|Electric Bike Top 10|
This list is not exhaustive, covering only the electric bikes we have actually tested in the magazine. Not all electric bikes are listed here, and if you can’t find a brand, it generally means we have not yet been offered a sample, usually because it’s new, of poor quality, or the manufacturer doesn’t want us to test it! For prices and stockists, see our Electric Bike Price Guide.
Some reviews of the electric bikes featured below are available free elsewhere on this site. Others can by found on our back numbers list, by subscription to the digital edition of the magazine, or by individual download at 99p per issue.
All the electric bikes below are judged on a star system. This can only provide a rough guide, particularly where one rating covers a range of different ebikes. Best are at the top of the page, and the worst below. Any electric bikes known or thought to have been withdrawn are at the very bottom.
Price: From £1600 Rating: 5/5 Verdict: “Expensive, but superb German roadsters”
Hub motor technology has improved a great deal, but it remains our view that the best system overall is the crank-drive (see Electrical Bike Technical Guide). Most crank-drive systems are made in Japan or Germany, and the leading systems are generally considered to be Bosch, Kalkhoff (actually designed by Daum), Panasonic and Yamaha (recently returned to the field, with exciting new technology promised for 2015).
The Kalkhoff Impulse is arguably the best crank-drive. It doesn’t have the sporty revvy appeal of the Bosch, but the batteries are big, the system is reliable, and the new technology for protecting the hub gear during gear-shifts promises to reduce associated gear issues. We won’t get involved with identifying individual models, but there’s a big range, from sensible shoppers to sports class flyers. Whether you live in the flat Netherlands or mountainous Swiss Alps, there’s a Kalkhoff that will suit the conditions. All share much the same technology, and prices are currently very reasonable, starting at about £1600. With a Kalkhoff you should be able to climb any hill with reasonable effort, and ride for up to 60 miles on a single charge. The Sports class bikes (Shh! Don’t tell anyone!) give more power and speed… up to 25mph in fact.
If you want a Kalkhoff, but would like to to pretend to be riding a British bike, the better Raleigh machines are ‘badge-engineered’ versions of Kalkhoff models.
Price: From £1700 Rating: 5/5 Verdict: “Superb power-kit”
For three years after its inception in 2007, the Nano was one of our top recommendations, but it later moved down to a 4-star rating following persistent feedback of battery issues and other quality control problems. For 2012, the Nano returned as Nano 2.0, which has proved lighter, slicker, and more reliable, and has now been revised as the 2.1. The key change is to Ping batteries, with a promise of a revolutionary fixed price battery repair scheme once outside the 12 month guarantee period. If it fails, it will be repaired for £40 and returned to you post free (presumably only in the UK). The Nano 2.0 and later variants have the control electronics positioned low down near the front pannier block rather than high up on the handlebars. This looks clumsy if you ride without a front pannier, but you’re unlikely to because the pannier holds the battery…
Generally, we don’t recommend folding electric bikes, but this one is light (12.5-14.5kg according to Brompton model, plus separate battery pannier), whisper quiet, climbs big hills, and goes up to 45 miles on a charge. Our only real worry is that everything depends on the reliability of the new battery, and they just haven’t been around long enough to judge.
The Nano is starting to look expensive, but it costs a lot less if you have a donor Brompton or can locate a second-hand bike. The 12-month battery guarantee is looking on the low side these days too, but it’s such a cracking machine, it stays near the top of our electric bike wish list.
A nice option is factory fitting of the kit for an extra £90… well worth it for the electrically or mechanically challenged.
The Nano kit can be fitted to any bike for a hundred quid less than the Brompton version.
A folding electric bike that still outclasses all others by a substantial margin.
Full review of the Nano-Brompton. We have also published two follow-up tests (see back issues), and a full review of the Nano-Brompton 2.0
Price: £999 Rating: 5/5 Verdict: “Cheaper, faster, better”
Momentum Electric has come straight in with an innovative, practical design, combining some nice features such as a two-speed automatic SRAM hub gear, a believable two-year battery guarantee, and battery-powered lights on the Model T, all combined with economical Chinese manufacture. The result is two sparkling bikes, the sporty Upstart and the practical Model T that are great fun and great value. The competition is sharpening around the £1000 area, but these bikes still stand out.
