Outside of the main cities, eMTB is the hottest ticket in ebikes. If your goal is to be able to go up any mountain in sight (Queenstown), ride longer and higher without shuttles (Rotorua) or simply keep up with your stronger, fitter, younger or less-injured mates, an eMTB might be for you. It’s a great equalizer for a couple too. You now have similar powers.

By eMTB I refer to generally full-suspension bikes with a mid-drive motor, that are intended for ‘proper’ mountain biking on singletrack and/or rutty, rocky, challenging terrain. On rail trails, almost any ebike with a teeny bit of front suspension will do. Hardtail eMTBs are also a viable option for touring.

An eMTB should have a mid-drive motor. Why? Because it take mass away from the axles and allows your wheels to move properly over terrain. The weight is in the centre of the bike (the pedal area) and towards the front, which is your preferred weight distribution anyway.

It should also have a torque sensor, NOT cadence-only sensor. Why? Because you control the power through your pedals.

Motors and Batteries

Here’s the thing: all the eMTB motor systems are quite good. They have their own character and marginal pros and cons. Don’t buy a bike solely based on what motor it has.

Motor System Battery Unique features and benefits Negatives
Bosch Performance CX 500Wh eMTB mode is great. Most popular. A bit noisy
Yamaha (and Giant) 500Wh Nicely profiled torque curve
Shimano e8000 500Wh Most torque. Nice controls. A bit noisy
Brose (and Specialized) 460-504Wh Quiet. Good torque. 32km/h max on Specialized Levo and Bottecchia Newton. No shift sensing
Bafang Max 400-600Wh Quiet. Good torque. Some manufacturers spec them with low-power controllers.

Ok, now that we’ve got that out the way, we’ve got a bike to buy.

The rest

I’m generalizing, but the reason you are buying this expensive beast is to have fun on some trails. There is a vast difference in ‘feel’ between bikes, and you want the one that matches your style of riding. Some considerations upfront:

  • Longer travel suspension is better, and longer than you need is less of an issue on an eMTB than on a regular MTB. So a 140mm travel eMTB is entry level in my opinion (though the 125mm on the Hypersonic didn’t feel undergunned in Auckland). But don’t be ridiculous, and if you are of smaller stature you might still find that shorter fits you more comfortably.
  • Wider tyres are better. Most modern MTB have 2.3-2.4″ tyres, and eMTB should have 2.6″-2.8″ tyres. Wider gives you more grip which you’ll want given the extra weight, and adds comfort too.
  • Some things you can easily change on your bike later on if you want. That includes tyres, saddle, handlebars, pedals etc.
  • Some things you don’t want to change, or simply can’t. So, in descending order of importance:
    • The frame geometry must suit your style of riding and fit you. Right now specifics of geometry are beyond the scope of this guide, but hopefully over time through reviews we’ll build up a bit of a guide. Your trusty shop should be able to advise about head angles, chainstay length and so on if you ask.
    • The suspension is expensive, contributing up to $2000 of the cost of a good MTB/eMTB. Go for the best components you can.
    • Wheels matter. Typically the more you pay, the better wheels and tyres you will get. Look for tubeless ready rims and tyres on a quality rig. A good set of wheels can cost up to $4000 for carbon fibre. Good wheels are robust AND comfortable, and provide a good mount for your tubeless tyres. Why tubeless? Comfort, traction, lower rolling resistance and better puncture protection especially in rocky or rooty terrain.
    • Brakes are helpful too! Don’t get mountain bikers started on what are their favourite brakes. Most are fine, some are better. You want the front brakes to be more powerful than the rear. You want a main brand so that replacement pads are easy to get.
    • Gears and Drivetrain aren’t as important on an eMTB as on a lightweight XC or road bike, but you want robustness. The SRAM system offers 11 or 12 gears and a wide range. There is also a tougher ebike-specific EX1 groupset. Shimano is good too.
  • A dropper seatpost is nice if you are planning on riding rougher stuff, but not essential. It can be added later quite simply for $400-$600.

My usual disclaimer

  • You generally get what you pay for
  • You want to buy from somewhere that displays good knowledge of their products and will provide good support
  • You really should ride the bike, ideally on your sort of terrain. Most decent bike shops can access a demo bike for you.