GEARS FOR E-BIKES: WHICH ARE THE BEST?
In recent years, e-bikes have become increasingly popular. This is due in no small part to the ever-improving technology that distinguishes these bicycles. Gears in particular are an important topic. In this blog post, we explain what to look out for in e-bike gears and which gears – derailleur gears or an internal geared hub – are the best.
GEARS ON A BICYCLE – A GLANCE IN THE HISTORY BOOKS
The idea of using gears with different ratios on a bicycle is almost as old as the bicycle itself. As early as 1869, a prototype rear derailleur was presented at the Salon du vélocipède de Paris. According to reports, French long-distance rider Paul de Vivie used different chain rings on a tour in 1889, and in 1895, Jean Loubeyre is said to have introduced the «Polycelere», the first genuine rear derailleur, which was offered in the «Compagnie Générale des Cycle» catalog.
Almost 130 years later, gears have become part of the basic equipment of virtually every bicycle. They make it easier to set off from a standing start, are the cyclist’s best friend when going uphill, and they also ensure that your knees don’t suffer and you don’t have to put in too much effort when the wind is blowing directly from the front on level ground. But not all gears are the same. Just as the areas of application of the various e-bike models – from mountain e-bikes to city e-bikes – differ, there are also different gear models that are tailored to the respective purposes of e-bikes.
GEARS FOR E-BIKES: WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT KINDS?
In principle, there are two types of gears for an e-bike: derailleur gears and an internal geared hub. The most common form of gears on bicycles are derailleur gears. These consists of sprockets connected to chain rings by a chain. There is a front and a rear derailleur. Most derailleur gears are controlled by gear levers mounted on the handlebar, which cause the front or rear derailleur to push or pull the shift cable and thus to change the gear mechanically. However, you can now find electric gears too that change gears via wireless communication. Derailleur gears really come into their own in the open countryside: they allow you to find the right speed for every incline and make better use of your own energy and the power of the motor. Their disadvantage is that they require a lot of maintenance because the exposed gears are more susceptible to dirt and faults.
The other commonly used type of gears is the internal geared hub. This e-bike gear owes its name to the fact that it is located in the rear hub. In the case of an internal geared hub, gears are changed by what is known as a planetary gear. In this type of transmission, several gear wheels rotate around a wheel in the middle, thus ensuring the appropriate gear ratio. It is usually easy to operate with a simple rotary shifter on the handlebars and also works when you are waiting at traffic lights. Internal geared hubs have become very popular in recent years because they offer a very wide range of gears without taking up a lot of space in the bicycle frame. The advantage of the internal geared hub is that it is very easy to operate compared to derailleur gears, it is very tough and requires less maintenance. It also runs with virtually no noise. Some internal geared hubs also offer stepless gear changes, which makes switching between gears even more comfortable. You don’t have to worry about the number of gears or the choice of the correct speed with these gears.
THE RIGHT E-BIKE GEARS FOR THE RESPECTIVE E-BIKE MOTOR
Please note: Not every type of gear works with every type of motor. For example, choosing the right e-bike gears also depends on the type of motor fitted in the e-bike in question: front-wheel, rear-wheel or mid-drive motor.
A front-wheel motor lets you carry out all normal rear wheel gear changes – both with a coaster brake and a freewheel hub. An internal geared hub, on the other hand, cannot be used with a rear-wheel motor because this already takes up the space in the rear wheel. The exception is a hub integrated in the rear-wheel motor, which is why e-bikes with a rear-wheel motor usually have derailleur gears.
In an electric bicycle with a mid-drive motor, the driving power is transferred to the rear wheel. The advantage is that the motor output is boosted by being transferred through the gearbox. This results in a considerable torque on the rear wheel, which is very useful on inclines. The disadvantage is that all of the power generated by the drive and the rider is transferred to the gears. However, most internal geared hubs are only designed for the pedaling force of one person and not for the combined driving forces of a human and a motor. The power of mid-drive motors is therefore reduced in most internal geared hubs.
DERAILLEUR GEARS VS. AN INTERNAL GEARED HUB: WHICH E-BIKE GEARS ARE THE BEST?
