Electric bikes - We test three mid-range models

Kudos Duke, Smarta LX and Volt Pulse

For this test of electric bikes we've picked machines from three manufacturers based on a simple brief: around the £1,000 mark, with a two-year battery guarantee*. At this pricepoint you start to get components that are a step up from those found on the bargain basement e-bikes, which can make for an unpleasant riding experience.

Kudos Duke / Duchess

The Good

Good load-carrying bikes are rare enough, electric ones even rarer, so the Duke and its women's-specific equivalent, the Duchess, leaped out at us on the Kudos website. These big, heavy traditional bikes might not break any speed or hill-climbing records but if you want to move large amounts of shopping around in comfortable olde worlde style they're certainly worth a look.

The Duke especially, with its massive frame, gives a unique experience – extremely high up and safe-feeling in traffic. You’ll be able to see well ahead (as well as over people’s garden hedges) but it'll only suit taller riders. Lights wired into the main bike battery are a welcome practical feature too; something that should come as standard on the majority of electric bikes.  

Kudos are one of the few e-bike brands we could find that have plumped decisively for lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries. This seems a brave move when they weigh more than the more common lithium manganese oxide type. Their main advantage is that they're cheaper to replace, and proponents claim they have a longer lifespan, too.

The Bad

The supplied panniers have a pretty small capacity and don’t make use of the bike’s major strongpoint – its potential to carry large loads. It’s difficult to fit your own bigger bags too, as the oversize rack tubing is designed to hold the hefty battery rather than take standard panniers. However, we did manage it with some wickerwork we happened to have lying around and heavy-duty cable ties. 

A throttle would be a handy addition for smoother, more controlled starts uphill and with a full load (as they're pedelecs, the Duke and Duchess only provide power assistance when you start pedalling), and a beefier stand and brakes would be welcome, too. A competent bike DIYer should be able to fix these problems though.

Conclusion

There’s a great delivery-style bike in here just waiting to get out. 

Specification

  • Propulsion type:Pedelec
  • Frame Size: Duke 60cm, Duchess 50cm  
  • Gearing: Shimano Nexus three-speed hub
  • Brakes: Promax V-brake front, Shimano roller brake rear
  • Moderately hilly speed course performance: Poor
  • Nominal battery capacity: 360Wh 
  • Battery replacement cost: £276.37
  • Battery weight: 5.6kg
  • Bike weight with battery: 31kg
  • Lighting: Unbranded LEDs front and rear, powered by bike battery
  • RRP: £945
  • From: Kudos website and dealers. Thanks to Elecgo Electric Bikes for helping to arrange our test ride.

Smarta LX

The Good

The Smarta's zippy front hub motor helps it rise above its sensible looks and practical step-through frame, and it pipped the sportier looking Volt by a fraction in our not-too-scientific speed course test. The three power settings were ideal – level one gave a helpful amount of power, and two and three would only really be needed in much hillier country or strong headwinds. 

A wide range of handlebar positions and seat heights means the Smarta should suit almost all riders. Practical features include mudguards, rack, kickstand, hub gearing, and easy battery removal thanks to a tip-up saddle. Pedelec and throttle-only options add to the functionality. It's great for just about any use, be it shopping, leisure riding or commuting – and all in comfort.

The Bad

Only a rear light is provided, with its own separate battery. It would have been nice to see front and rear lights wired to the main bike battery – something both other test bikes managed. The suspension fork adds weight but not a great deal of performance – a rigid option would save weight and money, and make for a better ride unpowered.   

Conclusion

The best all-rounder here. Ideal if you want Dutch-style practicality, a bike that'll fit just about any rider, and very good performance to boot.

Specification

  • Propulsion type: Pedelec and throttle control
  • Frame size: 41cm
  • Gearing: Shimano Nexus hub, three-speed and eight-speed options
  • Brakes: Promax V-brake front, Shimano roller brake rear
  • Moderately hilly speed course performance: Good
  • Nominal battery capacity: 360Wh 
  • Battery replacement cost: £350
  • Battery weight: 4.1kg
  • Bike weight with battery: 26.9kg
  • Lighting: Unbranded rear LED
  • RRP: £999 with Shimano Nexus three-speed hub, £1,199 with Nexus eight-speed hub
  • From: Electric Transport Shop website or one of their shops in Bristol, Cambridge, London or Oxford

Volt Pulse

The Good

The Volt has a sporty design, disc brakes and a fairly light overall weight for a bike with lights, mudguards, wheel-lock and rack. The RST Omega suspension fork would be out of place on a high-performance mountain bike but is a good choice for an urban machine, with useful lockout and adjustable preload. 

The handlebar LCD has more functions than the other bikes' – for example, a tripometer and a meter which lets you keep an eye on the power you're drawing. There are both front and rear lights, wired into the battery, and puncture-resistant tyres.

The Bad

The seatpost has to be taken out every time you want to remove the battery. The LCD can only show speed and distance in kilometres, not miles, and has too many power settings (generally, three are plenty if set at the correct level).

Conclusion

The sportiest, lighest model here, whether ridden with or without power, and the nicest for switching from towpath to tarmac – and still quite power efficient whether ridden on or off road. Excellent price for replacement batteries.

Specification

  • Propulsion type: Pedelec and throttle control
  • Frame size: 49cm
  • Gearing: Shimano Alivio rear derailleur, eight-speed
  • Brakes: Tektro Novela cable operated disc brakes front and rear
  • Moderately hilly speed course performance: Good
  • Nominal battery capacity: 360Wh 
  • Battery replacement cost: £180
  • Battery weight: 3.29kg
  • Bike weight with battery: 25.9kg
  • Lighting: Spanninga Micro FF front LED – the most powerful on test by a long way. Spanninga LED rear. Powered by bike battery.
  • RRP: £1,299
  • From: Volt website or direct from their London shop. Bikes can be delivered and prepped via local bike shops.

About the test

Why is the two-year battery guarantee so important? As batteries are the most expensive consumables on an electric bike by a long way, a one-year guarantee on the most expensive batteries can, incredibly, push the running costs up to around two-thirds of a small car. More reasonably priced batteries with two-year guarantees can make electric bikes a much more economically attractive option, bringing running costs down to a fraction of a motor vehicle. 

E-bike prices have fallen in real terms over the past few years, and current models feature more energy-dense batteries that give a greater power-to-weight ratio. Design seems to be heading in the right direction too – for example, all the bikes reviewed here feature internal cable routing. 

The Far Eastern machines featured in this test still aren’t up to German and Japanese standards, but that level of engineering costs at least £500 more. The most obvious difference in ride quality is that the power tends to kick in some time after you start pedalling on these cheaper bikes, due to their relatively basic pedelec control systems.

All three bikes in this test use hub motors from the massive and well-regarded Chinese manufactuer 8-Fun (also known as Suzhou-Bafang). However, they're still very different bikes. As they use geared motors be prepared for a bit of noise – especially from the front hub motors (think a very quiet version of an electric milk float).      

As battery capacity has increased over the years, so has range. All the bikes tested have a range of at least 30 miles – possibly much more – when riding at a power level that leaves you only moderately out of breath (and switching the level up and down according to the terrain). Get the lungs and legs going, and only use lower power levels, and not-particularly-fit cyclists will be able get a decent workout and achieve 40 or 50 miles of moderately hilly cycling –something they might struggle to do on a non-assisted bike.  

* At the time of writing, Smarta said they were about to move from a one- to a two-year guarantee

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