Electric bikes to glide you through 2016
Tearing up the Travelcard and opting to hack around town by bicycle is a great move for a number of reasons: it's free (after the initial bicycle purchase), it's good for your health and in many cases, it can be faster than cars and public transport.
There are also plenty of downsides: big crashes, rampant bicycle theft and arriving at every destination like a big, melting mess are just a few.
You can try this bike safety gear to help you with the first issue, and life on a bike can also be made less sweaty, thanks to these e-bikes.
These have really come into their own in the last year or so. Gone are the bulky, ridiculous-looking eyesores of past, and down go the costs, as we welcome in a new breed with impressive top speeds and more affordable price tags. Although of course, there are still plenty of blow-the-budget options available.
Different brands take different approaches to electric bike manufacture. Some choose to place an electric motor in the front or rear wheel hub, with a torque sensor in the cranks that tells the on-board batteries to send power to the wheels.
Others - notably Bosch and Yamaha - opt for more advanced designs, with the entire motor and sensor unit situated around the bike's cranks, meaning more visually appealing and aerodynamically advanced frame styles can be fashioned.
The battery pack tends to be placed on the downtube, where a water bottle would typically sit, but they can also turn up on a rear carrier or rack, especially if it's a Brompton-style offering.
Whatever the design approach, the result is largely the same: a bike that takes the strain out of cycling by doing some of the pedalling for you.
E-bikes still tend to be fairly heavy, thanks to the additional parts, but manufacturers have started to integrate batteries into frames and use ultra-lightweight materials to reduce this.
These are the best electrically assisted bicycles on the planet right now, and there are options for casual commuters, road riders, hill climbers and mud-track scramblers.
We've started with what we consider to be the most generally useful mix of power, range, practicality and price, but there are models further down from off-road bikes to fold-up ones, and plenty of price options, from cheap to not-quite-so cheap.
Gtech eBike Sports
Best for: Utterly simple e-commuting
There are definitely more powerful electric bikes out there than this, and a few cheaper ones, but Gtech - best known for its vacuum cleaners and hedge trimmers - has pulled off a surprise win, here.
For just shy of a grand, you get an e-bike that actually looks like a bike, has a 30-mile maximum range, and is shorn of anything that could be described as complexity.
You turn it on by pressing the green button on the battery once for low power and twice for high, although to be honest, there is not a lot of difference between them. After that, you just pedal. There are no gears, no chain to muck up your trousers (a motorbike-style carbon fibre belt is used instead) and not that much difference in feeling compared to riding a normal bike.
The twist is that a computer monitors how hard you're having to work to pedal, and applies the electric motor as required. So you mainly feel its helping hand as you pull away from lights, coming out of corners, and of course, going up slopes.
As with all these bikes, the assisted speed is capped at 15mph, but unlike some of them, the Gtech eBike Sport is light and agile enough for you to be able pedal harder without feeling like the weight is fighting you back down to 15mph. You can even, at a push, use it without the motor on flatter roads.
We wouldn't try to take this up a mountain section of the Tour de France, but for urban hills and more gentle rural inclines, it really does take the work out of it.
For the money, and especially considering it comes from a hedge trimmer brand, the eBike is a great little set of wheels. There have been sacrifices made in the comfort of the saddle and the grips, and the brakes could have a bit more bite to them, but these seem like acceptable compromises to us.
From £995 | Buy Gtech eBike Sports
Gazelle CityZen C8
Best for: Pacey town jaunts
The e-bike revolution hasn't quite kicked off in the UK - although brands feel sales are poised to surge - but in Holland, where Gazelle hails from, it is absolutely massive.
The CityZen is the marque's sportiest frame and features a powerful and ultra-reliable motor from Bosch. The bike offers a 90-mile range, while the simple Shimano 8-speed gearing and hydraulic brake system make it a doddle to breeze around on a daily basis.
Mudguards, a rear-mounted storage rack and an integral lighting system mean this a great commuter machine that will deliver you to the office in a non-sweaty state no matter the season.
