- A classically styled, city electric bike at an affordable price point that comes stock with fenders and a rear rack to carry that extra gear on longer rides
- 350 watt geared hub motor in the front wheel supports a top speed of 20 mph with trigger throttle operation, no pedal assist feature, no fancy display unit
- Includes some quality components like Shimano hydraulic disc brakes with adjustable levers, Shimano Alivio trigger shifters and a Shimano Alivio derailleur with nine speeds
- Lots of assembly required, only comes in one frame size and color, front-mounted hub motor adds a bit of weight to steering, no suspension features
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Hi everyone! This is Brent. The City Ultra from Hill Topper is a super affordable kit electric bike that comes packaged with a frame and all the essentials to get up and riding. The model I received runs for $1,199, but there options to downgrade the motor and battery and get as low as $899. This ride weighs in at 45.4 pounds and once everything is assembled, it’s incredibly simple to operate — pedal like a normal bike (there’s no pedal assist) and when I want more power, just hit the throttle. The City Ultra comes stock Hill Topper’s 350 watt hub motor in the front wheel (there’s also the option to go with a 250 watt motor), fenders, a rear rack, an adjustable angle stem, and some decent components, i.e. Shimano Alivio trigger shifters and derailleur and hydraulic disc brakes in the front and rear. The affordable price is certainly worth celebrating here, especially given some of the nicely upgraded components, but there’s also a few main drawbacks to consider as well. Primarily, the City Ultra only comes in one frame size, 18 inches, and one color, a sort of luminescent aqua (think of the pearly white Toyota Prius to picture that glowy effect). The single frame size will limit some riders from being able to ride comfortably, but the adjustable angel stem (-10º to 50º) should help compensate for that a bit. For those that find this color appealing and the frame size suitable, this might be the perfect bike, but since Hill Topper has been a kit company since 2008 and only recently started selling full electric bikes in 2017, it might make more sense for some folks to just pick out the frame of their choice from any number of companies and use Hill Topper’s standard conversion kit to make it electric. Of course, there’s always the risk of something not fitting quite right, and therein lies one of benefits of just getting everything from one place. Also, what’s kind of cool is at the time of this writing, Hill Topper is doing a giveaway for a City Ultra. So again, if the frame size and color works, that’s a good opportunity!
While Hill Topper isn’t a direct-order only company, the majority of their sales are online. They have about 50 dealers dotting the U.S., but for those outside the U.S. or not nearby a dealer who want to see this bike in person before buying, no luck unfortunately. Normally, when I deal with companies who sell mostly online, there can be a bit of a communication barrier. With Hill Topper though, that isn’t an issue at all. I found calling the customer service number to be an easy process and my calls were answered within the first couple of rings by an actual human being, which is always a plus in this day and age! The company is based in Seattle, Washington, and assembles most of their components at the shop. From there, they either go to the dealers or out to customers who order direct. Assembly took quite a bit longer than average for me as there were a few points that needed tweaking. There were instructions included, but they didn’t spell things out very clearly. So, I really want this review to also serve as a sort of assembly guide to hopefully help you guys save some time and not make the same mistakes I did when trying to get this bike put together. For anyone who just wants to read on to the specs, just skip to the next paragraph. For starters, let’s talk about getting the battery mounted to the frame. The first step is using the key to unlock the battery from the controller, leaving you with the controller and the mounting bracket alone. There are three bosses on the downtube that come with three round-head screws and several washers already inserted. DON’T USE THESE! The battery will not seat properly into the mounting bracket with these round-head screws as they protrude too far above the mounting bracket itself. Instead, use the flat-head screws that come in a separate bag. While there’s three bosses, I only found two flat-head screws of the appropriate length. Also, I had to discard the washers as well to make sure the flat-head screws seated deep enough into the mounting bracket. Once the mounting bracket is secured to the frame, reinsert the battery and grab the power cable (this cable also has the throttle attached to it). Thankfully there’s two different style ports so each end will only fit into the correct location — either the motor or the battery. The frame has a few places where the power cable can be routed, but the included zip ties need to be used to really keep the power cable close to the frame. Next it’s time to get the throttle on. I recommend placing the throttle on the left side of the handlebars as there just isn’t much room near the shifter on the right. This takes several steps. First, unscrew the left brake lever and slide it towards the stem. Next, slide the grip towards the middle of the stem to expose the locker on the end of the handlebar. Unscrew the locker and take that off, then take the grip off and last the brake lever. With the left side of the handlebar naked, slide the throttle on and move it as far to the right as it will go. From there just work in reverse to reinstall everything. This throttle position seems to be the best way to go, but even still it’s a bit of a reach for my thumb and I noticed some thumb fatigue after using it for a while. It doesn’t seem like the throttle will fit between the grip and the brake lever, which I’d prefer, so if anyone figures out how to do that, please leave a comment explaining how! Most everything is pretty standard as far as builds go, but I do want to point out a few other quick things. With the front fender, I recommend mounting it to the front of the fork as oppose to the rear. This will scoot it just another inch or so forward and help alleviate foot strikes when turning. In order to this, I had to fully deflate the tire, bend the piece of metal on the top of the fender forward and force it through the narrow gap between the fork and the tire. Then I just straightened it back out and installed it. Lastly, since the battery can be mounted either to the downtube or the rear rack (a separate mounting plate must be used to mount it to the rear rack, which I didn’t see in the packaging), the power cable is quite long and I had to just make a few wraps and then zip-tie it to the frame. It’s not the prettiest solution but since there’s not enough room in the wire guides on the frame to feed it through twice, it was the only option I could find. I also consulted Hill Topper about to confirm it was the right length power cable and they mentioned they include this size for those who do want to mount it to the rear rack. Okay, I know that was a long paragraph but I just really wanted to make sure you guys have all the necessary information for building this bike as quickly as possible. Now onto the specs!
