The Best Electric Bike for Road Rides
Last update: 20th April 2022
I live in a small village and do not commute to work (as I have a home business). I bought a Gazelle Ultimate C380 ebike to get out of the house more, to get some exercise. My partner and I mostly do road rides on weekends, avoiding A Roads where possible.
This article is about what I think is the best electric bike for road riding. If you live in a hilly area, I have written a separate article about the best electric bike for hills. If you are an older person and that is your main concern, I have a different article about the best electric bike for seniors.
Below I discuss:
• why you might want an electric bike for leisure road riding. Note: throughout this article I explain how the requirements of leisure riding differ from those of a commuter.
• the important features to consider when picking an ebike,
• the pros and cons of different choices,
• why I chose the Gazelle Ultimate C380, and
• why the Rayleigh New Motus might be a good alternative.
Note: You can click on any underlined text to jump directly to that section or to more information.
Why You Might Want an Electric Bike
Cycling is a great way to keep fit. It is particularly good for older people are it is low impact but good cardiovascular exercise. If you have access to less-traveled roads, it is a great way to get fresh air and take in the local scenery. If you have radio-linked cycling helmets, it is a fun social activity.
The barrier I used to face each time we planned a ride was the concern about biting off more than I could chew … worrying about whether the ride would become a struggle, a chore. While on the ride, I frequently asked my partner, “Are we halfway yet?”
An electric bike eliminates this trepidation because I now know that if we come upon a hill that is just a little too much, I can increase the amount of power assistance to make the hill less burdensome. Similarly, if there is an unexpected headwind, rather than buckling down and forcing my way through, I simply turn up power assistance (temporarily).
I own a Gazelle Ultimate C380. Wired magazine says “this is one of the best all-round ebikes [they’ve] tried”, rating it 8 out of 10. It cost me £3,600.
Even on my most lazy days, on a 20-mile ride the battery has never dropped below half charge, and so I have the peace of mind, knowing there is plenty of support in reserve should I need it. And that is the key, knowing that it is there even if you decide not to use it.
What an Ebike Won't Do
With all that said, an electric bike will not let you join your local road touring club.
First, by law, the motor on ebikes stops providing assistance at 15.5 mph. To go faster than that, you have to do so entirely under your own power. Second, the frame of most ebikes is laid out for leisurely, upright riding, which is not aerodynamic. Third, often electric bikes do not have the gears for speed.
Each of these issues is discussed more below. So, if you do want to keep pace with fit road riders, an electric bike likely is not the answer.
Similarly, if you want an electric bike for commuting, think carefully about your riding style. If you are happy with a relatively leisurely commute, then an ebike is a great investment. However, if you have a substantial distance to cover each day, you may want:
an ultra-lightweight traditional road bike;
perhaps bite the bullet and look at electric motorcycles.
If you are looking for the best ebike for road rides, I believe the 5 most important features you should consider are (in order):
• Gearing – don't panic. This is not as complex as it sounds, but gear ratio ranges are important.
• Frame Shape – get low handlebars (compared to the seat) and a step-through frame
• Motor Position – get a mid-drive motor unless you intend to use the motor very infrequently
• Weight – lighter weight bikes with large, thin tyres are best for road rides
• Motor Power and Cut-off – get a motor with at least 40 Nm of torque, more if you face significant hills or wish to have your ebike modified (to remove the 15.5 mph cut off).
Note: You can click on any underlined text to jump directly to that section or to more information.
Bicycle gears transfer the effort you put into the pedals to the back wheel. The specific combination of gears determines how much your pedalling gets multiplied up.
Higher gears let you to go faster because a single rotation of the pedals results in more rotations of the back wheel. Lower gears make forward progress easier (for example on a hill) because of single rotation of the pedals results in the bike making less forward progress.
This is always the trade off: effort vs speed.
