Is it worth buying an electric bike? We compare the best hybrid e-bikes of 2021 from Halfords, Ribble and more
Gaining popularity among commuters, those new to fitness, and elder riders, electric bikes offer more than simply an easy way to cycle
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Electric hybrid bikes are, essentially, normal hybrid bikes, souped-up with an electric motor that activates when you need extra grunt as you pedal. Rather than a sloths’ approach to exercise, this allows someone of any fitness level to get onto a bike, safe in the knowledge their piece of kit will assist them if faced with a daunting hill or a commute a little too long to handle on their own.
They’re good for commuting, recreational riding, and serve as excellent run-arounds for town-based errands.
Are electric bikes heavy and cumbersome?
The first generation of e-bikes had an earned reputation for being heavy, with limited range, and difficult to manoeuvre. Thankfully the latest iterations have been refined, and the frames for top range e-bikes are impressively light. The standard batteries can last for up to 80 miles on one charge (cheaper models, naturally, for less).
Why an e-bike and not a standard bicycle?
They’re ideal for commuting, as they can allow you to travel a distance without getting worryingly sweaty ahead of meeting someone, or for people with knee or muscular pains. A good e-bike will be quick, efficient, light, and able to carry a load.
If you’re older or less active than other family members, an e-bike is an excellent way of keeping speed with them when you’re out for a ride, without straining past your capabilities. Grandparents can keep pace with children.
Electric bikes also help if you have paneers or kit to take with you as you travel - they allow you to carry a heavier load than a conventional bike, without having to put extra physical effort in. And, of course, they’re better for the environment than relying on a car. To pay for a year’s worth of the electricity required to power an electric bike is estimated to cost less than £5, regardless of model. You’re not going to see similar costs for operating a motorbike or small car.
What to look for
As with a conventional hybrid bike, electric bikes can be kitted out to contend with various equipment to assist with wet, muddy weather. If you’ll likely to be out in the inclements, ensure you have hydraulic disc brakes, which will help you brake handily even on a heavier machine, and mudguards and chain guards to keep you clean.
Modern electric bikes are, in the main, powered by lithium-ion batteries - light little beauties that charge within a few hours. How far they last on a ride depends on the terrain you traverse and how often you rely on them, as you can choose when the electric assistance kicks in or turn it off if you want to get some peddling in.
These batteries are last best if looked after, and regularly charged inside overnight. Treat them well and they have great staying power.
What should you pay for an e-bike
Naturally, they’re pricier than a standard hybrid bike, but you can still find a reasonable electric bike for around £1000. The best bikes in terms of longevity and performance will set you back several grand, but it’s an investment that will last for years.
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Trek Verve +1 Lowstep
Best for: an introductory bike for new cyclists
The riding position on this Trek Verve +1, a step-through bike, struck us as particularly comfortable - great if you’re new to life in a saddle. The frame is built with lightweight yet tough components - an aluminium frame, which is great for helping cyclists pick-up speed quickly, as well as absorbing shocks on the road for a more plush ride. As you’ll likely know, aluminium is also durable and long-lasting, so this is an e-bike that will stand the test of time.
The powerful Bosch electric motor is ideal for helping cycling neophytes up challenging hills, while Tektro alloy hydraulic brakes keep you safe when you’re tearing downhill.
We particularly love the walk mode, which is ideal for those aforementioned tough hills, or if you’re needing to wheel your bike around at all. This is another light-weight number - just 13.1 kilos. If you’re new to the world of cycling and want some motorised assistance, this would be our firm recommendation.
Best for: a whole lot of bike for a low price
Pretty, cheap, and practical, we love the Carrera as a commuting choice. It’s battery offers 80miles/130kilometres of use off one charge - so if you’re heading in and about town you can get a week’s worth of riding in before needing to recharge.
It’s torque sensor is brilliant at ensuring a smooth ride - no juddering stops and starts here - just the smooth cadence of a regular bike, even when you’re pedalling into action after stopping at intersections. On hills, we found turning on Turbo mode helped us ease up them with little extra effort.
It does sit at a rather chunky 24kgs, though, so if you’re in a top-floor flat or struggle with upper body strength you’ll likely find it a chore to carry.
Another serious downside for the Carrera is a lack of accessories - there’s no mudguards, kickstand, or lights to run off the battery, all of which we desire. The battery estimate display is irritatingly vague, as well, offering a bar display, rather than a number of miles/kilometres left. If you’re new to e-biking, you might get caught short without the motor.
That said, for an inexpensive option, you get a steady, supportive ride and impressive mileage. A good city bike.
Specialized Turbo Vado SL 4.0
Best for: an e-bike that encourages fitness
At a featherweight 15kg, and a promised range of 80 miles, the Turbo Vado is a brilliant general-purpose bike that will allow you to enjoy both recreational jaunts and taking it around cities.
That light weight - 40 per cent lower than most electric bikes - means this is a bike that can be easily lugged up stairwells into flats, or in and out of car boots, without effort.
