Recently, electric mountain bikes have exploded in popularity. Our team researched the top models on the market and purchased six bikes in the $4500-$6000 range to test and review. Our team of testers rode these pedal-assist mountain bikes for thousands of miles, countless hours, and many tens of thousands of vertical feet. In the process, we analyzed each model's uphill and downhill performance, tested their distance range, paid close attention to the user-friendliness of their e-bike controls, and scrutinized their power output. We rode of each of these bikes hard in an effort to expose their strengths and weaknesses and determine the key ride characteristics of each one, and most importantly how they compare to each other.
The Best Electric Mountain Bikes (e-MTB) of 2019
|Price||$5,950 List||$5,399 List||$4,830 List||$5,299 List||$4,999.95 at REI|
|Pros||versatile, fits water bottle, least e-bike looking, good battery life, low center of gravity||Good controls, huge distance range, confidence inspiring at speed, good component spec||Reasonably priced, good distance range, well rounded performance, solid component spec||Smooth and consistent power output, modern geometry,||Cushy suspension, digital display, meaty tires|
|Cons||no digital display, more abrupt power assist cutoff||Heaviest in test, sluggish at low speeds||Heavy, sluggish handling at times, controls/display are difficult to read||No digital display, wimpy tires and fork, center of gravity feels high||Less torque, shorter distance range, inconsistent power output|
|Bottom Line||The Specialized Turbo Levo Comp returns to our e-bike test with a well rounded performance that earns it our Editor's Choice Award, again.||The Bulls E-Stream Evo AM 4 is a brawler on the descents with an impressive distance range thanks to its large battery storage capacity.||The Giant Trance E+ 2 Pro is well rounded and reasonably priced earning it our Best Buy Award.||The Instinct Powerplay Alloy 50 is close to greatness but is held back by its controls and components.||The Ghost Hybride SL AMR S1.7+ looks interesting on paper but doesn't come together well on the trail.|
|Rating Categories||Specialized Turbo Levo Comp||Bulls E-Stream EVO AM 4||Giant Trance E+ 2 Pro||Instinct Powerplay Alloy 50||Ghost Hybride SL AMR S1.7+|
|E Bike Controls (10%)|
|Downhill Performance (35%)|
|Climbing Performance (20%)|
|Power Output (15%)|
|Distance Range (20%)|
|Specs||Specialized Turbo Levo Comp||Bulls E-Stream EVO AM 4||Giant Trance E+ 2 Pro||Instinct Powerplay Alloy 50||Ghost Hybride SL AMR S1.7+|
|Motor System||Specialized 2.1, Custom Rx Trail-tuned 250W||Brose Drive S (250W) 650Wh||Giant SyncDrive Pro Yamaha||Dyname 3.0 250w||Shimano Steps DU E8000|
|Fork||RockShox Revelation Charger RC 150mm||RockShox Lyrik RC Boost Solo Air 150mm||Fox 36 Float Rhythm 150mm||RockShox Reba RL E-Bike 140mm||RockShox Revelation 140mm|
|Motor Power (torque)||?||90Nm||80Nm||108Nm||70Nm|
Best Overall E-MTB
Specialized Turbo Levo Comp
The 2019 Specialized Turbo Levo Comp returns to our electric mountain bike test and claims our Editor's Choice Award for the second year in a row. The new model has several notable changes over the previous version we tested including a new frame design, 29-inch wheels, 150mm of front and rear wheel travel, a new motor, and an updated battery charge and power output display. All these new changes have only helped to solidify the Turbo Levo Comp's position at the top of the podium. It still has the same well-rounded performance on the trail that makes it "feel the most like a mountain bike." It is more playful and agile than the competition, yet it still manages to charge the fall-line just as hard. Like previous Turbo Levo models, Specialized has very stealthily integrated the battery and motor into the frame giving it a low center of gravity and a very non-e-bike look. The new Specialized 2.1 motor is very quiet, plus it weighs less and has reduced the overall weight of the bike by more than 2 lbs.
