Monday, May 17, 2010
One Week With: Pathfinder ST
I recently spent a week with the Pathfinder ST ebike, courtesy of The eBike Store. It proved to be a solid bike, nicely accessorized, at a good price point, with only a few minor complaints.
The Pathfinder is distributed in the US by Boomer Bicycles. It's a mid-battery, front hub motor ebike, based on an aluminum frame. Front suspension forks mellow the bumps, and the cruiser style handlebars and gel seat make for a comfortable, upright riding position. Front disc and rear drum brakes provide stopping power, and a 7 speed Shimano internal rear hub provides a wide range of gearing. Electrically, it's based on Ezee electronics: running 350 watts at 36 volts, and comes standard with a 14 amp-hour battery. It weighs in at 62lbs, and tops out unpedalled at 20mph. MSRP is $2,195. It offers a throttle control as well as 2 pedal assist settings.
Initially, I had not expected to like the step-through frame, but found I quickly appreciated the low step-over height. The Pathfinder is a reassuringly solid ride. The combination of the thick aluminum tubing used in the frame, large Schwalbe Big Apple tires, a generous seat, and broad handlebars make it feel larger than it is. The mid-frame battery placement keeps the center of gravity low. That said, at 62 lbs, it's not MAX-friendly if you want to hang it. Additionally, the stretched frame to accomodate the mid-frame placement of the battery means it doesn't fit in a Tri-Met bus-mounted bike rack.
A headlight and tail light are thoughtfully integrated into the electrical system. Also included standard is a rear wheel cafe lock - a short push locks the rear wheel to the frame. This won't prevent complete removal of the bike, but does prevent it from being rolled away. There is also an accessory chain available, making it easy to lock to a bike rack or other permanent structure.
Since the Pathfinder offers a combination of throttle and pedal assist, I tried to isolate both functions in performing a range test. Test ride conditions were a mix of flat and gentle hills; stop-and-go riding ala running errands. Using the throttle at full and pedalling as little as possible, I managed to get almost 17 miles on a charge. After switching to another fully charged battery, I followed the same general route using the pedal assist at its highest setting, and got almost 25 miles. Carrying the second battery was awkward - although it mounts easily and locks securely, the battery can be a bit awkward off the bike, as it lacks a handle. An accessory battery bag is available. When focusing on speed rather than efficiency, I found top throttle-controlled speed to be 20mph, pedal assist level 1 speed about 13mph, and pedal assist level 2 speed to be 17mph.
When I first received the bike, I noticed occasional noise from the rear drum brake. This lessened as my test continued. The front disc brake provided firm stopping power, even when wet. I did notice a strange intermittant noise from the front wheel; I believe it was the fender briefly rubbing on the tire. It didn't appear to be adversely affecting tire wear.
In practice, I found the Pathfinder to be a comfortable ride. Though it features a 7-speed hub, I found I usually selected the gear that yielded comfortable cadence at cruising speed, and used the throttle to smooth the sometimes "surge-y" acceleration to that speed, rather than shifting through the gear range. At speed, it's stable, predictable, and easily slowed down.
If I were to purchase a Pathfinder, I would definitely include the accessory locking chain as well as rear baskets. With these additions, it would be a solid dependable ride with lots of utilitarian value. Reflecting this, the Pathfinder is being used as rental and tour bike at Pedal Bike Tours as well as a fleet vehicle at Metro.
"Dude, Totally Rockin'"
Solid range, extendable with a little effort
Throttle/pedal assist mix
Integrated lock and lights
"I Dunno Man..."
"Surge-y" pedal assist at low pedal cadence
Intermittant rear brake noise
Occasional front fender rubbing
Not MAX/bus friendly
(Note: the Pathfinder has the disadvantage of being the first bike I've reviewed. In this space, I'll update this review with comparisons to other models as I test them.)