There is an 54% chance that the Urwahn Platzhirsch is the right bike for you. This is because the Platzhirsch is an urban bike and 54% of the world’s population live in urban areas. But I can already sense that you need to know a little bit more before you can be convinced. Urwahn are a German brand and manufacture the frames on home-soil. I guess they got their brand name from mashing-up Urban and Wahnsinn, which is German for insanity. Pronounce it in the German way, ‘UR-VARN’ to get it right. Urban Insanity… here we come!
At a glance, the Platzhirsch is a stunning bike, it singlehandedly combines understatement with extravagance. It is also an ebike featuring a 3D printed steel frame and it has a silky smooth belt drive.
If you took a ride in a hot-tub time-machine back to 2018 and landed at the Berlin Bike Show, you would have been able to see the early days of Urwahn when they were presenting the wonders of 3D printed steel for bicycle frame design. Urwahn has since enjoyed a healthy growth trajectory and in just a few years present themselves as a refined and mature bike brand.
To organise the review I had a few conversations with the co-founder Ramon. His youthful enthusiasm is complemented by solid bicycle expertise so the details and variations were discussed at length and a demo-bike was soon on its way.
The Platzhirsch (aka. The Stag)
Urwahn have a distinctive frame design for their bikes with the bent seat tube and this feature has been extended into the Platzhirsch model. The original StadtFuchs (City Fox) model from Urwahn is not an ebike and has some differences in the details but is an undeniable sibling.
Traditional bikes rely on a seat tube that extends from the saddle, through to the bottom bracket (where the pedals are). This classic construction ensures structural stability, just think ‘Triangles’. Urwahn resolve this structural challenge with 3D printed lugs with fine details that ultimately define the engineering integrity and characteristics of the frame.
Urwahn frames follow a similar assembly to traditional lugged steel frames, but with 3D printed lugs and connecting tubes. Skilled metal workmanship mean that all of the joins become invisible and you could easily be forgiven into thinking it was a carbon fiber frame.
The result is an e-bike that doesn’t look like all of the other chunky electric bikes. Instead of a bulky mid-drive motor that directly drives the pedals, the Platzhirsch relies on a hub motor inside the rear wheel. The 250W motor is from the Spanish brand Mahle and is a road-legal pedal assistance motor which provides power while you pedal up to 25kmh. As you have guessed, the battery is hidden inside the downtube making it a very inconspicuous ebike.
There are no gears which may seem unusal for an urban bike, but it is quite a well rounded solution. Rather than a conventional chain, the Gates Carbon Drive is a silent and smooth drivetrain. Similar to a belt drive in a car, it requires virtually no maintenance however the frame requires the capacity to be ’split’ to allow the belt drive to be swapped if ever needed. As an alternative, a conventional 11-Speed Shimano geared version is also available.
This is a single-geared bike and the electric power makes up for the missing gears by delivering acceleration and making it easy to maintain a speeds between 20 – 25kmh in most urban environments.
Reliable Shimano BL-MT200 disc brakes wrap up the component-list together with a set of Ryde Dutch 19 (e-bike suitable) wheels and 35mm wide Continental Grand Prix Urban tyres.
One of the highlights of an already attractive package is the LightSKIN seat post and handlebar with integrated front and rear lights. I saw the LightSKIN brand a few years back and think it took a while for them to get the necessary approvals – in Germany the lawmakers tend to downgrade the light-power for bike riders. Even so, it is an elegant solution and as soon as the motor is turned on, so are the front and rear lights.
The total weight is ca. 14.5kg but it didn’t feel and behave like a cumbersome bike. For context, the lightest Focus Paralane² 9.8 eRoadbike with the lower powered Fazua motor and Shimano Ultegra Di2 shifting weighs 13.7kg. The Focus Paralane² 6.9 model, in the same price class, weighs 15.65kg.
Before moving onto the riding behaviour of the Platzhirsch, there are a few tiny details where I see room for improvement. None are deal-breakers and it is possible that both of these will be addressed anyway by Urwahn on the basis of my feedback.
A number of the bolts used on the bike are prone to rust. The test-bike was from the demo-fleet and arrived clean and in very good condition, but closer inspection showed that the disc brake bolts and some bolts on the frame had signs of rust.
It is disappointing that Shimano would even spec bolts that rust for their BL-MT200 disc brakes. Urwahn would have to go for the extra effort to swap all of the bolts when installing the brakes. But a few other bolts used on the frame also showed signs of rust so in one clean sweep, Urwahn can easily organise better bolts and ensure that the premium bike can keep its bling.
The next detail is that some cabling that runs to the back motor is surprising close to the tyre tread. Tyres with a big nobbly tread wouldn’t clear this cable and even now, the tiny clearance opens up the potential for a twig or stone being lodged in this space and where it could damage the cable. Easy solution – allow a bit more slack with the cable so there is more clearance.
Hitting the road with power
First you have to charge it and this is straight forward, the integrated LightSKIN lights illuminate to show the battery is charging. I didn’t have the patience to study the user manual in detail, but would hope that there would be an option to reprogram it so that the lights are not on the entire time if you are charging overnight at home.
