Best electric bike 2020: nail the commute in style with the best e-bikes

We've got the right electric bike for you with the best e-bikes for commuting and off-road

best electric bike
(Image credit: Van Moof)

The best electric bike has never been more essential than today. Or the best e-bike, if you prefer snappy shortenings. Public transport is a potential health hazard, but an increasing number of people still need to get to work as lockdown eases. 

Sales of electric bikes have soared and in the near future, e-bikes are only going to get more popular as people try to reduce their carbon footprints, save money, and get a little fitter. Yes, you do get a workout on an electric bike; the battery doesn't do all the work for you by any means, it just assists your pedalling rather than replacing it.

Attitudes to electric bikes have changed in recent years. For a long time they were seen by cyclists as 'cheating' and by non-cyclists as being just like a bike, but uglier and far more expensive. This new breed of best-in-class electric bikes feel more natural, look more normal, weigh far less and people are coming around to the idea that a ride with the convenience of a bike but without all the sweat and effort is a Very Good Thing. 

The lack of effort involved means you can end up a bit chilly in the winter months if you don't wrap up warm, but with summer here that's less of a worry. Electric bikes are only set to get ever more popular, as taxation and rules on cars get stricter and public transport gets more expensive.

At the more rugged end of the best electric bikes market, there are also models that are great for effortlessly taking on hills, trails and general rough stuff – and it so happens we now have a list of the best electric mountain bikes too. Those looking for a lightweight alternative should consider an electric scooter, although bikes should offer greater longevity (and stability). 

What is the best electric bike?

This depends what you are after of course but we have some very highly recommended bikes in each category.

Best electric bike VanMoof Electrified S3. Available for pre-order now, with shipping in May, this model has GPS tracking, an immobiliser and alarm, and rides like a dream.

Best folding electric bike: Gocycle GX. Pricey, mind…

Best e-bike for value The sub-£1000 Gtech eBike City has all that many users will need.

Best electric bike for Brompton lovers Brompton Electric. This feels uncannily like a normal Brompton, looks identical and folds in exactly the same brilliant way.

Best electric bike for hills and off-road Specialized Turbo Levo SL. The lightest electric mountain bike on the market with supercar performance and price tag.

Best folding electric bike for low weight and features Furo X. An exceedingly well equipped e-steed that's as easy to lift as it is to ride.

How to choose the best electric bike for you

Cycling is a great pastime for a number of reasons: it's free (after the initial bicycle purchase), it's good for your health and in many cases, it can be faster than cars and public transport. 

Cycling with an electric bike for a commuter is all these things, plus leaves you less sweaty – what's not to love?

Different electric bike brands take different approaches to electric bike manufacture. Some choose to place an electric motor in the rear wheel hub, with a torque sensor in the cranks that tells the on-board batteries to send power to the wheels.

Others – notably Bosch and Yamaha – opt for a more high-powered approach, with the entire motor and sensor unit situated around the bike's cranks, meaning more visually appealing and aerodynamically advanced frame styles can be fashioned.

An increasing number of new, premium e-bikes place the motor in the front wheel hub, which seems to give a much more natural riding experience, if you're used to non-powered bikes.

Speaking of which, if you're used to non-electric cycles, be aware that e-bikes are heavy and capped at 25kph or 15.5mph. In many cases, that means the bike starts to feel like its actively fighting against you, if you try to push the speed higher than that by pedalling. That's especially true with heavier bikes, for obvious reasons, and can take a while to get used to. 

However, if you're being realistic, 15mph is a very decent average speed when commuting in town or taking on hills. This is despite what all cyclists will tell you is their average speed – you're not fooling anyone, guys! 

Again, some of the newer, more expensive e-bikes are starting to solve the 'fighting back' problem by applying power in a smoother curve, using algorithms that respond more accurately to the speed at which you pedal, and also by weighing less than a cow.

Even with cheaper or heavier bikes, once you accept that you are really meant to pedal gently and let the motor do the work, non-speed freaks will get into it. E-bikes are great for commuting and for places that aren't pancake flat. They'll pull you away from the lights quickly, iron out hills and stop you getting sweaty, so you can bin the Lycra and ride in jeans, a suit, or a winter coat.

However, don't think that riding an electric bike means you won't get any workout at all. Particularly if you want to push on past 15.5mph, they're much better for you than taking the bus.

