There is a lot of chatter about which bikes climb best and not a lot of facts, so I set out to establish the facts. I picked a hill that I have ridden many times on all manner of bikes. I know that I liked it a lot less on a regular bike, and that some ebikes were better than others. It is also used frequently in Auckland, running along the back of the University and towards the fabulous Te Ara I Whiti, aka Lightpath aka the Pink Path. It has both recreational and commuting use.

To separate out the better climbers and (spoiler alert) give the Bosch bikes a chance, I took some of the bikes up the fearsome Liverpool St climb. Anyone who says that Auckland doesn’t have steep hills, I can prove otherwise.

I was carrying a standard payload including myself of 95kg (ballast in a backpack), and limited my heartrate to 120bpm – you can see my HR on the Strava links if you click the ‘Analysis’ option. For me, this is what I’d call a ‘light to moderate’ effort. Along the flat I average 110-115, so there isn’t much room for big efforts! The whole point of the ebike is that it is supposed to flatten hills so I don’t want to have to grunt and sweat up them. This effort constraint may have hurt the chances of some torque sensor bikes, but I did my best to let them run when I could.

The bikes were arranged by Maurice at Electric Bicycle Hub and Michael Tritt at Electrify.nz – thanks. I’d love to repeat this with more bikes, so suppliers, I’ll be happy to do more with your assistance.

Before we get into the detail, my favourite overall bike and the overall winner for the day was the Evox City 520. It’s by no means a perfect bike, but it is comfortable, handled well, quiet and super powerful. The controls are a bit complex – and there is a full-length motorbike-style throttle – and the brakes are cheap mechanical disks – but it has a lot going for it.

The Bosch Performance CX was impressive in its torque, although there is a slight delay in it coming through and it isn’t the quietest motor. The speed limits are perfect for MTB applications and up the Liverpool St steep bit but hurt its chances on our street test, especially with nobbly tyres and my effort limit. The Bosch Active is silky smooth, but no match up hills.

I have subsequently ridden the Specialized Vado 3.0 with the Brose motor. It has won my heart in the quiet end effortless way it flew up Liverpool St. If it were allowed to go faster than 30kph up Grafton I’m sure it would be among the top times.

I had great hopes for the Bafang Max mid-drive, but it seemed gutless. It is nice and smooth so perhaps a good city bike motor (and a demonstration that the Chinese can make good motor systems too!).

Finally, big ‘ups’ to the geared hub motors (front and rear) especially the Ezees. They can climb, they can go quite fast and they don’t cost a whole lot of money. For most purposes, a hub is as good as a mid-drive and cheaper.

The Results

The Time listed is as recorded on a Strava segment. Each run has an unedited video. 17 of them, groan… Apologies for some of the video quality – I broke the mounting after two runs 😦

Model
(link to video)
Drive Type Time (link to Strava) Max Speed Limit Notes
Moustache Friday 27 Speed Bosch Performance 45 Mid Drive 01:58* 42  45 Slightly wind assisted. My max HR was 126 which is technically out-of-bounds.
Specialized Turbo S GoSwiss Drive Direct Rear Hub 01:59 42 Probably won on account of top speed rather than raw climbing ability.
Ezee Forza Ezee Geared Rear Hub 02:06 37 This was impressive.
Ezee Sprint Ezee Geared Front Hub 02:11 38 Handled the hills easily
Brompton Grintech Crystallite Direct Front Hub 02:13 42 Surprise of the day.
Evox City (overall winner) Evox Dyname 96V Mid Belt to rear 02:15 35 So smooth, quiet, comfortable and very torquey
Specialized Vado 3.0 Brose Mid Drive 02:22 31.7  30 Very easy going. Max speed limited to 32 but it over-reads on its controller
Magnum UI5 Bafang 36V Geared Rear Hub 02:24 34 Impressive as a price point bike
Juiced OceanCurrent Bafang 48V Geared Rear Hub 02:24 40 Headwind and raining. Not wearing HRM.
Juiced Crosscurrent Bafang 48V fast Geared Rear Hub 02:29 38 Probably could have gone faster if not HR limited, but that’s the test
Kalkhoff Proconnect Bosch Performance Mid Drive 02:37 30 25 Would have done better if it was unrestricted. Nice bike.
Faraday Porteur Bafang 36V 250W Geared Front Hub 02:43 32 A pleasant ride, but definitely not fast.
KinetixNZ Nuvinci Bafang Max Mid Drive 02:45 35 Disappointing result. It lacks power.
Kreidler e.dice Bosch CX Mid Drive 02:46 28 25 Very torquey, but limited by nobbly tyres and top speed
Onya F19 (v4) Shengyi Geared Rear Hub 02:47 32 Headwind and raining. No HRM
Kalkhoff Agattu Impulse 2.0 Mid Drive 02:53 32 25 Required a lot of work, couldn’t get max power with HR limit
Kreidler Vitality Bosch Active Mid Drive 03:09 28 25 Just cruised up, was able to smell the daisies.

I’ll do my best to add other bikes as I get the opportunity. Aware that I’m missing a few including SmartMotions (Dapu), Onya (Shengyi), Shimano Steps x 2, Brose (Specialized Turbo Vado).

