Sales of e-bikes have boomed in recent years. A lot of that comes from the popularity of electric road and mountain bikes, but vitally, people are starting to reap the benefits of getting to and from work on an electric bike. The best electric bikes for commuting will be small and light enough to manoeuvre through the city streets, offer enough range to get you to work and back, with the capability to carry everything you need.
One of the biggest issues with working life, especially in cities, is the commute. Traffic jams, the associated road-rage, and poor air quality are all things that cycling to work can help remedy, and an electric bike will make that journey even more enjoyable. Chris Boardman, Greater Manchester’s Cycling and Walking Commissioner, estimates the people of Greater Manchester alone make 250 million car journeys of less than one kilometre each year. So, we hope you agree that maybe it’s time to leave the car at home, and get on the bike?
What bike you choose depends on the demands of your commute, what bikes you’re comfortable on, and also how much you’re willing to spend. Luckily for you, we’ve assembled a list of what we think are the best electric bikes for commuting out there.
Best electric bikes for commuting
Orbea Gain F40
Well-polished hybrid e-bike
Drive system: MAHLE ebikemotion | Battery capacity: 248 – 456 Wh | Claimed weight: 13kg
The Orbea Gain has such subtle integration of the battery and motor, at first glance, you’d be hard pushed to know it was an e-bike. It has an attractive, lightweight, aluminium frame and carbon fork with a 9-speed Shimano drivetrain which should see you over any terrain. Well-disguised within that frame is a 248 Wh battery which should be plenty to get you to work and back. If, however, you’d like more range, you can simply attach the external water-bottle-style battery and that’ll boost the battery capacity up to 456 Wh. Pedalling assistance is provided by a rear hub motor, which works in a concept Orbea are calling Enough Power and Enough Energy. The idea is that the bike intuitively offers enough power to keep you pedalling smoothly and efficiently to enhance your rider, rather than overwhelm you with big surges in power.
The bike comes with an app that allows you to change the bike’s functionality, including how power is applied as well as ride tracking your rides. The mode button on the top tube has coloured LEDs that show you how much battery is remaining, and which power mode you are in. It comes with 38mm tyres, but can accommodate up to 40 mm, offering brilliant versatility should you want to take your bike on something a little dirtier on the way to work.
The icon gets a motor
Drive system: Brompton | Battery capacity: 300 Wh | Claimed weight: 16.6 kg
If you’ve ever been on the market for a commuter bike you will have almost certainly have cast your eyes upon a Brompton. The British company has a sustained a great reputation built on ingenuity and build quality for so long that you know you’ll be riding a high-quality machine. If you need a bike that packs up into a small space; on a train or in the office, for example, a Brompton is likely the best electric commuter bike for you. The bike comes with front and rear lights fitted, as well as mudguards, and the 2-speed gears should be plenty with the pedal assistance you get from the motor.
The company have fitted a 250 W motor, with a large-enough 300 Wh battery to the bike. The battery conveniently unclips from the front of the bike and can be carried over your shoulder to your office or home to be charged. A full charge should be achieved within four hours. The quoted range for the battery is up to 70 km if you have it on its most energy-efficient setting. There is an LED indicator on the bars which shows you how much of the battery you have remaining, which power mode you are in, and what setting your lights are on.
The sleekest town bike available right now?
Drive system: VanMoof | Battery capacity: 504 Wh | Claimed weight: 19 kg
The first thing that strikes you with the VanMoof S3 is just how modern it looks. The bike has very clean lines, classic geometry and most of the cables are hidden. The company sells two bikes, the compact X3, and the more classical S3, the three referring to the third generation of design for each of these bikes.
There are several improvements on the S2: the bike now has hydraulic disc brakes, automatic gearing and improved safety features. If you sign up to the company’s anti-theft package and your bike gets stolen, they will personally track it down and if they can’t find it, they’ll replace it with a new one.
A feature that is still quite rare on bikes at the moment is the automatic gearbox. The Sturmey Archer gearbox will react to your accelerations and speed and make sure you’re always in the best gear. Should you wish, you can alter the timing of the gear changes with the VanMoof app. The 250 W motor is powered by a 504 Wh battery, with a range of between 60 to 150 km depending on the mode you have the bike in and the terrain you’re riding over. The bike is really good value too.
