Bikes are great -- cheap, light, easy to use, and super-duper-eco-friendly. But they're also tiring. I mean, all that pedalling. It's exercise. It sucks. So an electric bike, which gives you a subtle helping hand, would seem to be the best of both worlds.
A £1,450 electric bike, that combines the power from an in-built electric motor with the efforts of your own legs. It's made by A2B, who you've probably never heard of but who actually made one of the very first electric bikes, the Metro.
People with a fair bit of cash, who like the idea of cycle-commuting, but maybe aren't quite up to the biggest hills on their routes.
In essence, the Galvani is a standard around-town hybrid, with an electric motor stuck in the hub, and a battery on the pannier rack hanging over the rear tyre. At first glance, it doesn't look all that different from any other bike; close inspection will quickly reveal the over-enlarged hub and the slightly-too-fancy handlebar computer, though, so don't think you'll be fooling anyone into thinking you're a 'real' cycle-commuter.
Apart from the bits and bobs for the electric motor, the rest of the components are solid, if unremarkable. An eight-speed set of Shimano Alivio gears provide the shifting, wide (but heavy) 45mm tyres stop you falling over, and a Suntour fork smoothes everything out.
The electric motor isn't operated by a throttle; in fact, the motor can't be operated on its own. Instead, the bike detects how much power you're pedalling with, and 'augments' that with power from the motor.
There are three settings for how much 'augmentation' you get, from barely-any-help to lazily spinning your legs whilst being whisked along rapidly. The settings are controlled by a computer unit on the handlebars, which sets power as well as doing all the conventional bike-computer things of showing you your speed. The computer is actually one of the bike's short-comings, as it's horrifically complicated and unintuitive -- and this is coming from someone who once spent an entire year using a phone with the language set to Russian.
In practice, the power-assist works brilliantly. When you stamp down on the pedals, you get a boost akin to being rear-ended by a car. This means that stop-start traffic, where you're constantly having to slow down for the lights and accelerate back up to speed, is made laughably easy. Going up hills is also made easier by the motor, although the ridiculous weight of the bike means it still isn't exactly easy.
Leaving the motor aside, the rest of the bike functions as it should. Shimano shifting is as reliable as ever, the saddle and geometry are spot-on for a commuting bike in a city (that is, comfortable rather than aerodynamic), and the shocks work well if you need them, though you can lock them out to save energy if you don't.
Riding this in London traffic is great fun. While that power cut-out at 15.5mph means peadalling on the flats is a pain, the stop-start rapid-acceleration world of inner-city riding is exhilarating, and makes the best use of that motor. It's also really rather novel being able to leave the Lycra-clad bike couriers in your wake at the lights.
The serious weight of the bike (twenty-two-and-a-bleeding-half kilograms) means that trying to shift it when the battery's dead (or when you're going faster than 15.5mph) is a calf-numbing exercise in pain. Equally, you can completely forget about carrying the Galvani up two flights of stairs to your office -- it's so back-heavy that it's a right cumbersome beast to lug around.
- The battery lasts about 25 miles on the most power-hungry mode, and around 60 on the most frugal. The battery itself is removable, and takes around four hours to charge from a standard wall socket (using the standard charger, which is about the same size and weight as a big laptop charger).
An easily-removable battery is actually a big hand, as it means you can leave the bike somewhere convenient, and just take the battery into your office/home to charge it. Even better, the battery has a set of lights on it, so you can tell how much power is left in it when the it's not plugged into the bike's computer system.
- The battery took about six hours to charge from a standard wall socket -- short enough to charge it at work, if you've got a stupidly long commute.
- The suspension and ride are pretty decent. The geometry of the bike means you're sitting up straight, rather than hunched over like on a road bike. That's good for city riding, because it allows you to keep your head up for spotting rogue buses, rather than starting at the tarmac in front of you.
- The computer merits a second mention for being really, really terrible. There's a big dial on the side, that seems to control the power assist modes. Rather than just twiddling it, though, you have to press and hold until things start blinking, and then twist, then play with it again. Basically, you choose a power assist for your whole ride, and don't try and play with it while riding, otherwise you'll fall off and die.
Compared to other electric bikes around, the Galvani is a fairly good deal. £1,450 for an electric bike, with all the mod-cons you'd expect and a half-decent battery is certainly on the lower end of electric bike pricing, which can easily spiral up to a couple of grand.
Against a conventional bike, however, the value is harder to see. You could find a bike with similar equipment and a fair few kilos less in weight for around £400, which means you're paying a hefty premium -- around a thousand pounds -- for the battery and motor. Personally, I ride a bike that costs less and weighs well under half the Galvani into work every day, and I was glad to go back to it at the end of the test.
Ultimately, then, it all depends on how fit you are, and how many hills are on your route home. If you're just looking into cycle-commuting, and don't think you'll have the fitness (or determination) to stick at it full-time, an electric bike could make all the difference. If you're after a more all-round bike to use for stuff other than commuting, however, you might be better off with just leg-power alone.
A2B Galvani Male
Groupset: Shimano Alivio
Suspension: Suntour SF11-NCX
Battery: Lithium-Ion, 36v 9ah
Motor: 250w brushless DC hubmotor
Range: 'up to' 90 km
Max power-assisted speed: 15.5mph (25kmph)