Mechanically speaking, the highest gear on your bike is the combination of the largest gear ring in front (where you pedal) with the smallest gear ring in the back (on the rear wheel). Let’s say that the front gear ring has 53 teeth, then for each rotation of the pedals, the chain is pulled forward 53 steps. Let’s say that the rear gear ring has 12 teeth, then the rear wheel makes a full rotation every time the chain is pulled forward 12 steps.
You get a number representing the highest gear by dividing the two numbers: 53 / 12 = 4.4. In other words, every time you rotate the pedals one full rotation, the rear wheel rotates 4.4 times.
The lowest gear is similarly calculated; however, instead of comparing the largest gear in the front to the smallest in the back, you do the opposite. If the smallest front gear has 39 teeth and the largest rear gear has 25 teeth, then the lowest gear ratio is 39 / 25 = 1.6. In other words, every time you rotate the pedals one full rotation, the rear wheel rotates 1.6 times.
Gearing: How Fast Can I Go
When people talk about road riding, they generally mean going fast on a flat, smooth surface.
A good cyclist has a cadence (how fast they pedal) between 70 and 90 RPM (rotations per minute). A leisure cyclists pedal slower: maybe only 60 RPM. If your bike has a 4.4x highest gear ratio and 28 inch tyres, then pedalling at 60 RPM will propel the bike forward at 21 mph (miles per hour).
To go faster than this, then you need a pedal faster. If you maximum cadence is 80 RPM, then you cannot pedal faster than 28 mph. If you try to go faster, you will “spin out”.
My Gazelle Ultimate C380 has 28” tyres and a highest gear ratio of 5.0. So, I can comfortably cycle at 24 mph. If I increase my cadence to 80 RPM, I can cycle at 32 mph. This is a decent speed for a road ride. However, it is important to remember that by law the electric motor would have stopped providing assistance at 15.5 mph. So, getting to and maintaining this higher speed would be entirely up to my own effort.
Note: You can have your ebike modified to remove the 15.5 mph restriction, but there are issued, which are discussed in greater depth below.
Gearing on Electric Bikes
A separate article discusses gearing in greater detail and the specific issues with electric bikes.
In summary, electric bikes with mid-drive motors (the preferred solution) start with fewer gear combinations (and a a narrower gear ratio range) than a similar, traditional bike as the they have only one gear ring at the front (where you pedal).
In addition to having a narrower gear ratio range, electric bikes are heavier than similar, traditional bikes and a key metric for reviewers of electric bikes is how well they climb hills.
As a result of the above, ebike manufacturers tend to bias their gears to have better low gears at the expense of high gears. Indeed, some ebikes can have a very poor highest gear ratio.
In that separate article I discuss the Lectro Townmaster. This is a good example of an ebike with problematic gearing.
This ebike has a 200% gear ratio range (meaning that the highest gear is only twice as fast as the lowest gear). In contrast, my Gazelle ebike has a gear ratio range of 380%.
On the Lectro, the highest gear is only a ratio of 3.3 (meaning that at a leisurely cadence of 60 RPM, you can only go 15.7 mph). If you like going fast on the flat, you will find this speed disappointing. If you are cycling in traffic, everyone will be passing you, even in 20 mph zones.
As an aside, given the narrow gear ratio range, the lowest gear on the Lectro is a not very impressive ratio of 1.6. My Gazelle ebike has a lowest gear ratio of 1.3. I would argue that this gearing (on the Lectro) does not allow you to go slow enough to climb even modest hills.
Conclusion: For road riding you should look for an electric bike with a good gear ratio range (at least 350%). My Gazelle ebike is 380% and the most expensive ebikes (with a Rohloff internal gear hub) are 526%.
Additionally, you will want a highest gear ratio of at least 4.4. My Gazelle ebike is 5.06. With a highest gear ratio of 4.4, you should be able to maintain a speed of 21 mph with leisurely pedaling.
With a good gear ratio range, your lowest gear ratio should be at most 1.3. If you think you may struggle on hills, you might look for something even lower (say 1.1).
