Best electric bike 2018: effortless commuting plus electric bikes for off-road exploits

E-bikes from under £1000 to under £5000 for commuting and mountain munching. We've got the right electric bike for every type of ride

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Tear up that Travelcard, it's time to try a new way of commuting: an electric bike. Or e-bike, if you prefer snappy shortenings. At the more rugged end of the best electric bikes market, there are also models that are great for effortlessly taking on hills, trails and general rough stuff.

Attitudes to electric bikes have changed in recent years. For a long time they were seen by cyclists as 'cheating' and by non-cyclists as being just like a bike, but uglier and far more expensive. This new breed of best-in-class electric bikes feel more natural, look more normal, and people are coming around to the idea that a ride with the convenience of a bike but without all the sweat and effort is a Very Good Thing. 

You might think the lack of effort involved means you will end up a bit chilly in the winter months, but if you wrap up warm, you'll be fine.

What is the best electric bike?

This depends what you are after of course but we have some very highly recommended bikes in each category.

Best e-bike for value The sub-£1000 Gtech eBike City has all that many users will need.

Best folding electric bike Brompton Electric. This feels uncannily like a normal Brompton, looks identical and folds in exactly the same brilliant way.

Best non-folding city e-bike VanMoof Electrified S2. A definite T3 Awards candidate for 2019, this has GPS tracking, an immobiliser and alarm, and rides like a dream.

Best electric bike for hills and off-road Haibike Sduro Trekking. The vorsprung durch technik of riding up very steep hills and along gravel paths.

How to choose the best electric bike for you

Cycling is a great pastime 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. 

Cycling with an electric bike for a commuter is all these things, plus leaves you less sweaty – what's not to love?

Different electric bike brands take different approaches to electric bike manufacture. Some choose to place an electric motor in the 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 a more high-powered approach, 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.

An increasing number of new, premium e-bikes place the motor in the front wheel hub, which seems to give a much more natural riding experience, if you're used to non-powered bikes.

Speaking of which, if you're used to non-electric cycles, be aware that e-bikes are heavy and capped at 25kph or 15.5mph. In many cases, that means the bike starts to feel like its actively fighting against you, if you try to push the speed higher than that by pedalling. That's especially true with heavier bikes, for obvious reasons, and can take a while to get used to. 

However, if you're being realistic, 15mph is a very decent average speed when commuting in town or taking on hills. This is despite what all cyclists will tell you is their average speed – you're not fooling anyone, guys! 

Again, some of the newer, more expensive e-bikes are starting to solve the 'fighting back' problem by applying power in a smoother curve, using algorithms that respond more accurately to the speed at which you pedal, and also by weighing less than a cow.

Even with cheaper or heavier bikes, once you accept that you are really meant to pedal gently and let the motor do the work, non-speed freaks will get into it. E-bikes are great for commuting and for places that aren't pancake flat. They'll pull you away from the lights quickly, iron out hills and stop you getting sweaty, so you can bin the Lycra and ride in jeans, a suit, or a winter coat.

However, don't think that riding an electric bike means you won't get any workout at all. Particularly if you want to push on past 15.5mph, they're much better for you than taking the bus.

The best electric bikes you can buy

Best electric bike: Brompton Electric

1. Brompton Electric

Best electric bike for commuting

Weight: 16.6 or 17.3kg
Range: 25-50 miles
Charging time: 3-5 hours (depending on charger)
Gears: 2- or 6-speed
Power: 200W
Reasons to buy
+Portable, fold-up design+Very well implemented assistance+Separate battery pack for easier carrying
Reasons to avoid
-Bromptons just look a bit weird

We got to have a go on the Brompton Electric at Ride London well over a year ago and it was pretty impressive. Now it's finally available to buy, and thanks to a number of software improvements, it is very impressive. 

If you want your commute to include a bike element, but want total ease of 'parking' and for you to arrive in a pristine and unsweaty state, there's nothing to beat it.

The F1-trained engineers at William Advanced Engineering assisted with the electrical parts and the result is a 250W motor that provides pedal assistance via the front hub – which is still a very unusual approach. 

It draws power from a 300Wh battery pack that sits in a bag and goes on the front where the Brompton luggage rack would normally sit. You can also opt for a larger bag that holds both the battery and your spare suit or laptop or whatever. 

Above all, the Brompton is a lot of fun to ride in urban settings. Its powerful enough to breeze up hills with minimal effort, but feels nimble on the flat. As with any Brompton, you probably won't win a half-mile sprint on it, but thanks to the pedal assistance, you most certainly will get off to a flying start. 

