First, the bad news: If you're looking to ditch your car for an e-bike, it's going to cost you.
There are a number of theories why electric bikes remain a niche market in the transportation world, but one obvious drawback is price. Most off-the-shelf e-bikes run in the quadruple digits, and a secondhand market has yet to emerge. So unless you're a patient, vigilant Craigslist browser, you'll probably have to buy new.
Still, it only takes a test ride of a few blocks to get what the hype is all about. That little boost of electricity can give a cyclist at any skill level a lot more confidence, and there are options out there for a wide range of riders.
Which one is right for you? Well, that's hard to say—every bike, whether electric or manual, has its purpose and its limitations, and comfort and rideability depend almost entirely on the rider.
But we wanted to get a handle on the models available in local shops. So we went to two stores—Clever Cycles on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard and Cynergy E-Bikes on Southeast Powell Boulevard—to try out the e-bikes Portlanders are buying most.
Each bike was subjected to U-turns, traffic and hills. Rather than ranking them, we figured it'd be better to organize them by superlatives.
Great Starter Bike: Giant LaFree E+ 2
Weight: 50 pounds
Estimated Maximum Range: 65 miles
While it's hard to call a model that goes for two grand a "bargain bike," Giant's LaFree E+ 2 is on the cheaper side of the price spectrum, and it's still a great ride. It's powerful and sturdy enough to carry heavy loads, but not as bulky as similar bikes. The upright frame adjusts to a wide range of sizes, and makes for a comfortable, stable cruiser. Instead of a built-in screen showing your speed, assist levels and battery power, this bike has small lights next to the e-assist buttons that tell you how much juice you're using. (If you insist on having a screen with a speedometer, you can connect your smartphone via Bluetooth, but that's hardly necessary.) And the LaFree has one technological advantage over other e-bikes: automatic mode, which predicts the assist setting you should be using, making for an extra-smooth ride.
Great All-Purpose Sport Bike: Yamaha CrossCore
Weight: Size medium is 43.5 pounds
Estimated Maximum Range: 80 miles
Functional and recreational in equal measure, Yahama's CrossCore is so agile, it feels almost exactly like riding a regular hybrid, just one that allows you to go much faster and with much less effort. In fact, it's one of only a few e-bikes that has a gear low enough that you could conceivably get around without using any assist. It's way more fun if you do, though—it's deeply satisfying to whip around a tight turn and get an electric boost while you do.
Great Bike to Replace Your Minivan: Tern GSD S10
Weight: 60 pounds
Estimated Maximum Range: 68 miles
The GSD is one of the more compact cargo bikes available. For a vehicle that weighs twice as much as your average commuter bike, it's surprisingly easy to handle and can glide up steep hills on even its mid-assist levels. The GSD is also highly customizable: A rare one-size-fits-all bike, it's ideal for sharing, and supremely comfortable and easy to handle, even if you're a shorter cyclist. The long rack over the back wheel can carry groceries or serve as a seat thanks to child-sized foot pads and a removable handlebar for your backseat passenger. But even though the GSD is a highly versatile cargo bike, it's still a cargo bike—at 60 pounds, it's not something you're ever going to want to carry up stairs, or lift at all with any kind of regularity. It's great for hauling heavy loads, especially if you want to cart your kids around, but unnecessarily bulky if you don't.
Great Midlife Crisis Bike: BMC Alpenchallenge AMP City
Weight: 33 pounds
Estimated Maximum Range: 105 miles
One of the lightest e-bikes on the market, this sleek, full-carbon, Swiss-made model weighs less than some manual commuter bikes. Like a sports car, it's a blast to ride, but not exactly ideal for carrying your groceries. You could add a rack to the Alpenchallenge, but carbon frames don't absorb shock as well as aluminum frames and are more susceptible to scratches and dents. Unlike the GSD, where you're paying for convenience and customizability, the Alpenchallenge's steep price gets you speed, range and a light frame. Still, it's fun as hell to take for a spin.