Ribble Hybrid Al e, Fully Loaded Edition
A versatile, all-round electric commuter
Drive system: MAHLE ebikemotion | Battery capacity: 250 Wh | Claimed weight: 14.5 kgs
Ribble is at the forefront of value-for-money, high-specification, well-integrated e-road bikes. Many of the hallmarks of this knowledge are evident in this hybrid bike, which should handle both your commute and leisure rides with ease.
The basis of the bike is a strikingly good-looking lightweight aluminium frame within which there is a battery so well hidden that you barely notice it’s there. A subtle button and LED light on the top tube allow you to see how much battery is left and let you choose how much assistance you want. If you want even more control of the settings, you can change the settings in Ribble’s app.
The bike is impressively kitted out too; with a Mavic wheelset, a rear pannier rack, a Knog bell, front and rear lights and full-length SKS mudguards. As with all bikes where you can’t remove the battery, you will have to take this bike within touching distance of mains power to charge it up. The only thing let the quality of the bike down is Ribble’s own-brand grips, but they’re easy and cheap to replace, so you shouldn’t let this hold you back.
Tern GSD S10
Drive system: Bosch | Battery capacity: 400/500/900 Wh (dual battery system) | Claimed weight: 27 kg
Whilst Tern claims the GSD isn’t “intended to be a car killer”, it may well be just that. The company is most well-known for its folding bikes, and whilst the GSD isn’t a fully foldable bike, the seat post and handlebars do collapse to make storage of this bike a little more compact. The reason it can’t fold down much smaller is this is not your average folding bike. This is a heavy-duty cargo bike, capable of carrying up to 200 kg, be that luggage, or should you attach the right seat, you can even take a passenger on the back.
The bike employs a dual battery system, which is 400- and 500 Wh in size. Should you have both of them attached you’ll have a whopping 900 Wh of capacity. This will be enough to assist your cycling for between 110 and 250 km depending on which of the 4 modes you have it in. The 10-speed Shimano gears and impressive 63 nm of torque mean you’ll be able to get up any hill, even when fully laden. It comes complete with wide, grippy tyres, a rear luggage mount, a kickstand, front and rear lights, and mudguards.
Ghost Hybrid Square Trekking B2.8
The best for rough road randonneurs
Drive system: Bosch | Battery capacity: 500 Wh | Claimed weight: 24.1 kg
On the face of it, you may mistake this bike for a mountain bike, rather than one cut out for commuting. In reality, the 2-inch tyres and 60 mm fork are perfect not for the trails but smoothing out bumps and road-buzz on your commute. If you live in slightly more remote areas, the bike should also deal with gravel or hard-pack dirt trails with ease.
The bike comes with a large 500 Wh battery which powers a trusty Bosch motor and a Shimano Deore groupset with a wide-enough range to get you over any terrain. To keep you safe, it also comes with hydraulic disc brakes which will provide dependable braking in any weather conditions. It has mounts for front and rear mudguards, and a rear pannier rack to carry any work stuff from A to B without having to wear a backpack.
How to choose the best electric bike for commuting
Bikes, like cars or any other mechanical device, need to be maintained. If you’re not an experienced mechanic, most things are simple enough to learn how to do yourself, but spend a little bit of money and a bike shop will have you good to go in no time. But, the fewer complicated parts, and the better you care for your bike, the less chance there is of things going wrong.
The gears on your bike, including the derailleurs, cables shifters will require regular maintenance to keep them performing at their best. Some people are fortunate to live and work in flat areas and so you can get away with the simplicity and ease of a single-speed bike. However, most of us live in areas with hills, and therefore gears are a necessity. Internally-geared hubs are a more robust, easier-to-maintain solution than derailleurs, but can be pricier.
Maintaining your brakes in working order is arguably the single most important thing when looking after your bike. Jumpy gears and a loud chain might ruin your enjoyment, but poorly functional brakes could have much more dire consequences. Classical brake systems, using a cable to join your lever and your brakes have stuck around for so long because they’re simple and they work. But you need to keep them properly maintained, regularly checking the cables for wear. Higher-end bikes are often equipped with hydraulic disc brakes. Not only do disc-brakes work more effectively in poor weather conditions, once set up they should require less maintenance.
