A swift commute

John Fridd at Rotary Park on the Specialized Vado. Photo: Peter McIntosh
John Fridd at Rotary Park on the Specialized Vado. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Commuter bikes have moved up a gear, John Fridd reports. 

When I was a high school lad, every school day I rode a bike as part of my 50km journey from our farm near Duntroon to Waitaki Boys’ High School, Oamaru.

The downhill plunge on gravelled Taylors Rd to the bus stop on SH83 was a wake-up experience on a cold winter’s morning, but when the bus deposited me back on the roadside in the afternoon it was a different story. Getting home meant an exhausting uphill slog on my single-speed boneshaker. It’s a wonder it didn’t put me off bikes forever.

I’m sure that if we’d had electric bikes in those days, I would have been pressuring Dad to get me one.

Bike shops now display a bewildering array of e-bikes, but among the most popular are commuting bikes, as people use them to replace a second car.

Against a top MTB they might look a bit slow and boring but when it comes to performance on streets and bike paths some of them are anything but. Pedal assistance to my Scott e-Spark MTB stops at 31kmh but both the popular commuter bikes I tested for this article can hit 45kmh, close to the legal speed for a car in the city.

The Magnum Peak has the MTB look. Photo: John Fridd
The Magnum Peak has the MTB look. Photo: John Fridd
MAGNUM PEAK ($2899)

supplied by Electrify Dunedin

The Peak's motor is incorporated into the rear wheel.
The Peak's motor is incorporated into the rear wheel.
My first test bike, the Magnum Peak, is an attractive machine. Its mountain bike looks would probably tempt some owners to head for the nearest rocky trail, not a wise move with many commuting bikes. The German-designed Magnum has a Suntour XCM front suspension fork boasting lockout and 100mm of travel — double the average for this class — which should soak up most of the bumps on easy trails. However, riders might opt to fit a suspension seatpost to make up for the lack of rear suspension.

Because the Magnum Peak sets out to be both a commuter ride and mountain bike, it has some equipment most commuter bikes lack. One is its 24-speed gear system, which includes a three-ring derailleur on the front, the second is a throttle on the handlebars that can be held down by the rider to enjoy pedal-free acceleration, and the third is the powerful 624Wh battery and 48 volt motor.

The Peak’s motor is incorporated into the rear wheel. Many e-bikes now have a centrally mounted motor to concentrate more weight in the centre of the bike and lower the centre of gravity but rear-mounting keeps down the cost of the bike.

I didn’t test the bike on a trail, instead choosing a city route a commuter might take from St Leonard’s into town. I jumped on to the wonderful West Harbour shared path at St Leonard’s and enjoyed some Otago Harbour scenes as I whizzed towards the city CBD. I wondered, however, if 45kmh was too fast for a shared path.

The throttle saved my blushes when I pulled up to lights in the city and forgot to change down before stopping. It’s hard to pull away in top gear but I stamped my thumb on the throttle and the bike cruised off down the street, as the throttle overrides the gears in such cases.

The Peak’s hydraulic disc brakes gave me plenty of stopping power when required and the bike handled well when pushed hard into corners.

Magnum also offers a step-through model, the Metro, for the same price as the Peak and with the same mechanicals.

Summing up, I found the Magnum Peak nice to ride with plenty of power.

The Vado's battery and 250W motor combo can achieve 45kmh.
The Vado's battery and 250W motor combo can achieve 45kmh.
SPECIALIZED TURBO VADO 3.0 ($4800)

supplied by Cycle World

The Vado display
The Vado display
For my second test I jumped on to a Turbo Vado, a bike with ultra-clean lines. The test bike came in utilitarian grey, which would probably set off a sober business suit nicely and the bike’s full mudguards would keep the suit clean.

I decided to test the Vado on a hill run, so I started my commute from Rotary Park in upper Waverley. From Highcliff Rd I turned right on to McKerrow St and zipped down to Doon St. The bike handled the twisty, fast descent to Otago Harbour well, the Tektro hydraulic disc brakes getting plenty of use.

In a matter of minutes, I was down at sea level and cruising along the shared path beside Portobello Rd. I’d hardly used the battery at all so far but now I was on the flat I called on some assistance as I headed for work.

Once I’d crossed the Andersons Bay causeway and swung on to the Portsmouth Dr shared path the bike really came into its own, as I was able to accelerate up to 45kmh, the new upper limit for pedelec bikes such as the Vado. I felt smug zapping past cars held up at the lights.

Soon I was crossing the one-way into Lower Stuart St and my destination, the ODT. It had taken me 19min to ride from Rotary Park, only 2min longer than my car commute and a lot more fun, and I probably used only about 5c worth of electricity.

Going home was a slightly different story, as I opted for a not-so-steep route via Silverton St and Highcliff Rd. This way is longer and of course I was climbing all the way to Rotary Park, which sits at 140m above sea level. The 250W motor gave me plenty of assistance up the hill, even if I was trying to avoid staying in top gear to preserve battery power.

One thing I did notice was the lack of suspension when I hit holes in the street — bring on the full-suspension Vado!

Up the hill, the bike’s Shimano Alivio derailleur shifted nicely and its nine speeds were fine for what I wanted to do.

All round, the Vado is a nice package, boasting most of the features a commuter would want.

The tests

Magnum Peak
•Commute from St Leonard’s to the ODT, Lower Stuart St, via streets and West Harbour shared path, 8.2km. Time 20 min.

•Homeward commute: Distance 8.2km. Once again, a 20min ride. Quickest route between two same points by car: 12min (route includes a 80kmh zone).

Specialized Turbo Vado 3.0
•Commute from Rotary Park, Highcliff Rd to ODT office, 7.3km. Time 19min.

•Commute home (140 vert m of climbing): 8.7km, time 29min. Same route by car: 17min (one short roadworks hold-up).

Specifications 

Magnum Peak
Frame: 6061 aluminium 19 inch
Fork: Suntour XCM, 100mm travel
Motor: 300W rear hub
Battery: 624Wh Samsung
Gears: 3 x 8 Shimano Altus/Acera
Brakes: Tektro Aurige
Wheel size: 27.5in
Speed: Max assist 45kmh
Weight: 25kg


Specialized Turbo Vado 3.0
Frame: aluminium
Fork: SR Suntour Mobie30, 50mm travel
Motor: Specialized 250W, centre- mounted
Battery: Specialized 460Wh
Gears: Shimano 9-speed
Brakes: Tektro hydraulic disc
Wheel size: 27.5in
Speed: Max assist 45kmh
Weight: 23.2kg

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