Driving this bike to a top throttle only speed of 20 mph is a Hill Topper branded Bafang 350 watt geared hub motor with 45 Newton meters of torque. This is nice power sipper of a motor that won’t suck the battery dry too quickly, but it still offers enough pep to make a real difference when climbing hills… wait a minute… is that why it’s called Hill Topper? :) The motor is placed in the front wheel, which makes it easy to install, but it also means I can really feel the extra 7.28 pounds when turning. Normally I’m concerned about wheel slippage with hub motors in the front wheel, but I didn’t find that to be an issue here since this an efficient motor instead of a power motor, and because the tires are 28 inches. Again, since there’s no pedal assist with this bike, the motor can only be activated with the throttle. Thankfully the throttle isi variable speed so I can control precisely how fast I want to go.
Powering the bike is a 396 watt hour Lithium-ion battery that can be attached to the downtube or the rear rack. I’ve ridden this bike for about 20 miles or so and I found myself using the motor far less than traditional electric bikes since there’s no pedal assist. And since the components here are pretty good, and since the tires are 28 inches by 1.3 inches, it felt like a pretty nice ride. I really only used the throttle for some of the hills, and maybe that’s the point of this bike? One of the things I will say about this though is riding the City Ultra like this will seriously increase the range. The battery itself has a built-in handle which makes removing it easy and allows for it to be comfortably and securely carried. The fact that it can be removed means it can be charged on or off the bike, as well as stored separately from the bike in a cool, dry location. This is great for those who may not have a lot of storage room, and for those who want to ensure they are maximizing the cell life of the batteries. The keys do not need to be left in for the bike to be operated, which is great since there’s barely room for the cranks to clear them. I definitely want to caution against leaving the keys in as it’s possible for the cranks to turn and shear it off. Since there’s no display here, the only way to tell how much juice is left is by checking the LED battery indicator on the left side of the battery. It’s a five bar battery indicator and checking the levels while riding is pretty much out of the question. So just another caution here, be sure to occasionally check it while riding so you don’t run out of juice on your ride! The power button beneath the LEDs will activate the battery, making the throttle live. And the throttle is live on this bike from 0mph, which I love because it means I can use it to get going from a standstill. Just be mindful when the bike is on as I myself have accidentally hit the throttle on some electric bikes while walking them and they’ve gotten away from me. There doesn’t seem to be an auto shutoff with this battery, so if it’s not turned off when it’s not in use it might slowly drain it. The battery charger for the City Ultra is a 1.8 amp hour charger. Last thing I want to mention about the electronics here is the lack of motor inhibitors, which cut power to the motor whenever the brake levers are depressed. This might be dangerous in an emergency situation where a rider could forget to let off the throttle while slamming on the brakes.
Overall, the City Ultra feels like a good electric bike for anyone looking for an affordable commuter, especially since the price can be adjusted down to $899 with the smaller battery and motor options. I think this could work well for longer rides, but since it is a hardtail with no suspension, the bumps might get uncomfortable for some after a while. Thankfully the forks are steel, which have some vibration dampening qualities. I like that it comes stock with plastic fenders and a rear rack, but assembling the City Ultra did take me about three hours, simply because I had to figure out how some of the pieces fit together (which hopefully this review will alleviate for you!). Ultimately, while this bike is highly affordable, the one frame size and color do limit who it can work for, and since Hill Topper has been a kit company from the start, it might make more sense for some to simply pick out their desired frame from a different company and then get a kit from Hill Topper. I want to thank Hill Topper for partnering with me on this review and hit me up with any questions you all have!
