A right handful.
We took a spin on a sample of 2018 e-MTBs in the mountains of Italy to see where the market is heading, and discovered some big differences in performance.
Electric bikes may be dividing the mountain bike world like nothing else before, but they’re also developing at a whirlwind pace, and as total bike geeks, that’s pretty damn exciting.
Substantial design, engineering and marketing resources are being thrown at the segment, but it’s a steep learning curve for everyone involved, so the end products are hugely diverse both on paper and in the dirt.
Stevens E-Sledge+ ES
German brand Stevens is hardly a household name here in the UK, so we didn’t know what to expect when slung a leg over the E-Sledge+ ES.
As it happens, this didn’t go smoothly, as the 22in frame size doesn’t let you drop the seat post fully and we almost got hooked up on the saddle. However, the Stevens impressed on many other levels, so we’re inclined to forgive this particular shortcoming.
With tiddly chainstays, a long front end, chunky Magic Mary 2.6in tyres and excellent suspension, the E-Sledge proved to be one of the most rewarding e-bikes we’ve ridden. We could manual it just like a regular mountain bike, and the small-bump sensitivity produced amazing traction, even under braking.
And then there are those Schwalbe tyres, which offered outrageous levels of grip.
With the excellent Shimano STEPS system on board, power comes in smoothly and controllably, and you get a proper electronic Di2 shifter to switch between the three levels of assistance.
The steep seat angle definitely helped on the climbs, but the Stevens struggled on the steepest pitches compared to other models with longer chainstays.
It would also benefit from a wider bar and shorter stem, but these are easily upgraded at a later date, and didn’t detract too much from its rewarding handling.
Focus Jam2 Plus Pro
Most e-bikes come with huge capacity batteries designed for all-day epics. Yet more often than not, they get used for a few hours on a familiar loop and come home with plenty of juice left in the tank. Effectively you end up carrying around a load of extra weight for nothing.
Focus avoids this inefficiency, and reduces the weight of its Jam Squared Plus as a result, by using a modular battery pack. Squeezed into the down tube is a 380Wh battery, which is smaller and lighter than the 500Wh version more usually found on Shimano STEPS equipped bikes. But should you want to head out on an all-day epic, just attach the extra battery pack on the down tube and you’ve doubled your range. It’s a great concept, and one we’d love to see developed further in order to reduce the weight penalty and boost the fun factor.
Focus offers the Jam squared as a 29er or with 27.5in wheels and 2.8in Plus tyres.
We rode the Plus version, and the bike definitely makes the most sense in this guise, as the big volume tyres give huge traction on the climbs, more forgiving handling in the turns, and a more comfortable ride in the rough. But with only 140mm of travel and a relatively steep head angle, the Jam was left behind on the descents.
We reckon the Jam Squared would be even sweeter if it was re-engineered as an enduro model, with 160mm travel and longer, slacker geometry. After all, when you’ve got a 250W motor at your feet, you may as well go full beast mode.
Scott E-Genius 700 Tuned
Scott has had an E-Genius in its range for a couple of years now, but the 2018 model gets a major overhaul.
For starters there’s a switch from the Bosch CX Performance motor to the Shimano STEPS system. Both deliver 250W of assistance with a 500Wh battery, but the Shimano unit is lighter and more compact, allowing Scott to reduce the chainstay length by a full three centimetres. And it’s controlled by the neat and effective Di2 shifter, in conjunction with a discreet display unit that’s well-protected in the event of a crash.
Then there’s the frame itself, which closely mirrors the new Scott Genius design with its rocker link suspension and inverted trunnion mount shock. Travel is up from 130mm to 150mm, the head angle is two degrees slacker than the old model and the seat tube has been steepened by a similar amount.
All good news, but Scott being Scott, the E-Genius comes with more buttons than the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. There are shifters, power switches, a dropper remote and the control for the Twinloc travel adjust system.
To be honest it’s all a bit of a muddle, when all we really want at our fingertips is the power control and the dropper post remote.
The new E-Genius is a big improvement on its predecessor, then, but we came away feeling it’s sometimes trying to be a bit too clever for its own good.
BMC Trailfox AMP LTD
Carbon is traditionally associated with weight saving, but with most e-bikes fast approaching the 50lb mark the wonder material is now being employed primarily for its stiffness benefits.
It helps too that carbon can be wrapped around the complex profiles of batteries and motors for seamless integration.
BMC is one of the first brands to offer a full carbon ebike and just like the regular Trailfox the aptly named AMP version has 150mm of travel. With a remapped APS suspension linkage BMC can deliver optimum efficiency with the Shimano E-8000 motor. As such, power delivery even in Boost mode is every bit as smooth and seamless as the carbon frame itself.
The Fox 36 suspension fork has also been ebike optimised. With thicker wall upper tubes and more material in the crown it’s stiffer and stronger than a regular 36.
Shimano’s four-piston Saint disc brakes were originally designed to stop the world’s fastest DH racers, so it should come as no surprise that we were super impressed by their raw power and consistent lever feel.
So the specification on the BMC is standout, the sizing is generous and power delivery is very controlled but something about the new Trailfox didn’t get us amped. Maybe the progressive geometry just makes it too stable, or it could be that the Cane Creek shock lacks pop, robbing the BMC of some much needed playfulness.
Merida EOne-Sixty 900E
Ebikes are all about the motor, right? But the fundamentals that make any mountain bike great shouldn’t be ignored either.
So while the top end Merida EOne-Sixty sports Shimano’s compact Steps motor and 500wh battery, it’s actually the choice of suspension components and tyres that really set it apart.
With chunky 2.8in Maxxis Minions and Factory level Fox suspension, the 160mm travel Merida takes traction control to a whole new level. As such, you can thunder through rocks and carve corners like you’re on a full-blown downhill bike. But rather than being an expensive one trick pony, the Merida climbs every bit as well as it descends.
It’s agile too, so you can ride with precision, picking your lines and getting air when any opportunity presents itself. Best of all, you never feel like a passenger that’s just along for the ride.
With only three frame sizes on offer, the tallest riders will struggle to find a size that fits. For everyone else though, just getting your hands on one could be the biggest issue. That’s because the pricing on the eOne-Sixty is so competitive that demand has completely outstripped supply.