Price: From £1345 Rating: 4/5 Verdict: “Effortlessly Fast and Effectively Disguised”
Cytronex is a small British manufacturer based in Winchester. The bikes are typically mid- or top-end sports machines from such manufacturers as GT and Cannondale, electrified using the exquisite little Tongxin motor fitted to the Nano-Brompton, powered in this case by a water bottle-sized battery. The result is light and unobtrusive, and the Cytronex bikes have acquired a reputation for being superb sports electric bikes – economical, fast, silent and fun to ride. As a rule, they are 100% legal, but Tongxin produce motors of different speeds, so in a matter of minutes you can change the 15mph front wheel for a version that will propel the bike some way above the legal limit for, er, off-road use. The very light battery and motor give Cytronex a real advantage where weight is concerned, and the company claims that its Super Six model is the world’s lightest full-size electric bike.
If you are looking for a sports commuter bike, this should be on your shortlist. The only real disadvantage is a relatively limited range from the small 148Wh battery, one of the very few NiMH still on sale, but you can be fairly confident the battery will last for five to ten years, against rather less than five years for the near universal Li-ion. In any event, these lithe sporty bikes go much further than you might expect. Prices are good for such a high quality product. As with almost everything else, the elements in the Cytronex come from the Far East, but in this case, the power-system really is built in the UK, and it’s nice to know that the people who put it together have a UK shop… not always the case, whatever some of the others might say.
Price: From £795 Rating: 4/5 Verdict: “Better bikes from China, still tainted by early battery issues”
It’s nice to see Ezee back on the ‘best buy’ listings. The company has a long and fascinating history, producing many duds, but some cracking performers too, such as the powerful and effective Forte and Torq – light, fast, but relatively conventional looking bikes. The early Torq was an absolute delight to ride – fast, near silent and sexy. An all-time classic, and winner of the Tour de Presteigne three years in a row, but heavier, more power-hungry and slower, it is now looking a bit middle aged. We thought the new-style Forte and Forza failed to hit the spot too, but you might disagree.
An early adopter of lithium-ion batteries, Ezee suffered more than most from reliability problems, expensive batteries and short guarantees. Sales plummeted, with two changes of distributor in a couple of years, but Ezee never quite disappeared, and after a period in the doldrums, Ezee regained UK distribution in mid-2012. A key element in the rebuilding of the brand was adoption of a two-year battery guarantee, something that has been copied by some (but not all) of the cheaper brands. The range is once again looking good.
Secondhand Torqs and Sprints can be picked up very cheaply, and with a £350+ replacement battery, you have a very acceptable secondhand buy.
Price: From £1895 Rating: 4/5 Verdict: “Reliable, Sturdy and Sophisticated”
Heinzmann is a big German company, producing all sorts of electrical drive systems. It came to the electric bike market very early, with some stodgy, but reliable products that were later swept away by cheaper, more exciting, but rather less reliable Far Eastern products. The Germans don’t like this sort of thing, and Heinzmann has now made a triumphant return, with a new gearless hub system similar to the BionX, available on its own small range of bikes, or as a retro-fit kit. It’s all jolly good, but with some niggly software issues, particularly relating to the regen brakes (not unusual).
If you want a good electric bike, but don’t fancy a crank-drive, Heinzmann is well worth looking at. They make one of the better power-assistance kits too.
In the fallow years, Heinzmann changed UK distributor twice, then disappeared, and this has done serious damage to the brand here. However, there now seems to be some stability in the supply chain.
We have a number of road-tests of the Heinzmann (see back issues).
Price: From £1099 Rating: 4/5 Verdict: “Lovely Dutch roadster”
Sparta has suffered in the UK in the same way as Giant and Gazelle. The bikes sell in huge numbers on their home turf, but the UK demands better hill climbing and greater range. Nevertheless, they’re well worth looking at if you live somewhere without killer hills and want a really god town bike with power-assist. The bikes are now very reasonably priced, the batteries are bigger (with good solid warranties), and the high-torque direct drive motors claim to make mincemeat of hills.
