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Understanding how we consistently measure the performance of e-bikes
Here at Electric Bike Report, our goal is to provide comprehensive, truthful, and unbiased reviews of every e-bike we test. We want to give you a clear picture of how each product performs and feels, so that you can make an informed decision on which e-bike is the best fit for your needs.
To ensure consistent and reliable results, we have developed a series of standardized real-world tests that allow us to gather data in a scientific manner. While we don’t have access to a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled lab that would cost a fortune to build and operate (although we would gratefully accept donations towards this cause!), our testing approach provides us with valuable insights into the performance of each e-bike. It also enables us to compare different models across various categories, classes, and specification levels. We strive to maintain consistency throughout our testing process, including assigning dedicated team members to tests where weight plays a significant role.
While our methods have evolved and will continue to evolve over time, we aim to make them as transparent as possible. In order to achieve this, we have compiled a list of the different trials that make up our testing process, along with detailed explanations of each.
The Circuit Test:
Our circuit test consists of a 1-mile loop on paved terrain that includes four right turns and a small incline with a 30-foot elevation gain.
First, we complete one lap on each e-bike without any assistance from the motor. The e-bike is powered on, but the pedal assist system (PAS) is set to PAS 0. During this lap, we measure the time it takes to complete the circuit and calculate the average speed in miles per hour. We then repeat this process for each PAS level on the e-bike.
This test is typically the first one we conduct on every e-bike as it helps familiarize us with the product in a consistent manner. It allows us to understand how the motor engages, how effective the torque or cadence sensor is, and how the e-bike handles. It also provides us with insights into the speed capabilities of the bike in each PAS setting, helping us determine the appropriate settings for further tests.
It’s worth noting that we strive to maintain a consistent level of effort and steady pedal cadence throughout the test. Our aim is to simulate pedaling at around 70% effort, similar to what you might do on a regular bike when commuting to work without breaking a sweat. By maintaining this consistency, we can focus on evaluating the motor’s behavior rather than relying on our own effort.
The Range Test:
The range test consists of two separate evaluations conducted on our local network of paved multi-use paths in St. George, Utah.
For each test, we ride a fully charged e-bike until its battery is depleted. One test is performed with the maximum level of motor assistance, which drains the battery quickly while allowing for high speeds. The second test is conducted with the minimum amount of motor input while still maintaining consistent power output, resulting in a much longer test duration.
The low PAS test can be somewhat subjective. Based on our experience, many e-bikes do not provide significant assistance in PAS 1 and often don’t assist the rider beyond a speed of six miles per hour. In such cases, we increase the PAS level until we find a setting that provides noticeable motor assistance. Typically, we stop increasing the PAS level once the bike allows the rider to achieve a speed of 8-10 mph with consistent motor input.
Throughout these tests, we measure the distance covered by the e-bike, its average speed, the amount of elevation gained, and the total time elapsed. While most of this data is collected for optional use in our reviews, we always report the mileage achieved by the e-bike.
Results of the Practical Range Test
This test allows us to gain a realistic understanding of the minimum and maximum range of each e-bike when used in real-life scenarios. Numerous factors come into play that can affect the distance an e-bike can travel, and it is impossible for us to take all of them into account. Therefore, the results of this test should be considered as a rough estimate. Nevertheless, we can utilize this data to compare it with the advertised range provided by the manufacturer of the e-bike in question. This enables us to either confirm or challenge their claims.
Hill Test: Conquering Hell Hole Trail
To assess the climbing capabilities of each e-bike, we take them to a local paved uphill path known as Hell Hole Trail. This challenging course spans ⅓ of a mile and features an average gradient of 12%. It’s safe to say that this trail is seriously steep!
We evaluate each e-bike’s performance by pedaling it up this path using its maximum Pedal Assist System (PAS) setting. Additionally, if the model being tested is equipped with a throttle, we also tackle the hill using only throttle power. Throughout these assessments, we measure the bike’s average speed and the duration it takes to complete the climb.
We selected Hell Hole Trail due to its extreme nature. It is not a hill that any rational cyclist would willingly choose to conquer solely using human power, and it truly pushes even the most powerful e-bikes to their limits. Not every e-bike is capable of overcoming this challenge, so we consider any model that successfully conquers the hill a triumph, regardless of the time or speed it demonstrates.
