Flip up the kickstand, swing a leg over the frame, check your handlebar-mounted computer display, and go. The OHM XU700, an electric-assist bicycle, is now rolling, and you’re in for a unique ride.
Indeed, ratchet up the pedal-assist mode and you’ll be whirring on a city street at 20 miles-per-hour with little effort beyond balance.
OHM Cycles Ltd., a small outfit in Abbotsford, British Columbia, is one of a handful of companies now selling electric-assist bicycles to commuters and the physically compromised.
OHM (www.ohmcycles.com) calls its line of bikes “purpose built, long-range, power-on-demand bicycles.” To me, the line, which includes “sport” and “urban” models, feels like an amalgamation of a moped and a Pee-wee Herman cruiser.
I tested the XU700 model, a 27-speed commuter bike that comes standard with fenders, a cushy seat, disc brakes, a rack, and front and rear halogen lights. A microprocessor and a lithium-ion cell enable a ghostly power source that adds oomph to your pedal strokes.
Or, forgo physical effort in full and hit the throttle: The XU700 glides along like a moped, your thumb on a lever initiating a motor integrated within the back wheel.
It is a weird feeling to ride an electric-assist bike. This one has three modes: It can be operated as a regular bicycle or in auto-assist. The third option, the generative mode, adds resistance to your pedal strokes, recharging the battery pack in the process.
If OHM Cycles can get more people out of cars and onto bikes, that is a good thing. But the bikes will likely not win over many serious cyclists. The XU700 is heavy and slow when you pedal without the motor. It weighs an absurd 53 pounds and is outfitted to the point of feeling clunky.
Further, the bike costs $2,995. I’ve purchased cars for cheaper, and you can certainly get a dynamite road bike for much less.
But for its intended demographic of commuters looking for a faster ride to the office, the elderly, or people who are not physically fit, the XU700 could be a boon. It will also allow office workers to arrive after a commute sweat-free.
With its 2009 line of bikes, OHM incorporates a lithium-ion cell battery pack that recharges to 90 percent capacity in 20 minutes. A full charge takes three hours. Plug it in at work and it’ll be ready to ride for lunch or at the end of the day. The company touts its new battery as being able to charge more than 500 times without a loss of capacity.
I can’t say I would ever buy an electric-assist bike. But companies like OHM offer an alternative for people — wealthy people, mostly — who may be scared off by a regular bike.
As the company puts its, “expanding the bicycle network is an important step to support a clean, green and healthy mode of transportation.” I guess I can’t argue with that.
—Stephen Regenold writes a daily blog on outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.