I was lucky to be able to preview the new Pacer GT – an update to the Pacer with a mid drive motor, belt drive and Nuvinci continuously variable gearbox. The bike I rode is a prototype so details may change when it goes to production. The first batch are rolling out more-or-less as tested. Smartmotion explained they are looking at a more powerful motor (which is a good thing) and possibly swapping the Nuvinci for an Alfine hub. It remains one of the best-looking bikes at this price-point. You’d feel proud to be seen on one.

Essentially this is very much the same bike as the Pacer that we know and love, and they intend to keep selling the current Pacer with the Dapu rear hub motor. It has a head shock to take the big hits from the road but don’t kid yourself – this isn’t the same as a good suspension fork which is what I’d prefer. They have also specced massively wide rims – they look impressive but I don’t know if they make a difference. Another upgrade is the the front LED strip under the downtube – they have made it brighter than before – even more blingy bling! The equally striking rear LEDs are still there.

The parts selection on the bike — much like the original — is thoughtful and premium feeling. I love the grips that take pressure off the hands, and I love the versatile rear rack too. It all works well and is easy to use. I did however need to remember how to turn the bike on and toggle lights and torque/cadence, it’s not obvious.

The bike rides nicely and is well balanced – but the original hub drive model is too.

Clearly the big change is the mid drive Bafang Max motor, Gates Carbon belt drive and Nuvinci hub. The 250W Bafang motor in this prototype is smooth, relatively quiet but essentially a bit gutless. It is saved by the brilliant Nuvinci 380 gearbox. This gives a 380% gear range (in comparison a fairly wide range 11-34t cassette has a 310% range). It means that it has long-legged cruising performance and a good bail-out low gear to get up steep hills. It made it up my Liverpool St hell test, so kudos for that. I do hope they can keep the Nuvinci but upgrade that motor, although apparently reliability of the Nuvincis on NZ Post bikes has been terrible so I understand that they won’t want to make buyers and dealers suffer through that. It wasn’t much puff up Grafton gully and mirrored the experience I had with the same drive setup on a KineticNZ.

I was planning to do a test commute on the bike but I think I’ll wait to get my hands on a production unit. Just as well, there was a really stiff Norwester headwind tonight and I think the Bafang 250W would have struggled and I couldn’t have helped my mate Phil drafting me on his acoustic.

Is this a worthwhile upgrade to the original? If they can get some more oomph from Bafang (their BBS-02 and BBS-HD mid drives certainly have it) then yes — and indeed a look towards the future. The belt drive is great — being quiet and relatively maintenance-free — and the Nuvinci drive is brilliant (while it works). Good stuff! RRP is $4799 which is quite a big jump from the rear hub model.

Thanks Electric Bikes NZ (the Smartmotion and Pedego people) for supplying the test ride.