Standing on your pedals and huffing and puffing up a hill is totally unnecessary in the lithium-ion era. E-bikes—basically standard two-wheelers with motors and batteries squirreled away in their frames—put a little wind at your back. Torque sensors near the pedals signal the motors to kick in when you’re pedaling, helping you boost your cruising speed to 28 miles per hour. If the juice in the battery dries up, you can ride on using leg power, just like a regular bike. While e-bikes are a blast to ride, not every model is built for every terrain. Pedal-assisted mountain bikes are major overkill for commuting, and a casual beach cruiser isn’t very useful on a rocky, rooty trail through the woods. This selection of souped-up whips can tackle any terrain—from urban jungle to actual jungle.
1. For cruising
Most e-bike motors mount near the pedals or rear wheel, but the Faraday Cortland’s is in the front, an arrangement that helps distribute weight. The sloped top tube stays out of the way when throwing your leg over, and the lithium-ion battery lasts about 25 miles per charge.
2. For going anywhere
The Giant ToughRoad GX E+ hasn’t met a street it can’t handle. Its knobby tires grip dirt and gravel roads, while powerful hydraulic disc brakes stop you even in the rain. The frame allows for a comfortable, upright riding position, but the road-style drop handlebars let you duck down for sprints.
3. For the trail
Its 5.3 inches of suspension travel in the rear and 6 inches in front give the Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Expert Carbon a smooth ride over rocks and roots. The motor will save your legs while summiting hills, and then you can bomb back down. The carbon-fiber frame is stiff for responsive handling.
4. For commuting
The Raleigh Electric Redux iE will get you to work clean and dry. Its motor aids acceleration without soaking you in sweat, while fenders safeguard your duds from road splatter. Fat 27.5-inch wheels and mountain-bike-size tires make this steed stable and comfy on even on potholed pavement.
E-bikes track how hard you pedal so they can know how much of an assist you need. Serious cyclists obsess over their power output for a different reason: tracking their training. The Shimano Dura-Ace crankset—the part of the bike that transfers your pedal power to the chain—has two sensors that measure the wattage your legs churn out as you push your feet round and round. The meter sends the info to your bike’s computer or a smartphone, via Bluetooth.
This article was originally published in the January/February 2018 Power issue of Popular Science.