A UK Guide to the Best Electric Bikes

By Gary Cutlack on at

Want to keep up with the MAMILs but can't dedicate enough time to getting fit? You want an one of the best electric bikes then, for all the fun of cycling but without quite so much in the way of sweaty lycra to peel off at the end of the day.

But it's not really about racing or posing. The best electric bikes are a great way for people with health issues, or general getting-old issues, to get active and stay active. The assistance from the motor makes hills easier and accelerating less of a strain, opening up cycling to people for whom traditional bikes are simply too physically demanding to get on with.

Hardcore cyclists who enjoy GPS-mapping their pain may scoff, but the joy of an electric bike is in how it opens up the hobby to more people. If you're 62 with dodgy knees, an electric bike's a god-send. Those commuting to work can arrive less sweaty. People who might otherwise drive or bus it because of That One Big Hill might take a bike if it's made a little easier thanks to a discrete little motor and a battery stuck where the pros keep their electrolyte fluids.

Electric bikes aren't for the weak, or the lazy; they're for everyone. Here's how to get one that suits your riding needs.

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Latin Name: Pedelecs

Most e-bikes have variable assist levels, thanks to the majority of makers using the pedelec format that only powers the motors when you start to pedal yourself. Once you start pedalling they kick in with varying degrees of powered help. Minimum assist is like riding with the wind to your back; maximum assist is having a friendly giant pushing you along at speeds high enough to convince you helmets are a great idea.

This is where the e-biker needs to start doing some rudimentary maths in order to stay charged. Maximum assist lowers total range, a bit like having your phone screen turned up to full brightness all day; it's a luxury, but you might be stuck come 4.45pm.

Commuter or Explorer?

You need to decide what you are and what you'll be using it for before buying. There are two broad options in e-bike world; the small folding commuter option that's basically a scaled-down moped that you can ride in your work shoes, or the full-sized "proper" bike with a bigger battery, larger range and higher RRP.

best electric bikes

Smaller commuter models are cheaper, with things like the Coyote Connect coming it at a bargain price of around £599 from mainstream dealer-of-the-people Halfords. If you're planning to cover a 7-mile trip to work, they're ideal, with users reporting a range of around 15-20 miles per charge.

If you're a leisure cyclist, though, a 20-mile range isn't going to cut it. So you'll be spending a bit more on something with a larger battery.

Battery Size and Range

Like your mobile, there's not much point having an electric bike that can't last as long as your days. The biggest downside of an electric bike is that they're universally substantially heavier than manual bikes, so when you do run out of juice you're stuck lumbering along on a lump of a thing, probably crying, into a headwind, dreaming about selling it and using the money to get a nice Fiat 500 instead.

To avoid that happening, pay attention to the battery stats and match them to your most frequent trip type. If you want to ride around Cornwall all day from pasty shop to pasty shop, go for the most amp hours you can afford. Some models, like the Cyclotricity Revolver, come with a choice of battery options, with the Revolver having a 9ah unit for £649 and a 15ah option for a quite larger £799.

The difference is simple. The smaller battery’s rated for 20-35 miles depending at an average assist level, while the 15ah model is good for 50-60 miles. When you're sobbing into a headwind along a packed A-road with 28 miles still to go, that extra £150 will seem like the best money you've ever spent in your life if you’re a longer-range rider.

best electric bikes

Also, there’s the charger to bear in mind. These batteries are big and usually need a large power brick to juice them up, so if you’re planning on travelling light a bigger battery is an even better buy as you can leave the charger at home. And set aside at least four hours for a full charge, even on the newest 2015 models like the Volt Infinity.

Legal Limits

Don't go thinking that an electric bike is guaranteed to be particularly fast. Most models are limited to a maximum assisted speed of 15mph in the UK, meaning once it pushes you up to that speed the motor kicks out, thus leaving you to push a heavier frame alone if you want to get any faster.

You're also limited to a maximum motor output level of 250 Watts in the UK thanks to the Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles (Amendment) Regulations 2015 (that increased it from 200W to bring us in line with the EU), although a bit of shopping around reveals quite a few models available here that break both the assist and wattage rules. Those need to be registered and, amazingly, taxed, insured and MOT-ed, due to being classified as L1e light mopeds by UK authorities.

There's also good news for parents: kids have to be over 14 years old to ride an electric bike, so there's one less gadget your nine-year-old will be demanding this year. If only iPad Minis were similarly age-restricted.

Ride and Quirks

The problem with electric bikes is usually the weight. They're heavy, and the cheaper the model the heavier it's going to be. There's also usually a bit of lag on the power assist, which can feel odd. Pushing the pedal and noticing the kick

Gear changes can also be a bit clunky. When humans change gear they can reduce the pressure on the pedals at the same time, making it a smooth transition from cog to cog. Electric bikes don't do that*, so gear changes can be annoyingly harsh if you're pushing on at the same time.

*Actually some newer models do. It's one of the selling points of the Kalkhoff Pro Connect Impulse 10, for example, which is so intermeshed with technologies that it momentarily lowers assist-drive to the pedals when you tap the gear shifters.

Plus you have to do some work yourself. If you want to just sit there waving at people with your phone in one hand, get a moped.

Best Electric Bikes for 2015

Here are some of the best electric bikes available in 2015:

Mando Footloose IM

best electric bikes

This is ideal for the sweat-phobic business commuter, as the pedals are there for strictly legacy appearance purposes only. The pedals don't drive the wheels at all, they're saved for charging the battery, so you can pedal as little as you like to keep up the appearances of putting in the effort. It won't get you fit, mind, but it'll get you there fresh with armpits and still smelling of your preferred brand of Lynx shower gel. And if you want to work harder, upping the pedal resistance lets you charge the battery more.

GreenEdge CS2

This affordable model has heaps of fans thanks to ticking off all the basics while looking passably like a normal mountain bike. The 9ah battery is on the low side for a full-size bike with an “up to” max range of 35 miles per charge, but with an LED dash and variable assist levels it has all the toys of the costlier models. Plus 19kg isn't that bad for an e-bike, taking into account the motors, tougher frame and battery. Just don’t go expecting to come out very favourably in a groupset spec-chat with your manual-cycling buddies.

Kalkhoff Endeavour S11 Premium

At the extreme end of the e-bike spectrum is this. It costs three grand, which is quite a lot, but people are happy to spend that on carbon road bikes; this will go faster up hills. It's one of the most powerful models available in the UK with a 350 Watt motor and assistance up to a lycra-warrior-like 28mph, so will need to be taxed and plated to be road legal.

You're buying range as well as speed here, with the battery rated for up to 50 miles of assisted pedalling, which ought to cover all but the most hardcore of daily commutes and exploratory rural outings.