As with anything, there is still room for improvement. There is no handlebar mounted digital display, and the only way to tell your speed is to mount a phone or bike computer to the bars. Specialized has changed the location of their battery charge and output mode display, however, which is now conveniently located on the top tube where you can see it while riding. The new motor is an improvement over the previous, but it still lags a little in engagement compared to the competition and the climbing performance is hampered by the drive unit's slightly more abrupt cutoff. Overall though, the Specialized still proved to be the test team's favorite for its versatility and well-rounded performance. We loved it, and we think you will too.
Read review: Specialized Turbo Levo Comp
Best Bang for the Buck
Giant Trance E+ 2 Pro
There's a lot to like about the Giant Trance E+ 2 Pro starting with its reasonable price. Electric mountain bikes are expensive, and the Trance E+ 2 comes in under $5K with a nice component specification. The build is one reason why this bike performs so well on the trail, with a beefy fork, plush suspension, meaty tires, and powerful brakes that can handle the heavy weight of this rig. It's also got a nice modern geometry that helps it perform very well on the descents while still maintaining reasonable climbing abilities. It has a 504Wh battery and proved to be one of the most efficient in using that power in our distance range testing. There's no lack of power on tap when you need it, and it delivers it smoothly with little motor noise. Giant finishes it all off with nice integration of the battery and motor into the frame design for a super clean look.
While we liked the value, component specification, and versatile all-around performance of the Trance E+ 2, it wasn't all gold stars. E-bikes are heavy, that is a given, but the Trance is a little heavier than most at 52 lbs 3 oz. This weight is one of the reasons this bike feels somewhat sluggish at times, especially in low-speed sections of trail. It also has mediocre e-bike controls. Sure, they are functional, but the all-in-one control's display in the form of small LED lights is difficult to see by the left grip and near impossible to read when riding in bright light conditions. Beyond that, we feel the Trance E+ 2 is a quality e-bike offered at a reasonable price.
Read review: Giant Trance E+ 2 Pro
Top Pick for Range and Battery Life
Bulls E-Stream EVO AM 4
The Bulls E-Stream EVO AM 4 is a new addition to our electric mountain bike test and it didn't take long for our testers to fall in love with this new contender. This bike comes ready to rumble with a beefy enduro ready build with 150mm of front and rear wheel travel controlled by a stout RockShox Lyrik fork up front. Testers found this bike to come alive at speed with stable and confidence inspiring trail manners that preferred to go fast, and big 2.8-inch wide Schwalbe tires that provided heaps of traction. Bulls has done a good job designing this beast, with a powerful and smooth Brose drive unit cleanly integrated into the frame along with a large 650Wh battery. The motor lays down very smooth power in all of its output settings and is one of the quietest models we tested. The large battery storage capacity provides the longest distance range of all the models in the test so you can stay out longer and ride farther than on models with smaller batteries. The e-bike controls have relatively good ergonomics and an easy to read display.
It wasn't all gold stars for the Bulls, however, as the larger battery storage of this bike makes it the heaviest in our test. This heavyweight rig is far from nimble or agile, giving it a more one-dimensional performance on the descents, and hampering its climbing abilities in technical sections or tight corners. Its charging port is also recessed into the frame making it one of the least user-friendly, and while we did like their e-bike controls, they couldn't quite match the ergonomics or display of some of the competition. Overall, we had a blast riding the E-Stream EVO AM 4, read on to find out how it compares.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our team of testers has strong backgrounds in the bike industry. These riders are racers, mechanics, shop owners, and adventure lovers who are all passionate about all things pertaining to bicycles.
Jeremy Benson eats, sleeps, and breathes mountain bikes. This native New Englander started mountain biking in 1992. He got more serious in college and started racing bikes in 1999. After moving to Tahoe, Jeremy continued his obsession with riding. He continues to race mountain bikes and has racked up some impressive results in the expert class at the Downieville Classic and the Lost and Found Gravel Grinder. Jeremy authored Mountain Bike Tahoe which was published in 2017. Jeremy's riding statistics are eye-popping, to say the least. He rode over 5,000 miles in 2018 climbing nearly 600,000 feet. Oh yeah, he was also a sponsored skier for well over a decade. Jeremy has a very critical eye and is also good at breaking things. These are wonderful traits for bike testers.
