Let’s take a closer look at the different available road e-bike technologies, keeping in mind the big question: what’s the best motor for an e-road bike or electric assist road bike? You will also find our selection of three models in several versions, chosen for their weight, their look, and their behavior, very close to a classic bike.
There was a time when saying “Bosch” was like saying “fridge” or “moped”. Don’t take it the wrong way, I’m neither trying to argue for nor turn a cold shoulder to the motor company. Nevertheless, they’d all but become the generic term.
Then the competition arrived, with two major trump cards – compactness and weight – up their sleeve, just what was needed to disguise the subterfuge of the electric assist and make the beneficiary (or cheater, for some traditionalists) look more like a “real” cyclist.
The horizon of motorization rapidly expanded, and we found ourselves with two distinct camps: the lightweights and the heavyweights. On the right side of the ring, we have Bosch, Shimano, Polini, and Bafang; on the other side, E-bike Motion and, especially, Fazua quickly joined to reinforce the category of “lightweights” next to Specialized, and more recently, BH.
Read also: How to select the best – mountain, touring, commuter, cruiser, junior, city here or here, trike, folding, hybrid, cargo, road, gravel, kids’s here or here e-bike – in our comprehensive e-bike selection guides.
E-bike parameters to take into account
In e-bike motorization, without getting too complicated, there are some important parameters to consider: the type of motor, the number of assist modes, the torque, the maximum assist level, the battery capacity, the noise generated by the motor, the type of battery, the decoupling of the motor, and the optimal operating rate. Okay, so maybe it’s already a bit complicated… I’d like to see you try to make it simpler.
What makes a good electric motor for a cyclist who wants a little pedaling help?
1. Electric Assist:
Generally, there are three electric assist modes available to the cyclist that we will give the generic names Eco, Sport, and Turbo. These names are self-explanatory and correspond to the level of assistance (with additional power provided by the cyclist) provided by the motor.
Some models are more sophisticated and have power sensors. Of course, the power provided affects the battery life and thus the distance or the difference in altitude that you can cover on a single charge.
Cadence is an important factor in motor efficiency, and many cyclists are unaware of the optimal way to pedal with an electric motor. For most riders, this cadence is between 75 and 100 pedal revolutions per minute, so you have to figure it out before you make your choice, because if you’re not an experienced cyclist, it can sometimes be tricky to keep up with cadences of 85/90 revolutions per minute, especially on climbs.
At the very least, some adaptations are required. In this respect, the E-bike Motion is more tolerant than most others.
Finally, the speed limit for electric assist bikes in the United States is usually between 20 to 28 mph (32 to 45 km/h). Some motors have an almost seamless transition while others are not so subtle. This feature plays a big part in the “natural” feeling of the assist and the top dogs here are Specialized and Fazua.
2. The overall weight of the e-bike:
In this category, one brand holds the top spot: E-bike Motion, whose motor is housed in the hub of the rear wheel. It is the record-holder when it comes to being lightweight since bikes equipped with this motorization can go (for those designed with high-end equipment) between 22 to 24 lbs (9-11 kg). Yes, you read that right. In the last century, these bikes would look right at home next to full-body workout machines.
The motor is not the only factor for weight; the battery can have a big effect on it, too. This is why the capacity of the batteries is generally limited and rarely exceeds 250 Wh, although most e-bikes allow you to swap it out with a spare battery (that you’d have to carry in a backpack, which doesn’t look very “cyclist”) or boost the main battery, if it isn’t removable, with a portable one that fits in the bottle cage and connects via cable.
To conclude, if you are one of those cyclists who only wants a helping hand during climbs and would prefer to pedal without assistance on flat ground, avoid bikes above 33 lbs (15 kg) because they will force you to leave the motor perpetually active.
3. The dynamic behavior of the e-bike:
You are a longtime cyclist, and have a good handlebar grip, as they say in the trade. You like a sturdy e-bike that, even if it suffers from a little inertia, doesn’t make you feel like you’re lifting weights when swinging it from left to right when you have to relaunch or get in a jam. Nor do you want to fall into “random” trajectories on a twisty downhill.
Considering these circumstances, it is therefore important to choose an e-bicycle whose center of gravity is placed low and central enough to ensure this handling and natural piloting. Between two e-bikes that have the same weight, the one that has the weight of the motor-battery unit centered around the bottom bracket will have better agility.
To judge and compare, if you can’t try an e-bike out over a longer period of time, some handling exercises at low speed in a parking lot, like letting go of the handlebars, should give you a little idea of it right away.
4. Assist controls:
The more visible, accessible, and automatically manipulatable – or better yet, without even having to take your eyes off the road – the better. For this reason, a control panel located on the handlebars allows both hands to keep steering, while controls integrated on the top tube force the rider to drop one hand, and also often to look down. Talk about double jeopardy…
Most of the time, the controls also show the remaining battery life. Be careful though, because as with many electronic devices, the bars or percentages shown seem to drop off faster in the last 50% than in the first.
