It breaks my heart when I find serious problems when reviewing bikes and gear. Undoubtedly, the eDrive conversion kit from Pendix which transforms a regular bike into an eBike is the result of time and and effort. The German brand Pendix have even gone so far as to make the futuristic, cylindrical battery with glowing green ring a real eye-catcher. But in practice the eDrive is expensive, sloppy and even dangerous.
I had seen the Pendix promoted in bike magazine adverts and though I feel that eBike conversion kits have had their day, this brand have a promising approach and the young Pendix staff-member at the bike show was enthusiastic. The glowing green battery really draws you in… ok, so let’s give it a test ride.
At a glance I could already see an ‘obvious issue’ that would exclude it as an eBike option for seasoned rider like me (more on this soon). But I discovered more so this review of the Pendix eDrive is more like a list of problems.
1. Q-factor (Obvious Issue)
The beauty of this eBike retrofit conversion-kit is that it is comparatively easy to install. Pendix recommend a certified dealer for installation but you can follow their instructions to do it yourself if you are bike savvy.
The Pendix website says “Pendix eDrive fits any commercially available bicycle type” though it continues with “but there are still some requirements that your bicycle must meet in order to be mounted”. It requires BSA bottom brackets with square tapered spindles so you really have to check for compatibility.
I am fine with these restrictions… your bike has to be compatible. Following the instructions, the motor & pedal unit is installed on the ‘non-drive side’ of the bike (ie. opposite side to the gears) and you also swap your current drive-side pedal on the chainring with their pedal.
The problem is that your pedals are now positioned much, much further apart. The Q-factor is the distance between the two bicycle pedals and instead of a more common 170mm, you now have 220mm which, for a bike, is a gigantic jump. I admit that some people won’t notice or realise it at all. But while test-riding it felt bow-legged and uneven to me so is simply a deal-breaker.
2. Do you love your bike? Really?
There were a few bikes for testing at the Bike Show with the Pendix eBike motor installed. The first bike had a seriously wobbly headset. Nope, not even going to try. Another bike was out of action with an unspecified defect. The third bike also had a wobbly headset which I requested was tightened first before proceeding. While riding I found that the gears didn’t shift well and brakes should have been set-up better. I realise that test bikes tend to go through a lot, but these are all straight-forward maintenance tasks.
I am a picky rider, sure. And these bike problems have nothing to do with the actual product, the eDrive motor, but they don’t help either. Other brands polish and check each bike before demo-rides so it stands out when bikes are not presented as well as they should be.
3. Dangerous Kickback
Programming an eBike is tricky business. The sensors have to continually track the amount of power a rider is exerting into the pedals and smoothly ramp the assisted power up or down to provide a natural pedalling feeling.
The Pendix didn’t do this well. Like and on/off switch, it started and stopped power-assistance and delivered a very artificial ride-feeling. As the human riding this bike, you are tasked with the job of adapting to the system and trying to anticipate the motor behaviour…. but it should be the other way around. Bosch, Shimano, Fazua and Brose all prove that it is possible to do it well.
Yes, you get powerful assisted riding with the Pendix and you also get decent power in the boost mode. But I can only describe it as rudimentary in comparison to the afore mentioned eBike motors.
But the real shocker is the dangerous kickback. While pedalling with power, if you suddenly stop there is a tendency for the motor to continue and lurch forward for a split moment.
The problem is that the motor pushes the pedals forward for another 1⁄8 revolution. This unnatural jolt is unsettling. While testing I was able to replicate this problem repeatedly and feel that the eDrive system is simply too slow in reacting to the rider input and it could be inherent in the way the motor is coupled to the cranks and drivetrain. As a result, this can potentially affect rider control and balance so I would describe it as dangerous and unacceptable.
I assume that other brands with mid-drive motors have both a higher frequency for testing rider power input (to react faster) and they also decouple the crank and motor-drive output into the drivetrain so that when a rider stops pedalling, the power-assistance can still taper down more naturally without any energy transfer back into the pedals.
In the early days before eBikes or conversion kits came into fashion, this type of issue would have been considered a side-effect. But the technology has since advanced so this should be solvable.
4. Super Expensive
As a German made product you can assume that you get premium quality for a premium price. The build quality is nice, while the motor is bulky, it is solid and clean. The battery with the green ring changes to orange when power is low and it looks futuristic. In terms of build and assembly, this is not some cheap and nasty product. If a second generation was created with a sleeker motor unit (and functional problems solved) it would be a big step towards justifying the investment.
The eDrive300 model (with 300Wh battery) has a range between 45km and 105km (depending on power modes) and costs AUD 2,200 RRP while the eDrive 500 (with 500Wh battery) has a range between 69km and 160km and costs AUD 2,400 RRP. The Pendix eDrive includes the motor, battery, controller and accessories but does not include installation or the bike itself.
In contrast, an ‘affordable’ brand such as the lekker Amsterdam+ eBike with a ‘reasonable’ Bafang motor starts AUD 2,598. This is a complete bike that is simple and is $400 more than the eDrive300 kit alone.
Moving up a level to the very reliable Kalkhof brand (also from Germany), their entry level Endeavour 1.B eBike starts at $3,699 and includes a Bosch motor. Again, the Kalkhof is a completely integrated eBike with the mid-drive motor and a price difference of $1,500 against the eDrive300 kit. So even if you had a $1,500 bike to upgrade with the Pendix eDrive and your total financial outlay was the same, the Kalkhof Endeavour with the Bosch Performance motor has a better motor and is better value.
The premise of the Pendix eDrive is promising, but considering the underwhelming ride quality, you are better off buying a complete eBike.
Getting back on track
Based on my test ride, I still see light at the end of the tunnel for Pendix. Firstly, the onboard computing and tech needs to be significantly improved to eliminate kickback and for gradual transitions. This is the number one challenge and it needs to be on paar with other quality eBike motors.
For the Q-Factor, this is a trade-off that I could accept for recreational and local cycling. Although this would still not suit me as I find it very noticeable, I am also not a likely buyer for an eBike conversion kit. A smaller form-factor for the motor and crank however would be a significant improvement.
On pricing, if the motor and cranks inherit more style from the battery (and the tech and usability is tip-top) then this will start to justify the premium price of the eDrive. For riders with unique or special bikes, the Pendix would then be a comparatively simple and effective upgrade.