- An efficient, very approachable, city cruiser electric bicycle with upgradeable battery pack and optional secondary rear battery for extended range, delivers advanced pedal assist and twist throttle
- Dapu mid-motor is powerful, extremely quiet, and pairs perfectly with the Gates Carbon belt drive and NuVinci continuously variable transmission hub that can be shifted at standstill
- Available in two frame sizes and three colors, front and rear lights help you to see and reflective tires help you be seen, plastic fenders are durable and well connected here, rubber mud flap ends and alloy chainring guard are tough
- The rear light runs off of two AA batteries vs. being wired in, both lights have to be turned on physically, the spring suspension fork is a bit heavier and doesn't offer lockout, I loved the suspension post, sprung saddle, mid-rise handlebar with ergonomic grips and adjustable angle stem
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Velec is a Canadian electric bicycle company based in Montreal (Quebec) Canada, that has been designing and selling products to the US and Canada since 2005. The R48M is a 48-volt mid-drive city cruiser that balances efficiency with comfort while introducing some unique drivetrain components. Namely, a Gates Carbon belt drive and NuVinci N380 continuously variable transmission (CVT). Belts tend to last longer than chains, produce less noise, and stay cleaner because they do not utilize lubrication in the same way. With just one 55-tooth chainring up front and a single 24-tooth cog in the rear, the belt remains tight and there’s no need for an external derailleur device that could get kicked or bumped at the bike rack. The NuVinci N380 offers 380-degrees of cadence options for effective climbing and faster-paced riding alike. You can shift ratios at standstill by twisting the half-grip shifter on the left or zip up to speed anytime by twisting the half-grip throttle on the right. It’s an intuitive product that offers excellent weight distribution, some fun extras like a USB port on the of the battery box, and some safety upgrades like lights, reflective tires, fenders, and bright frame color options. Weighing in at ~68 lbs for the large size frame, the R48M is about three pounds heavier than the standard R48, which uses a planetary geared hub motor and traditional chain with cassette. That model costs ~$1,100 less and offers a similar seating position and ride feel. I was really excited to check out the R48M in particular, because there just aren’t that many e-bikes out there with belts, CVT’s, mid-drives, and throttle operation. The high-end centerdrives from Bosch, Brose, Yamaha, and Shimano are all Class 1, meaning that they only offer pedal assist. I tested this model and the hub motor powered R48M at a shop called Best Electric Bikes in Denver Colorado, with the founder Terry Gehrke. For the video review above, we each took an R48M and climbed some moderate hills. He’s a 200+ lb man who is about 5’9″ tall and 66 years old… and the bike performed very well from what I could tell. My favorite parts were how quiet it operated and how the twist throttle could override any of the 1-5 levels of assist with full power. Some of the downsides included cheaper independently operated lights (with physical on/off switches that take extra time to deal with), the added weight and slight drag of the fluid-filled NuVinci hub, and the higher price point. The company sells through a growing network of dealers, most of which were located in Canada at the time of this review, and offers a solid 1+ year comprehensive warranty.
Driving this electric bike is a Dapu MD350 mid-motor. It offers roughly 350 to 500 watts of power and up to 80 Newton meters of torque, according to the company website. As you pedal along, the motor controller listens for movement as well as pedal force to ramp up smoothly. It’s a natural feeling, very quiet motor system that weighs a bit more than average at ~11 lbs. Mid-motors utilize the same drivetrain as the rider does when pedaling, so shifting gears lower or higher reduces work and makes it more effective and efficient. It’s still up to you to shift however, and this motor controller doesn’t come with shift detection… but that’s not an issue here, because the NuVinci CVT hub won’t mash and skip the way that a sprocket and derailleur might. I’ve already talked a bit about the belt drive system, but want to further call out how Gates has designed a center-track system to keep it from slipping off. Velec did not opt for a complete belt cover, but there was an alloy chainring guard on the demo bike I tested. Interestingly, this part is not shown on their stock photo (the first picture on white above). This guard should further secure the belt and keep your pant leg and dress ends clean and snag-free. Because the motor casing and battery box are black, they do stand out a bit visually on the red and titanium colorways, but those two will probably generate more attention from motorists and potentially keep you safer than the satin black. Aside from efficiency, mid-motors also keep weight low and centered on the frame and free up the rear wheel for different drivetrain options (like the NuVinci N380 here), they tend to make wheel maintenance easier, and reduce frame flex. Velec went above and beyond to strengthen this ebike by adding gusset plating near the top and bottom sections of downtube as well as secondary chain stay tubing at the rear. Can you see how there are three tubes in the back vs. just two on a standard bicycle? This should strengthen the frame and improve stability while riding while also fortifying the rear-rack mounting position… and that’s important considering the optional rack mount battery upgrade!
