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Electric bike

By PriceRunner Updated 09/03/2018

Are you thinking of buying an electric bike? There are several advantages with choosing an electric bike, including giving you positive health effects and contributing to a better environment. You also avoid congestion and traffic jams when you travel to and from work.

For those with a love of adventure, they're also perfect if you're thinking of going on a cycling holiday. There are electric bikes with a mountain bike function that are perfect for rougher terrain. Why not try out the Castlerock to Giant’s Causeway cycle route, the Isle of Arran or the Forest of Dean by electric bike for your next holiday?

Electric bikes usually give you a little extra boost up to 25 km/h. Above this speed you have to pedal yourself. So in other words you can pedal a lot and reach a very high speed. Or alternatively just pedal a little and without much effort reach 25 km/h. You can also turn off the electrical assistance and use the electric bike as a normal bike.

Choosing an electric bike

Electric bikes usually cost between £2000-£15,000. What separates the models is primarily design and the motor, as the voltage and output of the latter varies with the price. Things like battery capacity, power consumption when charging, charging time, maintenance requirements, number of gears and other functions also differ.

A good rule of thumb is to start with what you'd look for in a normal bicycle. If you usually use a bicycle with lots of gears and are used to it, your electric bike should be the same. Because you'll be pedalling a lot even if it does have an electric motor. You also need to look at the range of the bike. If it's 30 kilometres to your office and you don't want to have to pedal too much, you shouldn't choose a bicycle with a range of 40 kilometres if there's no way you can charge it at work. There are models that can manage a full 145 kilometres on a single charge.

Unfortunately there are also models that are categorised in the shops as electric bikes, but which are actually classified as mopeds – and completely different rules apply to these. So make sure the "electric bike" you're looking at isn't really a moped. The electric bikes that are categorised as bicycles have a motor of a maximum of 250 watts. This is usually clearly stated in the specification.

Just like normal bicycles, you should wear a helmet. In the UK you also need to be at least 14 years of age to cycle an electric bike, but you don't need any specific driving licence.

We list below all of the properties and factors that affect how an electric bike performs on the roads, in terms of performance, ergonomics and function. When buying an electric bike, regardless of whether you buy it via a reseller on the internet or via a physical bicycle shop, it's useful if you're clear about what type of requirements you have. Start with how often and how long you'll be using it for, and the type of terrain. Our guide below will then help you choose which type of electric bike will best suit you.

Control unit

The control unit constitutes the electric bike's computer – its brain – and is the device that keeps track of everything. This includes speed, battery status, output and other important values. The cycle computer is often equipped with a screen so that you can see these values yourself, for example in the form of how far you've cycled and how much longer you can use electric power before you need to recharge the battery. You can also change settings, such as how much help you want from the motor when you're cycling.

Motor

Naturally, the motor is an essential part of the electric bike. According to an EU directive, the maximum output that this can have if the bicycle is to be classified as an electric bike is 250 watts. If the electric bike has a higher watt figure than this, it can still be classified as an electric bike, but then it will fall under the EU rules for mopeds. This means that other laws apply, together with requirements you must comply with if the bicycle will be used in traffic.

There are a number of different types of motor system, and some of the main manufacturers are Shimano, Bosch and Bafang. They are good at different things, and cycle manufacturers normally choose the type of motor that best suits the electric bike's target group. For example, Bosch make centrally positioned motors which are powerful and suitable for tough terrain, while E-motion make front-wheel positioned motors which are better suited for an urban environment.

Motor positioning

The positioning of the motor on an electric bike is important in terms of how you intend to use it. Front-wheel drive electric bikes are better for simple terrain such as an urban environment. The advantages is that this position works with all gear types, you can have coaster brakes, and that the system is relatively cheap and simple. The disadvantage is that it requires more powerful brakes because you get up more kinetic energy in the wheels, that the cables have to be undone if you need to repair a puncture and that you have worse grip on the road.

If you're going to be cycling up and down hills a lot and you want more power, a rear or mid mounted motor is better. The mid mounted type has the advantage that you get good weight distribution, a good grip on both front and back wheels and that you avoid the extra kinetic energy in the wheels. Nor do you need to undo any cables if you need to change the tyres. The disadvantages are that the bicycle needs a special frame and that you can't have coaster brakes with some gear systems.

Finally, we have the rear mounted motor, which is also good for hills and more difficult terrain. The advantages here are that you get a good grip on the road, that it's a cheaper solution because it's a simple system and that it's easy to mount on an existing bike. The disadvantages are that you need more powerful brakes as you get extra kinetic energy in the wheels and that it's not possible to combine this solution with coaster brakes. Another disadvantage is that if the electric bike simultaneously has a battery packet installed on the luggage rack, the electric bike becomes slightly unbalanced as all of the weight is at the back.

The battery

The first thing you need to consider when it comes to batteries is whether the battery is even included in the electric bike you're looking at. Because sometimes very exclusive batteries are sold separately. To make a fair price comparison between different models, you should make sure that the price also includes a battery.

