fat ebike review

Fat ebike review: Mekkanobike

Introduction

 

The ebike that we have been testing in the last few weeks is very peculiar: it is a fat ebike produced by Mekkanobike, a small firm near Pesaro, Italy. Fat bikes use larger tyres, which allow the bike to roll on difficult surfaces such as sand or snow; thanks to the motor, fat ebikes have an even wider range of uses. Mekkanobike ebikes are notable for one more thing: the frame is entirely produced in Italy: it is nowadays very rare for frames to be produced in Europe; moreover, the frame is made of pieces assembled together through bolts, rather than welded together.

Let’s get to know it better:

Electrical components

fat ebike

This Mekkanobike fat ebike mounts a Bafang BBS02 500W motor (the version that will be on sale in Europe will have a 250W motor). The motor is positioned centrally: it works directly on the transmission of the bike, and is well protected. It is silent even when delivering a high power, producing only a quiet humming in the background. Mekkanobike has decided to modify the controller of the motor, which now does not variate its power according to the pedalling cadence; the motor therefore always tries to deliver its maximum power, and for this reason this fat ebike has a decidedly sporty beahaviour, with rapid accelerations that help you quickly reach the maximum speed.

fat ebike on the snowBecause the motor acts directly on the transmission, accelerations are decise and powerful but always progressive; you can never feel the bike push in bolts and fits as sometimes happens with hub motors. In the final version of this fat ebike there will be a sensor which turns off the motor when you change gears, in order to preserve the transmission system; it’s a solution that we have already tested in a Focus e-mtb; it will be important to finely tune this, so that the deactivation of the motor does not last too long, something which can make you loose rhythm and speed, especially when going uphill.

The motor is activated by a pedalling sensor, which is based on the rotation of the pedals and not on the torque; because, as already mentioned, the motor acts directly on the transmission, the feeling is more natural than what you have with hub motors, though you never get to the feeling of a torque sensor. (Read our page on pedalling sensors to better understand what we mean). The motor is activated quickly, after less than a quarter of a turn of the pedals; its deactivation when you stop pedalling is on the contrary rather slow.

The control system is based on a central display with separate buttons on the left side of the handlebars. This solution allows for an optimal reading of the display, protects it in case of falls, and makes it easy to operate the buttons with your thumb keeping you in full control of the bike. The display shows the level of assistance, the speed, the km you have travelled, and the time; there is no indication of the power delivered by the motor. The display shows the state of charge of the battery, which is influenced by your use of the ebike; don’t be afraid if, starting uphill using the highest level of assistance, the display shows a super fast discharge; once the power peak is over the display will show a more realistic charge.

display

There are three buttons: +, – and a button used to turn on the system and to navigate the menu. The buttons are rather flat and not easy to feel without looking at them, especially if you wear winter gloves. By pressing the + and – buttons together it is possibile to set some parametres, as for instance the maximum speed.

buttons

The control unit gets information on the speed of the ebike thanks to a simple magnet on the rear wheel, which activates a sensor positioned on the left chainstay.

speed sensor

There is a 500Wh battery, based on Samsung li-ion cells. It is positioned within the frame, and makes for a well-balanced weight of the bike, together with the central motor. A systems based on a key is used to turn this fat ebike on and off, and to unlock the panel which keeps the battery in place.

fat ebike front part

Removing the battery was not simple in the bike that we tested. Mekkanobike has told us that the definitive version of the bike will have a bigger panel, which should make it easier to remove the battery. Another improvement that we suggest is to make the panel waterproof. The charger is very quiet. The battery can be charged even when left in the frame.

fat ebike battery holder
The cabling within the frame

 Mechanical components

Many of the mechanical components of this fat ebike are of course very particular, as they are designed to host the fat tyres. But the most peculiar component is defintely the frame. It’s a frame made entirely in Italy by Mekkanobike, using alluminium components shaped with CNC machines. The single parts obtained in this way are not welded as usual, but rather united through bolts, as you can clearly see in the pictures. Hence the name “Mekkanobike”.

