Volton has been making the Alation since 2012, it’s an affordably priced, off-road capable ebike with a purpose built frame designed to keep battery weight low and balanced. While older models use 350 and 500 watt geared rear hub motors in 2014 this new mid-drive version was introduced with an 8Fun BBS01 geared center drive. I’m a big fan of the system because it’s quieter, stronger and more sophisticated than some other low end mid-drives but not so fancy that it jacks up the price. Keep in mind, if you bought the BBS01 with a 36 volt ~10 amp hour battery equivalent to what’s used on this bike it would likely cost upwards of $1,000. So with this bike priced at ~$2,300 including free shipping you get enormous value in my opinion. Not only does it include lights, fenders, an integrated battery design and a suspension fork with lockout but you also get a one year warranty. At the time of this review I was told that the bike is completely sold out and I can see why.
The motor driving this electric bike offers 350 watts of power which is about average. However, thanks to its mid-mounted configuration it actually climbs better and can reach higher top speeds than a hub motor would. You can operate the bike in one of three pedal assist modes that use a cadence sensor built right into the mid-motor casing and at any time you can also use the twist throttle as an override. The twist throttle offers as much power as the assist mode you choose so level 1 will feel weak and level 3 will feel strong. One downside with the twist throttle is that the bike does not offer throttle only mode… if you want that type of experience just choose pedal assist level three and don’t pedal, the throttle will still work. That said, if you forget that pedal assist is enabled and turn the cranks at all with your feet the bike may surprise you by activating the motor. Overall the motor is quiet, smooth and fairly powerful. You can use the eight speed cassette in the rear like the transmission on a car to optimize torque or speed but there is no shift sensor built in. This means that if you are throttling the bike hard while shifting you might encounter mashing and grinding. I usually slow my pedaling or activate the brakes momentarily (which cuts off power to the motor) and then shift.
The battery pack used for the Alation Mid Drive is a 36 volt 10.5 amp hour Samsung brick that’s designed to fit right into the downtube. It’s a wonderful design, especially considering the low price of this bike. Aesthetically it’s similar to what higher priced Stromer, Specialized and Easy Motion designs offer but not quite as secure or polished. Older Alation models had a cover that would rattle but that has been solved here with a rubberized edge that also keeps out dust and light exposure to water. The battery pack inside is also more secure now thanks to a canvas tote (complete with handles) designed to make charging and storing the battery away from the bike even easier. Frankly, it’s a great design for what it is and the cells themselves are high quality with Lithium-ion chemistry. The battery weight is kept low and center, very near the motor, and the controller and wiring are also stored in the frame so the overall appearance of the bike is not degraded. All except the front of the bike I guess, where wires from the brake levers and drive system are a bit exposed. I think normally they’d be more wrapped up but the demo bike I tested had just been built for our ride.
Operating the Alation Mid-Drive is similar to other Volton Alation ebikes but uses the stock Bafang display instead of a J-LCD King Meter. Once the battery pack is secure in the frame, you hold the power button on the control pad (located on the left portion of the handle bar near the grip) and the screen activates. It starts out in assist level one (the weakest level) and from there you press + or – on the control pad for more or less power. The display is large, backlit and adjustable (swivels forward or back) to reduce glare but it is not easily removable. that’s a bummer because you don’t want to tempt vandals or alert people to this being an electric bike. I suppose you could get a velcro cover or something to hide it and keep rain off but overall it’s very well sealed and designed to be exposed to the elements without issue. I like the trigger shifters, twist throttle and brake levers in use here. they’re all pretty standard in terms of design but the brake levers do cut power to the motor and include an integrated bell on the left grip which is neat.
I’ve long been a fan of Volton because their founder Joe Marchfield is such a nice and responsive guy. We recently went for a test ride near Chicago and I got to use the Mid-Drive and his 500 watt Alation and both performed well. It’s tough to find any ebikes below $2,500 that offer so many features and even tougher to find one that looks great and is well balanced. This bike is capable of light trail riding but also performs well in urban environments thanks to the suspension lockout and mounting points for adding a rear rack. I like the kickstand, pedals, disc brakes and lights that are included and feel like this is a great value overall.
- Efficient 350 watt mid-drive is a capable hill climber when used in conjunction with the eight speed Shimano cassette
- Front shock is smooth with good travel and offers lockout to reduce bob when riding on-road
- Fenders reduce exposure to water and mud, reinforced to limit ratting when used off-road
- LCD computer is intuitive, shows speed, capacity and range and has a breakout set of buttons that are easy to reach when riding, it is also backlit and operates the headlight
- Available in four color schemes and two frame sizes (step-thru and standard diamond high-step)
- 26″ wheels provide room for fenders, offer mechanical advantage for climbing and improve maneuverability for technical terrain
- Uses an oversized headset for increased strength in off-road applications and handling small jumps
- Solid single-sided kickstand stays up when riding and actually supports the bike well
- Removable battery can be charged off the bike which is very convenient for commuting or if you don’t have room inside for the entire bike, also reduces weight for transporting the frame on a bike rack
- Great customer service and support, one year warranty, bike includes a nice multi-tool for assembly
- Integrated front headlight is modular, plugs into the frame instead of being hard wired so you can completely remove it for off-road use if you want to reduce weight and complexity
- This is one of the few purpose built electric bikes that leverages the 8Fun BBS01, it’s a mid-level centerdrive system that costs less than Bosch, Panasonic and Yamaha but offers better performance than iGo, EVELO and eProdigy
- Rear light runs off of its own batteries vs. using the main pack, easier to forget and wear batteries down
- Primarily available online which makes demoing the bike and getting maintenance help a bit trickier
- No braze ons for mounting a water bottle cage on the seat post tube or downtube… get a CamelBak?
- Assembly required if you buy this online, may want to take it to a shop to true wheels but that adds to the cost
- Uses mechanical disc brakes vs. hydraulic, they work well enough but add to hand fatigue when riding off road and down steep hills for extended periods
- Only available in one frame size which is about medium for both stepthru and high step
- Throttle mode can only be used when bike is set to pedal assist (one of three levels), it would be nice if it worked at zero for throttle-only riding