The Smart Ebike is one of a handful of new electric bike offerings from established automobile companies, in this case Mercedes Benz Smart. In the same way that Ford partnered with Pedego to create the Supercruiser, Smart chose to partner with BionX for their drive system and consulted the famous German designer Kalle Nicolai to create an iconic frame. This bike performs very well, is made with durable components from SRAM, Magura and Ergon and is nearly silent to operate. While it’s not the lightest weight ebike at 57.5 pounds, it does keep battery and motor weight low and balanced and is priced fairly well given the brand support and complete package (fenders, LED lights, regenerative braking).
Driving this electric bicycle is a 350 watt gearless direct drive hub motor from BionX. It’s compact, durable and very quiet (because it doesn’t rely on gears). It’s a proven design that BionX has been refining to be increasingly durable and light weight with each iteration. What’s so unique about this specific model is the internal three speed SRAM I-Motion 3 hub built right into the motor! Think of it this way… at the core of the metal cylinder is an internally geared hub that you use to change gears when pedaling and then orbiting that hub is an array of magnets that are driven forward by the electromagnetic stater. It’s a gearless motor with a geared hub inside. The benefit is that gears stay clean, require less maintenance and there is more room for a belt drive system vs. a chain. In this case, the belt drive is an ultra tuff carbon design from Gates. With this system you don’t need to worry about rust and you also get a quieter pedaling experience (which compliments the silent motor operation perfectly). Don’t worry though, the bike does come with a bell for those moments when you DO want to be heard ;)
The battery pack powering this bike offers an impressive 48 volts of power with 8.8 amp hours of capacity. That’s above average for most ebikes I’ve tested and it makes accelerating and climbing easier. The battery pack is custom designed to follow the curves of the frame and can be charged on or off the bike which is convenient for topping off at work or if you live upstairs but park the bike in a garage at street level. When BionX was working with Smart to develop this bike they also created a feature called Deep Sleep that senses if battery is getting low or hasn’t been used. When activated (after 2 months of inactivity or 2 weeks if the battery is lower than 10%) it completely shuts the pack down to avoid damage, prolonging its life.
In addition to powering the motor, the battery on the Smart electric bike also powers a nice backlit display that shows you speed, distance and battery capacity as well as a front and rear LED light. The wires are all run through the frame on this bike which makes for a clean aesthetic and they have even added a USB outlet below the light so you can plug your phone or other smart device in to charge when riding! They really did things right here in my opinion and the clean design compliments the quiet riding experience and beautiful paint job (which comes in white and green or gray and orange). In addition to the standard BionX display mentioned earlier (which is removable for safe storage) there is also an optional smart phone mount and ANT+ dongle that lets you mate an Android or iOS smart phone with the bike for more stats. It worked really well during my tests and could come in handy for GPS mapping your way around the city but otherwise I’d just rely on the standard display. I realize my iPhone screen didn’t look too bright in the video but it worked alright in real life, having two screens looks a bit goofy but they function well and the mount is pretty flexible (accommodating 3.5″ to 4.3″ screens with vertical or horizontal orientation).
There’s a lot to say about this ebike but the funny thing is, I haven’t been able to find it very easily in the USA as of July 2014? Smart has launched it in Europe with lower end specs (250 watt motor and 15mph top speed) and presumably are preparing to launch here before 2015. You really get a refined experience here and the optional cargo rack, matching panniers and jacket and optional suspension fork make it pretty versatile. The price is a bit higher but I think it’s justfied and I trust both Smart and BionX. Depending on your height the Medium-only frame size could be a limiter but the seat is fairly adjustable. The angled top tube and 26″ tires make it easy to mount and stand over for people who aren’t as tall. This would be a perfect electric bike for city or neighborhood riding. Even though it looks futuristic, the electric drive systems all blend in and operate quietly which means you won’t scare away wildlife on paved bike trails or attract unwanted attention. Smart has done a great job and even though it’s a first-generation product the drive system is very well tested.
- Integrated wires look great, matching front and rear fenders and LED lights add utility
- Two colors and lots of accessories to choose from including suspension fork, cargo rack, matching panniers, jacket and smart phone mount with wireless ANT+ dongle
- Removable battery can be charged on or off the bike and keeps weight low and center, also blends in nicely
- BionX motor is smooth and nearly silent, also offers regen modes and regenerative braking
- LCD display is backlit, easy to access when riding, removable for safe storage and right or left hand accessible (symmetrical design with buttons on both sides)
- Small break-out tactile button pad on left handle bar makes changing assist levels easy without taking your hand off the grip
- Ergon PC2 pedals are extra wide and grippy, also include reflectors. The Ergon GP1 grips match the bike and reduce hand fatigue when riding longer distances
- Magura MT4 hydraulic disc brakes stop the bike quickly and are very easy to activate with one or two fingers
- Gates carbon belt drive stays clean, won’t rust like traditional chains and is nearly silent when pedaling
- Continental EcoContact tires offer a bit of cushion when riding in the city and coast very efficiently on pavement due to their slick tread pattern
- Solid two year drive system warranty, BionX is larger established company (in business since 2000)
- Rear-wheel hub motor exerts force onto the part of the frame that is designed to handle it vs. front hub designs, great if you get the optional front shock
- Deep Sleep technology senses if battery is getting low or hasn’t been used and completely shuts down to avoid damage (after 2 months of inactivity or 2 weeks if battery is <= 10%
- Unique frame looks cool but does not include a water bottle mount and may be trickier to mount on car racks designed to leverage open space below the top tube
- More expensive than some electric bikes, accessories like the rear rack and smart phone interface will cost extra
- Heavier than some city style electric bikes at nearly 60 pounds due to reinforced frame
- Limited gear range (three speed internally geared hub by SRAM) works alright for moderate terrain
- Only available in one frame size, medium, but the angled top tube and smaller 26″ wheels keep stand-over height low and make the bike easier to mount
- Direct-drive setup enables regen but also creates some cogging drag compared with geared freewheel designs (thought it is minimal on this 350 watt motor)
- Battery pack takes up space where you might otherwise fit a bottle cage, consider a CamelBak