For commuters thinking about taking advantage of the government’s Cycle to Work scheme, an electric bike that costs under a grand could be the difference between taking two wheels and sticking with the car.
The £800 UM33X, sold through Halfords, uses a Panasonic Li-Ion battery to power a 200W brushless motor in the rear hub. No brushes are in contact with the rotor, so the mechanism should be maintenance-free.
The bike’s simple to use – switch on at the battery and bar-mounted head unit and go. It’s a pedelec, so power is only delivered as you pedal, and it works well.
You get a cheeky boost after a quarter of a turn, which makes for assisted getaways at lights, and the motor delivers a quiet, discreet push as you pedal on the ﬂat.
There's a technique to riding the UM33X that may catch out those used to stamping on the pedals. You need to ease off for maximum beneﬁt, so relaxed pedalling is the key. Push hard and you override the power.
This is especially true when you hit the hills: kick down a couple of the seven Shimano Altus gears, press the 'mode' button, select 'hi’ and enjoy some easy climbing. The acid test comes when you bin the power mid-hill. You instantly realise just how much the motor was carrying you.
Without power, there’s no disguising the 22.3kg heft of the UM33X. Much of it comes from the motor and the battery, but the basic – and surely redundant – suspension fork takes some blame too. We’d swap it.
We'd also ditch the ineffective suspension seat post, which limits the height adjustability of the one-size 19in frame.
The power indicator on the handlebar could be better too. As you head upwards, it often shows just a couple of bars of battery life, but as soon as you level out that rockets up to four or ﬁve.
Considering the disappointing 20-mile range, you'll also need an accurate guide. The distance quota limits the UM33X’s appeal – commute a decent distance and you’ll be charging every night or at both destinations. And forget about ambitious weekend rides.
In truth, without the motor, the UM33X is an average bicycle at best.