The complete buyer’s guide to electric bikes.
Independent reviews and the technical bits the manufacturers don’t want you to read!
The A to B Buyer’s Guide is our top eight (the number varies), drawn from the electric bikes we have actually tested in the magazine. Not all electric bikes are listed here, but there’s a full list of prices and stockists in our comprehensive Electric Bike Price Guide. The new Brompton Electric is not on the list, although scheduled for delivery from early 2018. But we do have a review in A to B 117
Some reviews of the electric bikes featured below are available free elsewhere on this site. Others can by found on our back numbers page, by subscription to the digital edition of the magazine, or by individual download at 99p per issue.
A to B Buyer’s Guide – Top Ten Electric bikes
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 Germany or Japan, and the leading systems are generally considered to be Bosch, Kalkhoff (actually designed by Daum), Panasonic and Yamaha.
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.
2. Nano-Brompton 2.1
Price: From £1900 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 was later revised as the 2.1. The key change was to Ping batteries, with a promise of a revolutionary fixed price battery repair scheme once outside the 12 month guarantee period, although Nano soon moved on again, and now primarily sells little 144Wh Bosch garden tool batteries. 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. Hopefully the battery issue is now sorted, because there isn’t a great deal more to worry about. You aren’t allowed to have a simple twistgrip throttle any more, thanks to Euro-chicanary, so newer models have a movement sensor on the cranks, plus one of three control systems. Please do take our advice and buy the thumb-lever or twistgrip versions, not the push-button power controller, which we didn’t like one bit.
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), a full review of the Nano-Brompton 2.0, and the 2017 spec bike is reviewed in A to B 117
Price: From £1299 Rating: 4/5 Verdict: “Well worth a look”
Giant effectively launched the modern electric bike with the legendary LaFree back at the turn of the Century. After demise of the LaFree in 2006, the company rather lost its way, with big, increasingly expensive and rather feeble bikes that had ‘Dutch Domestic Market’ written all over them.
Happily the situation has changed. The cheapest bikes are cheaper, and although we don’t like batteries under the rack, they’re sensible laid out and well equipped.
If you have bigger hills to climb, and a few more pounds to spare, Yamaha’s cheapest crankdrive costs only £1700. It’s fitted with the Yamaha motor (Giant pretends it’s own manufacture), and although the battery is only 300Wh, this is quite a lot of bike for the price – decent lights, disc brakes, and the back-up of a very big manufacturer.
4. Momentum Electric
Price: c£1,000 Rating: 4/5 Verdict: “Great value and innovative”
Momentum Electric came straight in with an innovative, practical design, combining some nice features such as a two-speed automatic SRAM hub gear (believe us – two gears are plenty on an assisted bike), 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 and great value at £999. The initial pair of bikes were later joined by the 2wenty, a non-folding 20-inch wheeler, which seems to lack the sparkle, but we haven’t tried it yet.
The price of Momentum bikes rose persistently after the launch, but has gone right back down again.
Price: From c£1,000 Rating: 4/5 Verdict: “Now getting the idea”
Raleigh made a complete mess of the electric bike in the early days, but they’ve gradually got their act together and now present a sensible range, rather like Giant, but with far too many models. The cheapies cost around £1,000-£1,250 and are similar to the cheaper Giant models with a rack-mounted 300Wh battery, reasonable equipment and front hub motor. The really interesting bikes start with the Captus at £1,750. This is one of the cheapest bikes fitted with the Bosch crank-drive, and it’s a handsome, well-equipped machine, but with only a 300Wh battery and no lights. This is pure marketing gumph, enabling Raleigh dealers to steer customers towards the very similar Motus, with 400Wh battery, lights, and more gears for £2,000. Never mind, it’s all good stuff, if slightly over the odds price-wise, and you do at least get back-up from the vast Raleigh dealer network.
Price: From £1499 Rating: 3/5 Verdict: “Lovely Dutch roadster”
Gazelle has suffered in the UK in the same way as Giant and Sparta. The bikes sell in huge numbers on their home turf, but the UK demands better hill climbing and greater range than you’ll get with a front hub motor and smallish battery. Nevertheless, they’re well worth looking at if you live somewhere without killer hills and want a really good town bike with power-assist. The bikes are now very reasonably priced – with the proper Dutch roadsters starting at around £1,700 – but watch out for the battery capacity. The good news like range is generally quoted for the bigger batteries (up to 500Wh), but price will be for the smallest option (238Wh on the cheapest bikes).
Just for the record. HFP in the model name means Panasonic Front hub motor (cheap and cheerful), HMB means Mid-mounted Bosch crank drive (more cost, better hill-climbing), HMS means Mid-mounted Shimano crank drive, and so on. You pays your money…
7. Gocycle G2
Price: £2499 Rating: 3/5 Verdict: “Interesting folding electric bike”
The fascinating Gocycle has a rather lowly 3/5 rating, but that’s more about the price than the performance. 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 from the 300Wh in-frame battery, 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. 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 G3 does now seem to be more widely available, with more nifty programmable bits, and a lithium-ion battery. Price, however, has been cranked up to £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.
8. Woosh & Kudos
Price: From £700ish Rating: 3/5 Verdict: “Economical Machines”
Apologies to these two distinct companies for lumping their products together, but if all the above look expensive, your only option is a generic Far Eastern machine, and these two companies are the best suppliers. 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.
Interesting, but no-longer-available:
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, but a new distributor was soon found, and the kits now come with a three-year warranty, which should help.
We have two road-tests of the BionX system in A to B 45 and 85 (see back issues)
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.