The best electric bikes you can buy

Best electric bike: VanMoof S3

(Image credit: VanMoof)

1. VanMoof S3

Best electric bike: moves fast yet feels very secure in every sense

Specifications
Weight: 19kg
Range: 60 miles
Charging time: 8 hours
Gears: 4-speed, automatic shifting
Power: 250W (500W in USA)
Reasons to buy
+Great to ride+Remarkable security features+Looks great
Reasons to avoid
-Automatic gear shifting seems a bit unneccessary

• Buy from VanMoof for £1978

With the VanMoof S3, this Dutch hipster brand has taken the S2, which was excellent and made it better. Oh, and it's knocked over £1,000/$1,000/€1,000 off its price. How could we not make it best electric bike?

• Read our VanMoof S3 review

The S3 is a very sturdily built thing that rides extremely well. You can get up to 20mph on the flat with minimal effort, and it irons out hills a treat. Hydraulic disk brakes bring it to a dead stop. 

Aside from crashes, the biggest worry about riding a bike in our crime-ridden cities is the ever-present threat of theft. To fight back against that, VanMoof S3 includes an integral magnetic lock – very hard to remove – an integral alarm and a GPS tracker that can be used to locate it if anyone is foolhardy enough to steal the bike. Even more remarkable, VanMoof will then send someone to find your bike, and politely ask the nice man to give it back.

The four, auto-shifting gears of the S3 are a big improvement over the S2. That only had two, and they shifted in a way that was often hugely irritating. The only issue I have with this bike is that nobody needs a four-gear hub to shift up and down on its own, and it's one more thing to potentially go wrong.

Thankfully, VanMoof bikes are extremely well made, and so I am just going to hope that doesn't become an issue long-term. For urban commuting, 21st century style, it's impossible to beat the VanMoof S3. Unless your commute demands a folding bike, in which case read on…

Best electric bike: Gocycle GX

2. Gocycle GX

Best electric bike – a perfect blend of zippy mobility and fold-up convenience

Specifications
Weight: 17.8kg
Range: 40 miles
Charging time: 7 hours (4 with optional quick charger)
Gears: 3-speed
Power: 250W (500W in USA)
Reasons to buy
+Great to ride+Handy adjustments via app+Folds up quickly and easily
Reasons to avoid
-Doesn't fold as small as a Brompton-…And it's even heavier

• Buy from GoCycle

Yes, a new fold-up has usurped the electric Brompton. Although we have just taken delivery of the Brompton for a proper, long-term test, so maybe this situation will change again… However, for now the Gocycle GX is our top recommendation for anyone who wants an e-bike. That's because the Gocycle is more fun to ride and feels more sturdy. The flip side of that is that it doesn't fold up anywhere near a neatly as the Brompton but, crucially, it folds up enough, and sufficiently quickly, to legally take it on public transport. Although people may tut at you.

With three gears, variable assistance – you can change when and to what extent it kicks in via Gocycle's handy app, which also lets your phone serve as a basic bike computer – and small-ish but chunky, sporty wheels, the GX is just a blast to ride. Gocycle's power delivery algorithms and torque sensors have been tweaked by former F1 engineers, so the ride is one of the smoothest around. It's nippy, manouevrable and fun, and it also feels more like a 'proper bike' than the Brompton. 

Lighting is taken care of via a super bright front LED lightbar and rear lamp that draw power from the main battery system, so you don't have to rummage around for AAA batteries or remember to plug them into a USB cable to charge. 

Best electric bike: Brompton Electric

3. Brompton Electric

Another great folding electric bike

Specifications
Weight: 16.6 or 17.3kg
Range: 25-50 miles
Charging time: 3-5 hours (depending on charger)
Gears: 2- or 6-speed
Power: 250W
Reasons to buy
+Portable, fold-up design+Very well implemented assistance+Separate battery pack for easier carrying
Reasons to avoid
-The weight makes portability harder than it should be

• Evans has stock! Buy now from £3,025
• Buy direct from Brompton - stocks variable 

So it's been knocked off the top spot for now, but the E-Brompton is seriously impressive. If your daily commute includes public transport followed by cycling, it offers total ease of 'parking', can be more easily stowed in a luggage rack than the GX, and still allows you to arrive in a pristine and unsweaty state, thanks to the electric assistance.

The F1-trained engineers at William Advanced Engineering assisted with the electrical parts and the result is a 250W motor that provides pedal assistance via the front hub – which is still a very unusual approach. It draws power from a 300Wh battery pack that sits in a bag and goes on the front where the Brompton luggage rack would normally sit. You can also opt for a larger bag that holds both the battery and your spare suit or laptop or whatever. 

