Propain Ekano Performance review: suits me, sir

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Does the Propain Ekano Performance’s capable suspension and fun handling overcome its modest battery and Brexit-tastic price hike?

Brand: Propain
Product: Ekano Performance
From: propain-bikes.com
Price: £5,021 (Propain: “In addition to shipping costs [£199.90] you need to pay import sales tax (20%) and custom duty 6%.”)
Tested by: Benji for 2 months

Propain Ekano Performance
Pretty in pink (pedals)

Three things I liked

  • The handling
  • The looks
  • The attitude

Three things I’d change

  • Moar Watt Hours
  • Eddy Currents don’t like the UK/winter
  • Shorter stem and higher bars please
Shimano EP8, kids water bottle and Propain’s dual link suspension design

Propain seem to have their cake and eat it. They are a direct sales brand, they don’t spend kerbillions on marketing campaigns and yet somehow they are always one of the more desirable and ‘cool’ brands out there.

Some of this will be due to having riders like Phil Atwill and George Brannigan on their bikes. There is never an ‘edit’ from Atwill or Branningan that isn’t worth watching. You always click on their vids when they come up. Well, I do anyway.

Charging port tricky to access

The other quality of Propain bikes is that they look good. On the one hand, aesthetics shouldn’t matter. But on the other hand, who wants to ride an ugly bike? For my money, even after a couple of years since its release, the Propain Ekano is still one of the best looking ebikes out there. I can’t really explain why or how it looks cool. It just does.

The Ekano isn’t showing its age in a style sense but any full-power ebike that comes with a 504Wh battery in 2022 has something of a fight on its hands. And since Brexit, the landing-cost of Propains aren’t quite as attractive as they used to be. 

You turn me on

Does the Ekano’s style overcome the twin prong attack of battery capacity and price tag?

The Bike

As with most Propain bikes, the Ekano is overtly about technical terrain and overtly about descending. Which sounds a bit like myself. This Ekano has 29in wheels front and rear (full 27.5in and mullet/MX builds are available) and offers a bold 165mm of travel at the back paired with a 170mm RockShox ZEB Ultimate up front.

For what it’s worth, the ZEB really helps with the bike’s overall stylish aesthetic. A 36mm fork, or a Fox fork, wouldn’t look nearly as ‘right’. Again, should mean nothing, but it does.

Cable routing is quiet

I’ll not go too much into the detail of the spec, as it’s all detailed below, suffice to say that it was all pretty much fine. The 150mm KS Lev dropper didn’t offer enough drop for such a rad bike but the proper Ekanos come with different droppers now, so I’ll not bang on about it. 

The cockpit combo was serviceable although I ended up running a shorter stem and higher rise bars. Again, rad bikes deserve rad set-ups.

I didn’t even realise it had a restricted-rotation headset. A good sign.

I was pathetically excited about getting some time in on the Schwalbe Eddy Current tyres but unfortunately I found them rather lacking for UK winter. Too much locking-up on descents and Wile E Coyote-style spinning on climbs. They also really don’t help the fuel economy of this 504Wh battery-d bike. I swapped in a Schwalbe Magic Mary 2.35in and a Maxxis High Roller II 2.5in for most of the test period. Better traction, better range. Brakes were great. Drivetrain was great. The wheels had no issues. The saddle and grips were fine.

The rear shock and fork were both impressive units. The fork was run pretty much fully open on all damping settings and yet still proved supportive and planted when required. The rear shock felt a built ‘off’ when set-up how I’d normally set-up a rear shock (30% sag, all damping as open as feasible). It just felt a bit too collapsey and pedal whacky. It didn’t really bob though. Ultimately I ended up running a fair amount of low speed compression (five clicks from fully on) and nearer to 25% sag.

Propain grips, Shimano control, KS dropper remote

Geometry-wise, the 350mm BB height and the 459mm chain stays will raise some prejudiced eyebrows.