Chris McNamara spends a whole lot of time in the saddle. This rock climber turned mountain cyclist loves huge rides covering obscene distances. He is working on a few gigantic rides including a singletrack route around Lake Tahoe and a ride from South Lake Tahoe to Mammoth Lakes. Paul Tindal is a versatile rider who spent years in the elite ranks in the road, downhill and enduro disciplines. Paul is now the lead mechanic and shop manager at a busy bike shop in South Lake Tahoe. Joshua Hutchens has spent decades in the bike industry. He has been a racer, bike shop owner, mechanic, and a guide. Joshua has a great eye for the subtleties of a bicycle.
Related: How We Tested Best E-MTB Bikes
What is an E-Bike?
There are various kinds and classifications of electric bikes on the market, but the most common type is the Class 1, or pedal assist, bikes which have motor units that are activated by pedaling and are limited to lower speeds. In the US, Class 1 electric bikes, the type tested and reviewed here, are limited to a top speed of 20 mph, and their motors are designed with a speed governor to regulate this. These types of e-bikes resemble modern mountain bikes, but they have significant battery packs, and small motor units integrated onto and into the frame design. The e-MTB pedal-assist motor is typically built around the bottom bracket and provides varying levels of pedaling "support" directly into the drivetrain while the cranks are turning. Most drive unit systems offer several support settings that provide pedal assistance between 25% and 100% of the user's pedaling input.
All the models we tested are full suspension all mountain/trail bike models with relatively similar amounts of suspension travel, geometry, and wheel/tire size. The addition of a large battery and a small motor adds significant weight to an e-bike, and they generally weigh in the neighborhood of 50 lbs, approximately 20 pounds heavier than non-e-bikes, and the heavy weight of these bikes makes them more difficult to ride without the support of the pedal assist motor.
There are many places in the U.S. where you can legally and responsibly ride e-MTB's, and take it from us; they are a heck of a lot of fun. Check with local land management agencies to find out where you are allowed to use an electric mountain bike before taking to the trails. One thing we do know, e-MTB's can be used on any trails that are legal for motorized use, so we took advantage of the wealth of OHV trails in the greater Lake Tahoe area for our testing purposes and had more fun doing it than any of us expected.
Analysis and Test Results
Over several months, our team of four professional mountain bike testers rode each of the electric mountain bikes in our test selection on a variety of trails and terrain in a range of weather conditions. We had each tester ride each of the bikes numerous times, often riding the different models back to back for the sake of comparison. We didn't go easy on them. Instead, we treated them all as if they were our own, putting them all through the wringer to identify their strengths and weaknesses. We scrutinized every aspect of each e-bike's performance and scored them all on several rating metrics, e-bike controls, downhill performance, uphill performance, power output, and distance range. Each of these metrics is described in greater detail below. It is important to note that during our testing, our impressions of these e-bikes changed dramatically. Our first impressions didn't exactly stick. It was essential for us to test the different models head-to-head and make direct comparisons to flush out the differences.
With mountain bikes already sporting hefty price tags, the cost of adding an electric pedal assist motor might be enough to send the value-conscious rider's head spinning. Fear not! We created a chart to help you sort through which bike has the best performance to price ratio. Bikes that fall lower and further to the right, such as the Best Buy winning Giant Trance E+ 2 Pro, represent the best value.
The bikes we tested all use a different e-bike motor system, and the controls, the primary user interface, are an important element we rated but didn't weight as heavily as some of the others. Each motor system and its associated controls are slightly different. Our primary interest is in how user-friendly is it to interact with the system, how intuitive and ergonomic are the shifters, how good and easy to read is the display, and how easy is it to charge the battery? Each drive system also has a smartphone app that is intended to allow the user to fine-tune the motor's support settings, create custom settings, monitor battery charge and health, and a whole lot more. We don't feel the apps are necessary for the use of any of these e-MTB's, but those with an affinity for technology or personalizing your ride may be inclined to use them.