Price: £2499 Rating: 4/5 Verdict: “Interesting folding electric bike”
The fascinating Gocycle entered with a rather lowly three stars, but we’ve upgraded it as the machine has improved. Designed (but not made) in Britain, it is bursting with technology, from a magnesium frame, to quick-release wheels on monoblade forks. Range is reasonable, and it’s a perky performer, but early examples suffered from software and hardware glitches (including rapid wear of the QR wheel splines), and the bike is fitted with a basic 3-speed hub gear and pedal torque-sensor to bring in the power. This is presumably a great improvement on the original on-off switch, but we haven’t had a chance to try it. Minor grumbles aside, it’s a uniquely sexy machine, and although folding is a bit slow, it’s light, and can be packed into a small car in five minutes.
It was withdrawn for a major revamp a couple of years ago, then reappeared in a rather half-hearted way, although the Gocycle G2 does now seem to be more widely available, with more nifty programmable bits, and a lithium-ion battery. Price, however, has almost doubled to a breathtaking £2,499.
We have one road-tests of the original Gocycle in A to B 73 (See back issues). This test was based on a rather brief acquaintance because Gocycle initially refused to let us have a bike, then sent one round for a two hour trial with a chaperone. What did they think we were going to do, eat it? We’re not expecting to test the new bike anytime soon, which is a shame, because it does seem to be a reasonable machine.
Price: From £1199 Rating: 3/5 Verdict: “Quality brand, but rather boring”
Since axing the legendary Lafree, Giant just doesn’t seem to have been able to get it right with electric bikes, the models changing on a more or less annual basis. The Lafree was followed by the Suede, which was slow, unreliable and an indifferent hill-climber. The 2007-2008 Twist was similar to the Suede, but better made, and offering a lot more range. At first it shared a number of ideosyncracies, but it gradually improved, just in time to be replaced by the over-priced and frumpy Twist Freedom and Express.
The bikes are very clearly aimed at The Netherlands, Giant’s biggest UK market. The result is large frames, relatively weak motors, and precise power cut-off at 15mph. But prices are now very reasonable, and the new direct-drive motor looks good.
We have one road-test of the Giant Suede and one of the Twist (See back issues)
Price: From £300ish Rating: 3/5 Verdict: “Economical Machines”
Apologies to these two distinct companies for lumping their products together. There are numerous Chinese electric bikes about, most of them overpriced and under-specced, but some are better than others, some cheaper than others, and some manage to combine both things. Woosh and Kudos are two brands that tend to offer bikes of a reasonable spec at good prices, with good service.
Price: From £1,900 Rating: 4/5 Verdict: “Clever system, but unreliable, with pricey batteries and limited range”
Trek was a big bicycle manufacturer, with zero knowledge of electric bikes. Coming late to the party, it decided to team up with BionX to produce an electric variant. Canadian company BionX produces innovative high-quality equipment, using a silent gearless motor with regenerative braking and four levels of assistance. Unfortunately, Trek put the battery on the rear rack, and chose a relatively small 260Wh battery to keep weight and cost down. Range was limited, and the batteries cost nearly four figures… eek! It was a unique machine, but sales were understandably disappointing and it’s now been dropped, in the UK at least. There’s no distributor for spares either, so if you’ve bought one, you will need to trek (pun intended) to Germany for that very expensive battery.
The BionX system is reviewed in A to B 85, August 2011
Price: From £899 Rating: 5/5 Verdict: “Rest in Peace. A modern classic – will be remembered as the best electric bike of its era”
Giant’s first Lafree was a dreadful thing, but the classic machine, produced between 2000 and 2006 was a superb bike. Just to confuse you, this started life as the Lafree Twist, became generically known as the Lafree, but the Lafree branding was later dropped, so they became Giant Twists. Giant has now withdrawn the bike, but it’s still tops in our book, so still a 5-star electric bike. The Lafree (sorry, Twist) is a proper bike, with power-assistance. Designed by Giant’s Dutch arm, this attractive machine looks like a Dutch roadster, and includes such features as a step-thru frame (or not if you prefer), lots of practical accessories, hub gears and quiet trouble-free Panasonic motor assist. At around 20 miles, range is better than average, and the battery is one of the smallest and lightest around, so if you can afford it, buy two. Efficiency surpassed only by the most modern Panasonic drive bikes like the Kalkhoff.