Out on the trail, the bike (once the rear shock is set-up as detailed above) rides nicely/usefully high and steep on climbs. There is a lot of anti-squat built into the suspension array, which really helps with predictable uphill progress. Once you’re hunkering down for the descents, the dynamic ride height lowers and you can tip the Ekano into and around anything you dare.

SIXPACK saddle’s long rails helped offset slack seat angle

As for the chain stays, I like ‘long’ chain stays. Especially on ebikes. The short reach (455mm on this Large) makes it easy to lift the front end anyway. Again, firming up the rear suspension also helps when ‘picking up’ the front end. The lengthy stays give the bike a wheelbase stability that belies its modest reach. And the long stays clearly help with the bike’s climbing ease, especially on rocky, rooty, technical terrain.

The head angle is not outrageous at a surprisingly modest 64.6°. I was surprised the head angle number wasn’t lower. It’s testament to the nature of modern mega-supportive suspension forks that the handling of the Ekano didn’t feel sketchy on steep stuff. The 75.6° seat angle is rather conservative but paired with the long stays (and a slid-forward saddle) it was not much of a problem on the trails.

Sump guard

The motor is a Shimano EP8 which did the EP8 thing of rattling a bit when freewheeling over rough ground (totes doesn’t bother me at all but some folk won’t like it). It delivers assistance in a way that feels natural to ebike agnostics, but feels rather underwhelming when coming off a Bosch or Brose bike.

The big talking point about the Ekano – and indeed any ebike these days – is the battery. The big question here is whether a 504Wh capacity battery is sufficient. The answer is yes and no. It very much depends on what you ride and who you ride with. The scene is very analogous to bike lights. Modest lights are fine. Until you need to ride for longer and/or you’re riding with other people who have brighter lights. It’s an arms race.

Battery cover and keyhole
The all-important battery

Some people (504Wh ebike owners mainly) will point out that you can buy a spare battery and carry it in a backpack for longer, higher mountain adventures. This is true. It will cost you about six hundred quid and you’ll have an extra 3kg on your back (the same as a 3L reservoir). And I wouldn’t fancy crashing if I had a 3kg solid brick attached to my back.

The Ride

On to the truly important stuff. How the Propain Ekano actually rides. Let’s get straight to the point. This is a bike for sessioning steep terrain. For all kinds of reasons – principally geometry and battery capacity – this is not an ebike for big days out in big hills. Once you’ve understood that, things get a whole lot more fun.

Brakes were great

It will do mile-munching and it will be okay. It’s an ebike, it’s impossible for it not to be fun. But the milder rides I took the Ekano out on involved a fair bit of thumb twiddling and patience. The Ekano just doesn’t belong on terrain with single degree gradient numbers. 

This bike exists for 20%+ gradient stuff. The first few rides on the Ekano were a bit underwhelming. But once the bike was set-up as described and once it was taken into steep woodland, it was a completely different story.

LSC FTW

Battery time. I typically got just under 30km or almost 1,000m of ascent of my more enjoyable rides on the Ekano. I pretty much ran the system in Trail mode for 90% of the time. 5% Boost giggling. 5% Eco nursing. Those are the sort of numbers when riding the Ekano in its most suitable habitat and rider attitude. You could no doubt get that figure nearer 50km with some Eco-heavy cagey riding.

The Ekano felt very much to be a time-poor lap-smasher. Again, sounds a lot like me. Got a couple of hours to cram as much steep tech in as possible? Perfect. Got all day to do the Four Passes in the Lakes? Possibly doable but not the bike’s forte.

ZEB looks good, performs great

Despite that, I really need to big up this bike’s ability on er, big ups. Or rather steep ups. On the Ekano I found myself not always opting to get back up to the top of the woods via the perfunctory access/fire-road. A lot of the time I opted for the preposterous off-road ways back up. Long chain stays, Shimano motor, grippy but supportive suspension, good rear tyre (not supplied). Arriving back at the top red-faced, hunched heaving over the bars, yet grinning from ear to ear. Like DH racing in the UpsideDown World. Something acoustic bikers have never experienced. Ebike-specific. Type E fun.