This is an essential aspect for electric assist bicycle users. Let’s be clear: don’t expect to have riding autonomy that allows you to avoid recharging the bike after each use. Unless you don’t ride much. If that’s the case, there’s a much better use for your money out there than an electric assist sport road bike.
The proposed autonomies go from 250 Wh for Fazua and E-bike Motion to a little more than 600 Wh for some Bosch models, and even 720 Wh for BH. Shimano is between the two with 500 Wh. Specialized, on the other hand, has opted for a 320 Wh battery which, like E-bike Motion, can be backed up with an additional battery that can be placed in the bike’s bottle cage, offering an added 250 Wh.
If you are a cyclist who has opted for an electric assist bike for intermittent assistance, such as on the most difficult climbs, with these capacities you can go very, very far. I have personally ridden almost 155 mi (250 km) and 11,000 ft (3,300 m) of D+ on hilly roads with a single 250 Wh charge.
If, on the other hand, you are on more of an alpine route, with passes where you are permanently on slopes of 8% or more, do not expect to do more than 8,000 ft (2,500 m) of D+. These conditions require a lot of energy… without an engine as well!
This one’s a touchy subject. Yes, let’s face it, we cyclists like beautiful things, those that appeal to our senses. We like to turn our heads to admire ourselves in shop windows, we like to compliment ourselves on our vessels, we like to show off our veiny legs like the legs of a thoroughbred, and we like to look stylish while cutting muscle. A road bike has to have a pedigree. A road bike needs to be elegant.
We’re lucky because, in recent years, the energy warts have disappeared from our electrified machines. Gone are the blocks that were popularized by Bosch and clipped to the down tube, pointing straight at you. The battery is now integrated. The diagonal tubes sport a “waistline” that’s a little more chunky, but visually acceptable.
If, however, you are looking for the most hidden design and decide not to add on the little “boost”, your champion will be the E-bike Motion, with its motor integrated into the hub of the rear wheel, only detectable by the “wheel suckers”. We are getting closer to the generally accepted beauty standards.
Some systems offer a few bonuses. Applications, for example, that allow you to set the assistance according to personal criteria. Specialized, BH, or Shimano, for instance, offer the possibility to choose both the maximum power delivered and the percentage of assistance delivered in addition to your muscle power.
You could customize your motor so that it delivers no more than, say, 50% additional power, with a maximum power limit that you set yourself. If you ride with 100 watts of muscle power, the motor will add 50 watts. If you ride with 150 watts, the motor will assist you with 75 additional watts, for a total of 225 watts. But if you have the motor set to not go beyond 200 watts of assistance, it will not give you the whole 75 watts, just 50.
The settings are endless and offer great possibilities for those who want to use the e-bike as a training tool. For those of you who don’t have such a strong desire to progress, but want more peace of mind, you can also just enter your route in the app and let the assistance be managed automatically to ensure you don’t find yourself on “E” before returning home, which of course would be at the top of a nice hill.
Looking at the E-bike Motion, you can connect the assistance to the heart rate monitor and adjust the intervention and the level of the assistance according to your heart rate. Again, this an interesting function that will help you control your effort better, whether you’re an athlete looking for progress, or a cyclist who does not want to exceed specific thresholds for medical reasons.
Finally, Shimano, with its STEPS E8000 system, offers integration with Di2 controls. It’s possible, then, to control the motor and assistance from the brake and gear shift controls, which makes it, if not the most visually integrated, the most technologically integrated.
8. What to expect tomorrow:
We are still just in the infancy of the electric assist bicycle, and these machines will become more and more sophisticated. Mechanical, electronic, biomechanical, and physiological parameters will all soon be completely taken into account by artificial intelligence systems.
Some people will see this as a reason to start cycling, while others will reject these developments. Either way, they’re unavoidable and will make our sport less exclusive, and for that, we can only be delighted.
Orbea Gain: A complete range
With the new E-Bike Motion X35 Plus motor, the new Orbea Gain offers smooth, balanced, and reliable assistance, sufficient according to the modes chosen to improve your ride, but without doing all the work.
The brand has applied a new algorithm for the electric assistance, to make the behavior of the e-bike as natural as possible, and especially to offer an almost invisible transition when it cuts off, around 25 km/h (15.5 mph).