Problems? After four years, the bikes themselves are proving extremely reliable, but there have been a few battery and charger faults. Giant had to withdrawn the original Panasonic charger, replacing it with a Metco unit while the problem was fixed, but the last machines were back to Panasonic. Watch this if buying a second hand bike, and go for the 5- or 7-speed SRAM hub, which is much better, and generally worth more.
Developments for 2006 included a larger battery, retrofittable to all models and complete destruction of the Lafree range. Still that’s multinationals for you. We’ve heard that secondhand prices are holding up well, and we’d consider the Lafree a good buy for anything under £800. Like all thoroughbreds they can be a bit highly-strung, and we’ve had a report or two of complete electronics failure – with spares being run down, this could be a problem.
We have several road-tests: E-series (this is something different), Lite, Comfort, Comfort ST, and Comfort at 2,000, 3,500 and 5,000 miles, and how to keep a secondhand machine on the road.
Price: £1,599 but widely discounted Rating: 2/5 Verdict: “Quality brand, but keeps getting it wrong”
This might have been a 5-star bike, but Schwinn’s first electric venture using the excellent motor shared with Nano-Brompton and Cytronex, was flawed by duff electrics and was soon out of production… our test bike failed twice under load… The Tailwind was relaunched with the nifty but very small Sanyo Eneloop fast-charge battery. This charged in 30 minutes, which is great, but the battery was just too small for practical use day-to-day, unless you were planning very short journeys. So Schwinn seems to be going down the plug ‘ole yet again, and the Tailwind – officially £1599 in the UK – was popping up for less than £600 in late 2010/early 2011. Things have now gone ominously quiet.
We have one test of the Schwinn Transit in A to B 62- see A to B Back Numbers
Price: From £400 Rating: 2/5 Verdict: “Crude but interesting US kits and bikes”
When we tested the original Curry back in 2001, it was made in America, but production shifted to the Far East, then something corporate happened and the venture split in two, with two different designs coming out of different factories, with different names and specifications… To make matters worse, there have been endless debates over who might or might not be the UK importer, resulting in a number of possible contenders offering a number of different kits… Most bikes offered a crude, but functional, direct spoke-drive or a toothed belt drive. From 2007, the brand settled down as Izip (also Meerkat, just to confuse you), a (mostly) budget-priced range, made goodness knows where, but still carrying the trademark external motor. Today the company has begun to go over to more conventional hub motors and Li-ion batteries, but there appears to be no importer for the UK, but it may well come back.
We have road-tested the Izip.
For prices and stockists, see Electric Bike Price Guide
Price: £745 – £1,299 Rating: 2/5 Verdict: “Lots of style, but limited endurance”
Great things were expected of the EV Global, the U.S. parent of these bikes, but the market never took off there, so sales languished. The bottom-end Enviro was actually a Far-Eastern badge-engineered machine, albeit quite a nice one, but the LE and SX were everything you would expect from a U.S. manufacturer – big, brash, stylish, well-equipped and fast, but with limited range.
In European trim, the power was capped to 200 watts, and top speed from a heady 18mph to 15mph, to keep within the law. With rather low pedal gearing, these machines were more moped than bike, but stylish and classy all the same.
For specification and distributors, see Electric Bike Price Guide
For prices and stockists, see Electric Bike Price Guide
Rating: 2/5 Verdict: “Almost right, but not quite there”
The motor and battery appeared to be identical to the Bliss (see below), but the GR-8 was a bigger, more rideable, folding bike. Styling-wise, it worked better than the Bliss, although there was something uncomfortable about the proportions. Weight was tolerable at 26kg, but it was a bit feeble and our test sample failed.
For prices and stockists, see Electric Bike Price Guide
We have road-tested the Bliss.
