11 rules for buying an ebike

Some of my bikes at our Culdesac HQ in downtown Tempe.

My 11 rules for buying an ebike

  1. Just buy one. You will be happy with what you bought. Ebikes are a gateway drug to…more ebikes. Most people will spend $1–3k on their first ebike, often using Buy Now Pay Later services such as Affirm or Klarna. Just get started and you’ll learn more in time for buying your second. It’s a lot of money for a bike, but you should be comparing it to a car instead.
  2. Gone are the days when the bicycle world was dominated by road and mountainbikers that looked down on ebikes as cheating. a) nobody cares. b) you don’t get as much exercise per mile, but you travel farther and c) this is about commuting and cargo. Even if you want to full throttle your trips like I often do, great. We’re here to shift trips from cars to bikes, not fight about one type of bike versus another.
  3. Don’t buy one on Amazon. They don’t have the best bikes. And many of the bikes on there I wouldn’t recommend. See below for my lowest priced recommendation.
  4. There are two good ways to buy an ebike. Online or from your local bike shop. The local bike store, if it’s a good one, offers a range of options and does repairs on site. They don’t offer many (any) of the direct to consumer brands, but again, see rule 1. Online, which usually means a direct to consumer brand, gives you the most options across companies. Servicing can be more painful, but the gap is smaller than you might think. The direct to consumer companies have even been developing servicing networks for a van to come to you. Some companies will even bring a test vehicle to you before you buy.
  5. Bike fit matters but fitting it to your needs matters more. Spend more time matching a functional bike to your lifestyle and follow the manufacture’s suggested size chart to find the proper fit.
  6. Safety first. I only recommend bikes that come with integrated headlights and disc brakes (mechanical or hydraulic).
  7. One of the first decisions to make is mid-drive vs. hub-drive (where the motor is located). Mid-drive is more expensive, but feels the most natural. One advertising campaign calls their mid-drive “you, but stronger” and that sums it up. When I want to get more of a workout, I grab one of my mid-drives. But usually I grab one of my hub-drives. Why? A THROTTLE1! Throttles are magic and give you the option of pedaling as little as zero. Particularly for cargo bikes, a throttle is a major feature. You’ll appreciate it when you’re taking off from a standing stop with groceries or children on the back.
  8. Anti-theft will be THE killer feature for ebikes. Retailers that provide safe bike parking before anti-theft is widespread will be rewarded with customers. Customers that don’t need a 350 sqft parking spot for one vehicle.
  9. You might be surprised how much help you can get for free on Reddit or Facebook groups. Seriously, just post a video of what is wrong with your bike to the right group and people will line up to help you. But ignore them about doing complex modifications unless that is your thing.
  10. Tech can be overrated. For one, it’s more things to go wrong. One example is the VanMoof phone unlock feature. In most cases, it’s great that the bike unlocks as you walk up. But I’ve also heard instances of someone at a restaurant sitting near their bike and it unlocked the bike.
  11. I’m not the best person for scooters (being 6'5" means that many of them aren’t really tall enough for me), but consider them too. People love scooters. The shared scooters suffer from limitations imposed by local governments. Individual scooters do not.

Other considerations

Accessories

  • This is a common question from people. I’ll put something together one day. But today I’ll mention three.
  • The Loud Bicycle horn gives bikes a horn as loud as a car horn.
  • Helmet cameras such as a GoPro or the Insta360 can be invaluable, particularly if there is a road safety incident.
  • Especially if you live in a state with goathead thorns like Arizona, get tire slimeor a similar product/solution.
  • Bike theft is a reality, but there are ways to combat it. No lock can defeat an angle grinder. But you can prioritize retailers that have convenient and secure bike parking (and if you’re in Tempe, you can get a 10% discount from this set of retailers for arriving by bike).
  • You can check with your home/renters insurance for if ebikes are covered. Kudos to Lemonade for making strides recently. A tailor made option for cyclists is Velosurance.
  • I hope to find a list of attorneys that specialize in bicycle safety in each state. If you have one, let me know!
  • The government doesn’t subsidize bikes nearly as much as it subsidizes cars, but there are still some subsidies nonetheless. The recent infrastructure bill has a nice sweetener for a new ebike purchase. I haven’t seen a definitive breakdown of the benefits, but I will link to one when I do.

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Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson

CEO of Culdesac. Prev: Founding team @Opendoor. Send me a note at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ryanjohnsonaz/ or twitter @ryanmjohnson