- by Jonathan Ip
- Published: 2 June 2010
The concept of the electric assist bike is somewhat new and unfamiliar to Australia, however sales in Europe and Asia have boomed over the past few years; one in eight bicycles sold in Holland are e-bikes. The success of the e-bike is due to its appeal to an untapped market segment, people who may not have the ability, fitness and/or confidence to cycle a conventional bike; This brings cycling to a larger audience which can only be a good thing.
What makes an e-bike different to a normal bike to ride? It’s no different, you jump on it, push the pedals and it goes just like a normal bike, except it helps you along.
I was initially told that I was going to be given a commuting bike to review with a bit of a twist. Prior to this I had ridden almost every kind of bike, but never an e-bike. I gave myself the task of using the Gazelle Innergy for riding to work every day and running errands for a week, using it like a normal bike. On first sight it looked exactly like a normal bicycle, albeit a very Dutch looking one. The only subtle clue that gives away the fact that it is an e-bike is the battery pack which tucks away very discretely under the rear rack. The electric motor is located in the front hub (i.e. front wheel drive) and combined with a Shimano roller brake, the remainder of the drivetrain uses standard Shimano Nexus parts.
My first ride was around the backstreets near my house, the electric assist only engages when it detects that you are pedalling. When you are pedalling along it the electric assist makes pedaling feel effortless, you feel like you are gliding along only just barely pushing the pedals. The electric assist is so progressive that you don’t even notice it, from stationary to coasting along it is just perfectly smooth. You can only just feel the motor sometimes, around corners at slow speed you can feel a miniscule amount of torque steer and occasionally you can feel it if you are stopping and starting constantly. The assistance still makes you do some work though, I found myself with a very slight sweat at the end of my journey.
There are two modes of assist which you can choose in the built in display/controller, boost & eco mode. Boost will give you approximately 20-40km on a full charge, eco will give you a 40-70km, however this will vary depending on how much you pedal, how many hills and other environmental factors. The battery takes about 3 hours to charge completely, but because it is a Lithium-Ion battery you can charge it whenever you like and not have to worry about memory effect. The plug is located at the rear corner of the battery which is underneath the rear rack. It can also be detached by unlocking it with the same key as the wheel lock, this allows you to bring it in to charge it indoors. The rear light is integrated into the battery and also acts as a battery charge indicator.
The handlebar indicator shows current speed, battery charge and switches modes, lights and power.
The bicycle is built in the Netherlands and is built to European standards for e-bikes. This means that from up to 22km/h you get full assistance, from there it decreases till there is no assistance above 25km/h. However there is a 10% +/- tolerance so in reality you can start to feel the assistance decrease from about 27km/h. It starts to get a bit difficult to pedal faster than 30km/h on flat ground, however it is very easy to maintain 25km/h which would be more than satisfactory for most people this bike is intended for. The drivetrain is the ubiquitous Shimano Nexus system, it features an 8 speed rear hub and crankset which is connected to a twist shifter. The overall gear range is quite wide and I never found that I ran out of gears. A nice touch is that the chain is completely enclosed in a chaincase, no more greasy chain marks on your trousers and this cuts down on maintenance and increases the life of the chain several times over compared to a conventional derailleur geared bike with an exposed drivetrain.
What is it like to live with?
The difference between this bike and your average bike store bikes is that the Innergy is a complete system, it features integrated front and rear lights, rear rack & pannier – everything is integrated and has been thought through so you can ride it straight off the showroom floor. I was impressed by the LED lights and the reflectors as they are completely integrated into the fork and the rear rack which mitigates the chance of theft. The front uses a LED with an internal reflector which spreads out a wide beam and a reasonably bright spot ahead – this is plenty of light for city commuting. The rear light is superbly bright, both lights have very good side on vision and the bike can be seen at night from almost any angle. I own several bikes and share lights between them so I really appreciate the fact that you can just jump on the bike and go without having to bother with charging lights and swapping them around.
The rear rack houses the lithium-ion battery
The handling of the bike is not all that different to other bikes of this style, let me make this clear – this is not a race bike, it is however a serious transport bike. The first thing I noticed was the weight, at 26.8kg (about average for an e-bike) this makes the bike somewhat cumbersome to move around the house, it’s harder to pick up the thing and manhandle it. The low speed handling also feels slightly unwieldly as well, however once moving at pace the ride is very predictable and safe, the wide tyres and forks make for a very smooth ride.
This was the first time I had tried Shimano’s roller brakes, I was quite impressed; even though the lever felt quite spongy yet it was very easy to modulate. In an emergency stop squeezing hard on the brake lever brings the bike to a predictable and sudden halt. Unlike rim brake bikes, the roller brake will work just as well in the wet and won’t cover the frame in brake dust nor will it need brake pads replaced periodically – again this is part of the overall integration of the bike, low maintenance and reliability. The wheels themselves are solidly built and are shod with equally solid Schwalbe Marathon tyres – these are the benchmark of dependable flat-resistant tyres. The tyres are the reflective version so at night, a car driver will see two large white halos when the tyres catch the headlight. Personally I think all tyres should be offered in reflective versions as they really give other road users a much better idea of the size of the bike at night.
The front electric motor hub with integrated Shimano roller brake
The review bike came with a Basil (a fellow Dutch brand) pannier which clips right onto the rear rack, this pannier was about the right size for picking up some groceries on the way home. There was also a compact bar bag which clipped onto a fitting on the stem and can be used to store your wallet and phone while you are riding. The stem itself uses a novel tool free adjustment system, you lift up a safety catch and then a latch which allows you to adjust the tilt and handlebar height. Strangely the seatpost however requires an allen key wrench to adjust it which could become a hassle if you are regularly sharing the bike with a shorter or taller person. The rear rack integrates a mini pump as well as a skirt guard and also features a traditional wheel lock which is secured by a key. The wheel lock also features an attachment point for an accessory chain, you loop the chain around a pole and plug it into the attachment point then you lock the wheel lock, remove the key and go. This is quite nifty as it makes securely locking the bike a doddle.
The Gazelle Innergy Electric Assist Bicycle
As a bike that is used for transport the Gazelle Innergy succeeds, the design has been thoroughly thought out and integrated into one cohesive package. The electric assist is very smooth and barely noticeable, the integration of the whole bike is what makes it great. It is very easy to just jump on it and ride, other than charging it regularly it will require little maintenance due to it’s enclosed chain, roller brakes and flat proof tyres. At a RRP of $3950 the Innergy is not cheap, however it is evident that you get what you pay for – a refined and solidly built machine which is designed as a whole not as a kit of parts.