What’s a city e-bike? You can use just about any kind of electric bike to get around a city – unlike hardcore off-roading or cargo carrying where purpose-specific designs are essential. However, a well-designed city e-bike will mean a much more pleasurable and practical experience, whether you want a lightweight speedster or a do-it-all city e-bike suitable for all weathers and with some extra carrying capacity.
Compared to budget city e-bikes costing £1,000 or less, what does the next step up in price mean in terms of features and performance? Most notably mid motors (also known as crank motors) start to feature – though you still have to search pretty hard to find crank drive e-bikes between £1,000 and £2,000.
Mid motors have several advantages over hub motors, which feature on every sub-£1,000 e-bike we have come across. As they work via the e-bike’s gears, they apply power more evenly and efficiently across different speeds. Weight is ideally placed low down and centrally, and they also tend to be very efficient users of your precious battery power.
Hub motors are making something of a comeback in their longstanding war with mid-drives, however, thanks to new, lighter, smaller and very discreet hub motor systems typified by the Ebikemotion rear hub system, which should shave at least 1kg of weight compared to a mainstream crank drive model.
Brakes and transmission are also more effective when you’re spending a bit more. Sub-£1,000 e-bikes often have rim or mechanical disc brakes, but above £1,000 you will see more hydraulic disc brakes creeping into the mix. You may also find a higher grade and wider range of transmission systems for easier climbing of the steepest of hills and more controlled stopping when you descend down the other side.
If you commute across the city every day, having an e-bike that is functional and low maintenance will mean at least some of the items the UK bike industry has traditionally considered ‘add-ons’ will actually be essential for you.
Top of the list are probably lights powered from the bike’s main battery, and mudguards; with both of these, you now have an e-bike suitable for city use 24 hours a day. You might also want to consider how much easier a pannier rack, chainguard and kickstand might make your life.
Light weight vs range
If you are prioritising your bike being light, for carrying your bike up flights of stairs for example, it’s likely you’ll have to compromise by living with a smaller battery.
The 248Wh batteries that feature on the Ribble Hybrid and Orbea Optima E50 are examples of your choices here. Conversely, a long, hilly cross town schlep might mean you want at least a 400Wh battery, which will mean more weight.
Torque vs cadence
Cheaper motor systems use a cadence sensor: it checks to see whether you're turning the pedals and adds power if you are. Changing the assistance level simply increases or decreases the assistance.
Torque sensors use a strain gauge (normally on the axle between the pedals) to measure how hard you're pushing, and add power accordingly. They tend to feel more natural than cadence systems. Most torque-sensing bikes also take your cadence into account as well, and different bikes will give more weight to one or the other, so bikes can have quite different ride characteristics.
Frames can be a standard diamond frame, with a high top tube, or they can be a low step through, with either no top tube at all (just a single main tube) or a dropped top tube to make it easier to get on and off the bike.
Low step through bikes have traditionally been aimed at people with restricted flexibility, and women, because they're more skirt-friendly. There's no real practical advantage to having a high top tube on a city bike, though. The top tube helps to brace the frame and make it stiffer, but unless you're a powerful or really heavy rider you're unlikely to notice. All other things being equal, we'd generally go with a step-through design: easier to get on and off, more accommodating of different sizes of rider. Many of the bikes below offer two or even three frame designs.
Nearly all city bikes will come with a suspension front fork. It's something that bike manufacturers say that they're asked for, and it doesn't add much to the cost, but most of the time it's more or less redundant. Your position on a city bike is upright, with the majority of your weight on the rear wheel, and city bikes normally have reasonably large tyres. Those two things combined mean that a suspension fork is generally surplus to requirements: the front end is unweighted, and the big air chamber of the tyre can cope with most road imperfections.
A telescopic suspension fork (especially a cheap one) is more flexible than a rigid fork, which can sometimes make steering a bit vague and lead to the bike diving at the front under braking, as the fork flexes backwards and the suspension compresses; this is exacerbated by a front hub motor. Forks which use rigid blades and a single suspension unit between the top of the fork crown and the head tube of the frame are generally better behaved.