The Liverpool St Bike Killer Test

Liverpool St was harder than I imagined, especially after having ridden 13 bikes to and from Grafton Gully. Damn it is steep. I only took bikes that I thought would make it. It’s an eMTB, so no surprises the the Bosch Performance CX was fastest up the really steep bit. The surprise of the show was the Evox. It isn’t “supposed to” be a climber because it doesn’t operate through the gears. I stayed seated the whole way, unlike the Turbo S where I was cranking away like a mad thing. And wow, the rear hub Forza made it up! It was so steep that the Bosch Active bike choked right near the bottom of the steep bit hence the DNF.

I haven’t listed times as the GPS was going a bit crazy with the buildings around me and stopping the timer at the top was a bit fraught as it is a cross road. I reviewed the video evidence and gave the win to Bosch by a second. EDIT: The new winner is the Bosch Performance 45 on the Moustache Friday Speed. EDIT2: Now the Vado 3.0 is faster again.

1st Specialized Vado 3.0
2nd Moustache Friday Speed (Bosch Performance)
3rd Kreidler e.dice Bosch Performance CX
4th Evox
5th Ezee Forza
5th Specialized Turbo S
DNF Bosch Active

The Conclusion

Hub motors can climb. But as long as your selected bike can handle the hills YOU ride and generally do the things YOU do, then all is good.

Bosch: Please allow your bikes to be de-restricted outside Europe. You make nice motors but they are seriously limited in application for a range of users. You could try to make them quieter too.

Kalkhoff: Same message about restrictions. Your Impulse 2.0 motor is powerful requires too much rider input to make it easy. Change the ramp up of torque.

Bafang: I like your Max drive, but really guys, it needs more grunt.

Ezee: Nice job on the motors. I like that they can go full speed on throttle too by the way.

A bit more on the bikes

Model Drive Notes
Brompton Grintech Grintech/ Crystallite – Geared Front Hub You wouldn’t expect to see a Brompton with a motor, it’s a 16″ wheel folder. It rides surprisingly well despite the heavy motor and battery up front. It’s definitely a ‘hack’ rather than a regular ebike.
Evox City Evox Dyname 96V – Mid Belt to rear The first genuinely different bike I’ve seen in a while. It is smooth, very powerful and quiet. However the second example in the shop was anything but quiet so perhaps it has issues. It needs some better brakes (mechanical disks are not OK on a bike of this class), and the throttle is a full-length affair. Awkward unless you are riding purely by throttle. The bike has  amid-mounted ‘Dyname’ motor of their own Canadian design running at 96V! Hence the massive torque. It drives the rear wheel by a belt on the left. This makes the rear hub a bit special, having the regular cassette and freehub on the right, and the pulley (with its own freewheel) and disc on the left.
Ezee Forza Ezee – Geared Rear Hub A more conventional setup than the other Ezees. The rear motor is apparently similar to the front ones but slightly larger so marginally more torquey. Has slightly better front forks than the Sprints but misses out on the hub gears.
Ezee Sprint Ezee – Geared Front Hub A very popular bike. Same controls as the Forza, which are a bit clumsy. When I ride one I tend to use the throttle a lot, which is no bad thing.
Faraday Porteur Bafang 250W – Geared Front Hub Certainly stylie and more capable than it looks. Not a particularly battery, but you don’t buy one of these for long commutes. It’s for going to the local craft beer shop.
Juiced Crosscurrent Bafang 48V – Geared Rear Hub I’ve raved about this bike before. It met its match uphill which is expected given it’s bias towards speed. It’s made to crash the party at a low price point so don’t expect nice welds or beautiful integration.
Kalkhoff Agattu Impulse 2.0 – Mid Drive This is a super-comfortable bike with a very capable motor. However the way the motor is profiled against the torque sensor means you have to push a bit harder to get the most out of it.
Kalkhoff Proconnect Bosch Performance – Mid Drive A super bike, really. Powerful and smooth. Just a shame it can only go 27kph with power. Would be great with a Badass Box…
KinetixNZ Nuvinci Bafang Max – Mid Drive A little disappointing actually. The Bafang Max should be renamed Bafang Min. It’s not the most comfortable bike either, seemed harsh. I was really looking forward to trying the Nuvinci continuously variable drive, but it really doesn’t add anything over a regular gear set.
Kreidler e.dice Bosch CX – Mid Drive The Bosch CX motor makes this really grunty. I was up to its cutoff point by the time I got to the other side of a normal city intersection. When I picked the bike up I noticed that the speed sensor had been moved. Totally Badass Box… It deserves it. I’d like to try this off road.
Kreidler Vitality Bosch Active – Mid Drive The bike to have if power freaks you out a bit. It’s so smooth and natural feeling, and comfortable.
Magnum UI5 Bafang 36V – Geared Rear Hub The popular practical price point bike has plenty of grunt, almost as much as the Ezees. It proves that the rear hub bike has a regular place in the future. This one had upgraded brakes and Marathon Plus tyres.
Specialized Turbo S Go Swiss Drive – Direct Rear Hub My bike. Its hard as nails so no gravel cruiser. It’is meant to go fast on-road, and it does just that. Apart from the Brompton and the Faraday, the only other bike without a suspension fork.
Specialized Vado 3.0 Brose Mid Drive Specialized’s newest mid-drive bike. It’s really versatile and one of the nicest riding ebikes around. This is the ‘mild’ tune version limited to low 30s.