Electric bikes have undergone an evolution in recent years, fuelled by advances in technology that allow for lighter designs, more compact motors and discreet batteries that last for more than just a few miles. And now, with more of us looking for alternative ways to get around our cities, e-bikes are enjoying their moment in the sun.
Engineered to assist your pedaling rather than replace it entirely, an e-bike will give you a light push as you accelerate away, as though you’re being helped along by an invisible ghost. The motor can only assist you up to the legal speed limit for electric bikes of 15.5mph, after which you’ll need to put some effort in to go any faster.
For this reason, they make ideal commuter bikes, especially for riders who face a hill climb between their home and their destination. Most e-bikes can make even steep inclines feel like riding on flat terrain, so they’re excellent for riders who feel less able to get out and about on a traditional bike.
Packing a motor and a battery means that e-bikes are heavier than regular bikes, but as long as you don’t run out of juice, they feel just as nimble and easy to handle. Choosing the best electric bike for you depends on a few important factors: whether you need it to fold, where you want to charge it, and the distances you expect to travel.
We tested these e-bikes on city roads, along flat stretches of pristine cycle lane, up hills and on a few less well-maintained roads, and chose a variety of styles to suit different riders’ needs.
The sudden spike in popularity of e-bikes means that availability can be limited, but with manufacturers racing to restock and meet demand, it’s worth checking back with local retailers regularly.
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Raleigh motus cross bar
Charging time: 2.5 hours
Max range: 76 miles
The Raleigh motus is powered by a 250w Bosch system, which sits in the centre of the frame to deliver torque to the bike’s mid-drive motor. These systems are known for their intelligent, light-touch power delivery. The instant you push off you’ll notice how the motor’s assistance gradually introduces itself as you pedal faster. There’s none of the brute jerkiness of less sophisticated electric bikes – which can sometimes feel like you’re taking off on a rocket – making for a smooth, fun and comfortable ride.
When pootling around the city, this bike’s upright riding position gives you a clear view of the road and makes navigating traffic at slow speeds easier. Pulling away from junctions feels sharp and zippy, giving you the room on the road you need to ensure you’re riding where you can be seen. This is a well-equipped and practical bike built for everyday commuting.
Charging time: 3.5 hours
Max range: 43 miles
The smooth and powerful ride of the Cowboy 3, alongside its whisper-quiet motor and puncture-resistant tyres, make this one of the best electric bikes for commuting. The rear wheel is driven by a neat carbon-fibre belt instead of a greasy chain, so there’s no risk of snagging your best work outfit on the way to the office.
Unlike the gentle power curve of other electric bikes, the motor of the Cowboy 3 kicks in right as you push off. This gives you a great advantage if your route involves lots of starting and stopping, irons out any hills and allows for effortless starts on the steepest inclines. The Cowboy 3 is also just great fun to cycle, if you prefer your electric bike to be on the aggressive side.
Specialized turbo vado SL4.0
Charging time: 2.5 hours
Max range: 80 miles
This super-lightweight electric hybrid bike combines an aluminum alloy frame with Specialized’s proprietary welding techniques to create a bicycle that – when you first pick it up – will have you wondering whether it’s electric at all. The battery is built into its down-tube, and offers three levels of assistance to a mid-drive motor, inconspicuously positioned between the pedals. The only display is on the bike’s crossbar – a discreet battery and assistance indicator doubles as a power switch.
The turbo vado SL is an utter delight to ride. It feels natural in any of its assistance modes, and is light enough to ride with minimal help from the motor. This makes it an excellent bike for those who want to get the occasional workout in, but less so for casual commuters who want the bike to consistently do all the hard work. In the highest assistance mode, the relatively small motor leaves it feeling underpowered compared with heavier bikes.
Charging time: 4 hours
Max range: 90 miles
A high-tech electric bike from Dutch specialist VanMoof, the S3 not only looks like it comes from the future, but is crammed with all manner of advanced security features. The bike uses your phone’s Bluetooth to sense when you’ve walked away from it and automatically immobilises the rear wheel. When locked, the bike’s motion detector can trigger a loud alarm if jostled, while a location tracker hidden inside the frame lets you know where your bike is at all times.
Anti-theft measures aside, the S3 is a stylish city bike with a smooth ride, automatic gears and oodles of power. An eye-catching boost button on the right handlebar does exactly what you think it should, dumping maximum torque on demand to help you launch from a standing start or gain that extra bit of speed in a pinch. The fully integrated battery, however, makes recharging a potential issue for anyone living up a flight of stairs – at 19kg, the S3 isn’t especially portable.
Gocycle GX folding electric bike
Charging time: 4 hours
Max range: 40 miles
The distinctive shape and futuristic profile of the Gocyle, designed by a former McLaren engineer, makes it one of the most recognisable bikes on the road today. It’s also incredibly fun to ride, powered by a fully integrated battery and motor that combine to deliver a surprising degree of oomph from an unassuming-looking chassis. Hill climbs feel magically effortless, and the petite, 20-inch wheels are more stable than they appear.
Convenient features such as hydraulic disc brakes, all-terrain magnesium wheels and a chaincase enclosed within a hydroformed frame make the Gocyle one of the best folding electric bikes for commuters. All of the oily components are safely out of the way when the bike is folded, and the entire thing can be easily wheeled around train stations and into lifts using the saddle as a handle.
Brompton electric M2L
Max range: 45 miles
Charging time: 2 hours
The most recognisable folding bike on the road, the Brompton is a design classic. The electric version does its very best to avoid ruining the original’s silhouette by mounting the battery below the handlebars, while introducing an intelligent motor with well-tuned power delivery to the front wheel hub.
All of that extra weight packed into the nose of this tiny bike makes handling a little flighty to begin with, but as with any new bike you’ll soon get a feel for how it rides. Once you do, the Brompton Electric is a joy. It’s not shy about handing over power on inclines, rocketing you up steep hills with next to no effort, and it’s buttery smooth at cruising speeds along flat cycle paths.
Max range: 28 miles
Charging time: 4.5 hours
A lightweight folding model that doesn’t compromise on performance, the Furo X manages to squeeze a surprising amount of power out of a compact package. The 9-speed Shimano gear system is matched with five levels of pedaling assistance to choose from, giving plenty of scope for riders to find the right setup for their particular commute, whether that’s over steep hills, long flat cycle paths or through busy city traffic.
When fully folded up the Furo X isn’t as small as the Brompton, but remains compact and light enough to lug around on public transport or up and down escalators. The removable battery makes plugging it in at home straightforward, and the battery recharges in less than five hours.
Gtech ebike sport
Charging time: 3 hours
Max range: 31 miles
The best electric bike for under £1,000 is the Gtech ebike sport. It’s missing many of the fancier features of more sophisticated electric bikes – disc brakes, for example – but doesn’t compromise on the build quality of its components or overall performance. The removable battery is disguised as a water bottle and lets you choose between two assistance levels: one for maximising range and the other for minimising your effort.
A clean, carbon-fibre belt drive and a simple, single-speed gear system makes for a super low-maintenance bike – we’ve clocked up at least a thousand miles with nothing more than a puncture to show for it – and the entire thing is light enough to be picked up or easily manhandled into office elevators or train carriages. It’s a reliable and affordable electric bike.
The verdict: Electric bikes
For commuters looking to arrive at their destination feeling fresh, we recommend the Raleigh motus. It’s a practical all-rounder with helpful features and a best-in-class power system. For those who need something smaller, the foldable GoCycle GX is an exceptionally fun ride in a smart-looking package.
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