To begin, I will admit to having held onto a bias against e-bikes of any kind. While they intellectually make sense for commuters and cargo haulers, the last thing I want in my life is yet another thing that I have to remember to plug in. I can’t believe I have to charge my watch, my phone, my book library, etc. etc. I am literally running out of outlets in my 70-year-old house that didn’t have very many to begin with.
At Interbike this year, e-bikes were huge (or, “uge”), meaning unavoidable. They occupied significant square footage at the indoor show and had their own, dedicated test track. With some time to kill on the first day, I decided to take the new Haibike Urban Plus for a spin. Note that this is just an initial look at the bike; I can’t comment on what it’s like to live with one.
First of all, I can actually get behind the aesthetics. It still looks like a bike. Somehow, this thing is one size fits all, and I was plenty comfortable even though I’m on the shorter side (5’4″).
The bike is powered by a TranzX M25 GTS Drive Unit and will support you up to 28 mph. The Urban Plus also uses a COBI Smart Connect system that powers your cellphone to provide all kinds of ride and navigation data, weather information, music and much more. The downtube-integrated battery can be removed or you can just plug the whole bike in. It takes three hours to charge, after which you will get 40-80 miles of range depending on which of the four assist settings you use.
Pulling out onto the test track, I hit the unobtrusive, intuitive and well-placed handlebar keypad button to cycle the bike through its four assist modes. The track was flat and I wasn’t carrying any cargo, but even in the lowest assist level, I felt as if I had an intensely strong tailwind. When you cycle through that first pedal stroke, it’s like someone gives your back a big push and keeps on pushing. In short, it feels pretty darn incredible.
In the highest setting (more power!) you actually have to be careful pushing off because the bike just leaps forward. The assist is serious at that level, and I can imagine making light work of even the most loaded commute on this thing.
The all-aluminum Urban Plus weighs a whopping 56 pounds. When the electric assist isn’t turned on, you absolutely notice. Thankfully, the bike is well-balanced and still stable with the battery off, but I wouldn’t want to run out of charge and end up having to haul all that heft around. I’ve certainly done so on loaded bikepacking trips, but not in town wearing work clothing.
The Urban Plus build includes Schwalbe Super Moto 2.4-inch tires, fenders, kickstand, rear rack, front and rear lights, an integrated anti-theft system and a Shimano 10-speed drivetrain with Deore brakes. Choose white or black for $3,600.
So, would I buy a pedal-assist urban bicycle? To be honest, yes, I would. I live in a small, compact town that is easily served by a human-powered bicycle and I really do need a car to travel elsewhere. But, I have lived in places where this bike would have served a car-free lifestyle perfectly. Electricity tethers are just facts of modern life, and I think I could probably find one more outlet in my house if I really needed to.
Tester: Adam Newman
Price: $3,499 (as tested)
Weight: 42 pounds
Sizes: S, M, L (tested)
More info: Faraday Bikes
One dirty little secret of the design world is that keeping things simple actually takes a lot of work. At first glance the Porteur looks like any other city bike, the double top tube notwithstanding. The steel frame, British Racing Green paint, chrome accents and bamboo fenders are classy and understated. But lurking beneath that demure aesthetic is a lot of modern-day technology.
Yes, the Faraday is an e-bike. A fairly distinctive one at that. The motor is mounted in the hub of the front wheel, and the battery is entirely contained within the frame. When the bike’s initial design took the crowdfunding site kickstarter.com by storm in 2012, the plan was to install the battery in the second top tube. It subsequently moved to the down tube, but the designers wisely kept the look intact.
Even without the electric assist, there’s a lot to like about the Porteur. The drivetrain is a Gates Carbon Belt Drive running to a standard Shimano Alfine 8-speed hub. The two go together like peanut butter and jelly, making it a virtually silent and maintenance-free drivetrain.
Further simplifying things is integrated lighting that runs off the battery and is always on if the bike is on, even if the motor is disengaged. The control unit is housed in the box under the saddle, with a charging port, some LED taillights and a big on/off button.
The motor itself puts out a nominal 250 watts with a peak of 340 watts—more than powerful enough to get you up to speed in a hurry. While many e-bikes have complex dashboards, the Porteur has a simple thumb switch with options for high, low or off. There is no throttle mode—the Faraday is pedal assist only. The LCD battery fuel gauge display is on the handlebar switch where you can see it, but it is tiny and impossible to read while moving, so a solution like a green/orange/red light would be easier to read.
At 42 pounds the Porteur isn’t a lightweight, but it’s really not far off what you’d expect a bike like this to weigh. I experimented with riding it with the motor off and it goes just fine. I appreciated that because the internal battery simply can’t match the capacity of some larger, external units, and with normal use I was averaging about 15 miles on a single charge.
Another drawback to the internal battery design is that you can’t remove the battery to bring it inside to charge. This means you have to get the bike relatively close to an outlet to make it work. Later this year Faraday will be offering an add-on battery pack inside a classy, leather saddle bag. It can plug directly into the bike for a battery boost and can be taken with you inside to charge, but will set you back $500.
Small hiccups aside, the Porteur is a joy to ride. If you’ve ever ridden a classic English three-speed you’ll immediately feel at home on the Porteur. The swept back bars and upright posture are comfortable and keep your head up in traffic, and it gives you a lot of confidence being in such a natural, upright posture.
What’s remarkable is how drastically it changes your riding behavior, especially when commuting on the same boring route every day. Hills that used to be obnoxious just disappear, and distances are seemingly cut in half. The very nature of electric-assist bicycles fills me with existential angst, but if you just want to get yourself from A to B, I am wholeheartedly on board.
No, the Porteur isn’t cheap, and new technology never is. Then again, I’d gladly sacrifice some battery range for a bike that looks and rides like a bike rather than a mini motorcycle. If you want another option, the Porteur S model substitutes a chain for the belt drive and has five speeds instead of eight, knocking the price down to $2,799.
Faraday also recently announced a new model, the Cortland, which is essentially the same as the Porteur but with a dropped top tube. It, too, is available at both price points.