Dear 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.
Meanwhile, zooming up to intersections at speeds more common to cars highlighted an issue with the Espin: lackluster brakes. Despite cable-pulled discs on both wheels, initial performance was poor — so poor that we couldn’t lock the rear wheel, a glaring shortcoming for any disc brake setup.
As we continued to ride and use the binders, they began to bed in, and after a few days of riding, bite was much better and leaving skidmarks was no longer an issue. Still, we’ll call them average compared to the top-quality (and much more spendy) hydraulic discs on a Bosch-equipped Felt ebike. A longer period of riding would see continued performance improvement, one hopes, but Espin buyers should be aware of the break-in period. And again, they’re upgradeable through any competent bike shop.
Kicked by a curb
The eye-opening advantage of a good electric bike over a pedal-only bicicletta is its ability to flatten hills, and the Espin shined in this most important metric.
I never saw the curb, but did hit it at full speed. Bike, rider and cargo went spinning ass over teakettle in a crash quite worthy of the “yard sale” cliche.
Gearing down to climb the “optional really steep hill” on our homeward commute, the Espin fairly sprinted up the grade while we sat on the seat and grinned, pedaling with some decent resolve but not much else. The digital speedo on the LCD panel showing 17mph as we crested the top. As anyone who has ground out a steep hill in granny gear at walking speed can tell you, doing 17mph up a hill on a bike is a nearly superhuman feat; the Espin made it easy.
But one ride home would add a whole new dimension to our Espin Sport review.
Hustling home one night down a busy street at car-traffic speeds (25 or so), we adjusted course to connect with a commuter train. The intersection is usually clogged with pedestrians and vehicles, but since it was later in the evening, the area was clear. We headed straight for the gentle ramp up to the train platform. Bad idea.
Just in front of the ramp, a 6-inch concrete curb lay in wait, unpainted and blending perfectly with the concrete around it. Even with the retina-burning glare from the excellent headlight, we never saw the curb and hit it full on, never touching the brakes. Bike, rider, and cargo went spinning ass over teakettle.
Kind folks waiting for the train came rushing over to help, while a not-so-kind person pocketed a new iPhone that skittered across the platform. Yes, there are bad people in this world.
As we felt for broken bones and glasses and gathered our detritus, we grimaced at a mental picture of the Espin after that hammering. A young man approached with a long object in his hands — the bike’s battery — and helped get the bike off the train tracks where it had come to rest. We expected the worst: Taco’d rim? Bent front forks? Cracked frame? All of the above?
But a quick inspection only revealed some scrapes, and the battery clicked right back into the frame. A busted plastic mount for the LCD panel was the sole broken bit on the bike.
Wits returning (and ribs hurting), we powered up the bike, which responded immediately. We rode the final mile home without incident. That’s one tough bike.
(That stolen iPhone? With an assist from Find My iPhone and the Portland Police, it was back that night. Crime doesn’t pay, fool.)
Juicing the large battery that slips into the Espin’s lower frame spar is simple enough. A small key unlocks the battery and the included A/C adapter plugs right into it. A green light means it’s charged.
The battery clicks back into the frame in a few seconds, no key needed. The A/C adapter is similar to modern laptop chargers, so it’s small enough to pop into a bag or pannier for the trip, allowing you to recharge the battery anywhere. Allow several hours to recharge the pack if it’s totally dead; a useable partial charge can be had over a lunch break.
Espin also included a fair amount of gear with the bike, including a Kryptonite U-lock/cable lock kit and a bike multi-tool. We only lacked for a pedal wrench and a few other common tools. And while the Espin includes a very bright headlight, there was no taillight in the box, which seems like an oversight.
Espin pedal-assist eBikes come with a 12-month warranty for all components and a 3-year warranty for the frame.
Espin integrates the electrical systems beautifully, and from a distance, it’s tough to tell this is even an ebike at all. There are no obvious motors and the battery fairly disappears into the fat lower frame. Plus there are no apps to connect with, no complicated setup, and no weirdness to deal with; integration, simplicity, and flexibility are the future of the genre, and Espin is ahead of the game in many regards. Add to that the toughness of the bike as tested and you’ve got a solid product, especially at this modest price point. And if the $1,888 price tag still smarts, Espin recently announced a financing program to get you riding.
Is there a better alternative?
Bosch has partnered with numerous bike makers to add their motor pod and battery system to bikes of every stripe, but that system is typically double or nearly triple in cost depending on the bike and isn’t nearly as well integrated as the eSpin setup. Indeed, many other bikes in this category costs several thousand dollars, such as the Specialized Turbo Vado, which goes for about $4,500.
We recommend the Strommer ST2 S for commuters, but its $10,000 price tag may make your hands sweatier than a downhill trailride. The $1,888 price tag of the Espin puts it in a category you might frankly be wary of, but don’t be. The integration, performance, toughness and price of the eSpin make it a solid value. You can spend a whole lot more, but why?
How long will it last?
Maintenance is key to making a bike last. The eSpin is a bicycle first, so expect to deal with drive train tuneups, brake pads and bearing play as the miles pile up — usual bike stuff. Some attention to the battery is also needed, but with proper care, the eSpin should give riders many years of faithful service. The biggest question mark is the battery’s life span: will eSpin be around in 5 or 10 years to sell you a replacement?
Should you buy it?
Yes. the Espin Sport is a great value and a solid performer. Want to get exercise and maybe shave a few (or many?) minutes off your commute? Hills got you scared? Espin’s Sport is a great choice for both long-time roadies and those looking to finally escape the costs and wasted time of sitting in automobile traffic.