Electric road bikes are booming, and none more so than these ‘stealth’ models whose designers have tucked the battery and motor inside the frame so that they look more like regular road and gravel bikes. We’ve tested dozens of e-bikes over the last few years. These are the best drop-handlebar ebikes you can buy
Electric road bikes like these are being bought by riders coming back from illness and injury, older riders who are finding the hills they once romped up rather more of a chore, and folks who just want that zoomy road bike experience without having to get Tour de France fit first.
Like all electric bikes that you can ride legally in the UK without licence and insurance, these electric road bikes deliver up to 250 watts of continuous power assistance and stop helping when you get to 25km/h (15.5mph). But where many ebikes are impractical to ride without assistance, lightweight carbon fibre and aluminium frames help keep down the weight of these electric road bikes so they’re not a huge chore to ride unassisted.
To save weight, electric road bikes tend to have lower capacity batteries than urban e-bikes; the idea is that you use the assist sparingly rather than blatting around everywhere on full power. They nevertheless can make excellent commuter bikes too, with a handy burst of speed away from the lights; many have provision for mudguards and a rack as well as wide tyres. Most of all they’re great fun, and we have tongue firmly in cheek when we describe these bikes as providing electric-assistance ‘on the sly’. Lots of the road.cc team ride e-bikes at one time or another; we emphatically disagree with the notion that they’re cheating.
Ribble’s Endurance SLe – Pro Di2 is a really excellent lightweight electric road bike that’s fun to ride, gives useful assistance on the climbs and is happy to roll along under just leg power too. The integration is neat, the frame and build comfortable without sacrificing performance. It’s pretty much indistinguishable from a conventional road bike, largely because it uses the discreet ebikemotion system.
‘Endurance’ maybe makes you think that it’s a bit of an upright chugger; it’s not. Our large frame has a stack-to-reach ratio of 1.41, which is pretty racy for a large frame. It’s not a bike that’s designed to be pootled around on. The ride is purposeful, to say the least. It’s not an endurance platform in the sense of giving you a soft ride: the frame is race-bike stiff when you stamp on the pedals, and you get plenty of feedback through your hands and rear. That’s not to say it’s uncomfortable, though. The carbon seatpost has a bit of flex, and out build included carbon bars too, and Vittoria’s excellent Corsa G+ tyres in a 28mm width, which were confidence-inspiring in corners and big enough to soak up some of the road chatter. It’s more or less in the sweet spot of feeling fast without being harsh.
The ebikemotion system that Ribble uses to power its e-bikes is pretty straightforward. There’s a button on the top tube that gives you access to three levels of assistance, and also shows you your battery state. You can edit the three power settings and get more granular battery information by hooking up your bike to the ebikemotion app on your smartphone, which also does activity tracking and routing if you’re into those things.
For your five grand you get a carbon frame, new Ultegra Di2 2×12 groupset, Mavic Cosmic Pro UST wheelset, carbon handlebars, Fizik Arione saddle and Vittoria Corsa G+ tyres. It’s fair to say that you’d struggle to get a bike that highly specced for that price from many manufacturers even without a motor system, so the SLe represents some pretty serious value for money even though this is a high-ticket bike.
Tester Big Dave writes: “Overall this is an excellent bike. Of the lightweight e-road bikes I’ve tested recently, it’s my firm favourite. It’s not giving away anything in terms of performance to the Wilier Cento1 Hybrid or the Pinarello Nytro, and it’s significantly lighter and less expensive.”
Boardman’s Fazua-powered e-bikes offer really good value for money, and our experience aboard the ADV8.9E has been very positive. You’re getting a lot of the performance of more expensive e-road bikes at a much lower price point. The Fazua system is good for mixed riding, and offers useful assistance and good range. It’s built into a bike that’s solid and enjoyable to ride.
Tester Big Dave writes: “With its 38mm Schwalbe G-One Speed tyres, the ADV8.9E is easily capable of taking on some rougher surfaces right out of the box. I’ve thrown it at some of the less technical off-road routes around here – farm tracks and fire roads, predominantly – and it’s coped absolutely fine. The frame is quite stiff but there’s enough give in the tyres to smooth out some fairly uneven surfaces, and more room in the frame for bigger rubber if you want to go a bit further from the beaten track.
