Is a drop bar e-bike the ultimate commuter?

Car replacement or dirty no-good cheating machine?

Ultimate commuter or flawed concept?

I’ve got a pet theory that a drop bar road bike with a side order of motorised assistance could be the ultimate long-distance commuter, and I’ve put it to the test using Giant’s Road-E+.

This article was updated on 5 July 2017 with video. 

E-bike versus… bus

I used to live about 13 miles from the BikeRadar office and I rode in fairly frequently. Last year, I moved to a house about 21 miles away and I’ve become more or less fully dependent on public transport because I’m lazy, and because riding — and the associated faff with kit and showering — just takes too long.

Wouldn't you rather be here than on the bus?
Wouldn't you rather be here than on the bus?

The effort of cycling that far both before and after a full day’s toil at the coalface of bike journalism [tiny violin begins playing] is just a bit much for my delicate constitution, and I’ve found myself wondering if what I really need in my life is an e-bike.

Drop it like it’s hot

Road-going e-bikes that actually resemble road bikes are still a very small niche, with just a handful of models on the market, of which the Giant Road-E+ is one. It is essentially a nicely specced aluminium road bike with a tidily integrated Yamaha motor unit and a huge battery.

The Giant Road-E+ has already proven its abilities as a flattener of hills
The Giant Road-E+ has already proven its abilities as a flattener of hills

From nought to 15.5mph, the Road-E+ is delightfully rapid. It gets off the line with remarkable alacrity, making you feel like a complete hero in traffic.

There’s a fairly large hill right near the start of my commute that’s narrow and extremely busy. I tend to avoid it when I’m riding normal bikes because it’s deeply unpleasant having an endless stream of cars forcing their way past. 

On the e-bike, despite still travelling a good bit slower than the cars, I felt a whole lot safer. Putting in a fairly moderate effort, I was able to cruise up the gradient without getting out of the saddle or breaking a sweat.

With 32mm tyres, gentle off-road excursions are no problem
With 32mm tyres, gentle off-road excursions are no problem

It’s easier to be assertive about your road position when you aren’t breathing out your arse, and I was travelling much quicker than I could have under my own steam, so the speed differential with traffic was less of an issue.

Apart from a few lumps in Bristol itself, the rest of my commute is gently rolling, with a prolonged flat section by the Severn. This terrain highlights my biggest bugbear with e-bikes, the dreaded limiter.

Twenty five kay pee aitch

This is the third time I’ve written about the Road-E+ and once again it all comes back to the damned limiter. The fact is, 25km/h (15.5mph) is too slow for a road bike. It’s not an issue if your riding is all hills, but it’s genuinely irritating on mostly-flat roads.

Limiters: limiting fun on the flat
Limiters: limiting fun on the flat

Although the limiter tapers the power slightly rather than just cutting out abruptly, it still feels a little like someone’s grabbed hold of your saddle and pulled backwards when it kicks in.

The relationship between your speed and the effort you put in is completely non-linear, and this messes with your head. You can do next to no work up to 15.5mph, but riding at 17mph is a big step up.

I found myself tending to ride just slightly faster than the limiter a lot of the time, and then I’d ease, get a blip of power from the motor, speed up again, and then lose the assistance. Rinse and repeat.

It’s something you can certainly get used to but, a bit like driving an older automatic car, it’s a case of adapting to the behaviour of the machine rather than simply doing what feels natural.  

Flat roads can be frustrating when you're constantly riding slightly faster than the limiter
Flat roads can be frustrating when you're constantly riding slightly faster than the limiter

The other side effect of the limiter is that while hills are vastly quicker and easier thanks to the assist, your overall average speed doesn’t get a significant boost on rides that feature minimal climbing. On a commute like mine, I'm barely saving any time at all, and of course I still need to don full kit for this kind of distance. 

Home, home on the range

As with electric cars, one of the major concerns for e-bikes is range, but it certainly wasn’t an issue for me.

I made absolutely no effort to preserve the battery, riding almost exclusively in the maximum-assistance Power mode, and a day’s commuting (roughly 68km or 42 miles) left me with 46 percent remaining charge according to the head unit.

After 68km of devil-may-care commuting, I've still got 46 percent remaining charge
After 68km of devil-may-care commuting, I've still got 46 percent remaining charge

I’m a very light rider admittedly, but I can’t imagine there are many commutes that would really tax the battery’s capacity, and that’s without charging it during the day or exercising the slightest bit of restraint.

Verdict — Road-E+ but not roadie?

So is a drop bar e-bike the ultimate long distance commuter? Yes, but no.

I’m still absolutely convinced about e-bikes’ potential as commuters generally, and a world where people choose to ride them instead of taking their cars everywhere would be a whole lot more pleasant. I don't care if they're considered 'cheating' by roadie purists — they're a viable form of transport with some very real advantages. 

I'm still a believer, but the Road-E+ doesn't meet my commuting needs perfectly
I'm still a believer, but the Road-E+ doesn't meet my commuting needs perfectly

The Road-E+’s ability to flatten hills while doing a passable impression of a road bike is genuinely pleasing, but you’ll certainly never forget that you’re riding something that’s fundamentally quite different to a normal bicycle.

An e-bike with drop bars that’s road legal in the UK is not ideal for a long flat commute, because a lot of the time the motor and battery will be dead weight, unless you make a conscious effort to ride really slowly.

If your commute involves serious hills or your fitness is low enough that 15.5mph doesn’t feel rather slow on a road bike, there’s a strong case to be made. For my purposes however, a bike costing this much money would be very difficult to justify for commuting.

There are of course people out there who have hacked their e-bikes to raise or even completely remove the limiter. I can’t condone this however  it’s not legal and it could land you in seriously hot water in the event of an accident.

It’s a shame because even an increase to 18mph would make a huge difference to the riding experience, but it is what it is.

  • Sponsored: UK readers — can you go the extra mile this summer? By running or cycling to work you can be a part of Red Bull’s UK-wide Million Mile Commute. Join the club in Strava to be eligible for a Red Bull sample kit to set you on your way. Don’t forget to share your commutes by tagging @RedBullUk and use #MillionMileCommute

Related Articles

Back to top