Today we’re talking about the best ebikes and coincidentally we started a new ebike-specific YouTube channel. The first order of business on the new channel is going to be putting together a showdown between some of our favorite ebikes we’ve ridden and reviewed in the last year. In the lineup, we have the Santa Cruz Heckler, Transition Repeater, Rocky Mountain Altitude Powerplay, Yeti 160e, and the Giant Trance X Advanced E+. Today we’re going to see where each one shines and help you decide which one is best for you. Stick around to find out.
One order of business before we dive into the best ebikes. From now on, we are going to feature ebike content here on this channel. It seems a little silly to separate them, but ebikes tend to be pretty controversial still. A lot of folks don’t care to see videos about them (they’ll come around one day.) We’re not going to force feed those folks ebike content they don’t want to see. But I’m assuming since you’re here, you are more than happy to see some ebike content. So we would really appreciate it if you don’t mind helping us out, giving this video a thumbs up, and subscribing to the channel. Let’s see if we can get this one to outgrow the main channel by next year.
We’ve uploaded all the original reviews for the bikes in this showdown to this new channel. You can find them here or on the main channel archives.
The best ebikes: The Lineup
I’m not going to cover many details on each of these bikes, as I’ve already done that in their individual reviews. Let this geometry comparison suffice, or go read the individual reviews first and then come back here. Each review is linked below.
Climbing on an ebike comes down to a couple of factors for me. I’m looking for things like available power and delivery, traction, and body position. Things like pedaling efficiency matter a little less to me when a motor is attached to my bike. So let’s dive into how these bikes compare on the climbs.
These five bikes use three different drive systems. One of them stands out above the rest in both terms of power and how smoothly that power is delivered. The DynaMe 4 system on the Altitude Powerplay is the top dog when it comes to drive systems. Not only does it pack a punch with 108Nm of peak torque, but it also delivers that power in an incredibly smooth and natural way. It’s the kind of ebike that feels quite a bit like pedaling your regular bike. That is until you realize you’re going way faster. The extra power comes in handy when the trail gets really steep. Where other ebikes start running out of gas, the Altitude keeps motoring.
The Trance X E+ finds itself close behind the Altitude regarding drive systems with the Syncdrive Pro. It’s nearly as smooth as the Rocky with its power delivery. It has a fair bit less power but no less than the other bikes in this test. It wins a lot of points for being quiet. Not just the motor but the bike as a whole.
The Repeater, 160e, and Heckler all use the Shimano EP8. They all have the infamous Shimano rattle, but if you can look past that, the motor is tried and true. It delivers a lot of power quickly.
Traction is a huge factor when it comes to ebikes and climbing performance. All the power in the world is useless unless you can keep your rear wheel stuck to the ground. Two bikes come to mind when it comes to generating traction on the climbs. Both the 160e and the Heckler do an incredible job of keeping the rear wheel digging into the dirt. They both have a fairly active feel on the climbs. After that, the remaining three bikes tend to feel pretty similar, with maybe the Altitude Powerplay taking a slight edge over the Repeater and Trance X E+. The altitude may have the edge simply due to the fact that it weighs a metric ton and has a coil shock.
Getting the geometry and body position dialed on an ebike might be even more critical than on a pedal bike. The extra power from the motor tends to exacerbate any imbalances or flaws. Too much weight over the front, and the back spins out. Too much weight over the back, and the front end pops wheelies like there’s no tomorrow. Sitting in the middle of the two wheels is crucial. The Trance X E+ seems to do the best job of keeping both wheels weighted evenly. It could have something to do with the enormous chainstays that make it impossible to be too far off the back. The long chainstays lead to a long wheelbase. When things get tight, the Trance X E+ starts to feel big. The Altitude Powerplay and Repeater also feel a bit cumbersome on tight, technical climbs. The Heckler and 160e tend to do the best in technical terrain. This probably stems from the traction they can generate as well as their shorter wheelbases.
Overall, these bikes do a good job of getting you uphill. Two bikes stand out in the climbing department. For me, it’s tough to decide if the extra power on the Altitude is better than the overall climbing prowess on the Trance X E+. I think it comes down to what your climbs look like. That power will be more beneficial if you’re primarily on open fire roads. If you’re climbing singletrack, the more balanced geo and quicker handling on the Trance will be what you’re after. Don’t discount the others as poor climbers, however — we’re splitting hairs here.
With the fight against gravity out of the way, ebike performance largely comes down to two things for me — suspension design and geometry. Those two things largely determine how a bike feels on the trail. Let’s dive in.
