- A relatively affordable, surprisingly powerful eight-speed electric bike with a comprehensive HUD and front suspension that feels like a great fit for urban commuting, it also comes in two frame sizes, 49cm and 54cm to accommodate a wide range of rider heights
- Extremely accurate torque sensors and quiet 350-watt mid-drive motor allows for a 27-mile real-world range and 20-mph top assisted speed, making riding the Scout an enjoyable experience
- mid-frame battery fits nicely into the downtube and keeps weight relatively low and center, can be removed in a matter of seconds, has a power button on top to quickly check level and a USB port to charge accessories while riding or on the go
- While the Scout performed well overall, there were some issues with the tightness of the stem and poor finish with the loose grip and missing screw, basic derailleur, grips, and fenders
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At $1,699, the Populo Scout is a relatively affordable electric bike that feels like it was designed with the urban commuter in mind. It boasts a 350-watt Bafang mid-drive motor that affords a top pedal-assisted speed of 20 mph, a removable battery that provides an estimated 28-mile range, a surprisingly good HUD and front suspension to help soften the impact from those less-than-perfect city streets. Some of the Bafang powered e-bikes I have seen out there offer throttle mode but the Populo Scout does not, I found that pedal-assist only was more than enough to help me power through longer-than-normal rides and it felt really smooth because of the multi-sensor setup vs. pure cadence sensor. In fact, after putting nearly 50 miles on the Scout, the pedal-assist turned out to be my favorite feature. The torque sensor is incredibly accurate and power comes on almost instantly after applying pressure to the crank. Furthermore, the motor shuts off just as quickly once I stopped pedaling. As a 200-pound rider – by the way this is Brent, not Court writing this review – and I consider myself to be in average shape, the Scout made me feel like I had boundless energy and power, which of course is a common feature with most electric bikes. The torque sensor felt very fluid and natural and felt more like it was smoothly helping me up hills and when I pushed on the pedals I got more power more quickly than on some other electric bikes. I also greatly appreciated the expansive HUD, which includes all the pertinent information I like to see at a glance while riding, including current speed, top speed, average speed, a tripometer, odometer, battery level and more on a big LCD that is easy to see and read. The Scout feels like a well-rounded electric bike with tons of great features and only a handful of flaws.
The Scout comes in one color, flat black, and in two frame sizes, 49 cm and 54 cm. The frame is constructed from double-butted 6061 aluminum alloy with smooth welds, giving the 49 cm version a curb weight of 47.6 pounds without the battery, and 54.6 pounds with the battery, which is a bit heavier than average considering that it doesn’t have a rear rack. The official Populo website says the frame can support tires up to 38c, however my Scout came with larger 48c tires, which fit alright and didn’t rub but did seem a bit large for the bike. They helped to improve stability and comfort, so it’s neat that you could also decide to upgrade tires and feel confident that they would fit and not drag on the frame or fenders. The frame feels sturdy, even with a 200-pound rider, and the only downside I found was that the stem seemed overly tight. I tried loosening the screw on the top cap that connects the stem to the steering tube, but that failed to alleviate the pressure. I even took the Scout into a local bike shop and had them take a look at it. They mentioned the star nut that sits inside the stem was slightly askew, which may be the culprit, but in the end there was no easy fix and even after 50 miles the stem didn’t loosen at all. It wasn’t so tight that it made turning impossible, but it was noticeable and it did causes a fair amount of resistance when riding… so hopefully that’s not something that a lot of people will experience. I’m not sure if this is an issue with my specific unit, or if this is a stylistic or manufacturing issue with Populo? Feel free to chime in with your own experiences in the comments below. Either way, it’s not the worst thing in the world, but definitely something I wanted to note.
The handlebars are fitted with ergonomic grips made from what feels like synthetic leather. The grips are comfortable and the stitching looks nice, but out of the box I noticed the right grip on my Scout was loose and moved around when I put pressure on it. A little bit of tape or superglue would probably fix this in a few seconds, but again, just something I wanted to note because the grips were not locking. These are not the kinds of grips with lockers where you can just tighten a screw or clamp to keep them straight. On the right side of the handlebars is a thumb-activated bell to alert passersby that you’re, well, passing by. Also, on the right side of the handlebars is the thumb-activated Shimano M310 eight-speed gear shifter that connects to the Shimano Tourney derailleur, which is a pretty basic derailleur (entry level from the Shimano brand). The official Populo website says the Scout comes with a Shimano Altus derailleur, which is one step above the Tourney, but the model I received came with the Tourney. Shifting on the Scout was smooth enough, though I did experience some issues getting into top gear. It felt like the derailleur kept hanging onto 7th gear and just didn’t want to find 8th, this is something that a good tuneup from a bike shop cold possibly alleviate if you ever experience it, but that can cost $60 to $100 to do in my experience. I found that if I switched back and forth from 6th to 8th a few times it eventually hit top gear. Shifting also felt a bit laggy and clunky when trying to shift under heavy load and I actually had the chain pop off during this phase of testing. I suspect a bit of fine-tuning might alleviate this issue, but these were the issues I found with the Scout out of the box. The last thing on the right side of the handlebars is the brake lever, which leads down to the rear 180 mm hydraulic disc brake. The Scout has disc brakes in the front and rear, giving the bike ample stopping power without requiring too much hand strength. There was no disc rattle with the brakes and zero play or sponginess in the levers themselves.