The reason it stands above other electric bikes is that Brompton has worked out how to apply power assistance to your pedalling so it feels natural. It also doesn't feel so much like it's trying to fight you once you reach the maximum, 15.5mph assisted speed.

A neat smartphone app shows current charge levels and lets you tailor assistance settings, while cadence and torque sensors mean power delivery is smooth and only kicks in when truly required. Brompton also plans to offer diagnostics and warnings that a service or battery replacement may be necessary via the app.

Brompton offers fewer options than it does with its standard steeds, but while it comes in any colour you like, so long as that's black or white, there is also a choice of two or six gears, that 20-litre bonus luggage option, and you can shell out extra for a fast charging system that delivers an 80 per cent battery top up in just 90 minutes.

Perhaps the cleverest thing of all about the Electric Brompton is that despite all the extra stuff, it folds up exactly the same as the non-powered variety. It's so simple, and unlike certain folding bikes we could mention, what you're left with is a genuinely small thing, rather than something that's about the size of a bike with the front wheel taken off.

The Electric Brompton is heavier than a standard Brompton of course, but still quite light by e-bike standards. It has small, suitcase-style additional wheels that come into play once folded up, and the way the weight is balanced means it is quite straightforward to trundle along in that state.  

Really, the only problem with the electric Brompton is the same as with a standard one – they're pricey, and you do look a bit of a tit riding one. But you'll get over it. 

Best cheap electric bike: Gtech eBike City

2. Gtech eBike City

The most affordable ebike for urban rides and so easy to use

Weight: 16kg
Range: 30 miles
Charging time: 3 hours
Gears: none
Power: 200W
Reasons to buy
+Computer monitored to adjust speed when pedalling+Good value for money
Reasons to avoid
-Not much difference between low and high power-Slightly uncomfortable saddle and grips

This Gtech City Bike sits at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Brompton, and is ideal for beginners or those on a budget. 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 winner with this.

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 City or its identical (spec-wise) sibling the eBike Sport (this just has a standard frame rather than a step-through one) 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. 

In some ways, its real USP at launch was that it just looks like a bike. Thankfully, other brands are now following Gtech's lead in this area.

Best urban electric bike: VanMoof Electrified S2

3. VanMoof Electrified S2

Best inner city electric bike

Weight: 19kg
Range: 35 to 90 miles
Charging time: 4 hours
Gears: 2-speed automatic
Power: '250-500W'
Reasons to buy
+Great handling and feels speedy+Built in alarm, GPS and immobiliser+Lengthy range+Early bird pricing is a great deal
Reasons to avoid
-Gets a touch pricier for non-early birds-Sightly troubling automatic gear switching

• Pre-order with £100 deposit at VanMoof

When it comes to premo-grade e-bikes built for city commutes the Brompton Electric is arguably more useful overall due to the way it folds down so small. However, if you commute by bike alone, with no public transport required, and so don't need folding, VanMoof's Electrified S2 is the e-bike to get.

VanMoof have got this absolutely spot on for urbanites. It's well built, rides as well as the Brompton if not better, and is also packed with genuinely useful tech features. Chief amongst these is the raft of anti-theft measures. 

Firstly there's a magnetically-fired locking pin in the rear wheel, triggered by kicking a button on the hub. This is fairly secure in itself and almost impossible to remove without destroying the bike. In London, we'd pair it with a more traditional bike lock so there's a more obvious visual deterrent, though a LED matrix screen on the frame does issue a warning to would-be tea-leafs.

Then there's a smart alarm that gradually gets more shrill if it detects anyone playing with the Electrified S2, but doesn't go off just because someone slightly moves your bike in order to chain up their own bike. Even better, once a theft is detected, the lights flash SOS (!) while the GPS tracking kicks in. 

Perhaps most remarkable of all, VanMoof promises to send a specialist out to retrieve your bike for you. That doesn't sound like a fun job, to us.

Also on board are keyless unlocking via an app and Bluetooth (with manual PIN override, thankfully), and the same app also lets you choose between the four power levels. Again, there's also a button for this – in fact, there doesn't seem to be anything that can only be done via the app, which is good design.

None of this would matter if the VanMoof Electrified S2 (and its close relative the X2) wasn't fun to ride, but it is a blast. Like the Brompton, it pulls off the neat trick of powering you along but giving the illusion that you're doing the work, reacting quickly and cleverly to the speed of your pedalling and the difficulty of any incline you're on. 

