Electric bikes (or e-bikes) are there to help you pedal, not replace it: these are not mopeds, after all.
The motor will assist until you reach 15.5mph, so after that, any extra speed will come from you.
There are some who say e-bikes reduce the exercise you take. In fact, it seems that while the amount of exercise you get per ride isn’t quite as high thanks to the motor’s efforts, your overall exercise is higher because the promise of a little help to get up that unavoidable hill actually tempts you onto the saddle more.
Similarly, if your commute is say 10 miles, there’s every chance you might not be prepared to cycle that far. But the help an e-bike gives might change your mind.
Every e-bike has a battery to power it, meaning that it’s likely to be heavier than a non-assisted ride.
Similarly, if you run out of juice, you’re suddenly pedalling a heavier bike. You also need to allow time to recharge the battery when it’s flat.
Overall, e-bikes are enjoyable and rewarding, and come in a wide variety of styles, as the bikes below show.
We tested using the bikes on predominantly urban roads, but with flat and hilly terrain. Ease of use, potency of the battery, and comfort of the ride were all front and centre.
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Volt Bikes pulse: From £1,699, Volt Bikes
Weight: 20.5kgRange: 60/80 milesCharging time: 3-4 hoursGears: 8Power: 400Wh/630Wh
Volt Bikes are now designed and made in the UK. The pulse comes in two versions – one with a 60-mile range (£1,699) and the other with 80 miles (£1,899), and the former comes in two sizes. Designed to be comfortable and manoeuvrable, the tyres are puncture resistant and the disc brakes make for a better ride in the wet. You can set the pedal assistance to five different levels, so you can save some of the power for when it’s needed for a hill. The powerful battery can be charged on the bike or removed. Volt’s range is increasingly impressive, with strong designs and brilliant build quality.
VanMoof S3: £1,798, VanMoof
Weight: 19kgRange: 60 milesCharging time: 8 hoursGears: 4Power: 250Wh
Dutch brand Van Moof’s latest electric bike is not only an improvement on the already splendid S2, it’s also noticeably cheaper than its predecessor and has more advanced gearing and disc brakes. Its striking design makes it hard to mistake it for another bike. It rides beautifully, helping you up hills so you feel like superman and whizzing along flat terrain. There’s also a boost button on the handlebar, which means you can set off at speed. The security features – an integral lock and GPS tracker inside are neat, as is the alarm. Both the alarm and lock can be deactivated with a smartphone app (though there’s a manual override system, too). The gear shifting is automatic.
Ampler stout: £2,250, Ampler
Weight: 17.2kgRange: 43 milesCharging time: 2-3 hoursGears: 10Power: 336Wh
If you didn’t know this was an e-bike, you almost certainly wouldn’t guess, because it’s hard to spot the battery which is hidden in the down tube. In this case, it means it’s not removable for charging, but it makes for a wonderful-looking bike. It comes in two colours, grey or green and both are highly attractive, especially thanks to neat features, such as the rear LED lights that are built into the seat post. The ride is smooth and enjoyable, and the range lives up to the manufacturers’ claims. There’s no chain guard, which may disappoint, especially if you plan to commute in your work clothes, for instance.
GoCycle GX, £2,899, GoCycle
Weight: 16.5kgRange: 50 milesCharging time: 4-7 hoursGears: 3Power: 250Wh
GoCycle’s designs are arrestingly attractive and this latest version has improvements including a front fork taken from a much pricier GoCycle model designed to give greater comfort. There’s now also better cable routeing and an overall weight saving. GoCycle bikes are particularly good on slippery terrain thanks to a traction control system in the front wheel. Overall, the ride is nippy but secure and comfortable. It has what the company calls quick detach pitstop wheels, which make removing front or back wheels, to fix a puncture, for example, much easier than a wheel behind a chain. Recharge time is seven hours but a quick charger (an optional extra) reduces this to four hours. When folded, it’s not as small as the Brompton, below.
Brompton electric M2L: From £2,595, Brompton
Weight: 16.6kg including batteryRange: 45 milesCharging time: 3-5 hoursGears: 2Power: 300Wh
The Brompton e-bike is the quintessential folding bike. It has a simple folding mechanism, great ride comfort and exemplary portability, meaning you never need to leave it outside. That’s partly down to 16in wheels which are smaller than many rival folders. To make an electric Brompton, the company put the battery in a compact bag that clips to the front wheel and left much of the rest of the design visually unchanged – just take the bag off and recharge the battery. There’s also a larger briefcase bag with the battery in, available as an optional extra. Brompton now makes three different electric bike options, adding different colours, handlebars or gearing.