The Brompton is fun to ride in urban settings, although admittedly not as much so as the GX. Its powerful enough to breeze up hills with minimal effort, but feels nimble on the flat. As with any Brompton, you probably won't win a half-mile sprint on it, but thanks to the pedal assistance, you most certainly will get off to a flying start. 

The reason it stands above other electric bikes is that Brompton has worked out how to apply power assistance to your pedalling so it feels natural. It also doesn't feel so much like it's trying to fight you once you reach the maximum, 15.5mph assisted speed.

A neat smartphone app shows current charge levels and lets you tailor assistance settings, while cadence and torque sensors mean power delivery is smooth and only kicks in when truly required. Brompton also plans to offer diagnostics and warnings that a service or battery replacement may be necessary via the app.

Brompton offers fewer options than it does with its standard steeds, but while it comes in any colour you like, so long as that's black or white, there is also a choice of two or six gears, that 20-litre bonus luggage option, and you can shell out extra for a fast charging system that delivers an 80 per cent battery top up in just 90 minutes.

The Electric Brompton folds up exactly the same as the non-powered Brompton. It's so simple, and unlike certain folding bikes we could mention, what you're left with is a genuinely small thing, rather than something that's about the size of a bike with the front wheel taken off. However, the extra weight of the electric drivetrain means you can't just lug it about with the ease of a standard Brompton. 

It's not bad at all as you wheel it about on the flat – it has small, suitcase-style additional wheels that come into play once folded up. However, if your commute involves, for instance, having to cross over a bridge to get to a railway platform, you will not enjoy that experience. 

That aside, the only problems with the electric Brompton are the same as with a standard one – it's pricey, and you do look a bit of a tit riding one. But you'll get over it. 

Best cheap electric bike: Gtech eBike City

4. Gtech eBike City

Best cheap ebike for urban rides. Very easy to use

Specifications
Weight: 16kg
Range: 30 miles
Charging time: 3 hours
Gears: none
Power: 200W
Reasons to buy
+Computer monitored to adjust speed when pedalling+Good value for money
Reasons to avoid
-Not much difference between low and high power-Slightly uncomfortable saddle and grips-Does not inspire confidence regarding longevity

Buy from gtech.co.uk for £995

This Gtech City Bike is way cheaper and simpler than the bikes above, and is ideal for beginners or those on a budget. There are definitely more powerful electric bikes out there than this, and a few cheaper ones, but Gtech, best known for its vacuum cleaners and hedge trimmers, has pulled off a surprise winner with this.

For just shy of a grand, you get an e-bike that actually looks like a bike, has a 30-mile maximum range, and is shorn of anything that could be described as complexity.

You turn it on by pressing the green button on the battery once for low power and twice for high, although to be honest, there is not a lot of difference between them. After that, you just pedal. There are no gears, no chain to muck up your trousers (a motorbike-style carbon fibre belt is used instead) and not that much difference in feeling compared to riding a normal bike.

The twist is that a computer monitors how hard you're having to work to pedal, and applies the electric motor as required. So you mainly feel its helping hand as you pull away from lights, coming out of corners, and of course, going up slopes.

As with all these bikes, the assisted speed is capped at 15mph, but unlike some of them, the Gtech eBike City or its identical (spec-wise) sibling the eBike Sport (this just has a standard frame rather than a step-through one) is light and agile enough for you to be able pedal harder without feeling like the weight is fighting you back down to 15mph. You can even, at a push, use it without the motor on flatter roads.

We wouldn't try to take this up a mountain section of the Tour de France, but for urban hills and more gentle rural inclines, it really does take the work out of it.

For the money, and especially considering it comes from a hedge trimmer brand, the eBike is a great little set of wheels. There have been sacrifices made in the comfort of the saddle and the grips, and the brakes could have a bit more bite to them, but these seem like acceptable compromises to us. 

In some ways, its real USP at launch was that it just looks like a bike. Thankfully, other brands are now following Gtech's lead in this area.

Best electric bikes: Rad Power Bikes RadRhino

(Image credit: Rad Power Bikes)

5. Rad Power Bikes RadRhino

A beast of a machine for commuting and commanding the hills

Specifications
Weight: 32.7kg
Range: 50 miles
Charging time: 6 hours
Gears: 7-Speed
Power: 250W
Reasons to buy
+Ploughs through terrain+Carries up to 125kg+Twist throttle+Great value
Reasons to avoid
-It's heavy-Looks a bit chunky

• Buy direct from Rad Power bikes for £1,380

Don't view this monster as merely a set of wheels to get you from A to B, because it is capable of carrying you, your family and the kitchen sink to even the furthest of destinations.

