Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Final Report: The Kalkhoff Pro Connect Sport
I rode the Kalkhoff Pro Connect Sport for several days recently. I thoroughly enjoyed riding this bike, and I've come away from the test ride with some thoughts. I'll fill you in on the particulars of the test, and then share my thoughts.
The Pro Connect Sport is the sportiest model of the Kalkhoff line, though it shares Panasonic electronics with the rest of their line. It's a mid-drive system - the 250 watt motor drives a small sprocket behind the front chainring. The 26 volt/10 amp-hour battery is mounted mid-frame, behind the seat tube and in front of the rear fender. It locks securely to the frame; there is no outlet for on-bike charging, so the battery must be removed to be charged. The battery is small, weighs ~5lbs, has a convenient carrying handle, and a 5-point charge indicator. It's mountain bike style frame and straight handlebars lead to a fairly aggressive riding position, especially for an ebike. As a regular bike, it's a very nice bike, albeit a bit heavy at 47lbs; without the battery or powered off, it doesn't have any of the heft that many other ebikes do. It includes hard-wired front and rear lights, and retails for $3,399.
I had 2 initial questions regarding the kit that comes on this model. First, I was surprised not to see disc brakes on a bike in this price range. Peter, Kalkhoff USA's head mechanic, explained that this choice was intentional - they'd opted for hydraulic rim brakes for better brake articulation and power. They work very well, though they don't have an electric interrupt to disengage the motor when the brakes are applied, which can be a nice feature. Second, I was surprised that the rear wheel was equipped with a 9-speed derailer rather than an internal hub; other models in the Kalkhoff line have internal hubs. Again, as this is their performance model, they opted for the better performance/weight of the derailer system. Also, due to the additional length of the frame to accommodate the mid-frame battery, this ebike doesn't fit well on Tri-Met bus bike racks.
The Pro Connect Sport is the first torque-based pedal-assist ebike I've ridden. There are sensors built in to the pedals that detect how hard you are pushing them, and deliver a proportional amount of motorized assist. The extra hit of speed is a compelling reward - I found myself eagerly pedaling a little harder to get that little extra bit, as well as to avoid the feeling of the motor turning off when you stop pedaling. It's like the bike is saying, "Well, if you're not working for it, neither am I" - and there's no way around it. In contrast to unpowered bikes, it's better to not downshift when climbing - "mash don't spin" is the way I think of it. With the assist engaged, it's easy to tool around at 17-18mph; I found my top speed to be about 22mph, which is consistent with The Oregonian's experience.
The worst case scenario range test was a challenge - due to the torque sensor assist design, in order to get the motor to work it's hardest, I would have to work my hardest. On a single charge, at the highest assist setting, in top gear, I managed to get 34 miles. Any technique used to extend your range, eg a lower assist setting, could significantly extend this. Kalkhoff's sales material claims up to 50 miles on a single charge; due to its sportiness, I find that a bit of a stretch for the Pro Connect Sport, but I think it's entirely possible for the balance of their line.
One of the most remarkable things about this ebike is that Mrs. PDXebiker liked it; she quickly broke into a smile as she started off in the lowest assist level and moved up to the highest level. She found the assist was more intuitive and less obtrusive than other ebikes she's tried - granted, her regular bike is a mountain bike, so its a form factor she's comfortable with. This may be the case with other torque-sensing pedal assists; it will be interesting to see.
That's what the Kalkhoff did for me as well - it reminded me of a more bike-like experience. It might make you work a little harder for your fun than other ebikes, but it encourages you and meets you halfway. It provides a little extra power when you need it, and truly seamlessly fades into the background when you don't. A lot of the design naturally flows from that starting point: with less assist comes lower battery requirements, which can mean a lighter frame, which can mean more range, etc. Yes, it is an expensive ebike, there's no way around that - but it's a very nicely equipped bike, and it rides like one. This ebike will appeal to people that already like riding a bike, and who appreciate that with regard to bike quality, you get what you pay for.
Motor feedback encourages active pedaling.
Nicely equipped with top-end components.
Also serviceable as a regular bike.
Battery must be removed to be charged.
Charger is fairly large, making it difficult to carry on bike.
Price. But I'm an admitted cheapskate.
Update, June 18
My review is of the 2009 model. For 2010, the motor is upgraded to 300 watts; all things being equal, I'd expect to see a little more acceleration, a slightly higher top-end, at the expense of some battery life. Not a bad upgrade, in my opinion.