Niggles? The water bottle area. You can’t run decent sized bottles in there. And the bottle cage fouls the charging port, which means you have to remove the battery for charging, which I do anyway so didn’t mind – or even notice for a while.

Stan’s wheels excellent. Eddy Current tyres, less so.

On to the bike’s USP. How it rides downhill. Much like how you really need to appreciate that the Ekano is not a mile-munching trail bike. Neither is it a gravity sled. It’s more interesting and engaging than that. It doesn’t have the front centre or head angle for warp speed. The Ekano is much more about squeezing every last mm of fun out of the way back to the bottom. Again, sounds a lot like me. On one ride, I did eleven runs of my local diet DH park in under an hour and a half. That was a lunchtime to remember.

The suspension – and the chassis/wheels – felt solid. There was none of the ‘feels like I’m breaking it’ vibe that can happen with lighter ebikes. And despite the EP8 rattle it was a very quiet bike. There were no disconcerting creaks or pings under duress.

One-shift-a-time XO1 shifter is a good idea on ebikes

Neither did the Ekano exhibit that terrifying sensation of riding an admin-stuffed filing cabinet down the trail. The Propain Ekano Performance never felt like it was running away from me. The short reach combines with the low-slung ride-height to offer a confident but playful kinda vibe. It was a punchy yet grounded performer.

It could do occasional braaps of warp speed deathgripping and its solidity was reassuring here. But its forte is turns, drops, gaps, doubles, cambers, chutes, trees, rocks, roots. You know, the fun stuff.

Lack of seat stay bridge is a boon for mud clearance

Overall

It’s really hard to say whether the Propain Ekano Performance is good value. On paper, anyone can see that it’s struggling a bit with life in the Brexit era. What price do you put on a bike’s ‘fun’ rating? Or, indeed, its inspiringly cool looks?

You also really need to be honest about what you’re going to do with an ebike. The Ekano is not an exploring, epic adventure bike. The Ekano likes to keep it local and keep it steep. It’s quite a specific ebike. You can either view that as a limitation (which it inherently is) or you can embrace its specificity and have a blast.

How the Ekano spent a lot the test period: covered in filth, arriving just in time for picking kids up from school

I have other ebikes to pick from but more often than not I opted for the Propain Ekano Performance. It just suits me and how/where/why I ride. Whether it suits you, is up to you.

Propain Ekano Performance spec and geometry

  • Frame: Blend Alloy, 165mm
  • Motor: Shimano EP8, 85Nm
  • Battery: Shimano BT-8035, 504Wh
  • Shock: RockShox Super Deluxe Ultimate RCT, 230x65mm
  • Fork: RockShox ZEB Ultimate, 170mm
  • Wheels: Stan’s NoTubes ZTR Baron S1
  • Front tyre: Schwalbe Eddy Current Front 29×2.6,
  • Rear tyre: Schwalbe Eddy Current TRear 29×2.6
  • Chainset: Shimano Eagle CR Steel, 165mm, 34T
  • Drivetrain: SRAM XO1 Eagle 12-speed
  • Brakes: SRAM Code RSC, 200/200mm rotors
  • Stem: SIXPACK Vertic 50mm
  • Bars: SIXPACK Millenium, 805x20mm
  • Grips: Propain Lock-On
  • Seatpost: KS Lev dropper 150mm
  • Saddle: SIXPACK Kamikaze
  • Bottom Bracket: Shimano
  • Size tested: L
  • Sizes available: M, L, XL (S is 27.5 or Mullet/MX)
  • Weight: 24.7kg
  • Head angle: 64.6°
  • Effective seat angle: 75.6°
  • Seat tube length: 460mm
  • Head tube length: 125mm
  • Chainstay: 459mm
  • Wheelbase: 1,255mm
  • Effective top tube: 620mm
  • BB height: 350mm
  • Reach: 455mm

