I recently had a smart ebike for a week-long test ride. While I'm not the young, avid cyclist (read mountain biker) I used to be, it was a definite treat and a whole lot of fun.
For the uninitiated, this ebike is a pedelec, or pedal electric cycle to be sure. Its Lithium-ion battery alone doesn't make it go. You do.
It rides like a normal bike. You need to pedal to get it moving and keep it going, but it has a small electric motor inside the rear hub that offers four levels of electric assist. These can be set via the (+) button on the removable trip computer.
The computer's display allows the rider to keep tabs on distance, average speed, riding time, etc. It can also be removed from the handlebars whenever you have to leave the ebike somewhere public. The bike is also equipped with a built-in front and rear LED lighting, so it can be ridden at night easily.
It looks and sounds a normal bike too, albeit it's an expensive one. There's a little orange bell on the handlebars - ding ding - and only the bulky midsection (where the battery is located) and belt drive make it look a bit suspicious. The base version lists for $3,240 CAD.
Smart claims a range of 100 kms on a single charge. Once depleted you have a few options. First, tap the (-) button to select one of four preset regenerative pedalling modes and kick it old school. The rider can use their own energy reserves to top up the battery on the fly to extend the ebike's range.
There is, of course, a normal pedalling mode, for when the battery is completely discharged. Another option is to stop and recharge the battery. It takes six hours to fully charge, so it's not really practical for short pitstops. The 3.3 kg (7.25 lb) battery can be removed from the ebike, however, for easy charging in the warm comfort of your home or office.
Like a traditional 18-speed bike, you switch between high, medium and low gearing via hand controls on the right twist grip. Electric power assist kicks in at about a quarter of the pedal stroke.
At the highest setting, the ebike lurches off the line almost like a turbo car. The stronger your pedal stroke is, the more assist it gives you relative to setting you're using - up to 25 km/h. Though, to get anywhere near its 35 km/h top speed you'll need to dig deep and give it your best Sam Whittingham try.
The 26-inch Continental EcoContact Plus tires are best-suited for city streets and paved sidewalks rather than dirt single track or rocky mountain bike trails, but they'll go just about anywhere you dare point it. They're fairly slick when wet. One must be careful when riding on wet surfaces as that boost effect can actually induce some wheelspin.
We're not talking big smoky burnouts here, but when you first start riding the ebike, it almost seems to have a mind of its own the way it takes off so fast. At busy intersections and in crowded spaces, dialling back the assist is probably a good idea to prevent collisions. The 180 mm hydraulic disc brakes with recuperation function are amazingly capable, and capable of bucking a rider over the bars if applied too quickly though.
Weighing 26.1 kg (57.5 lb) altogether, the smart ebike is somewhat heavier than the average bike. While it may be a bit tricky to manoeuvre or balance in tight quarters or traffic, for example; you don't really feel its heft when riding along at speed. It is a pedelec after all, and it is a lot easier to ride than those Bixi bikes you can rent in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa/Gatineau (London, England too).
Where you do notice the weight is is when you have to lugs it up stairs or take it on to public transit. It is allowed on most public transit that accepts normal bikes -- the GO Train for sure -- but it takes strength, balance and willpower to get it on and off.
The smart ebike just might be one of the smartest options for casual cyclists and short commuters in urban and suburban settings. And because it works a lot like a hybrid-electric car, pedelec riders will find they can ride farther, faster and for longer without getting too winded. They can go a lot more places too, and that is smart.