Riding an electrically-assisted bicycle is like having your own tailwind on tap. The onboard battery and motor add to your pedalling efforts so you can ride further or in hillier terrain without breaking sweat. This assistance makes it more practical for more people to commute by bike. And these are bikes: unlike mopeds, you don't need a licence and the bike doesn't have to be taxed or insured. Anyone aged 14 or over can ride one, and it can legally be ridden wherever a bicycle can. There are some restrictions. The maximum assisted speed is 15.5mph, at which point the motor must cut out. (You can go faster than this; you'll just have to do it under your own steam.) The motor must be no greater than 250 Watts. Furthermore, twist-and-go electric bikes, which provide power via a throttle and don't demand that you pedal, require 'type approval' from 2016. An electric bike that doesn't meet these criteria would be considered a moped. Most quality electric bikes don't have a throttle, however. They are pedelecs. They sense when you are pedalling and amplify that effort with the motor. There are different levels of assistance available, ranging from 'eco' (which might add 50% extra pedalling power) through to 'sport' or 'turbo' (which can add 2-3 times your pedalling effort).
You can change between them, selecting eco for long rides and turbo for the steepest hills. The more power you get from the motor, the quicker you'll drain the battery. Electric bikes have big lithium-ion batteries that generally last 25-40 miles per charge, and sometimes further. The exact distance will depend on the weight of you and your luggage, the terrain you ride over, and amount of assistance you select. If the battery does go flat, you can still pedal the bike, although the additional weight of battery and motor make this harder. Recharging costs pennies in electricity and can be done at any wall socket, so as long as you keep an eye on the battery's 'fuel gauge', you'll be fine. An electric bike's motor can be in one of the wheels or at the bottom bracket, where the cranks are. The latter is arguably the best configuration, as it enables the motor to get the benefit of the bike's gearing, so it should go up hills better. Electric bikes are more expensive than unassisted bikes. Prices tend to start around £1,000, the limit for Cycle to Work savings for most employees. That only buys a rather basic pedelec. If you want a higher quality one, however, you can simply pay the retailer the cash difference between £1,000 and the price of the pedelec, then make the usual tax savings on the remaining £1,000.
Kalkhoff Pro Connect Impulse 9
This German pedelec has a bottom bracket motor, enabling better use of the 9-speed Shimano Alivio/Deore gearing. Its 'Shift-Sensor technology' backs off the motor power when you change gear, just like you would with your legs on any other derailleur bike, so gear shifts are smoother and the drivetrain should last longer. The battery lasts 60 miles or more per charge, and it's ideally situated: low-down, to improve balance. Aside from the electrics, it's a well-equipped trekking bike: Shimano M396 hydraulic discs are ideal for stopping a heavy bike; 40mm Schwalbe street tyres are comfortable and efficient; and it has almost all the accessories you need – even hub dynamo lighting! It's also available with a step-through frame. 50cycles.com
RRP: £1,795 | Cyclescheme price: £1,545
Liv Prime E+2 W
Giant have had good quality pedelecs in their range for years, and this one is no exception. A bottom bracket Yamaha SyncDrive C motor amplifies your pedalling effort through the 9-speed Shimano Acera / Deore drivetrain. The battery, which has a range of about 30 miles, slots into a solidly-built rack that's part of the bike's frame; you can use panniers as well. Hydraulic discs offer lots of stopping power for little lever effort, while lights and mudguards mean that it's commuter ready. If you have to deal with bad roads you might appreciate the 42mm-travel suspension fork, reminiscent of Cannondale's Headshok, and the suspension seatpost. giant-bicycles.com
RRP £1,899 | Cyclescheme price £1,649
Cube Town Hybrid
'Hybrid' is Cube's name for their pedelecs. While this one is a hybrid Hybrid, they also do touring and mountain bike models. The Town Hybrid's motor is bottom bracket Bosch unit that's found on many quality pedelecs; it powers 8-speed Shimano Altus gears. The battery slots into a rear rack, and it powers the lights as well as the drivetrain – a sensible idea, given how little energy the lights require. Brakes are hydraulic discs again, and there's a good selection of commuting accessories included. A simple suspension fork and suspension seatpost will take the sting from unseen potholes, and the weight they add is largely irrelevant on a pedelec. cube.eu
RRP £1,999 | Cyclescheme price £1,749
Ready for your next Cyclescheme package?
- Type approval For twist-and-go electric bikes (i.e. not pedelecs), this means that the someone, usually the manufacturer or distributor, will have to pay to get that bike registered as an approved Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycle – and thus not a moped. It won't apply to e-bikes used before 1 January 2016, although the 15.5mph and 250W limits remain.
- All rechargeable batteries have a limited lifespan, but this one can be recharged 1100 times before it needs replacing. That's excellent longevity
- The handlebar display shows you the assistance level chosen and battery charge remaining – as well as speed and distance
Cheap doesn’t have to mean nasty. Choose wisely and you can buy a decent new commuter bike for £250 or less.
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