- Relatively light curb weight of 45.4 pounds coupled with the location of the battery on the downtube makes for a balanced electric bike that isn’t terribly difficult to carry, this might work well for those who live in upper stories and have to truck it up stairs
- Locking grips prevent them spinning when under heavy torque like when climbing steep hills out of the saddle, this is a good way to keep them in place and also serves as a sort of safety feature
- Hydraulic brakes provide good stopping power and brake levers are adjustable reach, a great feature for this with extra small or large hands, or for those who simply want to make small adjustments for the perfect reach
- Shimano Alivio trigger shifters and Shimano Alivio derailleur are at the top of the entry-level category and just about into the mid-level, these are pretty good quality components and it shows when shifting quickly, it’s snappy and responsive
- Adjustable angle stem means the stem can be lowered all the down to -10º for a more aggressive and aerodynamic riding posture and also to increase reach a bit, and can be raised all the way up to 50º for a more upright and relaxed posture and to shorten the reach
- With no display or bell, the handlebars remain clean and uncluttered and feels and looks more like a traditional bike
- Fenders have multiple attachment points to keep the from rattling, they also extend quite a ways around the wheel to really help keep the racing stripe away, plastic construction means they won’t be prone to rusting like steel fenders and should last pretty much forever
- 350-watt motor is peppy enough to make a serious difference when climbing hills, but not so powerful that drains the battery in just a few miles
- 28 inch by 1.3 inch tires are nice and tall, making for a lower angle of attack for small rocks and bumps, their relatively high PSI of 85 means they will also have low drag and rolling resistance, making for an efficient ride
- Front spokes are 13 gauge, thicker than the 12 gauge spokes in the rear, to help accommodate the extra stress from the hub motor, this is a nice little upgrade that might go unnoticed, but shows Hill Topper is thinking about the customer
- Battery can be mounted to the downtube or the rear rack, allowing for more options, maybe some riders will want it on the rear rack so they can place a water bottle cage on the downtube, or maybe some will prefer it on the downtube for better balance and leave more room on the rear rack
- Aluminum chain guard protects chainring from strikes, even though this is more of a city bike than a mountain bike and probably will only ridden on streets, this is still a nice feature for those “just in case” moments
- Seat post has a quick release adjust so no tools are required to change the height on the fly
- Rear rack has multiple attachment points to increase rigidity, not sure what the actual weight capacity of the rack is but it does feel pretty stable
- Company is based in Seattle, Washington and has been around since 2008, they have good customer service and are knowledgable about their products, easy and friendly to talk to
- Hub motor in the front wheel creates resistance when steering, can also result in wheel slippage on looser terrain
- No motor inhibitors can be a safety concern for emergency situations where a rider may forget to let of the throttle while slamming on the brakes
- Really only one option for throttle positioning, which is a bit too far away from the hand to comfortably use for long periods of time which can result in tendon stress or hyperextension in the thumb
- Adjustable stem only has one point of contact to keep it locked into place, for a road bike this probably isn’t an issue but it does mean it will be more prone to loosing its grip compared to some of the higher end models that have two screws to hold the stem in place
- All wires are exposed on this bike and the excess power cable must be looped up and zip-tied to the frame to secure it, this can result in the power cord shifting over time if the zip-ties are cinched down tight and also isn’t aesthetically pleasing
- No chain guide means the chain is susceptible to popping off towards the inside
- Saddle does have foam but doesn’t feel very supportive and flexes quite a bit in the middle, not super comfortable for longer rides and can cause discomfort
- Difficult and time consuming to assemble with instructions that aren’t particularly clear about which screws go where, front fender mount had to be bent forward to properly install, battery mount has three screw holes to secure it to the frame but only comes with two screws, brake lever and grip must be completely removed before throttle can be installed
- Screws are very soft and easily stripped, definitely advise strong caution against using the perfect bit for these screws so they don’t get stuck in their respective positions indefinitely
- Only one frame size and color limits who can comfortably ride this bike, since Hill Topper has kits it might make more sense for some folks to simply pick out the frame of their choice and then just order the kit to convert it to an electric bike
- No display means no way to determine exactly how fast the bike is traveling or how much battery is left, no information about the electronics is available to the rider except for the battery indicator on the side of the battery itself
- Official Site: https://www.electric-bike-kit.com/hill-topper-folding-electric-bike.aspx
- More Pictures: https://photos.app.goo.gl/US9akkAV8W4ILyzq1