The S2 has two further Brompton-trumping tricks up its sleeve. There's a 'turbo boost' button that shoots you straight to 15.5mph and keeps you there, without you needing to pedal faster – great for pulling away from the lights, or just using to push your speed back up after braking or swerving a pothole.

There's much less of a sensation of the Electrified S2 'fighting back' once you hit 15.5mph, as well. That's helped by the automatic 2-speed gear box, although this does take some getting used to. Because its cogs are very different sizes you can end up with all sorts of cadence problems as it auto-shifts from high back to low. With practice you can avoid this, or of course you could in theory fit a second cog that's closer in size to the first.

The VanMoof Electrified S2 is also something of a deal at present. It's early bird pre-order price is £2,398. That might not be cheap exactly, but it's quite the bargain compared to the price it will be: £3,198.

Best off-road electric bike: Haibike Sduro Trekking

4. Haibike Sduro Trekking

Best electric bike for off-roading and dastardly hills

Weight: 24kg
Range: 'up to' 80 miles
Charging time: 3 hours
Gears: Shimano Deore XT 20 speed
Power: 250W
Reasons to buy
+Well built with plenty of power+Long range+Good for hilly commutes and off-road action
Reasons to avoid
-Bloody heavy

This is an absolutely textbook electric mountain bike. It's heavy, powerful, built to last and it gobbles up hills. The 63mm of front suspension is invaluable whether you're taking on woodland trails or – much more terrifying – the UK's pothole-pitted roads.

Naturally, the 250W motor applies power with rather less finesse than the Brompton or VanMoof, and when you hit the 15.5mph assisted speed limit, you know about it. However, for those who value power over speed, and conquering hills over racing along the flat, the Haibike Sduro Trekking is hard to argue with.

For rural commuting or days out on hills and trails, the Sduro Trekking is a cracking choice. It's built like a tank and goes like the clappers. 

• Read our full Haibike Sduro Trekking review

Best electric bikes: Emu Crossbar

5. Emu Crossbar

Another cracking, affordable city e-bike

Style: Electric
Frame: Aluminium **Weight** 23 kg
Gears: Shimano Nexus 7 speed hub
Motor: 250W front hub
Battery: Samsung 10.4A or 14.5A
Range: 25-50 miles
Charge time: 6-8 hours
Reasons to buy
+Great price+Excellent spec and features+Practical storage solutions
Reasons to avoid
-Heavy-Traditional styling might not appeal to all

This number from e-bike newcomers Emu might not boast the trick belt drive or lightweight frame of the Gtech Ebike Sports, but it beats in most other specification areas, whilst maintaining a sub-£1000 price tag.

For that you get a powerful 250W front hub motor, 10.4 Amp battery with a range of 40km (25 miles) on a single charge and a top-up time of six hours from flat.

At 23kg, it is a heavy old lump, but Emu attempts to negate this with a 'walk assist' mode, which incorporates a small amount of motor assistance when moving around but it's still tricky to get on and off a train, for example.

However, Emu sells a little foldable number if that's your bag. The Emu Crossbar is for  town commuters that require a sweet ride that's backed up by solid Shimano Nexus hub gears and Tektro brakes, which are adequate if not the best on the market. Riding is smooth and easy, with the crank moving sensor doing its best to iron out any gaps in power delivery.

Best electric bikes: Volt Pulse

6. Volt Pulse

Best 'hybrid' rural/urban electric bike

Weight: 22.7kg
Range: 60 or 80 miles depending on model
Charging time: 3-4 hours
Gears: 8-Speed
Power: 250W
Reasons to buy
+Great fun to ride+Gears and suspension+'Turbo' button
Reasons to avoid
-Quite heavy

Pricier than the Gtech but offering an awful lot of ebike for your money, the Volt Pulse is a very neatly designed hybrid bike.

Unlike the Gtech it has disk brakes, 8-speed Shimano Alivio gearing and front suspension that can be easily locked off when not required.

The 250W motor is powerful enough to handle hills and to make the bike feel surprisingly nimble for something that weighs 22.7kg.

Possibly my favourite thing about it is the hybrid drive system which combines the same sort of pedal-assistance as the Gtech but also has a very hard-to-resist thumb throttle to push you up to the capped 15.5mph top speed with zero effort. 

You can then either cruise at that speed or employ leg power to go faster. 