What is the best type of gear for an e-bike? Derailleur gears on an electric bicycle? Or an internal geared hub? Ultimately, the answer to this question depends on the rider’s personal preferences and riding style. If you want a smooth ride with little maintenance, an internal geared hub is a good choice. On long tours over several stages, internal geared hubs often demonstrate their advantages over derailleur gears due to their robustness. Internal geared hubs may also be a better choice for city bikes that are used to commute to and from work in all kinds of weather. Internal geared hubs are often combined with a belt drive, especially on city e-bikes, which also ensures a quiet and low-maintenance ride. An internal geared hub is also beneficial for frequent stopping and restarting, as the gears can also be changed when you are standing still.
Derailleur gears, on the other hand, are the better option if you are looking for greater flexibility. Mountain e-bikes or sporty trekking e-bikes are thus usually fitted with derailleur gears. Derailleur gears show off their advantages not only because of the higher number of gears, but also because of their greater load capacity: derailleur gears in electric bicycles can cope with the highest of torques.
As already mentioned, one special feature of e-bike gears are electronic gears that can communicate with the drive system. In these models, the gear shift is in contact with the sensors of the drive system at all times. The system detects whether the gear ratio is correct and, if necessary, recommends a change of gear based on the pedaling frequency, power and speed. This not only saves electricity and spares the e-bike’s battery, it also reduces the amount of maintenance required by the gear-shift materials. Electronic gears are thus becoming increasingly popular and can be found in ever more e-bike models.
By the way: one question that is also very often asked in connection with e-bike gears is the question of the number of gears: how many gears do you need on your e-bike? Here too, the answer is quite clear: «It depends».
We also offer accessories for e-bike gears. You can find these here.
Best electric bikes 2023 for every kind of rider
If you’re looking for the best electric bikes, there are a lot to choose from, with electric motors and batteries added to a wide range of bikes to add extra power.
Electric road bikes will come with dropped handlebars and favour low weight, whilst electric hybrid bikes will come with flat bars, wider tyres and accessories to aid commuters – such as mudguards and lights. Electric folding bikes are useful if part of your journey involves train travel or you’re short on space.
Here at Cycling Weekly, we’ve reviewed bikes from these three categories and there are links to our more detailed reviews for each bike in this guide. Our testing involves a range of routes and ride lengths and our highly experienced team of testers understands what makes a good bike and what to look for in the best electric bikes.
Electric bikes can be expensive, but there are options too if you’re looking to keep costs low with starting from around 1,000: check out the best budget electric bikes. If you’re into tinkering with your bike, you might also want to look at the best electric bike conversion kits as an alternative to buying a completely new electric bike.
Women may benefit from female specific components on the best women’s electric bikes, and if you’re venturing off-road, check out the best electric gravel bikes.
If you’re looking for the best electric mountain bike though, follow this link to head over to our sister publication MBR which specialises in mountain biking.
Here’s a quick look at our top choices from the best electric bikes, including a folding option.
The Specialized Turbo Vado is designed for fast urban riding but with its suspension fork and wider tires it can also handle rougher roads.
There’s a lot of clever tech in the aviation-inspired Gocycle G4i, with a neat folding mechanism, lightweight frame and decent mileage from its internal battery.
The Giant Fastride’s neatly integrated battery and quality spec make it a great option for the commute, with wide gear range and hydraulic disc brakes.
If your e-bike riding heads off-road, the Neo Carbon Lefty has front and rear suspension and a powerful Bosch motor to help you up the hills.
The Cento1 Hybrid takes Wilier’s race bike pedigree and inserts a rear hub motor in a stealth package that keeps the bike’s performance and doesn’t add too much weight.
The classic Brompton with the same folding mechanism, but with a front hub motor and battery housed in a neat removeable bag.
Our pick of the best electric bikes
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Our team of experts put in hard miles testing cycling tech and will always share honest, unbiased advice to help you choose. Find out more about how we test.
Best Electric Hybrid bikes
Electric hybrid bikes are the fastest selling style. Their flat bars, usually wide tyre, and commute friendly fittings. such as mudguard mounts and rack mounts. make them extremely practical machines.
