Remember the summer your little brother grew six inches and, for the first time, forced you to yell “uncle” when wrestling in the basement? No? Allow me to jog your memory. Lying there, pinned under his superior strength, you had the gut-wrenching realization that life would never be the same. And Mom wouldn’t be able to save you.
A similar inflection point has hit cycling, on a much larger scale. The longstanding outcasts of the two-wheeled world, electric bikes, have become industry darlings almost overnight. For years, pedal-assists were forbidden from trails, non-existent in shops, shunned from mainstream media and magnets for vitriol. Yet today, bikes with batteries are the fastest growing category in the sport.
The most controversial segment was — and to some degree still is — electric mountain bikes (eMTBs for short). Blamed for everything from trail conflicts to lazy riders, they’ve been disparaged from the days of their genesis in 2014. But don’t look now, because things are starting to change.
With eMTB technology and geometry improving rapidly, more and more members of the bike community has realized their value. Today, eMTBs offer multiple levels of assist that feel smooth and natural and many employ nearly silent motors. Thanks to integrated batteries, top-end eMTBs can even be hard to differentiate from traditional mountain bikes. That is, until you ride them.
Long climbs are suddenly much easier. Loose terrain is more approachable. Riding your bike to the park rather than throwing it on a rack is actually feasible. And importantly, downhill riding feels surprisingly similar to your old mountain bike. With that in mind, here are seven of our favorite eMTBs today.
Best Overall E-Mountain Bike: Specialized Turbo Levo SL Expert Carbon
Weighing in at 37 pounds (8 less than the second lightest) and offering a 40-mile range, the Levo SL is a true unicorn. It looks and feels like a pedal bike and almost creates a new category as the first eMTB with a custom-engineered motor and battery. Specialized realized many riders don’t need massive batteries and would rather save the weight. If there is one bike that will convert diehard enduro riders into e-bike junkies, the Levo SL is it.
Best Upgrade E-Mountain Bike: Pivot Shuttle
The stats of the updated Shuttle are eye-popping: 726 watt-hour battery, 160mm front fork, 29-inch wheels and the newest Shimano motor all, in a 45-pound package. Made for aggressive, all-day riders, the newly-launched Shuttle is turning heads. Best for steep and technical terrain, the Shuttle survives on the uphill and thrives on the down. And no matter where you take it, it’s an incredibly fun ride.
Best Value E-Mountain Bike: Cannondale Moterra Neo 5
Looking for a quality eMTB capable of handling technical trails that won’t break the bank? The Moterra Neo 5 is your best bet. With a burly aluminum frame, a 500 watt-hour battery, and 150mm of travel, the bike is agile and fun on a variety of trails. With a robust 60 miles of range and a weight of 52 pounds, it’s a reliable and lively entry-level eMTB.
Best Advanced E-Mountain Bike: Rocky Mountain Altitude Powerplay Carbon 90 Rally Edition
If you’re an experienced rider looking for more juice, the Powerplay is your play. Thanks to a 672 watt-hour battery and a compact, low-mounted motor, it rips uphill for easy self shuttling. The bike has an aggressive geometry best for more advanced riders, which allows it to stay nimble despite weighing 51 pounds. The only major downside is a very loud motor that calls to mind a coffee grinder.
Most Versatile E-Mountain Bike: Canyon Spectral:ON CF 7.0
Good but not great at just about everything — climbing, descending, cornering and going strong all day — the new Spectral: ON 7 is for those who will ride nearly anything. Weighing in at 49 pounds, it's designed with a more playful geometry that’s nimble enough to handle all but the most technical terrain. A 504 watt-hour battery, Shimano motor and quality components round out this jack of all trails.
Best Mullet E-Mountain Bike: Marin Alpine Trail E2
Rocking a mullet design — 29-inch wheel up front and 27.5-er in back — Marin’s first foray into eMTBs is a lovable joyride. While a bit sluggish on flats, it's rowdy on descents. Great dampers and high-performance components make it a fully capable whip that’s functional on a wide variety of trails. Only knock? The handlebars are a bit cluttered, especially for smaller riders.
Best Downhill E-Mountain Bike: Santa Cruz Bullit
Imagine the kinds of rooty, rocky, horror fests reserved for bravest — or craziest — and that’s where you’ll likely find the Bullit. It's perfect for hyper-aggressive riders who want to ride the hardest trails without a chairlift or truck shuttle. With 170mm of travel, 630 watt hours of power, and Shimano’s top of the line EP8 motor, you can blast down the mountain — and still stop on a moss-covered dime.