3 Perfect Electric Bikes when your Commute involves Hills
Hills are off putting – especially after a long day at work. Although hills are not the sole factor in finding the best electric bike for commuting, they are a significant one ... even if you have to climb the same hill every day ... especially if you claim the same hill every day.
Below we recommend specific electric bikes that have some features that may be of relevance to you.
Click here to jump immediately to these recommendations. Or, continue reading to understand the thinking behind them.
Front Hub Motor
When cycling uphill it is important for power to be delivered via the back wheel. Front wheel drive on a car has improved traction because the weight of the engine and transmission sit over the front wheels. On bicycles your weight in further back and so front wheel drive is noticeably less effective.
You may not have thought about this previously because this is how a traditional bike works. The chain transfers the power you put into the pedals into the rear wheel.
Ebikes have three options in terms of motor placement: front hub, rear hub, and mid-drive. For improved performance up hill, you will want to avoid a front hub configuration - which is essentially front wheel drive.
Also, from a control point of view you will want to avoid a front hub. On a traditional bike, the front wheel is light and maneouverable. This gives you greatest control, especially up hill when you are going slower and the slighest error in steering can cause problems.
Rear Hub Gearing
Whereas rear hub and mid-drive configurations both deliver power via the rear wheel, rear hubs have two notable issues on hills.
First, rear hub systems replace the rear gear set meaning that the bike has much reduced ability to "down shift" for a hill. Yes, the electric motor will compensate but think about you trying to climb a hill in the wrong gear. The motor needs to deliver substantial torque.
This is not to say that all rear hub ebikes are rubbish at hills. Rather, if you buy a rear hub ebike you need to ensure that it delivers sufficient torque. Otherwise you will find yourself doing most of the work.
Rear Hub Torque Sensors
Second, rear hub systems do not tend to have torque sensors. UK Law say that electric bikes can only provide power assistance when you are pedaling. With hub motors it is common for assistance to kick in after you have moved the pedals about half a rotation.
What that means is that you will receive no assistance during the hardest part – getting going - and as mentioned, the lack of rear gears and the extra weight can make this very hard indeed. If you are going to go for a rear hub ebike, look for torque sensors.
Mid-drive motors typically come with torque sensors, which measure the force you push down with on the pedals. With torque sensors, assistance is provided as soon as you push down, a particular advantage on hill starts.
An electric bike assists you with your pedaling. It is not a moped. It does not do all the work.
Under UK law to be classified as an electric bike (and not a moped) the motor can supply no more than 250W of continuous power. And frankly that can be a little weak on a decent hill.
There are two immediate solutions. First, you can purchase an electric bike that provide more than 250W of electric power; however, you will have to register, license, and insure these. Doing so is not particularly onerous nor expensive, but it is an additional step.
Second, UK law refers to “continuous” power. It has been clarified that it is legal for the motor to provide more than 250W in situations of high demand (i.e. while climbing a hill). The net result is that not all 250W motors are the same. When looking at 250W motors, it is important to understand its maximum power during high demand.
The ranges provided by manufacturers are estimates for “typical” conditions. If your ride is atypical (e.g. hilly) then you will get less range than advertised. If you require more assistance than is “typical” then you will get less range. Over time your battery will degrade (a little bit) and you will get less range.
In summary, if you have noticeable hills on your ride, you should get a battery that has at least 30% more range than you will likely require.
Some electric bikes have the battery built into the downtube. Although more secure, this means that you need to plug in the entire bike to recharge it. If you do not have convenient power where you store your bike during the day, you will need to size the battery to cover both legs of the commute (plus 30% to compensate for hills if appropriate).
Alternatively, if you have access to power near to you where you work, you could chose a bike with a smaller removable battery (often cheaper), which could be charged off the bike.
Weight is not as high in importance as it would be for a conventional bike, because the power assistance tends to compensate for the additional poundage. Just remember, however, that even with this assistance you will still need to propel yourself and the bike up each hill and so weight can become a factor, especially if you have opted for a lower spec motor.
1st Option - Emu Roam Crossbar Electric Road Bike (£997)
Perhaps one of the least expensive electric bikes available in the UK, The Guardian summarises the Emu Roam as " a good bike at a fair price."
A British brand and a UK company, the Emu Roam is configured as a city bike and so a more comfortable, leisurely ride - perhaps not suitable if you have a longer commute. The entry level battery has a range of 50 miles, which can be removed and charged during the day - taking a good top up in 1-2 hours but requiring 6-7 hours for a full recharge.
The components are good quality: Shimano breaks and gears, Samsung battery cells, puncture-resistant tyres, chain guard.
One drawback is the front hub motor. Although this is simpler (and thus an inexpensive bike) and easier to maintain, the bike is heavier, especially in the front, noticeable even when mounting a kerb.
Another drawback is the 250W motor. Although this is the highest power allowed for an EAPC (see FAQ: Are electric bikes legal? ), combined with the overgearing typical of city bikes and the loss of traction typical of a front hub, this means that the Emu Roam is good on the flat but might not give sufficient assistance on reasonable hills.
It has a nice security feature. The display is password protected and the motor won't work if you don't unlock the display. On the other hand, if the display is stolen during the day you will be in a pickle getting the bike home.
2nd Option - Emu Evo Crossbar Electric City Bike (£1,697)
The Emu Evo is a good step up from the Emu Roam. Same British brand and UK company, this bike is configured for a longer or more varied commute. First, the seat is slightly higher, pushing you into the more traditional cycling posture.
Second, rather than a front hub, the Evo has a rear hub mounted electric motor. Thus, although still 250W, this bike is easier to handle and maintains better traction on loose surfaces and inclines. An advantage of a rear hub motor is that the bike is noticeably lighter (18.5 kg instead of 22.5), and given that the weight is in the back, you will find this bike much more natural to ride.
The entry-level bike has a smaller battery and thus less range (30 miles) and, unlike the Emu Roam, the battery is not removable meaning that to recharge you need to plug in the whole bike. If it is inconvenient to charge the bike during the day, you might want to opt for the larger batter (range 60 miles). If it is inconvenient to charge overnight, then this may not be the right bike for you.
Similar good quality Shimano gears, Samsung battery cells, and puncture-resistant tyres. The Evo comes with Shimano hydraulic disk brakes rather than V-brakes, giving better stopping power.
It comes with the same nice security feature. The display is password protected and the motor won't work if you don't unlock the display. On the other hand, if the display is stolen during the day you will be in a pickle getting the bike home.
3rd Option - Ghost Hybride Square Cross B2.9 Urban Electric Bike (£2,599)
If you have further to commute or want more natural power assistance, Bike Review magazine rates this bike 9.1 out of 10, adding that they are "hugely impressed by the quality, price, reviews and features" of this bike.
The bike comes with mid-drive Bosch Performance CX motor, which was rated the "Best Motor" by EBIKE Magazine in 2020 and was awarded Gold in 2021 by the readers of eMTB News. Mid-drive ebikes offer the best feedback and control as they monitor the pressure and power you are putting into the pedals.
The Ghost comes with a 500 Wh battery giving you a range of 68 miles before charging.
The bike weighs 22 kg but is easy to manage as the weight is in the centre and low down. This bike comes with Shimano components and the Bosch Purion display. Which? magazine reviewed components for ebikes and found that the Bosch motor and better were the best, and the Bosch Purion display was only beaten out by the Bosch Intuvia display.