The motor can be housed in the rear hub, or at the cranks, and the torque will vary. low torque models offer a natural pedalling assistance, but high torque versions will move off the lights more quickly.
Reasons to avoid
The Ribble Hybrid AL e is a road-going hybrid bike that’s equally at home on gravel paths and trails, with a comfortable and confidence-inspiring upright riding position, so great for returning or newbie riders.
For us, we think the bike is one of the best looking hybrids we’ve ever come across, with the design hiding away the motor incredibly well, although we were a little sad that adjusting the seat post left behind scratch marks. The fully loaded package includes fenders (mudguards), lights and a rear rack making it perfect as a daily commuter or for ditching the car when going to the store, although we did find these a little rattily on test.
The Ebikemotion motor delivers its power smoothly and efficiently and offers long-range in between charges, making the Ribble far more than just an A to B bike.
Understandably it doesn’t perform in the same way as the Canyon Grail:ON in terms of fast and tight torque, but tap along and it will tick over nicely, taking the top off any strenuous rides.
With all the added extras as standard and classy looks, the Ribble Hybrid AL e is a great electric bike for the money.
Reasons to avoid
A fun ride that’s great in urban environments but also provides a confidence-inspiring ride on rougher terrain is what the Specialized Turbo Vado is all about.
If you’re after a bike that is fully integrated with lights, fenders and rack (27kg capacity) as well as security (on the App removable battery using a key), then this represents a straight forward choice. Only the weight, and to a lesser degree cost, need consideration.
We found the 70Nm/250W custom-tuned motor applies power seamlessly and powerfully as soon as you push down on the pedals. Range is excellent too. 95-130km / 60-80 miles should be easily attainable using the default settings of Sport’ and ‘50% power’. There is an Eco mode as well as Turbo, so if you’re careful you can expect much greater range.
It is a heavy machine at 60lbs/ 27kg, so not easy to lift, so anyone needing to navigate steps in or out of the bike’s storage place will need to take this into consideration, but aside from that we found the Specialized Vado Turbo to be a joy to ride.
Reasons to avoid
We absolutely loved zooming around on the speedy Ride1Up Roadster V2 with its five levels of power assist. If you’re anything like us and are more used to training and racing on standard road bikes it can easily become your guilty pleasure. it’s fantastic fun to ride.
The bike was so quiet, even on level 5, convincing onlookers that our tester had to be some kind of super Hero to ride so fast up 15 per cent climbs. The only downside. in common with other e-bikes that only assist when you’re pedalling. was where there was a requirement for a hill start, the cranks had to be turned over in order to get the motor to engage, creating a pregnant pause at the lights, before vavavooming off.
The claimed 24mph maximum assisted speed (in the US) needs input from the pedals to reach on the flats, but without a doubt it’s noticeable downhill, where other bikes, such as the Wilier Cento1Hy Ultegra Di2 e-bike auto assist would cut out and slow you down.
This extra speed also puts the bike into a class 3 e-bike, meaning that it doesn’t meet EAPC rules in the UK, but that’s by the by as US brand Ride1Up doesn’t currently ship there.
If you are in a country lucky enough to be shipped to: the US, Canada and Mexico, then it’s a great option and one that has a very high fun-to-dollar ratio.
Ride1Up is a direct-to-consumer brand. check out the Roadster V2 on its website here.
Reasons to avoid
The Canyon Precede:ON is an efficient automatic transmission city bike that performs well in multi-terrain settings whether for utility or for leisure purposes thanks to a powerful motor and control panel.
With built-in accessories such as lights, mudguards, rack and kickstand all the trappings are there to make for a comfortable ride with style straight out the box. All these add ons however do make it one of the heaviest e-bikes on the market, even heavier than the Specialized Turbo Vado.
We really loved the Canyon Grail: On and it’s great to see the Precede:ON also be kitted with the Bosch Performance Line CX motor, although ideally we would love to see a little more juice in the battery to support the other impressive spec.
With everything you need straight out the box, including navigation system and lights, it’s the easiest way to swap driving/ public transport for a bike, but it is at the higher end price tag wise. There are a couple of models to choose from, which also takes the cost down a touch, but with a six year guarantee, it could be a savvy investment.
