Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ohm Sport XS750 Electric Bike Test Ride

Back in November I had the opportunity to try a Ohm Sport XS750 electric bicycle for a day, so I though I'd post a review about it. The day long test ride was graciously offered to me by The New Wheel, a cool electric bike retailer in North Beach. So on a sunny Sunday morning, I embarked upon a 30 mile long ride around San Francisco.

The Ohm Sport XS750 looks just like a normal (but high-end) bicycle except that it has an electric motor in the rear hub and battery pack in the middle of the frame. It has front and rear Shimano shifters, 27 speeds total. 26 inch wheels with front adjustable suspension and front and rear disk breaks.

The drive train is a 350 W (1/2 hp)  pedal-assist electric motor, meaning that it turns on when you pedal, and turns off when you stop pedaling. And the harder you pedal, the harder the motor will assist you. I can tell you that this motor is quite powerful for an electric bike, it can get you from 0 to 20 miles/h in less that 5 seconds. I felt like I had super-human strength, each stroke on the pedal would propel me with unreal force. I found this very useful when driving in busy San Francisco traffic because when you stop at a red light in front of cars, when the light turns green you can out-run the cars behind you so they don't have to pass you (always a dangerous move when there is no bike lane).

The control panel
A LCD control panel on the handlebar allows you to turn the electric system on and off, shows you the battery charge, your speed and trip odometer. You can also set the level of assist you get from the motor. The sales person told me that at maximum setting, the motor will deliver four times your own pedaling power, but i kind of doubt that it is that much. I guess it depends on the person and how hard you pedal. An average fit cyclist can continuously produce 1/10th of a horsepower (or 75 Watts), and a top athlete can reach 1/4 hp (200W) on a short burst. So at 350W, the bike's motor is 4.5 times your average, sustained pedaling power, but not four times your maximum strength. Still, that is pretty good. You'll still be faster than Lance Armstrong!

There is also a button on the handlebar that enables you to run the motor without having to pedal at all.

The battery pack is a 37 volts, 10 Ah, 355 Wh Li-Mn (Lithium-Manganese, a type of Lithium-Ion) battery that theoretically provides up to 56 miles of riding (more on that later). The bike has a regenerative braking system, so whenever you apply the brakes it recharges the battery, just like on an electric car. I'm guessing that these types of brakes aren't very powerful so that's why they also have the disk brakes for when you need to brake real hard.


The ride

So I picked up the bike at The New Wheel in North Beach, and from there, went to the Presidio where I went up and down and everywhere on those nice winding park roads. I discovered several areas of the park that I had never been to before for lack of energy... "What's that building/path/viewpoint up there on top of that hill? Let's just check it out, no sweat!". Then I went down to Golden Gate Park, all the way to the beach and back along the panhandle. One of the fun things about an electric bike is that it still is a bike and not a motorcycle, so you can go everywhere a moto or scooter could not go, like on park trails, pedestrian areas and sidewalks.

The battery pack, I must say, leaves a bit to be desired. I started with a full charge and after 14 miles I was down to about 25% of the charge, a long shot from the 56 miles range advertised. And I was pedaling normally all along the way, I wasn't just using the motor... Granted, I had the bike set to maximum power most of the time, and went up and down hills a lot. Plus, at 190 pounds, I am a rather heavy rider. The cool thing is tho, you can detach the battery pack, and if you have the wall charger with you, you can plug it on any wall outlet and get a quick charge. So that's what I did, when the battery was almost empty I stopped for coffee at Cafe Muse on Fulton & 8th, plugged the charger and after half an hour I had a 50% charge. (The manual says that you get 90% charge in 20 minutes but I don't believe that. Maybe my battery pack was old?).

Refueling stop for both rider and bike
If the battery gets totally empty, you can still use the bike as a normal bicycle, so you are not going to get stranded, although the bike, with all it's equipment, battery, motor and charger, is quite heavy so you get a good workout pedaling whitout the motor on.

From the panhandle, I went back down the Wiggle to my place in the Mission, and then back up Valencia and Market streets to the Embarcadero, up along the bay to Fisherman's Warf, and back to North Beach to bring the bike back to New Wheel. 30 miles of really fun bike riding in the City By The Bay!

Yours truly and the Ohm XS750 in Golden Gate Park

Overall I loved the bike, it gave me a sense of freedom in transportation unequaled by any other vehicle. It's small and nimble enough to be used and carried around like a bike yet fast enough to ride on busy streets along cars. It doesn't use fossil fuels and doesn't pollute the atmosphere. It would make a great commuter vehicle for anyone who would otherwise feel intimidated by the physical effort involved in riding a normal bike to work.

The biggest inconvenient about it is it's price: $3,800 for the model I tested (although this one was the highest-end model, they have models starting at $1,650). Hopefully the price of Lithium-Ion batteries will come down in the future and make these electric bikes more affordable.

[Ohm Electric Bycicles]


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