The complete buyer’s guide to electric bikes.
Independent reviews and the technical bits the manufacturers don’t want you to read!
|Electric Bike Top 10|
The A to B Buyer’s Guide is our top ten, 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.
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.
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 Any electric bikes known or thought to have been withdrawn are at the very bottom.
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 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.
Full review of the Agattu Wave, the Pro-Connect was reviewed in A to B 66, the Agattu C8 Impulse in A to B 89, Pro-Connect BS10 in A to B 90, 2014 Pro-Connect and sporty S11 in A to B 101
2. Nano-Brompton 2.1
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
3. Momentum Electric
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 good 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.
8. Gocycle G2
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: 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).
10. Woosh & Kudos
Price: From £500ish 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.