Let me start by saying that price is not the most important factor when choosing an electric bike.
Getting the right machine for the job is the biggest consideration. Regardless of how much or how little you spend, if it doesn’t do what you want it to, then it’s not a good buy. I would recommend reading all the buyers’ guides to help you select the right bike so that whatever your budget you’ll end up with something you’ll use and enjoy regularly.
Once you’ve done that, a quick trawl of ebay, Amazon or even Tesco these days will turn up electric bikes from as little as £350. At the other end of the spectrum the most expensive electric bike sold in the UK at the time of writing was £38,600. If your name happens to be Mr R. Abramovich this might not be much of a stretch, but it’s clearly a tad excessive for most of us. So, there is a really wide range of prices for electric bikes. This certainly indicates that price is a factor worth considering, but what exactly do you get as the money heads north?
Up to £1,000
Electric bikes may seem like a lot of money (compared to a decent non-electric for example) you have to factor in the electric system. Even for a basic, reliable one that’s £300 for a battery, and about the same again for motor, controller, throttle, pedelec, handlebar display etc. So with a tight budget, get the basics right.
At the very lower end of this price range these are the things to watch out for:
– Low grade manufacture – a frame made of cheap alloys or even high tensile steel. The former can snap so be very careful where you buy it from, the latter will weigh a tonne. So check you’re okay with the weight!
– Unbranded batteries can suffer variable range and longevity, costing £300 to replace if they’re lithium, or less if they’re lead acid but they will weigh more than the rest of the bike put together. Again, check you can manhandle the bike if you are considering a lead acid powered machine.
– Warranties tend not to be as long or as comprehensive with cheap bikes, so make sure you check those details and can afford to get it going again yourself if you need to.
For those on a tight budget and who just need a little help getting to the shops and back, a very basic electric bike will be all they want and they’ll be happy with that. Read reviews, try before you part with your hard earned and buy from a reputable dealer.
For others wanting more from their e-bike, as you move up this first price bracket quality improves greatly and by investing that bit more you’ll find perfectly good bikes. Those right at the top end and sold at £999 or just under are at this price point to tuck under the Cycle to Work voucher limit which some companies set at £1,000.
Check that the manufacturer has spent the money on a decent battery, motor and controller though. That’s the important stuff and at this price point be suspicious of high end gears, hydraulic brakes etc. If you’re on a tight budget, get the basics right.
£1,000 – £1,500
This is where most people aim for, and is therefore the most competitive segment of the market. For this money you can expect some absolutely brilliant machines these days.
There is an enormous choice at this level but make sure you go for a good battery, motor and controller. More or less everything will have lithium polymer 36v 10ah batteries. These will give range of 20-40 miles, roughly speaking. Some manufacturers are offering rangier batteries now at this price point. This is good if they’re using high quality cells, not so good if they’re using cheap ones. You don’t want to end up even further from home when the battery stops working! Ask the shop what cells are being used. Panasonic/Sony/Samsung battery cells start to appear at this level so try and find bikes with these for peace of mind.
You may be able to get some nicer bike bits too; even Nexus 8 speed hub gears. Some bikes are really well engineered at this money, albeit with inexpensive materials but they have been well thought out. This is by no means ubiquitous though.
Batteries are normally £300-400 but good ones will last 3-5 years. Manufacturers are aware that this is the sweet spot for sales these days and advertise heavily. Some excellent and some iffy quality still at this price point with a few unscrupulous sellers labeling cheap bikes with a £1,500 price tag to make you think you’re getting something better than you are. Tonnes of choice but read reviews, and try before you buy!
£1,500 – £2,000
You start to see even better engineering now. Build quality, finishing kit and longevity get a lot more consistent. Longer range batteries from top manufacturers, hydraulic brakes and better motors. Still some pups out there but a much wider selection of properly good stuff too. As of 2014 you will be seeing crank drives becoming a lot more prevalent in this sector which is great news for choice.
2013 was very much the year of the Bosch motor but you really need to splash out a couple of grand to get a bike with one of those beauties on board. As always though, try them out and see what they’re like. Some people will live and die by the mantra that crank drives are best but as discussed in ‘How to Choose an Electric Bike’ this is not true for everyone!
£2000 – £5000
If you’ve got more than £2,000 to play with you can start to look at Bosch crank drive bikes, or really top notch hub motors. You’ll see more hydraulic brakes, full suspension, state of charge meters, and European or even British manufacture. You could even do a custom build using a high end electric system retrofitted to a decent bike. You can start to get really excited now. As you would expect, bikes at this level can be very, very accomplished indeed. If you’re heading out for a test ride on any of these bikes I envy you!
A few years ago there wouldn’t have been much to write about at this level, but now there’s a surprising amount. On the one hand there’s hand-built super bikes costing £30,000 or more. On the other hand there’s the custom build stuff using high end electric conversion systems and mounting them on very high end bikes. These usually come in between £5,000 and whatever number you can imagine, depending on the system and the bike you use. Like with most things in life if you’ve got enough cash you can find a way of spending it on electric bikes. Having ridden most of the really high end stuff that has come out recently I have to say that ride quality and fun don’t necessarily increase the more you spend. Okay you get more titanium, more carbon fibre and more bike park bragging rights if that’s your thing, but you can knock spots of most of the really fancy stuff with a powerful bike costing much less if you want to.
The point is that there is there are some pups to be found no matter how far up the overdraft you climb. More money doesn’t necessarily equate to more bike, but be wary of spending too little. That’s not to say that you can’t strike lucky and if your requirements are modest you may get away with it, but if the battery on a £1,500 bike costs £350 then how much electric bike are you going to get for £399?
Extra Costs – What are the running costs of an electric bike?
Whatever you end up getting, it’s also worth pointing out that there are some ongoing costs to factor in. Batteries will need replacing every few years and are often the single most expensive component on the bike, costing from £200-£600. This is still much cheaper than petrol, or train tickets over the same period of time for most people but it will be something you need to be prepared for.
Anything mechanical needs servicing, bikes, cars, cameras, watches etc. Most people hardly ever bother these days but it will pay dividends for the longevity of your bike if you do. Budget around £50 a year for an annual service, and maybe £10 for brake pads a year, £40 for tyres every two or three years depending on mileage. If you do more than 100-150 miles a week (like I do) then service twice a year and you’ll need to replace tyres, brake pads, chains etc more often. None of these parts are too expensive by themselves but neglect them and you’ll be faced with a big bill when everything has worn out and it all needs doing at once.
Charging the battery costs peanuts. You can go 1000 miles on about £4. A single charge costs a few pennies.
You will certainly need a good lock and these can be pricey. If your bike is worth over £1,500 consider a Sold Secure Gold rated lock. These can set you back £50-£100 but are worth it if you have a really nice bike.
Likewise, insurance is a very worthwhile investment. It probably won’t cost more than a few quid a month but will give you peace of mind.
Waterproofs, helmet, lights, panniers are all very useful for most people. Okay the bike may have lights built in, but you will probably need to leave a little of the budget aside for the rest. Wearing a lid is not a legal requirement in the UK at the time of writing, but if you ride on the road and you do come off the bike would you rather bang your head on tarmac or let the helmet take the impact?
Written by The Electric Transport Shop. The Electric Transport Shop are one of the longest established electric bike specialists in the UK. With stores in London, Oxford, York, Cambridge and Bristol. Their own brand ‘Smarta’ holds the Electric Bike World Championship of 2013 and their range of products is one of the largest in Europe.