We first saw the Giant Lafree Twist Lite (not to be confused with the Lafree, full stop) back in October 2001, and tested it a couple of months later. Unusually, we jumped straight in and rated it ‘possibly the best electric bike on the market.’ Why?
Our enthusiasm might have had something to do with the Twist being amongst the lightest electric bikes around. It’s also the quietest we’ve tried, arguably the most attractive, and probably the most efficient… On the negative side, it’s fast, but less powerful than some, and it has only three gears, which further compromises hill-climbing, but taking everything into account, we reckon it comes top overall.
A few months down the line, Giant has created a deluxe job, taking the no-nonsense Lite, and adding a pile of components to produce the Comfort – aimed right at Yamaha’s Easy Plus. Is it worth the extra over the Lite? And is it better than the Yamaha? That’s of purely academic interest now that Yamaha has quit the European electric bike scene.
We thought the Lite was one of the best equipped bikes around, which must have made Dutch readers fall about laughing.The lights aren’t top quality, but they work, and the package includes a rack, chainguard, Axa wheel lock, side-stand, galvanised chain and decent mudguards. OK, it costs £869, but it’s a bike that smells of quality.
The Comfort shares the same frame and drive system, but accessories are joined by suspension front forks and seat post, Shimano roller brakes (instead of perfectly adequate Tektro V-brakes), a Shimano Nexus 4-speed hub, and ‘automatic’ lights.
Whether you feel these part numbers are worth an extra £200, depends how you view the individual components.
We’re not Shimano hub gear fans.The 4- speed offers no extra gear range over the 3- speed fitted to the basic Twist Lite – indeed, at 184%, the range is slightly less than the simpler, lighter and more efficient SRAM 3-speed. So what’s the point? With comparatively little power available, the closer ratios do help to keep you on the move, but don’t expect the 4-speed to climb steeper hills or go any faster, because it won’t.What this bike really needs is the good old Sturmey Archer 5-speed, which offered 226% range from a cheaper, lighter gearbox.With the Giant factory being just down the road, Sturmey’s new owner Sun Race might pick up the contract…We certainly hope so.
Likewise with the Shimano Nexus roller brakes – they’re somewhat vague in operation, with a little residual friction and quite a lot of metal-to-metal noise. On a more positive note, there isn’t enough friction to seriously compromise the Comfort’s 15mph roll-down speed, and the brakes are progressive and apparently fade-free. Shimano claims a degree of anti-lock sensitivity thanks to some internal widgetry – all we can say, after trying our best to provoke disaster, is that in dry conditions a panic stop doesn’t quite lock the front wheel and just locks the rear.That’s close to perfection, but don’t try the same trick on a slippery surface, because it’s not that clever.
The suspension components – Post Moderne springy seat pillar plus RST front forks – are hardly state-of-the-art, but they work well enough, absorbing small kerbs and other tedious lumps and bumps, leaving a silky ride under most road conditions.Within a very few miles, the seat post needed fettling to prevent the saddle rocking from side to side, which is not unusual with these devices. However, adjustment is quick and easy and should last for some time once the bearings have bedded in.The post can also be locked out if you feel like an unsuspended ride.
The saddle to ground height on our large framed model varies between 98cm and 108cm, or a centimetre or two less with the suspension compressed.This effect – where the saddle to crank distance varies as you ride – is common to all suspension seat posts and a few other types, and it’s not very satisfactory. Set the saddle at the correct height for efficient pedalling, and you’ll fall off at the traffic lights. Set it while stationary and your knees will be bent under way.There’s no easy answer, other than fitting a proper suspension system.
…is there really any point in suspension if compliance in the forks does the same thing for free?
Strangely enough, although the front forks seem to do their work very well, we couldn’t spot them sliding up and down on the road.What they do – and it’s a term that will be familiar to drivers of certain elderly sports cars – is ‘shimmy’, or vibrate back and forth on bumps.You don’t really notice when you’re riding, but is there really any point in suspension if compliance in the forks does much the same thing for free?
The lights had us foxed for a bit, but the design is quite logical. At the rear there’s a conventional- looking LED light, featuring an optional ‘automatic’ setting. Once on auto, the lamp is controlled by movement and light sensors, so it only comes on whilst under way in the dark… Damn clever these Chinese! When you stop, the light only stays on for five or ten seconds, but tiny movements and vibrations are enough to keep it lit at the traffic lights – you have to keep very still to outwit the movement sensor. So as a general rule, the light looks after itself, turning on in the evening when the first motorists are reaching for the sidelight switch, and staying on for as long as you need it. If you’re working on the bike in a dark garage, the lamp gets very confused, but that’s what the OFF switch is for.