The only other point to note is that Canyon has a direct sales model, so you’ll have to buy directly from the brand here.
Reasons to avoid
The Giant Fastroad E Pro is another road-going hybrid bike with flat handlebars to promote a comfortable ride position for even the rustiest of riders, in fact we enjoyed riding this great electric hybrid road bike so much we gave it a Cycling Weekly Editor’s Choice Award.
The tyres provide plenty of squish and the ability to go lightly off-road. However on test we found the aluminium frame and fork quite stiff, which will suit those used to a traditional road bike’s feel and riders looking for a speedy commute, but worth bearing in mind if you’re used to a softer hybrid feel.
We really liked the bike’s integration of the battery, which can often be a design factor forgotten about on hybrid bikes. We were also really impressed to see the spec on the FastRoad, with hydraulic disc brakes and quality Shimano shifting, with a compact chainset and wide range cassette at the rear to provide plenty of gears for the hills all making an appearance.
A great electric hybrid bike for a fair price that will have a lot of appeal to lots of different riders.
Reasons to avoid
With its 36V battery, which should give around 70 miles of juice, hooked up to a mid-drive motor, we found that the Volt Infinity electric bike gave a nice balanced feel to the bike.
Shimano provides the power in the form of 8-speed Alfine Di2 hub Shimano Steps, the highly regarded motor and e-bike specific groupset.
Three different assistance modes will let you get the most out of that battery and the display mounted on the front will make it easy to keep track and we loved that the torque sensor picked up when we were flagging and gave us a little boost to help us along our way.
Previously similar to the Carrera Subway E, it’s had a bit of a make over and it’s now much more visually integrated than the previous model that we tested, although it’s still without a quick release rear wheel, making investing in the best puncture-proof tyres or inner tubes a shrewd investment.
The only real downside is the one size fits all. Great if it does fit you, not so much if it doesn’t.
Best Electric Folding Bikes
Folding electric bikes are practical if you have a train journey forming part of your trip or are low on space. Being small, the battery and motor can represent a large percentage of the weight, so the FOCUS is often on reducing this as much as possible.
Mileage on folding bikes is often low, since they’re typically used to ride to and from train stations, so battery range isn’t always a major consideration.
If you are considering going for a folder, you might find our buying guide page dedicated to helping you find the best folding bikes a useful read.
Reasons to avoid
We absolutely loved the Brompton Electric bike when we took it out for a spin, finding it to be the perfect bike for commuting in traffic and then stowing well out of the way post-ride.
The brand is considered by many as the gold standard of folding bikes, and the Brompton Electric is clearly cast from the same mould.
As typical with any Brompton bike, the brand has taken full control of the engineering, so everything from frame to motor has been designed in house. Brompton however has called upon the experiences of Williams Advanced Engineering when it comes to the motor, developing a bespoke lightweight removable battery and motor.
As you would expect when a team of Formula One engineers get under the bonnet of the Brompton Electric, the small, but perfectly formed motor has excelled, delivering power smoothly, safely and exactly when you need it.
The frame is the usual Brompton high standard, and while one size, keeps the ability to choose handlebars, seatpost heights and even saddle widths. There are six speeds, giving you plenty to play with when you hit a hill.
Whatever your final set up, you can rest assured as to the bike’s foldability, which is one of the reasons why Brompton stands out from the folding bike crowd. Its folded footprint is one of the smallest out there: 565mm high x 585mm wide x 270mm long (22.2 x 23 x 10.6). This means it’s highly portable and capable of stowing in the smallest of spaces, although be warned, due to the independent motor and battery pack, you’ll find yourself with two hands full, so best to invest in a rucksack for your other belongings.
On test we felt this was an absolute dream of a bike, in fact, we went as far as calling it a transport gamechanger. If you’re worried by the 17kg-plus weight, there’s now the Brompton Electric P Line bike, which uses lighter frame materials to drop the claimed weight down to 15.6kg.
Reasons to avoid
The G4i is a solid choice for a commuter, with the option to add many accessories such as mudguards (fenders), a front and rear pannier rack, integrated lights, lock holster and a travel case.
