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Best compact e-bikes: practical machines for city living

Compact e-bikes are an emerging category with immense practical value in the city

Helping them squeeze into the lives of space-strapped riders, little wheels have become a big trend for e-bikes. But just because their wheels have shrunk, don’t imagine these nippy little bikes provide diminished performance or comfort.

With most models using voluminous tyres, comfort and grip can actually be improved over a standard size wheel. Making them the perfect match for the latest motor and battery tech, they’re also incredibly fun to ride. 

Below are a few of our favourites from the latest crop of compact e-bikes... 

The best compact e-bikes

Cube Compact Hybrid

Buy the Cube Compact Hybrid now from Pure Electric for £2,299

Like the idea of an e-bike but think they are just too big and bulky for that space in your flat or the inside of your camper van? Enter the Cube Compact Hybrid, a small-wheeled (20") e-bike with a similarly bijou frame.

Although it’s made small, the geometry and spec mean it’s able to do just what many larger e-bikes can; it’s rated a 2 on Cube’s own 0 to 6 bike classification scale (0 being kids’ bikes and 6 being ultra-off-road models). In other words, it will be at home both on tarmac and on moderately rough dirt tracks and trails despite its relatively small size.

And despite the compactness, it will fit a wide range of rider sizes thanks to its height-adjustable stem which also twists 90° once you’ve undone a quick-release clamp, fitting in with the easy storage design. Low stand-over height means older riders will love it, and the full package of rack, LED lights, mudguards, five sturdy hub gears and hydraulic disc brakes makes it both compact and ultra-practical. If you want to carry more, there are attachment points for a front rack carrier too. The wide-profile, large-volume Schwalbe Super Moto-X tyres will be super helpful in dealing with potholes and dirt road bumps.

The Bosch Active Plus mid-motor strikes the right balance between sporty performance, smooth urban riding and battery economy, and it comes with a good-sized 500Wh frame-mounted battery and minimalist Purion handlebar display. 

Cube is among continental Europe’s largest e-bike manufacturers by volume, so it’s no surprise that this model – like most of the German brand’s huge range of e-bike offerings – is excellent value for money. 

Buy the Cube Compact Hybrid now from Pure Electric for £2,299

Stated weight 23.7kg; Frame material Aluminium Superlite; Motor Bosch Drive Unit Active Plus GEN3 (50Nm); Battery Bosch 500Wh downtube mounted PowerPack; Stated range 45-65 miles (72-105km) using Bosch’s online range calculator for Turbo and Tour modes (100kg rider); Gearing Shimano NEXUS 5-speed hub gears with rotary handlebar shifter; Saddle Natural Fit Nuance Lite; Bars Cube Comfort Trail Bar; Wheels Cube EX30, 32H, Disc, Tubeless Ready; Tyres Schwalbe Super Moto-X, Double Defense, 64-406

Riese & Müller Tinker Vario

Buy the Riese & Müller Tinker Vario now from Edingburgh Bicycle Co-op for £3,639

In the world of commuter bicycles, small wheels are usually the preserve of folding bikes. However, the folding mechanism adds a lot of weight to these bikes, which can affect how easy they are to pedal. With the Tinker Vario, Riese & Müller has attempted to solve this issue by taking the idea of a traditional folding bike and putting a twist on it.

The Tinker has the obligatory 20" wheels, but the frame that holds them is a single piece. To make the bike compact enough for easy travel and storage, the seatpost collapses down and the handlebar stem does the same as well as folding back.

The handlebar stem doesn’t just fold for storage purposes. The same mechanism that allows it to collapse into itself and then fold along the frame provides a wide range of adjustability; this, along with the telescoping seatpost, means the Tinker can be ridden by people of all heights, so it can easily be used by many members of the same family. 

Riese & Müller also takes an unconventional approach to gearing on the Tinker Vario. The rear wheel houses Riese & Müller’s own Enviolo 380 hub gearing. Unlike other hub gears that offer defined selections, the Enviolo 380 has an infinite number of gears within a ratio of 380%. A twist grip on the handlebars lets you adjust the gearing to meet your needs.

Helping the gearing is a mid-mounted Performance Line CX (Gen2) motor from the Bosch range. In combination with the matching Bosch PowerPack 500 battery, it can deliver up to 95 miles of electric assistance.

Riese & Müller has also steered clear of the conventional by choosing not to rely on a chain to drive the rear wheel. In its place, there’s a carbon-fibre drive belt from Gates. This is a sensible choice for an urban machine – because it doesn’t need to be kept oiled, there’s almost no possibility of getting greasy marks on your trousers as you pedal or on your clothes when you carry the Tinker Vario onto a train or into your house.

Buy the Riese & Müller Tinker Vario now from Edingburgh Bicycle Co-op for £3,639

Stated weight N/A; Frame material Aluminium; Motor Bosch Performance Line CX (Gen2); Battery Bosch PowerPack 500 Performance; Stated range 25-95 miles (40-152km); Gearing Gates carbon drive and Enviolo hub gear; Saddle Selle Royal New Lookin Moderate Male; Bars FSA V-Drive; Wheels Mach1 650 20in; Tyres Schwalbe Big Ben Plus Reflex

Gocycle GX

Buy Gocycle GX now from Rutland Cycling for £2,899

Electric folder or compact e-bike? The Gocycle straddles both categories. Easy to stash at either end of your journey, it folds down the middle, while its handlebars also drop down. With a unique mono-blade fork and single-sided rear-end, its entire drivetrain is enclosed to provide low maintenance, plus less muck on your trousers.  

With the brand producing various versions of the same design, this GX model provides an internal Shimano Nexus 3-speed hub, front and rear suspension, app-based motor control, disc brakes, and magnesium spoked wheels. All considered it’s one very futuristic bicycle. 

