Are light eMTBs really better? What is the best motor? Which battery solution makes the most sense in practice? And which wheel size will prevail on eMTBs? In our big group test, we found some interesting answers to 11 of the most important questions.
Head straight to the group test: The best eMTB you can buy
1. The most important finding: eMTBs are becoming ever more versatile
As we’ve already discussed in our group test, eMTBing is becoming more and more diverse. Until now, bikes with the same amount of travel have mostly been placed in the same category. The new motor concepts have changed that once and for all. At one end of the spectrum you’ve got the compact FAZUA Evation motor in the Lapierre eZesty, at the other, the super powerful TQ-HPR 120s in the Haibike XDURO AllMtn FLYON. As a result, you’ve got bikes with the same amount of travel but a 10 kg weight difference! This requires some rethinking from the manufacturers, the magazines and the consumers. Similar to the car industry, the overall concept describes the intended use, not just the number of horsepower or the size of the alloy rims. For the future we see three different eMTB categories emerging. Very light bikes like the Lapierre, the former Bosch league with bikes like the Specialized Levo or the Canyon Spectral:ON and a new, even more powerful category represented by the bikes of the Haibike FLYON range. We will probably see another category by 2020, but we’ll have to wait and see…
2. Standard motors versus custom motors: what to look out for?
The Haibike FLYON range, the Lapierre eZesty and the Specialized Turbo Levo are currently the industry’s undisputed drivers of innovation. What do they have in common? Custom motors that are perfectly tailored to the respective bikes. The bikes with classic Shimano and Bosch motors are currently lagging behind. The standard motors leave many manufacturers with too little wiggle room to clearly set themselves apart and create true USPs. Nonetheless, bikes with standard motors aren’t bad. On the contrary, MERIDA’s eONE-SIXTY has been delivering a convincing performance for the third year running. The same applies to our Best Value Tip, the Canyon Spectral:ON 9.0.
The advantage of standard components is that it’s often faster and easier to get spare parts and they’re easier to service. Disadvantages can be that the bikes often come with some compromise, or are unnecessarily heavy. For mixed solutions, as you see with Brose and some Shimano bikes with third-party batteries, you should find out who is responsible for the after-sales service before buying. Do you turn to the motor manufacturer or the bike manufacturer? Sure, the first point of contact is always the dealer, but depending on who is ultimately responsible, repairs or guarantee claims can take much longer.
The development of eMTBs depends largely on the development cycles of the motor manufacturers. According to rumours, Bosch will be releasing a new motor sometime in the middle of this year and we are very excited to see how its system evolves.
3. What is better: external or integrated batteries?
Battery integration was the big topic in 2018. Within a single year, many Bosch and Shimano bikes have integrated their batteries into the frame. As a result, the looks of the bikes have changed a lot and in many cases the freed up space has made it possible to mount a bottle cage in the front triangle. But there are manufacturers who deliberately don’t rely on a fully integrated battery and they’ve got good reasons for doing so. The typically longer Intube batteries shift the centre of gravity further upwards, the bike has to be built more heavily and removing the battery to charge or replace it is usually more complicated. Trek has found a brilliant solution to this problem on their current Powerfly with its Bosch PowerTube battery. On the other hand, standard Shimano Intube batteries have to be switched on and charged at the underside of the down tube, which is usually caked with mud – unnecessary and impractical! It remains a matter of personal preference, but on a purely functional basis, external batteries are usually at an advantage.
4. The battery capacity is increasing – but when will we be seeing a super battery?
The search for the super battery is keeping quite a few industries busy right now, including the auto industry. Customers and engineers continue to dream of maximum battery capacity in the smallest possible package. The big breakthrough, however, is not yet in sight. Nevertheless, the battery capacity of eMTBs continues to grow steadily. The new Specialized Levo now has a capacity of 700 Wh, and Husqvarna has managed pack 600 Wh into the down tube of the Hard Cross. Thanks to the efficient Brose S Mag motor, the Levo is already capable of delivering impressively long ranges. For most riders, the 500 Wh battery is enough for day-to-day riding, as our reader survey with over 10,000 participants has been able to confirm. Nevertheless, many people are afraid of the empty battery. During the year we will see ever more bikes show up with larger batteries, but the big revolution will take some time.
