Sunday, 7 October 2018

Raleigh Strada eBike review *Updated*

I bought my eBike three weeks ago to use on my daily commute into the office. My previous bike was ten years old, and although the frame was probably the only original component still left on the bike, I'd been scratching the itch for something new for a couple of years.

A more immediate driver for buying the bike was my 10 month old daughter. She's a bundle of joy but has definitely meant I get a lot less sleep than I used to and cycling home after a day at work on little sleep was becoming increasingly difficult. Some days I was getting the train to work as I knew I wouldn't be able to manage the ride home.

eBikes are becoming increasingly common in bike shops in London, but most places only carry a very limited range. I knew that I wanted a crank drive, but was really pushing my limited budget to get one. In my budget were a very limited number of models from Cube and Raleigh. I ended up with the Raleigh Strada largely because the Cube sales rep didn't get back to my local bike shop. Sometimes it is best to leave things to fate...

So what is it like to ride?

Riding downhill: Assistance from the motor cuts out at 25kph / 15mph which is easily exceeded on even moderate inclines. Basically riding downhill is exactly the same as on any other bike. You might get a bit of extra momentum from the bike being heavier than a standard bike, but this isn't something I've tried to measure.

Starting and stopping: Pulling away is one of the two times when I really notice that I'm on an eBike. It takes very little effort to get going and you accelerate away from the lights up to 15 mph very quickly. Given that stopping and starting can be a real energy sapper this is where having some assistance makes a real difference.

Stopping on an eBike is no different to a regular bike.

Riding uphill: This is the second area where riding on an eBike makes a real difference. On my commute I only face a few undulations, but the four small climbs at the end of my ride home were a real struggle on days when I'd had insufficient sleep. The motor makes a noticeable difference and it almost feels like you are riding on the flat which is amazing.

Riding on the flat: Riding on the flat is the thing that has taken the most getting used to which is not something I was expecting. The motor assistance means that you accelerate up to 25 kph / 15 mph and it is actually quite hard to cycle slower than this.

Going quicker: The Strada is a very easy rolling bike so it is perfectly possible to cycle faster than 25 kph / 15 mph under your own power and I frequently do on my way to work. However, I'm conscious of the fact I'm shifting a heavy bike (due to the motor and battery) and it is harder work than it was on my old bike.

Cycling at 25 kph / 15 mph: I find myself cycling at this speed quite a lot due to the electric assistance getting you up to this speed without much effort. The power delivery is incredibly smooth, but I am conscious of the motor kicking in for a couple of pedal strokes, cutting out and then back in again. I'm guessing this must be a pretty common scenario and I'm hoping that it isn't bad for the motor. As I said the power delivery is very smooth and there is no jerkiness.

When you see people on eBikes zipping past you on the flat you realise how many must have had the limiters removed / don't comply to UK law.

Range anxiety / Battery life: Quite simply I don't have any range anxiety. I've been charging the battery once a fortnight after covering 80 - 90 miles (at around 15% battery left). Battery charging is quicker than I expected too, taking 2-3 hours.

Power Modes: The Shimano system has three power modes, Eco, Normal and High. I only really ride in Eco as it really provides a significant boost and on a mainly flat commute like mine that is all you need.

If I'm feeling really lazy on the final drag home I might turn the bike to Normal and then you barely do have to pedal.

Noise: Something I hadn't expected, but is pretty obvious if I'd thought about it. I'm not saying the motor is noisy, in fact it's pretty quiet, but you can't escape the fact it does make a noise. In traffic you won't hear it, but on a quiet country cycle path or country lane you are likely to hear it. More importantly so will the people you cycle past, and they'll know you are cheating.

Quirks: The only quirk I've noticed is that you can't turn the system on while pedalling, so you need to turn it on before you jump on the bike or while you are rolling, but not pedalling. I think this is because there is a torque meter in the motor and it needs to calibrate each time you start cycling.

Overall I'm really happy with the bike. It's fun to ride and on the sleep starved nights it still makes me want to cycle to work, which was the whole point of buying the bike. The only downside I can see is that more and more manufacturers are integrating the battery into the bottom tube so I think the bike is going to look pretty dated in a couple of years with the battery so visible on the frame. It might also make me fat as I'm exercising less than on my old bike.

A quick hat tip to my local bike shop Parts and Labour who gave me some good advice before the purchase, sourced the bike at a great price and have given me good service since then. I have no affiliation other than being a happy customer.

I've had the bike for around 5 months now and use it most weekdays. Overall I'm still very happy with the bike and continue to enjoy riding it.

However, I thought I'd share a minor annoyance with the battery. In a nutshell the amount of battery remaining doesn't go down in a linear fashion. I've had a few instances when the amount of battery left suddenly drops by 20%, I've also seen some 10% and 15% drops. This seems to happen when I've got less than 40% of the battery left.

I still only need to charge the bike around once a fortnight so I don't think the battery is failing or the capacity has noticeably reduced. It seems to be more of a battery management issue which means I never quite trust how much battery is actually left. As my lights run off the main battery I really don't want to be caught with no power left and a ride home in the dark.


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