Old vs new – how does the new Shimano EP8 motor compare to its STEPS E8000 predecessor? How noticeable are the real-world differences? Does the new motor only improve on things or does it have disadvantages too? We tested both motors in the same conditions and on almost identical Husqvarna bikes to find out.
An ebike motor is only as good as the bike it is fitted to. To control variables such as the suspension kinematics, rolling resistance and riding position amongst many others, and to observe only the differences between the two Shimano motors, we tested them in two, almost identical, Husqvarna Mountain Cross eMTBs. We tested the new Shimano EP8 fitted to the 2021 Husqvarna Mountain Cross 7 with 150 mm travel and a 630 Wh battery. Its counterpart, the Shimano STEPS E8000, was fitted to a 2020 Husqvarna Mountain Cross 8. The frame and batteries inside were the same, just like the 27.5 x 2.6″ Schwalbe Hans Dampf at the rear. Alongside the motor, wheel size was the biggest difference between the two test bikes. For 2021, Husqvarna have subscribed to the MX concept, sizing up to a larger 29″ wheel up front.
Shimano EP8: lighter than its predecessor
2.57 kg vs 2.88 kg
Magnesium is the new gold. Brose and Bosch were the first to show us how it’s done by putting their latest motors on a magnesium diet and saving a decent chunk of weight in the housing. Shimano now also use magnesium for the new EP8, saving 300 g over the heavier aluminium construction of the STEPS E8000.
The Shimano EP8 produces more torque
85 Nm vs 70 Nm
With an increase in maximum torque, the new EP8 motor sees a 21% increase in strength over the four-year-old STEPS E8000. That said, most of the time it is hardly noticeable on the trail. Like almost all ebike motors, the motor doesn’t reach maximum torque in many situations, with the motor limited by its maximum power output before reaching peak torque.
Smoother and more battery-friendly: less pedalling resistance
36% resistance reduction
According to Shimano, the pedalling resistance of the EP8 has been reduced by 36%. The Japanese brand has achieved this with an update to the gearbox and new seals which reduce friction. It’s impossible to tell whether it’s exactly the claimed 36% decrease, though on the trail we didn’t perceive any resistance from the EP8 while the STEPS E8000 has noticeable drag above the 25 km/h assistance limit. That reduced friction isn’t just a benefit for pedalling but also has a positive effect on power consumption.
Quieter but louder
Clattering vs humming
The perceived noise of a motor depends on the bike to which it is fitted. The frame acts as a resonator and can amplify the hum of the motor significantly. But exactly this hum has been reduced many times over on the Shimano EP8 compared to its predecessor. Ride on the flats with an EP8 next to a STEPS E8000 and you’ll only really hear the sound of the E8000. Despite this, the EP8 is louder in a lot of situations. Not because it hums but because it clatters. Due to its construction, clunking noises occur inside the motor when loads on the chain change, such as when support (dis)engages or the suspension is actuated. That means the fantasy of a completely silent bike, shared by so many dedicated mountain bikers, is over. It also detracts from the efforts made by many manufacturers to silence their bikes with securely routed cables and large chainstay protectors.
Small motor all grown up
The new EP8 is significantly more compact than the STEPS E8000. Luckily that doesn’t pose any new challenges to manufacturers as the mounting interface retains the same Shimano bolt pattern. That means the motor can be used on existing platforms without issue. Indeed, the EP8 is unlikely to allow significant changes to suspension kinematics or frame designs as the reduction in size has come mainly from the underside of the motor. On the trail that results in a little more ground clearance, meaning you’ll be less likely to clip the EP8 on obstacles.
