Fazua’s Ride 60 motor is the Holy Grail: normal bike feel, with a decent power boost. That and the Specialized Hillbilly tyre are my picks for the best products of 2023
The latest Specialized Hillbilly has as much (or even more) wet weather and mud grip than any other mountain bike tyre available right now. In this fresh guise with new rubber formula and tread, the Hillbilly now uses the brand’s softest Gripton T9 blend. This squidgy rubber offers maximum friction on wet surfaces and the super-damped tread blocks and casing also reduce bounce and deflection off the awkward edges, roots and rocks you inevitably get pushed and slimed towards in the worst conditions.
The open blocky tread pattern and Hillbilly name originates from a cut down mud spike first scalped by DH champion Sam Hill’s mechanic. The idea was cutting tread tips off a more aggressive mud tyre added versatility outside pure grass or mud surfaces (essential once DH race tracks evolved more into the woods than just wide-open ski pistes). Another benefit was being faster rolling on harder surfaces and less pingy and bouncy on root and rock passages.
While it’s blocky and open, Spesh’s tread isn’t ever too sketchy or squirmy in deep ruts or under heavy front braking, where some really aggressive mud tyres can pull a little to either side and impact on control and predictability. All the tiny little grooves and raised ridges on Hillbilly tread blocks seem to grip and connect better with the nastiest wet roots and rocks you encounter outside of ‘pure’ mud and wet loam too.
All this excellent performance is made even sweeter by Specialized tyres also being much cheaper than equivalents, with the super-tough Gravity Hillbilly just £50 and the lighter Trail model a fiver less at £45. I’d run thicker/tougher Gravity casing at both ends on an e-bike or for somewhere rocky and sharp like the Lakes, but you can probably get away with the (noticeably lighter and less hefty to manoeuvre) Trail casing on a normal bike somewhere loamy/rooty at the slower speeds we all tend to slop around at in winter/wet conditions.
Fazua’s latest motor is part of a new wave of mid power e-bike drive units and battery systems allowing electric mountain bikes to offer meaningful range and power in properly lightweight packages. Here at mbr we’ve tested it on the Transition Relay, Haibike Lyke, and the Pivot Shuttle SL, and loved it on all three bikes.
The Ride 60 drive unit has come at the right time for me too, as after e-biking for years, my initial love affair and thrill of the new was definitely starting to wane. Don’t get me wrong, I still love any electric assistance allowing more descents and more miles, and in muddy Yorkshire winters, e-bikes are still a godsend for getting about, testing kit and working in all seasons.
What I’m a bit over though is the constant full-fat whine and being so heavy with suspension so glued to the floor, it’s hard to get that reactive, flick-about buzz you get from normal bikes. These factors are why I try and ride normal bikes most of the year; provided it’s not too minging to pedal wherever I’m going under my own steam. And don’t get me started on how you can’t get 25kg e-bikes over a gate or a stile easily when you’re poaching the best footpaths out-of-hours as like to.
The idea of an assisted ride closer in weight to regular trail and enduro bikes isn’t brand new, but it’s clearly reaching a bit of a tipping point towards less compromises and a level of performance that makes a lot more sense than previously. I’ve spent a fair bit of time on Specialized’s Kenevo SL (1.1 version) and briefly tried a Trek/TQ motor and also the new Bosch SX mid-torque drive unit that claims slightly less torque but 150W more peak power than Ride 60.
By far my most mid-power e-miles though have been on a Lapierre e-Zesty, and, blimey, Fazua’s system is impressive. The 2.3kg battery that packs 430Wh of power can genuinely hold its own in the real world against many full fat bikes in terms of range, and the 450W peak power the motor puts out through three modes (plus a hidden Boost mode) feel great, so long as you like a bike to pedal like, err, a bike.
Fazua’s power delivery is definitely more ‘adding’ to natural pedal inputs, rather than some hooligan moped you just have to cycle cranks on to access the hidden throttle. Ride 60 doesn’t do the surge-under-light-pedalling or heavy-on-the-overrun effect of some rival full power motors that massage your feeble efforts and deliver tons of torque to pull you up the steepest pitches sat twiddling on your backside. Fazua’s power delivery instead ramps smoothly as you press harder on the cranks, and it’s also way quieter than most (and the old Fazua Evation 1.0 system on previous generation Lapierres that only offered 250W and a 252Wh battery).
None of this is to say Ride 60 doesn’t have sheer grunt if you need it; I found the middle ‘River’ mode more than enough for any of the steep climbs near me with a bit of effort, and if you’re flagging or want pulling up the most extreme steepest pitches, Fazua’s motor has another trick hidden up its sleeve.
Not made that much of in its advertising literature is a hidden fourth ‘Boost’ mode accessed by holding the thumb ring up for two seconds. This activates access to a peak power burst of 450W that lasts for 12 seconds, and during that window, there’s a pretty much 100% full fat e-bike experience to crest summits or winch up smaller steep sections. Go easy on the magic button though or you’ll burn through the battery much quicker.
Over a few rides, I’ve found (at 84kg) if you’re more careful with power usage, I can consistently get around 1,500m of climbing by setting the app to a lower acceleration (ramp up) and using mostly a mixture of the two lower power modes, Breeze and River, which is a really great result for a lighter weight e-bike.
The icing on Fazua’s cake though is not just how the system works as much as what it enables in terms of bike design. Even with Fazua’s 60Nm of torque, the drive system weighing not much more than 4kg means Lapierre’s e-Zesty is a tad over 19kg with sensible parts ready to charge, rather than some glorified XC/light trail set up. Ride 60 basically allows manufacturers to build e-bikes with weights and flex-characteristics that can match normal bikes, and I’m a total sucker for it.
The natural feel and the near silent ride rule, but most of all, it’s how you can genuinely forget you’re riding an e-bike when it’s not whirring and whining noisily or carrying on pedalling for you when you stop. Ride 60 means you can bounce, pop and hop around all the trails, rather than only relishing the steepest descents and that vague sense of a jelly baby riding a wet sponge some 25kg+ e-bikes with all the grip and squish exhibit on flatter more mellow trails.