One of the great perks of running a sustainability media company is that awesome companies line up to send us awesome products to review. Recently, we were contacted by Espin, an e-bike company making an innovative pedal assist bike, to do a review of its newest product. The company asked me to do a review and lent me a bike for two weeks, which I gladly used for my daily commute in hilly San Francisco.
As opposed to a throttle-controlled electric bike, which has a throttle the rider can use to power the bike, a pedal-assist bike relies on the rider to start the pedaling, and then boosts the power of that pedaling to make the bike go faster.
Espin’s bike has a console computer mounted on the handlebars for easy control and heads up display. The motor has 0-5 speeds, giving higher amounts of assistance as needed (e.g., for hills, etc.). Combine that with the 8 gears, and you effectively have 40 gears to play with. I’ll start with some of the tech specs and background, and conclude at the bottom with my personal review.
According to the company’s website, Espin eBikes are equipped with a 350-watt motor and a lithium-ion battery with a range of 20-40 miles, but according to co-founder Josh Lam, “Keep in mind the battery drains more on level 5 than on level 1 and you will use more battery life riding up hills than on flat land. The range is really dependent on how it is ridden.” Lam suggested that the battery life should be about 500 charge cycles.
According to its website, all Espin eBikes come equipped with features to support safe cycling including:
- Control Hub – displays distance, speed, battery life
- Rear Mounted Luggage Rack
- LED Front head lights
- Removable battery
- 8FUN Motor
- Speed support up to 25 MPH
- 418 Watt Hour Lithium Ion Battery
- 350 Watt Motor Output
- 45 Nm Torque
- Range of 25-50 Miles, depending on pedal assist level
- 5 power levels of Pedal Assist
Built for the city
One of the things that I really liked about the bike was that it was clearly built for urban riding and commuting. The bulky tires and front fork provide a layer of comfort not found in a lot of fixie or road bikes that many people commute on. The LED light is super bright, making riding at night safer. There is no built-in rear light, but that’s easy enough to add on. The bike also comes with a built-in rear rack, on which panniers or other cargo mechanisms can be placed.
None of this is surprising, as Lam suggests that they specifically had the urban commuter in mind when building the Espin. “Bicycle commuting statistics show continuous growth especially in metropolitan cities,” said Lam. “We are excited to provide an affordable solution for those that are considering making a switch. Riding a bike to commute can save an average person more than $1000/year or more just for work commuting, more if it becomes your primary mode of transport.”
My opinion: what’s good
My overall assessment of the Espin is that it’s a really nice solution for urban commuting. Pedal assist was something I’d never used before, and it took a little getting used to. It’s nice to have the 0-5 levels on the pedal assist that the Espin offers. The power and acceleration is somewhat surprising, and if you’re in a place with a lot of pedestrians or just inching forward at a stop sign to peer around an intersection, pedal assist kicking on can be a bit of a challenge. After a few days, though, I felt like I had the hang of it and it became somewhat second nature. So if you get a bike like this, practice on Level 1 or 2 for the first few rides.
The bike is really fun, and goes fast. On Level 5, it’s easy to get up to 20 mph without doing too much work, especially on flat ground. I powered up some of San Francisco’s notorious hills without losing speed, in one case staying at 18 mph going up what I guess would be a 15% grade. That was with me cranking hard and the pedal assist at 5, but it was impressive to me, and the car behind me didn’t even try to pass but rather waited for me to get up to the top and make my turn. On its website, Espin claims that the team was able to take the bike over San Francisco’s burliest hill, at 32% grade. I tried one of our biggest, and was unable to get up to the top, but that was when the battery was almost dead, which I’ll talk about more below in the drawbacks.
The computer screen display is intuitive and easy to use. The only thing that was not intuitive was that you hold the plus button down for a few seconds to turn on the headlight. It’s fun to see how fast you’re going, and the nice large screen of the computer makes it easy to quickly check without taking your eyes very far off the road or for too long.
The battery compartment is easy to remove and take with you into your office or home for easy and portable recharging. I rode the bike in the rain a few times and worried about the electronics, but all went just fine. The battery compartment is watertight so with anything other than a deluge, it’d be fine to leave it outside, according to Lam.
The range I found to be quite good. Even here in hilly San Francisco, and mostly using a higher level of pedal assist, I got 30 miles out of a charge. I would not be surprised at all if it got 40-45 miles in a less hilly city and with lower levels of pedal assist.
The price is right. Compared to many other e-bikes, the less than $2000 price tag is modest and affordable. Heck, there are a lot of non-electric bikes that cost quite a bit more than that. If Lam is right and the bike can help commuters save $1000 a year, that’s a payback period of less than 2 years. Not bad at all!
The not as good
The bike is a bit heavy, weighing in at 47 pounds. Compared to many other e-bikes, this can be on the lighter side, but compared to my regular commuter bike, it’s about 35 pounds more. This became a challenge when I commuted on the bike to somewhere where I needed to bring it on a train or a bus for a period of time. Here in San Francisco, the underground BART system often does not have any easy way to bring bikes down to the trains (elevators are often out of service, and the escalators do not allow bikes to be carried onto them). So I had to carry the bike up and down stairs and handful of times, which is obviously not ideal.
The front fork has a pretty large “travel” (the distance it ‘gives’ to absorb shock), so getting a U-lock around the front tire, frame, and a bike rack was not possible without a much larger U-lock than the normal sized ones. This resulted in me having to get very creative to lock the bike up outside. In addition, with the computer and light being hardwired in, I always felt a little uneasy locking the bike outside, and generally expected to come out and find it had been vandalized. It never was, but I still didn’t feel good about it.
The bike’s power reduced as the battery drained. As the battery started getting low, the power of the bike started to diminish. So even on Level 5, with a battery that’s low, there’s just not much oomph.
Overall, I think the bike is a great option for commuters. The pedal assist and the levels it has give the rider a choice of whether to get more or less exercise. So if you’re commuting to work and want to show up not sweaty, crank up the assist. If you want to then get some exercise on the way home, lower it to 0 or 1 and rock on with your bad self. The bike is simply fun to ride, and comfortable given the cushy seat, shock absorbing tires and front fork, and relaxed riding position. You can cover good distances, accelerating quickly from each stop light and getting to a nice cruising speed relatively quickly. I’m curious about the miles per gallon equivalent, and the company said they’d try to figure out what theirs is and post it to their website soon, but I’m guessing it beats the pants off even the most efficient cars, so from an energy conservation perspective, it should help our society run a little more efficiently.
Check out the company website here, and see if an Espin e-bike is right for you!