18/09/2013

Get on your SMART e-bike

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky to invited to test ride a SMART e-bike. There are some things I should point out: -
  • I'm not really a bike rider
  • I haven't properly ridden a bike for many years
  • Riding through London terrifies me
However saying that, the e-bike is pretty, we used the white and green version (it also comes in grey with orange trim - which I thought looked prettier).

The bike is quite heavy (though having an aluminium frame, and the metal drive chain replaced by a carbon-fibre drive pulley), it weighs 26.1Kg. It comes with hydraulic disc brakes front and rear (and mud flaps). The seat is quite comfortable as it contains a gel liner to pad your sensitive bits. There's also an air shock absorber on the front section (which is adjustable) to smooth out those bumps.

In the rear wheel there's a 250W brushless DC motor that can move the bicycle up to 15Mph.There's also an 'automatic' gear system (from 1 to 3 where 1 is the easiest and 3 is the least gearing).

The rechargeable battery (mounted in bit that the seat fits on to) is lithium-ion 48V with a capacity of 423Wh which can be removed. It comes with a normal mains charger (that can charge the battery in situ) and a full charge takes around 5 hours. The battery is guaranteed for 500 charging cycles and will retain 80% residual charge for 2 years. The management unit also has a USB port (for diagnostics/software upgrades/etc) and can also change a device like a smartphone, useful with the optional smartphone holder that mounts in-front of the unit allowing a user to use GPS/maps/etc.

There's also a display mounted between the handle bars that is the 'brains' of the e-bike. It has a trip counter, shows the battery charge remaining, speed and also the amount of power applied to the motor (from zero to 4 units at max power). The unit can also put the motor into charge mode (from -1 to -4) where the the motor will then act as a brake.

When riding from stationary, the motor won't actually kick in until the pedals have completed around 2 revolutions, this is to stop the bike say lurching forward when traffic lights go green, straight in to the back of a vehicle in front.

Riding isn't effortless - a rider still has to pedal, though when the motor kicks in it;s certainly easier riding. Also when climbing a steep hill, putting the e-bike into low gear and turning on full motor assist does make a life a lot easier.

If then going down a hill, put the motor into charge mode and as well as the motor acting as a smooth brake, it also charges the battery. The battery is also charged when the front-brakes are applied (i.e. the motor assists with breaking).

I managed a ride of 13.9 miles in about 4 hours (with a break) and wasn't particularly sore afterwards (apart form soft fleshy bits, but that's just not being used to bike parts rubbing me). It really did make riding easier. The bike has a range of 60 miles (I'd assume normal road riding conditions), though this will vary depending on how much the motor is used and how much the motor is used as a brake (which will charge the battery).

There was one major flaw with the bike, the controls for the management unit are on the unit itself, when they should have put them near the handles of the bike (maybe an extension system). Changing the controls meant taking your hand off the grip and fiddling with the control unit, which isn't the safest thing in the world.

The bike is also heavy, so manoeuvring at slow speed (like going through cycle gates) was hard as it meant moving a heavy bike and trying to navigate odd turns etc. and at low speeds 9without pedalling) you're on your own.

The e-bike isn't cheap, it costs £2,600 without any of the accessories - coming from Mercedes, they're not cheap either.

NOTE since writing this SMART have updated the e-bike and put the controls for the management unit into the handlebars, they've obviously listened to feedback fro early users. Maybe the next version will be made out of carbon-fibre and thus reduce the weight too.

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