In the space of just a few short years electric mountain bikes (or eMTBs) have gone from ‘it’ll never catch on’ to one of the bike industry’s fastest growing categories. Here’s our guide to the best electric mountain bikes in 2020.
Where once the concept faced stiff opposition from purists who believed that the assistance of an electric motor was akin to cheating, the wholesale adoption of its advantages by large numbers of riders has wiped away most resistance.
A broad variety of riders – including those with limited mobility, lower fitness or just more candles on their birthday cake – have benefited from the access to trails that motor assistance affords, while for later adopters that may once have scoffed at the idea of assistance up the climbs, once they experience it in reality they soon find themselves converted. Less effort pedalling up = more fun on the downs. Simples.
If you want to head straight to our top picks on the Chain Reaction Cycles website, here are our picks:
What is an eMTB? Put simply, it’s a mountain bike (hardtail or full suspension) with an electric motor and battery (typically mounted onto the frame downtube or integrated into the frame) to assist the rider. That assistance only kicks in when the rider is pedalling and is usually available at the push of a button, so riders can choose to get a boost when ascending, or stick with pedal power alone. An eMTB is limited by law, with assistance only offered up to a certain speed after which the motor switches off (typically 25km/h but this can vary between countries).
The range of an eMTB is heavily dependent on multiple factors including battery capacity (measured in watt-hours or Wh), selected ride mode, rider weight and the level to which the rider leans on his or her motor for help. With a light touch on the power button, a modern eMTB battery can last up to 100km or more.
If the idea of an electrically-assisted ride is appealing to you, read on for our guide to some of the best options on the market in 2020, ranging from hardtails at home on fire roads and hardpack trails to long-travel, full suspension options that will tackle any terrain.
Germany’s Cube is well known for using its purchasing power to good effect, kitting out its road and MTB ranges with a level of top-notch componentry that few other brands can match. Therefore it’s no surprise to see a Bosch eBike motor and battery system powering this entry-level Cube Acid Hybrid One 400 29, specifically a third generation Performance CX drive and PowerPack 400. The former is a 250watt unit offering 65nm of torque, more than enough for navigating the smoother tracks and trail centre singletrack for which this model is intended.
We say the Cube Acid Hybrid One 400 29 is the perfect introduction to the benefits of eMTB riding at a price point that won’t scare the horses, with reliable Shimano Deore shifting, fast-rolling 29” wheels shod with Schwalbe Smart Sam tyres and 100mm of front suspension travel. For the occasional rider or for anyone who wants a little electric assistance to keep up with a riding buddy, it’s perfectly pitched.
Don’t be fooled by the ‘hybrid’ designation in the name of this Cube Reaction Hybrid Pro 500 29 – its natural environment is far from the streets and towpaths that this moniker might evoke, referring instead to the blend of electrical and pedal power available at the flick of a switch. That power comes courtesy of a 250watt Bosch Generation 4 Performance CX unit, which with 75Nm of torque on tap is that bit beefier than its little brother found on the Cube Acid Hybrid One 400. Indeed, everything about this bike is that bit ‘more’ than the Acid, including the Superlite aluminium frame – newly designed for 2020 – and superb SRAM SX Eagle 12-speed transmission paired with smooth, powerful Shimano MT200 hydraulic disc brakes. Comfort comes courtesy of 100mm front suspension travel as well as beefy 2.2” Schwalbe Smart Sam tyres, making up for the lack of rear squish.
Cube were one of the first major manufacturers to go ‘all in’ on eMTBs, and the overwhelming popularity of the genre for traversing long, Alpine trails has ensured their foresight has paid off. Indeed, pop into any bike shop in Germany, Switzerland or Austria and it’s a fair chance that the racks of eMTBs will outnumber their non-assisted ancestors. The company claims an average operating range of 112km for this bike, and it’s rechargeable without needing to remove the battery from the frame, which is a nice bonus.
Vitus’ Sentier family of hardtails has swept the boards in multiple ‘best of’ awards in recent years, earning deserved plaudits as a totally sorted trail tamer that starts with getting its geometry bang on, and doesn’t put a foot wrong afterwards. All that good stuff has now been distilled into a 29er eMTB, the logically-named Vitus E-Sentier (this version being the entry-level model equipped with 2×9 Shimano Altus gearing).
So what are you getting for your money? Firstly you’re getting the same qualities that have made the Sentier a modern classic – including a tough alloy frame with relaxed tube angles (66-degree head tube and 73-degree seat tube), 140mm air-spring front suspension courtesy of a SR Suntour XCR34 fork, WTB Serra i29 wheelset with Boost spacing and WTB Trail Boss wheels – but you’re also getting Shimano’s E7000 STEPS drive system offering 250w power with max torque of 60Nm, characterised by its compact, low-profile design, low weight and near-silent operation.
Ghost is another German manufacturer with a reputation for high-value, high-performance packages and the Ghost Teru B2.9 E-Bike is no exception. Once again we find a Bosch Performance CX motor at the heart of the matter, but this time the XC-esque alloy frame is matched with 120mm of front suspension which achieves a fine balance between speed potential, long-distance poise and rough terrain capability.
