Do BCRs dream of electric bikes?

The Braes City Rouleurs collective knowledge around e-bikes extends to naughty Cyclocross riders, and spurious theories regarding Tour De France maillot jaune wearer, time trial/classics winner, and all-round BCR favourite, Fabian Cancellara. So when the guys at Edinburgh Bike Co-Op offered the opportunity of test-riding their electric bike range, the BCR boys absolutely jumped at the chance.
Could committed roadies be seduced by a bike with a button and a battery?
Edinburgh Bike Co-Op offered us the choice of trying any one of their electric mountain or commuter bikes, and not being riders who take to the trails with any sort of regularity, we decided to go down the commuter route. We do actually commute to work semi-regularly, so the “ipso-facto” option won out.

After some discussion we settled on the 2018 Kalkhoff Integrale Excite i8.
We arranged to pick it up from Edinburgh Bike Co-Op’s Canonmills shop, so we found ourselves battling through the rush hour traffic and past the numerous rugby grounds and private schools which seem to proliferate in the North side of Edinburgh.
After a quick, but extensive lesson on the bike from the knowledgable staff at EBC – how its controls work, how to charge it, and how to operate it effectively – we were on our way home, newly-equipped with one e-bike, with the luxury of a long weekend to test-ride this machine.

The Bike

The 2018 Kalkhoff Integrale Excite i8 is at the sportier end of what German bike brand Kalkhoff calls its E-trekking range.

They also have a range of models and frame-designs aimed at the electric touring and urban riding markets.
The aluminium-framed Integrale Excite i8 comes with the Shimano Alfine 8-speed hub gear and carbon belt, and Shimano hydraulic disk brakes. All other hardware is made in-house. Front forks come equipped with air suspension.
The engine and battery, which are probably the most important components of any e-bike, are also Kalkhoff’s own. Controlling the motor is done through an easy, one-button-press scroll, situated next to the left-hand brake lever, which navigates through the system’s four levels of power assistance; off, eco, sport and power.
All  the information you’d require is also set out on a large, permanently fixed, console on the front of the bike; battery life, speed, distance, power assistance level, etc. are easily readable whilst on the move. The console can also be used as a navigation tool via connection to a iPhone or Android app.
Other little features also come as standard; carrier rack, kick-stand and particularly good front and rear lights.

The Test Ride(s)

There was some discussion within the BCR around how to go about testing an e-bike.
How could we effectively test the bike for the market and use it was designed for: the average commuter who would require the assistance of an electronic motor, and also test how using a motor compared with pedal power alone, in terms of both speed and effort? There was scurrilous talk of using it as a draft so some BCR members could improve Strava segment times, which was quickly shouted down for reasons of fairness. We eventually settled on the obvious; we’d use it to commute to work, we’d also take it round the BCR hilly-TT course (established some years ago purely for bragging rights purposes) to see how an e-bike would compare against the fastest BCR rider, at peak summer fitness, riding a carbon road bike. After that there would be plenty of time left for simply riding the thing, and hopefully enjoying the experience.

Our commute would cover an 8 mile round trip, over wet, leafy roads. The initial 4 outbound miles are predominantly downhill or flat, with the return 4 miles covering a 300 metre height gain, spread out over the total distance.

We awake to a morning which is as typically cold, grey and wet as you’ll find in Central Scotland, in February. It’s breezy outside, but blowing East, so will be neither for or against us in any great measure. It’s time to get the gear on and get out to work. A bit of breakfast, a large cup of Ethiopian Single Origin, and we’re off to get the bike out the garage.
The first thing we notice about the bike, being used to carbon road bikes, is its weight and heft. We didn’t weigh the e-bike but various descriptions have it around 25kg, but we’d say it felt more. Kalkhoff state the “maximum total weight” of the Integrale Excite i8, which we assume to be bike+rider+luggage, as 130kg. As this capacity exceeds more than our combined body weight we wondered how easily-handled and responsive the bike would be, which turned out to be not as well as a standard road bike, but this is a commuter bike after all, designed primarily for comfort, with the added weight of a battery, motor and all the relevant accoutrements that go with it.
This weight makes manoeuvring the bike when not in the saddle a bit of a task, and should you wish to transport it anywhere, via car or van say…, then you may require some assistance.

