CONSIDERATIONS AND CRITERIA
Budget – Just like each one of our testers, we understand you have your own list of priorities when it comes to figuring out what the best eMTB to buy next will be. While we’re fortunate enough to test some of the most expensive and top-spec’d bikes out there, reality dictates that our budgets would likely have us searching for more affordable and practically priced eBikes. However, we know from talking to brands that these top tier models sell out year after year, so we do evaluate them and view them as the pinnacle of performance from each brand. We can deduce how bikes with more affordable components would perform from the performance of these flagships.
Mountain Bikers First – While budget is very important, we are mountain bikers first and foremost, and most of our testers have a fond love of going downhill. Because of this background, many of our testers will likely pick a bike that may not have the latest or greatest Bluetooth compatibility feature or a heated cup holder and WiFi connectivity, if it’s not the best ‘Mountain Bike’ in the test. It seems plenty of riders are willing to write off a great performing bike just because it has a certain motor or lacks a new techy feature, even if it’s a far superior handling mountain bike. To us, not much matters more than how an eBike rides down a trail. Nevertheless, we still bring up those conversations and realize that brands do need to keep up with the times to stay relevant, no matter how good the bike performs. If there’s more tech and integration with no loss of performance or significant price increase, then we’re all for it but we’re just not willing to pick an inferior bike with a nicer spec or newest gadgets over something that rides better with older/lower-tier parts.
Bits and Bobs – Integration and ease of use from both an electronics standpoint and a bicycle standpoint come into play quite heavily for us as well. Things like how controllers, cables, charge ports and mobile apps work all matter in this day and age. Equally important are the bike’s ergonomics and how user-serviceable it is. Even elements like the bearings and linkage durability, and how well weather-sealed it is matter as these stack up to keep us all on the trails and out of the garage. It’s not just how well a bike works, but how long it will work well for.
Value and the Price-to-Performance Ratio – Different from the overall price tag, value is important to analyze as we look at what you get for that price point. For example, two bikes could have a $10,000 price tag, however one could come with Fox Performance level suspension and Shimano SLX components with a 630Wh battery, while the other could have full Fox Factory Kashima suspension with Shimano XT or X01 Eagle drivetrain and a 750Wh battery. While there’s no denying the value of the second bike is there in terms of components, we jump back to our Mountain Bikers First section and say, we’d rather have a bike with SLX and entry level suspension that rides better than the fanciest spec bike that doesn’t ride nearly as well. And here you begin to see the circle of debate in the bike review process… In our opinion, just because a bike has a “better” motor or components, doesn’t mean it’s a better performing bike.
Versatility – In previous years we learned that just like their mountain bike counterparts, electric mountain bikes can be equally specific in their purpose. We’ve had bikes that were definitely not bikes that we’d want to buy, or ride daily, however they were our #1 pick when it came time to race a certain track or tackle a specific challenge. Now, if you live in an area similar to those particular test courses, that could mean that bike would be perfect for you. If you travel around and ride in different regions though, a bike that will reward you equally no matter where you ride it is probably the safer pick, and thus a bike’s versatility is important to us, and we think it is to you as well.
Testing and Terrain – For most of our bikes, the testing begins weeks or months before the official eMTB Shootout crew make their way to our chosen destination. Stacking up base miles, learning the bikes, and seeing how they hold up is important to us, as we know you’re making a big investment. This is also why we try to find regions that offer a wide variety of trails and conditions whenever possible.
This year we split time between the raw, rocky and loose trails in the high desert of Central Oregon, and the more new-school flow trails of the Oregon Coast. As much as we love rocky chunk, we knew that you’d much rather see these beautiful bikes alongside the Pacific Ocean and kicking up rich, loamy soil.
Knowing how a bike rides on high-speed berms and 40-foot tabletops may look cool, but it’s not going to tell you much about how a bike handles the multi-use trails with flat corners and tight switchbacks that we think most people spend their time on. These two drastically different environments allowed us to see how geometry, ground clearance, spec selections and battery range would stack up on the raw goatish trails of the desert, and the self-served bike park terrain of the coast. Hopefully with those two extremes on our menu, you’ll be able to find a spot where your terrain and riding style fits.
Speaking of variables, something we find important when conducting these group reviews is to have a consistent tire platform to give each bike a predictable and reliable source of traction and performance. Some brands may spec a lighter casing tire to market a “lighter” eBike than competitors or use firmer rubber compounds to add to the longevity of the tread and save money for the brand. These types of spec-decisions, while important for the company, can greatly affect how a bike rides, and when we’re putting bikes in a head-to-head competition, eliminating variables is crucially important. For that reason, we’ve partnered up with Schwalbe Tires for the fifth year in a row!
This year we spec’d our test bikes with the 2.4 Magic Mary Soft Compound Super Gravity front and 2.4 Big Betty Soft Compound Super Gravity rear tires. It’s a combo we are very fond of for a wide variety of trails and why we chose to work with Schwalbe once again.