Electric Bikes

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 25 electric bike brands

We also look at global sales, conflict minerals, tax avoidance and give our recommended buys. 

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

What to buy

What to look for when buying an electric bike:

  • Does it get at least a middle rating for conflict minerals? While we do not know of any ebike battery that comes from a company that has a good conflict minerals policy, Panasonic and Samsung both get our middle rating (which is better than the rest), although they are not without criticism in this area.

  • Is it electric? They're good for the environment, and probably for you. 

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying an electric bike:

  • Do you need it? Avoid overusing resources by buying more bikes than you need – if you already have a bike, consider an electric kit.

Subscribe to see which companies to avoid and why

Score table

Updated live from our research database

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Brand Score(out of 20)

Our Analysis

This guide rates the top ten electric bikes as rated by ‘A to B’ magazine, plus those offered by the biggest bike brands in the UK.

“Does it recharge when you go downhill?”

I’m not sure why, but this is the first thing I get asked by a good three quarters of people who hear that I have an ebike (electric bike). The answer, I’m afraid, is no. There are a few ebikes that do claim to do this, but the experts are scathing, saying that it is marketing nonsense as it is not worth the extra weight and resistance. 

But apart from the disappointing lack of regenerative braking, there is a huge amount to be said for ebikes. There is research showing that they increase the amount of cycling that people do so much that they can actually increase the exercise people do overall, even though they lessen it per mile.

Environmentally, they are definitely winners. As people tend to use ebikes more seriously, it reduces car mileage. One UK study estimated that lending people ebikes reduced car miles travelled by at least 20%. With the current average EU electricity grid mix, an ebike’s carbon footprint is basically equivalent to a normal pushbike’s once you take into account the extra food the pushbike rider needs (based on an average EU diet): easily 10 times less than a car.

Ebikes are also enabling the rise of ‘silver cyclists’: in the UK 62% are sold to people over the age of 55. One study in which older people agreed to use one for at least 30 minutes three times a week found it significantly improved health, mental wellbeing and cognitive ability. On many variables the pushbike group did even better, but the ebike group won outright on self-assessed mental health – unsurprising given how much fun they are. 

Image: electric raleigh

Global sales

Ebike sales are soaring. Global sales vastly outnumber sales of electric cars. Total spend is predicted to reach $24 billion by 2025.

China is the centre of the boom. 90% of ebikes produced globally are sold there (32 million in 2016). There are more ebikes on the road in China than cars. However, many Chinese ebikes are more like electric scooters – while they do have pedals, they are stupendously heavy and aren’t really built for serious pedalling. They are mostly operated with a twist throttle. 

The ones popular in Europe are far more expensive ones called ‘pedalecs’ or ‘electric assist bikes’ that are supposed to be usable as normal pedalled bikes as well. Over half a million were sold in Germany in 2016, and more than a quarter of a million in the Netherlands. They are still a bit of a novelty in the UK, but that is starting to change: 75,000 ebikes were sold here in 2016, compared with 25,000 in 2013. 

Part of the reason that ebikes have taken off so much recently is improvements in battery technology. When I got my first one, it used lead acid batteries which I could scarcely lift. Now nearly all of those sold in Europe use lightweight lithium batteries. In China a major factor was that they were actively promoted by the government. 

The cost

Sadly, ebikes don’t come cheap. Most of the decent ones (and a lot of shoddy ones as well) cost over £700. You can pick them up much more cheaply second hand, however it is important to bear in mind that batteries have a finite number of cycles. So, you either need evidence that the battery still has some juice left, or you need to factor in the (significant) cost of a new battery. 

The Cycle to Work Scheme may be able to help.

You can also buy conversion kits to electrify a normal bike, and you may be able to save some money by doing it that way if you already have a bike.

Score table highlights

Because a lot of the companies are very small and there is minimal information available about their practices, there is less differentiation between the companies than normal. 

Conflict minerals

There is not a single ebike company which has a conflict minerals policy. 

Environmental and supply chain policies 

Environmental and human rights supply chain policies are also very thin on the ground. All but Raleigh got our worst rating for environmental reporting. All but Halfords got worst for management of workers’ rights in their supply chains.

