An electrically-assisted bike gives you extra energy for your cycle commute to work, so you can undertake journeys that might be too strenuous otherwise. It's like cycling with your own tailwind. An e-bike is quiet, doesn't emit harmful gasses, and costs pennies to run. Most of those for sale are pedelecs. They don't have a throttle: you pedal as normal and the bike augments your efforts. You choose how much help you get with a handlebar-mounted control.
So long as it meets certain requirements – such as a motor of no more than 250 Watts, which must not provide assistance above 15.5mph (25kph) – then an electrically-assisted bike can be ridden anywhere you'd ride a bicycle. You don't have to tax and insure it, like you would a motorbike; you don't have to pass a test; and you need only be 14 years or older to ride it.
Pedelecs are more expensive than bicycles due to the cost of the motor, the rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery, and the controls. Even a budget pedelec retails for around €1,500, just above the limit for Cycle to Work savings. You can nevertheless get a more expensive model through Cyclescheme. You simply pay the retailer the difference between the retail price and €1,000 when you pick up the bike, then make the usual salary sacrifice savings on the remaining €1,000. If you're a standard rate taxpayer, you can thus expect to save about €310 on a pedelec that costs €1,000 or more.
As with unassisted bikes, the more you spend, the better a pedelec will be. At around €1,000, you can expect a basic hybrid or town bike with 7- or 8-speed derailleur gearing, V-brakes, and a sluggish, coil-sprung suspension fork. The motor will usually be in the front or rear wheel and the battery typically sits under the rear pannier rack.
Towards €2,000, pedelecs become more significantly more sophisticated. The aluminium frame will be lighter; the suspension fork is likely to be a lighter, more supple air-sprung unit; gears will be workhorse mid-range groupsets such as Shimano Deore; brakes will be powerful hydraulic discs; and even things like the tyres will be tangibly better. The heavy battery will probably have a bigger range and is likely to be positioned low down near the bottom bracket, for improved bike handling. It's likely to power a motor in the bottom bracket instead of one of the wheels, a more efficient solution since it means the motor can get the benefit of the bike's gearing, just like you do.
Many pedelecs come with mudguards and a rear pannier rack. Don't forget to factor those in if they're absent, along with usual commuting accessories such as lights, a lock, a waterproof jacket, and luggage. You may want a kickstand too. Pedelecs are weightier than unpowered bicycles, usually tipping the scales at 8-10kg heavier. It's harder to lean them securely against bike stands and the like, especially if the battery is high up.
Here are three good examples of electrically-assisted bikes from a little over €1,500 to €3000.
Cube SUV Hybrid Pro 27.5
Cube is another German company that has a huge selection of pedelecs, ranging from town bikes to tourers to full-suspension mountain bikes. This 'sport utility vehicle' is an urban mountain bike with a nice aluminium frame, an air-sprung SR Suntour XCR fork, and commuter-friendly Shimano Alfine 8-speed hub gearing. Its vast Schwalbe Super Moto tyres will comfortably cope with the worst potholes, and its hydraulic disc brakes offer lots of stopping power for little lever effort. It's powered by a down tube mounted Bosch Li-Ion battery and an efficient Bosch bottom bracket motor. In ideal conditions, you might get 70 miles or more per charge. You'll need to add mudguards, rack, and lights for commuting.
Kalkhoff Groove F7
Electric bikes are more popular on the Continent than in Ireland, and German company Kalkhoff make some of the best. The Groove F7 is one of their least expensive models. It's a step-through framed aluminium town bike with a budget suspension fork and seatpost. The 7-speed Shimano Nexus hub gear makes sense for an urban commuter: the drivetrain is more durable and you can go from top gear to bottom gear while stationary at the traffic lights. A 250W hub motor drives the front wheel, which can mean traction issues on the steepest hills but is fine for most purposes. The battery range is up to 37 miles per charge in ideal conditions. It comes with a rear rack, mudguards, battery lighting, and a kickstand.
Raleigh Stow E Way
This 20-inch wheel folding back collapses down to 90x50x70cm. It's no Brompton but you shouldn't have any problems taking it on a train or putting it in a car boot. At around 18kg, you won't want to carry it far by hand: unfold it and push it. The battery is cleverly hidden inside the frame, while the motor is in the rear hub. The range is only about 24 miles per charge, which should be ample if you're using the Stow E Way for mixed-mode commuting. The bike itself is a Dahon-style fold-in-half frame with a long seatpost and stem that allow for a lot of height adjustment. Seven-speed Shimano Altus gears and V-brakes are par for the course on a folder of this type. It comes with a rack, mudguards and a kickstand.
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