The batteries are normally lithium-ion type. This is the type used in the majority of machines and tools today, and the advantage of these is that they keep their charge well between charges. They're also easy to use and charge. However, you should remember that this type of battery should never be allowed to go completely flat, because this can mean it stops working. They also don't tolerate cold very well, and this will impair performance. You should therefore keep them indoors when it's below freezing outside.

When you buy an electric bike, it's important to choose one with sufficient battery capacity. Batteries have different capacities. However, the capacity isn't easy to compare because it is sometimes stated in Ah, sometimes in Wh and sometimes in range. Ah stands for ampere hours and states the battery capacity to deliver current over time. Wh stands for watt hours and states the capacity to store energy. The range is simply how far you can cycle with the electric bike before you will need to recharge it. Normally most bikes state the range, for example 120 kilometres. But sometimes it only shows ampere hours, and you'll have to ask what the range is for such electric bikes.

In addition to to battery capacity, the position is also important, and is above all linked to the motor position. If the motor is at the front and the battery is on the luggage rack, you often have good balance in the electric bike. The disadvantage with a battery on the luggage rack is that it's hard to find room for a child seat. Some electric bikes have the battery on the frame to create a lower centre of gravity, and this can also have its advantages depending on the rest of the design.

Charging time

The charging time is important because you generally want the battery to recharge again as quickly as possible so that you don't have to wait for it. Many manufacturers today have systems where you can quickly charge up to a certain point – for example up to 80% capacity – and then the last few per cent are slower. This means that you can do a quick charge to get yourself home.

Pedal assistance

Many electric bikes are equipped with rotation sensors. This means that the additional power provided by the electric bike is determined by the speed at which you pedal. In other words, the rotation sensor makes sure that you get a boost from the motor. It is activated when you start pedalling, and then gives a uniform speed for as long as you continue.

However, it can't tell how much effort you're making. In other words, it doesn't give you more power if you're pedalling harder up a hill. Instead you have to change down a gear so that the electric bike doesn't overpower the assistance. If you don't want to have to do this, you need an electric bike equipped with a power sensor. If you have to expend more effort while pedalling, this will activate more assistance. If you live in a hilly area, it may be sensible to think about whether this is something you need from your electric bike. The disadvantage is that this function can negatively affect the range.

Gears

Just like on a normal bicycle, the number of gears is an important factor if you're going to be able to ride through a range of environments, from winding forest paths to tough hills. Even if you get a power boost from the motor, it's nice to be able to change down a gear to go uphill, and change up when you want to cycle fast on a long, flat straight. If you're going to cycle every day, we recommend at least 7 gears. A good rule of thumb is to stick to the number that you're used to. If you have 10 gears on your ordinary bicycle today and you're happy with this, you should try to get an electric bike that has the same number.

The gear system can either be external or internal. The former is most common on sports bikes as this provides lower rolling resistance and smaller jumps between the gears. This makes it good for cycling in rougher terrain. The latter system is more common among urban cycles as it's largely maintenance free and you don't have to put up with a clattering chain. However, there are bigger jumps between the gears, a higher rolling resistance and higher weight. Of course there are also disadvantages with the external system, primarily that it requires more maintenance and must be regularly adjusted, but also that you can only change gear while you're moving.

Brake system

There are a number of different types of brake system on electric bikes. These are usually separated into foot (coaster) and hand brakes. Far from all electric bikes are equipped with coaster brakes as this depends on the overall design. Coaster brakes only work as hub brakes. The advantage of having coaster brakes is that they have very low service requirements. The disadvantage compared to hand brakes is that there are some pedal positions where it's more difficult to brake, and the coaster brake mechanism also weighs more. It's usually the case that if an electric bike has coaster brakes it will also have a hand brake. However, just because it has a hand brake it doesn’t necessarily have coaster brakes too.

Hand brakes are available in a number of different variants. V brakes are the most common. In practice, these consist of two brake pads pressed against the rim to brake the wheel. The system requires a certain amount of maintenance and adjustment, but it's also cheap, lightweight and easy to adjust. However, braking performance can be affected if it's wet out. Another type of hand brake is the hydraulic disc brake. This gives extremely effective braking that doesn't wear the rims and is not affected by weather conditions. However, the system is more expensive than others and also requires bleeding a couple of times a year. The hydraulic systems also include hydraulic caliper brakes which are more like V brakes than disc brakes. The advantage of these over V brakes is that they're more effective as a result of the hydraulic fluid, but at the same time they still have the same problem with impaired braking effect when the weather is wet. They're also more expensive than V brakes. Finally, there are drum brakes, which is a system where the brake pad is pressed against the inside of the wheel hub. This provides advantages in the form of low maintenance costs and not being affected by poor weather. The disadvantages are primarily the lower braking performance. They aren't very good if you're going to be cycling down very steep hills.

Appearance and comfort

There are a couple of things you need to include on your check list when you're considering comfort and electric bikes.

  • Size – the electric bike should be right for your height.

  • You need to be comfortable on the bike for long periods. Is the saddle padded?

