The past year has seen an abundance of bike manufacturers entering into the electric bike arena with slick, lightweight and powerful bikes. Despite misconceptions, electric bikes allow commuters to increase their range safely and arrive to the office smelling fresh, while still getting exercise (yes, you still have to pedal an electric bike) and reducing their carbon footprint. They also continually beat cars in commuter races. An efficient electric bike may be just the push one needs to make the decision to give up the car and commute by bike. Electric bikes are also efficient for running errands, towing things (like kids), and for the elderly or for those with physical ailments. It can be difficult to navigate your way through all the options and styles available in an electric bike so we’ve done it for you. By studying forums and sites such as NYCeWheels, A to B Magazine, BikeForums.net, and Electric Bike Report, we’ve come up with a list of the best electric bikes for 2012.
What To Look For In An Electric Bike
The choice of an electric bike is quite personal, depending upon budget and the intended use. In it’s simplest definition an electric bike is a basic traditional bike with 3 things added to it: a motor, a battery, and a controller that administers the power. There are 2 different types of controllers: throttle and pedal-assist. The throttle-based system will give you the option to ride without pedaling. The pedal-assist is activated by pedaling, but you can control the level of assistance you get through a control panel on the handlebar. Some people find the pedal-assist more simple to use and more true to being a bicycle, while others prefer the throttle and like the idea of having moments where you don’t have to pedal. The best advice is to try each one out at your local bike shop to see which type you prefer.
When it comes to price the thing to keep in perspective is what you’ll be using it for. If you’re looking for an efficient commuter, then in comparison to a car, an electric bike is a bargain, not to mention all you’ll save in gas. If you’re looking for something strictly for recreation, then cost may be more of a consideration. It is also suggested that you purchase a high quality lock or three if you’ll be leaving it out and about and if the battery is removable bring it with you though some come with their own battery locks.
Kalkhoff Electric Bikes
Made in Germany, Kalkhoff Bikes are perhaps the Mercedes of electric bikes. Kalkhoff has been providing European cyclists with high quality bikes for years and now they are available in the U.S. NYCeWheels says the Pro Connect is “one of the most efficient electric bikes on the market”. Kalkhoff uses the Panasonic Pedelec brushless motor, the highest rated electric motor currently available. A to B gives the Kalkhoff 5 out of 5 stars. The integrated maintenance-free motor offers 3 levels of pedal-activated assistance using 300 watts with a top speed of 25 mph. At the moderate setting, you can expect to get 50 miles from a full charge. Bicycle purists like that the Kalkhoff looks like a regular bike. With a lightweight aluminum frame, Shimano components, and Continental puncture-resistant tires, the motor isn’t the only thing that’s top notch about this bike. Other features include a hydraulic braking system, on-board computer with speedometer, and front and rear integrated lighting.
So what’s not to like about the Kalkhoff? How about the price. A true case of if you want the best, you’re going to pay for it, the Pro Connect Sport 300 is listed at $3,899.00. However, this is their most expensive model. Other e-bikes in the Kalkhoff fleet go for around the $3,000 mark and the Pro Connect Sport 250 2009 model is currently on sale for $2,899.00. Kalhoff does offer free shipping and a 2 year warranty.
eZee LiV Electric Bike
The eZee LiV offers an affordable, yet reliable option for a lightweight, simple to operate electric bike. It has a range of 15-30 miles and a top speed of 20 mph. With a 200 watt brushed motor, it may not be the most powerful machine on the electric bike block, but it beats the others at a price of $1,199.00. NYCeWheels recommends this bike as best value for commuting or recreational riding if you have moderate hills and don’t plan on pulling anything or carrying a large load. eZee has a full line of throttle activated electric bikes priced under $2,000. The eZee LiV uses more basic components than the other bikes in the eZee line. It features a 3 speed drivetrain, front and rear lights, and mudguards.
Check out eZee bikes here.
2011 Kona Electric Ute Cargo Bike
Kona has added a 250 watt Pedelec motor with a 24 volt Samsung Lihium-Ion battery to it’s popular Ute cargo bike offering up one of the first electric-assisted bikes for utilitarian use. This would make a great bike for long distance touring, those who want to ditch the car to run errands, or family bike rides. In full power mode the Kona Electric Ute supplies an 18 mile range, 35 miles in normal mode, and 62 miles in economy mode. It offers quality Shimano components, an acacia wood deck, Kona pannier bag, fenders, and a lifetime warranty on the aluminum butted frame. For a detailed review see MyCargoBike.net where criticisms include the use of a front v-brake as opposed to a disc brake and a small, but continuous electric whine of the motor. Pros included a well-proportioned, lightweight design and a conveniently integrated battery that can be removed for charging. At $2599.00, the Kona Electric Ute is considered to be competitively priced for an electric cargo bike.
For a Kona dealer near you, click here.