Everything about this bike feels well thought through. For commuters in hillier areas and those who just require extra assistance, it's a great choice. 

Best electric bike for your mid-life crisis: Hummingbird Electric

7. Hummingbird Electric

Best folding e-bike for those who love to be different

Weight: 10.3kg
Range: '30+ km'
Charging time: not quoted
Gears: No
Power: 250W
Reasons to buy
+Ultra-light, premium build+Eye-catching and fun to ride
Reasons to avoid
-Why would you buy this over the Brompton?-Makes the Brompton look like a bargain

• Buy Hummingbird Electric direct from Hummingbird, from £4,495

Hummingbird Electric powers along on its Italian-engineered, 250W, back-wheel motor, thanks to a ridiculously light carbon-fibre frame – it's 10.3kg which is nothing by e-bike standards. 

The Bitride app lets you can customise motor-assist settings and monitor your speed and battery time. It comes in a choice of 5 striking 'standard' colours, or you can go for a custom option for another 200 quid.

This really is a helluva lot of fun to ride but then for the price Hummingbird is asking, it really ought to be. The reasons I feel you might want to pass are that it doesn't really feel that much quicker than any other urban e-bike, despite the amazingly low weight (it's got the same speed limiting tech as all of them, after all).

It also doesn't fold up as neatly as the Brompton, nor, despite the lighter weight, is it as easy to trundle about when folded. It looks jazzier, but you're paying a pretty considerable premium for that. However, Hummingbird does occasionally throw discounts about (Black Friday for instance), so keep an eye on its website for those.

Best electric bike: Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie

8. Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie

A rather more pricey off-road e-bike that's serious about fun

Weight: 23.3kg
Range: not quoted
Charging time: not quoted
Power : up to 530W
Gears: 11 speed
Reasons to buy
+Mission Control App for perfect ride planning
Reasons to avoid
-Not one for commuting

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.

Best road/e-bike hybrid: Giant Road E+1

9. Giant Road E+1

The speedster king of e-bikes

Weight: 18kg
Range: 50 miles
Charging time: 4.5 hours
Power : up to 500W
Gears: 22 speed
Reasons to buy
+Ultra-reliable battery
Reasons to avoid
-Very loud brakes on descents

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.

Best electric bikes: Gtech eScent

10. Gtech eScent

Great value electric mountain bike that's probably more at home in town

Weight: 19kg
Range: 20 miles
Charging time: 3 hours
Power: up to 500W
Gears: 10 speed
Reasons to buy
+Cheaper than most electric mountain bikes+Generally a fun ride
Reasons to avoid
-Only a 30-mile range

Rather as it did with the eBike City (#2), Gtech has undercut its more established bicycle rivals with this beefed-up, 'mountain bike' successor. Again, a very solid basic frame  is augmented with a motor (a rather more powerful, 500W one) that assists your pedalling automatically, based on resistance put up by hills and other obstacles.

At 19kg it weighs less than a lot of e-bikes built for off-roading, and the Shimano Deore gears and disk brakes are a good bundle at this price. It lacks the power and range (you'll get about 20-30 miles) of some heavier bikes but particularly for cyclists making the switch to electric mountain biking, it's more fun to ride.

It's also an excellent urban run-around, especially if you live anywhere hilly or with a lot of potholes (which, let's face it, is most towns these days).

11. Ridgeback Electron Plus

Very well specced e-bike for hilly commutes

Weight: 24.4kg
Range: up to 78 miles
Charging time: 4 hours
Power : 250W
Gears: 8 Speed
Reasons to buy
+Hub gears+Lots of power+Conquers any hill
Reasons to avoid
-Very heavy

Employing Shimano's STEPS e-bike tech, this is a further step up from Gtech's City runabout and Cube's hybrid.

Again it's heavier (a ludicrous 26kg), higher-specced (this boasts hub gears and built-in lights, powered by the main battery) and more sophisticated. 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 built in bike computer shows key ride data, including you how much further the battery can take you, and which of the three power settings you are using. 

The STEPS motor system runs from an enormous, rear-mounted battery that gives a colossal, 160-mile range in low power and about 40 on the maximum setting.

With that and the mechanical gears, you have a bike that can deal with just about any hill, and will whirr effortlessly along on the flat.

The one issue with the Shimano system is that its heft, with the fact that the e-power is capped at 15mph, means it is something of a chore to get it going any faster than that. But then, this isn't meant for the flat; it's a mountain muncher.

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.