Now that we’ve got your attention, we’ll get right into it. The EP8 is bound to the same legal speed limit (25 km/h in Europe) as all other motors. That’s just how it is. But just like the old STEPS E8000, the handling and characteristics can be fine-tuned to suit your preferences and the options with the EP8 are now substantially more versatile. The updated E-TUBE Project app lets you adjust the Eco, Trail and Boost assistance mode, with three parameters available to tune for each. In addition, you can preconfigure two motor profiles, letting you switch between different motor setups on the fly while riding.
eMTB meet smartphone: more connectivity
In terms of connectivity, the new EP8 also pulls ahead and in contrast to the STEPS E8000, is compatible with the E-TUBE Ride app out of the box. The old motor required a special Bluetooth dongle in combination with the STEPS E8000 display. While the more affordable and more recent E7000 display was compatible with the new app even without the dongle, ultimately, the old motor lost points with all the confusion it caused regarding connectivity. We have to praise Shimano for the new E-TUBE Ride app, which is backwards compatible and available to use with all older motor models. The deciding factor here will be the display and whether it has the required Bluetooth-version or not.
How does the new Shimano EP8 motor perform against the STEPS E8000 on the trail?
Measurable benchmarks and facts from a spec sheet are one thing, but what really counts is how the motors ride on the trail. Can the new Shimano motor outpace its four-year-old predecessor? Does it stay in control despite the increase in torque and how annoying is the noise it makes, out in the real world?
There’s a four-year age gap between the new and old high-end motors from Shimano. While the STEPS E8000 was revolutionary when it was released, an update, as our big motor group test demonstrated, was more than overdue. In turn, it’s not particularly surprising that the quick answer to our original question is that, yes, the new EP8 is much better on the trails than the old Shimano STEPS E8000.
The age of the STEPS E8000 had been apparent even before the launch of the new EP8 motor. A changing of the guard was more than overdue and has been achieved successfully.
Looking at things in more detail, numerous improvements in the characteristics and handling of the motor can be identified. Regardless of what situation you’re in, the EP8 feels more natural and, when required, delivers more power, more smoothly to the trail. That’s especially noticeable in Trail mode. Like the old motor, the EP8 reacts to your input and adjusts the level of support, depending on the app setup, between Eco and Boost modes. Uniquely, by adjusting the settings and ‘tuning down’ the motor, Trail mode can be made to act even more progressively. That means that the motor is still capable of delivering maximum power, but requires more input at the pedals, making it particularly suited to sporty riders or to save battery.
It’s particularly on steep ramps and technically demanding uphill sections that the difference in the power of the motors becomes apparent. The 15 Nm increase in torque means the EP8 pulls ahead of the old motor when accelerating, under load or at low cadences when you might have chosen the wrong gear. In Boost mode, the old STEPS E8000 is more aggressive and harder to control than the new EP8. The older model often surges forward when you don’t intend it to, lifting the front wheel or causing the rear to spin out. The new motor can be controlled more intuitively and with more sensitivity, regardless of whether you’re setting off or on particularly slippery terrain. While Boost mode only really made sense for forest tracks on the old motor, it now provides a powerful assistance mode for particularly difficult and steep trails.
Boost mode is much easier to control with the new Shimano motor than it was with the old one. The EP8 has more power and delivers it better to the trail.
Even if the EP8 pulls ahead of the old motor on the trail, it has to accept that it is beaten in terms of noise. Manufacturers are feverishly trying to make their eMTBs quieter, using all the tricks in the book, from specially formed, damping chainstay protectors, to special clamps and guides for internally routed cables, all the way to foam to reduce the resonance of the frame. But all this comes to nothing with the clattering of the new Shimano motor clatters, not just on the downhills but also on kerbs and cobbles. The new gearbox inside the motor is the culprit and while it reduces internal friction making pedalling resistance above the 25 km/h assistance limit imperceptible, it reacts with loud clunks to impacts and loading of the chain. The old motor is the clear winner here, so we’re interested to see whether Shimano will work on this issue.
The new Shimano EP8 motor is better in almost every regard compared to the old STEPS E8000. It combines supposed opposites and is both more powerful and sensitive than before. Boost mode now benefits from the same natural and sporty handling, making technical trails a veritable playground. While the new motor is significantly quieter and less obtrusive on the uphills, the clunking noise of the EP8 under changing loads is disturbing.
You can find more information about the new Shimano EP8 motor, batteries, displays, software and more, as well as reviews of bikes that we’ve already tested, in our big Shimano EP8 special (click for review).
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Words: Felix Stix Photos: Robin Schmitt, Felix Stix