The very words “road ebikes” may seem a contradiction to some people, but road ebikes are a reality. After having revolutionized the urban bike and the mountain bike sectors, ebikes are now ready to challenge the way we think about a road bike. There have been very few models in the past few years, but in 2016 there is now a wide range of choice for those who would like a vehicle like this.
Ebikes have come into the cycling market in waves. The first applications of motor and battery have been on utility bikes, such as urban or cargo bikes: these are bikes that are needed to move people or stuff from one place to the next; sport has got nothing to do with this, and it is therefore clear that a motor can help fulfill the task of the rider without penalizing the experience. Then came electric mountain bikes, which boomed about 3 years ago: the use of a mtb is generally more sporty in nature, but emtbs allow many more people to get into nature in a environment-friendly way (forget the noise and the smell of an offroad motorbike), a bit more easily.
The road bike sector was slower in getting electrified (technological doping aside). If you think about it, those who use a road bike are mainly interested in doing some sport, challenging themselves, riding each time a bit faster on the same ascent… These are all things that don’t leave much room for a motor.
However, more and more producers are offering road ebikes to consumers. Let’s start with a bit of history.
Short history of road ebikes
Once again, as it happened with e-mtbs, it looks like Haibike was the first producer on the market with a road ebike. It was 2011 when the then semi-unkown German producer presented to the press the eQ Race:
It was an aluminium-frame road ebike, with mechanical disc brakes, weighing 16 kg. From an electric point of view, it mounted a Classic Bosch motor rated at 350 Watts, able to assist pedalling up to 45 km/h (with a good effort on the part of the cyclist though); the battery was 400 Wh; that was the classic Bosch setup available at the time. The most interesting thing is surely the position of the Bosch motor, inside the frame triangle and not outside, as was the case for most Bosch-powered ebikes at the time. That was an innovation introduced by Haibike which had a lot of success in the e-mtb world. Here, in a road ebike, it allowed Haibike to keep the shape of the frame as close to a traditional one as possible. The eQ Race was basically a prototype, and as far as we know it was never actually available to consumers.
A couple of years later though, at Eurobike 2013, Haibike presented its first series of road ebikes, which were effectively produced and sold in significant numbers. That was the year when the Xduro brand for Bosch-powered Haibike bikes was born; thus the Xduro Race series.
They went from the Classic Bosch to the Performance Line motor, better suited to sport applications. Note how the Performance motor had some gears inside of it which changed the speed rotation, making it necessary to use a much smaller chainring (compare the two pictures above); power (350 W), max assisted speed (45 km/h) and battery capacity (400 Wh) remained the same. From a mechanical point of view the bike was based on the Shimano Ultegra groupset, with an aluminium frame; once again the mechanical brakes were interesting to note, as well as the illumination system integrated within the frame. The official price was 5999€.
The situation now
There is now a wide range of choice for those who want a road ebike. Let’s divide the matter into two parts: 1) ebikes based on the widespread ebike systems, such as Bosch or Yamaha; 2) specific solutions, often better integrated within the frame of a road bike, if not entirely invisible; in the latter case, we move closer to the so-called “technological doping” theme (which of course depends on whether one uses his bike for racing or not).
1) Road ebikes based on widespread ebike systems
Giant (historically the first producer to use Yamaha motors on electric mountain bikes) has just presented two models of road ebikes based on the Yamaha system. We are talking about the Giant Road E+1 (pictured below) and its sister (with lesser priced components) the E+ 2. Both ebikes have a Yamaha X94 motor (80Nm of torque). The E+ 1 is based on Shimano 105 and Ultegra components, with hydraulic disc brakes, 500Wh battery, and a price of 3899€; the E+ 2 version is based on the Shimano Tiagra grouèset, mechanical disc brakes, and a 400 Wh battery, for an official price of 3199€.
Haibike remained loyal to Bosch motors for its road ebikes. There are at the moment two models, the Xduro Race S Pro (pictured below) and the Xduro Race S RX, both speed-ebikes with assisted speeds of up to 45 km/h; they have different mechanical components and are priced respectively 7999 and 4699€.
We remind you that with these kinds of ebike systems it is typically possible to cover 400 meters of elevation gain with 100Wh of battery consumption.
There are many other ebikes with these motors that are designed to go fast on the road, but none other (as far as we can tell) with such a clear “road bike” design, as far as concerns the frame, the handlebars, the components. If you know of other clear road ebikes please tell us in the comments and we will add them here. Let’s talk about the second kind now.
2) Specific solutions for road ebikes
The ebikes seen so far have standard motors and batteries, which are used also on urban or mountain ebikes. That makes for a non-optimal aesthetic appearance, far from the clean look of a beautiful traditional road bike. There are however more specialized solutions, designed to be better integrated into a road bike frame; this can be either for purely aesthetic reasons, or to exploit the so-called “technological doping” (that is using small electric motors during normal races, to have an unfair advantage over one’s adversaries). You pay for the better look with a (likely) lesser efficiency of the motor, and with a (surely) worse battery capacity – due to the less room available for batteries.
This is probably the most advanced solution in terms of integration within the frame. The motor is hidden inside the vertical tube of the frame (only possible if the diameter is at least 30,9mm), and has a power of 200 W; it’s activated by a button hidden in the handlebars which is completely wireless; it’s not possible to decide the level of assistance; the battery (of little more than 200Wh capacity) is hidden inside what looks like a normal water bottle; the total weight of the system is only 1,8 kg, while the price s 2858€ (including installation). The result is a road bike that even an expert would have a hard time to recognize as electric.
A new producer on the market, its founder have a past in Formula 1 racing. In this case the battery too is completely integrated within the frame. There isn’t a lot of information on their website, but we suppose that the motor is hidden in the vertical tube, with the battery being inside the down tube. The total weight is 1,7 kg. In this case it is possible to choose among three levels of assistance, with the motor delivering 50-70, 130-160 or 250 Watts. It’s a very expensive solution, as it is at the moment sold only coupled with frames hand-made in Italy by SARTO; prices vary fromm 8000 to 12000 €.
Will road ebikes be a success? Hard to say. As we were saying in the introduction, usually road bikes aficionados are more interested in the sporty side of cycling, even more than mtb lovers are. It’s clear that introducing an electric motor in a sporty context doesn’t make a lot of sense. However, there are also those who interpret road cycling in a more tourist way, and they could be interested in a bike which gives the opportunity to keep that “road bike” feeling, withouth having to work as hard as they now do when going uphill.
The aesthetic side is also important: will people prefer a clearly electric road bike, with clearly visible motor and battery, in order to have a higher-capacity battery? Or will the market go towards integrated solutions, which must necessarily have lower-capacity batteries? We’ll have to wait and see if the road bike market will receive an electric shock, as already happened to the urban and mtb sectors.
And what do you think? Would you ever use a road ebike? Will they have as much success as e-mtbs, or will the road cycling public be more conservative?