Not long ago,crank-motors looked like an endangered species,but suddenly the Panasonic drive is everywhere,doing rather well against more powerful machines on the race track,yet very much a favourite on city bikes too.It’s that flexibility that makes a crank drive so useful.The last three electric bikes we’ve tried have been crank drives,and all have used the same Panasonic Li-ion system.It’s now by far the most popular crank drive system worldwide,and is possibly unique in having a two-year battery guarantee. After the various Li-ion battery problems of the last few months, that’s quite reassuring. The latest machine to reach our doorstep is the Monark Eco.It’s unlikely you will have a Monark in your shed,because they are rare in the UK,but in Sweden the name is synonymous with cycling,rather as Raleigh used to be here. Actually, Monark is more like Pashley, because it produces the Swedish post bike and numerous other practical load-carriers. Raleigh,of course,is run by corpulent suits importing Chinese MTBs,whereas Monark (now part of the Cycleurope group) actually makesthings. With Chinese manufacturing becoming increasingly expensive in terms of wage rates and shipping,the manufacturing ball will soon be very much back in the European court…Bad news for the UK,of course,because we’ve wiped out our industry,but mainland Europe is doing well,and that’s why electric bikes are flooding into a hungry UK market from Holland, Germany,and now Sweden.
Monark bikes are typical North European machines;practical,slightly frumpy,and equipped with back-pedal brakes,wide puncture-resistant tyres and very few gears.The Eco is no exception.It has a one-size step-thru alloy frame,Panasonic powerassist,3-speed Nexus hub gear,and a chunky rack for carrying your girlfriend home from the va?a?rdshus after a few jolly fa?a?rsko?o?ls.
On the road,the Monark feels somewhere between the solid and meticulously equipped Gazelle,and the lighter,sportier Kalkhoff.The machine weighs 24.6kg,only 10% of which is accounted for by the tiny Li-ion battery.That’s average for a crank-drive bike – it’s heavier than the Kalkhoff Pro Connect,but lighter than the Gazelle or Kalkhoff Agattu.The 1.9-inch tyres give an unstoppable steam roller impression and roll pretty well, provided they’re pumped up hard enough.If the tyre pressures are low (they’re rated 4065psi) the rolling resistance can rise appreciably and the handling becomes a bit wayward, made worse by some flex in the very low step-thru frame.Even at higher pressures,the Eco has a tendency to wag its tail above 30mph,but,let’s face it,that’s not a speed you’re likely to encounter on a city bike of this kind.
The three-speed Nexus is simple,light, cheap and easy to adjust;a transmission design classic in other words.Three gears and a range of less than 200% is perfectly adequate on an electric bike,even somewhere quite hilly,but the gears are a bit widely spaced for the Panasonic motor, which prefers to buzz along at a fairly constant speed.In a flat city this will matter not one jot, but in Cumbria,the Eco would struggle a bit on awkward climbs.
Monark uses this hub quite widely on its conventional bikes,but we’re a bit concerned about its longevity on a crank-driven electric machine,which produces the sort of torque you’d expect from a tandem.And as the motor can be a little slow coming off the power when changing gear,you do have to change rather slowly and precisely to avoid grunts and bangs from the hub.This sort of thing is OK once in a while,but do it too often,and the hub will fail relatively quickly,a fate that befell some Giant Lafrees.
Generally speaking though,it’s a practical and pleasant machine to ride,the simple hub gears and powerful motor making mincemeat of city traffic queues.Even out on the open road,the Monark nips along pretty well,although the narrow gear range does limit the top speed and climbing ability.Despite the rather high 41-inch bottom gear,we found a restart on our 1:6 hill relatively easy on the High power setting,but only just doable on Medium.If you live somewhere hilly and have limited leg power, you’ll certainly want an electric bike with a lower first gear.At 76 inches,top is just adequate for spinning along on the flat.As we found with the Kalkhoff Pro Connect, the new Panasonic motor is chirpier than its predecessors,giving a smidgen of power up to quite high leg cadence,so despite the low gearing,assistance is available to around 16mph with a fresh battery.This doesn’t sound very exciting,but the bike is lively enough,and the power boost encourages the rider to pedal faster.Odd thing,human psychology.
We ride all these electric bikes on a fairly hilly course,including a handful of long, steepish climbs and a short stretch at 1:6.On the Medium setting,the Eco managed no less than 34.8 miles,a shade more than the Kalkhoff Pro Connect and the greatest range we’ve seen from a crank drive,other than on the Economy setting.In practice,you would probably get less in city stopstart traffic,but a little more in the wide open spaces of East Anglia,so it’s a realistic figure.Average speed is 13.6mph;significantly lower than the Pro Connect,but only to be expected with the lower gearing.
On High,over the same course (but on a rather blustery day),the bike managed 29.3 miles at a slightly higher speed,but this setting is certainly preferable in the Great Outdoors,as it gives the bike a bit more zing to tackle those demoralising steep little climbs.We didn’t have the bike long enough to find the full range in Low,but as with the Kalkhoffs, we’d guess that 50 miles would be possible in the right conditions.
