E-bikes are perfect for giving you freedom. The motor on an e-bike can help you keep up with a group that likes to go fast, smooth out your commute after a long day at work, and can help you conquer long hills and boring flat stretches at high speeds. But what about steep hills?
Electric bikes can go up steep hills depending on how much human power is added, how the motor is geared, and at what speed it’s designed to peak torque at. Other factors that affect hill climbing include the bike’s weight, its battery capacity, and how easy it is for the rider to add torque.
Let’s take a look at some of the factors that affect your e-bike’s performance up very steep hills and talk about why e-bikes are great for climbing steep inclines.
Can Electric Bikes Go Up Steep Hills?
E-bikes can absolutely conquer incredibly steep hills with ease. This doesn’t mean that e-bikes can go up hills entirely on their own. The solo climbing aptitude of your e-bike will depend on a number of factors, which we’ll discuss in detail in a moment.
The big factor that you can control is your human effort. Giving your bike even a small amount of pedal power can go an incredibly long way when it comes to going up a big hill fast.
No matter what type of bike you have, your bike’s motor will work a lot better with a bit of added torque from your feet.
This isn’t to say that e-bikes can’t climb hills on throttle power alone. In fact, it’s very much the opposite.
Many e-bikes with throttles can climb hills with inclines of 12 degrees or more without any human power. Even on these powerful bikes, however, you’ll climb dramatically faster if you do a little bit of pedaling, even if you pedal gently without putting in a lot of work.
What Factors Affect Climbing Up Steep Hills With An E-Bike?
When it comes to climbing hills, the single biggest factor is torque. E-bike motors come in a huge range of sizes and styles, ranging from super powerful 750W motors to small, lightweight 250W drives.
While the wattage of the motor will play a role in your bike’s overall power output, it’s not necessarily the number you care about the most when climbing hills. Instead, you care a lot more about how that motor is geared and what speeds it’s designed to output peak torque at.
Many e-bikes with bigger motors are set up to deliver a lot of power at high speeds, meaning that they’ll struggle to deal with long inclines without human assistance.
Other factors that affect hill climbing include your bike’s weight, your bike’s battery capacity, and how easy it is for you, the rider, to add torque. The heavier your bike is, the more work the motor needs to do.
A small battery can drain very quickly on a hilly ride, and having lots of gears makes it easier for you to gently pedal and help make your motor’s job that much easier.
Finally, as mentioned above, the single biggest determination of hill climbing ability is the level of effort the rider is willing to put in. An e-bike that struggles to get up a very steep incline solo can still counteract the force of gravity, making the bike as easy to pedal up a 12-degree incline as it is on level ground.
Additionally, most e-bike motors are set up to provide more power when the wheels are spinning with a decent amount of speed. This means that if you can add even a little bit of torque to keep the bike rolling rapidly, the bike will do most of the work for you.
A Tour De France rider outputs about 300W of power on average. This means that even a 250W motor can turn a super serious hill into an absolute joke, as long as you’re willing to pedal and keep your motor in its ideal operating range.
Do Hub Motors and Mid-Drive Motors Climb Steep Hills The Same?
Hub motors usually have fixed gearing and apply power directly to your rear wheel.
Mid-drive motors, by contrast, apply their power through your bicycle’s normal drivetrain. This means that you have the ability to shift down and multiply your motor’s torque as the hill gets harder, making it easier to climb hills. The downside here is that most mid-drive motor e-bikes require you to pedal for the bike’s motor to work at all. This means that you’re need to apply a bit of effort the whole way up.
On a hub motor bike, however, adding power is often optional. You should definitely do it most of the time – it’ll make your bike climb much better – but you can also take a quick break every once in a while and let your bike do all of the work for you.
Great Options For Electric Bikes For Hilly Rides:
If you’re after a city bike that can zoom up hills with ease, here are a few light, budget-friendly commute-oriented bikes that offer the full package when it comes to hill climbing.
Trek has an astounding lineup of electric bikes that focus on being bikes first, e-bikes second. The FX+ 2 is no exception. It’s a lightweight city commuter with a 250W hub motor and a 250Wh battery that add plenty of power without tacking on lots of weight.
This isn’t a bike that’s going to drive itself all across town, but it is a bike that will give you a lot of extra pep while you commute or cruise around the city. Weighing in at 40 lbs, the FX+2 is half the weight of some e-bikes with hefty 750W motors, meaning it’s still fun to ride on lower assist levels. This also means that it practically zooms up hills despite the nominally smaller motor.
It’s worth mentioning that Trek e-bikes are a bit more expensive than direct-to-consumer competitors like Aventon or Ride1Up. You can, however, test ride these bikes at your local Trek store, and the staff there will be more than equipped to help you with questions and maintenance issues.
Trek also likes to put higher-quality components on its bikes, so while you pay a little bit for the brand name, the cost difference between a Trek and a similarly equipped direct-to-consumer bike is surprisingly small.
Designed to emulate an older style of city bike, the Aventon Solera is a fairly light commuter e-bike that’s available as both a 7-speed and a fixie. The 350W rear hub motor is on the smaller side of things, but it’s got more than enough power to push the 43 lb bike around at breakneck speeds.
If hills are a priority, you’ll probably want to choose the 7-speed version of the Soltera. Just like the FX+ 2, the lightweight bike will rocket up standard hills with a little bit of help from the rider.
Unlike a big, heavy 750W bike, these lightweight bikes will go a lot farther per unit of effort that you put in, allowing you to conserve battery power and use lower assist levels than you would on a heavier e-bike.
As far as components go, the Soltera uses parts that are a bit less nice than the ones in the FX+ 2. It’s a lot cheaper, however, so if you’re looking to save money, it’s probably the better option.
A hybrid bike that is somewhat similar to the FX+2 is quite a bit heavier with its 62 lbs weight, yet pretty fast electric bike. The Ride1Up 700 is a class-3 commuter in its cross-over configuration, but it’s more of a commuter/cruiser hybrid when you choose the step-through frame.
The Ride1Up 700 has a 750watt rear hub motor with 60nm of torque and a range getting over 50 miles per charge on the lowest pedal assist setting and between 20 and 30 on the highest. The controller is reluctant to blast out power when you’re in a throttle-only mode, but you’ll have no problems shooting up hills.
The bike comes in cross-over and step-through frames. While the cross-over frame comes with adjustable straight handlebars, the step-through frame has swept-back bars that are a bit closer to what you’d find on a cruiser.