OHM Urban XU500 electric bicycle
I have a new appreciation for New York City’s bike messengers and delivery guys.
Most of those cyclists use regular bikes – I was on a brand new OHM Urban XU500 cycle with a long-range 28V 12Ah Lithium-ion powe pack and 250W auto-assist hub and I still felt like I’d been put through the wringer after biking from the Upper East Side of Manhattan to Downtown Brooklyn.
OHM says that the XU500 can go 20 miles per hour, but I wouldn’t know since I had to stop every few hundred feet to avoid nailing a pedestrian, a cab or a delivery truck parked in the bike lane.
(Most of the time there was no bike lane – then I was just avoiding double-parked cars and trucks.)
And even though the handy NYC Bike Map shows a bike path alongside the East River, the reality (as I was warned by Mark at NYCE Wheels, where I picked up the tester bike) is that the East River path is barely wide enough for pedestrians much less cyclists.
So I ended up racing down 2nd Avenue, then West to Lafayette and south again onto the Brooklyn Bridge, where all the soot and other airborne crap that I’d been inhaling from cars, trucks and buses sent me into a coughing fit that lasted pretty much the entire length of the bridge.
Thank goodness for OHM’s electric assist or I don’t think I would have ever made it home!
OHM bikes offer four levels of electric assistance – I kept the bike on maximum assist (200% boost) or nearly maximum assist (100% boost) pretty much the entire ride. At that level of assistance, I think I drained perhaps a quarter of the battery over about 10 miles of mostly level biking. That’s pretty darn amazing, actually, since it suggests the OHM XU500 might be able to go 40 miles on a charge.
(For comparison’s sake, the A2B Electric Two-Wheeler reviewed earlier this month gets 20 miles per battery.)
OHM Cycles logo
In fact, it looks like my tester bike performed better than OHM’s own specs, since OHM suggests the XU500 should have a maximum range of 24 miles at maximum assist and 29 miles at the next-highest level of assistance.
Update – The battery did drain a bit faster on another day, going down perhaps 1/3 over about about 8-9 miles, so that’s closer to the range estimate that OHM provides.
So why did I get greater range? One part of the answer might have to do with OHM’s clever regenerative braking technology. Basically, I think this works the same way as on a hybrid car like the Toyota Prius. When you hit the right hand brake, the bike captures some kinetic energy and feeds it back into the battery.
Even niftier, the OHM Cycles don’t just come with an Assistance mode, they also come with a Generation mode. Basically, the Generation mode adds resistance to your pedaling and then captures this energy to recharge the battery. That’s right – you can recharge the battery on the fly without waiting until you get home to plug in the bike.
(OHM also suggests placing the bike on a stationary bike stand and using the Generative mode to recharge the battery while simultaneously giving yourself a cardio workout. Pure genius. Theoretically, it seems like you could recharge the battery without ever plugging in the machine.)
And speaking of recharging the battery, OHM says that the battery can recharge to 90% capacity within 20 minutes or fully charge in 3 hours.
I didn’t time the battery to 20 minutes, but I did remember to look about an hour after I plugged it in and the OHM’s display registered the battery as fully charged. Pretty sweet.
Since I live in Brooklyn, I brought the OHM XU500 up into my apartment to recharge it and park it, but if you bike to work and have the opportunity to store the bike in a secure area, you could easily detach the battery pack, carry it into your office, plug it in under the desk, unplug it a few hours later, store it in a drawer and then carry it down to reattach to the bike for your commute home.
Incidentally, at the lowest level of assistance (25% power boost), the XU500 is rated to provide 55 miles of pedal-assist. So if you just need a little help, the OHM cycle could keep you moving for quite a lengthy ride.
The top of OHM's urban line - the XU700 bike
According to the folks at NYCE Wheels (who know their electric bikes), OHM uses top quality components in its cycles including Molicel® batteries, which OHM claims will recharge to 100% capacity over approximately 500 cycles and then gradually decrease to 80% capacity over the next 500 cycles.
OHM has also managed to make the XU500 a good bit lighter than the last electric bike I rode. Where the A2B tipped the scales at more than 70 lbs., the OHM XU500 weighs less than 50 lbs. You’ll appreciate that lighter weight if you have to carry the bike up or down any stairs.