This test not only allows us to evaluate the climbing prowess of each e-bike but also provides further insight into how the bike feels when tackling hills. Interestingly, e-bikes with mid-drive motors often deliver an excellent riding experience despite their numerical data placing them in the middle of the pack. On the other hand, some bikes with exceptionally fast times and speeds may produce slightly alarming noises from their motors during the ascent. By sharing our experiences alongside the raw data, we aim to provide valuable insight to better depict the hill climbing capabilities of each e-bike.
Brake Test: Ensuring Efficient Stopping Power
For our final trial, we relocate to a nearby parking lot where we set up a series of traffic cones meticulously spaced at 5-foot intervals.
Approaching the cones, we pedal each e-bike being tested up to the motor-assisted speed limit of 20 miles per hour, classified as Class 2. Once the center of the front wheel crosses the first set of cones, we engage the bike’s brakes with the objective of bringing the bike to a swift stop while maintaining full control. We strive to replicate the sensation of a near-emergency situation that an average rider may encounter, such as a car suddenly reversing out of a driveway just a short distance ahead. After the e-bike comes to a complete halt, we measure the distance back to the starting set of cones. This process is repeated three times, and the resulting measurements are averaged.
The average stopping distance obtained from this test allows us to compare the braking performance of different e-bikes equipped with varying brake systems, rotor sizes, and manufactured by different brands. By maintaining a cumulative average of the performance data from all the e-bikes we have tested, we can gauge the deviation of a specific model from the norm and monitor any evolving trends over time. Additionally, the fact that we adhere to a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour enables us to compare e-bikes regardless of their classification.
One of the primary goals of this test is to ensure that no e-bike in our evaluation possesses unsafe brakes. We are pleased to report that nearly every model we have tested has performed within safe parameters during this test. On the rare occasion when a model does not meet our safety standards, we make sure to highlight this in our reviews. On a positive note, we occasionally come across outliers that exhibit significantly shorter stopping distances than our ongoing average. These noteworthy e-bikes receive special recognition and praise from us!
Reviewer and Team Testing: A Comprehensive Approach
The aforementioned “official” tests form an integral part of our evaluation process and allow us to objectively assess all e-bikes on a level playing field. However, these are not the only tests we conduct.
Each of our e-bike reviewers spends additional time, on average a couple of hours, with each model they write about. This includes personal rides, as well as during our filming and photography sessions. This extended period provides them with ample opportunity to conduct further independent tests that may vary depending on the unique features of the bike being assessed. It also allows our reviewers to reflect on their experiences and effectively communicate them with our readers.
Furthermore, our role as reviewers is one that we take very seriously. We fully understand the privilege we have in being able to test and review e-bikes for a living, and we always strive to ensure that our assessments are fair and impartial. This means that we make every effort to eliminate any personal bias, particularly if it has the potential to skew our judgment negatively. We derive great joy in sharing our excitement when we come across a special bike, but in cases where our personal enthusiasm may be lacking, we acknowledge two important things. Firstly, not everyone shares our opinions, and secondly, each bike we evaluate possesses positive attributes that are likely to resonate with someone.
In addition, we are committed to providing honest and constructive feedback. By doing so, we enable brands to make the necessary improvements in future iterations of their products. It is also imperative for us to be transparent about any flaws we identify during our reviews. This prevents our audience from potentially purchasing a bike that falls short of their expectations due to a lack of disclosure regarding certain less-desirable aspects.
In essence, we consistently strive to strike a delicate balance when assessing the performance of a bike.
To uphold objectivity, we ensure that every bike is tested by multiple members of our EBR team who possess varying levels of experience, ages, heights, weights, and so on. This testing occurs during both the designated evaluation periods and in our personal time, as mentioned earlier. While each e-bike is assigned a lead reviewer, the final written and video reviews incorporate the perspectives and opinions of multiple diverse riders. Additionally, we facilitate group discussions to thoroughly analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each specific e-bike, often in relation to its price point. This comprehensive approach allows us to achieve our objective of offering a comprehensive yet detailed perspective on each bike, thus assisting every member of our audience in finding their ideal model.