Back in June 2003 we tried – and were quite impressed by – an electric bike from China, called the Ezee Forza.The prototype was a bit rough round the edges, but it was reasonably light, smooth, quiet, long-legged and fast. It wasn’t very pretty, and a few things fell off, but we loved it.The Ezee magic was a combination of a lightish and rideable bicycle providing assistance up to 18 or even 19mph – fast enough to overhaul the more sedate kind of moped. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but a completely new sensation for those used to bicycles, or indeed mopeds. On the Ezee you rode fast, and you put in plenty of effort, because pedalling + assistance gave stomping performance.
Unfortunately, 19mph is illegal in Europe, and as most of the sales have been in Europe, the production bike (known as the Sprint) has been detuned. Or at least, we’re told it has, but if our test bike is representative, it remains a speedy beast. Put it this way, it won’t quite see off a moped, but at 15mph there’s a bit in reserve, if you get our drift squire? We’ll say no more.
Whatever the top speed might be, the basic 3-speed Sprint has been joined by a top- end model incorporating a few detail design changes: principally a Nexus 7-speed hub. Has this mature version lost the Ezee magic?
…power is on the left handlebar and the gear changer on the right… Dead easy…
Apart from the new hub gears, the changes are minor, but useful nonetheless.The centre stand is smaller and lighter, and plastic mudguards save a bit more weight and clear up a few rattles. In both our previous tests we criticised the dynamo lights, but the new machine has a better front lamp and a Sanyo bottle dynamo, which seem to do the business. Elsewhere, the bike has mudflaps front and rear and a better Cateye speedometer (without average speed, unfortunately, and more difficult to see on the new swept-back handlebars).We’re not sure about the revised Kenda tyres, which are knobbly all over, where the old kind were smooth in the middle – essential for low rolling resistance. Like its predecessor, the new Ezee comes with a cheap but effective track pump, plus a range of fittings (including the kind that pumps up footballs, but no Presta adaptor) and a substantial cable lock – nice touches.
The key changes (for the UK, at least) are removal of the pedal- movement sensor, making the Sprint a nice simple twistgrip- controlled E-bike, which it should have been all along.The power control is on the left handlebar and the 3- or 7-speed changer on the right, according to model. Dead easy.The new bikes also have a more sensitive battery meter, which flicks back and forth rather worryingly as you ride. In practice, the gauge can reveal quite a bit about the battery condition, but it takes some getting used to. In broad terms, you’ll be in the yellow zone after 15 miles, and the red zone after 20. It’s also a useful economy aid, flashing from green to yellow, or yellow to red when the battery is under strain. Backing off the throttle can make quite a difference to range, without seriously affecting overall speed.
Until now, the Sprint came with three gears of 46″, 62″ and 85″, ratios that would be a bit high on a non-assisted bike, but are more or less ideal on a powered one.The new gears span the range 39″ to 96″ in much closer steps.We’ve usually got some sort of grumble with gear ratios, but in this case, they’re absolutely spot on. Hill climbing depends on your weight and how much energy you put in, but we found that 1st gear helped the bike vault up hills of around 17% (1:6), 4th saw it safely up gradients of 12% (1:8), and 7th topped out at 20-something miles per hour, enabling you to spin down the other side too. This sort of bicycle will never stomp up hills like the crank-driven Giant Lafree, but the 7- speed Sprint easily restarts on a 12.5% (1:8) gradient, which should be plenty for most people. If you tow a trailer and/or live in Cornwall or bits of Cumbria, you might benefit from a larger rear sprocket and lower gears, but for everyone else, it’s perfect.
At 15.9mph on our hilly test route, average speed is a shade lower than the 16.1mph we recorded with the 3-speed, but in challenging country it still counts amongst the most blistering performances we’ve seen. Range is 27 miles – more or less identical to the figure we achieved in August 2004, allowing for some gusty headwinds.That’s not quite in the Powabyke class, but the Sprint weighs only 29.4kg, making it altogether more manageable and rideable. Charging is quick and efficient; the little fan-cooled charger achieving a 90% charge in 31/2 hours, although you’d be wise to allow a bit more in practice.
…in challenging country it’s still one of the most blistering performances we’ve seen…
Incidentally, several people (including the importer) have had problems getting the same range as us. Stop-start city traffic will have a deleterious effect, as will heavy- handed use of the throttle, but pedal effort is important too.These bikes do not work well if treated like motorcycles – for best results think of the motor as an aid to pedalling, not a replacement.
Our only real criticism of the 2005 Sprint is that awful dinner- plate saddle, which does nothing to enhance pedalling efficiency. Somebody, somewhere must love it, but for anyone used to a conventional bicycle saddle, it’s truly horrid.We should also point out that front tyre removal is tricky, because part of the wiring loom has to come off too.The Kenda tyres are tough and relatively puncture-free, but if you’re nervous about this, a Schwalbe Marathon Plus would make a good investment! We’ve only had to mend two punctures in two years on our own Sprint, and neither required tyre removal.Thank goodness.
We are always disappointed to hear comments of the, ‘that’ll suit me in twenty years’, or ‘isn’t it cheating?’ variety.We’re not quite ready for pensions, and we’re not unfit, but living without a car, in a very car-biased world, we find plenty of uses for our Ezee Sprint. A powerful, long-range electric-assist bike makes light work of towing a trailer full of shopping, or venturing out on the cross-country haul to granny’s house. For this sort of work, the 7-speed Sprint is one of the best options around – a fantastic hill-leveller and practical child carrier.
The 7-speed costs £895.There’s a surprising amount of rubbish around at this price, of which the less said the better.The only real competition comes from the Giant Lafree, which is a little more expensive (£1,099 in 4- speed, suspension trim), but with a definite edge in terms of weight, quality and reliability.
We’re impressed that Ezee appears to have taken on board most of our original criticisms and refined the bike with some care, whilst keeping enough oomph for those who want it.The Sprint is still quite heavy against the class-leading Lafree, but a lighter, longer-range Li-ion battery pack is on its way, and this should be retrofitable to existing bikes. As for reliability, these are early days, but the Sprint looks to us like a de-bugged machine.
Ezee Sprint £895. Weight Bicycle 23.8kg Battery 5.6kg Total 29.4kg (65lb) . Gears Nexus 7-spd hub . Ratios 39″ – 96″ . Batteries NiMH . Capacity 324Wh . Max range 27 milesFull charge 31/2 hours . Fuel consumption battery only 12Wh/mile battery & charger 17Wh/mile Running costs 6.7p/mile . Manufacturer Shanghai Ezee Kinetic web www.ezeebike.com UK distributor 50Cycles web www.50cycles.com tel 01223 844 166 mail firstname.lastname@example.org