The total battery capacity can be increased to 456 W/h with an additional battery. With its perfect integration, and even a cleverly integrated and discreet daylighting system at the front and rear, the Gain weighs between 11.6 and 12.6 kg for the carbon models (25.6 – 27.7 lbs), within a range that includes 12 bikes in all.
|Gain M10i||Shimano Dura-Ace Di2||Orbea OC2 Carbon 42 mm||8999 $/€|
|Gain M20i||Shimano Ultegra Di2||Orbea OC2 Carbon 42 mm||5999 $/€|
|Gain M20||Shimano Ultegra||Fulcrum E-Racing 900||4699 $/€|
|Gain M20 1X||Shimano GRX RX810 single chainring||Fulcrum E-Racing 900||4599 $/€|
|Gain M20 F||Shimano Ultegra||Fulcrum E-Racing 900||4599 $/€|
|Gain M30||Shimano 105||Fulcrum E-Racing 900||3999 $/€|
|Gain M30 1X||Shimano GRX RX600 single chainring||Fulcrum E-Racing 900||3999 $/€|
|Gain M30 F||Shimano 105||Fulcrum E-Racing 900||3999 $/€|
|Gain D30 – Alu frame||Shimano 105||Ready GR||3299 $/€|
|Gain D40 – Alu frame||Shimano Tiagra||Ready GR||2899 $/€|
|Gain D50 – Alloy frame||Shimano Tiagra||Ready GR||2499 $/€|
BH Core: Up to 220 km of autonomy!
With its weight starting at 12.6 kg (27.7 lbs), the BH Core benefits from the same type of construction as the brand’s high-end road bikes, with the same level of integration and aerodynamic work on the tubes.
Equipped with a perfectly integrated 540 W/h battery that already offers 165 km (102 miles) of autonomy, it can benefit from a traditional XPro battery that offers an additional 180 W/h, for a total of 220 km (137 miles) of autonomy. Never before seen at this level!
The other advantage of the BH Core is its extremely compact central motor, which offers a natural pedaling feel while lowering the bike’s center of gravity for ideal handling.
|Core Carbon Race 1.9 PRO||Shimano Dura-Ace Di2||BH Evo C50 Carbon TR||8999 $/€|
|Core Carbon Race 1.8 PRO||Shimano Ultegra Di2||FSA Trimax 35 TR||6999 $/€|
|Core Carbon Race 1.6 PRO||Shimano Ultegra||FSA Trimax 35 TR||5499 $/€|
|Core Alu Race 1.4||Shimano 105||FSA Trimax 35 TR||3999 $/€|
|Core Alu Race 1.2||Shimano 105||RS171 TR||3699 $/€|
Cannondale SuperSix Evo Neo: Very close to the SuperSix Evo
Very close visually and in terms of behavior to its ” muscular ” SuperSix Evo counterpart, the Cannondale SuperSix Evo Neo starts at 11,3 kg (24.9 lbs) for the top of the range, and up to a little more than 12,5 kg (27.6 lbs) for its most accessible version.
It is a sporty and minimalist e-bike with its E-Bike Motion X35 motor located in the rear hub, which brings soft assistance but with maximum torque at around 16 to 18 km/h (10-12 mph), which proves to be ideal to face the steepest slopes without having to draw on the reserves.
The autonomy given for a little more than 100 km (62 miles) with a battery of 250 W/h is compensated by a light weight which should allow doing without assistance in many situations.
|SuperSix Evo Neo 1||Shimano Dura-Ace Di2||HollowGram 45 KNOT||9499 $/€|
|SuperSix Evo Neo 2||Shimano Ultegra||Cannondale RDe 1.0||5499 $/€|
|SuperSix Evo Neo 3||Shimano 105||Cannondale RDe 1.0||4299 $/€|
The E-bike lexicon
This is the power provided by the motor, as well as the power provided by the cyclist. With a 250-watt motor, a cyclist in good shape – able to provide power equal to 250 watts over one hour – can theoretically compete with a pro on a hill climb by providing 500 watts, combining their power with that of the motor.
This is the capacity of the battery, or in layman’s terms, the size of the gas tank. Capacities range from 250 Wh to 720 Wh, plus the possibility of additional batteries.
More technical, the torque value will determine the mechanical power of the engine and is quantified in newtons/meters. This becomes technical… but just know that the higher the torque, the more powerful the engine will be. Imagine the difference in power put out by a diesel engine compared to a gasoline engine, especially at low rpm.
The types of electric assist levels at your disposal. There are generally three levels of electric assistance, sometimes supplemented with a walking mode. These levels are controlled by a console either positioned on the handlebars, integrated into the frame, or integrated into the traditional gear shift controls.
Depending on the brand, this is expressed in kilometers/miles or in altitude difference.
This is the optimal performance window of the motor expressed in the number of pedal revolutions per minute. Like with car engines, there is an optimal operating range within which the engine gives its full performance without getting too overworked.
Often ignored, this factor indicates the time it takes to recharge your battery. It’s important to consider this point if you want to travel long distances on your e-bike. Most chargers require a charging time of 3 to 3.5 hours for a full charge from 0 to 100%; some have managed to reduce this time to about 2.5 hours. Note that charging 0-80% usually takes just over half the time required for 0-100%.
Read also: Complete Global List of Electric Bike Brands (550+), Models & Countries – in this article.