Peugeot describe the £2,300 AE21 as "Smart, agile, urban and compact... Peugeot's new bike is a stylish, ingenious approach to city cycling". In the end though, it's a bit form over function, and expensive for what you're getting. The luggage capacity is very limited, and overall there are better options for less money. This one, sadly, is hard to recommend.
The AE21 is a 20"-wheeled compact city bike, with a front hub motor. In order to be as compact as possible for keeping in the hallway of your flat, or sneaking into the office, the handlebars fold down and the pedals fold too. So it has a very small footprint. It's not a folding bike in the sense that'd you'd convince the train conductor – the frame doesn't fold – but for stashing it away, it's useful.
The alloy main frame of the bike (the black bit, on this bike) is covered with a plastic fairing (the white bit) and that gives a space inside the main part of the frame. The battery is at the bottom of the hole, and into the hole fits a pretty stylish leather satchel for you to carry your sandwiches or your laptop.
There's a small plastic storage box at the front of the luggage space, and that contains an Abus folding link lock. That's a lot more secure than a frame lock that you might find on a city bike, although it's not as good as a D-lock. You could chuck one in your bag though if you're parking somewhere less secure.
The 250W hub motor is connected to a 334Wh lithium ion battery, and you get three levels of assistance from the bar-mounted LED display. Peugeot claim a range of up to 50km which seems realistic, although you won't get near that if you like the higher power modes or have a lot of hills to climb. There's a USB port on the display if you want to give your phone a bit of a boost on the way to the office. Often you'll have the problem of where to put your phone if you're doing that, but with the AE21 you can just lob the phone in the frame bag.
20" wheels are quite a popular choice for electric bikes and the Peugeot uses Vredestein Moiree 1.75" tyres that look good for tarmac. The AE21 has low-maintenance drum brakes front and rear, as well as mudguards, a full chainguard and a kickstand so it's well set up for the city. The Shimano Nexus 3-speed hub doesn't have the gear range of a more expensive hub gear or a derailleur transmission but for city riding it should be plenty, especially since you have the help from the motor.
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Riding the AE21
Dave says: the AE21 is certainly an interesting-looking machine and the folding stem and pedals mean it packs down quite small to keep in the hall. That might suit you if space at either end of your commute is limited. 20” bikes vary in their ride quite a lot: some feel almost like a bike with full-sized wheels, others are more skittish and feel more like folding bikes. The AE21 certainly sits in the latter category. It's very short in the top tube and doesn't inspire confidence at speed, so it's more suitable for cruising around. It's quite nimble in traffic, which is a bonus if you have to mix it in the city.
The motor is a fairly standard 250W hub and the battery is on the small side, especially at over two grand. Peugeot use the EnergyBus standard and the bike uses the same magnetic charging connector you'll find in most Brose-equipped bikes. The power available was okay: it didn't struggle on Bloomfield Road, my benchmark hill (1.5km at an average of 6%, with a 12% section) but neither was it as easy as a Bosch-powered mid-motor bike such as the Orbea Katu-E which can be had for less than the £2,300 the Peugeot costs. Coming back down the drum brakes are pretty spongy: they'll stop you, and they're low-maintenance, but they're a bit on the weak side.
Battery like was, again, okay. With judicious use of the modes I can normally get a week's worth of commuting out of the better e-bikes, while some will only last a couple of days. The Peugeot lasted three trips up and down before it needed charging, which is average rather than good.
My main bugbear with the AE21 is its design. The hollow frame and frame bag is such a limiting way of carrying luggage that you'll need the bike to exactly match your use case for it to be the right choice.
The bag itself is very nice. But it's small, and there's no way of adding extra capacity to the bike. So if you need to carry anything that won't fit in the bag, in the frame (a pair of shoes and a a very limited amount of food shopping are two examples I found) the you have to carry a rucksack too, which pretty much defeats the object of the design. It's just hardly ever a better solution than a simple rack, or carrying a rucksack in the first place. You can get some pretty nice-looking office-friendly bags with rack mounts: Ortlieb, Basil, Thule and Blackburn all make good systems that are much more versatile than what Peugeot are offering here.
My other issue is the price. You're not getting a lot of value for your £2,300 here: small battery, ordinary hub motor, basic display, 3-speed hub. When you look at what's available elsewhere it doesn't really add up. I've already mentioned the Orbea Katu-E; you can have an 8-speed build of that bike with a 400Wh Bosch mid-motor system for £200 less than this. Or have a look at the Kalkhoff Sahel Compact: it has a better ride and you can have a mid-motor and a whopping 612Wh battery for £2,099. It has bars, too.
The Peugeot is okay to ride but either of those bike are better specced, with better performance. The only reason to choose the Peugeot over either is if you simply must have the esoteric looks, but the beauty – if that's what you see – is only really skin deep.