Price: From £400 Rating: 1/5 Verdict: “Value for money Chinese jobbies for non-pedalling types”
Like the Thompson range, these two bikes – the Retro and Cruiser – are cheap and cheerful Chinese imports. However, the Retro is the crudest machine we’ve seen, and they’re not quite so cheap, so you won’t be quite so cheerful. The well-equipped Cruiser might be worth looking at, but bear in mind that the low saddle and even lower gearing make pedalling almost impossible. And don’t expect to stop in a hurry.
For prices and stockists, see Electric Bike Price Guide
We have one road-test of the E-bike Retro and Cruiser.
Price: Kit from £1,800, Complete bikes from £1,600 Rating: 4/5 Verdict: “Clever Canadian system”
The BionX is a French Canadian system that has been around for many years, first with a NiMH battery, and more recently with lighter, but less reliable, Li-ion. For a long time it looked as though this clever system wasn’t going anywhere, possibly because French Canadians can be a bit prickly with the English-speaking world, and because the Canadian hardware looked expensive in a sea of Chinese imports. BionX finally accepted the inevitable and outsourced manufacturer to China, opening the floodgates to wider adoption of the system, which went on to be fitted by Trek, Kalkhoff, Airnimal, Birdy and no doubt many others, as well as being available as a retro-fit kit from BionX itself.
The essence of the BionX is a completely silent direct drive motor that can provide power or ‘regenerative’ braking on demand. The disadvantage of direct drives is poor hill-climbing, although the latest High Torque BionX motors really have cracked this one. The original BionX had a rather limited range, but it’s an efficient system, and used with sensitivity, power consumption can be very low. That said, the cheaper models have quite small batteries, so you have to go for something expensive if you want 30 miles+ range. And the price of replacement batteries is astronomical. Continued reliability problems meant the loss of UK distribution in late 2012, and many of the companies fitting BionX equipmentwithdrew their support. The equipment is still available in some markets, but not the UK.
We have two road-tests of the BionX system in A to B 45 and 85 (see back issues).
Price: From £2,350 Rating: 4/5 Verdict: “Clever motor, but cumbersome low-quality battery”
Daum has pulled out of bike manufacture, but licensed it’s fabulous crank-drive to Kalkhoff.
For prices and stockists, see our Electric Bike Price Guide
Price: From £1,060 Rating: 4/5 Verdict: “Neat and Cheap, but limited range”
Another Panasonic crank drive, but no longer imported into the UK.
For prices and stockists, see our Electric Bike Price Guide
Price: £1,095 Rating: 3/5 Verdict: “Stylish and fun, but no longer on sale”
Beautifully made in Japan, the Step Compo was an electric folding bike that really worked. Plus points include superb styling, good folding and light weight, bad points have to include the four-figure price tag and limited range from a microscopic battery.
Why the past-tense? It’s out of production, but Honda never tell us anything, so we can’t be absolutely sure… And beware of Chinese imitations, which look just as pretty, but are heavy, with limited range.
We have one road-test of the Honda Step Compo.
Price: £1,200 Rating: 2/5 Verdict: “Technically interesting and much improved”
The Sparc is a great idea. It’s a combined hub gear and electric motor, saving both space and weight. The weak points are limited power and relatively noisy operation, but the small battery was upgraded in 2005, and new electronics mean a bit more oomph. The Sparc-powered Dahon Roo will now whip the skin from a rice pudding with ease, but don’t expect to climb any steep hills unless you’re willing to pedal fairly hard. On the positive side, the whole bike weighs 18.1kgs, making it one of the lightest around, and of course, it’s a folder. Our only real grumble is with the price.
We have tested the 2002 and 2005 Dahon Roo EL.
Price: From £599 Rating: 2/5 Verdict: “Unbeatable range and efficiency, question mark over reliability”
An interesting one this. The S-Drive (or, more correctly Schnachner) was broadly similar to the Heinzmann, although designed in Austria and made in the Far East. The motor was noisy, slow, and tended to shred it’s drive gears. On a more positive note, it was an efficient system, and the dashboard ammeter helped you ‘drive’ the motor, giving world-beating economy… in excess of 40 miles on our hilly test route. The present situation is unclear, and the bikes seem to have disappeared.
We have road-tested the early version of the S-Drive.
