Time was when if you were spending under £1,000 on an electric bike you had to make some significant compromises, but the Carrera Crossfire-E is a fully featured pedelec with an efficient, quiet motor and a good range. As such, it's easy to recommend, even if the suspension fork is surplus to requirements.
Power assist: it works
The heart of any e-bike is the power system. Carrera is using the Suntour HESC (link is external) (that's Human Electro Synergy Components, fact fans) rear hub system, which consists of a rear hub motor, a torque-sensing chainset, a 417Wh battery and a display with a remote control.
That's built into an alloy frame (we had the step-through women's frame, a standard diamond men's frame is available for the same price) with a Suntour suspension fork. You get an 8-speed Altus (not Acera as Halfords lists) derailleur transmission and Tektro's hydraulic Auriga brakes. Ergo grips, 42mm Kenda tyres and a nice wide saddle comfy things up for your ride.
You get four esoterically-labelled assistance modes: Camel, Squirrel, Cheetah and Mountain goat. Yes, I know. Squirrel. Anyway, it's basically 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% assist, although in reality you can get full assist in any mode if you stamp on the pedals. But the less eager modes don't suck the battery dry quite so quickly.
The big display tells you which you're in, and also gives you speed, distance and battery level information. There's a bar-mounted remote switch to change between modes and change the display info, and if you have a light plumbed in (this bike doesn't) you can turn it on and off from the remote too. A nice feature on the display is a charging port for USB devices, although obviously to use it you either have to have your phone mounted on the bar or deal with a lead going into your pocket or bag.
With a nominal power of 250W and a torque of 50Nm the HESC system compares favourably on paper with more expensive systems. And out on the road it gives a good account of itself too.
The application of power is a bit more choppy than some of the more expensive bottom bracket systems but there's plenty of it, and getting up the numerous hills of Bath was something the Crossfire took entirely in its stride. At one point I even pointed it up the 25 per cent lower slopes of Prospect Place (see here) to see how it got on. You still need some legs to get up something that steep, and the 23.2kg heft of the bike doesn't exactly help, but even then it's a darn sight easier than doing it under your own steam.
Like most e-bikes the Crossfire is best within its assist range. If you're rolling down hill, fine. But if you try to wind it up beyond the assist limit of 25kph on the flat then you're just trying to ride a heavy, unaerodynamic bike fast. It's no fun. Leisurely riding is what it's best at and the position and steering feel are well set up for that.
Mostly I used it to ride to the station and back on work days, at no great pace, or to head into the city. I also lent it to a friend for some errands about town. She'd never ridden an electric bike before, and she thought it was fantastic. The controls are simple enough that pretty much anyone would be able to get the hang of it in one ride. It's a pretty user-friendly experience all round.
Let's talk about range
Carrera claims the Crossfire is good for up to 80 miles on a charge. It's not, though. Even Suntour, which makes the power bits, is a lot more reticent, claiming a maximum of 100km (62 miles). That's very much a best-case scenario. Depending on your usage, it'll be anywhere from a bit less than that to, well, a lot less.
Most of the time I was using the Crossfire to roll down into town, or the station, and then climbing the 150m vertical metres back to the house. And because those rides were short (4km each way, max) and there wasn't really any danger of flatting the battery, it was mostly a case of stick it in maximum boost and point it uphill. If you do that, you'll not get a great deal more than 30km out of the Crossfire before you're out of juice. But if your commute is short and hilly, and you can charge it when you get home, that's plenty.
I also took the Crossfire out for a leisurely 30km loop. Not a flat loop, mind, there was nearly 400m of climbing including one proper big hill. I kept to Camel and Squirrel all the way round, which was enough assistance even to get up the steep bits without ever getting out of breath. By the time I'd finished I still had well over half the battery left: I'd be pretty confident that if I needed to, I could eke 70km out of the Crossfire. If you're a proper featherweight and you live in the Fens, that 100km range is probably within reach.
That's impressive from a sub-£1k bike. The only other e-bike at this kind of money that I've ever been properly impressed with, the Giant Twist, snuck under the grand by speccing a smaller, and consequently less expensive, battery. The 417Wh battery pack on the Carrera is really good. You can remove it to charge it in the house if you want/have to leave the bike outside, too.
Ride: good, though the fork is average
It's a comfy bike, the Crossfire, with a leisurely position and contact points designed for maximum cushioning. The big, wide saddle you might expect to be a hindrance on longer rides but it was fine for an hour or two, which is realistically the most you're likely to be spending in the saddle at any one time on a bike like this.
Carrera has specced a Suntour suspension fork, which is, on balance, a mistake. Because the hub motor is at the rear, the fork doesn't have to cope with its weight so it tracks fairly well, though it's slightly vague at speed – not helped by the fact that your weight is a long way back. The suspension it offers is fairly basic and most of the time I couldn't really tell if I'd locked it out or not.
The bike has big 42mm tyres that take the sting out of pretty much anything, and when you're building to a strict budget like Carrera is here, the money you could save on the fork could be ploughed back into better components elsewhere. Those tyres, for a start, are pretty basic, and the Altus transmission could probably be a rung higher, too, if the fork was a rigid alloy one. Also, we could have been treated to some mudguards and a nurse's lock, which would be the first upgrades I'd look at once I'd rolled this bike out of the shop. Probably even before that.
One thing Carrera hasn't skimped on is the brakes: you get hydraulic Tektro Aurigas on the Crossfire, and they're excellent, with masses of stopping power and a good feel. You want to be able to haul a 23kg bike to a standstill in good time and the Aurigas do that with aplomb. They're not the most expensive hydraulics out there by any means, but on an e-bike at this price they're hard to fault.
Overall: a great bike on cycle-to-work money
At £999 Carrera is pitching for your cycle-to-work dollars here, and if what you want is a bike for transport that will help you on your merry way, the Crossfire is hard to fault. Okay, you'll be wanting to at least add some mudguards, and the fork is surplus to requirements, but the transmission is effective and the range impressive for what is a pretty cheap electric bike in the grand scheme of things. Suntour's HESC rear hub may not be quite as refined as something like the Bosch system, but you're looking at double the money for a bike with that drivetrain, and as a budget option the Suntour kit delivers a good experience. It's an easy bike to ride and also an easy one to recommend.