frame of the Mekkanobike fat ebike

The most important components of a fat bike are surely the tyres. In this case they have FRM 170mm hubs, with an axle of 15mm.

wheel hub

The rim (Mulefüt 80 SL) has holes in it to make it lighter and to allow the inner tube to expand towards the inner part of the tyre, given the low pressure with which these tyres are normally used.

rim

The tyres are the Surly Larry, 3,8″. They are nominally a 26″ tyre, but in practice they are so bulky that the diameter of the tyre is similar to that of a 29″ tyre.

fat ebike tyre

The fork must be a fat bike-ready one, so that it can host such wide tyres. In this case it’s a Rockshox RL 26″ Bluto, with a 100mm travel.

fork

The rear ammo is a Rockshox Monarch.

rear ammo

It joins the frame through a rather large hole, which lets dirt and water through. Mekkanobike told us that the definitive version of this fat ebike will have a smaller hole. Note that the motor is housed in a waterproof casing, and there should therefore be no problem.

central part of the frame

The task of slowing the bike down is assigned to these Magura hydraulic disc brakes; with a 203mm rotor on the front and a 180mm rotor on the back.

brake rotor

The area around the handlebars looks clean, both in terms of the controls and of the cabling.

fat ebike handlebars

On the left you can find the front brake lever, the buttons, and the control for the rapid (un)locking of the fork.

commands on the left

We have already mentioned that the display is in the centre. On the right there is the control for the derailleur, and the rear brake lever.

commands on the right

The transmission, due to the presence of a mid-drive Bafang motor, is obviously based on a single chainring. In this case it is a 46T model, but you can also choose a smaller one.

chainring

The rear derailleur is a 10-speed Sram X5.

fat ebike from behind

The position of the saddle (Selle Italia SL XC 13) can be finely tuned.

saddle

The seatpost gave us a bit of trouble in our tests; we had to lock it in position using a high-tech solution: a folded piece of paper. Mekkanobike told us that the definitive version of the bike won’t have this problem – please remember that we have been given a prototype to test.

Our test-ride

fat ebike review

The very first feeling you get from riding on this Mekkanobike fat ebike is of great stability, given the wide diameter of the tyres, the large handlebars and the general geometry of the frame. Starting to pedal, the motor is activated after less than a quarter of a turn of the pedals. You can feel that the motor is quite powerful, but because it works directly on the transmission its power delivery is always smooth and never jittery. The motor always stays silent, and even under stress (when going uphill, or when accelerating) you can only hear a quite hum in the bacground. Speaking of the noise: in our first rides on asphalt, to take confidence with the bike, it was curious to hear the noise made by the tyres: similar to that produced by a regular (e-)mtb, but much more intense.

made in italy
Let’s at last start to ride on a path. The wide diameter of the tyres, together with the action of the fork and ammo, makes it easy to ride on small obstacles such as roots or small steps. You can feel that you lose something with respects to the agility of the bike, especially in sharp turns: in order to keep on the desired trajectory, it is necessary to work well with your body in order to contrast the tendency of the fat bike to just go straight; the problem is less remarkable than what we had expected; in any case you often find yourself braking harder than usual, in order to enter into a turn at a lower speed than usual; that’s not much of a problem, because thanks to the motor you can quickly accelerate again after the turn.
In our tests on flat routes we noticed only small differences between the 9 levels of assistance. Even the first one takes you rapidly to the top speed (around 45 km/h) with a low effort. The difference between the various levels is almost imperceptible in these situations, unless you purposely try to notice it. We usually like ebikes with many levels of assistance, especially in the case of ebikes designed to be used off-road, but 9 levels are maybe too many: 5 would have been sufficient. In any case, the difference between the levels can be felt more clearly when going uphill. The wide range of gears available, together obviously with the 500w motor, allows you to go up very steep sections (we have tried up to about 25%) – even with a 46T chainring. However, if you think that you’ll use this fat ebike uphill often, you can get a smaller chainring fitted. This is something that we advise you to do for another reason as well: minimum speed.