The battery situation for some of the Velex models is unique, and good if you like choice. The stock pack offers 48 volts 11 amp hours for 528 watt hours, which I would consider above average for the 2018 season. I weighs about 7.4 lbs, which is more than the Bosch and Yamaha 500 watt hour packs that are built into plastic cases. I like how neatly the Velec pack seats into the downtube, nearly disappearing and keeping weight low for balance and stability. For ~$300 more, you can upgrade to a 48 volt 14 amp hour 672 watt hour battery that will take you further and weigh about 0.5 lbs more. It seats into the same downtube interface and has apparently become one of the most popular choices for consumers, based on feedback from Terry and his customers. In the scheme of things, for a $3.4k ebike, $300 isn’t much money to get that extra peace of mind. At first, I thought that these were the only two battery options on offer for the R48M, but Terry showed me a rear rack upgrade with 48 volt 4.4 amp hour battery for an additional $375. You’re paying at a similar rate for the rack battery, which replaces the stock rack, but bringing weight up on the frame. The Velec models I test rode for this review were all pre-wired for this rack battery, and that impressed but also surprised me. That’s a bit of extra weight and cost on every bike sold and I probably don’t fit the use case for really needing the extra juice, so it didn’t resonate with me as much as the $300 upgrade. All said and done, with both battery upgrades purchased, you could be riding with 48 volt 18.4 amp hours 883.2 watt hours… almost an entire kilowatt hour of battery capacity! For larger riders, commuters who can’t charge half way, and those who heavily rely on assist level 5 or the twist throttle, this is a cool option. But remember, the mid-drive motor is already more efficient than the hub, so you should get better range right off the bat. It’s great that all battery options are removable for storing and charging independent of the frame. Extreme heat and cold can damage Lithium-ion cells, especially if you charge a very cold battery. The stock charger offers 3 amp output, so it will fill faster than the standard 2 amp chargers included with more basic bikes.
Operating the Velec R48M is intuitive, but there are extra steps and more control over drive modes than most of the other electric bicycles I’ve reviewed in this category. To start, you charge and mount the battery pack… and yes, you can charge the pack while mounted to the bike by plugging in on the left side of the downtube. I love that Velec positioned the charging port high and clear of the left crank arm. And, on that note, it’s nice that they also positioned the rear kickstand clear of the left crank arm. So once the battery is in place, you hold the power button on the control pad, mounted near the left grip. The monochrome display blinks to life fairly quickly with speed, assist level, battery charge level, and trip stats. Since Canadada and the US use different units of measurement for speed, I want to point out that you can switch from MPH to KM/H and back by Holding the + and – keys on the control pad. Holding the – key alone will enter into a password menu where I’m guessing that you could adjust the speed and wheel size settings, or perform diagnostics. Holding the Set button will clear your trip meter. The control pad is fairly easy to reach and I appreciate the Set key, but wish that there was a way to operate the lights from here as well. It would be nice if you could remove the display unit to reduce damage when parking outside or at a public rack, especially since it’s a bit large. The extra toggle button on the left (not shown in my photos, and possibly not always included) allow you to switch from the main downtube battery to the optional rear rack battery. The extra red toggle button on the right allows you to turn the twist throttle on and off. This feature is wonderful to have but not always included because it can block trigger shifters. Imagine that you’re getting on or off the bike but you haven’t turned the throttle off, it could be twisted accidentally and send the bike forward. Again, nice to have this! and only really possible here because of the left grip NuVinci shifter choice. It’s neat to see how Velec paid close attention to these details. In closing, I mentioned that the battery pack has an integrated full-sized USB port near the top edge, where the flip-up handle is, and that’s nice to have if you’re navigating with a smartphone or adding extra lights etc. but it would be nice if the display panel also had a USB port built in, so the wire wouldn’t have to go as far. You could always purchase a right angle interface like this to keep the wire pointed forward.
Velec makes a wide range of ebike products and the R48M is near the top in terms of performance and quality. Not everything here is top notch however, the mechanical disc brakes are average compared to hydraulic but do have motor inhibitors built-in for safety. The bike weighs and costs a lot more than their A2 model, which also offers an approachable step-thru design, but that one only comes in one size. The included plastic fenders, with mud flaps, performed well and stayed pretty quiet. Plastic almost always produces some rattling noise, but the rear fender was attached to the rack for increased strength. You get a little flick bell, decent rubberized pedals that won’t cut your shins if you slip off, and premium Schwalbe tires with Performance Line SmartGuard puncture protection. I haven’t mentioned comfort up until this point because it’s pretty apparent. The Velec R48 series comes with a basic suspension fork, suspension seat post, huge sprung saddle, adjustable stem, and mid-rise bars with ergonomic grips. This electric bicycle is a turn-key solution for people who want power, balance, and comfort and Terry acknowledged that they have been very reliable for his customers. I personally love that there are so many choices here in terms of size, color, and even motor type. If you do opt for the secondary rack battery, note that it will have to be charged separately from the main pack, they don’t charge in a connected way even though they may both be charged while mounted to the frame. Note that the twist throttle is not active at level zero (even if you have the toggle switch set to on). Big thanks to Best Electric Bikes for hosting me during these reviews and to Velec for partnering with me on this review! I welcome your feedback and comments below or in the Velec electric bike forums.