Where this bulk comes in handy, though, is when the road gets a bit grippy. The rutted, wet winter roads, neglected in many a council’s expenditure plans and filled with all nature’s seasonal detritus cause no issues for the Integrale. The solidity of the substantial frame and efficacy of the front fork make our outbound ride, which is taken at some pace, absolutely rattle and road-buzz free; a real arm chair ride. The declining nature of the outbound parcours means we don’t even feel the need to switch the motor on, with physics doing most of the hard work. We then park the bike up – the novelty of a kick stand comes in handy here – in anticipation of our hillier return journey.

Day-shift complete, it’s time to see what this e-bike can really do when the road start going upwards.
Our first obstacle is a Flanders-like protuberance with the apt Strava segment title of “The Browberg“. As we approach, the motor is switched on and quickly moved to its highest setting, “power”. As the pedals turn, so the motor kicks in and the bike propels itself up towards 15mph. As we start to ascend we start putting in some effort and stamping of pedals ensues. At this point something unexpected happens, though; instead of flying up the slope in power-assisted fashion, we start going slower…and slower…and slower, so push harder and harder on the pedals trying to get some forward motion. “Hmmm”, we think, “isn’t this supposed to make things easier?” The top is reached in a mixture of surprise and breathlessness, the effort required to push a bike of this weight up a hill being quite severe. “Surely that can’t be right?”, we ruminate…

Once this hill is crested, our journey continues upwards but at a much more favourable gradient. Gear levers are clicked to put us in to a much easier gear, to allow the spinning out of our last effort from our legs. As soon as the first pedal stroke is complete in this new easier gear…whoosh… a feeling of being propelled forward rapidly hits us, and now we see what this motor can do, and now we see where we were going wrong.
The guys at EBC had explained that the motor was pedal-driven, in that it won’t operate unless you pedal, lest a “You’ve Been Framed” moment ensue every time you try to stop or start. What we’ve now discovered, though, is that this process, particularly in relation to gradients, works completely counter-intuitively to how you think it would. Pedalling is literally ALL you have to do. As long as those cranks are turning, the motor is moving you forwards. Putting power through the pedals seems, again completely counter-intuitively, to slow the bike down, rather than speed it up. Spinning a gear is the most effective way to get this bike moving quickly, and that means that when a hill is reached, we must resist that notion to start stamping on pedals. Power in, in this instance, very much does not equal power out.
Armed with this knowledge, our return home continues at a much quicker, but less taxing pace. A ramp of 600 metres, with a 7% average gradient, is taken in relaxed fashion, with the motor doing all of the work. The pedals are spun in a light gear and the bike does the rest.

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Now that we’d experienced what this bike could do in the purpose it was designed for, it was time to see how it could perform against the clock and over difficult terrain.
Our chosen parcours for doing this was the BCR Hilly TT course; a 16.5km loop, containing four climbs; including one 2km, 3 ramp, Cat 4 tester, with a 5% average and pitches into double figure gradients.

It’s a brighter day than yesterday, there’s no precipitation in the air, but the tarmac is still wet. There’s a breeze, but not one strong enough to take in to account.
We start off going downhill and there’s no need turn the motor on just yet; it’s easy to keep this bike going under our own steam when the incline is in our favour.
As we navigate off-camber roundabouts and bad roads, the bike again handles well and the ride is surprisingly comfortable, with the big tyres and front suspension doing as designed. When the road levels out the motor is switched on, sticking only to “eco” level at the minute, to reserve battery power when it is not required. Speed is still good, though, both as we’re moving along at around the 13-14mph mark, and because the physical effort going in is minimal.
Once the hills start, we’re well prepared this time. A couple of clicks on the gear levers and the steady-changing hub gears have us spinning around 70-80rpm, a couple of clicks on the motor controls has it moving up through “sport” and “power” levels, for maximum effort against the incline.
The first acclivity is taken with relative ease, with speed not dropping below 10mph, but next comes the big one. How would an e-bike handle a 2km, relatively steep climb?…