Operating the e-bike power is straight forward with the button on the handlebar and as is common, there are three levels of power.
I found It fairly easy to maintain a 25kmh average. Cycling is not without effort as the pedal assistance just amplifies your pedal power so you still get the fitness of cycling but with more fun, more pace and longer journeys.
In my case I have a good level of fitness as I regularly cycle and found I was typically faster than the 25kmh pedal assistance. The good news is the pedal assistance cuts in and tapers off nicely, there are no sudden jolts like cheap and nasty ebikes. I took a number of longer rides between 70 – 80km and recorded average speeds of 28kmh.
The extra boost while accelerating is nice. But where the power-assistance really makes a difference is during the hill-climbs, I could race up the slopes with ease. And when I am commuting to work, I can take it easy and reduce my effort with more reliance on the electric motor power… no sweat.
While I have no criticism of the fluidity of the Mahle hub motor, I found that that particularly steep hills push the motor to the limit. Not only does this drain the battery fast, the single-speed (no gears) becomes a limitation – if it gets hard and you can’t change gears, your pedalling cadence naturally slows. In turn, the power assistance drops.
In short, if you have particularly hilly typography, the Patzhirsch may reach its limits. In my case with longer rides in the country-side, the power assistance only kicked-in for the inclines and I still had power after arriving at my destination. In contrast, for an extreme case where I had a hill of 400m in altitude (over 5km), this completely exhausted the battery before I reached the top and left me with 40km to cycle without any power assistance.
The bike still rides nicely without battery power but it also means that there are no lights either which is one of my criticisms. In normal circumstances, most of my journeys would be planned or known. But it is always the exceptions. If you are returning home at night and then the battery runs dead, it is not nice to be without lights. I would rather cut the pedal assistance off earlier for the benefit of a few more hours of light.
On the whole I was satisfied with the battery and motor power and feel that this is well constructed solution for the Platzhirsch for typical urban riding.
As a detail, I noticed that the moment I stop pedalling, there is a ‘knock’ sound from the motor as if there was some kind of mechanical disengagement. This had no impact on the ride and when I reported it, Urwahn were great and said “we will solve this”… which is exactly what I would want to hear as a customer. When I returned the bike after the test they swapped it out. I also contacted Mahle who make the motor, they struggled and couldn’t deliver any explanations.
Beyond the E
Electric power is only one part of the story and beyond the E, the Urwahn Platzhirsch is a delightful bike. Even with the unconventional frame, it is a pleasantly comfortable and efficient bike. You may still ask, without a classic seat tube, would this cause the frame to flex? No it doesn’t. I put the bike through its paces in urban and some offroad trails was really happy with the handling. Neither too soft nor too rigid. I enjoyed a balanced body position on the bike and was comfortable with the the flat bars and the hand position. For the longer rides (exceeding a 20 or 30km commute), a handlebar with more sweep would be better for comfort.
The wheels and tyres were well suited to sealed bitumen roads, right through to uneven paths and unsealed tracks. The 35mm wide Continental Grand Prix Urban tyres have a decent light tread that provide the type of ‘cross-over’ benefit which you get from gravel tyres – reliable grip across different surfaces and decent speed.
One detail I would immediately change is the saddle, the Ergon SFC30 EVo Gel feels like a touring style unisex saddle. It was simply uncomfortable for me. The Ergon GA30 handlebar grips in contrast were a good match. A few of the bike details can be configured and in this case you could opt for Brooks Cambium C15 saddle and Brooks rubber bar tape.
The Gates carbon belt drive was hardy, silent and smooth. I really like this drive system and for a premium bike, I think a belt drive is a must-have feature on a bike like this. You can opt instead for an 11-speed Shimano XT drive-train which gives the Platzhirsch a bit more versatility, but adds to the price and takes away some of the elegance.
A feature I didn’t test was the smart-phone mount. On the stem there is provision for a smart phone to be mounted but I was happy to completely ignore this and keep it simple. There is also a GPS tracking option and I didn’t trial this though would avoid leaving or locking this bike up anywhere there is even the slightest risk of it being pinched.
Do you, or don’t you?
As a complete package, the Platzhirsch is not only a capable urban commuter bike, it is fun, elegant and well rounded. Sometimes designer bikes with unusual frame designs have crucial flaws underneath, great to look at but rubbish to ride. The Urwahn ‘Stag’ bucks that trend and can be treated both as an art-bike and as a functional bike.
As you may have guessed, the technology and craftmanship comes at a cost and the configuration I tested retails for Euro 4,499 in Germany which is about AUD 6,970.
When looking at the price of ebikes, it is helpful to consider this in terms of cost savings over a private car along with the health and ecological benefits. But if you are on a tight budget, this doesn’t really belong on your shopping list. But if the budget works and you want a commuter bike that is original, looks fantastic, is built with state of the art technology and rides wonderfully, then put the Urwahn Platzhirsch on your list.
Urwahn Information and Shop: urwahnbikes.com