22nd July 2021
Electric bikes (e-bikes) have become increasingly popular. They can make a hilly or long commute more manageable, get you further afield on leisure rides, or restore a lapsed love of cycling.
E-bikes have a few additional features over regular bikes that need to be considered before you buy, such as weight, motor position and battery range.
In this guide we explain what you need to know to decide whether an e-bike is for you and how to choose the right one.
Our independent e-bike tests also reveal the e-bike systems that will go furthest before you need to recharge them - we've uncovered some that are completely unsuitable for hilly areas. See which motor and battery systems we recommend by heading to our page.
Watch our video to find out about the pros and cons of different types of e-bike, and decide if one of them might be for you.
The only difference between an electric bike and an ordinary bicycle is that it has a battery-powered motor to assist you with your riding.
A small digital display allows you to switch between lower or higher amounts of motor input as you go. These are often called 'assistance levels'.
So as you pedal you can choose an assistance level to make the motor match - or even double - your level of effort, helping to propel you along.
You have to pedal for the motor to kick in, and electric bikes are restricted by law to go no faster than 15.5mph (25kph). These restrictions mean you don't need a licence or to tax/insure it - as you would with a scooter.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t go faster than 15.5mph on an e-bike, only that the e-bike's motor assistance will cut out at this speed.
If you want to go faster, then you will have to pedal harder or be going downhill. 15.5mph is a good speed for cruising along on the flat, and will feel very quick when going uphill.
However, if you know you'll be regularly lifting your e-bike into a car, up stairs into a flat, or while hopping on and off public transport, then it may be best to invest in a lighter e-bike to make it more convenient to use.
Prices for e-bikes vary from £500 to more than £5,000, however most cost between £1,500 and £3,000. Several factors can affect the price of an e-bike:
Regardless of the type of electric bike you're looking to buy, a key thing to consider is the position of the motor on the bike. This can affect everything from how the bike handles to how easy it is to transport.
As a general rule of thumb, mid-hub motors tend to be more expensive than front or rear-hub motors, but most people find they offer a smoother ride.
Of course, the best way to determine which motor feels right for you is to test ride the e-bike for yourself, but the following pros and cons will help you narrow down your choice.
Positioned on the front wheel hub, they’re common on folding bikes and cheaper touring e-bikes (typically under £1,500).
These are situated on the rear wheel hub. They also tend to cost less than £1,500.
E-bikes with a mid-hub motor (sometimes called a mid-engine motor) are typically more expensive. They do have some significant advantages though.
Unquestionably the motor is the most important part of an e-bike. But with thousands of different e-bikes available to buy in the UK it can be hard to know where to start.
However, a significant number of e-bike manufacturers buy their motor systems from third-party suppliers. This means there are a lot of e-bikes on the market with the same motor, battery and display combinations.
Therefore finding a great electric bike motor system can really narrow down your search.
Brands such as Giant, Canon and Raleigh will fit out their e-bikes with motors from manufacturers such as Bosch, Shimano or Yamaha, then pair them with a lithium-ion battery and a digital control display.
Once you've chosen the motor system for you, you can then test-ride a handful of e-bikes to find the one that is the most comfortable, suitable and easy for you to ride.
We've tested nearly all of the third-party mid-hub e-bike motors available in the UK, and the difference in quality is stark.
E-bikes come with different sizes of battery. To know how far it can get you on one charge, look for its capacity, which is measured in Watt hours (Wh). E-bike batteries typically range between 300Wh and 500Wh.
As a general rule of thumb, the larger the capacity the longer the range.
However, this is also impacted by the motor the battery is connected to: for example, the same 400Wh battery may do 10 miles less if connected to a less efficient motor.
The size of the battery will also affect how much assistance the motor can give you when you need it.
If you live in a hilly area, or you plan on riding your bike on lots of hills, then it's worth opting for a higher-wattage battery to make sure it has enough juice to cope .
Lithium-ion batteries degrade over time, and after a few of years of heavy use, you might notice that it doesn't last as long, or take you as far, as it used to. In fact, it's common for a battery to have a much shorter warranty length than the rest of the bike.
Because of this, it's incredibly important to pick an e-bike that has a replaceable battery. Otherwise the clock is ticking on the effective lifetime of your bike the moment you leave the shop.
Most electric bikes costing over £1,500 have a replaceable battery, but cheaper bikes might not. Make sure you check before you buy, and also check the cost of replacement batteries. A replacement e-bike battery typically costs around £200-£500.
Different e-bikes have slightly different setups, but most will offer an equivalent of low, medium and high assistance modes. These usually equate to the motor matching your input, giving one and a half times your input, or doubling your input.
The control display usually sits on the handlebars and allows you to adjust the assistance level as you go. In our tests we found some were clearer and easier to use on the go than others.
One of the most common bike-buying mistakes is an oversized or undersized frame. It can ruin your enjoyment of a bike if you have to reach too far for the handlebars or you simply can’t find a comfortable riding position.
Always test-ride a bike at your local bike shop before you buy one, and check manufacturers' guidelines to find the right frame size for you.
The increased weight of e-bikes means you need a decent set of brakes. E-bike brakes are no different to the brakes on a regular bike. Depending on the type of bike you’re looking at, it will have one of the following braking systems:
Entry-level e-bikes are likely to have braking systems from brands such as Shimano or Tektro. SRAM and TRP are more commonly, but not exclusively, found on pricier e-bikes.
E-bike conversion kits can be purchased at relatively low cost and fitted to a standard bike to convert it into an electric bike.
Prices start from around £400. Typically you get a front or rear wheel with an electric hub, a battery and a display unit to fit to your existing bike.
They’re relatively complicated to fit yourself, but can be a cheaper option than buying an entirely new bike.
All of the major bike retailers in the UK, such as Halfords, Evans, Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles and Rutland Cycles, stock electric bikes. Any of these retailers or your local bike shop are a great place to start if you want to try different types of electric bike.
The majority of major bike manufacturers, such as BMC, Cube, Giant, Orbea, Raleigh, Scott and Trek, also now have electric bike ranges. There are also some electric-only brands that you might not be as familiar with, such as Cowboy, Gazelle, Haibike and Volt.