The main demographic for electric bikes is older people, cycling about town. As a result, it is not uncommon for ebike frames to have a more upright, comfortable riding posture – shown below as a "casual bike" in the image below.
Although more comfortable on your neck and back, this upright postures does put more of your weight on the seat (instead of the handlebars) meaning that you may get sore on longer rides. In addition, this upright posture is not very aerodynamic – meaning it is not ideal for speed.
If you are looking for longer road rides on an electric bike, think carefully about the riding posture. The faster and longer you intend the ride, the lower the handlebars should be compared to the seat.
A secondary issue with frames is the crossbar. Simplistically, you have 3 options: step through, low step, and a traditional crossbar.
Structurally there is little difference between these frame designs. A horizontal crossbar is the traditional look and allows for a (very slightly) lighter frame, but a step-through bike is substantially easier to mount and dismount.
I would strongly advise you get a bike with a step-through frame. Failing that, a low step bike. In the modern era, the only advantages of a crossbar are potentially the ease with which you can secure these bikes to a bike rack on the back of your car, and the potential convenience of being able to mount a water bottle or small bag.
My ebike has a horizontal crossbar but I do not use it when putting my bike on the bike rack on the back of my car. So, if this is a potential concern, it is best to practice when you pick up your electric bike at the bike shop. (In a separate article I discuss the best way to order and collect an electric bike.)
First, to ride faster and further, it is better to be in the rider’s position, which is bent over at the lower back, looking at the road through your eyebrows. The lower the handlebars are compared to the seat, the more the rider will bend over. Although the specifics are personal choice, look for bikes with lower handlebars.
Second, there is little need for a horizontal crossbar on a modern bike. For safety and convenience it is better to get a step-through frame or a low-step.
The electric motor can be in one of three places: in the front wheel, in the rear wheel, or where the pedals are (called a mid-drive).
Mid-drive motors are the best in virtually all regards except cost and weight. Nearly half the weight of any ebike system is in the battery, the size of which determines your range. So, before going any further you should think about how you intend to use your electric road bike.
IF you want the motor to assist you for much of the ride, then you will require a larger battery and a more responsive motor. In this case you should get a mid-drive motor (as explained below). This is my riding style and I settled on the Gazelle Ultimate C380 electric bike.
In contrast, IF you want an electric motor strictly for one or two hills on the ride, or simply for the confidence that you will always be able to make the distance regardless of headwinds, then perhaps a simpler and lighter motor and battery will meet your needs. In this case you might consider a hub motor.
Hub motors are lower tech and thus cheaper, but poorer performing. I will start by describing the cheapest solution and then move to increasing sophistication.
Front Hub Motors
Ebikes with front hub motors tend to be the cheapest option (starting at £700) but:
The extra weight on the front wheel makes steering sluggish. At speed, sluggish steering can be an advantage, but it is problematic at slow speeds.
This extra weight is on the front of the bike makes the bike harder to manoeuvre – e.g. lifting it onto a bike rack, rolling it into storage, even lifting the front wheel to climb kerbs.
Hub motors in general do not use torque sensors to determine when to provide power (and how much). A separate article discusses this in more detail but in practical terms this results in two issues:
The motor will not help you set off from a stop. This is because hub motors use cadence sensors that do not engage the motor until you have pedalled half or even a full rotation. This can be very annoying if your ride requires frequent stops at intersections, especially if you stop on a hill.
Power is provided in proportion to your pedalling speed (your cadence) rather than the effort you are putting in. The result can feel unnatural with the motor kicking in (and turning off) suddenly. This is perhaps best described as riding on a weak moped rather than having bionic legs, where you do not have a throttle. Instead you engage the motor by pedalling rapidly.
Finally hub motors do not use the bike’s gears, meaning that they are much less efficient at slower speeds. This makes them inferior for hill climbing. Front hubs are particular bad at hills given the reduced traction (as your centre of mass shifts backwards as hills get steeper).
