There are two well-known facts about Eurobike. First, with roughly four times the floor space of Interbike and 20 percent more exhibitors than the Taipei Cycle Show, it’s indisputably the largest bicycle trade event in the world. Second, the surrounding infrastructure around Friedrichshafen, Germany, is wholly incapable of supporting an event of that size. For most showgoers, the dearth of nearby hotels means you’re staying far away, and traffic is a nightmare. I despise being stuck in traffic. This year, I was determined to do it differently.
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But there's another thing about Eurobike: while the roads may be lacking in terms of capacity for cars, there’s fantastic infrastructure for riding a bike, with designated and often protected bike lanes (and bike traffic lights!) seemingly everywhere.
This year, the BikeRadar crew was staying on the opposite side of Lake Constance from Friedrichshafen. Including a pleasant ferry ride, the commute is relatively short at less than 20 miles, but with traffic it can easily take more than two hours from door to door via car.
This year's commute to and from Eurobike wasn't any faster than usual but it definitely more pleasant than usual
So instead of wasting away inside a steel-and-glass coffin on wheels yet again, I arranged for a loaner Sduro Trekking RC e-bike from the kind folks at Haibike (one of Europe’s largest purveyors of e-bikes), made plans to pack light (using just a pair of modestly sized panniers and my camera bag), mapped out my route, and then threw caution to the wind as I boarded my flight.
Though I did get a lift to and from the Zurich airport, it was nothing but two wheels in between. At the end of day one, I picked up my demo bike, mounted my panniers, pulled up the preloaded course on my Garmin Edge 520 computer, and pedaled off into the setting sun. All told, it was a fantastic way to end the day and the 90-minute trip took no longer than it did for my coworkers who drove – and spent much of that time going exactly nowhere. As an added bonus, the ride flushed the long flight out of my legs nicely.
The 280-watt Yamaha mid-motor system certainly helped, although not as much as I had originally thought it might
That the Sduro was purpose-built for just such a thing certainly helped, outfitted with Yamaha’s new and awesomely smooth 280-watt mid-motor pedal-assist system, full fenders, a rear rack, and front and rear lights. Even with nearly 50lb of luggage, camera and computer gear on board, it was a gloriously easy way to get around. Germany’s impressively thorough cycling infrastructure didn’t exactly hurt, either.
Nearly my entire route was on lanes and paths fully separated from vehicle traffic, and much of it was surrounded by gorgeous scenery: bright blues of the lake to the south, and countless vineyards and apple orchards to the north. I wore a helmet each way out of habit but in hindsight, there was little need.
Having the supplemental electric motor power made the journey easier – although not as easy as I originally anticipated. For sure, that extra boost leveled the handful of short climbs along the way, and made reaccelerating from a standstill laughably effortless. I also arrived at the exhibition hall feeling fresh and ready to work each morning, not to mention refreshingly perspiration-free.
All of my gear for the week fit easily in two Ortlieb Bike-Packer Plus panniers - and in case of rain, they're fully waterproof
European e-bike laws limit how much fun you can have, though, with a preprogrammed governor that will only assist you up to 17mph (27km/h). With the ultra-high efficiency Schwalbe Energizer Plus Tour tires and mostly flat terrain added in, it was all too easy to exceed that mark even when loaded down with nearly 50lb of luggage and other gear. As a result, each trip was done primarily under human power – a bit of a buzzkill to say the least.
On the plus side, run time was far better than I had expected. I topped off the battery twice during my four-day stay in Germany but I ultimately could have done all 120 miles without charging the system even once. On my final trip back to the show on Friday morning, I ran the system on the highest setting and purposefully tried to keep speeds under 17mph (so the motor would see more constant use), but still only tapped a fifth of the battery capacity.
The flat ground around the lake and the sometimes frustratingly low cutoff speed for the motor meant that I got way more battery life than anticipated
There are plenty of other high points elsewhere, such as the sure-shifting Shimano Deore XT transmission and powerful matching hydraulic disc brakes (including a 180mm-diameter rotor up front to help reign in the bike’s extra mass). This was also the first mid-motor bike I’ve encountered with a two-chainring crank for a wider gearing range (most have just one) and while I wouldn’t characterize the Sduro as pretty, Haibike at least put in some effort to dress it up a bit.
As always, there is room for improvement, too. The hydroformed aluminum frame may look high-tech but the so-so stiffness made for occasionally sketchy handling depending on how the bike was loaded. And while the Suntour suspension fork is ok for little chatter, the lack of quality damping generates some ugly noises if you push it too hard. Finally, there’s the saddle, which simply didn’t agree with me.
Haibike goes to pretty decent lengths to dress up the Sduro Trekking RC's aesthetics
All told, I logged nearly nine hours of saddle time in four days, and although it wasn’t exactly high-quality training time, it was still a huge improvement considering my historical average for that week is much closer to zero. Even the weather cooperated with none of the usual rain (and even if it didn’t, I was prepared with waterproof Ortlieb bags and a full suite of rain gear from Gore Bike Wear).
Most importantly, most of that time was spent with a big, silly grin on my face knowing that I’d proudly cheated the typical Eurobike rigmarole. Sure, the days were still as long as ever and at least in this situation, the e-bike didn’t save me any time. But as any cyclist knows, even the longest and most arduous days are easier to tolerate when you know there’s a good bike ride at either end.
Ultimately, the fact that I wasn't in a car and had a big, dumb grin on my face nearly the entire way in and out of the show was the only thing that mattered
Am I ready to ditch my ‘regular’ bikes and go battery powered full-time? No way, although I’m another mental step closer to ditching our family’s second vehicle altogether. We all know who the usual winner is in most bike-vs.-car match-ups, but in this case, there’s no question in my mind which one comes out on top.
For more information, visit www.haibike.de.