The chunky FatBike-esque tyres, bulletproof frame and excellent components team up to create a bike that's built to last, but this giant is also gentle. Seven speeds and five different power levels means it's easy too cruise along at speeds of around 15mph.

It is a heavy lump and those lugging in and out of parking spaces will likely get a bit bored of the overall heft, but this is a bike designed to conquer all trails. It just so happens to double-up as an excellent, load-lugging commuter, too. 

Best electric bikes: S-Works Turbo Levo SL

(Image credit: Specialized)

6. Specialized S-Works Turbo Levo SL

Best electric mountain bike if a little costly

Specifications
Weight: 16.9kg
Range: N/A
Charging time: 2.5 hours
Gears: SRAM XX1
Power: 240W
Reasons to buy
+Looks phenomenal+Handles like a proper MTB+Delivers massive grins
Reasons to avoid
-Sooooo expensive

The eMTB used to be a dirty word among diehard downhill and trail-hungry mountain bike fans, but technology has moved on at such a rate that they are now pretty much in a league of their own.

This top spec Specialized number is essentially the Porsche of the electric mountain bike world, with choice components and the latest battery and motor tech combining to create a mud-plugging weapon that doesn't sap the legs when it comes time to crawl back to the top of the hill.

Let's face it, the most fun part of any mountain bike ride is blazing down a winding section and this eMTB allows for more of the fun stuff. According to the guys who built it, the lightweight SL 1.1 motor doubles the rider's effort with as much as 240 watts of silent and powerful assistance, while the motor’s responsive torque curve delivers power perfectly in-tune with a normal riding cadence and leaves no resistance when you’re riding without power assistance.

Max speed tops out at a whopping 20mph, so be careful around the law when rinsing this one around the city streets. Although leave it unlocked and it won't last longer than 30 seconds anyway. 

Best electric bikes: FuroSystems Furo X

(Image credit: Furo Systems)

7. FuroSystems Furo X

Best lightweight ebike

Specifications
Weight: 15kg
Range: 35 miles
Charging time: 4.5 hours
Gears: 9-speed
Power: 500W
Reasons to buy
+Lighter than the rest+Excellent ride+Comes with extras galore
Reasons to avoid
-Not cheap

• Buy the Furo X from FuroSystems

By their nature, ebikes are a lot heavier than their non-motorised brethren and this is something to consider if you have a flight of stairs to climb, be it at home or on public transport. Well here comes a truly well-specced folding model that weighs just 15kgs, replete with exterior-mounted 36v Tesla-spec battery, 500w BAFANG rear hub motor, disc brakes fore and aft, mudguards, rear luggage rack, side-stand and LED lighting system with integrated indicators. Given the plethora of extras, we’re frankly gobsmacked its London-based designers managed to keep the weight so low.

The Furo X is also equipped with an aerospace-grade carbon fibre frame, 20-inch wheels for faster travel and a 9-speed Shimano derailleur for a wide variety of inclines. But it’s that 500w powerhouse motor that you’ll come to love the most. As is the case with all ebikes in the UK, the motor’s assistance is restricted to 15.5mph but because the bike’s lighter than most of its competitors, it doesn’t feel like you’re riding through treacle when the motor disengages or the battery runs flat.

The handlebar-mounted computer display, meanwhile, provides five pedal-assist power levels which can be changed on the hoof by tapping up and down on the rubber keys. In a nutshell, the higher the power assist, the longer the motor will run until it cuts out at the prerequisite 15.5mph. It has to be said that the motor itself kicks in pretty spritely as soon as the sensor detects optimum pressure on the pedals, so be mindful when starting off or doing a U-turn and perhaps have your fingers covering the brakes lest you lose control.

Given it's fitted with 20-inch wheels, the Furo X doesn’t fold into as tidy a package as the Brompton (few do) but the process is really simple and when folded it’s easily compact enough to take on a train without causing a fuss. The triangular seat post is especially worth a mention because it makes it really easy to raise and lower the saddle without having to straighten it.

Well that’s the main tech out of the way, so what’s it like to ride? In two words, bloody fantastic. It handles superbly well at any speed and will zip up hill and down dale for up to 35 miles on a single charge. Its handlebar assembly can also be adjusted to suit a wide variety of rider heights.

If you hanker after a folding ebike with bigger wheels than the Brompton but can’t stretch the budget to GoCycle’s top-dog GX then absolutely put this superbly designed entry on the shopping list. You won’t be disappointed.

