Electric cycles are selling like hot cakes. They are not the next big thing, they’re the now big thing, to the point where on my local head count of cyclists they look to be outnumbering the standard human-powered variety by 3:1. Not only that, they’ve also invaded our own RUST garages – Craig has more than a few and now even Warren has a couple. So far I’ve resisted the temptation.
Notably the RUST boys’ collection is all e-MTB. And having previously tested the Fantic Enduro 160 I know why they have them. The electric assist works really well off-road, helping build and maintain momentum that you’d not normally see without serious effort, and the extra power makes up-hills a doddle. As well, the added weight of the electric motor seems to work in giving the e-MTB better purchase in the dirt. It’s a win-win-win.
A year or two ago we used to think of these e-MTBs as useful (if expensive) cross-training devices but these days they are very much becoming second bikes and will get as much, if not more, trail time than our motorcycles. And here in the UK with the recent government announcement that there will be a ban on the sale of new ICE (internal combustion engine) motorcars in ten years time (no word on motorcycles yet…) this whole electric thing is becoming very serious.
So within that context our friends at Triumph have this year launched their own electric bicycle. Not an e-MTB, but an urban-tourer with a hint of gravel bike about it (given the front suspension and wheel choice). It’s called the Trekker GT. Actually it was launched quite a bit earlier this year but such has been the demand on the press bike it’s taken until now for us to get our hands on it.
WHAT IS IT?
It’s not an e-MTB so that puts it at the very extremity of our interests, but seeing as it comes from Triumph Motorcycles who make for us rather handy Scramblers and Tigers we’re curious. Also, you can imagine Triumph expanding their range pretty quickly, so Triumph e-MTBs will probably be coming soonish. So, really, we want to see if they have a handle on this whole e-bicycle thing.
The Trekker is described by Triumph as ‘a perfect all round choice for commuting, fitness and everyday riding’. Looking at it, you can see that. It’s a road bike first and foremost, and one for the mature gentleman by the looks of the styling and high crossbar, albeit with three frame sizes smaller females might be in with a chance on the smallest frame assuming the cross bar doesn’t cause issues.
HOW ABOUT THE SPEC?
Actually Triumph look to have done their homework, the spec is high for this kind of a bike. The motor is the latest spec Shimano DU-E6100 ‘Step’ unit which hits an industry standard 250w, 60Nm, and is powered by a Shimano 504Wh rated integrated battery. This works through a Shimano 10-speed gearbox (derailleur). Performance is limited by legislation, so your e-boost, as it were, runs out at 15.5mph – after that, it’s all about you.
The chassis is equally top shelf. The alloy frame is hydro-formed for smooth lines, although there is a weld where the frame meets the motor. The various bits of cabling also mostly run within the frame to create smooth lines. The Rockshox Paragon Silver forks are according to cycling types a quality set of oil-damped spring forks (although there’s been a big move to air shocks in cycling) and offer 65mm of travel. Brakes – in fact most of the bike – is also Shimano-sourced, with a fair 180mm disc up front and 160mm rear with hydraulic operation.
Wheels – Shimano, still – are fattish at 30mm width and have one of those confusing cycle diameters – 650b (blame the French). That’s 27.5” in old imperial measure – bigger than the standard 26” you see on mountain bikes and less than the 29” of the 700c classic road bike wheel size. Apparently the 650b is good for gravel riding (hence our comment earlier). Bright LED lights are integrated into the design of the bike and run off the main battery. There’s an integrated lock from Abus, a rack and mudguards.
All up it weighs a claimed 24kg.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
First thing I noticed is it’s heavy. I have an old Specialized Hardrock that weighs 13.6kg, the Trekker meanwhile tipped the RUST scales at 23.4kg. As I recall from my warehouse picking and packing days, 25kg is about the limit you want for one-man lifting, so that extra 10kg is a fair amount – something you’d very much notice if you were to lift this bike onto a roof rack (which you probably won’t). So you push this bike around, you don’t lift it!
First ride, I managed to go a mile before realising I hadn’t set the motor to ‘on’. This established two things. One, you need to be at a standstill when you turn on the motor/battery. Two, you can actually pedal this bike quite effectively with no motor. But that would be on the flat, it was when I hit a slope and shifted down the gears that I could feel that weight and the drag of the fat tyres – then I needed the motor.
The electric pedal assistance comes in three levels. Eco feels like a 10% improvement on engine off. Norm feels like a 50% upgrade, while High gives you a huge boost. I’d have to check how it works but the added torque effect is most felt when climbing and yes you go from struggling to flying up inclines. And if you apply High in a low ratio, regardless of incline it rockets up hills.
This motor assist also takes the effort out of headwinds – which I found consistently in my coastal location. Riding alongside a mountain biker I could see a big difference in effort required – him: a lot, me: negligible. Incidentally the motor makes a muted whirr, not enough to irritate but a dead giveaway to the proper cyclists that you’re on a cheater. That said most of us now recognize e-bikes quite readily by the enlarged crank area and downtubes.