“If you find yourself looking at a steep climb, either on the tarmac or off it, then you can rely on the Boardman’s sensible gearing and useful motor. The Fazua Evation system is, along with ebikemotion’s X35 hub motor, one of two systems that make up the majority of the e-road market right now. It’s a mid-motor with a 250Wh battery, a stated torque of 60Nm and peak power of 400W. In reality it doesn’t feel as powerful as other motors with similar numbers – the Bosch Performance Line motor is the closest – but in Rocket mode (the highest of the three available) there’s plenty of power to tackle even loose off-road climbs.
“If you’re on tarmac then the Boardman is easy to wind up to well above the 25km/h assistance limit on the flat. It’s not the lightest e-road bike out there at 16kg (the lightest Ribble SLe is under 12kg), so it’s not quite as much fun when you’re trying to keep your pace up on rolling terrain, but it’s still easy enough to roll round without troubling the battery too much. The motor decouples from the pedals quite effectively when you’re not using it, and the assistance fades in a pretty natural manner as you approach 25km/h.
“For £2,700, you’re getting a lot of bike here. Okay it’s not cheap, but if you want an e-road bike with one of the two most commonly-specced motor systems then it’s a lot nearer the bottom than the top price-wise. If you’re looking for a multi-purpose bike for a bit of everything, but you want something a bit lighter than a full-fat mid-motor bike, then the ADV8.9E makes a lot of sense. It’s very versatile with full rack and mudguard mounts and it can take a big tyre, but it’s still nimble enough to ride as a road bike with your roadie mates – it really has a lot going for it.”
Another from Ribble, this time it’s an all-rounder that they say is “as at home on the road as it is on the most adventurous of trails”. CGR stands for ‘cross gravel road’, and the bike uses the same Ebikemotion system as the Hybrid AL e. It can run either 700c or 650b tyres, with the latter pushing the tyre clearance up to a massive two inches. It also has mudguards and rack mounts for commuting and bikepacking duties.
Tester Mike writes: “The Ribble CGR AL e is a cracking bike for the money. Comfortable, stable and capable over very rough ground or while effortlessly eating up road miles, it adds intuitive, discreet electric assist to a fundamentally great chassis. It’s a bike that opens up huge possibilities (for all levels of rider) in covering serious ground – and having a lot of fun along the way.
My longest off-road ride on the CGR-e was a 55 mile jaunt including climbs of first 300m, then 450m. On the 300m climb I set assist to level 1 (the lowest) for about 30% of the motor’s 250W max. The power came and went almost unnoticed, while my heart rate remained constant at 80-85% of max. Sitting on 80-85% of max instead of just 5-10% higher makes all the world of difference to enjoyment of the ride, and subsequent energy levels later on.
“The CGR Al is for someone who’s already reasonably fit, who’ll benefit from the boost to clear large hills with heavy loads on really long days – the kind of days where you run out of oomph four hours in but still want to get home.”
The sister bike to Look’s road-going e-765 is a very good bike for mixed terrain riding, even if it is expensive enough to put it out of reach of the many. For your five grand you’re getting a carbon frame custom built in Look’s own facility that’s got a bit of comfort optimisation going on, with your effort assisted by the Fazua Evation motor system.
The e-765 gravel tips the scales at 14.8kg with pedals, which is decent for a Fazua-powered bike with bigger tyres. That means it’s pretty portable if you need to chuck it over a stile or haul it up a flight of steps, or manhandle it onto a car rack.
Tester Jack writes: “The on-bike position is good for a range of stuff. The bike’s quite tall at the front, so you’re not going to get super-aero on it, but if you get down in the drops it still feels pretty purposeful at speed and the super-stiff stem gives the front of the bike a very solid feel. When you’re on the dirt the head angle is relaxed enough to make the steering fairly predictable through rocky sections; it’s still quick compared to a mountain bike, but it works. The short chainstays make it nimble enough for narrow stuff too, it feels quite agile when you’re working your way (slowly) down a rocky descent.
“You get three levels of assistance, and in top mode there’s enough power to get you up some pretty demanding and technical bits without too much effort. On the flip side, in the least powerful mode you’ll get plenty of range. On road bikes with the Fazua system I’ve done 100km rides on one charge. On a gravel bike you’re not moving as fast on the tarmac, and you spend more time under the assistance limit, so more motor is involved. Throw in some harder, technical climbing off-road and it’s riding that’s much more battery heavy.
