Ribble AL e (2020) review: the world’s lightest electric bike

UK firm Ribble, based in Preston, Lancashire, has been building innovative bicycles since 1897. Riders including Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Boardman and Geraint Thomas have all sat in its saddles. 

Now Ribble has expanded into electric bikes, with a small range of rather bespoke offerings. Their key selling points are low weight and discreet battery placement in the down tube. Yes, this makes part of the frame fatter than a regular bicycle, but the uninitiated won’t notice. Nor will they clock the small button on the crossbar that controls, well, everything. 

Ribble’s very neat solution is built into three models. The Endurance SL e is a carbon electric road bike, starting at £2,799. The CGR AL e is a gravel/road cross for £2,299, while the Hybrid AL e – £1,999 as tested here – is aimed at everything a hybrid usually does. Built to order, each can be upgraded and personalised to your liking. Depending, of course, on the size of your wallet. 

Ribble AL e

This review has a twist in that I actually bought a Hybrid ALe during lockdown, which meant I had no hands-on experience until it arrived. The spec looked right, the price was lower than my maximum budget, and the weight (around 14kg compared with 20kg-plus for most electric bikes) also appealed. 

Equally importantly, I was keen on getting out with friends who are serious cyclists, but mostly had a rather negative attitude towards e-bikes. The hidden battery doesn’t rub their noses in it. Too much…

What do you get for your two grand? An aluminium frame with carbon front forks, SRAM NX 11-speed gear set, hydraulic disc brakes and tubeless tyre capability. The battery is 36-volt and 250Wh, so it’s not as big as some frame-mounted bike batteries. The motor, though, is 250kW, which is as big as you are legally allowed in Europe. A good-value £100 gets you the Fully Loaded upgrade, which includes a rack, bell, mudguards and lights.

Unboxing the Ribble AL e

Ribble AL e

Assembly from the delivered box was quick and easy, a matter of simply straightening the handlebars and screwing on the pedals.

I choose the blue frame with a brown saddle, grips and tyre sidewalls – a retro look that I like, but my friends quietly scoff at. 

Charging the Ribble AL e

Ribble AL e

The disadvantage of the battery-in-frame design is that you need to plug in the bike to charge, rather than unlocking the battery and taking it indoors.

That may make the electric Ribble impractical for some, but I have run an extension lead into my steel bike store to make the whole process easy. Charging takes around four hours from almost flat, which is rarely a problem. 

Riding the Ribble AL e

Ribble AL e

The single button on the crossbar switches the power on, then repeated pressing lets you cycle through the low, medium and high power settings. Because, I suspect, of the limited battery capacity, power delivery is tapered to provide more oomph once you are rolling. That’s instead of a heavy kick as you start off, which you get in a lot of electric mountain bikes. 

Initially, I was a bit disappointed. The Ribble’s electric performance felt underwhelming. But things have settled down, in a very good way, between me and my AL e. Now, I’ve got my head around what I really want from it – which is to cycle for decent distances without being left behind, some subtle assistance when needed and a thoroughly pleasant cycling experience. 

It’s not for the lazy cyclist, because (like all electric bikes, in theory) you have to push the pedals in order to get any thrust from the motor. Yet I’ve found the most powerful setting largely redundant, needing only the mid-setting for hills.

Ribble AL e

How far you can travel on a full charge depends on how you use the Ribble. Running in the mildest power setting, 45-50 miles seems realistic if the hills are not steep. I went with mates on a 35-mile ride last weekend with the motor switched off for the first 10 miles as an experiment. 

Sure, I ran at the back of the group, and I’d changed to some skinny road tyres instead of wider hybrid rubber, but the bike and I coped well. When the hills arrived, the power was switched in, never to be abandoned for the rest of the morning.

What has surprised me is how much I have used the Ribble AL e on trails and bridleways. As long as the tracks are not too rugged, I’ve had enormous fun exploring byways around Hertfordshire, the motor assistance giving the reassurance that you’ll always get through. 

It’s not perfect. The change on the SRAM gears is awkward no matter how I adjust the position on the bars. But, honestly, that’s about it when it comes to criticism. 

The Ebikemotion app

Ribble AL e

There’s no display screen on Ribble electric bikes. Instead, the Ebikemotion app links by Bluetooth to the bike’s control unit, so you get all the info you need on your phone. 

You do need to mount your phone onto the handlebars to keep the Bluetooth linked, but you get plenty of useful data, as well as free sat-nav

2020 Ribble AL e: Verdict

Ribble AL e

I came upon the Ribble AL e by chance. I really wanted something more powerful and in-your-face electric. Then one cyclist told me about Ribble’s very light electric bikes and a friend analysed the specs and suggested it would be “more like riding with a tailwind rather than actually being pushed along. I suspect the Ribble will be something you’d enjoy using for the hell of it”. 

Dan nailed it. I am not a serious cyclist, but I use the Ribble three or four times a week, not always for a long ride but simply because I have so much fun. Yet it would serve equally well as a commuter, when the highest power level would reduce the risk of arriving in a sweat. At circa. £2,000, the Ribble AL e is good value for the quality of its build. 

There’s also the government Cycle to Work scheme (for which Cyclescheme is the biggest provider). This now allows bicycles costing more than £1,000 to be purchased. It works by employers buying the bicycle and employees ‘hiring’ it via a salary sacrifice scheme. After 12 months, you can then buy the bicycle at a ‘fair market value’. It’s a tax friendly-way of riding a Ribble without forking out the upfront cost.

Footnote: Ribble, like other bicycle companies, has faced criticism for not meeting delivery dates and unresponsive customer service. The Covid 19 pandemic has meant increased demand for bikes but problematic supply of components. Andy Smallwood, Ribble CEO, apologised in July and promised matters would improve. 

ALSO READ: 

What type of electric car is right for me?

What’s the difference between a hybrid and an electric car?

How long do electric cars take to charge?

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