The front system is completely separate, comprising a Shimano Nexus Inter-L hub dynamo and light sensor, plus Lumotec Oval halogen lamp.This doesn’t work quite so well – firstly, it has to be pretty dark for the auto feature to kick in, and it won’t start unless you stop, if you get our drift, so the light won’t come on as you ride through a tunnel, or under trees, which seems to be the whole point with an automatic system. Come to that, it won’t start unless you pull away with care, because rapid acceleration – such as spinning the wheel – shuts the thing down.The good news is that the Lumotec lamp is superb, producing the brightest and broadest spread of light we’ve ever seen from a dynamo.
The lights fitted to the Comfort are powerful, but we’re not convinced about the merits of automation.Yes, it’s a great idea if you can rely on the lights to pop on when required, but pretty dangerous if they don’t.To catch on, automatic lights will need a single idiot-proof handlebar switch – this system is too complex.
Having tested the Lite only six months ago, we won’t dwell on detail. Suffice to say, the Comfort is similarly upright, with widely appreciated swept-back bars, and it offers an excellent top speed of around 16mph, plus modest hill-climbing and world-beating economy. Despite a virtually handbag-sized 156Wh nickel-metal-hydride battery, range is around 20 miles – cutting edge stuff efficiency-wise.
If this all sounds too good to be true, there have been criticisms of the Panasonic drive system fitted to these Giant electric bikes. Crank-drive motors require some strange techniques: If you pedal fast – normal procedure for maximum power one might think – the power assistance fades away, because power output is chosen to match a modest leg speed in each gear. Faced with a hill, it’s sometimes necessary to change up a gear rather than down, which takes some getting used to, and can leave the impression that the bike is less powerful than it is. For maximum power, think low pedal cadence – once you’re in tune with the system, the Comfort will climb just about anything with modest effort on your part.
The Comfort differs from the Lite in a number of respects. Obviously the ride is greatly improved, as (arguably) are the brakes. Perhaps one of the disadvantages of these Compared to the Lafree Lite (see A to B 27) the 4-speed Comfort provides a less ‘peaky’ human/electric power graph, but the overall range is unchanged sort of upgrades – as motor manufacturers have discovered – is that better equipment encourages faster driving/riding, which tends to cancel out the perceived safety benefits.The Comfort certainly feels pretty secure, and we definitely found we were riding it fast.Whether you think Dutch roadsters should be roaring up hill, blasting down dale, and weaving through traffic like cycle couriers is another matter.We found it rather fun.
…we’d blow the extra two hundred quid on a second battery,giving a 37 mile range…
The gearbox is fiddly to adjust and has to be just so, or changes can be accompanied by nasty noises. Ratios are a little closer, and slightly higher than before.The Lite offered 44″, 59″ and 80″, while the Comfort gives 45″, 56″, 68″ and 83″.The new third gear and higher top make a surprising difference to speed and endurance: the Lite ran for 20 miles at 12.8mph, while the Comfort managed only 18.5 miles, but at a cracking 14mph.A lower first gear would improve hill climbing: a 13% slope is easy, but 18% is hard going.
We loved the Lafree Twist, and we love the concept still – they’re smashing bikes. But is the Comfort better? The deluxe bits cost an extra £200, plus the weight penalty of 3.1kg. Not much? Well, yes and no.Where the Lite broke all records for an electric machine at 22.2kg (48.8lb), the Comfort weighs 25.3kg, or 55.6lb.You pays your money and takes your choice – in this case, our estimated running cost of 5p per mile for the Twist, increases to 5.8p for the Comfort.You might consider 0.8p a small price to pay for the improved ride… the choice is yours.
Our view is that the cheaper Lafree Lite still narrowly pips the Comfort in the ‘best electric bike’ category – we’d blow the extra two hundred quid on a second battery, giving a 37 mile range. But the Comfort certainly grows on you. Everyone who tried it admired and enjoyed the bike, including the sort of young professionals who wouldn’t normally consider a bicycle – if Giant can crack this market, they have a winner on their hands.
Lafree Twist Comfort £1,069
Weight bicycle 21.4kg (47.1lb) battery 3.9kg (8.5lb) total 25.3kg (55.6lb)
Gears Nexus 4-speed
Ratios 45″ 56″ 68″ 83″
Maximum range High power 18.5 miles
Two-hour range High power (from previous test) 10.3 miles
Full charge 3 hours 50 min
Spare battery £195
Overall running costs 5.8p per mile
UK distributor Giant UK tel 0115 977 5900 mail firstname.lastname@example.org web www.giant-bicycles.com