I ambitiously struck out on what turned out to be a 32km circuit of my part of East Kent. For the first 16km all went well and I noticed I was hitting 14mph average speed and was comfortably maintaining a cadence of 70rpm on the pedals (the instrument console tells you all this). With a battery range of 56 miles even on High I figured I could use the extra battery power available to keep the lights on full-time, a nice safety gain, and being LED they’re nicely bright. Mostly I was riding in Norm mode as I was suspicious that High might drain the battery quicker than the computer estimate.
From the 16km mark onwards things got progressively tougher. For a start the saddle, which Triumph label ‘ultra comfort’ feels like nothing of the sort. Just like every cycle saddle I’ve ever known, it’s an instrument of torture. I was serious kicking myself for not wearing proper padded cycle shorts. Also at this point I started on a succession of concrete roads and over those regular expansion joints I was getting a proper kicking. The forks were great but the hardtail was just banging off the gaps. I could do with being fitter, that would help, but slowly I was losing the joy of the ride. Some 25 miles in I was finished, there was a strong headwind and even in High it was a struggle. The last seven miles were the purgatory I’ve always known distance cycling to be.
IT’S A GOOD BIKE
There’s no question this is a quality offering. Triumph has made a good e-bike for the street here, with quality and tech to match similar models from the regular bicycle manufacturers. It’s still a cycle, though, and while the electric assist makes a huge difference, there’s still a vast gap between the motorcycle and cycling experience. So being realistic, personally the reality is I need to cycle more, get some muscle developing, condition my arse to cycle saddles again – and until then take breaks, don’t try for 32 miles non-stop; not even the best electric motor can help you overcome your physical shortcomings.
E-BIKES ARE BIGGER
One thing I noticed quite early on is the length of this bike. Apparently all e-bikes generally roll out around a couple of inches longer than a regular cycle, as accommodating that battery and engine pushes out the wheelbase. So the riding position felt a little more stretched and it steered slightly slower than my own bike, but not drastically on either account.
I’m also not sold on the weight factor. They have to be this heavy these e-bikes, it’s just the way they are. But I’ve ridden some road cycles that are so light they bring a very similar performance improvement to that the electricity brings, just by virtue of less weight and less rolling resistance. So in this road application there’s this sense that so much of what you gain with the e-motor you give back through the bike’s greater mass.
FOR THE CITY, YES
I like the idea of this bike for the city. Taking shorter rides I’d leave the assist in High and go for effortless lightning starts off the traffic lights. In stop-start riding the motor really helps and given the low average traffic speeds in cities you’d be on the money. The brakes are strong too, to the point you wonder whether cyclists need ABS!
THE BIG PROBLEM
So here’s the snag – and it’s nothing to do with Triumph. You see, the 15.5mph speed limit on e-assist (as applied by law in the UK) is too low. As far as I can make out it’s slower than your realistic cruising speed. My actual cruising speed was probably about 17-18mph, which meant I was often cycling without the motor (you hear the whirring stop at 15.5mph). And that meant in cruise mode I was propelling the whole 23.5kg on those 3” tyres myself – and that has to be tiring.
This also means if you want to ride this e-bike in the company of normal road cyclists, while you will probably nail them on the drag race to 15.5mph after that they’re going to fly right back past you – and be cycling with less effort. This makes a mockery of the e-bike as a road bike anywhere except in the city or extremely hilly country.
The fact is the law is an ass. With the engine dropping out at 15.5mph you’re going to struggle to rationalise the extra outlay of an e-roadbike where half the time it’s just 10 extra kilos for you to lug. If the limit was raised to say 20mph then it would make a lot more sense, then you’re making progress and only your wannabe Bradley Wiggins (and his chums) would properly out-speed you. And at that speed you’re a more content rider, it feels like a natural cruise speed for the road.
And I’m not buying any bureaucratic safety spiel on this point – it doesn’t wash. Being pragmatic, e-bikes – on the road – really make a lot more sense with a raised speed limit. If we had to trade our way to that then I’ve no problem with say a concession to compulsory wearing of helmets.
- This is a good job by Triumph, the usual shit job by the UK government.
- A bicycle is still a bicycle, with or without an electric engine. The engine helps, but a bicycle is not a direct replacement for a motorcycle.
- Cycling is good for your health.
- I like e-MTBs more than e-roadbikes.
- Triumph need to hurry up and build some e-MTBs.
- The bicycle manufacturers need to lobby for a higher speed for E-bikes and if the government are truly serious about converting more of us to electric power then they need to listen to this and make the change…
Yep, I can’t fault Triumph’s Trekker, although I could nitpick the odd thing (see the captions). It’s a damn good job. But for me, right now with that stupid speed limit, it makes no sense, financially or practically. Spend half the money and buy a lightweight racer or hybrid – and get fit…