2023 EMTB SHOOTOUT
THE QUEST FOR THE BEST ELECTRIC MOUNTAIN BIKES
Over the last five years that we’ve been pitting the best electric mountain bikes against each other for our annual eMTB roundups, it’s safe to say there have been many lessons learned. The stress, pressure and intense workload is palpable in our office in the lead-up to its release, but we know the fun and smack talking on the trails during our two-week long test session makes it all worthwhile. Well, that and all the amazing comments and thanks we get from readers and riders we help along the way! It’s why we strive to make the most comprehensive and best eMTB Shootout we can.
OUR PROMISE AND MISSION TO YOU
As with all our mountain bike and eMTB reviews, our goal isn’t necessarily to present the “best” or winning bike, because we know that each rider’s goals and requirements from an eMTB are different. Even amongst our own crew, different riders will have their own winner. Instead, we promise to be as unbiased, honest, and upfront as possible, so that we can offer you insights as to what bikes perform best in what types of terrain, and what style of rider will reap the most benefit from each of them. It’s another reason we break the bikes down into categories and select standout offerings to help you narrow down your search for the best eBike to buy. We are aware of how expensive these bikes are and how hard folks have to work to buy a new eMTB, and that’s why we take these group reviews so seriously.
We do not charge any of the bike brands to be involved, there is no barrier to entry or requirement for them to be advertisers or supporters in any way. As you’ll undoubtedly notice, there are bikes missing from this eBike group review: some that you really wanted to see, and some that we really wanted to ride. We did not exclude anyone intentionally and did our best to invite as many brands as we could, but we must be conscious of the time and cost it requires to create such a production and to ensure we do the participants justice by riding each bike enough to truly know it. As far as those not in attendance, some brands may have an updated bike in the pipeline, others may not have inventory, while others just may want to keep their bike out of such competitive group comparison tests, but regardless of the reason, we want you to know that we did our best to compile a competitive and worthwhile assortment of the latest and best eMTBs for 2023.
This year, with the amazing help of Fox Racing and Schwalbe Tires, our crew was able to review 13 eMTBs in the rocky terrain of Central Oregon before heading over to Pacific City, Oregon for some amazing days in the loam zone. If you’d like to visit Pacific City, Oregon, we’d highly suggest checking out a rental from our good friends at Kiwanda Properties. You could even stay in the same swanky beach-side house they hooked us up with for the week! We’d also like to thank Bros and Hoes Landscaping and Arika’s Cooking for providing us a great HQ on the coast.
In Case You Missed It
Be sure to check out our Prelude feature for tons more images, test stats and to learn about out testers. Check it out here.
2023 EMTB SHOOTOUT BIKES
DRIVE UNITS AND DETAILS
Shimano and Bosch dominate the market when it comes to drive units and our group review is no exception. We had 6 Shimano-powered bikes on hand and 4 Bosch-equipped bikes. Standing out from the crowd are last year’s award-winning Rocky Mountain with its own uniquely powerful Dyname 4.0 drive unit, the Specialized Levo’s Turbo Full Power 2.2 unit and one SyncDrive Pro drive unit coming on the Giant Trance Advanced E+.
Currently it seems like the industry, and buyers, are struggling when it comes to battery size. With your input and voice, we’d like to help steer that conversation a bit. We’re not so sure that the lithium arms race to stuff 900Wh batteries down every bike’s throat is the answer. Chances are, most of you are in a similar situation in life: you’ve most likely got a job; may have a family or significant other, or just obligations other than draining your monstrous battery every ride. We’re in a spot where we just don’t have the time to drain a 900Wh battery regularly enough to justify the added weight on 95% of our rides for that “One time” we may do an epic backcountry e-adventure every summer.
If you recall our introduction above, this is an example why we don’t necessarily pick a “best” bike. You may be a lucky member of society that gets to stack massive amounts of vertical and mileage weekly, making that heavy 900Wh battery a must have. For us, we’d rather save 1.5-3lbs and have a livelier and more playful bike with a 630-750Wh battery.
Leave a comment down at the bottom and let us know if you’re more concerned with big battery size, or if less is more.
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.
UNDERSTANDING WHAT THE BEST EMTB FOR YOU IS ALL ABOUT
Hopefully by now you’re beginning to see that bike reviewers are just riders with their own preferences in bike performance, and while we have been lucky enough to ride hundreds of different mountain and eBikes over the years, what makes our faces light up with joy may not be something that matters to you. In your quest to find what the best eMTB is, remember that all reviewers and riders will have their own trails, riding style, brand allegiance and passion points in mind as they make their suggestions. That said, during the review period and before our roundtable, we think long and hard about all the bikes we’ve ridden, the countless people we’ve ridden with and the types of riders we see out on the trails around the country and use that info to help give people our most educated suggestions possible.
In our review series, we’ll present the bikes, components, geometry and what we perceive the value-to-performance ratio to be. Our team will also point out where the bikes excel, and who we believe the ideal types of riders are for each eBike. With that input, a grain of salt and an honest evaluation of your own needs and terrain, you should be able to walk away from this eMTB Shootout review with a confident understanding of which bikes you should consider, and which ones may look cool but aren’t the best fit.
ORBEA WILD | EMTB OF THE YEAR!
