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LAST UPDATED 12 Dec 2019
Will is one of the three winners of our Review an Electric Bike competition who borrowed a Whyte Clifton for a week. Here he shares his review.
As a keen cyclist, I’ve been following the advent of e-bikes with some interest, so was delighted that the Edinburgh Bike Co-op gave me the opportunity to try one out for a week. My regular bikes are a cyclocross bike, which I use for commuting, leisure and fitness, and a Whyte G-160 mountain bike, which gets a pretty good thrashing at trail centres and out in the wilds. I’m no expert on either, but I do love using them.
My regular commute is a paltry ten minutes down the cycle path to Leith; hardly warranting any electric pedal-assistance. However, I do try to keep the belly in check by cycling up through town to the pool twice a week before work. This then becomes a six-mile round trip, with an ascent of 300ft – a much more pertinent test for an e-bike.
The Whyte Clifton is classic commuter style – flat handlebars, a fairly upright position, and a diamond frame that you wouldn’t look twice at unless you noticed the extra bulk of the battery pack on the downtube and the motor housing around the bottom bracket. Using the Shimano Steps pedal assist system, both of these components seem fairly sleekly integrated. The control unit on the bars was very simple to use with a clear display, plenty of information, and three buttons within thumb-reach of the left-hand grip that control power and display modes. The weight of the bike was a lot less than I expected it to be, and I found I could manoeuvre it in and out of my flat and work bike shed easily enough. In a dark metallic grey, with a few brightly coloured decals and anodised highlights, the styling of the bike is pretty sharp too, even with the kickstand. I admired the special little tool that unlocked the wheel nuts, so they stay secure but are easy to remove if need be. Similarly the battery can be removed with a key, and can be charged on or off the bike.
Riding the Clifton
So what was it like to ride? Super-easy, of course. With the pedal-assist system off, it’s a little heavy and sluggish to get going, but otherwise pretty much feels like a normal bike. On flat sections and downhill, it’s very easy to reach the 26kph speed at which the assistance cuts out (a legal requirement I believe) and you’re left with pedal power only; slightly disconcerting at first as the initial drop in power feels like the brakes have been put on underneath you, as suddenly all the torque shifts to your pedals. However the display does show you your speed and how much power the system is putting in, so it’s easy to anticipate this. It’s going uphill (or into a headwind) that the system really shows its worth however. Where you normally would expect to be stepping down through the gears as your speed drops and the lactic acid builds, instead you just scoot off with the minimum of effort, merrily overtaking every other cyclist on the way. It really is an incredible, liberating experience, especially in High Power mode – it genuinely had me giggling at times.
I used it every day that I could for trips around hilly Edinburgh; more so than I would have used my regular ‘cross bike, simply because it was so effortless – trips to the shop were guaranteed sweat-free, so it was a no-brainer to take it as a first choice of transport. I also took it on a longer ride, out to South Queensferry to meet a friend there for coffee, and return with him on his own cargo-style eBike alongside the Forth through Dalmeny Park. This is a 30km loop over mixed surfaces, with a few ups and downs, so a good test. The bike coped wonderfully, and what would normally be a good couple of hours’ exercise was a real doddle; that’s not to say it felt like no exercise at all – you still have to pedal – but it was way more relaxing. Over the course of the week, I covered about 100km. I charged it once when it said I had about 30km range left, although I think it would have lasted the whole week if I hadn’t.
As far as the system goes, the only downside is that it won’t make you fit. A couple of times I got error code EO12 on start-up, which the manual told me was failed initiation of the torque sensor; perhaps I had a foot on the pedal, confusing it. Switching it off and on again sorted it. (The E012 Error code shows if you start moving the bike before turning it on – Ed.) In terms of the bike itself, I found the handlebar grips uncomfortably thin; with no suspension and fairly thin tyres, every bump and cobble was jarring on the wrists and hands, so thicker grips which offer more cushioning would be welcome. The seat, however, was very comfortable, which is good as you never need to stand up when pedalling this thing! Coming from a rangy cyclocross bike and a big, stretched mountain bike, I did find the geometry a little too short and upright, but this is very subjective.
Would I have one? Yes – for my lifestyle, it would make the ideal town bike, no sweating required. Would I pay for one? Probably not – and there’s the rub. For me, the main thing the e-bike contributes is also the thing it takes away – effort. I use my bikes to get and stay fit as much as anything else, so I couldn’t see myself spending £2,150 on a bike that doesn’t contribute much to this goal, even though that is a reasonable price. I would just be too tempted to use it!
So would I recommend it? Yes. If you have a commute that may involve some hills or headwinds, you don’t want to turn up at work sweaty, and you want an alternative to the car, the e-bike provides the ideal solution and I would recommend it wholeheartedly to anyone in this situation. Indeed, it became clear to me that the mass-adoption of e-bikes by commuters would do wonders for the woes of congestion and pollution that the world faces – governments take note. Similarly, if you are perhaps a little immobile but want to go out for rides around the countryside with friends and family, this would be the perfect solution, with more than enough range in the battery for a good day out, and helping the old cardiovascular health a little in the process.
All in all, a fantastic experience on a great bike that performs well and looks the business.