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Electric Bike: Turns Mountains Into Molehills

Haibike Xduro FS RX E-Bike
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This summer I tested the Haibike Xduro FS RX (MSRP $4999), a model made by a leader in the electric mountain bike market. The bike looks much like a tricked-out full suspension mountain bike, but with the addition of a battery pack on the frame.

It rides fast and makes charging up steep hills a breeze with a “pedal assist” function. The hybrid is certainly faster than a standard mountain bike but it is decidedly not a motorcycle. The Haibike and its motor gives a rider remarkable speed with modest pedal strokes. Below are my first impressions of the ride.

Bosch Centerdrive: This is the drive unit being used by most of the top e-bike manufacturers worldwide. It’s the cutting edge. The unit “assists” the cyclist during pedaling by applying up to 350 watts of additional power. The amount of power is dialed in by the rider in a simple interface on the handlebars. Want to fly uphill? Crank it up. Want to work hard but move a little slower? Dial it down, or even all the way off.

Battery Life: I’m amazed by the battery life of the Bosch. The motor provides smooth power for about 5 to 6 hours in my testing, plenty of time to cover tons of distance while being assisted up hills or along flats.

Components: The bike is spec’d with a solid build, including Shimano hydraulic brakes with monster rotors, Shimano SLX 1×10 drive train, and well designed suspension with 120mm of travel front and rear.

Flaws: We’d like Haibike to improve several things in future iterations. Give us a smaller, lighter and more integrated battery. The bike comes in at 48 pounds. A smaller battery would decrease that weight considerably and hopefully open the door to a more integrated design.

Further, give us a water bottle mount on the down tube. Give us wider handlebars, lots wider. And move from 27.5 inch tires to 29 — the bigger wheels would ride better than any advantage in suspension design that the smaller wheels allow. And, please, change the name! Nobody can keep the Haibike models straight.

But Still, So Good: Despite our dislikes, this bike is awesome. It is a great machine with no serious flaws. This bike is FUN. That’s what MTB is about, and the bike delivers.

We watched as countless people tried the pedal-assist for the first time and the reaction was always the same — “Whoooooo, this is awesome!” was heard from their grinning face immediately.

Challenges: This kind of bike faces a number of challenges from the MTB community. People think it harms the trails. People think it’s cheating. Although the MTB community is in a constant battle to remain in good standing with land managers, we doubt this bike has enough power difference from a standard bike to do additional damage to trails other than exert a bit of additional braking related force on downhill sections due to the bike’s heavier weight. The motor is not powerful enough to spin the tire during acceleration or turning.

Cheating? Another problem is that the perception of a bike with a motor is cheating. Well, to an extent it is, but nobody is going to show up to a bike race on one of these unless they are nuts.

And the same goes for someone taking a Strava KOM with one. (We hereby definitively proclaim that electric bikes are illegal on Strava for any and all purposes.)

Who’s It For? Who is buying this bike? It’s not anybody trying to beat you in a race, so you can relax. The buyer of this bike is a person who can’t ride what he used to. Or she is an older rider looking to get to the top of the climb on her old mountain loop. He is a rider with a knee replacement or another heath concern. Or maybe it’s a park ranger or an EMT trying to get a job done.

The bike should be used responsibly, just as all of them should. It is a ton of fun for the money, and it could be a great way to get out riding for people who would not otherwise be doing so.

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