- A stylish electric cruiser bicycle with long comfortable handlebars, an oversized saddle, and a seat post suspension to smooth out the ride
- Powerful 500 watt internally geared hub motor that peaks above 900 watts if you get the 48-volt battery option, offers pedal assist and throttle mode
- Powerful 180 mm disc brakes with brake-lever motor inhibitors for immediate stops, strong steel fork and oversized alloy pedals with good traction
- Available in a wide array of unique colors, removable battery pack makes charging and transporting easy, key must be left in the battery to operate
The Spark is a powerful, well-balanced, cruiser style electric bike built around a sturdy high-step cantilever frame. Motiv produces a very similar model called the Sleek which is slightly smaller and offers a lower stand-over height. Both models are made primarily from Aluminum alloy but feature a vibration-dampening steel fork and full steel chain cover. Rather than weigh the bike down and increase the cost and complexity of the product by adding a suspension fork, Motiv opted for a lighter suspension seat post, padded saddle, and swept-back handlebars. These, combined with the wider 2.35″ Kenda Small Block Eight tires (which have a decent 30 to 50 PSI range), deliver a fairly comfortable ride. Not much has changed on the Spark since I reviewed it in 2013… the price has dropped slightly and you now have four battery size options. The display changed from a simple three-color LED indicator showing relative battery capacity to an advanced LCD display that gives you more control over speed settings. The 2017 Motiv Spark offers basic cadence sensing pedal assist as well as a variable speed twist throttle. The two systems complement each other perfectly, offering riders a way to start from a standstill, pedal comfortably with a bit of help, and override assist instantly at any time to maybe climb or catch up with a friend. You can get the Spark in a wide range of colors, and I found that they were unique and nicer looking than the standard primary red, blue, yellow etc. Some, like the black model shown in the photos and video of this review, are matte and others are metallic.
Driving the bike is a 500 watt nominally rated Bafang geared hub motor. I’m told it can peak over 900 watts and I believe it… especially on the 48 volt battery version of the Spark. This hub motor is compact, responsive, and it blends in with the black spokes if you go for the black frame. These days, a lot of ebikes are hitting the market with mid-motors but they usually don’t have throttle operation, they tend to cost more, and they complicate the drivetrain (often straining the chain, rear sprockets, and derailleur. What you get here is a time-tested system that’s a bit less efficient, but easy and enjoyable to use. Note that the front wheel has quick release while the rear does not. It uses nuts (as most hub motor setups do) and the axle is slightly thicker. As far as pedaling goes, you pedal completely independently from the motor and have six gears to work with. It’s a rather small range but much better than a single speed as some cruisers offer… at least for climbing and being able to catch up at high speed. Sam Townsend, the owner of Electric Bicycle Center in Fullerton, was on hand for this review explaining that some of his customers upgrade the chainring or cassette to have a wider range because they will adjust the speed settings to go over 20 mph. At and above 20 mph, the stock setup has your legs turning a little fast, so I get that. Derailleur used here is a base model Shimano Tourney TX and the shifter is a large thumb style setup that works well if you’re wearing gloves but is more difficult to reach while gripping the bars than trigger shifters, in my experience.
Powering the bike is one of four battery pack options ranging from 36-volt 11 or 16 amp hours up to 48-volt 11 or 16 amp hours. There’s a noticeable difference in torque and power with the 36-volt options but they weigh a bit less and also cost less. Note that you cannot switch from 36 volts to 48 volts once you by the bike, the power system is different… so, unfortunately, it’s not like you can upgrade the battery pack down the line even though they look the same. With a 48 volt system, you get more efficiency in power transfer and a higher watt-hour capacity for longer rides. If you’re a larger person and don’t intend to pedal much, I’d definitely consider the 48-volt upgrade. I like how the battery is positioned on the bike, low and center, and that you can remove the pack and easily carry it around by the plastic swivel handle up at the top. This is a Silverfish battery pack design that has been around for many years, it’s the kind of part that is shared across a range of e-bikes and can be replaced or repacked more affordably. The one gripe I have is that you have to insert, twist, and leave the key in the battery pack in order to use the bike. It functions much like a car ignition in this way… and I find that the key is more prone to snags and jingling if you also have a keychain connected to it. If you just leave the key on its own, you might have to take it off every time you stop and that’s a hassle. Most electric bicycles these days only use a key to lock the battery to the bicycle and then use a power button in place of a keyed ignition. Thankfully, the battery can be charged on or off the bike and the standard 2 Amp charger is fairly portable.