A Bosch Purion display puts all necessary information at the rider’s fingertips while quality Continental tyres and Ghost finishing kit round out a bike that’s more super than supernatural (sorry). Bad puns aside, this is a premium hardtail with a well-proven power system that’s well worthy of consideration if it falls within your budget range.
Some would argue that eMTBs really come into their own when integrated into long-travel, full-suspension bikes, the electric boost on offer neatly offsetting the extra weight of the frame and components to result in a bike that’s riotous fun on the downs without being a pain to wind back up again. Case in point is this Vitus E-Sommet E-Bike, the electric version of Vitus’ acclaimed Sommet enduro platform. With Shimano Deore 1×10 transmission, 160mm of Rockshox travel front and rear, stubby 50mm stem and 800mm Nukeproof bars the Sommet sets out its stall with no room for misinterpretation – this is a burly bike, built for fun and frolics.
Powering all those adrenaline-fuelled descents is the Shimano STEPS E7000 motor, which with 60Nm of torque is a little shy of the 70Nm offered by its bigger brother the E8000, but more than enough to see the Sommet crest every hill in comfort. The E7000 motor can be wirelessly programmed to your preferences with Shimano’s E-TUBE app and features three power modes – Eco, Trail and Boost – enabling you to choose your preferred level of assist. We say the E-Sommet is a nigh-on perfect partner for those whose tastes tend to the gnarly side of the coin.
GT have been making mountain bikes for almost as long as mountain bikes have been made, their iconic Triple Triangle frame design being instantly recognisable to any hardtail aficionado (they’ve been making BMX bikes for even longer, but we digress). For the first time in 2020 the California company has entered the eMTB arena, introducing the full-suspension eForce and the hardtail ePantera.
This model, the GT ePantera Bolt, takes all of the company’s distilled knowledge about hardtail performance and bakes it into a speed-focused eMTB platform, featuring a new version of GT’s Triple Triangle frame design. This evolution promises up to 50% more vertical compliance via ‘floating’ seatstays that join directly to the top tube and aren’t connected to the seat tube. The ePantera Bolt also boasts a spec sheet that’s worthy of a double take, including Shimano’s top of the range STEPS E8000 motor offering a sprightly 70Nm of torque.
Also of note is the fully integrated battery and internal cable routing, sure to please fans of clean frame lines and unfussy layouts. A combination of SRAM SX Eagle 12-speed transmission (with wide range 11-50t cassette) and 120mm Rockshox forks is a match made in singletrack heaven, while fast-rolling 29” wheels and powerful Shimano MT200 four-piston brakes finish off a fine package.
Cube’s Stereo range of full-suspension trail bikes is a proven platform benefiting from many refinements over the years, and the eMTB version carries on this tradition. For 2020 the Waldershof-based firm offers not so much a refinement as a complete overhaul, introducing a brand new frame with agile trail geometry, Boost 148 spacing and a blend of alloy and carbon fibre tubing. The front triangle is of full carbon construction, featuring an oversized downtube into which is integrated Cube’s new Modular Battery System. This houses the Bosch power unit away from the elements, fully protected by a shock-absorbing cover but easily accessible and even offering room for an optional larger battery (and therefore extended range) if needed.
We’ve seen Bosch motors on each of the Cube eMTBs we’ve looked at so far, so it should come as no surprise to learn that the company is the largest customer for Bosch eBike motor and battery systems. On the Stereo Hybrid HPC 140 Race – actually the entry-level model in the range – we find a fourth-generation Bosch CX drive motor delivering 75Nm of torque, as well as RockShox suspension, Shimano brakes and a full Sram NX Eagle 12 speed drivetrain. A nice touch specced as standard is also a Cube dropper post, making the Stereo Hybrid HPC 140 Race ready to take on flowing singletrack and rocky trail centre runs, right out of the traps.
Vitus expanded its eMTB offering for 2020, building on the success of its 160mm E-Sommet platform with the introduction of the shorter-travel E-Escarpe. This new model has 140mm suspension travel and is unusual in offering mixed wheel sizes – 29” to the front and 27.5” to the rear. This so-called ‘mullet bike’ setup claims to offer the best of both worlds, with the larger-diameter front wheel offering improved speed over ruts and roots, and the smaller, more nimble rear wheel enabling quick line changes and sharper responses. It’s a concept that has caught on among downhill riders in particular, and here Vitus have incorporated the ‘party at the back, business in the front’ theory to their latest eMTB.
This E-Escarpe R is the second of four models available, sitting above the base model and below the VRS and range-topping VRX iterations in terms of price and specifications. We think it’s the pick of the litter, offering 140mm Fox Float 34 Rhythm E-bike specific forks and Fox Float DPS rear shock, a SRAM NX/SX 1×12 drivetrain, SRAM Guide braking, Nukeproof finishing kit and a Brand X dropper post. Electric assist is delivered courtesy of the Shimano STEPS E7000 motor we saw on other Vitus bikes including the E-Sentier. As mentioned this offers lower torque (60Nm) than other STEPS series motors but its low bulk and compact design makes it a firm favourite for riders looking for a helping hand, rather than replacement legs.