This past March, the NPD Group, which forecasts marketing, said that U.S. sales of e-bikes blew up 145 percent in 2020 vs. 2019. The pandemic is clearly one reason. But besides Peloton making gold on workout fiends stuck at home, the rest of us realized we could range farther (thanks to battery tech that promises at least 50 miles a charge) and arrive without being coated in sweat.
In turn, that growth has meant a niche within e-bikes that’s blowing up now includes more pragmatic, non-sports designs, with fenders and racks, plus room for panniers to carry gear or groceries, so you can ditch the car for at least half your errands. The insider move: Nab one of these bikes and—finally—your athleisure Zoom “workwear” wardrobe makes total sense when you hit the pedals.
Gazelle Ultimate C8 HMB
I’d love to tell you there’s some particular fault of this belt-driven commuter from the Dutch brand, Gazelle, but about the only beef you might conjure is that it’s power-limited to 20mph vs. 28mph; the latter is the top legal speed for e-bikes in most states. Still, the 500Wh battery, and grease-free belt drive, and a motor that kicks with 50Nm of torque, is definitely robust enough to keep up with commuting or carting home groceries.
And Gazelle thinks about all the little details, so the fenders provide full coverage (so you don’t get wet feet from tire spray on a wet day); there’s both a front and rear light; and even a bell. Broad gearing ensures that you can climb any apex and won’t be spun out over 30mph, bombing down a hill. Plus, the rear rack comes standard. Affix a pair of panniers and you’re all set for commuting.
Cannondale Adventure Neo
Want even more muscle than the Gazelle? Then Cannondale’s new Adventure Neo 1 is your machine. Like the Gazelle, all cables are internally routed, for a cleaner aesthetic; we also dig having the battery integrated into the down tube not only for the sharp look, but because it puts the weight lower in the frame, so the bike feels less tippy. What feels decidedly great no matter what is that with a 625Wh battery and 65Nm of torque, so the Neo flat flies, and that’s even when we added panniers and loaded the rear rack with a few six-packs and days’ worth of groceries.
Like the Gazelle, the Neo is limited to a top assist of 20mph, but it’s likewise geared to allow you to pedal at speeds far faster, and has zero issue with hills. That big battery also yields pretty stout, 64-mile range. The model also comes with front and rear lights plus a Garmin radar system that shows you (via a bar-mounted display) when there’s a car behind you so you can move closer to the shoulder.
Folding electric bikes occupy a niche within a niche, but if you’re an apartment dweller or just have less space, they’re ultra handy. GoCycle’s G4 is a very slick way to go. First, it has an automatic transmission that shifts itself; second, the entire drivetrain is enclosed; no grease will ever mar your selvedge denim. And of course you need on-bike phone charging, right? Power comes from a 375Wh battery and the G4i features exceptionally snappy acceleration. Accessories include fenders, a rear pannier setup and extra bright lights, but otherwise the G4i comes loaded.
In testing of this bike’s predecessor, the GXi, the wider tires were welcome, since most folding bikes come not only with small wheels but narrow rubber, so they don’t corner as comfortably, but the GoCycle offers lots of grip. We tested that bike, folding it up and tossing it into a car’s trunk, which is super easy. And the other benefit of a folding bike that’s often overlooked is that shop owners don’t tend to care if you bring it into a store in folded form—no way that works with full-sized rigs.
Diamondback Union 2
This is the only bike here that’s a Class 3/28mph model. Do you need that much assist? It depends on where you ride. But 28 vs. 20mph can make the difference if you wind up riding with car traffic, because in some urban environments there’s just no bike path, and that means commuting with cars. The Union 2, with its fat, 2.4-inch-wide, 27.5 rubber, will also handle predictably over messed up asphalt or gravel paths more easily than bikes that come with narrower tires. And when it’s time to move, it’ll deliver, with a monster 85Nm of torque from a 500Wh battery. Like other models here, all wiring and cabling is internal, and we appreciate that the tech aboard includes aluminum, not flimsy plastic fenders, an integrated rear rack, and Lezyne head- and taillight. It’s even loaded with a Bluetooth-pairable bike computer.
Even better—and this is still too rare in e-bikes—both front and rear wheels mount via thru-axles, which better align the wheel in the dropout than quick releases and greatly increase the stability of the bike’s ability to track straight through turns. What’s missing? The expected $6,000 sticker. Believe us; this bike is way more affordable than it would be from one of the “big” labels.
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