Operating the bike is fairly easy and you get a bunch of customization options through the LCD display that other e-bikes just don’t offer. So you charge and mount the battery, turn the key in the battery to on, then press the MODE button on the button pad near the left grip for a second or two. From here, the display flickers on with standard readouts like battery charge level, clock, assist level, speed, and odometer. You click the up button for more power and the down arrow for less but the twist throttle is always active and provides full power if you twist it all the way. This is an important point because it’s easy to end a ride and get off the bike but forget to turn it off… and then bump the throttle and have the bike lurch forward. So back to those options, you hold the up and down keys for a few seconds together to enter settings and this is where you can raise the top speed, change the units, and even adjust the number of assist levels from 5 to 3 if you prefer less button pushing. You don’t get a fancy USB power port on this display combo and the battery infographic is a bit limited with just four bars vs. 5 or 10 or a battery percentage, but it’s still an upgrade from the older 3-LED design. The cockpit area of the Motiv Spark is wide open and fairly clean. I like the brake levers they chose because the leading edges are rubberized and there’s an integrated bell on the left. There’s plenty of room to mount a cup holder up here, which is great because the bike doesn’t have bottle cage bosses. You could also add a disc brake compatible rear rack.
All things considered, this is a more basic electric bike that uses the same hardware you could buy in a kit and mount yourself… but the price isn’t that bad and the frame is purpose-built with additional strength and internal routing in areas to clean up the look. For 2017, Motiv changed their cadence sensor to be smaller and more protected. You get rear rack bosses and could certainly add fenders aftermarket (in fact, I think their latest models may come with them). I appreciate the large mechanical disc brakes and am willing to trade of hydraulic for the cost savings here. The founder of this company is a cool guy and I just like the way the product looks. If you’re someone who appreciates the OC So-Cal chopper look and wants a powerful throttle operated electric bike, this is one of the best options. There are groups of Motiv owners who go on rides together and I feel like it connects with a certain type of rider. It’s definitely a capable bike, though a little less refined than the $3k+ models we now see from mainstream manufacturers. I appreciate the upright relaxed feel and serviceability of the design.
- Even though this bike doesn’t come with a suspension fork, the steel fork dampens vibration, the larger knobby tires take out small bumps, you get a seat post suspension to ease your back and neck, and your body position is a bit more relaxed thanks to the swept-back cruiser-style handlebars
- Excellent kickstand placement, it stays out of the way and makes servicing or cleaning the chain easier because you can pedal backward with it deployed
- Comfortable oversized saddle and large grippy oversized pedals, The touch points are solid and this makes pedaling and just handling the bike a lot easier
- Lots of battery options with this electric bike, you can optimize for affordability or power and range, the 48-volt packs are more efficient and provide a zippier feel
- I love that the battery is positioned at the center of the bike vs. a rear rack, appreciate that all of the different sizes of packs still use the same casing and fit in the same spot, and that you can charge the battery on or off the bike, it makes parking easier and makes the bike lighter for transport as well
- The Promax brakes have tool-free adjustable calipers, large 180 mm rotors, the levers have motor inhibitors, and there’s an integrated bell in the left lever that sounds loud and clear
- The wheels are built with thicker 12 gauge spokes to handle the high forces of the hub motor and potentially, a heavier rider or load if you add a rear rack
- For a cruiser bike like this, where you might have the saddle low and relaxed, it’s great to have twist throttle because pedaling might not be as comfortable, so it’s great that you have assist and throttle that overrides assist to help you get going or zip all the way up to full speed
- Motiv is using a new, more compact, cadence sensor that is less likely to get bumped out of alignment or become inconsistent due to dust and dirt, it worked really well
- During the video review, Sam Townsend of the Electric Bicycle Center in Fullerton started telling me about rides he had done on the Motiv Spark and what accessories he likes which included the Topeak Disc Brake Rack and Slider Trunk Bag
- The display panel is an upgrade from earlier Motiv electric bike models which just had a three color LED readout for battery level, you can adjust a lot more now including the top speed by holding the up and down arrows for a few seconds to enter settings
- Only available in one frame size but you could opt for the Motiv Sleek which is basically the same e-bike, just in a step-thru design, both models come in a wide range of colors
- The bike doesn’t come with any fenders, rear rack, or integrated lights, but it’s priced lower and does have provisions for adding your own, I like that it has a full chain cover but wish it had bottle cage bosses
- Some of the wires aren’t internally routed which doesn’t look as clean and could snag easier, but some shops have told me that they prefer working on bikes like this because it’s easier to access parts
- In order to operate the bike, you need to insert the key into the top left side of the battery pack and turn it like you would with an automobile, this leaves the key a bit exposed to bumping or jingling around as you ride (especially if you have it on a keychain)
- More basic drivetrain, you only get six gears and the derailleur is the lowest part level in the Shimano line, Tourney TX
- Sam told me that you can ungovern the motor to ride a bit faster with the help of your shop, and in that case, you might also want to upgrade the drivetrain to have a larger chainring or smaller sprocket at the rear so you can keep up and not be “beating eggs” pedaling so fast
- Because this bike uses a cadence sensor vs. torque or combined signal, the motor takes a moment to kick in and then drop out as you stop pedaling, this is where the throttle and motor inhibiting brake levers become useful