Last Saturday I visited Lancaster Mercedes in Ipswich, an hour later I left with a beautifully designed and engineered German machine. But this wasn’t a AMG SLK, this was the ‘smart ebike’.
Having recently tested the Sparta ION/RX electric bike, I was eager to review a completely different take on the ebike. I wasn’t going to be disappointed.
Rather than ‘tacking’ a battery onto the carrier, the smart has the battery integrated into the frame itself, and sensibly directly above the pedals which puts the heaviest part of the bike smack-bang in the centre of gravity.
The additional weight of the rear hub mounted electric motor is negated by the omission of rear seat stays instead providing additional support via meatier chain stays. The cross bar is intelligently designed by provide amalgamating the traditional ‘male’ and ‘female’ crossbars, which gives the bike kerbside appeal. The seat is less comfortable than the wide, soft and shock aborbed Sparta, instead providing a narrow functional seat, pleasingly designed with the same care as the rest of the bike. The handlebars are mounted using a non standard fixture with integrated gear changer. The wheels use a very interesting spoke arrangement with multi-function tyres which are comfortable both on and off road. The pedals have a very nice anti-slip inserts which work surprising well by doing away with either metal or dimpled plastic which you will have felt crashing into your shins on other bikes. The bike has integrated led lights and front and back which are switched on whenever the bike is in use (which I think is a really good idea). However you can switch them off to conserve energy by long pressing the power button after powering up the bike.
The bike is an pedelec style machine, meaning it is assisted rather than 100% powered by the onboard 250w motor. Like the Sparta, the smart ebike requires you to pedal in order to provide assistance. The bike has a nylon drive belt rather than a oily chain and braking is provided by hydraulic assisted discs. This are insanely good breaks, I know from experience as they were SO good, I was nearly catapulted over the handle bars when pulling up too quickly. The bike is charged using what looks very much like a laptop charger! But it does a great job and doesn’t run as hot as the Sparta.
As before, the real brains behind the bike are the onboard computer that control when and how much power is provided to assist the rider, this is a great way of provided power as it really only supplies power when you properly pedal. The only disappointment is the obvious cessation of power as soon as the bike reaches 16.5 mph (which is the current UK legal maximum). When the power stops their is a noticeable increase in effort required to get the bike to go any faster on a level road. There also seemed to be a bit of a problem with gear ratios, the bike comes with 3 gears and top is not really ‘high’ enough. So all to often you find yourself pedalling quite quickly and maintaining 15mph, but I just wanted another gear to allow me to cruise along on the flat, it feels like you are working out in the gym in easy mode, but you are still working out rather than cruising.
I also found that the bike didn’t seem to engage power quickly enough, this is especially apparent when pulling away at busy junctions. There seemed to be a moment of panic as you struggled to pull away and suddenly (a little too late) power is applied from the electric motor. This was the most obvious difference from the Sparta which applied power immediately on touching the pedals. The bike had that morning been given a firmware update and I wonder if this had caused this issue? Given that the bike is very heavy compare to a ‘normal’ bike, you really need the power to be provided immediately. I do realise that battery conservation is necessary in order to give the 60+ mile range of the bike (under optimal conditions), but I would really like this
The bike power is controlled (in this models case) by a digital unit mounted in the centre of the handlebars, this provides information on current speed, average speed, odometer and trip distance. It also provides an on/off button and power increase/decrease buttons.
The power increase/decrease is the most interested as it allows for 4 levels of power (I permanently had this set to 4 for most power) and another 4 of negative values which in effect turns the electric motor into a massive dynamo for charging the battery. In reality the dynamo settings are just plain ridiculous and make pedalling the bike practically impossible. Unless you are considering coasting down mountain paths, then I should not bother with this function. The back brake also utilises braking to recharge the battery, which I believe extends the life of the brake pads and discs and the braking is shared.
Mercedes have tried very hard to make the ebike a unique electric biking experience in a variety of ways. I found I actually wanted to ride the bike and it replaced my car for commuting to work for 4 out of 5 days. I also found I was actively looking for alternative routes to work, sometimes using cycle lanes and in many cases using off road bridle ways. The bike is very adapt to various road surfaces, the only surfaces to avoid are loose surfaces such as sand or gravel. The bike is far too heavy for these surfaces and you will find the bike sliding from underneath you, something I found with the Sparta. However, bridleways are a breeze to navigate. You find yourself cruising along at 15mph regardless of the surface only when you ascend a steep incline will you find your speed dropping to around 10mph and the need to drop down to 2nd gear.
Gears are a major issue, the Sparta had 8 gears which meant you could actively manage ascending a hill by gradually dropping down the gears. It also had the benefit of a ‘Boost’ button to give you a little push. The Smart Ebike only has 3 gears and sadly, no boost button. Adding to the fact that 3rd gear is simply not high enough, so you will find yourself pedalling quite quickly to keep your speed stable at 16mph, more irritating is that around this speed the motor is constantly cutting out to keep the bike within the law, but more worrying was that it felt like it was actually applying the brakes! This is probably not the case, it is more likely that the bikes weight makes this kind of unassisted speed impossible, so it is just slowing down naturally.
Riding the Smart Ebike is always interesting. It’s is without doubt a head turner, you hear peoples reactions to it when you cycle by, you also hear other cyclists grumbling when you pass them on a hill.
In the seven days I had the bike for review I managed nearly 80 miles! I didn’t use it for work on the Friday because it was either going to be very hot or very wet! But it got plenty of use during the time I had it, and to be fair I was almost looking for an excuse to ride it.
If you are thinking of buying an electric bike, you can’t go far wrong with the Smart Ebike, but only if you are happy to trade off the comfort of a more traditional bike. The seat and ride style is definitely aimed at the ‘younger’ generation and you might find the gearing irritating to manage. Aside from this, it was an excellent bike to ride.
Luckily I had a couple of ‘action cam’s’ to review at the same time, so with luck I should also be posting some footage below, just as soon as I get the chance to edit it!!!
Finally, I would like to thank Carl Beer from Mercedes Benz Ipswich for being so very helpful in providing me with the smart ebike and for calling me in the week to find out how things were going! It was much appreciated.