With a slightly idiosyncratic ride, it’s nevertheless an indestructible feeling bit of kit. Able to plough over a range of terrain courtesy of its large 20-inch tyres, the bike’s key metrics are equally impressive. These include a charge time of 7-hours, range of up to 65-kilometres, and a weight of 17.8kg. 

With the battery removable, it's possible to bring it in with you, rather than having to get a lead to the bike itself. Not that this is normally difficult. Folding down to a respectable 83 x 39 x 75cm, it’s not as small as a conventional folder, but it does ride a lot more assuredly. Such a great bike in its own right, it’s probably best to think of the fold as a bonus, rather than its raison d'etre.  

Those with more cash to spend might want to check out the uprated GXi which provides a reduced charge time of four hours, increased range, built-in lighting, and automatic shifting. 

Read our full review of the Gocycle GXi e-bike here 

Buy Gocycle GX now from Rutland Cycling for £2,899

Weight 17.8kg; Frame material One size aluminium alloy; Motor Gocycle front hub; Battery Removable internal 300Wh; Stated range up to 65km; Gearing Shimano Nexus 3 speed hub gears; Saddle Gocycle ergonomic; Bars in-built; Wheels Magnesium five-spoke; Tyres Gocycle All-Weather 20x2.25 

Orbea Katu-E 30

Buy the Orbea Katu-E 30 now from Bike Treks for £1,899

Compact e-bikes usually have relatively small 20" wheels with a view to being nippy and manoeuvrable around town and easy to store at home or on the move (on a car or train, for example). While the number of compact e-bikes is increasing, you can probably still count of them on one hand. So the competitively priced Katu-E 30 from Orbea, a manufacturer based in Spain’s Basque country, should definitely be on your radar if you think small is beautiful in e-bike terms.

Like most compacts it has a one-size-fits-all frame, with plenty of seatpost and handlebar height adjustment to suit most sizes of rider and a fairly low step-through frame that makes mounting and dismounting easier.

The Katu-E 30 has a solid spec: smooth assistance from the Bosch Active Line mid-drive (though the lighter Active Line Plus would be better suited to a bike you’d expect to be carry often), eight easy-to-use hub gears, strong hydraulic disc brakes, a brilliantly solid double-leg kickstand, frame-mounted lock, LED lights powered from the main Bosch battery and mudguards. Orbea even throws in a front basket that mounts on the frame, with mounting points for a rear pannier rack if you want to add one. In keeping with the simple design of the bike, the handlebar display/control is the minimalist Bosch Purion.

All in all, it’s a super-practical, petite e-bike that’s bags of fun to ride and easy to store.

Buy the Orbea Katu-E 30 now from Bike Treks for £1,899

Stated weight 16kg; Frame material One size aluminium alloy; Motor Bosch Active Line; Battery Bosch PowerPack 400Wh down tube mounted; Stated range 30-40 miles (48-64km) using Bosch’s online range calculator for Turbo and Tour modes (100kg rider); Gearing Shimano Nexus 8 speed hub gears; Saddle Selle Royal Wave ergonomic; Bars Orbea City Riser 660mm; Wheels Orbea Web Disc 20"; Tyres Kenda 841 20 x 2.25 Reflex

Tern GSD S00/GSD S10 

Buy the Tern GSD S10 now from Tredz for £4,200 

Tern has always specialised in producing bikes that fold and the majority of its machines have small wheels too, so what better manufacturer to create an electric, small-wheeled, folding bike with load-carrying capability?

Two versions of the GSD e-bike are available from Tern: the S00 with a Bosch Performance Line CX motor and the S10 which gets the Bosch Performance Line motor. You can fit two Thule Yepp Maxi child seats on the GSD bikes, or one Thule Yepp Nexxt Maxi seat with no adaptors needed.

Aside from the motor options the only other significant difference between the two machines is the gear systems used. While the S00 has an Enviolo Cargo groupset, which offers a 380% continuously variable gear range, the S10 has a more conventional Shimano Deore derailleur gear moving the chain across 10 sprockets.

What the two models do share is the innovative frame design. By making use of small wheels, the Tern designers have created a model that is no longer than a regular bike but can carry far more. There’s also the option to mount a second battery within the frame’s tubes to extend the motor’s range. The trickery continues with the bike’s 125cm wheelbase, 25% longer than most e-bikes, which makes for easier handling when they’re fully laden.

That clever design of the GSD frame also means that when the handlebars are folded away the bike takes up very little space, down to one-third of its opened volume. However, to make the GSD even easier to store out of the way, the design of the rear rack keeps the bike stable when stored vertically.

The astonishing versatility of the rear rack deserves a special mention. Not only can it be fitted with Thule child seats without the need for special brackets, but Tern also offers a pillion seat pad and footpegs to turn the GSD into a bike for two. Of course, you could simply throw a set of panniers on the back and use it to carry your shopping. If you really like to shop there’s even an option to add a sturdy front-mounted rack too.

Buy the Tern GSD S10 now from Tredz for £4,200 

Stated weight N/A; Frame material 7005 aluminium; Motor S00 Bosch Performance Line CX/S10 Bosch Performance Line; Battery S00 Bosch dual-battery system (500/1000Wh)/S10 Bosch dual-battery system (400/500/900Wh); Stated range S00 200km (124 miles)/S10 250km (155 miles); Groupset S00 Enviolo cargo/Magura S10 Shimano Deore, Magura; Saddle Tern GSD; Bars Tern Sweep; Wheels S00 20" Tern Atlas (front), Enviolo Cargo (rear)/S10 20" Tern Atlas (front & rear); Tyres Tern x Schwalbe Super Moto-X

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