“Even so, you can get a decent long ride out of this bike. I did a 30km loop on the Mendips with 500m of climbing in it, that was about half and half on and off road, with plenty of time in the higher assistance modes grunting up the steep bits, and at the end I had four bars of battery left out of ten. So a 50km gravel ride is doable without really worrying about how much battery you’re burning through, and you could go further if you were a bit more frugal with the modes and relied a bit more on your legs. Like all the Fazua-powered bikes I’ve ridden, the Look isn’t unpleasant at all to ride with the motor off. There’s very little drag from the bottom bracket gearbox.
“If you have the dosh for it, you won’t be disappointed: it’s a capable, lightweight gravel bike with useful assistance from a proven motor system. It’s a thumbs-up from me, even though I’d personally be looking at cheaper options if it was my credit card coming out.”
The latest claimant for the titles of world’s lightest e-road bike comes from Scott, who say the top-end version of their new Addict eRIDE electric bike weighs just 10.75kg. All four Addict eRide models share the same frame so even the cheapest, the Addict eRide 20, comes in at a claimed weight of just 12kg.
Assistance comes from the latest version of the Mahle ebikemotion X35 system. A new feature for 2021 is the ability to send data to an ANT+ bike computer so you can monitor power and battery levels without having to mount your phone and Mahle’s app on your handlebar.
Tester Stu writes: “The Addict eRide is a fast, comfortable, sweet-handling road bike with the benefit of smooth power assistance. This is a high-performance beast that integrates motorised assistance really well, to the point you never really feel the transition between e-bike and er, just bike. The handling, ride position and comfort levels are top notch and, while it’s an expensive bike, it’s fairly priced both for what it is and against the top-end opposition.
“Mahle’s ebikemotion X35 hub-based motor system delivers the power in a very smooth, progressive manner. As you pull away there is no massive surge of assistance – it’s more like having a strong tailwind nudging you along.
“It’s the same on the climbs. You don’t really notice the motor kick in or out, so it just feels like riding the normal Scott Addict with the additional weight being cancelled out by the motor’s assistance.
The Addict eRide is a high-performance beast that integrates motorised assistance really well, to the point you never really feel the transition between e-bike and er, just bike. The handling, ride position and comfort levels are top notch and, while it’s an expensive bike, it’s fairly priced both for what it is and against the top-end opposition.”
Another well known conventional road bike with a motor added, Wilier’s Cento1 Hybrid claimed to be the lightest e-road bike when it was launched back in May at 12kg (although things are moving fast, as you’ll read below). It has a full carbon frame and fork, and uses the ebikemotion system to provide assistance with a rear hub motor. Wilier also have their own app to control the bike’s functions, and you can also, for example, link up a heart rate monitor to your smartphone and set a limit, so the bike will feed power in from the motor when you start going above it.
Tester Iwein writes: “Here’s an e-bike that’s actually a thrill to ride! I’m a tree surgeon, and after a couple of days swinging in trees, I can hardly ever muster the energy for the proper hilly Somerset commute to the office the next day.
“But it turns out pedal assistance makes all the difference. You see, this is a great bike. It gives you all the fun that comes with riding a proper racing bike, without having to put in much of the effort. You can soft-pedal up all but the steepest hills, and even those are made pretty easy by this bike.
“If you do want to make an effort up the hill, then you can indeed go very fast. Just for fun, I gave it the beans, on full assist, up a local hill climb that used to be my favourite pain cave for hill repeats in my triathlon and time trialling days. I used to dip just below 5 minutes. On the Wilier? 3:18!
“Point the bike downhill, and all that Wilier pedigree and design know-how comes out to play. It feels as exciting and confidence-inspiring as my Cannondale CAAD 10 to ride downhill, and that’s definitely the bike I’ve been happiest to push the envelope over Alpine descents on.
“Even though at 12.5kg this e-bike gets into touring bike weight territory, it’s no slouch on the flats. As long as there’s no uphill, and you’re not trying to sprint or accelerate quickly, that extra weight isn’t hugely noticeable, and you can fly along on the drops quite happily. Without some sort of device to tell you how fast you’re going, it’s actually difficult to tell whether you’re still using the assistance or not.”