fat
With this 46T chainring it is impossible to ride on a speed lower than 11-12 km/h (with the motor on). However, when we tried to ride on a very difficult path – full of loose mid-sized stones, almost impossible to ride on a standard mountain bike – it was easier to ride it with the motor off, which allowed us to proceed at 7-8 km/h. The slower speed made it possible to better control the bike, and to reduce vibrations to the arms. It all depends of course on the kind of terrain that you’ll use this fat ebike more often on: flat, asphalt roads or difficult uphill paths?

Our test on snow

A fat ebike review is not complete if the performance of the ebike on a difficult surface such as snow is not tested. For this reason we have taken this Mekkanobike on tour up in the mountains. We were lucky to find optimal conditions: there were sectors with fresh snow (about 15-20 cm), sectors with compacted snow, and even icy sectors.

fat ebike on snow
We have started to pedal on a sector with compacted snow: a road used to reach a ski lift. Along the road we met a biker on a normal mtb, but it was clear to see that this fat ebike had a much better traction; on compacted snow it is quite easy to ride, both uphill and downhill. There are often some micro-slidings, but if you keep calm and let the bike follow its instinct the tyres quickly recover their traction. You soon learn that you must trust the tyres, and if you try to actively compensate with your body for each micro-sliding you’ll loose control and end up on the ground eventually. Braking must be done in a very careful and smooth way in order not to lock the tyres. The turns of the road (think of wide-angle turns, it’s a road used by cars as well) can be followed quite easily.

fat ebike on snow
As soon as we left the road to get inside the forest, we found some fresh and soft snow, a kind of terrain which is usually off-limits for an mtb. Here deflating the tyres is of the utmost importance, or else it will be basically impossible to ride. Once you have done this, pedalling on fresh snow is relatively easy, and a lot of fun. The assistance of the motor makes a lot of difference: on fresh snow going fast is easier than going slow; however, keeping a high speed is very hard without the assistance of the motor (to tell the truth, with the motor off it is very difficult just to start off). Even on fresh snow micro-slidings are frequent, and can worry at first; you soon learn that the best thing you can do, once again, is to let the tyres do their job without worrying too much: after a split second the tyres recover their traction. Riding on fresh snow on flat terrain or downhill is quite easy; long uphill sectors are very hard, as speed goes down and the bike stops. Short climbs (and by this we mean mainly small variations in the level of the terrain, something which you encounter very often within a forest: think a 10 meter climb with a 1 meter elevation) are better prepared with a lot of speed. Turning the bike remains the most difficult part: you will need a lot of space and a wide angle, also in order not to let the speed go down too much. the best technique for turning is actually to let the rear wheel slide and pivot on the front wheel, though you’ll need some practice to do that. Brakes are basically useless on fresh snow: just stop pedalling and the bike will slow down and come to a halt almost immediately.
In order to see how the bike behaves on the snow you can watch this video:

Conclusion

snow

This Mekkanobike fat ebike is a versatile and fun bike. Pedalling on fresh snow is a strange feeling at first, but soon becomes fun and exhilarating. Even when there is no snow a fat bike makes it possible to have a lot of fun, even on difficult paths. What it lacks is agility, especially in turning. This Mekkanobike is surely a quality bike, well designed and well balanced. The small problems that we noticed are mainly due to the fact that the bike we tested was a prototype, and the definitive version of the bike – now available at a price of about 4950€ should have solved them. This Mekkanobike fat ebike can be useful to those who want to widen their cycling horizons, but we also think it very appropriate as a bike to rent at skilift stations – 12 months a year!

Fat ebike review: Mekkanobike last modified: 2015-06-24T08:07:27+00:00 by Paolo

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