  • What's the balance like when you're cycling? One factor that affects this is the positioning of the motor and battery. If they're at the same end of the cycle, it can easily be unbalanced. You can normally check this at the resellers, but you can also read tests of electric bikes where the balance will be mentioned.

  • How much does the electric bike weigh? If you sometimes have to carry the bike, this is particularly important.

  • Do you have restricted storage space and need to be able to fold the bicycle? Folding electric bikes are available from a number of manufacturers.

Certification

Electric bikes have two primary certifications. These are European standard EN 15194:2011 and BATSO 01. If the electric bike is marked with these, it means that it is considered to maintain the correct speed and to fulfil the current safety provisions, including regarding fire and explosion risk from the battery.

Insurance and guarantees

Electric bikes are targets for thieves as a result of their value, and should therefore be protected as well as you can. If you buy an expensive electric bike it can be a good idea to insure it. You can do this through your normal home insurance, as this will include bicycle insurance. You should also make sure that you get a good guarantee when you buy.

Accessories

Some examples of accessories that can be useful when you buy an electric bike are an approved helmet, a decent lock (you should ideally avoid thin wire locks) and a bicycle pump.

Other examples are: a bicycle bag, bell, child seat, basket, lights and a spare inner tube or repair kit.

Crescent

Bicycle manufacturer Crescent has long experience of the industry, and also offers a wide range of electric bikes. Crescent's electric bikes are available with all types of motor placement and with both suspension and stiff front forks.

Batavus

Cycle manufacturer Batavus has been in existence for more than 100 years and manufactures both normal and electric bikes. The prices for their electric bikes are primarily within the budget and medium classes.

Ecoride

Ecoride is a relatively young company in the bicycle market, and they exclusively produce electric bikes. As the name implies, the company aims to produce a better environment through more people choosing an electric bike instead of a car. They have a range of electric bike models in different series depending on your needs and desires. Everything from terrain models to city variants.

Monark

Monark was founded in 1908 by Swede Birger Svensson, and today is a well-known brand. In addition to normal bicycles, they also produce electric bikes. Their models usually have the motor at the front and the battery at the back.

Scott

Scott's electric bikes are included in the range of many resellers. The company is a Swiss sports equipment manufacturer, which also sells things like skis. They have a large range of electric bikes aimed at a broad target group – everything from MTB models for forest riding to electric bikes suitable for an urban environment. In terms of price, their bikes run from the medium price class to the premium range.

Nishiki

Nishiki's roots are in Japan, but the company is now entirely Swedish and manufactures its bicycles by hand in Gothenburg. They place great importance on geometry and balance. In addition to normal bicycles, they also sell electric bikes. At the time of writing they produce two models, one of which is unisex.

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Specialized Vado 4.0 NB

High levels of comfort and top quality components in a well-designed construction

Specialized's Vado 4.0 NB is a monster of an electric bike in terms of its careful design and build quality. It uses exclusively high-quality brand components which are attractively integrated into the bike design and perform faultlessly. For example, the motor and battery are fully integrated into the frame, which gives the bike a stylish and harmonious appearance. The motor is powerful, silent and responsive, largely thanks to the internal belt drive. The gear system has 11 speeds, which are fully sufficient for helping you to adapt rapidly to the challenges of an urban environment. The charging time is short, so if you stay in the town where you can easily find charging points between bike journeys, you won't have any problems. The centre motor and the battery integration into the lower frame tube give the bike a low centre of gravity, making it stable. This type of motor is more powerful than front and back wheel motors and delivers a high torque. A torque sensor detects how hard you're pedalling and adjusts the motor power accordingly, giving a natural feeling as you pedal.

The Vado 4.0 NB has a user-friendly display with all the functions you need. For example, you can use it to control the bike lights. The externally mounted rear gear is one of the better Shimano models. However, you should be aware that the combination of a powerful motor and externally mounted gears lead to increased wear on the driveline. Externally mounted gears also require a little more maintenance than other gear constructions. But among the advantages are fast acceleration and low weight. The Vado 4.0 NB has substantial hydraulic disk brakes, which give plenty of braking power and very little maintenance work regardless of weather conditions or load. The saddle is also good, but rather hard if you're going to be cycling far. The sitting position is slightly forward leaning, as is normal on hybrid bikes. The front forks, with shock absorbers, are very stable - as is the bike as a whole - and provide high comfort even on bumpy surfaces. Without electrical assistance, the bike feels tough to pedal at low speeds. This may be because the wide tyres are providing more resistance. In any case, if you cycle fast under your own power, it doesn't feel sluggish. Specialized's Vado 4.0 NB has very few shortcomings, but the price tag reflects this. This makes it most suitable for cyclists who don't want to compromise on quality, comfort or aesthetics and who are prepared to pay to get what they want. If you're looking for a powerful premium class hybrid for everyday commuting that works equally well on all types of surface, this is an electric bike that you'll have fun with for many years.

Silent, stable, responsive, high quality components, fast charging, attractive design, good suspension, display with lots of functions
A good bit of maintenance, slightly hard saddle