While the main talking point of the top-of-the-range S-Works version might be the £10,999 price tag (making it the most expensive bicycle of any genre road.cc have ever reviewed) this e-road machine also features the SL 1.1 motor system – built by Specialized in collaboration with Mahle of Germany from the ground up – and has the Future Shock 2.0 damping system for extra comfort. Weighing in at 13kg it’s not the lightest e-road bike there is, but is certainly one of the lightest out there with a mid-motor. If you haven’t quite got 11 grand to spend on your next steed, you’ll be pleased to know the Turbo Creo SL range starts from £5,499 with a carbon frame.
Riding the top-end S-Works Turbo Creo SL, tester Dave writes that it “has a very good feel to it in terms of its power application. There are three assistance modes available from the top-tube-recessed control, which give you up to 100% assistance: if you’re putting in 200W, the motor will add the same, up to its 240W limit.
“Is that enough power? Well, it’ll depend on what type of riding you do and how much assistance you want, but in reality the answer is going to be yes. This is the sort of bike that you’d buy expecting to make things easier but not effortless, and there’s enough oomph coming from the bottom bracket to take you up some pretty serious climbs.
“Sometimes on a powerful e-bike you can fly up the hills without even trying, and that’s not how the Specialized feels, but the numbers don’t lie: I can easily beat my fastest times on my local climbs without trying too hard. And if you’re riding with other people it’s simple to tailor the assistance and your effort to give yourself the ride that you want. On the climbs at least… Once you’re over the assistance limit you’re on your own, of course. When that happens it’s a lot more enjoyable to be on a lighter e-road bike than a heavier one, and the Turbo Creo SL is easy enough to wind up to speed. There’s no real noticeable resistance from the motor unit when it’s not assisting.”
Pinarello’s Nytro is the company’s first attempt at an e-road bike and it acquits itself very well: it’s fun to ride, the motor gives useful assistance and the range is good enough for a decent day’s riding. Given the spec level it feels a bit expensive compared to some of its competitors, but the overall experience of the bike has been very positive.
The Nytro is slightly more relaxed than the Gan it’s based on, and although it’s certainly no slouch it’s very evident from the first ride that it’s actually a very comfortable bike, as well as being very capable. The large tube profiles (especially the giant down tube housing the battery and motor) and the aero seatpost don’t look like they’ll budge a millimetre, but actually the frame, coupled with the larger chamber 28mm Pirelli tyres, combine to produce a bike that’s surprisingly easy to get on with on a longer ride.
The assistance is well-judged. You don’t need masses of power on top of your legs to make mincemeat of your local climbs, or to keep up with riders that are younger/stronger/fitter than you.
Tester Dave writes: “I’ve completed some reasonably long rides on the Nytro. On one 85km ride I had the motor on low all the way round, so it kicked in whenever I dipped under the 25km/h mark. On the steeper stuff I gave my legs a bit more of a rest on the higher modes, and in all there was around 1,200m of climbing. When I got back home I had two bars of battery left, so I probably would have run out around the 100km mark. If I’d been more frugal with the assistance and just turned it on for the bigger climbs then my range would have gone out even further. For a hilly day-long ride there’s plenty in the tank, though.”
No doubt about it, six grand is some serious wedge to be throwing at a bike. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be people out there happy to pay it, but in terms of value it’s not top of the list in this sector. The Pinarello name has plenty of cachet, though, and I’ve found the Nytro to be a comfortable and fun bike to ride, so if the money’s burning a hole in your pocket and a Pinarello’s what you’ve decided you want, you’ll not be disappointed with this bike.”
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it an electric gravel bike or a mountain bike with drop handlebars? It’s the Cairn BRAVe 1.0 Drop Bar, it sits in its own category and despite some rough edges, it’s massively versatile and lots of fun.
Tester Matt writes: “From the first ride, the riding position is something that stands out with a tall, comfortable stance that gives a commanding ride and the long top tube preventing a squashed up feel. On flatter tracks, the E7000 motor assistance is effective and works well through a range of cadences with the only time that I found any issue being at very low cadences using a higher boost mode and very occasionally the response can feel a little slow. I found that while riding I attempted to adjust my natural cadence and spin faster, which helped and meant more assistance applied when required.
