midCity is Smartmotion’s new generation update to bring the venerable eCity — NZ’s most popular ebike — into the current era of mid-drives. It is a ground-up redesign that achieves its goals. This is a sophisticated bike that can at least match the Euro rivals, and go a bit faster too. They’ve done some work on the graphics and colours, and they now look very sharp in four different colour schemes (black, light blue, red and white).

With Smartmotion we are talking about a genuinely “designed in Aotearoa” brand. This isn’t just a tick the Chinese-manufacturer-checkboxes exercise. They design and engineer the frame, electronics and all the components uniquely to their specifications.

Smartmotion has backed their long-time motor supplier Dapu to supply the all-new mid-drive. It is classic Dapu, even sounding similar to the old hub drive. It has plenty of torque, and will grind its way up steep hills without fuss. My own driveway is a great test and it cruises up easily if you select the 34T low gear. Compared with other motor brands it is really compact. I’ve said about eMTBs that all the motor systems are good enough for their purpose, and I feel that is becoming true about commuter bikes too. Drive is supported by a 560Wh rear-mounted battery.

This bike is a great example of the difference between torque and power. Torque is acceleration and going up hills, and it does that well. Power is what allows you to do that fast, which it doesn’t have like say a Bosch CX motor. Smartmotion has been careful to keep their bikes to the NZ limit of 300W nominal. But in reality the target market for this bike will be very happy. It’s not designed for the racers out there.

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Loaded up with panniers in full quaxing mode

E-cyclists also have days like this: “You know, I don’t feel like a workout on this ride, I wish the bike would just do the work for me.” And for this, Smartmotion have the feature of being able to switch between Torque sensing (“Normal”) and Cadence sensing (“Power”) with a double-click of the Power button. It means you really can have the best of both worlds. As a differentiator in the market, it’s a really good one. There is a throttle too.

I did a few rides on this bike. Firstly around our suburb to find my straying dog, having to go on sealed and gravel paths. Then down to Hobsonville Pt for some photos. Apart from some idiot driving straight at me overtaking a truck it was great! Then I impersonated an Uber Eats rider and got some take-aways, and did a shopping trip to Countdown with loaded panniers (it’s called ‘quaxing’ after the late Dutch-born Councillor Dick Quax who proclaimed that nobody would ever do that).

Other things I really liked were the ride comfort – the front shocks were good and low maintenance being coil springs – and the comfy saddle and suspension seat post carry over from the old eCity. New are the Schwalbe Big Ben Balloon tyres at 50mm wide on 27.5″ rims that also add comfort and help ease over cracks in the paving and rough surfaces. While the xCity is pitched at the mixed road user, there is nothing about the midCity that will prohibit the odd bit of gravel. One one of my rides I stopped to talk to an older couple, she on an eCity. “I’ve taken this on the timber trail” she tells me. “Stopped riding for 60 years after the age of 16, but for the last 4 years I’ve been riding everywhere.” Wonderful.

The brakes are a major improvement. These are hydraulic and simply fantastic: well modulated and powerful.

The display is useful if a bit ‘generic Chinese ebike’ looking (compared say to the Pacer/Catalyst). It has two trip modes, just like a modern VW car. One is longer term, the other resets each time you ride the bike. Handy. The speed readout is clear and large, suitable for older eyes.

Like xCity, they have spec’d a nice narrow-wide 40T front chainring from sister company Lekkie. This is vastly improved from previous models including Pacer that had fairly nasty chainrings, and losing your chain or even bending the chainring was a common gripe. Another “ah that’s better” item is the headset. This one was nice and tight, no wobbles.

Full credit for the lighting – both lights are powered from the battery and the front light is powerful enough to be actually useful at the sorts of speeds you are likely to be doing. Talking speed, I happily cruised between 30 and 35kph depending on wind direction, and up reasonably steep hills cruised along at around 15-20. I imagine that for a bit of bling you can specify the row of red LEDs on the rack like the Pacer (personally I don’t think it makes any difference to safety but it does look cool).

There are differences between this and the xCity:

  • The tyres here are puncture-resistant on narrower rims
  • These pedals don’t have sprigs (kinder on shins)
  • Rear derailleur on xCity is a bit more robust (Deore vs Altus) and bottom gear is 36 vs 34
  • midCity has a lower step through (at the expense of some rigidity)
  • Better coverage of mudguards on midCity

There are some minor ‘misses’ on this bike. The first is that I’d like to see lock-on grips. The ergo-style grips didn’t move about but I suspect that eventually they might. No worries, just fit some at the time. The frame lock is OK but doesn’t give the option of adding a chain for extra security like Axa, Abus and Trelock systems have, so you need a separate chain with its own lock. You already need two separate keys (one for the lock one for the battery) while the Euro bikes tend to only have one. I’d also like to see a hub gear system, which is a practical benefit on an urban bike, allowing you the ability to shift gears at a standstill and requiring less adjusting. There is also less to bend and break when your bike is blown over by the wind. Having said that the stand is also quite nice, and looks sturdy.

A word of warning: I typically do a hands-free test on bikes. With this I encountered a speedwobble that very nearly sent me flying. I recommend keeping BOTH hands on the bars. Smartmotion has tested the bikes extensively and couldn’t replicate the issue so it might have been unique to my review bike (a prototype) and my long seatpost, so I recommend you try with caution. I didn’t get that with the xCity so suspect that the extra frame bracing helps.

I am 1.87m (6’2″) with relatively long legs and found that the seatpost was a bit short for me. I suggest it’s OK for anyone up to around 1.82m (6′).

Who should buy this bike?

  • You think a stepthrough is right for ease of use
  • You want a quality bike with a torque sensor AND a throttle
  • You want to support a local brand
  • You mostly ride on smooth surfaces with the occasional foray off-road

Who should not buy this bike?

  • You think $3600 is way too much for a bike. It’s not, but I respect your constraints. Consider finance options too before dismissing it as too expensive.
  • You like riding one-handed or no-handed sometimes.
  • You want nobbly tyres – go for the xCity instead.

What else could you consider?

 

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