Commuter E-Bikes: Beginner’s Buying Guide

Electric bikes (also called e-bikes) aren’t just concepts of the future anymore, they’re here right now, and they’re shifting every other kind of bike into high gear. A sub-class of bicycle—the commuter bike—is the ideal choice for urban commuters in need of a new lease on life (or at least the road). They have a mix of mountain bike suspension for comfort and a few streamlined features reminiscent of road bikes that add some much-needed speed.

Electric commuter bikes take this to the next level with pedal assist e-bike components that boost your speed when you start to pedal, giving you a lot of speed for minimal effort. In places like Copenhagen, 56% of people commute on a bike. On the other hand, Australia is much more spread out and often much warmer, so this stops people from riding. Enter the electric bike, ideal for commuting without breaking a sweat. Read on for a full breakdown of what you should know when buying yours.

Drive Unit and Battery 

No surprises here; the best electric bicycles are powered by reliable batteries that offer plenty of range and a powerful drive unit to match. Electric push bikes—which are power-assisted—are subject to laws and regulations that limit power to 250 watts and a maximum speed of 25km/hr. Luckily, this is still plenty of power for the electric assist to help you on your commute. Most drive units will offer a similar power level, but the battery range tends to differ based on price point.

Shimano’s STePS e-bike system and Bosch’s e-bike system are the industry leaders here, offering the most reliable e-bike riding experience. Some of the smaller brands such as XDS and Velectrix will use their own e-bike drive unit and battery which has been developed to a reliable standard so that you can still ride with confidence.

A common question we get is: how long does an electric bike’s motor last? In short, e-bikes usually come with a range of 40-90km from a single charge. With a charging time of between 3 and 6 hours, you will have plenty of time to recharge at work if you need more juice than that.

Choosing a Mid-Drive or Hub-Drive Motor 

There are a couple of options when it comes to the location of an electric bike’s motor: the hub-drive and the mid-drive.

Hub-Drive E-Bikes 

Hub-drive e-bikes place the motor in the centre of the wheel, while mid-drive motors are close to the middle of the bike and transfer power through the chain. All the components are housed within the wheel hub, so they are a lot less likely to require in-depth maintenance, making them simple, reliable, and cost-effective.

As an added benefit, they don’t put any extra stress on your chain, which helps it to last longer. On the flip side, that means you can only access a single gear ratio, which isn’t ideal for very hilly commutes. These configurations also add extra weight and limit the components you can use when it comes to your rims and tyres.

Mid-Drive E-Bikes 

Mid-drive units are becoming increasingly common as they are usually smaller, lighter, and work for hills. By using the chain to transfer the power, you can use lower gears to climb, allowing you to tackle hills without overtaxing the unit.

Most modern mid-drive units are built directly into the frame to ensure that you get a balanced feel and crisp look. However, there are some downsides to this configuration. Namely, a motor built directly into the frame is harder to remove and maintain. Furthermore, the bikes are typically more expensive, but due to the stress put on the chain—making it prone to breakage—can also make them more expensive to maintain.

In the end, both are great options for different people. If you have a short and flat commute, then a hub drive is more than capable. However, mid-drive offers more versatility and is found on higher quality bikes, so you’ll usually get increased design quality and reliability.

Are Hydraulic or Mechanical Brakes Better? 

While manufacturers do try to minimise the extra weight on e-bikes, there is still some extra weight to contend with compared to your traditional bike. So, most electric bikes are equipped with disc brakes that can handle the strain. The lower-end models will come with mechanical disc brakes, while the higher end models will be equipped with hydraulic disc brakes from the likes of SRAM and Shimano.

Hydraulic brakes are preferable as they give you reliable and powerful braking control in all conditions. Urban environments are full of distractions and potential hazards, so disc brakes (especially hydraulic ones, if you can afford the price tag) are the best option for any commuter.

Choosing a Frame and Fork

The best electric bikes will be built with an alloy frame and fork, or a suspension fork. Both minimise the rider’s weight while still giving you excellent durability, and the lightweight design allows you to get extra range out of your e-bike.

Even in the relatively flat urban landscape, suspension forks can be handy as you might need to go over gutters or lips. The added versatility means you’ll still cope off-road as well. Cruiser bikes and folding bikes use rigid suspension forks for simplicity, style, and reduced cost.

The Extra Features You Can Find on E-Bikes 

The range of extra features on e-bikes is wide and varied, so let’s just touch on a few.

Many e-bikes will come with digital displays that tell you a range of statistics including speed, distance travelled, and range. Many commuter electric bikes come standard with front racks, rear racks, and panniers as manufacturers understand that these are essentials for commuting. Some bikes even feature a dropper post, allowing you to put your feet on the ground when you need to stop at the traffic lights, a very handy feature which riders rave about.

While there is a range of electric bikes specifically built for commuting, sometimes an electric mountain bike or an electric cruiser bike might be the best option for someone with an exciting weekend life. An electric mountain bike gives you a ride that is more durable and versatile, capable of going off-road and handling rough terrain if need be. On the other hand, electric cruiser bikes offer a much more relaxed frame style that caters to a chill weekend ride with friends.

No matter which kind of electric commuter bike you’re after, your price range, or your preferred accessories, you can find what you need with 99 Bikes.


We’re proud to be New Zealand’s most approachable bike store, making it easy for commuters to shop for what they need.

Check out everything from entry-level to top-of-the-line commuter bikes in NZ, either through our physical stores or our online stock. If you have a question, don’t hesitate to reach out to our friendly team!