The electric bikes that could genuinely replace your car
Demand for electric bikes is on the rise, which is hardly surprising for all sorts of reasons. Many of us are keen to do our bit for the environment, especially when it comes to cutting emissions from our own vehicles.
Add to that an increasing push towards reducing traffic congestion, especially in towns and cities, plus our desire to get some exercise into the bargain means these are boom times for bicycle retailers. It’s Covid-19 though that has been the real game-changer.
In fact, because of the coronavirus pandemic our hunger for owning electric bikes has been increasing so much that many cycling outlets are reporting that they can't get new stock fast enough. A recent survey of 20,000 motorists by the Automobile Association in the UK revealed that 40% of people intended to drive less in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile demand on the other side of the Atlantic appears similarly enthusiastic.
The US is obviously a bigger and more complex nut to crack, but progress is being made as city planners see the potential. Owning an electric bike can help you social distance and having your own machine, rather than sharing or renting one, means you can keep tabs on the all-important cleanliness aspect. Sanitizing handlebar grips and other areas of a bike that tend to get grubby when being ridden by multiple users in cycle sharing schemes is immediately less of a worry.
Also helping to persuade us to leave the car behind is an increasing number of cycling initiatives and incentive schemes, plus an improving bike infrastructure. The UK government, for example, announced £2bn would be invested into new cycling and walking projects. Meanwhile, the long-running Cycle to Work scheme is still ticking over and that now includes electric bikes as part of a tax break opportunity for employees.
While we’re nowhere near a country like the Netherlands with their forward-thinking cycle strategy, things are getting better. More recently, we’ve even seen pop-up cycle lanes appearing as a short-term measure during the coronavirus pandemic.
And, looking to the future, with many inner-city areas becoming harder to access by car, getting there and back on two-wheels might end up being your best bet anyway.
So which one to buy? Picking the right electric bike for your needs can be tricky. This basically boils down to what you plan to do with your e-bike and where you want to cycle. Some us will want an e-bike for commuting, or perhaps town and country use, while others might fancy a bit of off-roading. You might want an e-bike that can do all of the above.
There are plenty of recent additions to the ebike marketplace, including the funky folding bike that is the GoCycle GX, the great Ampler Curt all-rounder or the beefy Specialized Turbo Vado 4.0 that can justify you leaving the car at home altogether. If keeping costs down is the main issue for you then something like the Gtech Sport or the Gtech eBike City are good value starting points. But let’s take a look at some specific electric-bike segments for additional suggestions.
An electric hybrid bike is perhaps the best one to go for if you're looking for a bit of an all-rounder. The styling will be a little more conventional and much akin to a regular non-battery cycle, but a hybrid electric-bike will do everything you need it to do with, naturally, the benefit of battery power.
Take the Batch Bicycles E-Commuter for example, which has almost humdrum styling but quality components and a solid build. It’s a great example of a middle-ground electric-bike. Spend more and you’ll get more though, as witnessed by the Gazelle Ultimate T10+, which comes with a beefy spec and more radical styling. This is a bustling area of the electric-bike market though, so you won’t have to look hard to find plenty more examples to suit all wallets.
If you’re a commuter and want an electric bike that you can take on public transport, or use for parts of your journey rather than the entire leg to and from work a folding electric bike is a good bet. British brand Brompton has made folding bikes for years and now they have an e-bike version too, the Brompton Electric no less, which has all of the usual trademarks plus battery power. We tried it during a previous look at the best electric bikes to buy.
The Gocycle GX mentioned earlier is a folding model that’s guaranteed to turn heads and, as a result, possibly gain the attention of thieves too. Instead, the Blix Vika+ sports more conventional looks but still folds neatly in the middle. Remember though that due to the battery pack folding electric bikes can feel bulky, so while they have their place, you’ll want to be spending more time riding one than carrying it.
Fancy going off-road and don’t want to do it in your 4X4 or SUV? There are plenty of e-mountain bikes on the market, with the likes of the Spectral:On from Canyon, the Merida EOne-Sixty 800 and the Specialized Turbo Levo Comp, which are all very good. However, just like every other area of the electric bike marketplace, the range is growing all the time and there are e-MTBs to suit any kind of budget.
It has to be said though that if you can pay more it’s worth it, especially if you're serious about going off-road as the build quality and components are generally better as a result. Hard riding in harsh conditions will soon take its toll on cheaper models that might look okay initially, but often lack staying power in the long run.
The good thing about new models coming to market is that it often means you can get older model electric bikes for less money. So, the likes of VanMoof’s high-end Electrified X2 might appeal, as there are now the new VanMoof Electrified S3 and X3 models to set your sights on. Similarly, the Haibike Sduro Hardnine 2.5 Street and the Volt Infinity, that we’ve reviewed previously, might be a good way to invest in the appeal of an electric bike.
One of the main arguments for people wanting to stick with their cars is that they're able to carry more. However, there are a few bike manufacturers who have addressed this issue. The solution? Cargo bikes. These are admittedly bigger and bulker than regular electric bikes but they can generally handle more payload.
Take a look at the likes of the Rad Power RadWagon, Tern GSD or Reise & Muller Load 60 for some examples of prime heavy haulers. You get all of the benefits of an electric bike, plus the added ability of being able to carry lots more stuff. The longer wheelbase of these machines might look a little daunting, but the battery power compensates for any unwieldy handling characteristics.
Electric fat bikes
Meanwhile, while they’re not made for cargo, electric fat bikes (so-called because of their chunky tyres) are a bit of a curiosity but battery power makes them a blast. We tried out Rad Power’s brace of RadRhino offerings and loved their performance and OTT styling. However, Addmotor’s Motan is a premium bruiser while the Wildcat Fat Tire Electric Bike is pretty cool too. Another growing sector of the electric bike market.
Budget electric bikes
However, given the way things are right now you might also be looking for a budget way to enter the electric bike market. If so, there is help at hand, thanks to the Swytch electric bike conversion kit. We looked at an early incarnation of this innovation that can electrify any bike with the addition of an easy-fit conversion kit. There are numerous other variations on the theme too, many of which can be fitted to a bike you already own.
Electric bike security
Buying the best electric bike for your needs is one thing, but it’s also worth considering security if you’ve chosen a model you like. By their very nature, electric bikes are infinitely more appealing to thieves due to their eye-catching looks and high value. They can and indeed do tend to attract attention and while some of this will be from admirers, there could be others who’d love to relieve you of your property. So you’ll need a lock. Two or three might be even better.
A popular choice is the Abus Granit X-Plus 540, the Abus Granit 59 Extreme D-Lock, or anything by the Abus brand in general. Kryptonite Kryptolok’s are good too and, as many a Dutch person will tell you, a selection of locks is much better; even more so if each one requires a different tool to compromise it.
If a bike thief has to take time to work on multiple locks they might hopefully give up and try elsewhere. And anyway, with battery power at your disposal, a little extra weight from lugging all those locks around isn’t really a hassle, right?
- Check out our guide to the best fitness trackers for running, cycling and more