Schwinn Electric Bike: Tailwind
The Schwinn Tailwind flaunts a feature that the other electric bikes don’t have: the Toshiba battery designed specifically for this bike can recharge in an astounding 30 minutes as opposed to the usual 4 hour recharging time. The 6 pound battery can be removed easily from the rear fender rack and features the latest in lithium polymer technology. According to NYCeWheels, the lithium polymer Schwinn battery pack has about 1.4 times the power to weight ratio than lithium ion, discharges at a more consistent voltage, and has a longer life expectancy. It offers a range of 25-30 miles, depending on riding style and conditions.
The sophisticated brushless motor is designed to assist the rider, not take over. The motor kicks in after pedaling begins and shuts off when the brake is applied. Schwinn designed the Tailwind to offer a longer range for the traditional bike rider, yet still remaining true to the classic bike design. It does not offer regenerative braking, but it may be the perfect transition for those who prefer the old school look as opposed to the futuristic appearance of some of the other electric bikes. The Schwinn Tailwind MSRP is $2,679.00.
For a Schwinn dealer near you, click here.
Sanyo Eneloop Electric Bike
An entry from last year’s list, the Sanyo Eneloop continues to be a solid entry for a high-tech electric bike. Eneloop means that the regenerative brake system recharges the battery, so pressing on the rear brake lever actually generates energy. The 250 watt brushless motor supports 2 modes of pedal-assist plus an auto mode. Standard mode output matches the energy output of the rider. Power-Up mode doubles the energy output (for hills), while the auto mode automatically switches between these 2 modes depending upon riding conditions. The Sanyo Eneloop may appeal more to the female commuter because it’s, well… pretty. Similar to the styling of a Dutch city bike, the step-through frame makes it easy to get on and off. Range is 17-35 miles depending on the mode. Customer reviews on the Sanyo Eneloop are glowing, raving that the bike is quiet, smooth, and doesn’t feel like you’re riding an electric bike. Check out NYCeWheel’s review here.
The Sanyo Eneloop currently sells on Amazon for $1,499.99.
Dahon Boost Folding Electric Bike
For commuters who need to lug their bikes up stairs or maneuver it onto public transportation, a folding electric bike such as the Dahon Boost would be a good choice. It offers all of the advantages of an electric-assisted bike at a weight of only 43 pounds. Dahon is a leader in high quality folding bikes. The Boost folds down to the same size as their 20″ folding bike in 15 seconds. The 250 watt brushless motor offers up 3 pedal-assist modes. Features an integrated rear rack, front and rear lighting, and a control panel on the handlebar. It can go about 30 miles on a charge. With a step-through frame and adjustable seat and handlebars, this bike serves as a versatile commuter bike.
Trek has thrown it’s hat into the electric bike ring and maybe just the catalyst to bring the lycra set and the commuters together. They’ve turned their standard Valencia commuter bike into a electric assist hybrid with a 350 watt brushless BionX rear hub motor and regenerative braking. Trek has added electric motors to some of their other bikes as well, such as the FX and the Transport- you’ll notice a plus sign next to these to indicate the hybrid model. Four different pedal-assist modes vary from 25% assistance to 200% assistance. In regenerative mode, you can add on average a 10% increase in battery capacity. There aren’t many reviews out yet on the Trek e-bikes, but you can read specs about them here and some first impressions by users at bike forums here.
A2B Electric Bikes by Ultra Motor
Don’t be fooled by it’s size. The A2B electric bikes by Ultra Motor pack a powerful punch with a 500 watt motor, 7 speeds, and high torque for hill climbing. Treehugger says it has “the heart of a bicycle and the soul of a scooter”. You can read their full review here. The lithium-ion battery is fully integrated into the downtube. The range is 20 miles on a single charge, but that can be extended to 40 miles with the purchase of an optional second battery. Top speed is 20 mph. The throttle is on the handlebar, meaning you can pedal or not. It does weigh in at a hefty 72 pounds so it may be better for short commutes, recreational fun or a cool option for college students to get around campus. The A2B Metro sells for around $2,700.00.
The A2B is available from Amazon.
Now wouldn’t this be fun to zip down to the grocery store? It features a 500 watt brushless hub motor and lithium-ion battery with a top speed of 20 mph and a range of 20-35 miles. It uses both pedal-assist and throttle power and weighs in at 55 pounds. The IZip Metro retails for $2,299.00.
Other Electric Bike Manufacturers We Like:
Ohm Cycles– pictured at the beginning of this article, Ohm Cycles is a Canadian company that makes high end electric bikes.
Giant– Giant made the ever classic Lafree electric bike, which has since been discontinued, but they continue to make the Twist Freedom and Twist Express.
EcoBike– Using both a pedal-assist and manual throttle, the EcoBike is one of the easiest electric bikes to operate. They offer 3 models around the $1,500 range.
You can also purchase electric conversion kits, which is especially helpful if you already have a bike that you’re comfortable with. The BionX conversion kit is considered to be the highest in quality and can be purchased at Amazon.