The Trace is Raleigh's lightest e-bike yet and their first foray into using the well-regarded Ebikemotion rear hub system beloved of lightweight hybrids and e-road bikes. So how does it stack up on road and trail and against the competition?
The Raleigh Trace is clearly a well-made e-bike as even the quickest inspection reveals. Whilst the frame might not have the lovely polished, invisible welds of some others, it certainly looks the part, my test model coming with a lustrous light blue, classic diamond frame with the 250Wh battery (non-removable) housed in the downtube. There are two sets of bottle mounts and a further set of mounts on the fork.
The test rider is 5ft8in and tried the 50cm (next to the biggest) size frame and found it a good fit - suggesting there is plenty of scope for smaller riders using the 46cm and 42cm frames. Not being able to find an e-bike small enough is a common complaint amongst smaller riders so this emphasis on smaller frames is great to see.
The fork is a carbon, aero-styled affair and the high quality continues with a thru-axle fitting that makes getting the front wheel off an absolute doddle. The Ebikemotion X35 system uses a small, light, geared rear hub motor, which is virtually hidden behind the 9-speed rear gear cassette, with all the motion sensing neatly integrated into the motor and cassette combo. The stealth look is completed by the top tube button which again does a great job of hiding the fact that this is an e-bike. The minimalist design and lightweight motor system results in an impressively light 16.5kg weight on our scales.
As well as hiding its e-credentials well, it's also a pretty sporty looking bike with a horizontal handlebar stem and 28" rims. The cables from the bars run through the handlebar stem and front fork to give an exceptionally clean look with just a power feed to the rear hub motor and the derailleur cable running discreetly along the underside of the chainstays at the rear.
Brakes and gearing are decent quality too with Tektro R280 flat mount hydraulic disc brakes with 160mm rotors and a Shimano Alivio 9-speed derailleur system (11-34t). Despite its lightweight sporty features, it has a full commuting/off-road lite package with lovely, strong alloy Curana mudguards, a low profile pannier rack and powerful front and rear LED lights hardwired to the main battery (the rear light nicely integrated into the mudguard). 700x40c WTB ByWAY tanwall tyres complete the impressive list.
It all looks very sensible and the feature-packed spec makes the 16.5kg weight even more impressive. The only real style-over-substance element is the low profile pannier rack, with no space for a racktop bag.
Road test - who would it suit?
The Trace is variously described as 'urban-focused' and for 'nipping about the city' in the launch blurb, and it does feel fast and responsive on tarmac. However, it could easily be pressed into service as a 'bikepacking lite' model.
The test rider used it on well drained unsealed tracks and canal towpaths in decent condition and the WTB Byway 40 tyres are clearly 'go anywhere, do anything' items with their smoother central area and mini-knobbly edges. It's a pity the bike didn't come with the 44, wide versions for more comfort and grip off-road, but the narrow frame clearances probably wouldn't allow this. One option for tougher off-road conditions would be to swap the tyres for their tougher iterations with SG2 nylon anti-puncture inserts and 120tpi ply against the 60tpi fitted - the trade off being a tiny increase in weight and rolling resistance.
The Ebikemotion rear hub isn't the most powerful out there, but it is one of the smoothest and is amazingly efficient for a hub motor. The three power levels are controlled using the top tube button. This is easy to master but still fiddly as you can only scroll up through the power levels, leading to extra pushing of the button to get from power level two to level one for example.
This carping aside, the motor system rides oh-so-smoothly with the three power levels graded nicely with a decent push up steepish hills in the top level, though the lack of torque up the steepest gradients is apparent. It also felt that on full power and up moderate hills, the motor power wasn't perhaps applied quite as smoothly as it was it was in the two lower levels..
The whole point of the Ebikemotion system is that it will provide some assistance when needed but will also perform in a very bike-like way, with relatively little motor resistance, when the system is switched off or your speed exceeds 16mph. The light weight also helps in this regard.
Range-wise the bike delivered well over 30 miles in hilly country.
In short, those who like riding bikes in a sporty way and getting some exercise may well love the Trace, whilst those who want pure motor power and less exercise may want to look at mid-motor drives or heavier models with bigger hub motors. It's fun, fast and practical and performed well off-road on canal towpaths and forest roads and the like. It's a capable load carrier and its powerful lights mean unlit roads and paths are no problem. Practically speaking the only real downside is the non-removable battery, which means you have to be able to access a plug socket with the bike.
One footnote to add is that Raleigh said that the Ebikemotion app is not avaialble on the Trace, although it appears on many other e-bikes using the system. The test rider didn't feel the lack of an app so in that sense it's a very acceptable trade-off if it keeps the price down to this impressively low level.
Trace and the competition
The nearest direct competitor to the Trace is probably Ribble's Hybrid AL e which is currently ranking as the top pick in our guide to the best electric hybrid bikes. It uses the same Ebikemotion X35 rear hub system with the same frame-integrated 250Wh battery and comes with a rear rack, lights and mudguards and costs £2,399 with a quoted weight of 14.5kg. For the extra £200, you get eleven instead of nine gears, the handlebar mounted power level control and risers bars. The latter two would make for a slightly more relaxed ride with easier selection of power levels. All Ribble's e-bikes are very good value for money so this direct comparison makes the Raleigh Trace at least as good value.
If you are after something similarly lightweight that uses the Ebikemotion system, but suitable for older riders - or just something more comfortable - with step through frame options and lower gearing for less wear and tear on joints, then Islabikes e-Icons range is a great place to start, though all options are a few hundred pounds more than the Raleigh.
Looking outside of other Ebikemotion powered machines, both the Ampler Stout and the Juicy Ticket offer a similar package, both featuring small rear hub motors and bigger batteries (336Wh and 360Wh respectively) with respective weights quoted as 17.8kg and 18kg.
In summary, the Trace competes very well with the competition on the critical price-weight-battery size equation.