The latest cheap ebike to grab my attention is the Halfords Carrera Impel. Specifically, I've been trying out the Carrera Impel im-2, which has gears. The other model, the Impel im-1 is has no gears but is otherwise identical. For the price – just under £1,300 – it really is massively impressive. If you look at previous ebikes from Halfords' Carrera range they are a little primitive and lacking in style, but the Impel could be mistaken for a Specialized Turbo Creo at a glance, and that is about twice the price. It's very sturdily built and fully featured, without being outrageously heavy.
It's really great how much ebikes have improved in quality and come down in price in recent years. Partly that's due to demand rocketing and partly it's the onward march of progress. In fact presumably electric bikes would be even better value if there wasn't a global supply crisis on at the moment. At least once you've secured one, you're no longer reliant on petrol, though.
The Carrera is definitely among the best ebikes (not a lot of) money can buy. The way it adds power to your pedalling is genuinely exciting, if a little unpredictable. So let's charge up and go for a test ride…
- Pure Electric Pure Flux One review – an even cheaper ebike
- Pure Electric has two new bikes coming up: Pure Free City and Pure Free Step
- The Angell ebike is not cheap but then it's more like a smartphone on wheels
How does Carrera Impel compare to other cheap ebikes?
Out of all the more affordable electric bikes I've tried, the Impel range does feel like the best value. Pure Electric's bikes are both cheaper and – in my opinion – better looking but for just £300 more can you get the im-2 with a concealed but still removable battery, built-in lights and a longer range. The riding position and overall feel of the Impel is also better, which is probably a matter of Halfords knowing more about bike construction than scooter specialist Pure Electric does.
It's also worth noting that the im-1, which I haven't tried, is a single speed bike – ie: no gears to change – just like Pure Electric's ebike. It has all the same advantages over the Pure Flux One that I just mentioned and is only £100 more expensive.
So is Halfords Carrera Impel any good?
Unlike the Xiaomi Mi Smart Folding Electric Bike – another Halfords exclusive – the Impel has not been battered repeatedly with the ugly stick. It's a handsome set of wheels, with the battery hidden in the frame's chunky downtube.
I knew I was onto a winner with this bike from the get go, because nothing about setting it up annoyed me at all, and I am a very irritable guy. Via a system of stickers, Halfords even makes putting the pedals on idiot-proof. Remind some time me to tell you the story of how I immediately trashed the cranks of a £5,000 bike by screwing the pedals in the wrong way. I can laugh about it now but at the time I was mortified.
The saddle can also be easily adjusted without the need for an Allen key – hallelujah! – and I didn't need to adjust either the disk brakes or the 9-speed Shimano gears in any way whatsoever. Even the tyres were fully pumped up. With some decent lights built in front and rear, and powered by the main battery, I was ready to go about 15 minutes after lifting the Impel im-2 from its box. Now that's what I'm talking about!
Let's hit the road!
Okay, so I then hit a tiny problem once outside with the im-2. You turn it on by holding down the button on top of the little display mounted on the left handlebar. This works fine, but in practically all outdoor light conditions, from sunny to cloudy, I found it more or less impossible to see the display. Fortunately, there is not a lot to see, and once you've chosen which of the 3 power settings you want, you don't really need to worry about it. Halfords should look into improving this state of affairs though, surely.
After that, I'm happy to report that everything was very plain sailing. The hybrid frame style is comfortable to ride on but also sporty enough to feel like you can go fast if you want. With the sloping crossbar, it's easy to mount up but it looks like a 'proper bike' rather than all this namby-pamby 'step-through' nonsense we see so much of today.
The riding experience is just what I want from an ebike, which is to say that it feels like riding a bicycle, but with the Electric Hand of God pushing you along. Admittedly it's not a very strong Hand of God, since it will only get you up to 15.5mph/25kph, but the Impel im-2's acceleration is brisk and doesn't falter on hills – or what passes for hills in central London, at any rate.
