Motorhead-To-Head: E-Bike Test

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Benji takes his iron fist of judgement to three full-power e-bikes with three very different motors.

Words Benji  Photography Amanda

This is a test of e-bikes. Proper e-bikes. Full-power e-bikes. None of your ‘diet’ e-bikes or vogue-ish ‘mid-power’ e-bikes here thankyouverymuch.

These are full-bore machines offering the most mostness currently available. 85Nm of torque. Big batteries. None of these bikes are ‘gateway drugs’. None of them are dipping their toes into the e-water. They are all bikes for folk who are fully committed to taking E.

As you shall see over the next few reviews, while the bikes are all nominally similar to each other (mixed wheel mullets with decent amounts of suspension travel), they each come with a different motor and it’s the difference in motors that most of you will no doubt be interested in. Because you can’t change your motor. You’re stuck with it. And the motor has a huge effect on the whole experience of e-biking.

The three key players in the motor scene we’re assessing here are Bosch, Yamaha and Shimano. To be precise we have a Canyon Strive:ON CFR with a Bosch Performance Line CX, a Haibike Nduro 7 with a Yamaha PW-X3 and a Marin Alpine Trail E1 with a Shimano EP6.

The bikes

  • Brand: Canyon
  • Product: Strive:ON CFR
  • Price: £6,699
  • From: canyon.com
  • Tested by: Benji

Read the Canyon Strive:ON CFR review

  • Brand: Haibike
  • Product: Nduro 7
  • Price: £5,599
  • From: haibike.com
  • Tested by: Benji

Read the Haibike Nduro 7 review

  • Brand: Marin
  • Product: Alpin Trail E1
  • Price: £4,795
  • From: marinbikes.com
  • Tested by: Benji

Read the Marin Alpine Trail E1 review

The Verdict

As expected – and vaguely sort of planned – this e-bike test is less about the bikes and more about the motors. The bottom line is that the bikes are all really good. Different from each other certainly, but there’s none that stand out as being clearly The Best or The Worst.

If I had to come out with some sort of value judgement (which I suppose I probably should do because people like that sort of thing) I’d say that the Canyon Strive:ON CFR is the best all-rounder. I’d take its ‘e-enduro race-bike’ status with a pinch of salt. Perhaps that’s not the right phrase. I’m sure it is a mighty fine e-race-bike. Fabien Barel keeps winning E-Enduros on it after all! I just think it’s a more approachable and useful bike than keeping it between the race tapes. It’s a bike that people really like the aesthetic of and doesn’t have any real chinks in its spec. 

My personal favourite bike was the Haibike Nduro 7. It has its minor flaws (mainly the slightly underpowered brakes and less sophisticated Yamaha system) and some of the finishing kit is not-so-good (grips, dropper post) and it is really flipping heavy to lift over a gate. But it just rode everything really, really well. Bafflingly well in fact.

It has no right to be as nimble as it is. It makes no sense. I also can really appreciate the MRS accessory mounting system. Bottle and battery flexibility is actually really useful. And as for the way it looks, I actually quite like it. It grows on you. It certainly looks a lot better in real 3D life than in pictures (that was a common quote from other people actually). The Nduro 7 was the bike I’d have even if it needs some instant upgrades (grips, dropper post and 220mm rotors). 

The Marin Alpine Trail E1 was the bike with the tightest focus. Or the narrowest remit. Depending how you look at it. It didn’t feel like it was designed to cover a lot of ground. It is not a cross-country/trail bike. I’m not sure it even fits the enduro tag. Enduro riding implies a fair amount of mileage and differing terrain.

The Alpine Trail E1 was more at home in the woods. Take it somewhere forest flavoured where you don’t ever really leave the same square mile of trees and ride everything in there. Twice. Possibly thrice. It’s a rare e-bike that thrives on jumps and similarly ‘built’ trail features.

Best motor

Motors then. Bosch versus Yamaha versus Shimano. As it turns out, I think this is a pretty easy contest to call.

Bosch is best. It has the most power. And it doesn’t mind giving it to you when you need it. But you can always turn the power down (and other tweaks can be fiddled with via the attendant phone app) if you want something more subtle. My only real niggle with the Bosch Performance Line CX is that Bosch doesn’t do a modest-size display (à la Shimano) that shows you a few really useful stats (cadence, clock, etc.). It’s either minimalist LEDs or a massive telly on your handlebar.

The Yamaha PW-X3 didn’t impair the experience of the Haibike Nduro 7 per se, but I think a Nduro 7 with a Bosch motor (and a Shimano display) would be unbeatable. The Yamaha just didn’t feel as polished or predictable as the Bosch. And while its top-end grunt was similar – or close enough – the overall fuel economy wasn’t quite as good. The Yamaha wouldn’t stop me buying the Haibike though.

The Shimano EP6 was the motor that impressed me the least. I mean, it’s not like it doesn’t work or is ‘bad’, it’s just that when ridden back-to-back with the other motors here, the Shimano feels underpowered. Underpowered at odd times; it’s totally fine when taking it easy and spinning away – it’s a really nice casual cruiser actually – but when you really get on the gas to attempt a steep, thrutchy bit of climb, the power drops away and a lot of the time you have to stop and get off. Which is a bit disappointing on an e-bike. I will say that the control and display of the Shimano system was the best of the bunch. Just that little bit more than minimalist, but significantly not as OTT as other systems with huge screens and big control decks, etc.

Yes and no and back again

To conclude then, should the motor be the deciding factor when browsing e-bikes? Yes, definitely. You can’t change the motor, so it’s an important choice.

Personally, I like the Bosch motor. But also: no. I have ridden many motors – if you don’t know what you’re missing you can’t miss it, just as if you’ve not ridden a modern geometry bike you’re likely still quite happy with your 2015 frame.

But also yes: if I were shopping, I wouldn’t buy a 2015 frame, and I (probably) wouldn’t want anything other than a Bosch.

And no again: an e-bike with poor geometry and ropey finishing kit is not going to be saved by a Bosch motor, so the usual Important Bike Things still apply. 

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Review Info

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Product: N/A
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Tested: by Benji for Singletrack World Magazine Issue 150

Orange Switch 6er. Stif Squatcher. Schwalbe Magic Mary Purple Addix front. Maxxis DHR II 3C MaxxTerra rear. Coil fan. Ebikes are not evil. I have been a writer for nigh on 20 years, a photographer for 25 years and a mountain biker for 30 years. I have written countless magazine and website features and route guides for the UK mountain bike press, most notably for the esteemed and highly regarded Singletrackworld. Although I am a Lancastrian, I freely admit that West Yorkshire is my favourite place to ride. Rarely a week goes by without me riding and exploring the South Pennines.

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