Pedelecs are electric bikes that only provide assistance when you pedal. There's no twist-and-go throttle, so you can't whizz around with your feet up. You provide some of the power and the motor provides the rest. How much extra? There are usually three or four settings to choose from via a handlebar control, ranging from 'eco' or 'minimum' to whisk you along flat or rolling roads, up to 'turbo' or 'maximum' for powering up steep hills.
There is a limit on the power available. In Europe, including the UK, pedelec motors are restricted by law to 250W. (That's the kind of power an unassisted racing cyclist can sustain.) Moreover, the motor must cease to provide any assistance beyond 25km/h (15.5mph). You can cycle faster than this but you're on your own. If a pedelec doesn't meet these criteria, it's a moped.
A road-legal pedelec has none of the complications that come with owning a moped or motorbike. It doesn't need to be taxed or insured. No licence is required. You're not obliged to wear a helmet. You do need to be at least 14 years old to ride one, but you can ride it wherever a bicycle is permitted.
Running costs are tiny. The big lithium-ion battery that's a feature of any good quality pedelec can be recharaged via any wall socket for pennies-worth of electricity. A full charge will typically provide a range of 25-40 miles, depending on hills, your weight, and how much assistance you draw from the battery.
With all these advantages, you might wonder why everyone doesn't use a pedelec. Well, you can be sure that we'll see more and more of them as time passes. But apart from the fact that not everyone wants assistance, there are a couple of drawbacks. One is weight: the battery and motor typically add about 8kg. The other is cost: having a motor and a battery adds at least £600-£700 to the price of the basic bike.
By deducting that from the total price, you can get a clearer idea of the quality of the bicycle, independent of the electrical assistance. So if you see a pedelec for £900, the bicycle itself is probably worth around £300 or less. This is why better quality pedelecs cost close to £2,000. You're buying a better bicycle, not just a better motor.
You can get pedelecs at close to £1,000, however. They're not as sophisticated: they'll have a wheel hub motor rather than a crank motor, which isn't as efficient; the battery will often be mounted higher up on the bike, which isn't as stable; and the bicycle frame and components will be those of a budget hybrid. Yet these are still effective machines for anyone needing a helping hand on their commute.
Useful features for a budget pedelec include: a battery that can be charged in situ as well as separately; lights powered by the main battery, since the power consumption of these is tiny; a sturdy kickstand, as pedelecs are heavy; puncture resistant tyres such as Schwalbe Marathon Plus, as it's more difficult to remove wheel with a motor in it to fix a puncture; and the usual equipment you'd want on any hybrid, such as mudguards and a pannier rack.
A bike that's not much more than £1,000 is still outside the normal limit for the Cycle to Work scheme. There is a way around this. You pay the difference up front to the retailer, then make the usual salary sacrifice savings on the remaining £1,000.
Here are three decent quality entry-level pedelecs.
Giant Ease E+
Giant's least expensive pedelec is an aluminium town bike with a step-through frame, a silent SyncDrive F front hub motor, and a lithium-ion battery mounted in the rear rack. It comes with lights, mudguards and a kickstand. The gearing is 8-speed Shimano Tourney and Altus, while the brakes are V-brakes; both are economical but work fine. The hub motor has a clutch feature, so doesn't drag when you're not using it. There's also a throttle-based Power Boost function. Under 6km/h, this can be used as a 'walk assist' to help when pushing the bike; above 8km/h and when pedalling, it can add up to 5km/h (up to the 25km/h maximum).
Cyclescheme Price: £849.88
Raleigh Forge Cross Bar
Also available with a step-through frame, the Raleigh Forge has the typical entry-level pedelec layout: front hub motor and rear rack-mounted battery. The TransX motor has a walk function, as well as the usual three assist levels, and there's a spring between the down tube and fork crown to stop the heavy front end jack-knifing when you're on foot. The Suntour CR-V8 suspension fork is very basic but will take the sting from unseen potholes; ditto the suspension seatpost. Like the Giant Ease E+, the Forge has good enough 8-speed derailleur gearing and V-brakes. It's fully equipped with mudguards, partial chainguard, lights and a kickstand.
Cyclescheme Price: £1,000.88
The Groove's step-through aluminium frame is very low indeed, making it easier to get on and off for cyclists with poor mobility. Its lithium-ion battery is docked in a rear rack, per usual, while a Kalkhoff Groove 2.0 front hub motor applies the power; this has a walking-assistance option. The suspension seatpost and Suntour CR7 fork are nothing special. However, it's good to see a Shimano Nexus 7-speed hub gear on a utilitarian bike like this. Gear range is similar to an 8-speed derailleur set-up but you can change gear while stationary and the chain doesn't need as much upkeep. Brakes are Vs. The full set of essential accessories is included: mudguards, rack, lights, and kickstand.
Cyclescheme Price: £1,045.88
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