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7 best electric bikes to boost your pedal power and help you arrive feeling fresh

Show up at your destination sweat-free and smiling with a battery-assisted bicycle

Steve Hogarty
Friday 04 March 2022 15:00
<p>Foldable or solid-frame, there are plenty of e-bike options</p>

Foldable or solid-frame, there are plenty of e-bike options

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 pedalling 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, or even just a car park ramp. Most e-bikes can make 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.

How we tested

We tested these e-bikes on our usual commute across London along busy city roads, along flat stretches of pristine cycle lane and up hills. We also took them out on a few less well-maintained roads to test comfort, and chose a variety of styles to suit different riders’ needs.

Read more:

The 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.

The best electric bikes for 2022 are:

Cowboy 4 ST

Best: Overall

  • Weight: 19.2kg
  • Style: Step-through frame
  • Range: Up to 70km
  • Motor torque: 45Nm
  • Tyres: 47mm, puncture resistant Cowboy custom tyres

The Cowboy 4 ST is the best electric bike we’ve tested. The latest in the Belgian bike brand’s range distils the riding experience back down to basics, and uses intelligent assistance levels to strip away any unnecessary frills. There are no gears to fuss over, no external cabling to get tangled up in, the integrated lights are powered by the removable battery, the frame strikes a minimalist silhouette, and a clean carbon belt replaces the usual greasy chain.

The on-board motor on the Cowboy 4 ST continuously delivers the right amount of power exactly when you need it, boosting you away from a standing start before levelling off gently as you reach the bike’s 15.5mph speed limit. On hills, where you might think the lack of gears would mean a sweaty upward slog, the motor seamlessly feeds more power into the wheels until it feels like the incline simply isn’t there.

Read our full review of the Cowboy 4 ST

Gocycle G4

Best: For commuting

  • Weight: 17.6kg
  • Charging time: 3 hours
  • Max range: 40 miles
  • Frame: Hydroformed alloy, carbon fibre mid-frame
  • Motor: Custom front wheel, 250w

The distinctive shape, cable-free design and futuristic profile of the Gocycle G4, 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 chain-case enclosed within a hydroformed frame make the Gocycle one of the best folding electric bikes for commuters living in small flats. 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.

The latest G4 improves performance at low-speeds, delivering more torque earlier on to help you push off more quickly. The new motor is basically inaudible, while the MotoGP tyre treads and traction control keep you stable during even the most torrential commutes.

Raleigh motus cross bar

Best: For the city

  • Weight: 24.5kg
  • Charging time: 2.5 hours
  • Max range: 76 miles
  • Frame: Alloy frame
  • Motor: Bosch active line

The Raleigh motus is powered by a 300w 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.

Brompton electric M2L

Best: Folding electric bike

  • Weight: 16.8kg
  • Max range: 45 miles
  • Charging time: 2 hours
  • Frame: Steel
  • Motor: Custom front wheel, 300w

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.

Specialized turbo vado SL4.0

Best: Hybrid electric bike

  • Weight: 15kg
  • Charging time: 2.5 hours
  • Max range: 80 miles
  • Frame: Aluminium alloy
  • Motor: Custom Specialized SL 1.1

This super-lightweight electric hybrid bike combines an aluminium 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.

VanMoof S3

Best: For security

  • Weight: 19kg
  • Charging time: 4 hours
  • Max range: 90 miles
  • Frame: Coated aluminium
  • Motor: Custom front wheel, 250w

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.

Cowboy 3

Best: For style

  • Weight: 16.9kg
  • Charging time: 3.5 hours
  • Max range: 43 miles
  • Frame: Aluminium
  • Motor: Custom rear wheel, 250w

Though it’s been superseded by the Cowboy 4, the older Cowboy 3 is still on sale and represents a cheaper alternative to the latest model. 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.

The verdict: Electric bikes

For commuters looking to arrive at their destination feeling fresh, we recommend the Cowboy 4 ST. It’s a beautifully designed electric bike built around modern commuters, with helpful features and intelligent, no-fuss power delivery.

For those who need something smaller, the foldable Gocycle G4 is an exceptionally fun ride in a smart-looking package.

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