The variety of electric bike models, ranges and batteries can be confusing - here’s what you need to know. Including how to pay (a lot) less.
Let's start with prices, which depend largely on performance and range; and how to pay less for your new set of liberating, power-assisted wheels.
Price: The cheapest models in Halfords sell for £599, but with these you’ll run out of power after only 20 miles. According to Halfords, the average price people pay is between £1,000 and £1,500, and this will get you a bike with a range of about 40-50 miles, whilst £1,500-plus takes you into 60-80 mile territory. What you pay largely depends on the battery power and the type and position of the motor.
How to pay less: If you buy through your employer’s Cycle to Work scheme, you can save up to 42 percent of the total cost of the bike and accessories. It doesn’t matter if the bike is electric or conventional, and there's now no spending limit. The Cycle to Work scheme lets you buy the bike out of your gross income and you can buy whatever bike you choose at almost any bike shop in the country. In Scotland you can save even more through a household loan scheme via energysavingtrust.org.uk
Speed: E-bikes are restricted to 15.5mph (25kph) by law in the UK - which is about the same as a traditional road cyclist will manage on the flat. You have to pedal for the motor to kick in - you don’t just press a button and sit back. You can go faster than 15.5mph; it’s just that after this speed the motor assistance will cut out. Generally e-bikes come with eco, tour, sport and turbo modes. Click into turbo and you’ll rocket away when the traffic light goes green, but drain your battery just as fast.
Batteries: Battery packs, mostly now lithium-ion, vary between 250Wh and 500Wh, and the size will determine how far you can go on one charge and how much assistance the motor will give you. The exact range depends on variables such as your weight and the terrain but if you intend to use the bike for longer journeys (and there are hills involved) then buy the biggest battery you can afford. Make sure the battery is replaceable as it will become less efficient after three to five years.
Position of the motor: E-bikes can have their motor fitted on the front wheel hub, the back wheel or in the mid-part of the bike. Cheaper models tend to have front-mounted motors, which is not ideal as the motor is powering your steering wheel. A rear motor feels more natural and is softer on the chain. Centre-drive motors are regarded as best for balance and ride, but tend to be more expensive. The top of the range bikes have their batteries 'hidden' by integrating them in the bike's frame.
Weight: You can’t get away from the fact that e-bikes, while a joy to ride, are heavy. Typically they weigh about twice as much as a traditional bicycle so, if you're carrying it upstairs for security reasons or getting on and off trains, make sure you can handle it.
Punctures: E-bikes are no more likely to get a puncture than conventional bikes. But, the point here is that if the motor is fitted to the wheel hub, it can be tricky to replace the tube.
Unisex: Retailers still persist in labelling bikes as “men’s” or “women’s” models, although the step-through frame is fast becoming the unisex standard.
Earlier this year OGN reviewed the VanMoof S3, describing it as a Game Changing e-Bike, and our view hasn't changed. If you've got a couple of grand to spare, this is our top recommendation. The company even builds anti-theft measures throughout the whole bike. If the frame number has been scrubbed away, its signature Bluetooth address is still traceable from a smartphone.
The wheels are secured with special theft preventative nuts. It becomes useless as an electric bike the moment it is stolen. And, the bike is easily tracked. If the alarm or the flashing skull sign does not deter a would-be thief, VanMoof offers a £270, three-year service, that will send a team out to chase down your stolen bike. If they don't find it within two weeks the company will replace the bike for free.
Harley-Davidson e-Bicycle: Harley-Davidson reveals its first electric bicycle that pulls inspiration from the company's original 1903 motorcycle. The e-bike's design includes a sleek black frame, leather saddle and grips, and white tires, which are also a nod to the early design. Its first commercial model expected in March 2021. More