EsDear Espin: Sorry about crashing your very nice pedal-assist ebike, the new Espin Sport. But thanks for making a tough bike that was still rideable after the crash! More on all that later in our eSpin Sport ebike review.
Digital Trends has several daily bike commuters, and we see more and more people with electric bikes — the majority of them being “pedal-assist” types. That’s great news, and there’s good reason for it: Prices have come down, integration of the electrical components keeps improving, and once you get a taste of the hill-flattening potential of that electric motor, it’s hard to go back to huffing your way up yonder rise under pure pedal power.
So it is with the Espin Sport, ($1,888 MSRP but available for much less) a commuting tool sporting a 418 watt-hour battery wired up to a 350-watt in-hub electric motor in the back wheel. Espin sent us the Sport just in time for the Portland area to get walloped by consecutive snow and ice storms earlier this year, but at long last, nature relented and dialed up some warmer, drier weather to field test their machine. And test it we did.
THE ESPIN SPORT SETUP
The matte black Espin Sport we received (it also comes in white) features numerous commuter-friendly bits, including dual cable-actuated Tektron disc brakes, wide bars with ergo grips, a Suntour suspension fork, 8-speed Shimano Acera rear cassette (the crank sports a single main chainring), a large battery that cleanly integrates into the front downtube, phat beach-cruiser style tires, a very bright LED headlight mounted above the front wheel and a rear rack for loading up baggage.
The only thing lacking out of the box was a rear tail light, which I simply borrowed from my regular commuter bike — and fenders, which Espin said were an option. They promptly sent along a pair after we requested them because: Oregon.
As mentioned, the Espin Sport is a pedal-assist bike, meaning power only flows to the rear wheel while you are pedaling; there’s no throttle on the bars to operate it like an electric motorcycle. Pedal-assist ebikes are the most common type of electric bike on the market today.
The rear wheel’s electrical power is controlled by a small pod on the left handlebar, and includes 5 levels of power assist (six if you count “none”). A motion detector on the front chainring prods the motor into action after about two rotations of the crank, and the power is applied somewhat abruptly, especially if you’ve got it set at level 3 or above (5 being maximum power).
A good ebike’s advantage over an old-school pedal-only bicicletta is the ability to flatten hills, and the Espin shined in this most important metric.
But let’s be clear: The bike won’t buck you off or shoot out into traffic. Yet it can surprise you a bit at upper assistance levels while riding at very low speeds, especially when you’re just getting used to the bike. After a few miles of riding, it became second nature to expect the push from the rear tire and to set power levels as needed while riding.
We quickly learned to use the motor’s convenient thumb controller like a front derailleur shifter, keying both the motor and rear gears up and down as we navigated Portland’s bike-clogged streets. The 2 setting was ideal for powering away from a stop or operating at low speed, but once underway, we clicked through the clean-shifting rear gears while upping power output for brisk acceleration that left other riders eating our dust. In top gear (8th) and with assist at 5 (maximum), it was easy to power along at 25mph in perpetuity, flying by stopped car traffic and other cyclists on our 8-mile commute. The assist does sign off at 25mph or so however, and that was about the max we could muster on level ground. Trust us: On a bicycle, 25mph is a solid clip, especially on gravel-strewn bike lanes. In the rain. At night.
Some immediate shortcomings of the bike include the seat, which Espin calls a “comfort saddle.” It was anything but, to gauge by our aching butts. Simple fix: we swapped out the stock saddle for a more familiar one from our regular ride, along with the pedals (we use toeclips), and were good to go.
A not-comfy seat isn’t really a big negative: The saddle may be a perfect fit for other riders, and anyone settling into a bicycle commuting routine should expect to customize their bike so it fits just right. That can mean a different seat, pedals, bars, grips, panniers, tires and so on. Bikes aren’t cars; even the best electric bikes require tweaking.