Taking to the streets with the Dyson Hard Tail electric bike (Credit: Loz Blain/Gizmag.com)
I'd always been hesitant to make the switch to an electric bike. Would that little nudge along eat away at my poor but hard-earned fitness base accumulated through cycling with nothing other than leg power? Would I be able to return to those grueling two-block city ascents without the luxury of an electric motor? Putting these concerns to one side for a couple of weeks, I climbed aboard the electrified Hard Tail, the flagship model from Australian company Dyson Bikes. And though it wasn't a dramatic enough leap to make a return to a conventional two-wheeler entirely unpalatable, the well-polished bike perfectly demonstrated the benefits of a little electrical assistance while whizzing around city streets.
For the most part, electric bikes conjure up images of freaky frames with bulky batteries conspicuously latched on, resembling more a quirky DIY project than your regular pushbike. Dyson was very conscious of this in building its top-of-the-line model, aiming to offer commuters an easier transition to powered cycling.
"Looking at the Hard Tail it seems just like a normal bike," Dyson Bikes co-owner David Metzke tells Gizmag. "It's a minimal design, so it doesn't look like you are riding a science experiment."
It is kind of hard to disagree on this point. Aside from the sizeable girth of the downtube aside (this is where Metzke and his team have placed the removable Sony 36 V 11.6 Ah battery), the Hard Tail looks and rides much like a normal mountain bike. Its aluminum alloy frame is painted black with a satin clear coat finish and rolls on 26-inch alloy rims with Kenda tires. There's also Suntour NEX front fork suspension for when the streets get a little rugged, and a Shimano Alivio 9-speed gear set. These are parts not normally associated with high-performance bicycles and as such, we wouldn't recommend gearing up for serious off-road endurance racing, but they performed just fine in moving around the city.
The law in Australia means that the legal maximum power output for an electric bike is 250 W, as it is in much of the world. Some countries and states in the US allow for electric bikes of up to 1,000 W, but these would be considered motorbikes Down Under, bringing on a whole other set of regulations. Motor assistance on the Hard Tail therefore cuts out at 25 km/h (15 mph).
The pedal assist engages pretty much instantly and intuitively, giving the bike great acceleration off the mark. In two full weeks of riding it in place of my regular bike, and commuting around 10 km (6 mil) up and down hills everyday, I never once had to really exert myself physically. And in a pleasant departure from my typical arrival at the office in the mornings, I entered entirely free of sweat, something that didn't go unnoticed by my colleagues.
The battery life came in just shy of the claimed 60 km (37 mi) range, though taking into account the hills and frequency of traffic stops this wasn't all that surprising. The battery can be monitored via a large backlit LCD display mounted on the handlebars, which also displays speed, power output, power consumption and allows you to flick between the six levels of motor assistance.
On the negative side, 25 km/h just ain't that fast. The easy acceleration of the Hard Tail will bring you to this speed very quickly, possibly after just a few pedals depending on which gear you're in. I quickly came to realize how regularly I travel faster than this – pretty much any time I am going downhill or on uninterrupted stretches of road with time to build up momentum. So although the Hard Tail required much less energy to get me to my destination, it also actually took a little more time. And while you are free to keep pedaling beyond this point, it becomes progressively difficult after the motor cuts out, where the direct drive creates a small but still noticeable drag.
This is of course completely out of Dyson's hands, as the company is simply adhering to the laws surrounding street legal electric vehicles. But for those that like to ride in the fast lane, something lighter might be more to their liking. Electric bikes come a lot heavier than the Hard Tail, which tips the scales at 23.2 kg (51.14 lb), but lighter options can be sniffed out. The US-based ProdecoTech offers 31.8-lb (14.4-kg) titanium-framed options, while English e-bike builder Cytronex offers modified Cannondales weighing as little as 28 lb (12.7 kg).
Made from more expensive materials, these will come with a higher price tag (or more bizarre shapes) than the Hard Tail, but this is where Metzke believes he has found a sweet spot. Priced at AUD$2,000 (US$1,455), this e-bike is certainly on the cheaper side, and is not a world away from what could easily be spent on a high quality road bike or commuter. So for people who aren't in a rush and looking for a gentle, super-comfortable way to catch some fresh air on their way to work, we reckon the Hard Tail from Dyson Bikes might fit the bill just nicely.
Product page: Dyson Bikes