Before its untimely withdrawal last year,we considered the Giant Lafree a jolly good electric bike – arguably the best you could buy.The magic ingredient was the Panasonic crank-drive unit,which placed the motor ‘upstream’ of the hub gears,so the motor worked via the gears:Whenever your legs felt the strain,you’d change down a gear,automatically easing the load for the motor too. Bio-feedback,if you like.This very efficient arrangement made the Lafree a superb hill-climber that was also one of the most economical electric assist bikes on the market.The only real downside was stress on the gear system,which had to deal with tandem-plus power levels.
For various reasons – chiefly cost – Giant axed the Lafree,and dropped the Panasonic system too.The replacement ‘Twist’ model (see A to B 58),was equipped with a conventional hub motor.This bike had its strong points,but against the lightweight,free running,hill-climbing Lafree,it was rubbish.Panasonic was already marketing a new crankdrive unit, utilising a lighter,more compact lithium-ion battery,which Giant had used briefly on the Revive semi-recumbent (A to B49),but there weren’t many other takers outside Japan,and it began to look as though this excellent crank-drive system was dead.
Fortunately,Dutch manufacturer Gazelle had the faith to incorporate the Panasonic mechanism into its Gazelle Easy Glider,which was released a couple of years ago,rapidly becoming one of the best selling electric bikes in the cycle-friendly markets on the Continent. This is the bike that Giant could,and should,have made,but it’s made in Holland – is the Gazelle the new Lafree?
As a general rule – and generalities can be dangerous – cyclists of the non-technical kind love bikes with the Panasonic drive system.There’s no twistgrip,and no awkward power adjustments or scary flashing lights to worry about.You either don’t turn it on and ride a normal bike,or you turn it on,and the bike magically adds hidden power to your pedal strokes.If you don’t know what that feels like (and don’t knock it until you’ve tried it) it’s a bit like riding with a tail wind.Not a gale,but the sort of pleasant summer breeze that is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.Come to a hill and the whole character of the machine changes.The speed gradually drops as you change down through the gears,but the level of assistance increases,so although hill-climbing speed is generally quite modest, the bike feels as though it can climb anything,and with the right gearing it will.
We have to slightly qualify this,because the new system fitted to the Gazelle Easy Glider is not quite as powerful as the old one.For reasons possibly linked to the demands of the domestic Japanese market,Panasonic has gone for quite a low-key power system on the new crank motor,with a choice of relatively small batteries.Wisely,Gazelle has chosen the biggest 187Wh version for the Glider,but it’s still a bit mean in terms of output.On the other hand,the battery weighs only 1.9kg,a mere handbag against the weight of a typical Dutch roadster,the Easy Glider weighing a total of 28.2kg,including motor, battery and numerous accessories.For transport boffins,and collectors of facts and figures,the battery weighs less than 7% of the gross weight of the bike – a remarkably low figure,and the equivalent of a full tank of petrol in a 1,000kg car.
Power assist is launched via a push button on the handlebars.First impressions are that the bike is heavier and slightly weaker than the Lafree,but not by a great deal.It also seems crazily low geared, but that’s a side-effect of the crank-drive system and Euro regulations.With a crank motor,maximum assisted speed is proportional to the gear inches in top,set in this case at 78″ to make the motor run out of steam at 15mph.The downside is that it’s difficult to pedal faster than about 18mph without your legs going round in a frenzy,but the good news is that first gear is very low indeed.As with the Lafree,you can fine tune the characteristics of the bike by fitting a different rear sprocket,and a smaller sprocket will raise all the gears slightly.This is technically illegal,but the motor really isn’t powerful enough to pull a speed much above 15mph,so don’t worry too much about getting a blue light on your tail.Slightly higher gearing will give the bike a more relaxed laid-back feel that should suit it better, and have little negative effect on hill climbing.
Once up to the jaunty 15mph cruise,there’s not much to say about the way the bike rides,which is good news. There’s our usual grumble that gears 7 and 8 on the Nexus are almost identical,but with eight rather low gears,and power assistance,you tend to miss most of them out anyway in normal riding.On the flat,the bike pulls away best in gear 3,followed by 5,possibly 6,then 8.As the hills close in,it’s much the same in reverse – the bike copes with many inclines in 6th and quite steep ones in 4th.We found a restart easy on a 1:6 gradient and even managed to get up into 2nd.In 1st,given a spare battery,this bike should grind up any hill in the British Isles,from long Scottish 1:8s through the short sharp 1:4s of the North Yorkshire Moors,to the switchback 1:6s of Devon and Cornwall.If you live at the bottom of one of the these,the Gazelle really is your best option.More powerful electric bikes can storm up steep hills with a bit of careful planning,but riding the Gazelle you can stop and talk to Mrs Johnson halfway up,or pause to look at the scenery,then pull cleanly away again.With this sort of bike,hills might slow you down,but they won’t bring you out in a sweat,and you won’t be walking.Riding our largely flat 10-mile commuter route,the Gazelle achieves a comfortable 14mph,completing the course in 381/2minutes. That’s up with quite fast conventional bikes,but only average for a power-assisted machine.Against its top end electric bike competitors,it’s muchslower than the Ezee bikes, slightly slower than the Sparta Ion, but notably quicker than the stodgy Giant Twist,the replacement for the Lafree.