Price £1,999 | Buy Gazelle CityZen C8
Ridgeback Electron Plus
Best for: Hillier commutes
Employing Shimano's STEPS e-bike tech, this sits somewhere around the midpoint between Gtech's lightweight, urban runaround and Specialized's fearsome, off-piste mud muncher.
It's far more sophisticated than the Gtech, with a built in bike computer to showing key ride data, including you how much further the battery can take you.
Also unlike the Gtech, the Electron Plus has three power settings you can click between from the handlebar controls, integrated front and rear lights and actual, mechanical gears. You can even opt for Shimano's Di2 electric gearing. Shelling out for that in an e-bike context would be kind of ridiculous, but hey, it's your money.
The STEPS motor system runs from an enormous, rear-mounted battery that gives a colossal range in low power and will take you up to about 40 miles on the maximum setting.
Add the mechanical gears to this and you have a bike that can deal with just about any hill, and will whirr effortlessly along on the flat.
The one slight issue with the Shimano system is that it is, by definition, very heavy. With the e-power capped at 15mph, it is actually something of a chore to get it going faster. In fact the only way we found to get it much over 20 on the flat was to get up to maximum speed using the motor, then cut it off and pedal like hell.
On the other hand, 15mph is a perfectly adequate speed for most commuters, if they're being realistic.
If you live in the countryside, or a hilly town like Brighton, and you don't fancy having calves like massive hams, the Electron Plus could be your dream ride.
Price £2,199 | Buy Ridgeback Electron Plus
Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie
Best for: Hardcore trail riders
Specialized's foray into the electrically-assisted world is an interesting one, because here is a brand that has supported some of the greatest professionals of the biking world (think Tour de France Green Jersey winner Peter Sagan) and it's basically encouraging you to cheat.
"Anyone who has ridden our Turbo bikes says that they have opened up trails that weren't possible to reach or simply extended a riding session," explains Justin Sullivan, mountain bike specialist at Specialized.
What he really means is the Turbo Levo offers serious off-road lunatics the chance to get their kicks with less pedal effort thanks to this awesome electrically assisted machine.
The full suspension Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie (great name, huh?) packs a powerful electric motor that was pinched from the automotive world, which sucks juice from a battery that has been seamlessly blended into the frame.
The entire drive system is neatly incorporated into the bike's design for optimal weight distribution and the ultimate in sexy design, while users control torque and power output, which peaks at a surprisingly punchy 530W, via a cool Mission Control App that can also be programmed to a time or distance parameter to ensure there's enough power to get you home.
Once the power output is set, the rider simply pedals and marvels at the amount of power that the battery pack and motors offer up. Once at the top of a gnarly downhill route, the motor can be turned off and the rider left to enjoy the berms, jumps and obstacles that make mountain biking so appealing (and downright scary).
The huge beaded tyres are hardly ideal for everyday commuting but the electric motor will instantly override any rolling resistance that should rear its ugly head. You could also consider some of the more commuter-friendly Turbo models.
This thing is also kitted out with a full SRAM groupset, RockShox Yari RC front shocks, Custom Fox Float suspension at the rear and enormously punchy SRAM disc brakes at the front and rear. Fundamentally, it's a mighty off-road machine with pro-spec kit that introduces a new style of trail riding, allowing adrenaline junkies to ride further, climb harder and descend faster than ever before.
The price reflects that.
Price £4,000 | Buy Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie
Volt Pulse X
Volt’s hybrid electric bike is another perfect machine if your riding route takes you across the rough stuff as well as the slightly smoother road. It features grippy hybrid tyres and RST front suspension for soaking up the bumps, and you can even remotely lock out the forks when you’re grinding up hills.
Not that you’ll need to do that much, thanks to the Pulse’s Bafang Power Motor, which gives you extra torque for getting up any gradient. The very substantial 80 miles of range offered by the lithium battery is another great selling point here.