The design folds in half, so that you can push it on its wheels rather than needing to carry it, or you can fully fold it into a compact package. There’s built-in rear suspension, concealed cabling and a fully enclosed drivetrain.
It features a discreetly integrated USB port on the handlebar, enabling owners to charge their phone or other small devices from the bike’s battery when not in use. although we found the quality of the integrated phone mount didn’t quite match that of the bike itself. The same goes for the LED display, which we found to be rather basic. although the information it provides is useful.
It’s also likely to be pretty low-maintenance given that the drivetrain is completely enclosed. This makes sense, given that commuting year round usually means cycling in the wet at some point. The G4i utilizes a Shimano Nexus 3 speed internally geared hub. With 1” of elastomer suspension and 2.35” wide tyres, it is one of the more comfortable small wheelers. Single-sided wheel attachment means you don’t even have to remove the wheel, should you puncture one of the 20” wheels.
The 500W (250W in the UK/EU) G4 electric motor and 375Wh Lithium-ion battery is claimed to provide a range of up to 80km (50mi), but the most we managed to get out of it was just 44km (27mi). To be fair, that was in one of the more ‘assisted’ modes and I always had the daytime running lights on. and the city of Bath is well known for its brutally steep hills.
The bike is available from 17.6kg / 38.8lbs. However, as the weight is centred low on the frame, this at least makes the ride more stable. The folding mechanism has been improved since previous versions and can be quickly collapsed into a small package. Gocycle says this can be done in as little as ten seconds; we found it was closer to 20.
What Is E-Bike Automatic Shifting and Do You Need It?
E-bikes make cycling easier than ever, and e-bike automatic gear shifting is another excellent option.
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Bikes keep evolving. New tech enters the marketplace every year that makes cycling easier, safer, and more enjoyable—from fully steel hardtails to e-bikes with front and rear suspension and ABS braking, the possibilities seem endless.
Shimano is one of the largest bicycle component manufacturers in the world and recently announced several products that they hope will revolutionize e-biking: automatic shifters. Are they worth it, and should you be using one? What’s all the hype about? Let’s dive in.
What Is Automatic Shifting?
Adding to the list of gadgets available on e-bikes, Shimano has released two different but related pieces of tech that help with an e-bike’s ability to shift and overcome some of the challenges associated with conventional drive trains. Shimano markets these two pieces of tech as the Shimano Cues Di2 AUTO SHIFT and the Shimano FREE SHIFT. Both are operable and tunable via Shimano’s companion app, E-Tube Project Cyclist.
Shimano Cues Di2 AUTO SHIFT
The Cues Di2 is designed specifically for e-bikes and is essentially a re-engineered rear derailleur powered by the onboard battery and motor of an e-bike. By digitally connecting the derailleur with the rest of the power train, the various components of the bike can communicate.
On bikes equipped with the Cues Di2, Shimano has installed a speed sensor in the bike’s rear hub. As a result, as the bike increases in speed, the rear derailleur can shift to a more difficult cog on the rear sprocket without the rider having to monitor the constantly changing difficulty of pedal strokes and manually gear up or down to ensure a smooth cadence.
E-bikes equipped with the Cues Di2 also include torque and cadence sensors in the e-bike’s mid-drive motor/bottom bracket assembly, which also ensure that the selected gear remains optimized for the amount of effort a rider is putting out.
Shimano FREE SHIFT
FREE SHIFT is the sister tech to Cues Di2 AUTO SHIFT, which was released simultaneously.
Where a traditional derailleur requires the rider to be pedaling to initiate and complete a gear change, FREE SHIFT allows your bike to change gears even while coasting. This is made possible on an e-bike because the mid-drive motor can spin the front chainring using battery power rather than pedal power, which engages the rear derailleur.
Using the speed and cadence sensors, the bike can monitor when it is slowing down and automatically shift into an easier gear, preparing you with the optimal gear needed for the next acceleration.