The Criteria: This is going to be the no-holds-barred, all-out eMTB machine that stoked our riders out the most. Whether it’s climbing, racing, jumping or dropping into the gnarliest downhills we can find, the eMTB of the Year is the bike that is at home everywhere and excites us the most.
Why We Chose It: The Orbea Wild just has that something special. The geometry is beautifully balanced, making it easy to ride fast and climb up steep and technical terrain with the help of the excellent Bosch motor. The suspension is supportive and efficient, without being overly harsh and sacrificing traction. And the level of finish and integration is excellent, making the spec for your money all the more impressive. Overall Orbea has made a masterpiece with their newest Wild, making it our eMTB of the Year!
PIVOT SHUTTLE LT | MOST VERSATILE ENDURO EMTB!
The Criteria: While some bikes may be the tip of the spear for racing, or other applications, we are fully aware that the vast majority of riders will not need to pick a race bike or feel any of the downsides of such purpose-built rigs. That doesn’t mean this bike can’t race or be competitive, it just means that our crew felt it better balances the needs of the general public, performs incredibly balanced on a broad spectrum of trails, and is easy to set up and shred, or cruise casually.
Why We Chose It: The Pivot Shuttle LT was the bike that constantly impressed us for its ability to blend out-and-out descending capability with some pleasant riding manners for mellower sections of trail and the climbs. Its DW-Link rear end blends traction-inducing sensitivity and comfort with good support deeping in the stroke and a reasonable level of pedaling efficiency to do great in just about every enduro eBiking scenario, leading it to achieve our Most Versatile Enduro EMTB award.
FEZZARI TIMP PEAK | BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK EMTB
The Criteria: This is likely to be the bike our testers would most likely spend their own money on. Since most of us are underpaid bike industry types, budget is a very real concern, but we’ve ridden some of the best and most expensive bikes on the market, so performance truly matters. When we can find a bike that still holds its own on the trail, but doesn’t have us draining our entire savings account to buy it, we feel it’s worth an award.
Why We Chose It: At $7,800 for the spec we tested, it’s very impressive that Fezzari manages to deliver one of the nicest component packages in this year’s test. But the Bang comes from its performance, which pleased the majority of our testers and would leave all of us happy to ride it, regardless of the price tag. The overall performance and quality are high with the Fezzari Timp Peak, so it was the obvious choice for our Best Bang For The Buck EMTB award this year.
SPECIALIZED TURBO LEVO | MOST LIKELY TO RECOMMEND
The Criteria: Different than the Most Versatile Enduro category, the Most Likely to Recommend eBike is one that we believe will satisfy the needs of most riders. We are constantly answering emails throughout the year asking us, “Which eBike should I buy?” Most of the time, they’re not in need of a big long travel enduro race machine, instead they want the most well-rounded eMTB. We created this category to help people feel comfortable knowing what we think is one of the best bikes for a huge range of riders.
Why We Chose It: “It could be your Grampas bike, or it could be your bike” was the resounding message with the Specialized Turbo Levo this year. That’s not to say your Grampa isn’t a shredder, but what we mean is that not only can the Levo be modified from a low and slack descending beast to a steep and agile machine with a few adjustments to the flip chips and headset cups, but also its middle-of-the-road handling characteristics let it excel in just about every trail situation, making it appeal to a wide range of riders. For that reason, we’d be Most Likely To Recommend the Specialized Turbo Levo to a friend.
THE MILE MUNCHER
Giant Trance X Advanced E+ 0
Thanks to the power of the Yamaha Motor; efficiency provided by the Live Valve suspension; and trail-focused geometry with ultra-long rear end, the Giant Trance X Advanced E+ 0 is likely the bike we’d choose for the longer rides on less rowdy terrain, though we’d love to see a larger battery to help extend the ride.
BIG MOUNTAIN CHAMP
Rocky Mountain Altitude Powerplay
The sheer power of the Dyname 4.0 motor in the Rocky Mountain Altitude Powerplay is impressive, allowing even heavier riders to leave riders on any of the other bikes in this shootout in their dust on steeper climbing grades. Add some serious descending capability into the mix, and the Altitude Powerplay is still a killer big mountain machine.
Marin Rift Zone E2
The Marin Rift Zone E2 was the most affordable bike on test this year, and though its $6,299 price tag is no small amount of money, it’s a very fun machine with a comfortable suspension platform, nicely balanced geometry and solid spec for the price.
Thanks for riding along with us and we hope that you enjoyed our fifth annual eMTB Shootout as much as we enjoyed making it! Each year it’s one of our most rewarding projects as the high fives and great comments we get make all the stress, planning and massive production worthwhile. Our crew would absolutely love to tackle more of these projects in different categories and product price points in the future.
If you’d like to see that, or found any value in this project, we would be extremely grateful and honored if you’d consider supporting our YouTube channel by subscribing, or considered supporting our crew by checking out the merch in our webstore to ensure we can keep producing honest and high-quality content. We know times are tough and we certainly don’t want to cause undue stress, however it would be a huge help to keep our crew going strong and allow us the ability and resources to create more in-depth content and videos. If you are so inclined, we have some fresh merchandise we’d love to see you rep on the trails and it’ll help keep our Made in USA screen printers and jersey makers busy!
Thank you for your support,
– Drew Rohde and The Loam Wolf Team.
SPECIAL THANK YOU TO THIS YEAR’S SPONSORS
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