If you are fit and are looking for a lightweight road bike to travel decent distances at a decent speed, where you want an electric motor just for confidence and perhaps the occasional steep hill enroute, then a front hub motor may be a good option for you.
An important deciding factor is that by law electric motors stop providing assistance at 15.5 mph. If you normally cycle above that speed, then the motor will not be contributing much of the time, and will only represent excess weight. In other words, the motor will only come into play on steep hills or in the face of strong headwinds (when you will naturally slow down below 15.5 mph).
If you are buying a new bike, you should still consider the other motor position options. If you already had a good road bike, you may want a conversion kit for your existing bike. Due to their simplicity, front hub motors are well suited to conversions.
Rear Hub Motors
Rear hub motors (starting from £1000) are a step up from front hubs and are less expensive than mid-drives, but have a number of drawbacks
Just like front hub motors, most rear hub motors do not use torque sensors. A separate article discusses this in more detail but the key implications are that:
The motor will not help you set off from a stop.
Power is provided in proportion to your cadence (how fast you pedal) rather than how much effort you are putting in.
Perhaps the best way of describing this is that with a mid-drive motor, you feel stronger – like you have bionic legs. This is because mid-drive motors determine how much power you are putting into the pedals and then multiply that up.
A hub motor in contrast makes your bike feel like a weak moped; one without a throttle, which is instead controlled by how fast you are pedalling. With a front hub the bike feels like it is being pulled forward by the wheel you use to steer with. With a rear hub it feels like someone is pushing you along.
Let me elaborate on the "no throttle" point. The amount of power provided bears no relation to the effort you are putting in. Instead, the faster you pedal, the more power – even if you are putting in no effort at all.
In this situation, it is critical to use your bike’s gears correctly. You may even need to downshift early to ensure you can continue to pedal at a decent rate so as to get the most power out of the hub motor.
If you ever downshift late (e.g. on a hill) and quickly find yourself in the wrong gear, well, a hub motor won't be able to save you. As your pedalling slows down, the amount of power assistance is reduced – exaggerating the predicament.
Hub motors do not use the bike’s gears. (These are entirely for the rider.) This means that hub motors are less efficient at lower speeds. Specifically, more of the power consumed by the motor is converted into heat rather than effort.
Johnny Nerd Out demonstrates the difference between a rear hub motor and mid-drive motor from the same manufacturer on an identical bike. The side-by-side demonstration starts at 03:21. Hub motors are slower and less able to climb hills, largely because they do not use the bike’s gears.
The side by side demonstration starts at 03:21
Finally, it can be a real pain to change a flat tyre on an ebike with a rear hub motor. Although flats may be infrequent, if you are road riding, they happen enough that the extra hassle could be problematic. Indeed, many people find changing a rear flat tyre on a rear hub bike so difficult that they simply take their ebike into the shop.
Here is a video showing the engineer of an electric bike company demonstrating how to replace a flat on his own company’s electric bike. He uses a bike stand and still has considerable difficulty. So, imagine trying to do this on the side of the road, partway through your cycle ride.
Changing a flat tyre with a rear hub motor. Complications start at 01:27
If you are fit and want to travel decent distances at a decent speed, where an electric motor is only required to give you confidence and to make climbing a few hills easier, then you could consider an ebike with a rear hub motor.
In this scenario, weight is important. The lightest weight solution might be Fazua Evation or the Mahle eBikemotion X35
In simplistic terms, a hub motor is best suited to give you a little push during the hardest parts of the ride: on steep hills, in the face of a strong headwind, or at the end of a ride when you definitely bit off more than you can chew. A mid-drive motor, in contrast, is well suited for providing assistance every step of the way.
Mid-drive motors add power to the chain. This extra power gets added to the power you provide yourself via the pedals. Torque sensors determine how much power you are putting in, and multiple that up. The result is that you feel you have bionic legs. Pedalling is easier but otherwise the riding experience is unchanged.
