Up until now, we have been concentrating our Gadget reviews on traditional mobile technology such as Smart Phones and Wearables. However, gadgets aren’t just limited to those which we carry in our pockets or even on our wrists, they can cover a whole range of uses, covering personal, business and pleasure.
Modern gadgets can take you up in the air (like our forthcoming AR.Drone 2.0 review) and also through the streets. When you are looking to be transported at an affordable price, you should look no further than Electric Bikes or E-Bikes.
The bike we are reviewing today is the SPARTA ION/RX kindly supplied to us by James at Justebikes.co.uk who have branches in Leiston and Portobello Road in London.
E-Bikes are powered (in our case) by an electric motor mounted on the front wheel, the motor provides ‘assistance’ to normal pedalling, by providing power directly proportional to the effort applied by the rider. In effect, you are riding the bike in the traditional sense, but the effort required is much less. This is because the bikes motor is providing help in driving the front wheel. Our bike has several ‘modes’ for different styles of riding and 5 speed settings. We also had a ‘boost’ option which gave us additional help getting up hills when we needed to. You do have the option of switching off the assistance which makes the bike operate in the traditional 100% peddle powered sense (just in case you feel in need of a good workout!).
EU law states that electric bikes can only provide assistance up to 25km/h (15.5 mph), so when the bike passes this speed, the assistance is turned off. However, we found we were still able to achieve a speed of 54km/h (32 mph) on a long hill.
The first thing we noticed when we took delivery of our SPARTA was the bikes size. Sparta are a Dutch company and thus our bike was based on the traditional Dutch bike design with high handlebars which allows for a more upright and surprisingly relaxing ride compared to a traditional mountain or racing bike. Added to this was an incredibly comfortable gel seat which gave us the immediate impression that this bike was designed to carry it’s rider in comfort.
The bike itself was quite heavy, mainly due to the large removable battery pack which is mounted over the back wheel which also acts at a luggage rack with a maximum weight of 25 kg. The weight of the bike is also added to by large thick frame and electric motor on the front wheel hub.
The bike is also very ‘tall’, with the handlebars at roughly 124 cm from the ground, much taller than my own mountain bike which is a paltry 110 cm in comparison. The reason for this is due to the design of the bike, which is ‘sit up and beg’ style, with low seat and wide handlebars. I’ve never ridden this style of bike before, but I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable and stable the ride is.
Security wise, the bike has several features, firstly there is an integrated key operated security bolt which fits through the back wheel and completely stops rotation, attached to the apparatus is a plug in bike chain which allows you to secure it around a lamp post. The battery is locked electronically to the bike meaning it will only operate with the bike. Finally, the bike has a information display screen which also doubles as an immobiliser and renders the bike useless if removed when locked up.
The bike comes with a charger unit which plugs into a standard british 3 pin plug and enables you to recharge the bike with the battery attached (assuming this is in a garage) or the battery can be removed from the and charged indoors. In the case of the bike I was using, charging only took a few hours, but the battery was only down to 36% charge rather than completely depleted. However I would suggest charging overnight would ensure it is charged to 100% with time to spare.
The the bike is of an outstanding build standard which is not surprising based on it’s retail price. It feels incredible stable and the ride is amazingly smooth. The brakes didn’t feel particularly powerful, but a little adjustment would almost certainly improve them. You should note however that the bike is very heavy and has pedal assistance, you should therefore be VERY careful riding on loose gravel, as there is a real danger of the bike sliding from underneath you.
The bike is operated using a simple button system on the left handlebar and feeds back relevant information to the removable central screen, such as speed settings (1 – 5) and ride ‘modes’ (Power, Sport, Tour, Cruise, Eco, Assistance Off and Park Assist). To the left of the controls is a small twist grip which gives you the ability to ‘boost’ power when you might need it. I rode the bike and speed setting 5 and Power mode, which gave me maximum speed for travelling to and from work and most assistance when pedalling. However riding with all settings on maximum will cause the battery to deplete quite quickly, so care is necessary if you were planning a longer journey by selecting Eco mode and lower speed settings.
Park Assist is for used when you are pushing the bike from a garage or store to the road, giving you a little bit of extra help. Unlike other assisted modes you are not required to pedal, so again care should be taken when using this mode as the bike will pull away from you if you aren’t careful.
The tests I undertook with the bike were to and from my place of work and to and from a local cafe at lunch time. Suffolk is not notable for it’s hills and vales however, so we weren’t generally challenged with enormously steep hills, although some of the journey did present some inclines they didn’t cause us any real bother as long as you pay attention to which gears you are using.
Rather than slog away when ascending a hill, you simply need to manage the gears (ie. change down or up before you struggle), bearing in mind that the bike assists you when cycling, when it starts to become a little bit like hard work make sure you just drop down a gear or two while making sure you continue to peddles at the same speed. If you feel it’s becoming difficult, just lay off the peddles a little and let the bike take over, giving you just the right amount of time to get your breath back. Before you know it, you are at the top of the hill, set the gear back to 8th, and enjoy the cruise down at top speed!!
As I said, my journey to work (and to the cafe at lunch time) didn’t really require an enormous amount of effort. There were a some hilly parts of the journey, but nothing I wasn’t able to manage. To be fair, I’m pretty out of shape and a bit overweight, so I was probably a fair few kilos heavier than your average rider, but I found riding the bike nothing short of exhilarating, especially when you are cruising past other cyclists on their flash racing bikes on something that wouldn’t seem out of place in Amsterdam.
As a viable form of transport, the electrically assisted bike is a definite option for those who are commuting to work maybe 5 to 10 miles, you will never get caught in traffic jams, there are no parking charges or road tax to pay and you get plenty of exercise. Most importantly the running costs of the bike are almost the same as a standard cycle. You will at some point need to replace more expensive parts of the bike, such as the battery or motor, but these should provide you with years of use before you need to think about replacing them.
I didn’t test the bike in the rain, but I have ridden bikes in poor weather many times in the past, so I wouldn’t expect it to be any different, our bike is fitted with full size mud guards which will afford you protection from water spraying up your back.
Riding at night is fully catered for on this Sparta, it has both front and rear built in lights both powered by the main battery. They can be switched on manually or set to automatic, lighting up when the night falls. If you find yourself out at night and the battery runs out, the bike reverts to unassisted and the lights revert to being powered by a dynamo (ie. When you cycling the lights are pedal powered, because of these features, you are unlikely to find yourself stranded without lights in hours of darkness. All cyclists should ensure they wear high visibility clothing at night regardless to the quality of the lights however.
So, how much can you expect to pay for such a bike? Roughly, you should be looking at around £1,600, however Justebikes.co.uk sell a vast range of bikes to suit pretty much any budget. This may seem like quite a lot of money, but when you consider the almost zero running costs of using the bike, you would very quickly recoup this amount in saved taxes, fuel, parking and insurance.
if you are interested in nipping over to see what James has to offer, you can contact his shop in Leiston on 01728 830 817 or London on 0208 960 9848. He is an incredibly knowledgeable chap and is eager to provide his customers with the bike to suit their needs.
We would like to thank James at Justebikes.co.uk for lending us the bike to review