Smartmotion Pacer – the local hero
It’s great to see that we have some genuine local ebike businesses in lil’ol’ NZ, and I don’t mean importers, but actual innovators and designers. It’s a hard road in such a small market and with limited access to capital, not to mention being able to flick off a quick mil’ or so in pre-orders on Kickstarter based on some vague promise of endless energy. So kudos to Smartmotion for hanging in there and producing a standout bike in the Pacer (and its twin bro the Catalyst). I hope we continue to see success and good things from the team. From what I hear there is more to come both in ongoing improvements and new product.
The ‘team’ is mostly Anthony Clyde and Daryl Neal who between them have a long list of achievements in the electric vehicle business including the Ubco utility bike, Smartmotion and Lekkie (conversions).
Before the Pacer was launched alongside the Catalyst, all the prelaunch hype was around the Catalyst. I presume this is because MTB-style bikes outsell commuters many-fold in NZ, but I think the electric bike has changed that. I expect that the Pacer will ultimately come out as the hero bike. The local hero.
It’s a snazzy looker alright, and I found many people having a good hard stare while we were at the Britomart market in Auckland. At night it takes on a boy-racer look, with ‘neons’ under the downtube and red strip lighting on the rear rack. It is likely completely unnecessary, but it sure looks striking and separates it from other bland bikes. With sturdy custom rack and mudguards, it is a very nicely integrated bike – just what you need for commuting and errands. The other obvious differentiator is the full-colour screen integrated into the top tube, just like a Stromer ST2 – a >$10,000 bike. I prefer to look a bit further ahead so I like my display forward and central, but in the top tube it stays out of harm’s way and allows for a lot of information to be displayed.
Smartmotion’s branding is everywhere on the bike – bars, grips, stem, mudguard, wheels, cranks, motor, display, battery, keys, saddle, seatpost, frame (x 7), forks. It is a nice logo and styles the bike well. Only the tyres, pedals, brakes and derailleur have ‘other’ brands. Challenge…. The team have done a great job with the small details, even the manual is nice to look at. And that key fob, worthy of an expensive car…
The drive from the Dapu-sourced motor is powerful – it’s a good climber as rear hub bikes go – it is fast and has good range from a 522Wh (14.5Ah) battery. Expect around 40km at full speed, 60+ in moderate boost. The battery charge indicators are not all that useful as is the case with most bikes in this price range and less. It’s useful as a guide but you certainly can’t predict remaining range accurately, as you might on say a Bosch system.
In NZ/AU trim the bike runs a 36V system, in the USA with their higher power limits it runs 48V/500W so it’s a touch faster. Like most rear-hub designs, there is a bit of a buzz from the motor that fades into the back of your mind after a while.
The supplied charger is only 2A so the bike can take a while to charge. This is typically not an issue for most users, and if it is you could buy something like the Grin Satiator. You can charge on or off the bike. There is a charging port and USB above the display so you can also charge your smartphone, lights or POV camera.
While it shares most of the proven drive components with other Smartmotion bikes, the 27.5” wheel gives more top speed. In my testing, it ran at 38-40kph along the flat even with a bit of a head wind. My 27km commute time was within a few minutes of the fastest bikes I have ridden, which is to say not much difference. The important thing is less about absolute top speed, more about speed up hills and acceleration. Brakes were great – hydraulic Tektros. Nice feel, powerful and no squeal. The overall component spec is above average quality and works well. 10sp Shimano Deore shifting, low-profile Wellgo pedals. Nothing to dislike and lots to like.
The Pacer has a selectable torque sensor/ cadence sensor mode. I mostly rode in torque sensor which tends to allow you more control and hence leg speed, because you have to actually put in some power. So you also go a bit faster. Cadence mode is nice when you are grinding up a hill and don’t really feel like pedalling hard, or when you are riding in work clothes and don’t want to get hot and bothered. Pity it doesn’t have a throttle (the USA model does). I did find that the torque sensor was not as sensitive to change as some (mostly more expensive) bikes, so the uptake of power in full boost comes on strong and tends to stay that way almost regardless of pedal input.
Sizing is a bit of a problem currently – Smartmotion tell me they are working on an XL size to arrive in the next shipment. I found the L to be too small for my 6’2” and ElectricMeg found the S to be too big for her 5’1”. I had to use my own seatpost because the one supplied was too short for me. I didn’t much like the saddle either but that might have been related to the bike being too small overall. It does look nice though. Be sure to try the bike before you draw any conclusions on comfort. I also liked the grips – you can find a comfortable position that spreads the load and up steep hills I was able to grab the bull bars and crank like an MTB racer. The pedals offer good grip and are relatively narrow width-wise and depth-wise so are less likely to catch on the ground in a corner. Like.
Speaking of comfort, the Pacer has a rigid front fork. I wouldn’t want to ride this far on rough roads limiting its usefulness as a tourer but found it comfortable on tarmac and concrete paths. It’s important to get the tyre pressure right, which I figure is around 40PSI with the high-volume tyres. Too hard = uncomfortable. Too soft = pinch flat risk.
I did manage to get a pinch flat while running at 35PSI and hopping up a kerb. Fixing the puncture was a complete mission and not something you’d want to do out on the road. It isn’t a criticism of this bike but most rear drive bikes with Chinese motors. I’d advise taking it to a bike shop. While you are there, I’d advise getting a set of Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres because you never want another puncture ever ever again…
Retail price is $3599, $3349 for Mercury customers. You can get them in Orange and White, S and L. According to Twitter, White is the better looking, but you will have your own opinion. I like the Orange too.
Available from most ebike retailers, or check: http://www.electricbikes.co.nz/index.php/where-to-buy
Buying an ebike is a big expense and you become dependent on it – having a dealer network that can support your bike with local spares and service is a major buying factor. It is something you should ask about, and seek proof on.
An omission on this bike is a frame lock – oddly the eCity has one – so you could buy one aftermarket (there are no mounting lugs but you can use cable ties) or invest in a good quality chain lock and/or D-Lock (ideally two secure forms of locking). Please don’t buy cable locks if you can help it, they are useless.
Who should buy this bike?
- Commuters – as long as you don’t want a step-through. It can go slowly or fast. Good range too.
- Errand-runners – great for the shops or market. You can carry heaps on the back between panniers and the flat wooden shelf.
Who should not buy it?
- Small riders (poss < 5’2”)
- Very tall riders (though XL on the way soon)
What other bikes should you consider?
- Pedego range (also supported by the Smartmotion business in NZ) especially if you prefer a cruiser style bike
- Smartmotion eCity/eUrban if price is a concern or you want a step-through
- Juiced Crosscurrent (a bit faster, has front suspension, racks/fenders/lights need to be added)
- Magnum UI5 – slightly slower and lower overall component spec but $1100 cheaper
- Smartmotion Catalyst if you want a suspension fork and aren’t worried about racks, mudguards, lights.
- Focus Aventura (mid drive) if a few dollars extra isn’t a concern, but it’s Euro-spec so speed limited unless you are willing to forgo warranty and dongle it
- Ezee Sprint/Torq (even more range, hub gears, step-thru and diamond frames)