The most significant price point in the bike market is £1,000, because it’s usually the maximum value of a bike you can buy on the Cycle To Work Scheme. But it’s a relatively small amount of money to spend on an e-bike. What do you get if your budget is limited to a grand?
The Cycle To Work Scheme gets you a substantial saving on a new bike, because you pay for the bike from your pre-tax earnings, not out of your take-home pay. That can mean saving as much as 40% if you’re a higher-rate tax payer. Because it’s effectively a credit scheme, the £1,000 limit arises because that’s the maximum your employer can lend you unless they have a consumer credit licence.
The practical upshot of this is that there’s fierce competition at the £1,000 price level among regular bike makers, and there’s pressure on e-bike manufacturers to offer something too.
To build an e-bike that sells for under £1,000, manufacturers trim the specs, but the resulting bikes, while a bit limited in some respects, are by no means awful, and still a lot better than a bargain basement Chinese import.
A sub-£1,000 e-bike will usually have a rigid aluminium alloy frame; some even use steel frames to help keep the cost down. Some manufacturers go with a rigid fork rather than front suspension; given the low quality and weight of many cheap suspension forks some might see this as an advantage.
Any sort of suspension frame at this price is a gimmick, adding weight and complexity without contributing enough to performance to justify the downsides. The biggest downside is that building any sort of suspension frame moves money from the components to the pivots and shock, so the brakes and gears will be lower quality than on the same-price rigid bike.
Speaking of suspension, you’re also unlikely to find a good quality suspension seatpost on a bike at this price. Buy a better quality aftermarket post instead.
In less expensive e-bikes, the motors are usually hub-mounted; you don’t get the tidy lines of a motor built into the frame for this money. You should expect a 36V, brushless motor if you’re looking at the upper end of the £500-1000 range, though some cheaper bikes will have 24V motors.
Is a motor better in the front hub or the rear? It really doesn’t matter that much. After all, cars work fine with the front or rear wheels driven. There’s no advantage to front-wheel drive to compensate for the difficulty of doing it with a chain, but it’s easy with a motor.
Eight to ten amp-hours is the standard in this price range. That limits the range compared to more expensive e-bikes. You’d be pushing it to do a long commute on most of these bikes, but if your journey is only a few miles, you’ll be fine as long as you top up between rides.
Most e-bikes in this price range are stopped by V-brakes, but hunt around a bit and you’ll find bikes with front disc brakes. The front brake provides more stopping power on any standard-wheelbase bike, so that’s where you want the best brake. That makes front discs a sensible compromise to keep the cost down.
Many bikes in this range can be ridden using battery power alone with no need to pedal. The most recent e-bike regulations require a you to be pedalling before the electric assist kicks in, but the UK has until 2018 to implement those rules. If you want an e-bike that you can also use as a twist-and-go, better get in fairly quickly.
A lot of time and money is going into refining the look and feel of more expensive e-bikes. Motors built into frames are getting smaller; batteries are better incorporated into the lines of the bikes; and the control electronics are getting friendlier with features like USB accessory charging. You won’t find much of this in cheaper e-bikes, which tend to look a bit agricultural. You also won’t get a choice of frame sizes, so you might have to choose which bike you go for according to the single size the maker offers.
Let’s take a look at some under-£1,000 bikes.
Despite its low price, this steel-framed e-bike boasts a full set of practical extras including built-in lights. As usual at this price it's a 24V system with an 8 Amp-hour battery, so you won't be taking off on any epics, but it'll be fine for a shorter commute or pootling round town.
The motor is built into the rear wheel and has three modes. B'Twin says the range is 30-45km.
You can use this steel-framed e-bike as a twist-and-go if you're feeling like an easy life, or switch in the pedal assist. It has 36V electrics and an 8 Amp-hour battery, so this is a short-range commuter or round-town transport..
Powacycle claims a 15-20 mile range depending on how much you pedal; the motor is built into the rear wheel hub.
Unless you look closely yo might not realise this folder is an e-bike; the battery is built into the frame, so at first glance it looks like any other stowable bike. .
It weighs a claimed 18kg, so you might not want to try and carry the Gallego around too much, but it has built-in trolley wheels so you won’t need to.
There are three levels of assistance from the front wheel 36-volt motor and 7.5 Amp-hour battery. Woosh says the range is 20-24 miles on flat roads with throttle control, more with pedal assist.
£799 isn't much for a full-spec city bike: the ZL-2 gets full mudguards, chain case, integrated lights and a rack. It gets a full TranzX power system with a 320Wh battery, and it's available in step-through (ZL-2) and diamond (ZR-2) versions.
The ZL-2 has upright city geometry with a suspension fork up front, and rolls on 26" wheels with decent quality tyres. You get a 7-speed Shimano derailleur transmission (with a Microshift grip shifter) and well padded saddle and swept bars for leisurely riding.
This step-through city bike from Cyclotricity gets a front hub motor and a 396Wh battery which is very good for the money. You also get a dashboard controller with a speedo, which is unusual at this price: normally you'd expect a simple mode change and battery level display.
The transmission is Shimano 6-speed derailleur gears, and there's a chain case to stop your smart clothes getting mucky. There's a TopGun suspension fork at the front and the V-brakes are from Tektro. You get mudguards and a rack too, and even LED lights (they don't run from the battery though)
This well-received bike has a startlingly good spec for under £1,000 including a 36V crank-drive motor and a whopping 15 Amp-hour battery. That makes it suitable even for a longer commute, and if your ride is fairly short you won’t have to charge it every day.
Woosh claims a range of 50-70 miles on flat roads. There are six levels of assist and wide-range eight-speed gears that go low enough the bike should still be manageable if you run out of power.
It comes with disc brakes, and mudguards are available as an optional extra.
A 26V, 200W rear-wheel motor propels this aluminium-framed machine, which has a 13 Amp-hour battery.
Powacycle claims a range of 25 – 35 miles in flat terrain.
The battery in this folder isn’t hidden away, but that allows FreeGo to fit an 8 Amp-hour battery and offer an upgrade option to a 16 Amp-hour battery for an extra £300.
This version has a claimed range of 25-40 miles with pedal assist and has a disc front brake.
With a rear-wheel motor and disc brakes, this bike from sports superstore chain Decathlon looks like a conventional sit-up-and-beg; the electrics are tidily incorporated into the bike.
It has everything you need to get rolling straight away, no matter what the weather or time of day. The Elops 900 has lighting built into the frame as well as standard extras like mudguards and a rack capable of taking a 27kg load. That's a lot of shopping.
Decathlon claims a 45-mile maximum range from its 36V 11.6 Amp-hour battery.
From one of Europe’s biggest names in e-bikes, the Groove is a very tidy package with a 9 Amp-hour battery and 36V front hub motor. It also includes 6V lighting and the simplicity of a seven-speed hub gear.
Claimed range is 30-50 miles depending which of three levels of assistance you chooose.
You get a full set of nice-to-haves on this bike, which has a 36V motor and 10 Amp-hour battery. There's also built-in lighting, a centre stand for easy parking and loading and a disc brake up front.
Claimed range is 25-40 miles and there are three levels of power assist.