Electric bikes can provide the perfect answer for many cyclists - we explain how they work and pick out some of the best
What is an electric bike?
An electric bike – often know as an e-bike – is basically a motor assisted ride. For the most part, they are a combination of a conventional bike with a battery and a motor, which takes some of the effort out of pedalling.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some weird and wacky inventions out there for those who are after an e-bike for specific style of riding, though.
Why would you buy an electric bike?
There are a whole host of reasons why you might want some pedalling assistance in your life.
Perhaps you have to travel with lots of cargo, and the added power can mean the difference between using a car or still spinning your two legs.
Or maybe you want to start commuting to work, and an electric hybrid could be a great option for helping you cover the miles, without turning up at work in a sweaty state.
You might be recovering from injury or illness and the added boost of a motor might help you get back out there again. Or it might simply be the case that you’re not as young as you once were.
Either way, there’s a lot of choice in the e-bike world, so the chances are you’ll find the option that suits you.
Read further down the page for more information on styles of electric bike and legal requirements. But first, here are five of the best…
Our pick of the best electric bikes
Juicy Roller electric bike
Read more: Juicy Roller electric bike review
The Juicy Roller is a super sensitive and surprisingly powerful about town bike. It’s quick off the line, so much so that it kept catching us off guard.
The choice of two different sized batteries gives the choice of two different maximum ranges. The smaller, cheaper battery will give you about 33miles while the larger one should reach 50.
See more: www.juicybike.co.uk
VOLT Infinity 1 electric bike
Read more: VOLT Infinity 1 review
The VOLT’s 36V battery-claimed to last 70miles – is hooked up to a mid-drive motor that gives a nice balanced feel to the bike. Shimano provides the power in the form of Shimano Steps, the Japanese company’s first motor and e-bike groupset.
Usefully, 3 difference assistance modes will let you eek the most out of that battery and the display mounted on the front will make it easy to keep track.
See more: VOLT Infinity 1
Scott E-Sub Tour electric bike
Read more: Scott E-Sub Tour review
This is a super comfortable ride, as it should be considering it’s dedicated to touring and commuting. The riser stem puts you in a really comfortable position when riding and the motor is super supportive.
Coboc ONE eCycle electric bike
Read more: Coboc ONE eCycle review
This is probably one of the coolest looking e-bikes out there, and it’s also great fun to ride, too.
It comes with the famous fixie style that is loved city wide but as a result it does suffer in the hills. It’d be a great choice for flat town riding, though.
See more: Coboc ONE eCycle
Tern Vektron electric folding bike
Electric bikes: what are the options?
Electric hybrid bikes
This is the big seller for electric bikes and power assisted commuting has had a dramatic pull across Europe, when e-bikes have really come to prominence.
The benefits are clear to see: it takes less effort to ride, meaning you get less sweaty. It’s easier to haul heavy luggage around and still cycle. You can keep pace and feel more comfortable in traffic – fit them with a rack and mudguards and you’ve got a seriously practical bike.
Electric mountain bikes
Electric mountain bikes have also boomed lately. Obviously the attraction of getting to the top of the hills faster and easier is there for all to see. Similarly, that assistance can balance the drag of the knobbly tyres.
Electric road bikes
Electric road bikes are still a rare sight on the roads, although a couple of big names such as Giant have produced models. For the most part, though, they’re concept bikes showing what might one day be possible with road frames, batteries and motors.
What does the law say about electric bikes?
Electric bikes are not just disguised motorbikes or scooters, and there are some very key differences between the two. For starters, an e-bike can only assist its rider, its motor cannot be the sole source of power for the bike. To clarify, an electric bike can only assist a rider up to 25kmh (that’s roughly 15.5mph).
Similarly, the motor inside the bike can only be a maximum of 250w and cannot be operated by a throttle like you’d find on a motorbike. Which, sadly, does mean you’ll have to use your legs!
Watch: Top 5 electric bikes
What to look for in an electric bike
What are the different types of electric bikes?
Most e-bikes come in the form of a Pedelec or pedal-assist, which monitors the input of a rider and assists as much as possible (up to that limit of (20kmh).
Less common are Twist-n-Go models, which allow riders to operate the input of the motor from a switch (or even a throttle).
Where should the motor be placed?
There are really only two options for e-bike motor placement: either on the front wheel or on the frame.
Typically, you’re more likely to find a hub mounted motor on cheaper e-bikes. While they do have the advantage of being perhaps a little bit more quiet, they often can’t handle the hills quite as well.
Spend a little more and you’re far more likely to get a frame mounted motor, also know as mid-drive motors. There are quite a few benefits to this type.
For starters, the weight distribution of the motor is much better. Instead of sitting on the front, it’s now centred around the bottom bracket, which makes the bike more stable – a key consideration for both road and mountain bikes.
Other benefits include the fact that frame based motors can use the cranks to monitor your own power output and meter their’s accordingly. This can give a much more natural feel to your ride.
They’re also more efficient as they power the chain rather than moving the wheel forward.
What about batteries?
Another consideration worth thinking about is electric bike batteries.
Of course, no battery will last for ever, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get some serious mileage out of whichever comes on your bike.
You’ll find battery capacity measured in both watts (watt hours, WH) or amps (amp hours, AH). Typically, an e-bike’s battery capacity usually lies between 7-10ah.
What type of batteries are common? Well, Lithium ion batteries are becoming popular the world over so it’s no surprise to see them specced on e-bikes, too. Typically, you should get around 800 charge cycles from a battery before it bites the dust.
You can also probably expect anywhere between 25 and 75 miles of run time on a full charge. Naturally, the more assistance the bike gives, the more power it will draw from the battery.
What components should you expect?
E-bikes are starting to spawn a whole new world of components, the most notable of which are obviously the battery and motors.
Here, it’s very much a case that you get what you pay for, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for big household names like Bosch. Shimano are increasingly involving themselves in the world of assisted pedalling, too.
Your e-bike will likely come specced with some form of hydraulic disc brakes. The added speeds will definitely warrant the added stopping power, as will the extra weight the battery and motor add to the bike.
In terms of motors, the big names are Yamaha, Bosch and Shimano. Shimano Steps was the first e-bike specific groupset from the Japanese giant and it features a mid-drive electric motor, as well as integrated electric shifters and a torque sensor to smooth out the ride a little.
Bosch has really embraced the electric bike market and their range of motors offer a variety of power assistance depending on how much you’re will to spend.
More expensive models will provide 300% support compared to your pedalling. Their less expensive offerings will give out 225% support.
Like normal bikes, electric bikes can come geared or single speed, with many brands offering the best drive chains on their top models.
Elsewhere, tyres tend to be fatter, even on the road bike options you can expect up to 32mm of rubber to be specced. The extra rubber helps absorb the impacts of the heavier frame as well as provide more grip and stopping power to balance the extra weight and speed.