- Extremely approachable and comfortable, with two frame sizes (both in step-thru), a vertically adjustable quill stem with adjustable angle, ergonomic grips, suspension fork, suspension seat post, and extra wide sprung saddle… this ebike rides like a dream
- The mid-drive version of this electric bicycle costs more, but it’s a more capable climber and will get better range if you shift gears effectively
- The Dapu mid motor listens for pedal cadence and torque, making it very responsive, it doesn’t offer shift detection in this case but that’s not an issue with the NuVinci internally geared hub
- The NuVinci N380 can be shifted at standstill and tends to be more durable than a cassette and derailleur at bike racks because the gear ratio is internal, this is nice if your bike tips over or gets parked at a crowded rack
- Belt drives tend to be extremely durable, clean, and quiet, it’s like the timing belt in an automobile that can last for tends of thousands of miles
- Great utility with stock plastic fenders, a front and rear light, flick bell, adjustable kickstand positioned clear of the left crank arm, and sturdy rear rack with pannier hangers and bungee loops on the sides
- Available in three beautiful colors, so you can mix and match if more than one member of the family buys a bike… I like the metallic titanium and red because they offer increased visibility, but the black really hides the wires, motor casing, and battery
- In addition to the visible paint options, you do have the lights and reflective tires working to keep you seen in low-light conditions
- Velec provides a faster than average three amp battery charger so you can spend more time riding and less time waiting, it’s cool that they offer two battery sizes and even have a rear-rack battery upgrade for people who need extra range
- Only a few mid-drive motor systems are compatible with throttles and this is one of them! For those who need help getting started or might not want to pedal constantly, it’s a great feature to have
- The added weight from the battery and motor is positioned low and center for optimal handling, I love how integrated the battery is because it basically disappears
- I love that the twist throttle can be disabled, simply click the red toggle switch to the lower left area and you won’t have to worry about bumping it during mounting/dismounting or bumpy sections of terrain
- Minor pro here, the brake levers both have motor inhibitor switches built in which offers a bit more control and peace of mind… I don’t consider them quite as necessary for a torque and cadence sensing motor design like this but aside from the extra wires, there isn’t really a downside to having them
- It’s cool that they got a left side grip shifter for the NuVinci and put the twist throttle for the motor on the right, this just feels more natural to me, like riding a motorcycle or jet ski which also tend to put throttles on the right
- If you look at the frame tubing here, it’s clear that Velec added a lot of material where the downtube meets the seat tube to reduce flex, they even added a second chain stay so there are three tubes working together on each side of the rear section of frame
- Cables are internally routed for nicer aesthetics and reduced snags and I appreciate where they positioned the charging port on the left side of the frame (clear of the crank arms further down)
- The battery pack has a flip-up handle to help you remove and transport it safely, that’s a big deal because Lithium-ion battery packs like this tend to be very expensive and can be damaged easily if dropped
- Gates produces some of the highest quality belt drive systems on the market for bicycles and this particular belt offers CDX center-tracking so it won’t slip off to either side over time, I appreciate the chainring guard as well which should keep your pants or skirt ends clean
- In order to fit a belt drive onto most bicycle frames, there has to be a cutaway section in the frame which compromises strength and adds weight and cost, you can see the cutaway here on the right seat stay just above the rear dropout
- Continuously variable transmissions tend to weigh more than internally geared hubs and traditional cassettes and the NuVinci N360 and N380 contain a fluid that produces a bit of drag as you pedal, some users notice this more than others, it’s not a big concern for me given that this is an electric bike with an efficient 350 watt mid-motor
- The integrated headlight is mounted to the arch of the suspension and may bounce as you navigate through bumpy terrain vs. if it were mounted to the head tube, stem, or handlebar… the backlight runs on two AA batteries and takes more effort to switch on and remember to switch off after each ride, I was surprised that the headlight also still has a manual button press vs. using the main control pad/display to operate
- The spring suspension fork is a little basic and does not include lockout so there can be some bobbing and dive when braking especially, mechanical disc brakes are okay but hydraulic tend to require less effort and offer more adjustability, the rubberized plastic pedals won’t cut your shins but aren’t as stiff or grippy as alloy, the display works fine but isn’t removable and doesn’t have a USB charging port built-in… thankfully, the battery pack does have a full sized USB so you could run a cable up from there
- The R48M weighs about 68 lbs while the hub motor powered R48 weighs about 65 lbs, so the motor and continuously variable transmission do add a few pounds, I would consider both models a bit heavier than average and that may be due to the sturdier rear rack, additional suspension, larger saddle, and integrated battery design (with reinforced downtube and double chain stay to help reduce frame flex)
- The rear rack is positioned pretty close to the seat tube and saddle, this brings weight closer to the frame for strength and reduced flex but it might also put a trunk bag very close to the saddle and limit the minimum seat height in that case… this is more of a wash than a con :)
- This is more of a consideration than a con, sometimes the adjustable angle stems can rattle loose over time (especially on bumpy terrain or if you go off curbs), this one seemed to have one main bolt vs. two so just check it occasionally and tighten right away to keep it from stripping