Motorised support is natural, not at all jarring -there are no off-putting spurts of acceleration when not wanted, but if you’re suffering up a reasonable hill you’ll feel that motor kick in to help you as you need it. Serious inclines may still pose a bit of a problem, though, even when on Turbo mode, so if you live atop a steep hill this might not be for you.
It’s a sexy looking beast, too - the battery is concealed, so it has a clean, sleek exterior.
Ribble Hybrid Al e
Best for: giddy fun for a reasonable cost
This 11-speed electric bike cycles like a dream. Hydraulic disk brakes keep you safe, and the large Schwalbe tyres keep your ride smooth and even.
At a slender 13.1kg (for the medium model) this delightfully light, cheap e-bike impressed. With its ebikemotion motor built into the back wheel, it looks like a regular bike - the only wink to it’s extra powers a button on the top to show which of the three power settings you have currently deployed.
The ebike motion system provides smooth assistance - again, no juddering transitions from assisted to unassisted riding here. The bike’s range is very decent, and it has fully loaded specs. The handling is engaging, and the lightness is terrific for carting the bike up and down stairs.
This is not a bike for a speedster - better for steady-state riders, but as a souped-up, lightweight, sexy bike for just over £2000, that you can use for commuting and weekend exploring, it’s a great choice for most new cyclists.
Gtech eBike Sports
Best for: a cheap e-bike that’s easy to use
First - a warning - you will have to assemble this bike, but rest assured the simple aluminium frame, old-fashioned v-brakes, and lack of confusing gears make that a simple task.
The Gtech Sports is the first entry in the realm of ebikes from a firm best known for their (amazing) vacuums. It’s thoughtfully created. The 200Wh removable battery pack plays dual duty as the bike’s controller - it’s bottle shaped, a lovely touch that makes the book look regular, rather than motorised. It has two modes - normal, and eco, making this an absolute doss to control.
The drivetrain relies on a belt, rather than a chain, so there’s no faffing with greasy bike chains to contend with. The option for integrated mudguards and lights are there, as optional extra - as we said, a thoughtfully created bike.
At 16kilos and with a promised range of thirty miles, you’ll want to use this wisely - it’s not too heavy, but you wouldn’t want to rely on it’s assistance for lengthy trips. As a cheap ebike, though, it’s simple, reliable, good-looking, and ideal for a nippy commute.
Specialized Turbo Creo SL Expert
Best for: Performance
A bike that made us drool, the Specialized Turbo Creo is for anyone looking for the crème de la crème of electric biking. With a carbon-frame, this bike is famed for being used by yellow jersey wearer Julian Alaphilippe, on his rest days when cycling on the 2019 Tour de France to stretch his legs out.
As you would expect for the price tag, the component parts are all top of the line. The gear system is designed by Shimano, while Ultegra provides hydraulic brakes. It also comes from carbon wheels.
Specialized designed their own battery and bracket-mounted motor. If you’re spending this much, we’d advise paying the extra for a ‘range extender’ to slip into the bike’s bottle cage - once set up, you can rely on the battery for 120 miles (without the extender it’s a respectable 80).
And of course the ride itself is perfection - not a whisper of jerkiness here, smooth pedalling all the way. Take it up hills with the power full throttle and you’ll suddenly believe you have quads of steel. Simply amazing.
Decathlon B’TWIN Elops 900 E Step Over
Best for: nice and cheap with loads of accessories
Again in the budget realm - you can always rely on Decathlon to keep prices civil. This inexpensive number doesn’t skimp on accessories, coming with integrated lights, pannier racks, and mudguards as standard.
That titchy price-tag does offer some limitations - at 24kg, the Elops 900 is a brute of a bike, but the disc brakes are up to the task of slowing it even when wet, so even though it is hefty, it’s safe.
With an oversized seat and sleek handlebars, it has a look of a city bike to it. The motor is positioned in the rear-wheel, the battery in the pannier rack. They kick in when needed and provide pleasing oomph (they’re also removable, if you want to keep them safe when out and about).
Range wise, you can expect around 40miles from this one, a decent effort from such an affordable model. Good for dipping your toe into the e-bike world.
Boardman Hyb 8.9e
Best for: the best of both worlds
We all know Boardman makes some of the finest road bikes in the business, the Boardman hyb 8.9e manages to be both an e-bike and great as a standard road bike. Simply remove the 4.6kg battery and you’ll be entirely reliant on your own steam (a plastic cover can disguise the hole left when you’re sans battery).
The Tektro hydraulic disc brakes are trustworthy and responsive, and there’s a high-end gear set crafted by Shimano, not to mention some sizeable Schwalbe tyres to smooth your ride. Battery and motor are both by Fazua.
Integrated mudguards and pannier rack come as optional, too, so we’d love to take this beauty out touring.
As to how it feels to ride - it’s a joy, handling beautifully, with great suspension and smooth motion, with or without the motor fitted. It’s nimble, light, and responsive, and the motor is pleasantly quiet. A range of 56miles is commendable, too. This is ideal for mixing up long, leisurely cycles on your own power, and aiding you when you’re doing an urban commute.