The ride is very good,with adjustable front suspension forks that really are adjustable for damping (not enough in our opinion),and a suspension seat post under the derriere. This combination is compliant enough to more or less eradicate cattle grids and small kerbs,which is an odd feeling,but suspension only has so much travel,so don’t go mad.If you ask too much – particularly of the seat post – the result is a nasty bump and a crash.In general,the Easy Glider rides extremely well,with an air of solidity,and rock-steady handling at speed,even hands off.Not quite Rolls Royce stuff,but amongst the best.
Brakes are Nexus roller,front and rear.Shimano has done a good job of answering the criticisms of brake fade on long descents,and a lack of ‘feel’,but they’re still a bit of a compromise.Slightly unsettlingly,the roller brakes don’t seem to do anything when first applied,as it takes a few microseconds for the brake force to reach full strength.In an emergency,you squeeze a bit harder,resulting in an over-fierce application when the brakes do come on.We managed to briefly lock the rear wheel at 30mph when the car in front braked suddenly at the bottom of a steep hill (twit), resulting in the Glider giving a momentary wag of the tail.Having experienced roller brakes before,we can only say that they should get better with age,so don’t worry too much,but bear it in mind.
Although the battery is small and light,it has a nominally bigger capacity than the Lafree 187Wh against 156Wh.But it’s a demonstration of just how unscientific (or,indeed, meaningless) these battery ratings are,that the range is about the same at 19.5 miles (our various Lafree tests gave averages of 18.5,20 and 22.9 miles).Similarly,the Gazelles’s 13.2mph average speed is right in the middle of the Lafree figures of 12.8,13.2 and 14mph. So whatever our initial impressions might have suggested,the performance of the Gazelle is very much on a par with the Lafree.And with a battery weighing only 1.93kg and measuring a compact 25cm x 10cm x 9cm,carrying a spare will not be a serious issue.In fact,you’d hardly notice the weight or bulk of two spare batteries,giving a total range of 60 miles.
We repeated our mileage test on the ‘MIN’ setting,engaged with another stab at a small handlebar button.Normally,we ignore these low power settings,but this one works rather well,and we’d like to see a ‘super-minimum’ as well.As far as we can tell (the effects are subtle) you have to pedal a bit harder before the motor will cut in,and the power is limited when straining at low pedal/motor speed.In practice,this encourage you to ride in a more economical way – spinning the pedals faster in lower gears,and generally making better use of the gearbox – and that’s where the extra mileage comes from.In MIN,you really do need to use all the gears for best results,but the bike isn’t much slower overall (12.6mph against 13.2mph) and range increases by nearly a quarter,to 24.1 miles.For such a small speed penalty,that’s an attractive trade-off. Incidentally,the handlebar control unit is supposed to flash an LED light at you when the battery capacity drops to 10%,but it comes much later than this – typically anything from a few hundred metres to a kilometre before the thing conks out.There is a five-LED array on the battery,but you can only see this by hopping off and pressing a button, so it’s only a guide.
If maximum range is important to you,Gazelle will be releasing a larger 260Wh battery early in 2008.On the basis of current performance,that should give a range of 27 to 33 miles.
Overall efficiency (including charging losses) is similar to the Lafree,but without breaking any records.On full power,consumption is 12.3Wh/mile,and on MIN the Gazelle just breaks into the exclusive single-figure club at 9.9Wh/mile.If you’re still sceptical about the green credentials of these machines,bear in mind that a gallon of petrol contains around 41,000Wh of energy,and will only heave a Nissan Patrol 25 miles or so. On the MIN setting,the Gazelle Easy Glider achieves a little over 4,000mpg
A more topical comparison is carbon dioxide emissions.Generating one kilowatt/hour of electricity in the UK results in emission of 0.43kg/CO2.So if you recharge on a conventional mains tariff,the Glider will average 2.7g-3.3g CO2per kilometre,or zero if you produce your own power (a typical 4×4 emits 300g/km).Running costs – mainly depreciation and the £209 replacement cost of the battery – come out at 11.5p per mile.