Most ebike suspension feels pretty amazing from the added weight of the bike, but two bikes, in particular, stand out for me in this group. The Heckler and the Trance X E+ are tough to beat when it comes to maxing out the plush ebike feel. They are incredibly smooth over bumps and rocks. I don’t know what sort of magic they’ve worked to make those bikes feel so good, but whatever it is, they should keep doing it. The Heckler and Trance X E+ are about the same when it comes to feeling plush, but the Heckler takes the magic to the next level by somehow being extremely poppy and playful for a 50+ pound bike. There’s something about the way that bike gets off the ground that gives it the top honors for suspension in this entire group.
The Altitude and Repeater feel rather similar. They transfer a bit more feedback from the trail through the bike. You feel exactly where the bike is on the ground instead of feeling like you’re on a big billowy cloud. They still do a good job of keeping the bike controlled and stable, but you do feel the trail a bit more with these.
The 160e is a bit unique in that it feels pretty firm and supported as far as ebikes go. It seems like it’s made for all-out speed. The firmer suspension allows for better pumping and cornering. It’s not the plushest or playful, but it definitely is a speed demon.
It probably wont come as a surprise that the Altitude Powerplay is as stable as they get. It’s the slackest and one of the longest bikes in the test. It makes short work of rough terrain. It is however a bit tricky to manage in tight, technical terrain. It’s not the easiest bike to get off the ground or around a tight corner. The Repeater isn’t far behind but it feels quite a bit less unwieldy than the Altitude when it comes time to change lines or get airborne.
The Trance, Heckler and 160e are all close together in terms of handling. They’re stable and confident, but they do bring a bit more to the table in the handling department. They have quicker steering and a more responsive feel to them. The Trance X E+ is a bit interesting, though. It has a steeper head tube angle giving it some of the most responsive handling in the test. That does seem to be counteracted to a degree by the long chainstays. There’s a lot of bike behind you which doesn’t always make it the easiest to get off the ground.
the best ebikes: Awards
Here is the part where I highlight the biggest strength of each bike in the form of a shiny award.
Best Drive system – RM Altitude Powerplay
When you consider it has 108Nm of power available and the smoothest power delivery in the industry, you can beat the DynaMe 4 drive system.
Best Climber – Giant Trance X E+
While the Altitude Powerplay might be more powerful and have slightly better power delivery than the Giant, the Trance X E+ takes home the best climber award for its balanced suspension feel and optimized geometry for climbing.
Most Capable Descender – RM Altitude Powerplay
Again, we’re bringing up the Altitude Powerplay. It has the most travel, slackest geometry, and the best suspension for getting after it in rough terrain — can’t be beaten.
Most Fun Descender- Santa Cruz Heckler
You can’t beat the suspension design on the Heckler. It’s the most poppy, playful and lively bike in the group. If you are more interested in having a good time than a fast time, the Heckler is the bike for you.
Fastest Descender – Yeti 160e
With a bold claim of being the first race-driven ebike, you’d hope the 160e is fast as hell — turns out it is. It’s capable and stout without sacrificing handling prowess. If you want to cover a lot of ground quickly, look no further.
Most Versatile – Transition Repeater
With more moderate geometry and travel numbers, the Repeater is the most versatile bike in the group. It’s good uphill as well as down. It’s the bike for going everywhere.
best ebike: Buying Advice
Here’s the part where I help you try to decide which bike you should buy. I’ll try to condense all of the information above into simple rider profiles. Pick the rider profile you most closely resemble and that’s the bike I think you should buy.
“I bought an ebike so I could self-shuttle” folks – Altitude Powerplay, Repeater, and Heckler
These are the folks who love rough and rugged descents, but they appreciate being able to do a couple of laps in a ride. They prefer not to climb for 3 hours to get 10 minutes of descending. I don’t blame them — the more downhill time you can get per ride, the better. These folks want a bike that’s not going to hold them back as they tackle the toughest lines.
Pro-tip – the Heckler and Altitude Powerplay have bigger batteries for even more laps.
“I bought an ebike to go fast” folks – 160e
These are the folks whose main mission is to destroy the clock. They want all the KOMs. They might even show up at the start line of an EWS-E event. They need a bike that’s going to get them to the top as fast as possible, while also getting them back to the car as fast as possible. Maybe they’re short on time? I don’t know.
“Give me all the plush” folks – Trance X E+ and Heckler
These folks don’t care about anything but having the most dirtbike-like suspension. They want a trophy truck for running over every rocky, root, stump and squirrel without ever feeling it.
“I hate ebikes because they’re noisy” folks – Trance X E+ and Altitude Powerplay
These folks need a quiet bike – enough said.
Well, there you have it, folks. Our favorite ebikes from the last year pitted against each other to the death. Hit us up if you need help finding any of these bikes. We’re always happy to help.