Obviously,13.6mph is at the low end speed-wise,but the Eco nips along pretty well,completing our shorter,flatter ‘commuter route’ in a very reasonable 36 minutes,which equates to just under 15mph.On longer, slightly more challenging rides,14mph is fairly easy to maintain.So the Eco’s low gearing gives better range and a lower average speed than most, but generally speaking,the performance is typical for this drive system.
Charging is just as for the Kalkhoff Pro Connect,and all the other recent Panasonicequipped bikes.The battery is more or less full after five hours,but it continues to take a trickle charge for a further hour before cutting off.The capacity seems to be a genuine 260Wh or even more,something born out by the fairly impressive mileage figures.Clearly Panasonic’s watt/hours are bigger than most.We’ll say no more about that…
With the Eco’s roadster origins and £1,200 price tag,it’s reasonable to expect decent equipment.The XACT stand is a little lightweight for an electric bike,but it’s the first we’ve seen with an adjustable leg,which can be screwed in and out by hand – useful for fine-tuning the stand angle when carrying shopping,for example.The SNG V-brakes work well enough,but we spent a lot of time getting them bind-free,partly because the wheels were poorly trued,but as our bike is an advance sample,this should improve.In classic north European style,the rack is nice and solid,but beware of carrying a friend wearing floaty chiffon,because there’s no skirt-guard…odd for this sort of bicycle.
The Eco has no suspension,relying instead on those balloon tyres and a Selle Royale saddle with great big springs under it, which make some odd creaks when you pedal hard.By and large,the rigid front forks are good news,but we’d rather see a suspension seat post than a squidgy saddle,although you might disagree.Riding with less air in the tyres will give a smoother ride,but as we’ve already said,the handling and rolling resistance can be compromised.With full pressure,pot holes can be a bit spine jarring,but the bike floats over cattle-grids and the like very nicely.
With just a single frame size,the fit of the machine will be a bit of a compromise for the short and tall.The saddle spans a height range of 92cm to 106cm, the low end being just adequate for a rider of 5′ 3″ and the top somewhere in the six-footsomething region.The bars start at around 92cm and are adjustable for both height and reach,thanks to one of those stem adjustment-thingies.
The front dynohub is a SRAM ILight D1,which looks the part,and works well,but appears to offer a little more resistance than some,although that shouldn’t matter too much on a power-assisted bike.The dynamo works the front light,a rather plasticky Basta halogen,which gives out plenty of yellowish light,but is not a patch on a good modern LED lamp.The rear light is a simple auto LED device called an H-Goggle Auto…yes,another brand we’re unfamiliar with. A Trelock rear wheel lock and chunky steel mudguards make up the package.By British standards,the Eco is equipped to the gunnels,but in Germany or Holland,the lack of a pump,skirtguard and LED headlight might be considered a bit mean.
As we’ve said more than once,the Panasonic drive system and battery come with a twoyear warranty,which is good news if you’re nervous about modern battery technology, and in this case the bicycle is also guaranteed for two years.Incidentally, our machine threw its chain within a few minutes,something the Kalkhoff Pro Connects have done,both on our test and during the Presteigne Tour.A brief investigation revealed that the chain tensioner pivot needed lubrication,and a few drops of oil cured the problem – a useful tip if it’s happened to you,because these units should be100% trouble-free.Hopefully someone in Osaka will have their bottom smacked,because this small error must have caused numerous warranty claims.
Elsewhere, there isn’t a great deal to go wrong, apart from that question mark over the durability of the Nexus hub.These bikes are designed to be simple and rugged,like the post office bikes they’re loosely based on.
Once upon a time,we thought £900 was a lot of money for a bicycle,but we’ve got accustomed to four-figure price tags,and with petrol at £5.50 a gallon,the public seem to be catching up with the idea too. Yes, you can buy an old car, or a new Chinese moped, for less, but a quality power assisted bike brings all the attributes of the bicycle with the bonus of assistance.
At £1,250, the Eco is currently the cheapest of the ‘quality’ bikes, undercutting the Giant Twist, Kalkhoff Pro Connect, Gazelle, Heinzmann, and Sparta.The only competition comes from the Kalkhoff Agattu,currently also £1,250,but only in the medium frame size. The Eco is not as well equipped as some,but it’s reasonably light,sportier than you might expect and has the makings of a rugged and reliable town bike,capable of longer journeys when asked.If you have discounted shopping by roadster because of hills,look again!
Monark Eco £1,250.Weight Bike 22.1kg Battery 2.5kg Total 24.6kg (54lbs)Gears 3-spd Shimano Nexus hub . Gear Ratios 41″ – 76″ . Battery Li-ion Manganese Nominal Capacity 260Watt/hours.Replacement Cost £295.Max Range 29.3-50 miles Full Charge 6hrs . Consumption 6.4-10.9Wh/mile. Running Costs 9.0p-9.7p/mile Manufacturer Cycleurope Sverige AB www.monark.se UK distributor IDASS tel 0844 8009310 mail email@example.com
A to B 67 – Sep 2008