The answer is, perhaps unsurprisingly since this a machine we’re taking about, relatively easily.
It’s arguably difficult to judge how well a motorised bike handles something like this, there is no visible, tangible or audible sign of strain, so it may be easier to compare the rider.
This is a hill which would have even the fittest road rider, with a top end carbon bike, putting in a big, 170-oddBPM effort, whilst maintaining a 14/15mph average, just to reach the top in 5 minutes. We’re currently motoring up at only 4mph less than that, and are barely breaking sweat. As before, if we keep the pedals spinning steadily, the bike does the rest. The steeper pitches slow us somewhat, but forward progress is never in danger of ceasing. We crest the summit in a tick over 8 minutes, with very little visible signs of rider effort.

A short descent now, so the motor goes off, again partly for battery saving purposes and partly because it’s simply not required. The range of the battery power obviously varies by the power level used, but is noted at around the 85 mile mark. That’s not something we’re going to trouble today, but it’s still good to ride under your own steam when power-assistance isn’t necessary.
Our ride continues upwards again after a short spell, over another Flanders-like, 500 metre long, 8% average climb. By this time we’ve mastered how to make this bike climb steadily, and coupled with the motor’s ability to propel us uphill, it’s time for a selfie. A measure of how relaxed a rider can be while climbing on the Integrale.

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Could have eaten a baguette cycling up the troublesome Wallacestone Brae

Another small climb is taken without effort or incident, and then it’s a steady descent to complete our 16.5km loop.
Time-wise, our results are quite encouraging. In summer, with the advantage of better weather, significant miles in our legs, and the combined mechanical efforts of Specialized, Canyon, Bianchi, et al, we get round this course in around 34 minutes. Today, the Integrale has done it in only 2 minutes more, and with significantly less exertion.
The e-bike’s motor will not push it over 15/16mph on the flat, and when the road starts sloping downwards its speed rises exponentially, but this can be easilly matched by a rider on any other type of bike. Its when the road rises that the Integrale has the obvious performance advantage.

The third day of our test ride dawns cold, but clear and dry, and with only light winds. Roads are damp but drying out rapidly.
We’ve nothing specific planned today; take the bike out to get some photos, and then just ride the thing, to see if there’s any new-found level of enjoyment in e-bike use.
Again the bike travels well on all terrains and road surfaces. A ride through the town also shows the bike’s ability to operates well in busy traffic.
The overall feeling is again one of relaxation in the saddle; distance is covered with nary a bead of sweat shed.

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Judgement

The Kalkhoff Integrale Excite i8 certainly delivers on every expectation you could make of a commuting e-bike.
It’s sturdy enough to handle daily, year-round riding, its controls are simple and user-friendly, and it’s powerful enough to take all the strain out of difficult roads.
There are a few negatives, it’s never going to win any beauty contests and it is a very heavy machine, but this is a bike which, quite rightly, prioritises function over form. More Boxer than Frankel, more Springsteen than Liberace, more Bauhaus than Beaux-Arts, what you get here is a bicycle which handles everything the world can throw at it.

While we were impressed at what it can do, ultimately we’re not yet ready to take a step into the motor-assisted world of an e-bike just yet. This bike is aimed at regular commuters and those who may possibly need a bit more assistance when the going gets tough, and at this stage, that’s not quite us (yet). If you were looking at purchasing an e-bike, though, then this machine definitely gets the BCR seal of approval.

Happy Rolling

Craig and Daz

BCR Cafe shoot-61

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braescityrouleurs

On and Offline peloton for the curious and creative types that are drawn to cycling like a deodorant can to a village bonfire

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