro bike with a built-in shuttle. With the bolt on TEC pack you really can climb to new heights, but without it the smaller capacity internal battery means you need to be ultra economical with your energy use. It’s also frustrating that the internal battery can’t be removed easily for charging. By far the biggest frustration with the Jam2 though is that the sizing isn’t very generous and standover clearance is limited. It’s still a great e-bike, but when you’re spending this much money, you can afford to be fussy.
Some new generation eMTBs worth knowing about
Ebike technology changes quickly. As with anything based around software (which is a surprisingly large part of ebikes), it often benefits to buy whichever is the latest things released.
Riders have been running triple clamp forks on the old Kenevo, so Specialized decided to offer it as standard on the latest version, and for good reason.
Superlight Turbo Levo SL creates all-new e-bike concept. We’ve ridden it and it’s very exciting indeed!
Geometry and handling mirror a modern trail/enduro bike. The Bosch Gen 4 motor has power and control in equal measure. Durability is a key part of the design.
Mondraker Crafty Carbon is a weight-conscious enduro bike 29er with 160/150mm travel. The first Mondraker e-bike with their Stealth Air carbon construction.
YT designed the YT Decoy CF to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, to look like a conventional bike by disguising battery in the down tube. Hence the name Decoy.
Is it all about the motor?
Read these articles if you want to know more about specifics of ebike motors.
- E-bike motors: Shimano v Bosch v Fazua v Panasonic v Giant v Brose
- Brose, Bosch, Shimano: which ebike system has the most power, punch and reliability?
- New Brose e-bike system now offers motor, battery and display for the first time
- New Bosch ebike system is smaller, more powerful and has anti-tuning software
What makes for the best electric mountain bikes?
Having a motor bolted to the bottom of a mountain bike that provides pedal assistance is an amazing leveller. The constant torque it applies to the chain rounds out the squarest of pedalling actions, which in turn helps stabilizes the rear suspension and counter pedal induced bob, seamlessly shifting your focus from pedalling efficiency to battery life.
With different degrees of assistance at your fingertips, riders of varying fitness levels are easily accommodated on the same ride too. Which, depending on who’s setting the pace, can bring a social aspect back to big days out, because you can all ride together and the assistance from the motor makes it that much easier to string a coherent sentence together even on the steepest climbs.
There are less obvious advantages too. Like the extra weight of the battery and motor increasing the unsprung mass which makes even the most basic suspension components that much more effective at ironing out bumps.
Even with these common factors though, there’s still a gulf between the performance of a good enduro e-bike and a great one.
Weight isn’t anything like a critical as one would assume. Weight distribution however is a different matter and this is where geometry, specifically the ratio of the front centre measurement to the chainstay length really comes into play. Battery placement is important too, and smaller batteries give an edge in the handling stakes while robbing the bike of range.
Ultimately the best electric mountain bikes mirror the geometry and handling of their non-motorised relatives. And that’s because the rider is still the heaviest component part in the system, so it’s imperative to get the geometry dialled.
It is not a motorbike
It is not a off-road motorbike with an electric engine and a throttle. Electric mountain bikes have motors that only work when you’re pedalling. The motor tops-up your pedalling input. It’s called ‘pedal assist’. There are differing levels of assistance (called things like ‘eco’ and ‘turbo’) that you select via a handlebar-mounted control unit. The motor also cuts out once you reach 25km/ph (or faster). There are strict limits on the power of electric mountain bikes; 250w is the maximum nominal power. More powerful than that and the bike requires tax and insurance (like a car/motorbike) and is also not allowed on bridleways at all.
Attitudes to e-bikes are changing just as rapidly as the technology behind them. The days when riders of acoustic bikes would call you a cheater for riding a pedal-assist model have been replaced by polite enquiries about which designs are best, and you are now more likely to hear a rider shout “that’s my next bike” than the c-word as you pass them for the second time on an arduous fire road climb.
But like any new technology, rapid development and the clamber to be first comes at a cost, and hardly a week goes by without a brand launching yet another £10k e-bike. Yes, fancy carbon frames look amazing and make it much easier to accommodate awkward motor shapes and disguise batteries, but you have to ask yourself if the 0.5kg weight saving that switching to carbon typically affords really is worth the extra expense on a bike that weighs 20kg?
We don’t think it is, so it’s well worth considering alloy e-bikes that won’t break the bank. Yes, sub £4k e-bikes are by no means cheap, but when you compare them to the equivalent non-e-bikes they are incredibly good value once you factor in the additional expense associated with the motor, battery and electronics.
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 currently 19-20kg) it’s going to be really hard to tell the difference between the best electric bikes 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.