Mid-drive motors use the existing gears to transfer power to the rear wheel, as a result power assistance adapts to the situation: setting off from a stop, travelling on the flat, or going up a hill. And that assistance feels natural.
If you are older or less fit and either want the confidence of having support available or wish to receive support throughout your ride, then a mid-drive motor is your best option.
I ride a Gazelle Ultimate C380 with a Bosch mid-drive motor and am completely satisfied.
If you are a fit cyclist, planning to cycle reasonable distances at a decent speed, where you will only use the electric motor for climbing the occasional hill (and perhaps for confidence should you encounter a ferocious headwind) then you should get a hub motor. Although slightly more expensive, a rear hub motor is better than front hubs.
If you have a existing road bike that is perfectly suitable, then perhaps you should look at an ebike conversion kit, which typically involves a front hub motor.
If, on the other hand, you want the electric motor to support you for more of the ride, then you should invest in a mid-drive motor.
As discussed in the section above, there are two types of riders to consider: fit cyclists who plan on using the electric motor sparingly, and (perhaps) newer cyclists who are looking for electric assistance for a larger share of the ride.
If you are in the first group, then weight is a consideration.
By law the motor stops providing assistance at 15.5 mph. To go faster than this, you must do so entirely under your own power. So, as with traditional bikes, you will want a light weight bike to make this easier.
The two heaviest parts of the ebike system are the motor and the battery. The more range on the battery, the heavier it is. So, when cutting weight, you will have to think carefully about how often you intend to use the motor and how much power assistance you will require.
If you are in the second group, which I suspect most ebike riders are (including myself) then weight is not a significant concern. Personally, I would rather have the peace of mind of having an oversized battery, and the comfort of a powerful mid-drive motor.
For this second group, the weight difference between the lightest and the best is not that significant. Indeed, the extra weight you might be carrying around your waist may be a much more significant factor. (In other words, I would not worry about it.)
Motor Power and Cut-off
UK law requires that the electric motor on an ebike stops providing assistance at 15.5 mph.
This is an acceptable speed for a leisurely bike ride, but you may feel uncomfortable in traffic as even the slowest zones in town are 20 mph.
If you plan on travelling a decent distance on your bike, you may want higher speeds. So, either you are fit enough (and have the right gears) to push the bike to a higher speed without assistance, or you have the electric motor on your ebike modified.
Modifying the motor is not difficult (for a trained professional) as the performance of electric motors is controlled by software. All that is required is a software update. Most ebike retailers are able to do this for you.
Under UK law, if you your electric bike is modified in this way, then it becomes an electric motorcycle which must be registered, taxed, and insured; and the rider must have a valid motorcycle driving license.
None of this is particularly onerous; however, if this is an option you are considering then it might make sense for you to research electric motorcycles in general to see if any of these are more relevant to your requirements.
If you have the limiter removed from your ebike motor, you will require a high spec motor and battery that is able to provide sufficient power at speed. Even if you do not modify your ebike, there are still minimum power requirements depending on your situation.
In a separate article I discuss the relative power of different ebike motors and make recommendations for what you should look for at a minimum. When comparing ebike motors, it is best to look at torque.
If you ride on the flat only (with dips and rises), then 40 Nm of torque should be sufficient
If you have any decent hills (e.g. a 15% grade or more), then you will want at least 50 Nm
If you have serious hills or want good speed on hills, you will want an even more powerful motor
Personally I recommend the Bosch mid-drive motors. Which? Magazine did a review and scored Bosch highest. When looking for particular power levels, he is a rough guide.
Bosch Active Line motors provide 40 Nm of torque and all up to 250% support;
Active Line Plus provides 50 Nm and 270% support;
Performance Line provides 65 Nm of torque and 300% support; and
Performance Line CX provides 85 Nm and 340% support.