Likely use of tax avoidance

This is one rating on which the companies differ more dramatically. The companies scored as follows:

Best rating: Karbon Kinetics (GoCycle), Momentum, Modern Times (Cytronex), Dahon, Kwikfold, Woosh, Dawes, Brompton, Rally Design Ltd (Kudos), Accell Group (Raleigh).

Middle rating: Pon Holdings (Kalkhoff, Gazelle), Hero (Viking), Trek.

Worst rating: Halfords (Apollo, Carrera, Pendleton, Voodoo) Rinaldo Rinaldini Limited (Adventure, Ridgeback, Saracen), Giant, Dorel (Cannondale), Specialised Bicycle Components Inc. (Turbo).

Ebikes and the law

UK law requires ebike riders to be over 14 years old but in pretty much all other respects ebikes count as bicycles: you don’t need a licence, they don’t need to be registered, taxed or insured, and you can use them on normal cycle lanes.

However, in order to count as an ebike rather than a moped, the motor needs to cut out if you are going faster than 15.5mph, and the motor cannot be rated as more than 250 watts. 

There has been quite a lot of legal ambiguity around throttles which allow you to use the motor without pedalling, but it is now agreed that if the bike was sold after the 1st January 2016, it is only allowed to have a throttle that propels you up to 3.7 mph – in other words, one that gets you started. After that, you must be moving the pedals for the motor to work. 

Who makes the parts?

There are a dizzying number of tiny ebike companies, but this is a bit misleading: most of them just do the final assembly. Only the very big companies like Kalkhoff and Giant, and the extremely upmarket ones, make their own components such as batteries or motors. 

As to the others: the motors on the more expensive ones are generally made by Bosch, Panasonic or Yamaha; the cheaper ones by more obscure Chinese companies like Bafang or Tongxin. The batteries, meanwhile, are generally made by major electronics companies like Samsung, Bosch, and Panasonic. 

Most (although not all) companies list their parts’ manufacturers in the spec. We do not rate companies’ suppliers as it rapidly balloons into an impossible task, but we have rated Bosch, Panasonic and Samsung moderately recently. Bosch did comparatively well, getting an overall Ethiscore of 8. Samsung and Panasonic did less well, scoring 6, and 5.5 respectively. Samsung has a particularly poor reputation on workers’ rights, with many reports talking of union suppression and dire working conditions.

One particular thing to look out for in battery manufacturers is conflict mineral policies, as cobalt is used in the manufacture of lithium batteries. Panasonic and Samsung received our middle rating for conflict minerals policy. Bosch had a worst rating.

Which electric bike is right for you?

Everyone wants different things in an ebike but, for me, a good ebike is one that I can ride with or without the motor, that allows me to get plenty of exercise when I want it, but is also capable of really pumping out the power when I am tired and need to get up an extremely steep hill. 

Image: electric bikes

Such ebikes do exist. But a lot fail to measure up. Some are horrendously heavy. Some just give you a binary choice of doing all of the work or none of it. Some aren’t capable of getting up steep hills even in the top setting. 

Basically, there is no substitute for going and trying out a whole load of bikes to find which ones are right for you. However, as far as power goes, it also helps to have a basic understanding of the technical stuff. A lot of confusion arises because the power rating of a motor (which is the bit which is legally regulated) is actually how much power it can take in the long term. Most motors can use much more for short periods, such as when tackling a steep hill. The bike’s short term ‘peak power’ is determined by the size of the battery and the controller rather than the motor. Thus, the power of the bike depends on all three components, not just the motor. 

As the ebike market does contain some right junk, it is a good idea to check out ‘A to B’ magazine before you buy. It does free online reviews that should be able to help you separate the wheat from the very seriously chaff. 

Company behind the brand

Momentum Electric Ltd is another very small British ebike company. Its motors seem to be made by Bafang. Despite sharing its name with the left-wing activist movement affiliated to the Labour Party, it has sadly, so far, failed to give out free ebikes to Labour members!

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

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