The Trek Powerfly's Bosch Purion shifter and display unit was easy to read and had a bright screen, but was in a less visible location on the left side of the handlebar. The Bulls E-Stream has a similar system to the Trek, but with better button ergonomics and more information available on the display on separate screens. Our Editor's Choice Award winner, the Specialized Turbo Levo Comp scored the lowest in this rating due to the lack of a handlebar mounted display and a less user-friendly charging connection.
The Ghost SL AMR scored relatively well in this metric, with a small digital display mounted by the stem. Both the Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay and the Giant Trance E+ 2 Pro fell short of the bar set by the competition with their all-in-one shifter/display units. The Giant outperforms the Rocky Mountain here, but both attempts at LED displays integrated into the control unit are more challenging to read than digital displays.
The downhill performance is our most highly weighted rating metric because we feel that the most important element of an e-bike is how well it performs out on the trail, especially when bombing down the hill. Each tester rode every bike numerous times and formulated their own opinions of each model, considering how factors like the component spec, geometry, and frame design play a role in its downhill performance. All of the e-bikes we tested were fun to ride, way more fun than any of our non-e-bike riding test team ever expected, but they all had a different demeanor and trail manners. To test this, we rode the bikes downhill, a lot, and took them down a variety of terrain, from fast and flowing open trails to tight low-speed technical, and everything in between.
In the end, the Specialized Turbo Levo Comp proved to be the tester favorite, offering the most versatile downhill performance that felt the "most like a mountain bike" that the other models couldn't match. The Specialized proved to be the most nimble and agile by far, yet still managed to be confident and stable at speed. We were also thoroughly impressed by the versatility and confidence-inspiring manners of our Best Buy winner, the Giant Trance E+ 2 Pro. The Trance's modern geometry and quality component spec are the primary factors that help it outperform some of the competition. The Bulls E-Stream has a more one dimensional downhill performance, a stable and planted feel that absolutely charges downhill and excels as the speeds increase.
Our testers were a little underwhelmed by a couple of our competitors. The Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay Alloy 50 has loads of potential with excellent geometry and trail smoothing rear suspension, but the spec of a wimpy fork and non-aggressive tires detract from its downhill confidence when the going gets steep or rough. The Trek Powerfly 7 FS was our least favorite e-bike to ride downhill, with an even less impressive component specification that held it back and didn't inspire confidence on descents.
You've gotta get up to get down, and one of the purposes of e-bikes is to make it much easier to do so. Since we spend significantly more time climbing than descending, we felt it was important to rate how well these bikes perform when pointed uphill. Climbing on an e-MTB with pedal assist support is somewhat different than climbing on a bike without a motor. These bikes are capable of carrying some serious speed uphill, changing the climbing dynamic with a much faster pace, often tossing finesse out the window in favor of power and momentum. The heavy weight of these bikes and plus-sized tires gives them incredible traction, keeping them planted on the ground, and dampening switches can be left wide open to enjoy the added traction benefits of active rear suspension. Each bike's geometry, handling, and power output all played a role in how well these bikes performed on the ascents, and we had plenty of time to test them while rallying back uphill for more downhill laps.
While it was agile and quicker handling, the Specialized Turbo Levo Comp lost ground in this rating metric due to the somewhat abrupt pedal assist cutoff that occurred the moment you stop pedaling. This abrupt power cutoff caused awkward moves in slower technical uphill sections when jockeying pedals to avoid rock strikes. The Bulls E-Stream had power for days and could mash its way up just about anything, but its overall weight and size made it a little more awkward in slower or more technical sections of climbing. The Trek Powerfly had a long wheelbase, reach, and chainstay length, giving the bike a long rear end that kept impressive traction while climbing as long as you kept your momentum, the overall length of the bike, however, made it a little tougher to negotiate in the tighter stuff.