Best electric bikes: Raleigh Centros Crossbar

8. Raleigh Centros Crossbar

Best premium hybrid electric bike

Specifications
Weight: 26kg
Range: 60+ miles
Charging time: 6 hours
Gears: 10-speed
Power: 250W
Reasons to buy
+Really good fun to ride+Sturdily built but comfortable+10 gears to play with
Reasons to avoid
-Ridiculously heavy. You do NOT want to run out of battery power-A bit overpriced

What's the Centros like? Big and heavy, but with enough power to overcome that, it really reminded me of a more upmarket Volt Pulse. You do tend to find that the weightier e-bikes give more of a feeling of speed, even though you're only doing 20mph or so at the absolute most (only up to 15mph with electrical assistance so you'll need leg muscles or a downward incline to get to that outlandish velocity).

I found that by sticking it on 'Turbo' or 'Sport' mode (the upper 2 of the 4 electrical assistance levels) and leaving it in a middle gear, the Centros felt zippy when in full flight, but able to pull away from the lights with no problems. Less lazy riders than me might want to actually use the 10 gears, and will find that in the top gear, it's quite easy to push past the mandated 15.5mph electrical limit.

The front suspension and pleasantly comfy saddle also smooth out London's potholed hellscape very successfully. Raleigh also makes great play of the fact that the battery is 'hidden' in the frame's down tube but to be perfectly honest, it is 'hidden' in the same way as an elephant is 'hidden' if you throw a blanket over it.

The only issue with this bike is that, as mentioned, it is quite reminiscent of the Volt Pulse. Okay, that only has 8 gears, not that I use the gears much anyway, but it is lighter and, more to the point, over £1000 cheaper. If you have the readies, maybe you'll prefer this one, though.

Best electric bikes: Volt Axis

9. Volt Axis

Perhaps the most cutting-edge e-bike you can buy

Specifications
Weight: 16kg
Range: 60+ miles
Charging time: 3-4 hours
Gears: 8-speed
Power: 418Wh
Reasons to buy
+Great fun to ride thanks to 8 gears and comparatively light weight+Folds up, has disk brakes AND automatic gears
Reasons to avoid
-Well, it only barely folds up… -And who wants automatic gears on a bike?

• Buy direct from Volt, RRP £3,099

If you want an e-bike that positively sprays tech out you, try the Volt Axis on for size. It takes the GoCycle GS's combo of folding, lightweight frame and disk brakes and adds automatic gears, if you please. These react to your speed and pedalling effort. So you automatically gear down when you stop at traffic lights – although what self-respecting cyclist does that? – and then back up as you accelerate.

If you are an experienced rider this is actually annoying as hell. Personally, I tend to leave whatever I'm riding in a high gear all the time, because my body is like a powerful machine, and I found the way it slowed my escape from the lights quite disconcerting. For beginners, it could be useful, but it's worth remembering that the whole point of e-bikes is that the motor helps you along anyway, so I do really question the usefulness of this.

The 'folding' mechanism is hardly going to have Brompton's engineers in a cold sweat, but it does quickly fold just enough to let you take it on a train in the rush hour, and unlike the GoCycle, you don't need any tools or have to, uh, remove the damn wheels. Pushing it about in this state is not the easiest thing, it must be said.

That aside, the Axis is a fantastic e-bike. At 'only' 16kg, it's almost lively by e-bike standards, but it also feels rock solid. It's geared too low in my opinion – I think it's fair to say I am not the target market – but in 8th, you can breeze on past the legally mandated, electrically-assisted 15.5mph. The hydraulic disk brakes will then bring you to a pleasingly rapid dead stop. The range and charging time are good, too. Cheap it is not, mind you.

Best electric bikes: Orbea Gain F40

(Image credit: Orbea)

10. Orbea Gain F40

Just like your favourite fixie, but faster

Specifications
Weight: Not listed
Range: Not
Charging time: 4 hours
Gears: Shimano 9 speed
Power: 450Wh
Reasons to buy
+Sleek looks+Sharp handling+Adaptable ride style
Reasons to avoid
-No digital display

• Buy from Primera Sports for £1,699

There's no denying this is a handsome eBike and it's refreshing to see something so sleek and speedy-looking in a world that is often dominated by bulky downtubes and massive saddles.

The Orbea Gain range has been designed to act as your daily whip, but also double-up as the weekend sportive machine, with its racy aluminium frame, carbon fork and powerful disc brakes making a solid case for racking up the miles during your downtime. 

As such, there is no chunky digital display (leaving plenty of space to mount a traditional bike computer), just an integrated systems interface that's easy to use and doesn't spoil the overall lines of the bike.