Because your weight is mostly supported by your bottom, and not your hands, a decent suspension seatpost is often a better investment than a suspension fork. Many bikes have both. Most are telescopic, with one part of the seatpost sliding into the other. Some use a linkage, with an elastomer inside controlling the suspension travel.
You can choose between hub gears and derailleur gears for your city bike. Hub gears are housed inside the rear hub, so front hub motors and mid motors are the options for assistance. Because they're internal they're protected from the elements, and the bike will have a single chainring and drive sprocket so it's easier to enclose the chain in a chain case to keep your work clothes clean.
Hub gears don't require the chain to move, so you can change gear when the bike is stationary. That's helpful if you find yourself stuck at traffic lights in the wrong gear. The flip side is that hub gears aren't good at shifting from one ratio to another under power, so you generally need to ease off the pedals to change gear. On a hill, that means you can lose a bit of momentum.
Derailleur gears are easy to use and straightforward to maintain. The majority of e-bikes sold in the UK use them, and they'll usually give you many years of service and very little trouble. They're a bit more susceptible to damage and harder to enclose, though.
The choice for brakes is mostly between disc brakes and rim brakes. Rim brakes are cheaper, and pretty effective. Because they act upon the soft alloy of the rim they'll eventually wear your rims down, and they can create a fair bit of mess in wet or dirty conditions.
Disc brakes are better: They don't wear your rims out, they're less affected by the weather and they run cleaner. Hydraulic disc brakes (that use hydraulic fluid in a hose) are better than cable discs (that use a cable like rim brakes) – they require less maintenance and they're more powerful. Hydraulic rim brakes are also available; they're very popular on the continent. A few bikes use drum brakes, which are very low on maintenance but lack power, which isn't good for a heavy e-bike.
There's a broad range here. Small-wheeled city bikes are quite popular, using the 20” wheel size. They're more compact but still offer a full-sized ride. A couple of bike brands use 24” wheels, and above that there are the two most popular wheel sizes. 26” wheels are the mountain bike standard (although many new MTBs are moving away from them towards bigger wheels), and the last standard is metric: 700c is the road bike standard, which equates to either 28” or 29” in imperial, depending on what you're measuring. Each wheel size has slightly different ride characteristics but we wouldn't say any one was better than the others.
7 of the best £1,000 to £2,000 city e-bikes
So, without further ado, here are our top eight city e-bike recommendations in the £1,000 to £2,000 price bracket. Where possible, we've backed up our recommendations with a full review from one of our testers.
We’ve tested several e-bikes with the Suntour HESC motor system, and we’ve liked them all. The system uses Suntour’s own combo of a rear geared hub motor and chainwheel-fitted torque sensor to deliver smooth power very efficiently. It isn’t the very strongest of hub motor hill climbers, but if you can keep the bike speed up above 6mph with a bit more human effort, it will zip up all but the very steepest of hills.
Our original enthusiastic review said: “The 374Wh battery is big enough to offer a useful range. The transmission and braking components are better than you’d expect for the money, and the things that have been omitted – mudguards, kickstand, lights – can be bought cheaply and added easily at a later date if you decide you miss them.’
Since that review it’s crept above the £1k mark, so it makes it into this list and is recommended if you want a sporty, urban city bike that can also venture off-road.
Rad Power’s Radrunner is a rare US import that has come via mainland Europe, and has to be bought directly from there. It’s a superb value, compact utility e-bike that is also built to take a passenger.
The Bafang geared rear hub motor is conventional enough, but the huge 672Wh battery is big by any standards, and really unheard of on an e-bike at this budget price point. It’s sturdy and fully equipped, weighing in at over 30kg.
It’s a small bike with a small ‘cockpit’ and high bars, so gives a very upright ride. If you follow our reviewer’s advice there will be some extra cost involved in swapping saddle and pedals and investing in the optional extra mudguards and rear seat. And if pizzas are your thing, then think about the optional insulated delivery bag. It’s an e-bike that lets you do more than most for far less money, and is also a hoot to ride.