“Riding the Cairn BRAVe 1.0 downhill is a lot of fun, taking descents and lines you normally wouldn’t even consider riding on a drop-bar bike. The lack of suspension and dropper post are limiting factors. Still, this isn’t a mountain bike and nor is it trying. The fun comes from simply getting down successfully, rather than any attempt at riding at speed.
“The Cairn BRAVe has impressed not simply with the motor and assistance on offer but more because of the bike’s capabilities and geometry. While a downtube battery would normally mean fewer mounting options, Cairn has added more. Combined with the generous battery, that creates a truly anything’s-possible adventure e-bike that currently at least is missing from the market. It’s fun, adaptable and far more capable than you might assume for a bike with drop handlebars and rigid forks. It all adds up to make a standout e-bike for gravel style riding.”
The Ribble Endurance AL e Enthusiast offers all the fun, pleasurable handling and ride quality of the acoustic version, but with the addition of a power plant that delivers plenty of smooth assistance for those of us who want or need a bit of help on the hills. It’s a decent spec for the money too.
Tester Stu writes: “It’s no slouch. With all the electronic gubbins this AL e tips the scales at 13.35kg (29.43lb), but when that is likely to become an issue, the motor will be taking the strain. On the flat above the 25kph (15.5mph) cut-off, the AL e belies its weight; I’ve been hammering along at 25mph on the straights with no feeling of being laden with the extra heft, and it’s the same when it comes to bunging it into the corners.
“I hate climbing. I’ll do it, normally because it’s followed by a descent, but I get no satisfaction from tackling a monument climb. Now, riding the AL e means I’m actively seeking out hillier routes, or getting more enjoyment on those I regularly ride with ascents in them. The Mahle Ebikemotion X35+ gives you a 40Nm boost from the 250 watt-hour battery/motor combination when using full power, which on any climb where you are going slow enough for it to kick in makes a real difference.”
The Giant Road E+ 1 Pro is a fun bike to ride, with a powerful motor and a big range. If you like to get out and about on the roads and are looking for some help – especially if you ride on your own a lot, or with slower groups – then there’s masses of help available here.
Giant haven’t exactly gone out of their way to hide its electric-assist nature. The Yamaha mid-motor and huge battery-casing-shaped down tube yell “I’m an e-bike me!” But that’s okay because for riders who need its power and range, this is a very good choice.
Tester Dave writes: “The longest ride I completed on the Giant was just under 120km. The battery ran out with about 200m of road to go, so overall it was pretty well judged. 120km with the motor on lower settings the whole time is not unreasonable. This was a long way from being a flat ride, too: three times over the Mendip hills and lots of smaller climbs too. A total of over 1,500m of climbing for the battery to cope with: that’s the equivalent of going up a really big alpine climb. And that’s with me on it, a 92kg rider. It’s a pretty impressive range.”
“The bike is heavy and has a big range because unlike some other e-road bikes, Giant eschews the lightweight motor and small battery in favour of a full-fat system. In this case it’s the Giant SyncDrive Pro motor, which is based on the Yamaha PW-X unit. Giant uses its own firmware and controls, and the mid motor is capable of knocking out 80Nm of torque. Yamaha has tweaked the PW-X to respond better to higher cadences, which was a criticism of the predecessor, PW.
“No mincing words here: this motor is fierce. Set to maximum boost, and pointed at the 16% hairpin at the bottom of Cheddar Gorge, I was rocketing round a corner that normally has me gasping. Up the rest of the climb, which varies between about 4% and 8% gradient, I was having to back off to keep from going above the motor assistance limit.”
Electric road bikes — often referred to as ‘e-road’ bikes — are arguably the newest bike genre, with Haibike’s now discontinued Xduro Race being one of the first commercially available electric bikes with drop bars back in 2014.
Another early example was Giant’s Road-E+, although like the Haibike this has an obvious battery integrated into the downtube. In the last few years we’ve started to see e-road bikes that are difficult to distinguish from unassisted ones to the untrained eye, and the weights are coming down too.
The thing that’s enabled the new wave of stealth e-road bikes is the introduction of motor and battery systems that can easily be incorporated into a road bike without the result screaming “E-BIKE!”.
There are two main suppliers of drive systems. Germany’s Fazua was founded in 2013 specifically to make integrated motor-and-battery packs and you’ll now find its Evation system on many e-road bikes.