As I mentioned, this bike is about half the price of the likes of Specialized's Turbo Vado and the Canyon Roadlite:ON. So of course, Halfords has cut a few corners. The disk brakes are mechanical rather than hydraulic, the finishing kit comes from Tektro, the paintwork is of lower quality, and so on. The motor is from Hyaena rather than using a Bosch or Shimano Steps drive – that would immediately whack the price right up.
However, the great thing is that none of this really impacts the cycling experience to any significant degree. After all, you've got the same electrically-assisted speed as on any ebike, regardless of its cost, nine gears – which is plenty, let's face it – and the disk brakes have enough bite to easily deal with any situation short of some kind of downhill loss-of-control nightmare.
There's no suspension obviously, but fat tyres, a slightly flexible frame and unusually comfy saddle make for a pleasant ride, with protection from potholes and speed bumps.
With a bit of effort, it is even possible to push the Carrera Impel im-2 past its 15.5mph motorised limit. This can feel like a major struggle on some ebikes – most ebikes in fact.
The Impel im-2 however is just light enough – well, it's under 20kg, anyway – and geared high enough at the top of its range to make actual speed a possibility. Although this is hard for me to fully confirm because the speedometer on the LCD display couldn't be seen, as I mentioned above. I felt like I was going fast, anyway.
The only way this affordable and trusty electric steed gives away its low price very noticeably is the way that the power is applied. On a more expensive ebike such as the aforementioned Specialized and Canyon models, the folding miracle that is the GoCycle G4i or the fancy French Angell ebike, power is applied in a very smooth curve that rises with your pressure on the pedals.
On the Carrera, it's more like a skittish pony that wants to reach a gallop as fast as possible. It's not the most 'premium' experience but it does the job. I actually found its little surges and dropouts quite exciting, and at the end of the day, you're only going up to 15.5mph, so there's not a lot to complain about.
Despite saying the opposite for many years, I am now coming around to the idea that ebikes don't really need gears. With this one, I generally kept it on the top two cogs and didn't bother to gear down when stopping. Why would I when there's a motor to assist with starting me off again? I also found that below the top two gears my cadence became rather frenzied.
However, I can imagine having the full set of 9 gears could be useful if you live on or near a lot of very steep hills, or you are intending to use the im-2 with the motor turned off. Powering the Carrera's 19.6kg frame along using leg power alone would give you quite the workout, I'd imagine.
One very important question that I obviously can't answer after a short-term trial is how long Halfords' cheap ebike will last. There's a two-year warranty on the battery and motor, but what happens after that? With these cheaper motors there is a greater risk of failure, and repairs tend to be more difficult. However, that is not to say that failure is inevitable. And looking further on the bright side, cheap motors are also cheaper to replace.
The battery should start to lose charge after five years or so but that doesn't mean you get five years use and then it dies – you'll just start to gradually lose range.
So I can't say for sure how long the life of the Carrera Impel im-2 will be, but the general quality and simplicity of its build, and the fact it comes from a big retailer like Halfords does offer a degree of reassurance.
Overall, at £1,299 there is very little to complain about here, and a lot to love. I had a whale of a time on this bike!
Shop the Carrera Impel range
Carrera Impel im-2 | £1,299 at Halfords
Spot the difference? The im-2 has a derailleur on the rear wheel because rather than being single-speed, it has no fewer than 9 gears, with the mechanism coming from 'Shimano or Microshift'. Other than that, the bike is identical in every way to the im-1, with the same assisted range and 5-7 hour recharging time. Available to buy now…
Carrera Impel im-1 | £1,099 at Halfords
This impressively affordable ebike boasts a range of up to 50 miles, built-in front and rear lights and even Bluetooth, so you can see your riding stats on your phone. Another nice lil' feature is a 'walk mode', which supplies a small amount of power when you're pushing the bike along by hand. Available to buy now…
On October 11 there'll be a further addition to the range, in the form of the Carrera Impel im-3. This has 10 gears – not sure how useful that is – hydraulic disk brakes, and a bigger battery, for a longer maximum range of 75 miles. There's no official pricing details on that yet, but I assume it'll be in the region of £1,499 to £1,599.