This is another amazingly-priced e-bike, given it features the high quality, high performing Brose mid-motor (the ‘T’ variant) and comes fully equipped for city riding in all conditions.
There are some compromises to the spec you’d expect to find on most mid-motor drives. There is a rear V-brake and a front mechanical disc brake, when hydraulics are standard on most mid-drives. The battery is built into the rear rack where its position could affect the bike’s handling, especially if you add on heavily loaded panniers too. At 418Wh, the battery is a decent size.
It features a classic aluminium frame with lighting nicely integrated into the headtube and the rear mudguard. Swept back bars and a comfortable looking seat should allow a stress-free, upright ride. The commuting package is completed with front coil sprung suspension, kickstand, full chainguard and a pannier rack, bringing the total weight to 25.5kg. There is also a step-thru version, which comes in white (the crossbar version is green only).
It is part of a family of good value e-bikes from Decathlon, which also includes the Elops 900E, Elops 940E and the Rockrider E-ST9000. The 940E has a similar design to the 920E, but features a torquier Shimano mid-drive and hydraulic disc brakes, while still falling within our target price range here at £1,699.
The Juicy Ticket has a minimalist design and a very neatly integrated rear hub motor system, and weighs in at an impressive 16.5kg. There’s plenty to like here, including sporty, nimble handling and impressive hill climbing from a hub motor that ranks as one of the best in its class. It’s also worth noting that at the time of writing, Juicy were including mudguards, a kickstand and lights for the very reasonable £1,549 price.
Orbea’s Optima stands out as it uses Mahle’s lightweight Ebikemotion rear hub based drive system on a resolutely traditional, sit-up-and-beg style town bike when you are far more likely to find it on electric road bikes or sporty hybrids.
But if you aren’t looking for the raw power of a mid-drive around town and are happy with a single button ‘interface’ (or using your smartphone as a display for more info) then the Ebikemotion system makes perfect sense and means you’ll get a fully-equipped, practical town bike with a step-through frame with a weight of around 16kg making it easy to handle when you are off the bike.
Dutch style town bikes that the Optima E50 resembles are traditionally clunkingly indestructible behemoths – the E50 takes this much-loved but hefty and slow design, slims it down and gives it electric wings.
If you want more of a boost than the Ebikemotion system can deliver but still fancy a step-thru frame and pretty upright ride – plus the low maintenance and easy to use advantages of a hub gear – then this model from respected German manufacturer Cube is certainly worth a look.
It uses Bosch’s Active Line mid-motor – the least powerful in its range but still a step up from the smaller hub motors – and combines it with a 400Wh frame mounted battery which is nicely tucked away behind the seat tube to give maximum space in the step through area, which is a thoughtful touch.
There are plenty more practical touches in the form of full-length mudguards, chainguard, kickstand, powerful LED lights and Cube’s signature Integrated Carrier that appears on so many of its bikes. The 7-speed Shimano Nexus hub gears should suffice in all but the hilliest locations and the combination of hydraulic disc brakes and 50mm wide Schwalbe Big Ben tyres mean a free-rolling but super safe, surefooted ride.
Like the Cube on our list, Raleigh’s Motus uses Bosch’s bottom of the line mid-drive. It’s worth stressing though it’s no slouch, being completely redesigned in 2017 to minimize three key mid-drive characteristics; weight, motor noise and resistance when pedaling without power. The net result is a sprightlier mid-drive. (Don’t be deceived by the 40Nm rating which is the same as some hub motors though. These ratings aren’t an exact science and mid-drives often give more hill-climbing ability than a hub motor of equivalent rating.)
The Motus builds on this solid mid-motor platform with a slightly disappointing 300Wh frame-mounted battery but adds hydraulic disc brakes, coil sprung front suspension fork, full mudguards, solid rack and kickstand. Its 24.5kg weight is about par for the course.
Perhaps most impressive of all is the choice of three frame configurations, Crossbar, Open Frame and Low Step, with all three available in five frame sizes and a choice of 26” or 700c wheels.