2. Material matters
The three most common frame materials you’ll come across when looking for a bike are aluminium, steel and carbon, although titanium might make an occasional appearance. Carbon is most often used in the best road bikes because of its low weight and high stiffness. However, it can be quite fragile, and innocuous bumps could cause very expensive damage, so if you’re locking your bike up in communal locations, we recommend you stay away. Steel is likely to be the material of choice on cheaper bikes. Whilst it is tough and can take some bumps and bruises, it is relatively heavy and can be subject to corrosion. Most bikes you look at for commuting are likely to be made from aluminium, and for good reason. It’s fairly cheap, very durable and not subject to corrosion.
As with all technologies, it’s easy to look back at some original e-bikes and notice how bulky they looked. Batteries were bolted on to frames wherever there was space and were often very low capacity. Fortunately, we’re beginning to see much bigger capacity batteries and sleeker integration of both batteries and motors.
Typically, the smaller the physical size of the battery, the lower its capacity, and the fewer miles you’ll get out of it. For most people, this shouldn’t be an issue, with even small batteries having enough juice to get you to work where you can charge up again. Battery sizes are most often expressed in watt-hours (Wh), and the amount of assistance you’ll get from it depends on how much you ask of it. For example, a 300-watt-hour battery can provide 300 watts of assistance for one hour, or 100 W of assistance for 3 hours.
Some bikes have removable battery packs making them simple to unclip and charge, even if your bike is left outside or in a communal bike store. Others, typically those with more integration, require you to charge the battery whilst it is attached to your bike, meaning you’ll have to hook it up to the mains in your house, garage, or at the office, so it’s worth checking to see how easy this might be for you.
At present, most e-bikes in the UK fall under EPAC (that’s the electrically assisted pedal cycle) amendment regulation mandate. This means bikes have to be moving before the motor can kick in, can provide a maximum of 250 watts of aided power and have to stop aiding at 25 kph. You also have to be at least 14 years old to ride an e-bike.
So long as your bike meets these criteria (as all the ones in the article do), then you’ll have the same legal standing as regular bicycles and you’ll be allowed on roads and bike paths. If your bike assists you up to faster speeds it’ll be considered a two-wheel moped, and therefore you’ll require insurance, to wear a certified helmet, and a valid driving licence.
In Australian e-bikes can assist you up to a maximum speed of 25 kph. The two legal systems in Australia are throttle-operated and pedal-assist. If you have a throttle-controlled bike they can provide up to 200 watts of power, whereas pedal-assist e-bikes can give you 250 watts of assistance. Anything above that is legally considered a motorbike and must therefore be licenced and insured.
Given the structure of the American legal system, the rules governing the use of e-bikes are predictably more complicated than those in the UK and Australia.
Let’s begin: Obviously, the laws governing the use of e-bikes vary from state to state, but these are often difficult to interpret. The all-encompassing, federal definition of an e-bike is “a two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 h. p.), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 mph”.
As if that isn’t complicated enough, often state laws may override federal legislation. Some 33 states have statutes that define an e-bike in some way, whilst the rest lack any specific definition, and often chuck them in with other classes of vehicles. At present, 13 states are adhering to a three-tiered system proposed by The Bicycle Product Suppliers Association. Whilst the motors on all classes of bikes can produce a maximum of 750 watts, they are tiered depending on their maximum assisted speed:
- Class 1: the motor provides assistance only when the rider is pedalling, and cuts out at 20 mph
- Class 2: the motor can contribute even if the rider is not pedalling, but cuts out at 20 mph
- Class 3: the motor provides assistance when the rider is pedalling but cuts out at 28 mph and must be equipped with a speedometer
Whilst class 1 and 2 bikes are allowed anywhere bikes are allowed, class 3 bikes can only be ridden on roads and bike lanes, but not multi-use paths. In the states that regard e-bikes as vehicles, licensing and registration may be required to operate an e-bike.
Yes, this is a lot to get your head around, but thankfully the kind folk at People for Bikes have put together a state-by-state guide
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