Assist Hybrid full review

For many people, the prospect of an electric bike for under £400 is a tempting one. Prices usually start at over £500 and many models cost well over £1000, and some a lot more still.

But you get what you pay for, so at this low price there are quite a few compromises. They may not matter to you depending upon what you want an electric bike for, so the Assist can still be a good buy.

Assist Hybrid: Price & availability

There are two models: the white one on review here – the Assist Hybrid – and a black one called the Assist Deluxe.

Both are available from Halfords and their prices fluctuate regularly due to sales.

At the time of writing, for example, the Assist Hybrid cost £429, but a few weeks ago it was discounted to the bargain price of £329.

The Deluxe isn’t simply a black version: it has a few upgrades which might tempt you to spend £398 on it (this is the usual price you’ll pay).

Halfords Assist Deluxe review

For a start, it looks a lot better in back and it has a 7Ah battery (almost 50% bigger capacity than the 4.8Ah battery on the Assist Hybrid). It also comes with a basic set of lights, has tyres with reflective sidewalls and – according to Halfords – more comfortable hand grips.

Even if the white model is down to £329 when you check, I’d buy the Deluxe every time – the extra battery capacity alone is well worth the £70 or so premium as it increases range from ‘up to 20 miles’ to ‘up to 30 miles’.

I’ve kept those claims in quotes because, as with all electric bikes, range is very much dependent on the temperature, how hilly your route is and how much you weigh. Those figures, then, are the best-case scenario – not the average.

Bottom line: the Assist Hybrid has one of the smallest ranges of any electric bike we’ve tested, while the Deluxe is closer to average.

If you want to see alternatives, check out our roundup of the best electric bikes.

Assist Hybrid: Features & design

The steel frame is a shopper-type design and is a one-size-fits-most deal. Wheels are 20in, which are smaller than most and more commonly associated with folding bikes. It’s a shame the Assist doesn’t fold because it would be a much more compelling purchase if it did.

But hinges would have added to the price, so there aren’t any. There aren’t any gears either, and the battery sits over the rear wheel below the pannier rack. Wiring is all external – this is the cheapest way to build an electric bike.

To distribute the weight more evenly, the motor is located in the front hub, and thankfully there’s a connector which allows you to disconnect the wire by the front fork if you need to take off the wheel and change an inner tube.

The battery is removable, although you do need the supplied keys to unlock it so strangers cannot walk up to your bike and make off with it. This means you can charge and store it indoors, an important factor in the UK where cold winter temperatures do no favours to lithium ion batteries.

Halfords Assist Hybrid review

V-brakes are used front and rear and there’s a quick-release on the seat tube which makes it a breeze to adjust saddle height. A bonus is that a sturdy stand  plus front and rear mudguards are fitted as standard.

Halfords Assist Hybrid review

The electric system, from Shengyi, has a very basic control panel mounted on the left side of the handlebars. It uses the same hateful membrane-type buttons as the Carrera Vengeance E which take a fair amount of effort to press as they’re so small.

This is an issue when using the 6km/h walk mode as you have to hold down the button to get assistance from the motor when walking the bike up a hill (or just along the flat when it’s fully-loaded).

Halfords Assist Hybrid review

You could also use it for hill starts to help get going, which can be tough since there are no gears to help you out.

Getting back to the control panel, it’s mainly for turning power on and off as well as toggling through the three assistance level: low, medium and high. There’s no speedometer, which is a shame.

Performance

Where more expensive electric bikes use a torque sensor to detect how hard you’re pedalling and give assistance based on that, the Assist has a 12-point magnetic sensor. Power kicks in pretty quickly after you start pedalling – you only need to turn the crank 30° at most – and then drops out when you reach the legal limit of 15.5mph.

There might be a 250W sticker on the motor but, just as with phone cameras, it doesn’t mean it’s just as good as every other 250W motor.

Halfords Assist Hybrid review

As you might expect at this price, there’s less torque available than from more expensive bikes with more powerful motors. And this is evident the first time you encounter a hill.

I’m far from the maximum rider weight of 120kg, but the Assist still struggled to maintain a decent pace up any hills on my route. The help was welcome and certainly made it a lot easier to cycle up those hills, but it was considerably slower than I was expecting, even in High mode. I have serious doubts that it could propel a 120kg rider very far along even a slight incline, especially if you add on the 25kg that you’re allowed to put on the pannier rack.

Halfords Assist Hybrid review

The amount of assistance also seemed uneven: on some occasions it felt like the motor was pulling strongly, while on others, it could barely be felt at all.

When the battery is depleted, you can still ride the Assist like a normal bike, though you will feel its 18kg weight on the hills. To be fair it’s one of the lighter ebikes, but it’s still a struggle to carry it up a flight of steps.

The frame is nice and rigid and doesn’t noticeably flex – but there is no suspension to smooth out the bumps: you have only the tyres for that. Brakes are strong and, overall, the Assist is pretty nice to ride.

There are two main criticisms: the handlegrips are uncomfortable (not a problem if you opt for the Assist Deluxe) and that the frame suits shorter riders: I’m only 5ft6 and felt it was verging on being a bit too small. Anyone much taller is unlikely to enjoy riding this bike.

Verdict

You could buy three Assists and get plenty of change from the price of a single Cowboy bike. That’s how cheap it is. But it is only a third as good. The point is this: if you can afford a better ebike, then you’d be wise to spend more money. If, however, you just want a bike to make your short commute to work that bit easier, it’s not a bad shout. For longer rides, especially with hills, look elsewhere.

Specs

Assist Hybrid: Specs

  • Motor: 250W Shengyi
  • Max Speed: Assisted Motor Speed: 15.5 mph or 25 km/h
  • Location of Motor: Front hub
  • Control panel: Displays battery power and mode
  • Frame: Steel
  • Weight: approx 18Kg With Standard Battery
  • Max Person Weight: 120 Kg
  • Frame Size: One size fits most
  • Wheel Size: 20in
  • Wheels: Unbranded
  • Tyres: CSD
  • Seat: Memory foam comfort
  • Seat Post: Steel
  • Gears: None
  • Brakes: Promax V-brakes
  • Lights: None (standard on Deluxe)
  • Front Fork: Steel
  • Handlebars: Alloy
  • Battery Type: 115Wh (4.8Ah) Lithium ion
  • Distance: Up top 20 miles (depends on level of assistance)
  • Lifetime: 2 ears / 500 charge-discharge cycles
  • Charge Time: 2-3 hours
  • Warranty: 2 years electrical components, 1 year mechanical