The COVID-19 pandemic has brought significant changes to the transportation industry. While car sales continue to grow, other industries have been less fortunate. Public transportation and ride sharing have seen the largest decline, with most people practicing the recommended social distancing.
But it’s the bike industry that emerged as a “winner” in these difficult times. And especially, the e-bike segment. According to several studies, we’re seeing a national biking boom. Electric bike sales were up 84 percent in March, 92 percent in April, and 137 percent in May in the United States. But the same trend can be seen across the globe.
It is certainly true that e-biking cannot cure the COVID-19 disease, or stop the current pandemic, but it helps with our fitness levels while allowing for green living. In some cases, they may even allow for faster commutes. So owning an e-bike seems to be a no-brainer in 2020.
But to test the viability of an e-bike, we reached out to BMW of North America to sample one of their two available electric bicycles.
Meet The BMW Urban Hybrid E-Bike
At $2,330, the BMW Urban E-Bike is the cheaper of the two. The BMW Active Hybrid E-Bike rings in at $3,260 but it comes with a larger battery pack and a few other whistles and bells. Compared to the more expensive Active E-Bike, the Urban version features a more minimal design with a slender frame design which is ideal for daily city commuting.
The matte black frame comes in three sizes: S, M and L. The sleek frame also houses a 300 Watt-Hour rechargeable battery pack. As you’d expect, the battery pack adds some weight to the e-bike which tips the scale at 18.5 kg or 40.7 lbs. Not the lightest in the segment, nor the heaviest.
The build quality of the frame is fantastic while the minimalistic design doesn’t show off. It’s also quite sturdy, even when you ride over potholes or even gravel. While BMW positions their hybrid e-bikes as urban bikes, they can easily ride on light gravel as well.
The rigid touring fork is made by Suntour while the handlebar is flat, typical to a city bike. The sleek handlebar makes use of two sporty handles which are extremely grippy even with sweaty palms. The fork and handlebar allows for effortless steering, and it’s quite comfortable even during long distances.
Speaking of comfort, the saddle is made by Selle Royal which was specifically designed for the E-Bikes. The comfort is comparable to the more expensive saddles. During longer stretches of riding, I made sure to use some bike shorts with padding to prevent chafing. The saddle and the seatpost are integrated, so it’s easy to adjust the height with a seat clamp lever.
The electric motor is integrated in the rear hub which also houses a Deore/Shimano XT 10 gears derailleur. While riding in the city, I found the cassette to be adequate for urban riding, even when attempting to ride at higher speeds.
Can Never Go Wrong With Some Great Brakes
For the stopping power, the BMW Urban E-Bike uses the Shimano 180 mm hydraulic disc brakes. If you’ve ridden with hydraulic disc brakes, then you’d immediately appreciate their bite and effectiveness. They make the ride significantly safer with very little maintenance needed.
The e-bike came equipped with the Rody Airline 4 Plus wheels in 28 inch sizes wrapped in Continental Contact cruiser tires. They slim tires allow for low rolling resistance, so you can easily travel at fairly high speeds, even without the electric assist. Of course, if you’d like to ride more on gravel-covered surfaces, then a new set of tires might be needed.
I also particularly liked the pedals. I wear a size 13 shoe, but they had enough surface to accommodate my Yeti feet. I also found them to be quite grippy, thanks to the generously-sized pins sticking out of the flat surface. Clipless pedals are great for road bikes, but I don’t see a need for them on an urban e-bike. Yet, you can always replace the standard pedals.
BMW has also made sure that charging their e-bike is as easy as it can get. You basically have two options to charge the frame-integrated battery. You can either connect the power supply directly to the bike, or you can remove the battery pack and use the bridge adaptor supplied to charge the battery.
The current battery charge is shown on the LCD display unit installed on the handlebar or through the LED lights on the battery pack. But in typical BMW fashion, they’ve added another cool feature to get an idea of the battery charge. The BMW roundel installed on the frame lights up to indicate the charge. It can be either red glowing (less than 5 percent), orange (larger than 5 percent but less than 10) and blue.
In my experience, it took about an hour to charge the battery pack from empty. Of course you might wonder what the electric range is. And just like with electric cars, it can widely vary. The range on e-bike is affected by many factors such as: assist level, tires and tires pressure, routes, weathers, weight and battery degradation.
The Ride Experience
During my time with the BMW Urban e-bike, I adjusted my riding style several times. If I was planning a longer router (20-30 miles), then I would start the ride with the assist mode set to 0 percent. Now, the e-bike handles just like a “normal” bike would. The gear changing is smooth and the e-bike can easily get to high speeds within seconds.
There are five assistance levels on the BMW e-bike. We’ve already mentioned the 0 percent level. The next level up is 30 percent which corresponds to the ECO mode on electric cars. Next up is the 50 percent mode, the COMFORT mode – a compromise between assistance and range.
Moving up and we have the 50 percent – or the SPORT mode ideal for riding uphill. The BOOST mode comes in at 100 percent with the full power of the electric motor. None of the modes operate past the 25 km/h mark (15.5 mph).
As I mentioned earlier, planning your route can help you determine which modes to use. I’ve enjoyed pedaling most of the time, but I always reserved some electric energy for the last few miles home when fatigue kicks in.
The BOOST mode is quite fun, especially when you take off at stop lights with everyone admiring “your fitness levels.” I also found it to be extremely beneficial during those few times where I encountered a hill in the fairly flat areas surrounding Chicago.
But I would see myself mostly riding in the 30 percent mode which gives me enough power to sprint during longer stretches of free roads, or when riding from standstill.
The geometry of the bike is also something I was fond of. For size L, the top tube length is 600 mm while the seat tube length is 540 mm. The wheelbase measures 1099 mm with a 70 degree head tube angle. So all these numbers translate into a comfortable and upright riding position. For reference, I measure 6″3 in height, or around 1.90 meters.
I’m certainly more used to riding road and gravel bikes with drop bars, but for city commutes, the flat bars make more sense. They’re also not too wide, so you shouldn’t have an issue getting close to cars next to you. The BMW Urban Hybrid e-bike also came with drilled holes in the frame which allows you to add other accessories, like water bottle cages or bags.
There are no mudguards installed from the factory, but based on the tire clearance, you should be able to install your own, if needed. In the end, it might save you during those rainy days.
The e-bike Can Complement Your Car
In most cases, I don’t see the BMW Urban Hybrid e-bike as a replacement for your car. While they’re a lot of fun and healthy for you, bikes can’t still fully replace a car. But they can certainly complement them. For example, I often found myself hoping on the e-bike for a trip to the local grocery store ( 2 miles away), rather than using BMW i3.
They’re both electric and certainly eco-friendly, but the e-bike is more rewarding as far as my well-being. Furthermore, I truly enjoyed exploring Chicago neighborhoods while riding versus behind the wheel. It’s funny how many things you can overlook when you’re in a car.
If you own a spacious car or have a bike rack installed, you can certainly take the e-bike with you for a day out in the nature. There are plenty of paved bike trails surrounding Chicago where you can get lost riding for hours. And this is where the hybrid nature of the bike will come in handy.
In conclusion, there is always a silver lining. And for me that was the newly rediscovered passion of riding a bike during those difficult and unique times.
You can learn more about the BMW Urban Hybrid E-Bike at shopbmwusa.com or by visiting your local BMW dealer.