In the middle of the handlebars is the Scout’s LED backlit HUD. The HUD itself isn’t interactive, but instead serves only as a screen from which you can see your current speed, max speed, average speed, how far you’ve gone during a trip, how far you’ve gone during the life of the Scout, how much battery power is left, what level of pedal-assist you’re on and whether the front headlamp is on or off. The information on the HUD is cleanly laid out and the fact that’s it backlit makes it easy to see during the day and at night. I really appreciate the level of detail that went into the Scout’s HUD, as I much prefer to use an integrated to HUD on my electric bikes as opposed to having to hook up my phone in order to see speed, distance, etc. On the left side of the handlebars is a brake lever that activates the front 180 mm hydraulic disc brake and the rubberized button control pad which allows you to switch between pedal-assist modes one through five, turn the front headlamp on and off and toggle between display settings. The tactile feedback on the control center’s buttons are good, providing an audible click and physical feedback when they’re depressed, and I think they would probably work well even with gloves on. The control center is secured to the handlebars via a clamp that is locked in place with a screw. This screw was missing out of the box, so the control center on my Scout frequently comes loose and falls off. Bummer, this is one of the trade-offs if you order a bike online vs. being able to find it in a shop… but Populo is building relationships with new dealers regularly, so not everyone will have to deal with the damage that can happen in shipping.
On the front of the Scout sits the integrated headlamp, which can be toggled on and off from the control center on the left side of the handlebars. It’s great that the Scout has a headlamp to help increase visibility in low-light conditions, but it does little in the way of actually illuminating my path. The headlamp isn’t particularly bright to begin with, and with the striated beam pattern it looks more like a bar code than an actual headlamp. I really enjoy riding at night so a good headlamp is important to me – I was disappointed the quality here. I ended up using my Bright As Day headlamps, which I use on pretty much all my electric scooters and bikes, and that allowed me to comfortably ride at night. The downside of lights like this is that you have to take them off when parking or risk losing them to a quick thief. I’d love to see a better headlamp in future models of the Scout, or at the very least, an option to upgrade to one because it’s handy to have lights attached more permanently and wired into the battery pack vs. having to charge a second one or two. Beneath the headlamp is the Suntour NEX E25 adjustable spring suspension, which offers 50 mm of travel. The shock worked well enough for hopping up and down curbs and dampening rougher roads and uneven terrain, but I wouldn’t necessarily say the Scout is a mountain bike. It has limited adjustability and is more of a street design to take the bite out of cracks in the road. The Populo Scout really feels like an urban electric bike to me, so I guess you could scout out your neighborhood? I stiffened the suspension a bit to compensate for my weight by using the compression dial and after they were properly adjusted there was minimal dive with heavy braking. If we keep going down from the suspension, we get to the 28″ smooth tires and stainless-steel spoked double walled rims. Pretty standard stuff here.
On the downtube of the Scout is the semi-integrated, detachable Panasonic 36v, 13ah, 468wh battery pack. That was a mouthful. But the battery pack is fantastic on the Scout. It sits nicely on the downtube and while it’s not completely flush with the frame, it’s not overly bulky or an eyesore that sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s also only as wide as the frame itself, so I didn’t have any issues of hitting the battery pack with my knees while pedaling. On the left side of the battery pack is the lock. The key isn’t used to activate the battery, but to remove it from the frame. Just turn the key, lift the lever and boom – the battery pack is free. The battery can be charged while it’s attached or detached from the frame, which is great because that means I can ride to my favorite coffee shop (which is Peet’s if you’re wondering), lock up the Scout and bring the battery inside to charge. There’s also a USB port on the right side of the battery so it can be used as a portable battery bank, which is great! Charging the battery takes about three hours, on the top of the battery itself is the power button, which also doubles as a quick way to check the battery power level. There are four hash marks to indicate 100%, 75%, 50%, and 25% or less. Populo estimates the battery can power the Scout for 28 miles, and to my surprise that’s almost exactly what my real-world testing showed. As a 200-pound rider operating with the highest pedal-assist level, I averaged 27 miles per charge. That totally blew me away and is by far the most accurate range estimation I’ve seen to date. I think a lighter rider or someone who is willing to use a lower pedal-assist setting would likely be able to go even further.