The charger is the same pattern as the old Panasonic charger,but now clips onto the battery with a sort of clumsy cassette thing.Charging is pretty typical,taking 4 hours and 40 minutes for a complete refill.Like the Lafree, the battery has to be removed for charging, but in this case,the battery key is the same as the rear wheel lock key.This means you have to lock the bike in order to release the key and remove the battery,which you may or may not consider a good thing.More positively, the key is (or should be) always to hand when you need it.The key itself is a delightful folding affair,which – like almost everything else carries the Gazelle brand.
If you live in Germany, Scandinavia or The Netherlands,you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about, because most bikes there are sold with essential equipment, but here in the mid-Atlantic MTB-orientated UK,this level and quality of accessories is almost unknown.The Easy Glider has Continental Contact tyres,a Selle Royale gel saddle,a skirtguard, long rack with shock cords,a Power Click stand that looks as though it would support a Harley-Davidson,‘Switch’ handlebar quick-release,giving instant adjustment for height and reach,a full chainguard,tool kit,saddle bag,pump,a smashing rotary bell,rear wheel lock,auto lights,trip computer,and the Nexus 8-speed hub and suspension we’ve already mentioned.Phew.
The bell looks like a gearshift,but rotating it produces a lovely tinkly shop bell noise. The lights are rather nice – a Power Vision battery 5-LED rear light with auto option,and Power Eye front light.This remarkable device fits into a sculpted plastic housing,integral with the forks,with power supplied from a Nexus hub dynamo in the front wheel.As this short section of wire is fully enclosed,the system is effectively cable-free.Output is excellent,as one might expect from this state-of-the-art job,and the auto functions are less sensitive than some,and generally unobtrusive.Our only grumble is that when you first start off,the front light doesn’t get going until you reach 10mph or so,presumably because it’s charging the standlight.On the other hand,after you’ve ridden a mile or two,the standlight gives full output for a couple of minutes when you stop.
Typical of Dutch roadsters,the Easy Glider has quite a large frame.Gazelle offers small,medium and large step-thru models and a gents,only in large.But as our small stepthru sample gave a saddle height from 91 – 105cm,which suited pretty well everyone who tried the bike,that’s the one to go for,unless you’re safely over six foot.
On the saddle,a neat quick-release gives instant adjustment of the saddle angle,while another adjusts the bar reach and height (112cm – 118cm on the small frame).The speedometer offers only mileage,trip miles and average speed,which is mildly disappointing,but it’s adequate for most purposes.As with the ride,there isn’t much else to say – the bike is equipped for mud,rain,snow,darkness,minor repairs,and of course, getting the shopping home.And you can wear whatever you like without getting wet, muddy or oily.Every home should have a Dutch roadster.
This is undeniably one of the best machine we’ve seen. It has it’s faults: the weight might be a problem, it’s low geared, and the battery is small. But these really are minor niggles. The Easy Glider may weigh 28kg, but there’s not a gramme of flab on it,and indeed, for a bike so laden with accessories,it’s really quite light.The gearing is easily fixed for a fiver,and a second battery solves the mileage problem,although bear in mind that higher gearing will tend to use more power,reducing the range even more.
Would we pay £1,400 for the Gazelle? Not long ago we thought £900 was a lot for a bicycle,but if you want a machine with this level of equipment,plusthe ability to climb hills, you do have to pay a bit more.It isn’t quite as lively as the Lafree,but it’s better equipped, better made,and not that much more expensive.Against the competitors in this price bracket,it does extremely well.If you want speed rather than equipment,go for the Ezee F-series or Torq.Otherwise,apart from a few specialist imports,it’s Giant Twist 1.0, Heinzmann Estelle and Sparta Ion,all at around £1,400.The Giant we would tend to dismiss on all counts except range,the Heinzmann is good,but not Gazelle-good,leaving only the Ion:a faster,prettier bike,but without the equipment or hill-climbing capabilities. For our money,the Gazelle is best of the bunch.A new 5-star electric bike,in other words.
Gazelle Easy Glider £1,460. Weight Bike 26.3kg Battery 1.93kg Total 28.2kg (62lbs) Gears 8-spd Shimano Nexus hub .Gear Ratios 25″ – 78″ .Battery Li-ion Manganese Nominal Capacity 187Wh. Replacement Cost £209 . Maximum Range 24 miles Full Charge 4 hrs 40 mins. Consumption 9.9Wh/mile. Running Costs 11.5p/mile Emissions <3.3gCO2/km. Manufacturer Koninklijke Gazelle www.gazelle.nl . UK: Electric Cycle Co (stockist) tel 0131 553 4900 mail firstname.lastname@example.org Cambridge Dutch Bikes (to order) tel 07772738899 mail email@example.com
A to B 61 – Sep 2007