Hands on: Bosch eBike Systems

No sweat: Pedaling around Portland with an electric bike from Bosch

Bosch has put together one of the smoothest, most advanced pedal-assist ebike systems we’ve ever seen — but it’s got a price tag that rivals some used cars.

When I first moved to the bike mecca of Portland, OR a couple of years ago, I did what just about everyone else in this city does: I sat down and seriously considered trading in my car for a bicycle. But after doing a trial run and pedaling into work one day, I quickly discovered that the hills between my house and the office make it practically impossible to go anywhere without getting drenched in sweat.

In just one ride, my naive dreams of relying solely on pedal power were dashed — but it only took one more ride to restore them. Last week, I took Bosch’s high-end ebike system for a spin around downtown Portland, and I’m considering selling my Subaru all over again.

I say “system” because Bosch doesn’t actually sell an ebike – it sells the parts to power them, which manufacturers can buy and fold into their own designs. So you can get anything from a cushy commuter to a beastly mountain bike with Bosch parts helping to turn the gears. I rode a SPORTe 95 from Felt.

How it works

Much like other electric bikes you may have seen before, Bosch’s version uses what’s known as a pedal-assist system rather than a traditional throttle. This means that you still need to pedal to move the bike forward, but when you do, the bike’s motor kicks in and multiplies the power you put into it.

Bosch eBikes

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Thanks to this system, riding the bike basically feels like having a set of bionic legs that never get tired. Depending on which one of the four riding modes you choose (Eco, Tour, Sport, and Turbo) the bike can give you a boost of anywhere from 50 to 250 percent of the power you put into the pedals — making it a breeze to ride up hills, blast along straightaways, and get from A to B without breaking a sweat.

Bosch definitely isn’t the first company to make a pedal assist system like this, but it does have a few features that you won’t find on other eBikes. Take the drive unit, for instance. Unlike the rear-wheel motor you’ll find on most electric bikes, Bosch’s system is designed to be mounted right in the middle of the frame, around the crank, to give the bike a more balanced feel for the rider.

The drive unit itself is also super advanced compared to your average eBike. It’s absolutely stuffed with sensors, and even features its own dedicated microprocessor to track and interpret your movements. These measure the force you’re putting into the pedals hundreds of times per second while you ride, and as soon as you start pumping, the motor kicks in almost instantaneously. This translates into a ridiculously smooth and natural ride — there’s no jarring or jerking of any kind, and the assist action is so smooth and silent that you can hardly tell the motor is working.

Pedal/Power

I only had enough time to do a couple miles on the thing, but Bosch tells me that the bike’s 400 kilowatt-hour battery can zip you around for anywhere from 40 to 100 miles on a single charge. Obviously, this varies widely depending on the level of assist you’re using and the type of terrain you’re riding over, but even at the low end of the spectrum, that’s a fair amount of range. A guy could easily make it to and from work with that kind of capacity.

let’s not forget that even without any battery life it’s still a fully functional bicycle.

When the battery eventually runs out, it can be plugged directly into a standard AC outlet to recharge. According to Bosch, can reach a full charge in less than 3.5 hours, and of course, let’s not forget that even without any battery life it’s still a fully functional bicycle. You can still pedal it around without electrical assistance if you’re out of juice, or just feel like conserving battery and getting some exercise.

The only downside to all this is the system’s exorbitant price tag. There’s a lot to love about this eBike, and it may very well be one of the most advanced on the market right now, but when the cheapest model starts at a whopping $4,000, it’s kind of a difficult purchase to justify. More expensive models can go as high as $7,000 — and for that kind of money you could easily get yourself a decent used car, a good motorcycle, or a totally pimped-out moped.

Bosch says it has a few lower-priced models planned for the future, though, so if you’re like me and you’re seriously considering making the switch to electrically-assisted pedal power, it might be worth waiting a year or two to saddle up on one.

Highs

  • Incredibly smooth assist
  • Intuitive controls
  • Well-balanced design
  • Great range

Lows

  • Expensive
  • Only fits on certain bikes
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