Does the Propain Ekano Performance’s capable suspension and fun handling overcome its modest battery and Brexit-tastic price hike?
Product: Ekano Performance
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
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
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.
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.
Does the Ekano’s style overcome the twin prong attack of battery capacity and price tag?
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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