My Gazelle Ultimate C380 ebike comes with a Bosch Performance Line motor (65 Nm). I have never found this bike underpowered even on decent hills. Yes, I slow down noticeably on hills but this is because (a) the motor is merely multiplying up my own effort (up to a maximum of 300% with this motor), and (b) I ride with my partner who rides a traditional bike. So, he slows down for hills regardless.
People looking for an electric bike for leisurely road rides should:
understand gear ratios enough to ensure that your highest gear ratio is at least 4.4x. A highest gear too much less than this and it will be a struggle to maintain even 20 mph on the flat.
ensure that the handlebars are low compared to the seat. This will encourage you to crouch forward, which is more aerodynamic.
get a step-through frame – as there are few (if any) advantages to a traditional crossbar frame.
get a mid-drive motor. Front and rear hub motors have a range of limitations that make riding them feel unnatural
get a Bosch mid-drive motor - at least the Active Line Plus. If you will be riding up decent hills, spend £300 extra to upgrade to the Performance line. If decent speed on a hill is important then spend a further £200 to get the Performance CX.
If you are a fit cyclist, who intends to use the electric motor sparingly then:
think carefully about weight
consider whether you want to "convert" a decent, traditional road bike. Conversion kits use front hub motors and thus have issues but they are inexpensive, easy to install, and lightweight; or
look for a lightweight rear hub electric bike
or, consider having the electric motor "modified" (with a software update) so that it continues to provide assistance above 15.5 mph
you will need to register your ebike as an electric motorcycle, and
you will want a high performance motor – like the Bosch Performance CX or better
Recommendations (updated 29/Mar/2022)
I have four recommendations.
The first is my own choice: the Gazelle Ultimate C380, which has "all the bells and whistles", cost £3,600, and required special ordering. I ordered this ebike back last August; it arrived this February -- over 6 months later.
My second recommendation is the 2022 Rayleigh New Motus Grand Tour. This bike is lower spec than my Gazelle but costs only £2800 (a savings of £800), still meets my minimum requirements, and is available now.
My third recommendation is the Gazelle Ultimate C8+. This bike is very similar to the Rayleigh New Motus, but cost £300 more.
My Choice: Gazelle Ultimate C380
I own a Gazelle Ultimate C380. It cost me £3,599. Wired magazine says “this is one of the best all-round ebikes [they’ve] tried”, rating it 8 out of 10.
Unfortunately, I believe this bike is only available by special order. So, the above link brings up a close relative, the Gazelle Ultimate C8+ which costs £3,099. The differences of the Ultimate C8+ are discussed below.
The Gazelle Ultimate C380 comes with:
a step-through frame,
a Bosch Performance Line Cruise mid-drive motor,
a Bosch Intuvia controller - which Which? magazine rated highest,
an Enviolo internal gear hub,
a Gates carbon fibre belt (instead of a chain), and
a 500Wh battery.
This video gives a good walkthrough of all the features, advantages and disadvantages of this ebike.
The Gazelle Ultimate C8+ comes with:
• a Bosch Active Line Plus mid-drive motor instead of a Performance Line Cruise, and
• an 8-speed Shimano Nexus internal gear hub instead of an Enviolo continuously variable gear hub.
To understand the implications of these differences, see the below discussion on the Rayleigh New Motus.
Alternatively: Rayleigh New Motus Grand Tour
If I were ordering my ebike today, likely I would get the Rayleigh New Motus for £2,799.
This bike is just out (being the 2022 model) and so I have not yet found any comprehensive reviews. When reviewing the 2020 version (the Motus), eBikeChoices says "I was impressed ... at this price it’s one of the best Bosch-powered e-bikes available", rating it 7.8 out of 10.
The New Motus is a significant improvement on that earlier bike.
Also, critically, Rayleigh is a UK-based manufacturer and thus you are less likely to suffer"global supply chain issues" when ordering. As mentioned above, I waited over 6 months for my special ordered Gazelle.