At the bottom of the Scout is the Bafang Max 350-watt mid-drive motor, which uses a torque sensor to determine how much help you need. I was impressed with the accuracy of the torque sensor and with how quickly the power came on when I started pedaling. And thankfully, I never felt like the bike was running away from me when I stopped pedaling, which is a problem I’ve noticed on some other electric bikes that use simple cadence sensors. The Bafang Max Drive motor is also ghostly quiet and I could only hear it running when it was under heavy strain. Because of how smooth the motor is and because of how quiet it is, riding the Scout really made me feel like I was much stronger and more fit than I actually am. Taking hills was easier than I expected, and even with just 350 watts of power I was able to get to the top of most inclines without exerting too much effort. In fact, I don’t think I ever broke a sweat while riding the Scout, but I do feel like it gave me a mild workout – maybe something comparable to a brisk walk, a cardio workout. The Scout is less versatile than some of the other Bafang motor bikes that have a throttle-only option, but honestly, I found that I really enjoyed being forced to pedal as it made me feel like I was at least burning some calories. The Populo website says the Scout comes with a Cionlli Ergonomic saddle, but my Scout came with a Velo Sport. At the bottom of seat post is quick-release lever to adjust the seat height.
Overall I feel like the Scout has some great features, like the comprehensive HUD, removable battery and an effective mid-drive motor, but it definitely has a few drawbacks, like the overly tight stem and somewhat unfinished feel due to the missing screw and loose grip. The derailleur and suspension are pretty basic but I like the hydraulic disc brakes, bottle cage bosses on the seat tube, fenders, bell, and lights (even though they were also kind of basic). The Scout seems like it’s a great electric bike for anyone looking for an urban commuter that won’t break the bank. AT $1,699, you’re definitely paying less than a lot of the higher-end electric bikes, but you’re still getting a decent product that fulfills its purpose… and does so quietly and smoothly ;)
- The Bafang 350-watt motor is extremely quiet and the torque sensors do a great job of detecting exactly how much pedal assist to deliver
- The real-world range of 27 miles (in my experience) is incredibly close to Populo’s estimated 28-mile range, and the range could probably be extended even further for riders who weigh less than 200 pounds and/or who are willing to use a lower pedal-assist setting
- Impressive and easily navigable HUD with tons of pertinent information, it’s also backlit so it’s easy to see during the day and at night
- Front suspension does a good job of dampening minor bumps and rough roads, making for an all-around smoother ride experience than if there was no suspension at all
- Battery locks into place and can only be removed with a key, so it’s relatively secure if you have to leave the Scout unattended, it also has a USB outlet so you can charge accessories while riding the Scout or use it as a portable battery bank
- Front and rear 180mm disc brakes give the Scout more than ample stopping power, there’s also no brake rattle out of the box and the brake levers themselves are very responsive and have no play in them
- Having eight different gears to choose from makes finding the right one for climbing hills and cruising an easy task
- Five different levels of pedal assist allows riders to choose between getting a good workout, or feeling like Lance Armstrong
- Relatively low price of $1,699 is less than a lot of higher end electric bikes, but doesn’t sacrifice too much in terms of quality
- The stem on my Scout was overly tight to the point that it made riding for long distances somewhat tiring and uncomfortable, even the folks at my local bike shop weren’t able to diagnose the issue
- There were some issues with the finish on my Scout, like the loose grip and the missing screw for the control center, as well as some discrepancies between the included components Populo advertises on their website vs. the actual components on the bike, like the Velo saddle as opposed to the Cionlli, Tourney derailleur vs the advertised Altus
- Shimano Tourney derailer struggled to find 8th gear, even when repeatedly switching back and forth from 6th to 8th, some tuning might fix this but out of the box there were definitely some issues
- The plastic chain cover is nice but I found that the derailleur was more basic and the chain fell off when riding at times, the Bafang Max Drive doesn’t provide any shift detection so it could put more wear on the drivetrain
- The Scout only comes in one color, flat black, but at least the tires have reflective stripes on them to keep you visible from the side
- The chain guard feels like it’s low quality – I struggled to get it back on after fixing the chain derailment during testing
- Official Site: https://www.populo.com/products/populo-scout-electric-bicycle
- More Pictures: https://photos.app.goo.gl/B4bWPhn83pPTkBby1