For prices and stockists, see Electric Bike Price Guide
Price: £350 or $350 Rating: 2/5 Verdict: “Simple, crude and effective friction drive system”
The basis of the design is a simple, quiet, reliable motor driving straight onto the tyre. Powered by a similarly cheap, reliable lead/acid battery, the Zap (either a complete bike or easily-fitted kit) is a surprisingly good performer, outpacing all other friction drives. There are one or two disadvantages – the friction roller tends to slip in the wet unless you choose the tyre with care, and the roller wears out fairly quickly, although later models are ceramic rather than steel. Otherwise, a great little performer for the price. Out of production for a while, the Zap reappeared, but has now finally bitten the dust, overwhelmed by much cleverer technology from China.
We have tested the Zap kit and Zap/Brompton adaption.
Price: From £765 Rating: 2/5 Verdict: “Ancient but Reliable Brit technology”
TGA was a slightly mysterious outfit based in Essex, that later moved it’s base up the road to Suffolk, where the company now concentrates on selling mobility trikes. Until very recently, it still built a few ancient electric bikes and trikes. With the accent on crude, but simple technology, (allegedly a lorry windscreen wiper motor driven by car batteries) the machines should be reliable, and are certainly easily fixed when things go wrong. For a few hundred pounds, you could buy a kit of parts to convert a conventional bike, but TGA has now been overwhelmed by better, lighter products from China.
Price: From £595 Rating: 2/5 Verdict: “A neat Powabyke clone”
China exports vast numbers of electric bikes, both good, bad and ugly… some of them effortlessly achieving all three. The SolarTracker SLB machines was better than most, being neatly styled, but like the Powabyke, too expensive. When we tested it, the power output was (deliberately) set very low, but it got better.
We have one road-test of the SolarTracker SLB-2000.
Price: From £695 Rating: 1/5 Verdict: “Hopeless bike, but sexy photography”
Oh dear oh dear. It’s almost beyond belief that a machine this poor could have made it on to the market, but here it is – Italian with US characteristics. Without dwelling too long in this dreary place, the Oxygen is over-weight, over-priced, unstable, under-powered and much else besides. In the test, we summed up by saying ‘…the wrong sort of motor, drawing too much power from the wrong sort of batteries, mounted in the wrong place…’, which just about covers it. Still, the Italians are very good at photographing attractive young ladies, so we must forgive them.
We have tested the Oxygen Atala once, and will almost certainly never return.
Rating: 1/5 Verdict: “Best forgotten – a complete disaster area”
Aprilia’s Enjoy has been withdrawn, and we’re not surprised. It looked the part, thanks to some wicked Italian styling and lots of techy bits, but it was inefficient, over-priced, poorly designed and generally a bit of an also-ran. And you needed a mortgage for a replacement battery…
We have one road-test of the Aprilia Enjoy Race.
Price: From £699 Rating: 1/5 Verdict: “Rather unpleasant, but good in parts”
We liked the tiny motor and NiMH battery, but the Bliss proved a bit disappointing. It was reasonably light, but horrible to ride, poorly geared and over-priced. And the claims are unrealistic – it will not do 20-30 miles. It survived our test, but we wish it had broken down and gone back where it came from.
We have one road-test of the Bliss.
Price: Reduced to £90 Rating: 1/5 Verdict: “Heavy, slow, crude and overpriced. RIP”
This sounded jolly clever – you whip off the back mudguard from a standard bike and mount the battery/motor unit over the wheel. In practise, the friction drive slipped wildly in the wet, the system was horribly heavy, and the frumpy lead-acid batteries provided a laughably short range of just a few miles at lethargic speed. This was a seriously inefficient machine – ETC has now ceased trading.
For specification and distributor, see Electric Bike Price Guide
We have one road-test of the ETC kit.
Price: Out of production Rating: 1/5 Verdict: “Effectively useless”
Sir Clive Sinclair has a track-record of superb technical and design innovation, but since the not-quite-right C5, his record on transport has been less than meteoric. The Zeta power-assist attachments were noisy, underpowered and effectively useless. They have now been withdrawn. We’ve awarded one star because they were cheap, so if you insist on buying one you won’t have wasted too much money.
We have tested the Zeta kits.