Mahle GmbH is a large supplier of components to the automotive industry that bought Spanish company ebikemotion Technologies S.L. in 2018. The most common Mahle ebikemotion system you’ll find is the X35, which has a battery concealed in the frame powering a compact rear hub motor. Mahle/ebikemotion also makes mid-drive motors, as used by Specialized in its Creo bikes.
Both manufacturers continue to develop their platforms. Fazua has recently announced a software upgrade it calls Black Pepper, which is claimed to yield more power and a more natural ride feel from the existing Evation unit.
Both systems have 250Wh batteries, which is rather less than the 500Wh of typical utility e-bikes, but because they’re lighter, built into lighter bikes and can be set to metre out their power assist very conservatively you can still get a decent range out of them.
If range is a real worry for you, you can get a range extender (essentially an extra battery) for the Mahle ebikemotion system. On the other hand, you can drop the battery unit and motor completely out of a Fazua-equipped bike and ride without it, or just make it lighter to load on a rack.
Our readers are always a useful source of experience and opinion. Here are their best comments on electric road bikes from a previous version of this article.
Kapelmuur: I was never a cyclist and only got into it after I retired as a way of keeping fit when my knees gave up and I had to stop running.
I always struggled with hills and as I got older (73 now) found anything over 10% almost impossible. So I planned rides to avoid inclines which limited my scope and excluded the more interesting rides in my area.
So I bought a Cube Agree and it has transformed my riding, it’s a nice bike to ride on flat routes with the battery pack removed and it’s great to be able to get up climbs without fear of a heart attack when using the e assistance.
As for being “sly”, I tell anyone I meet going up hill that I have a motor. I also point out that on the flat when we get above 15mph I’m carrying 4.5kgs of dead weight!
Oldfatgit: I’ve returned to cycling after being hit by a car in 2018, and my injuries limit what I can do on a normal bike.
I spent most of 2019 looking at e-bike and was even lucky enough to try the Focus Paralane2 9.9 – which is a really nice bike.
I ended up with a Bosch powered Cannondale Synapse Neo as the Bosch motor suited my injuries better than the Fazua system and its a wonderful bit of kit. It’s opened so many roads for me, and I’m able to join back in with group and club rides (just before the CoVid restrictions came in).
I looked in to the battery hidden in the down tube, like the e-motion bikes, but then had a look at the practicalities of charging it. You might have a garage or shed with power – I have neither – and if you are out for a few days in hotel or B&B land, then you’ve got to get the whole bike up in to your room. Not everywhere will like you doing that.
I found the removable battery and motor of the Fazua system appealing, however that was before I tried (without a bike stand) to remove the unit. There is limited room between the tube and the front wheel; the units are also in tight to make a waterproof seal and I found getting the unit off and back on difficult. I have limited ability to bend, and I am not able to kneel, and it wasn’t the struggle-free job you would hope.
The removable battery on the top side of the down tube is easier to remove – the bike can be propped up, the only real bending is to put the key in the lock, and you can see what you are doing.
The bikes are heavy, however once you get them rolling and the motor has cut out, you don’t really notice until you hit a hill … and the speed bleeds off and the assistance comes on line and everything is ok again in the world.
But not everything is about speed; 60 – 70 miles in Central Scotland are no problem (after the accident I struggled to do 20 miles on the flattest ground I could find, and then I’d struggle walking for a few days afterwards) with careful battery management. It helps that I’ve a double ring on the front so I can use the gears and assistance to their full advantage.
Only downside is chain wear; I’m looking at a new chain every 1,000 miles or so. I’ve just worn one out in 3 months, and I’m looking forwards to wearing this one out.
If you are like me, with permanent long term injury and you don’t want to give up cycling, I’d wholeheartedly recommend an e-bike … but try as many of the motor systems as you can. Just because Bosch was right for me, doesn’t mean it will be right for you.
Something to consider with the e-motion and some of the Fazua bikes …
To change assistance levels you have to press and hold a button that’s on the cross bar until the light flashes.
You then have to press the button again a number of times until you reach the assistance level you want.
While not onerous, it does mean that you are looking down for several seconds – instead of looking where you are going – and your concentration is on the button and not the road. True, it looks sleeker than a Garmin sized control unit, but most control units have up and down buttons, and are mounted on the handlebars, so distraction is minimal.