It is important to note that the Di2 and FREE SHIFT systems can be set to auto or manual, allowing you to manually override the auto-shifting at any time. And there is a benefit to manually shifting at least some of the time: Shimano claims that by doing so, the system will learn your preferred cadence zone, ensuring the auto-shift function maintains gearing that meets your preferred riding style. Thanks to this technology, we may have entered an era of personalized auto-shifting, which is very cool.
How Do You Use Gears On An Electric Bike
If you’ve ever ridden a bike up a hill, you know how important it is to utilize the gears. They not only make it easier for you to ride up steep hills but allow you to conserve energy in the process. But since electric bikes have a throttle and pedal-assist to make the riding experience better, do they have gears? If your electric bike has gears, how do you use them effectively?
At Best Electric Bikes, we receive lots of questions regarding electric bikes and gears. To ensure you have the most efficient riding experience, here is a breakdown of how to use gears on an electric bike.
Are Gears Necessary On an Electric Bike?
It’s a common misconception that gears aren’t needed on an electric bike. Even though they offer a throttle and pedal-assist to help you get going (and keep going), there are times that you’ll want gears on your electric bike — unless you plan on riding short distances on flat roads.
In many cases, pedal-assist will provide you with enough power to get where you need to go. But there are scenarios where switching your electric bike into a low pedal-assist system and utilizing the gears will be more effective.
Can I Use Pedal Assist Instead of Gears?
Although pedal-assist is a great feature offered by your electric bike, there are a few reasons why you would opt to use gears instead.
- Motor size – If you’re attempting to climb a large hill, but your electric bike has a small motor, your pedal-assist system may not be strong enough. Using gears will require a bit more work on your end, making climbing the hill much more manageable. While pedal-assist may help you reach the top of the hill, it’ll be a much slower process.
- Battery life – Because an electric bike is electric, it requires a battery to keep it powered up and operating at its best. Depending on the distance you plan to ride your bike, you may need a way to extend your battery life. By pedaling along with the bike’s motor, you’ll be able to reduce the battery power being used. Having gears in place to help you pedal more efficiently will make those battery savings even more significant.
How Do I Use Gears on an Electric Bike?
Using gears on an electric bike is very similar to using them on a regular cycle. The lower the gear number, the easier it is to pedal. The gear number directly correlates with how hard the motor will need to work. The lower the gear, the more your electric bike will rely on the motor which will use up the battery. When you have the gear set to a higher number, you’ll be required to pedal more, extending the life of your battery.
The handlebars on the electric bike allow you to control the gears and the pedal-assist system. On the right handlebar, in most instances, you’ll find the gear shifter where you can adjust the mechanical gear level — making it easier or more difficult for you to pedal the bike. On the left handlebar, you’ll be able to change the power level of the pedal-assist system, determining how much of the bike’s battery power is being used.
If you’re in the market for a new electric bike, it’s a good idea to check out electric bike reviews beforehand to make sure the mechanical gears and pedal-assist system are set up similarly to your existing bike — allowing for a more seamless transition.
When Should I Use High Gear and Low Gear?
Now that you understand how you adjust the gears and pedal-assist system, you need to know when is the right time to use them. When approaching an incline on your electric bike, it is recommended that you shift into a low gear and allow the motor to take on most of the work. The lower the gear, the easier it will be to pedal due to there being less resistance.
As you reach the top of the hill and enter a decline, you should shift the gear into a higher setting to give the motor a rest. In high gear, you’ll experience much more resistance which will make pedaling more difficult.
Tips for Switching Gears on an Electric Bike
To ensure you’re utilizing your electric bike’s mechanical in the most effective way, we’ve compiled a few tips to follow when switching gears.
Change to a Lower Gear Before Stopping
If you’re using your electric bike in high gear, it’s going to require more effort on your part to keep the pedals moving. It can be challenging to get the momentum needed to get going from a stationary position if your bike is in high gear. To avoid this problem, switch into a lower gear before you stop, but your bike is still in motion.
Never Change Gears While Stationary
Mechanical gears should only be altered when your electric bike is in motion, and the pedals are turning. If you’re unable to change gears before coming to a complete stop, you’ll need to start up at a high gear which will be a bit difficult. Once you get going, you can lower the gear and make it easier to pedal.