Price £1899 I Buy VOLT Pulse X
Coboc One Soho
Best for: Electric hipsters
Who said e-bikes couldn't be cool? Coboc's Soho blends all of the stylish elements of achingly hip fixed-gear bicycles with cutting edge battery and electric motor technology.
In this case, the lightweight power source is neatly embedded into the frame, while torque sensors are mounted in the bottom bracket for instantaneous and progressive assistance.
You can expect a range of around 50-miles on a single charge, which takes around two hours. More importantly, the brushed aluminium frame is finished with a lightweight carbon fibre fork, as well as retro-inspired bars and saddle from Brooks.
Price £3,199 | Buy Coboc One Soho
Giant Road E+1
Best for: The ageing racer
Billed as a 'lively hybrid powered bike', the Road E+1 is really the closest thing to an electrically assisted performance road bike as it's possible to get.
Granted, the UCI would likely have several heart attacks if you turned up to a professional event on this but that's not to say it doesn’t have its merits.
As a rapid commuter machine, it's faultless, with an ultra-reliable 500Wh Lithium Ion battery powering a SyncDrive Yamaha X94 central motor, which produces 80Nm of torque, and the sort of finishing kit that's reserved for top end road racers.
A Shimano 105 groupset, Shimano hydraulic disc brakes and FSA extras all come as standard, so if you feel like you need a bit of assistance on your daily commute or a handy shove next weekend ride, this could be just the ticket.
Price £2,749 | Buy Giant Road E+1
Trek Powerfly+ FS 5
Best for: Knackered mountain bikers
One of the more affordable introductions to the world of electrically assisted off-road mayhem, the Powerful+ FS 5 builds on Trek's solid full suspension range with the addition of a Bosch Performance CX pedal assist system that’s capable of pumping out pedal power at speeds of up to 15mph.
The Bosch motor has been armour plated for optimal protection, the lightweight aluminium frame beefed up for extra resilience and a Bosch Intuvia Display added to give speedometer readouts and a USB interface for charging mobile devices.
Price £2,700 | Buy Trek Powerfly+ FS 5
Best for: The techy train user
This chainless, compact, folding bicycle has arrived to show Brompton what the future of urban transportation looks like… And it's kinda funky.
An electric motor in the front wheel allows you to choose between electric, manual or assisted pedalling modes, with the small and lightweight battery delivering around 19 miles of riding. A charge from a regular socket takes just two hours.
The sleek, 16kg machine can be fully folded in under 10-second to haul it on a bus or train, plus it boasts a neat smartphone dock on the handlebars. A neat addition because a bespoke app gives distance readouts, calories burned and GPS navigation readouts.
Price £2,000 | Buy JIVR
Best for: Electric bike newbies
There's not much to get excited about in terms of styling or performance with this budget Halfords offering but as a reasonable everyday hack, it's hard to fault.
The front suspension aids riding over potholes and scarred road surfaces, while the 36v 9ah battery supplies an impressive amount of juice to the rear hub-mounted e-motor.
Four assist modes can be selected via a brightly lit screen, with power ranging from a slight shove to all-out electric motoring. Unfortunately, the torque sensor can be a little slow to react but once up to speed, it's plain sailing all the way to work.
Price £800 | Buy Carrera Crossfire-E
Best for: Cash-strapped commuters
The Coyote Commute is another one that allows urbanites to make the most of both two wheels and public transport thanks to its neat, foldable frame.
The on-board 36v 9ah battery powers a small electric motor in the front wheel hub, which aids riders at speeds of up to 15mph for around 30 miles on a single charge.
Admittedly, the Coyote isn't the most attractive bike on this list, but it does pack some handy storage in the form of a rear rack and it's cheap, while the Shimano Tourney gearing is tough enough to handle the daily hack.
Warning: you will need some arm strength to lug this thing on and off the train because it is heavy but luckily, you'll have plenty of energy left for that at the end of a long commute.
Price £640 | Buy Coyote Commute