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Comments (13)

    “Arriving back at the top red-faced, hunched heaving over the bars, yet grinning from ear to ear. Like DH racing in the UpsideDown World. Something acoustic bikers have never experienced. Ebike-specific. Type E fun.”
    You what?
    That’s so utterly wrong. You poor person to have been missing out on that aspect of mountain biking these last 30 years.
    Many of us have been loving uphills for decades.

    I’ve not made it very clear have I? Soz. I meant getting up the sort of stuff that non e-bikes can’t (unless they have Nick Chris-Akrigg-Craig on board!) I do like a good technical climb. Always have done. I’m pretty good at them too 🙂 Good ebikes can take this to the next level. The climbing pain-fun of ebikes is a much under-promoted aspect.

    Something worth bearing in mind about the already quite low battery capacity is that lots of people have noticed quite fast battery degradation on shimano batteries. I have two, the more recent has gone down to 88% capacity after 30 cycles.
    Shimanos response has been to remove any mention of their original guarantee of 80% capacity after 500 cycles from their website.
    Newer batteries only have a guarantee of 60% after 2 years or 1000 cycles, which gives you a range of about 18km!

    Horatio , those figures sound worrying ? My next potential purchase was going to be the Orbea Rise , makes me wonder now?

    I take it 2 years or a 1000 cycles means whichever comes first ?

    Reality is that the markets moving to bigger batteries, 2022 ranges are seeing 750wh Bosch or 720wh with shimano, especially on the bigger enduro ones, which are ‘how many runs can you get’ style bikes.
    Looks nice though, but honestly, without a UK distributor, is an ebike from propain really worth the risk, especially with the recent discussions about Shimano motors and batteries, i learnt that lesson a couple of years ago, never buy an ebike that’s not an easy drive away.

    Take a look through https://www.emtbforums.com/ before buying anything!
    Longevity doesn’t seem to feature much in most reviews.

    Horatio see you have the same problem as me apparently . I’ve been told to stay away from the internet because you only see negative stories and no one ever posts about something they’ve used that has been brilliant !

    @oldfart – the internal battery in the Orbea Rise is not a Shimano product

    @oldfart In ‘bucking the trend of the internet stylee’ I’ll say something positive… I have 2x Shimano batteries for my 2 year old eBike, used on a VERY regular basis, charged and stored in my garage (so I’m not even looking after them properly) and they both still over 90% capacity. I have only carried the spare on 2 huge rides where a van swap wasn’t an option, but usually i just loop back to van and head out for another blast….

    FYI, Propain is in the process of setting up a UK HQ and service centre. They’re aiming to be open late April if all goes to plan with building regulations. Should mean there’s spare parts and support here in the Uk, plus demo options too.

    Please be aware to the Propain Bikes swindle ( http://www.propain-bikes.com ) :
    In Agost 2021 I had ordered and paid in advance a bike of more than 5.000€ with schedulled delivery date on March 2022.
    After delivery time deadline, I was asking them for a specific delivery date or alternatives for my “dream bike” and nowbody on the other side, only automatic replies. Then, in March and just bored I cancelled my order.
    Now in May 2022 I´m still waiting for the credit and money back.
    Propain people played and still are playing with many dreams. Is not a trust company to, not serious, not reliable in this bike world.
    It´s a shame that a German company like Propain has this awfully management. I believed on this brand but now only can refuse of it and share my opinion because I think other people can suffer the same nightmare like mine. I don´t know of any trouble or problem to my order till I began to claim for it.
    For all above mentioned, I recommend not to buy a propain bike. If Propain Bikes GmbH are not able to inform and reply during 8 months to a prepaid bike order, I can´t image if I ask for any aftersales service from them…

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