Testers found the Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay to perform relatively well on the climbs. The steep seat tube made for a comfortable climbing position and the powerful pedal assist drive unit felt dialed. Its traction could be improved with beefier tires, and the weight of the bike feels a little higher than the competition resulting in some awkward handling at lower speeds. The Giant Trance E+ is also a competent climber, with ground-hugging Maestro suspension, comfortable geometry, and plenty of power on tap when you need it. Our least favorite bike on the climbs was the Ghost Hybride SL AMR. The Ghost has solid geometry numbers, but the pedal assistance felt less powerful and was definitely less consistent than the competition.
One of the primary purposes of an e-bike is transferring power from the motor to the drivetrain to "support" your regular pedal stroke. All of the different motors do this in relatively the same way, although subtle differences in their power output make them all feel slightly different. It is important to note that all of these systems work impressively well; the differences between them are relatively subtle but noticeable. We tested this metric primarily based on feel, as opposed to any sort of scientific measurement, and our testers could all notice the differences between the various models. All of the e-bikes we tested have several support modes offering varying levels of pedal assist support.
The Bulls motor is claimed to have 90Nm of torque, but it was so smooth and quiet that it didn't feel outrageously powerful. The assistance came on smooth and strong thanks to the belt driven system. The Rocky Mountain Instinct Powerplay Alloy 50 uses a drive system that claims to have up to 108Nm of torque. While their system felt quite powerful, it didn't feel stronger than the Bulls, and we noticed that it seemed to modulate its output in a way that the others didn't. The Rocky Mountain makes you work for it a little more than the rest. The Trek, Giant, and the Specialized motor systems felt slightly less powerful, still offering plenty of pedal-assist support mind you, but that also resulted in efficient motors and longer distance ranges than the models with more brute power.
The distance range of an electric mountain bike refers to the distance you can travel on a single battery charge given a specific set of circumstances. All of the e-bikes we tested have roughly the same battery storage capacity, except for the Bulls E-Stream, but external variables like rider weight, pedaling input, terrain, trail conditions, and weather conditions may all affect the length of time or distance that a battery charge will last. To compare the distance range of the models in our test we had the same tester take each of the bikes out in their highest support setting and do laps on a very steep paved hill until the batteries ran down from fully charged to completely dead. When we finished, we recorded the distance and vertical gain that each model was able to complete and easily, and objectively determined our winner.
In our head to head range test, the Rocky Mountain took the win by traveling 20 miles and 4,297 vertical feet. It is worth mentioning that our tester felt that he worked a little harder while range testing the Rocky Mountain than the other bikes we tested. The Giant wasn't far behind at 19.02 miles and 4,000 vertical feet, and the Specialized was nipping at its heels with 18.71 miles and 3,949 feet. The Ghost Hybride SL AMR was the least impressive with a range of just 16.75 miles and 3,559 vertical feet. The outlier in this comparison is the Bulls E-Stream with a 650Wh battery. We were not able to test the Bulls directly against these other competitors, but we did notice that you can ride it significantly farther than any of these other contenders. During one of our test rides, we rode the Bulls 24 miles and 4,500 vertical feet, and the battery still wasn't depleted. More battery storage equals longer rides; it's just that simple.
It is important to note that the less power you use while riding your e-bike, the longer the battery will last, makes sense right? All of the pedal-assist drive units we tested also have smartphone apps that can be used to customize your support settings and such changes may allow for more or less range on your electric mountain bike. Specialized's Mission Control app has a feature that lets you set a predetermined route, and the app then regulates the motor's support to ensure power lasts to finish your ride.
Every bike we tested was a blast to ride. However, they all had very different ride characteristics. All of these could stand to improve in different areas, but the category is not mature enough to get a very capable bike for a reasonable price. We will continue to update this review as new bikes emerge, and electric mountain bikes continue to evolve.
— Jeremy Benson, Joshua Hutchens, Paul Tindal, Chris McNamara