I love my Powabyke. In eighteen months, nothing has bent, dropped off or ceased to function. Actually that’s not quite true, but I’ll come to that in a moment. It powers up hills and impresses bystanders with astonishing acceleration. It’s not exactly sophisticated, but has a certain brutish charm. However…
The other day, I was bowling along an undulating back road in rural Dorset, wind behind me.Very gradually, I caught up with an elderly chap on an ancient sit up and beg. Easy, I thought – with my 21st century electric bike I’ll just shoot past him with a casual wave of the hand. Except that as I drew alongside, I found that my legs couldn’t spin any faster, and we were just beyond the 15mph limit, so I couldn’t expect any electric help either. Anyway, we eventually struggled past, only for him to click into the highest ratio of his long-legged Sturmey Archer, re-pass me (without a word) and disappear over the horizon. I never saw him again.
For me, this is the 5-speed Powabyke’s only major failing – with a 36-tooth chainring, the standard gearing covers 33-65 inches – fine for climbing the side of houses, but not so good for making progress on the flat. A to B got to work, but found that the standard chainring and axle are of an odd splined pattern.The crude, but effective answer, was to bolt a 40-tooth chainring behind the standard ring, giving a modest but useful 11% increase in speed.The five gears now cover 37, 42, 51, 60 and 72 inches. It’s still too low for my liking, especially on an electric bike, where the whole point is to use battery power to support higher gearing and thus more speed with less effort. Our upgraded 5-speed now has more relaxed cruising at 15mph, but the only long-term solution is to splash out on a proper gear system. Powerbyke also produce 21 and 24 speed Euro variants with more practical ratios, but they’re quite a bit more expensive.
…if they were made in Russia, peasants would use them for ploughing…
There’s another Powabyke peculiarity. It’s heavy, weighing in at around 39kg, or halfway between a bicycle and a moped! Much of that weight is down to the good old-fashioned lead-acid battery. Stagger indoors with that under one arm, and you’re liable to do yourself a mischief. Still, there’s any upside to everything – if you forget your keys, the battery could come in handy as a small battering ram.
But maybe that’s part of the bike’s charm.The Powabyke is a solid, low- tech sort of machine. If they were made in Russia, peasants would use them for ploughing when the collective’s tractor broke down. In motorcycle terms, it’s a cross between a Ural and a Harley-Davidson. If that doesn’t make any sense, think of the Powabyke as one of the older pre-yuppy Volvos; the ones made of cast iron with massive rubber bumpers.
It’s easy to see where this avoirdupois comes from. Quite apart from the battery (which incidentally, has a pleasing resemblance to Flash Gordon’s raygun) the bike is engineered on massive dimensions – more Forth Bridge than Millennium Bridge. Almost everything is made of steel: even the mudguards, for goodness sake!
This very solidity encourages a confidence that may or may not be misplaced. I’ve taken mine down rocky bridleways more than once, and it works surprisingly well. For a start, the Powabyke has two-wheel-drive (pedals to the rear, hub motor to the front), while the power delivery is so linear that you can feed it in gently with the twistgrip – just what you need to ease over obstacles.That’s backed up by tyres that are quasi-mountain bike in their size and chunkiness. In fact, the power delivery is so delicate that it’s possible to trickle the bike up hills at walking pace, while you stride along beside it – a useful trick if the battery runs low on the road.
All good fun, but the Powabyke’s bottom line is it’s sheer usefulness.We don’t have a car, so the bike is generally used for the hilly 12-mile round trip to Yeovil, which of course is well within its 20+ mile range. Anna has found it saves a good ten minutes on the trip (compared to pedalling) and she arrives fresh to teach her yoga class. And she gets wafted home despite carrying a load of yoga equipment and shopping. Only two things bother her.That monstrous weight makes the Powabyke difficult to park and almost impossible to haul up steps. And if you’re not used to motorcycle-style twistgrip throttles, you can get caught out if your hand slips and the power cuts in unexpectedly.
…a few brief moments of joy as cars, scooters and motorbikes flounder in your
We’ve strapped on a couple of ancient panniers, but the sturdy rear rack takes useful loads as well – it’s an awkward shape though, with rounded sides that make it difficult to use stiffer, more capacious panniers.The bike is surprisingly comfortable, thanks to the sit-up riding position and suspension seatpost.There is also a ‘mountain-style’ version, which is much the same, but without the mudguards – don’t even go there.
As to riding technique, in theory the Powabyke can be ridden without pedalling at all, once the power comes in at around walking pace. In practice, this is too slow and boring. So I tend to use power and pedalling all the time for maximum speed and acceleration. At the traffic lights, full power from both man and machine gives (relatively) blistering acceleration, and a few brief moments of joy as cars, scooters and motorbikes flounder in your wake – doesn’t last long though.
I mentioned earlier that nothing had gone wrong with our Powabyke, which isn’t strictly true.The most serious fault happened last week, when part of the plastic headstock cladding cracked and broke off, allowing the battery to jiggle around in the frame.All Powabyke batteries do this to a certain extent over potholes and cobblestones which is annoying, to say the least.Anyway, the plastic surround finally decided enough was enough, allowing the weighty battery to leap around even more.That disturbs the contact between battery and motor… so power cuts out unpredictably. Some strategic use of sticky tape and rubber mounting (old inner tube) has improved matters, but it’s still not ideal.
The only other failure came when the single fuse blew, for no apparent reason. I stuck a new one in (a standard 20 amp glass type) and all has been well since. Mind you, that was after riding the Powabyke six miles home without power, which on a 39-kilo bike is no joke.
Apart from a few scrapes and the odd patch of rust, the finish has stood up well, while the chunky tyres have shown negligible wear, and look good for plenty more miles.
This isn’t a proper A to B road test, so I haven’t accurately measured the recharge time, but we just leave it on overnight and the bike is always raring to go next morning. Needless to say, the bike gets charged in the garage – it’s more than my hernia’s worth to heave the battery indoors. Mind you, this low-tech approach does make it cheaper to replace – Powabyke offers a subsidised exchange scheme which nets you a new battery for £80.50. Ours still seems in fine fettle, anyway.
And finally, the 5-speed Powabyke is cheap, at £645 for the 26-inch wheel version we’ve got – there’s a 24-incher for fifty quid less.That makes it £250 cheaper than the (admittedly more sophisticated) Japanese opposition. Reflecting that price, the brakes and gears are cheap items of doubtful lineage – still, they do the job, so what more do you want? Yes, you can keep your NiCd batteries and bleeping electronics, I prefer the rustic Best wishes to Peter & Anna, who are getting married in March charms of a Powabyke.
Powabyke Euro 5-speed £595 – £645
Weight 39kg (85.8lb)
Manufacturer Powabyke tel 01225 443737 fax 01225 446878 mail firstname.lastname@example.org web www.powabyke.com