Only a couple of years ago ‘e-bike’ was a dirty word at the cycling company I used to work for. The purists were initially rankled by the idea of adding battery-powered assistance to the mechanical elegance of bicycles. It was seen as cheating or ‘not really cycling’ - but the concept of cheating when you’re not competing is alien to me. The argument is that your cheating yourself, but if the addition of a motor inspires me to ride more, encourages me to be more adventurous, allows me to do more of the riding I like, then I see it as being faithful to my love of two wheels.
As the technology has improved, the batteries and hub motor systems and therefore the bikes have got lighter, the handling has improved and the feel of an electric bike has become much closer aligned to that of an acoustic version, so has the attitude towards e-bikes improved.
From savvy commuters looking for an alternative to public transport, to the rider who’s looking to restore a lapsed love of cycling and level-up to ride with fitter friends and family members, to the mountain bikers looking to squeeze in extra laps of their local trail network, electric bikes have well and truly crept into the mainstream.
Electric bikes still require the rider to pedal. The electric bike's motor is designed to assist you, not provide 100% of the power. In the UK the motor doesn’t operate at over 15.5mph, so it is really there to get you away from the lights quicker and up the hills more easily; it won’t allow you to beat Mark Cavendish in a sprint. The bike uses a torque sensor to detect your output and then the motor emits a certain amount of power to match this output. This allows e-bikes to sit in exactly the same legal position as non-powered bikes, so they bring all the well-known advantages of bikes but without any of the red tape normally associated with motor power.
E-bikes have different assistance levels that vary the amount of support the motor provides. The more assistance you demand from the bike, the shorter the battery range will be, so you do have to strike a balance and be careful not to run the battery down before you need it for that final climb of your ride. Depending on the type of e-bike, they can be considerably heavier than what you might be used to, so you don’t want to be left lugging a heavy e-bike up a big climb at the end of a long ride.
For the commute
Environmentally friendly and cheap to run, e-bikes are without a doubt the future of town and city commuting as policymakers and urban planners continue to speak of a new era of city mobility – one in which cycling infrastructure will become a priority.
With an electric bike you can set the alarm a little later, forgo the lycra, skip through traffic jams using the fast acceleration of the electric assist, not worry about arriving dripping in sweat and waiting for the only office shower that dribbles out a feeble stream of water. Plus most electric hybrids, like this Raleigh Motus Tour Crossbar come fitted with mudguards, racks and lights, so they are a feasible option all year round.
The flat bar, hybrid style e-bike is the most common, with large wheels, skinny tyres and an upright position, these are designed for comfortable commuting.
A folding electric bike, like the EOVOLT Confort, could be the key to releasing you from a stressful commute, or a way to explore further afield in your leisure time. Just like a normal folding bike, the focus is on a more compact and easily transportable bicycle. These bikes will all fold, at the very least in half, so they're perfect if storage is limited at home or you want to transport them in a car or on a train.
Electric mountain bikes are probably the fastest-growing group at the moment, with retailers reporting lots of interest from riders who want help getting uphill so they can zoom down under gravity.
Contemporary electric bike design sees the motor and battery integrated into the bottom bracket and downtube, effectively lowering the bike's centre of gravity. As well as going faster uphill, the added weight allows the bike to carry speed on the descents and the bumps in the trail don’t chip away at your momentum or knock you off line so you get an increased feeling of stability which can inspire confidence. You have to be slightly steadier going into corners, but you make this up two-fold on the straighter sections, and then some when you are ‘self-uplifting’ yourself to the top of your favourite trails.
At one end of the scale are the bike park bombers, with massive travel and big suspension such as the Cannondale Moterra SE or Specialized Kenevo Expert Electric. Also emerging slowly are the lightweight, ‘diet’ e-bikes with less power and smaller batteries which retain the lively handling and pure response of a regular bike, such as the Lapierre Ezesty 9.0 or Specialized Turbo Levo SL. While in the middle are the all-purpose ‘trail’ e-bikes with air suspension, versatile geometry and around 150mm of travel.
If your riding consists solely of tow paths, fire roads and country tracks, then e-hardtails make a lot of sense, since they can be cheaper and there’s less to go wrong. You get more range, more power and still have a playful hardtail that is ready for any adventure.
Off the back of the gravel phenomenon, brands have raced to release electric gravel bikes, like this Colnago e-Gravel Bike, with the performance bonuses of a motor and battery creating an unrivalled tool for exploring far-reaching tracks and trails.
On the road
A category that has been slightly slower to take off is endurance road-riding e-bikes. This is 90% down to weight and 10% down to aesthetics. Road bike manufacturers are forever trying to shed weight, so the addition of a heavy battery that doesn’t give you any assist over 25mph is going to be a problem. But recently things have started to change, a wave of integrated units that are nearly indistinguishable from their non-assisted counterparts have entered the market, like this Trek Domane + Lt E-Road Bike, with Premium Fazua drive system and at just around 13.6kg it performs every inch like the performance road bike which it is.
E-bikes are cheaper to buy and run than cars, they’re zero-emission and they’re a more active way of getting about. If you’re looking at going car-free, or just moving from two cars to one, an e-cargo bike like this Ridgeback E-Cargo is the star of urban electromobility and can offer plenty of storage space for carrying children or shopping.
Feeling inspired to ride?
If, like me, you are starting to come round to the idea of purchasing and riding an electric bike, then no matter what sort of riding you do, and what your skill levels are, there is an electric bike designed to suit you. Be it road, gravel, mountain or hybrid you could Browse are collection of electric bikes or use our Bike Finder tool to receive quotes from our network of independent bike sellers.