Rayvolt cruzer: From £3,360, Rayvolt
Weight: 35kgRange: 26 or 50 milesCharging time: 4-6 hoursGears: N/APower: 504-936Wh
Take a glance at the cruzer and you’ll have made up your mind whether you want it. The looks are distinctive, even divisive, but it’s certainly a head turner. It’s big but low slung, with plenty of retro charm: if Indiana Jones had an e-bike, it would look like this. The size means it weighs more than the other e-bikes here, and there’s a larger sized model which is even heavier again. It’s very capable, it manages to get up to the 15.5mph limit with very little assistance, making it feel much more powerful than many. Part of the reason for this is the battery – top quality cells from either Panasonic or Samsung – but the advanced tech on board helps, too. This includes regenerative braking and a clever torque sensor that decides how much power to apply. There’s a fair amount of customisation to be had: two-wheel sizes, three colours, two motor sizes and two battery capacities. The colours also have cool names like “British racing green” and “clockwork orange”.
GTech eBike city: £995, Pure Electric
Weight: 16kgRange: 30 milesCharging time: 3 hoursGears: N/APower: 200Wh
The Gtech brand offers good bikes for keen prices. This city e-bike uses a carbon fibre belt drive instead of a chain, which means you won’t stain your trousers with bike oil. The battery has a clear display to show the remaining charge and clamps to the bike frame right where a water bottle usually fits. The design, from a company better known for hedge trimmers and vacuum cleaners, is stylish and attractive. The battery has two level settings which define how much they boost your pedalling. This is a step through bike but there’s also a crossbar version, called the e-bike sport. Simple but effective.
Volt Bikes Kensington: £1,659, Volt Bikes
Weight: 24.7kgRange: 60 milesCharging time: 2.5 hoursGears: 8Power: 400Wh
The Kensington’s dreamy good looks are down to the elegant pastel shades available in cream or light blue (with the latest model now even stretching to the basket on the front), leather handlebars, and classic saddle. There are three sizes, though the smallest is available in blue only. There’s also an integrated bike lock so you can keep it safe. The ride is relaxed and wholly enjoyable, easy without being sluggish. The suspension seat post and chain guard contribute to the comfort. There are five levels for the electric motor and it works to smoothly support your pedalling.
Cowboy 3: £1,990, Cowboy
Weight: 16.9 kgRange: 43 milesCharging time: 3.5 hoursGears: 1Power: 360Wh
This is another slick, urban looking bike. It comes without mudguards, though you can add them for an extra £79 (they also look surprisingly cool). Like the Ampler stout, the battery is pretty much hidden in the frame of the bike so although it looks distinctive, it’s not immediately clear it’s electric. Even though it’s not easy to spot, the battery is still removable for charging. The smartphone companion app is neat and includes features such as automatic unlocking of the bike, data on air quality, and more. It controls the gearing so you don’t need to. Lights are built into the frame of the bike. It’s a nippy, stable ride.
Rayvolt torino: From £3,360, Rayvolt
Weight: 35kgRange: 26 or 50 milesCharging time: 4-6 hoursGears: 1Power: 504-936Wh
If you liked the sound of the Rayvolt cruzer’s power, but the design was just too out there, the torino may appeal – though it’s far from conventional, either. It’s similar to the cruzer in other ways: the ride is powerful and fast, while the weight and size can make it feel unwieldy at times, it makes light work of heavy or bumpy terrain. It’s beautifully built and has a classy style. As with the cruzer, you can choose between two sizes of battery to give you a range of up to 50 miles.
Do I need an e-bike?
If you know that cycling a long journey means you’ll find another way to travel, an e-bike can be enough to get you to take the trip after all, especially as with the lower effort involved you could arrive at your destination less tired or sweaty. Research has shown that cyclists tended to cycle more often and further once they’d switched from a regular bike to an e-bike.
What are the most important features of an e-bike?
Do you like the look of it? Is it comfortable to ride? Is the battery powerful enough to make hills near-effortless? If the answers to any of these three questions is no, then you may never get on it in the first place.
The weight of the bike is especially important here because e-bikes are heavier than non-electric equivalents. If you have to carry your bike upstairs when you get home, you might want to take that into account – there are some e-bikes here which are best suited to a garage or outdoor space you can store it in, rather than carting it up a floor or two.
How assistance does the battery provide?
This is an important area of concern as it governs both the range of the bike and how much assistance it will give. E-bikes can only support your pedalling up to 25kph/15.5mph – above that the extra speed will come from your efforts. But some bikes will help you reach that speed more easily than others.
What are the downsides?
Run the battery flat and you’re suddenly cycling a much heavier bike thanks to that power-storing battery. There’s also a significant price increase compared to a similar bike without electrical assistance. Still, the latest bikes are designed to need the minimum of maintenance and offer a real sense of freedom. Sure, a regular bike gives you the same sense, but if your journeys are long enough to be off-putting, an electric bike, for example, can be enough to inspire you again.
The verdict: Electric bikes
Volt Bikes is the key brand here, thanks to a balance of strong value, attractive design, and excellent performance, meaning the efficient pulse takes the top spot, followed by the Kensington. The VanMoof S3 is a great bike and is at a surprisingly keen price point. For a head turner, it’s got to be the Rayvolt cruzer.