5. Weight is still a big topic – especially its distribution
We constantly hear people saying, “eMTBs have to become lighter”. We found huge differences in handling in our group test. We loved the lighter bikes, above all the Lapierre eZesty, but also the Specialized Levo and the Canyon Spectral:ON with their agile and lively handling. But the Haibike AllMtn 8.0 FLYON and the Husqvarna HC 9.0 prove that a heavy bike is not necessarily a bad bike. Far more important than the weight is how it is distributed. As already mentioned with regards to battery integration, a low centre of gravity has a very positive effect on the handling, making for a more composed and confidence inspiring ride, especially on the descents. In that sense, an integrated battery positioned high on the frame can have a significantly larger negative impact on handling than one or two kilos of extra weight. It’s not only the total, but more importantly also the distribution of the weight that counts.
6. What is the best wheel size?
The question of the right wheel size and the right tire width is still occupying the minds of many riders. One thing is certain: narrow 27.5″ tires have almost completely disappeared from the market. Aggressive eMTBs are currently specced with either 2.8″ wide, 27.5″ tires or 29″ wheels or they have a mix of a 29″ front and a 27.5″ rear wheel (à la MX concept). All three variants were represented in our group test, and each of them has advantages and disadvantages. The MX concept is able to combine most of the respective benefits. It combines the good rollover characteristics of a 29″ front wheel with the added agility of the 27.5″ rear wheel. Disadvantages arise with breakdowns and carrying spares; you always need two different sizes and can’t swap front and rear tires. In the end, of course, it’s the integration of the overall concept of the bike that counts here as well, and not whether or not a bike has 27.5″, 29″ or mixed wheels! Even more important than the width or size of the tires is their profile, the rubber compound and a robust casing. Currently, Schwalbe’s Super Gravity or MAXXIS’s Double Down tires are our first choice.
7. Carbon or aluminium – which is better?
With mountain bikes, carbon is the material of choice in the high-end segment, and more and more expensive eMTB frames also rely on the combination of fibre and resin. It allows for more complex frame shapes, facilitating integration, and it is lighter and stiffer. However, the real differences are not as significant as they are with regular mountain bikes and so the performance on the trail often differs only slightly. There are very good carbon eMTBs and very good aluminium eMTBs just as well as there are poor carbon or aluminium models. In the end, it’s a matter of looks and budget. In general, aluminium frames are better able to dissipate heat from the motor.
8. The front mech has disappeared on eMTBs
The times of two chainrings in front are finally over for eMTBs. This is primarily due to cassettes with ever larger gear ranges and more powerful motors. Shifting has become more intuitive, faster and more reliable. Chain slap has been reduced too and the cockpit looks much cleaner. We’re not sad to see the front mech go!
9. A great performing bike doesn’t have to be expensive
As with carbon vs. aluminium, another realisation we had in our group test was that a great performing bike doesn’t have to be expensive. With eMTBs, some of the components aren’t all that important. Whether you’ve got a Shimano XT or XTR drivetrain doesn’t affect the handling of the bike, it’s the suspension, the brakes and the tires that are the most important. The € 6,199 Canyon Spectral:ON 9.0 doesn’t have to hide from the almost twice as expensive Specialized Levo S-Works when it comes to having fun on the trail. With both of these bikes, there is no reason not to just grab a more affordable lower-end model and invest the money saved in a bike holiday. Of course, if you can afford it, there’s nothing wrong with investing your money in the top-end model along with that bike holiday either… Happy Holiday!
10. Problem: weight limit – are people over 90 kg too heavy for eMTBing?
Again and again, we receive emails from readers asking about the permissible weight limit of the individual bikes we’ve tested. In this group test, we collected all of the available data on the subject and found significant differences. Honestly, it’s not a topic that we had on our agenda up until now. The leader is the Giant Trance E + 0 Pro with a total limit of 156 kg. This means the bike has a payload of around 130 kg. Most others bikes are somewhere between 100-120 kg. Heavy riders should have their dealer inform them about a bike’s weight limit before buying. However, it should also be said that these weight restrictions primarily serve as legal safeguards for manufacturers and always assume a worst-case scenario.
11. Maremma (Tuscany) has some damn good trails!
For this group test, we stayed in the bike hotel Massa Vecchia and sampled the trails around Massa Marittima and in Piombino: a true trail paradise with delicious food, impressive architecture, beautiful landscapes and a decent portion of dolce vita … oh, and did we already mention the sea?
Head straight to the group test: The best eMTB you can buy
This article is from E-MOUNTAINBIKE issue #016
Words: Christoph Bayer, Robin Schmitt Photos: Trevor Worsey, Christoph Bayer