What else did I like about the OHM experience? I was happy with the quality of the aluminum frame and the Newport saddle. I liked the fact that the bike had mudguards, a sturdy Topeak Explorer Tubular carry rack on the back and Busch & Muller headlight and tail light for safety. (The system for turning on and off the lights was a little confusing since it involved holding down the same button also used to turn the bike on and off, but with a little practice, I was able to figure it out.)
As you can see, there is a lot to like about the OHM XU500, but is it all sunshine and roses? Not quite.
There were a few ways in which I felt the XU500 fell a bit short in comparison to the other e-bikes I’ve ridden, namely the A2B that I tested earlier this month and the Muji bike that I rode in Japan.
Suspension – This might not be a fair comparison since 2nd Avenue is a mess compared to most of the downtown streets and the Hudson River bike paths where I rode the A2B, but I definitely felt the bumps quite a bit more with the XU500. Maybe the A2B’s extra weight helped it eat up some of the shocks. Whatever the case, I definitely felt a bit shaken up by the time I got home.
(Side rant to whoever dug the trench inside the 2nd Avenue bike lane – Bike riders can feel bumps in the road much more than car drivers! Please smooth over the pavement for real next time rather than just dumping in some asphalt willy-nilly.)
Twist throttle vs. Pedal assist – Some electric bikes (such as the A2B) have a twist throttle mechanism that propels the bike forward even if the rider hasn’t started pedaling yet. This sort of ‘stealth scooter’ action seemed a bit sneaky to me when I was testing the A2B, but in retrospect it makes a lot of sense for city riding since it allows the rider to easily accelerate from a stop at a traffic light. Pedal assist is nice in terms of giving you a bit more of a workout, but I think it’s better suited for riders who have the luxury of nice bike paths, light traffic or a rural/suburban route with few stop signs or traffic lights. For city riding, I think I’d prefer twist throttle over pedal assist.
OHM is proud of its BionX torque sensor that it says “automatically responds to the way the rider pedals and provides a smooth natural sensation.” Again, the guys at NYCE Wheels had only good things to say about the BionX, but I prefered the more forceful push delivered by the Japanese Muji bike. I suppose the lesson here is that even if you do decide on a pedal-assist bike, you should test a few different models to find out which type of power boost you like best.
Sexiness Factor – I mentioned in the A2B review that the bike was a conversation starter and drew a lot of admiring stares and comments. The OHM XU500 looks more like a regular bike. As such, it probably won’t get as much attention. I think the OXM XU500 looks nice, but it doesn’t have the va-va-voom of the A2B.
Snap! – Remember those bumps I mentioned on 2nd Avenue? I hit one of them, heard a ‘snap’ sound and the next thing I knew, the SRAM MRX twist shifter was feeling awfully loose. I rolled to a stop and watched in dismay as a small piece of black plastic fell to the street. Yep, the shifter had broken within about the first 3 miles of riding. Not a good sign. Luckily, OHM cycles come with a 1-2 year warranty (depending on the part of the bike), but it was still more than a little disappointing to have the shifter break so quickly. It made me wish that the XU500 bike had the trigger-type Shimano shifter found on OHM’s XS Sport bikes.
The slightly-more-affordable OHM XU450
Price – The OHM XU500 costs $2,699 through NYCE Wheels. That’s the same as A2B’s MSRP. And just like I said with the A2B, I still think that’s pretty expensive.
(To illustrate the potential for sticker shock here, a New York bus driver opened his door at a stop light on 2nd Avenue to ask me where he could find the electric bike I was riding. He seemed interested — until I told him how much it cost. I’m just saying…)
If you have a shorter commute, you can save a few hundred dollars with the OHM XU450, which seems identical to the XU500 according to OHM’s specs except that the battery only provides 16 miles of assist at maximum power and 20 miles of assistance at the next highest level of assistance. (As mentioned earlier, the XU500 is rated to get 24 miles of assistance at max power and 29 miles at the next highest level of assistance.)
So what’s the bottom line? I really liked the fully-equipped feel of the OHM XU500, and I was particularly impressed with the range, the recharging time, the regenerative braking and generative settings. I also appreciated the design, the safety features, the performance of the hydraulic disc brakes and the relatively light weight of the bike itself.
On the other hand, I wish the OHM Cycles were more affordable and that the XU500 gave a somewhat more dramatic assist. Some people might like what OHM describes as the “smooth natural sensation” of the BionX sensor, but I wanted something more obvious and potent. I also was disappointed with the fragility of the SRAM shifter.
Other than the broken shifter, I’d have no hesitation in recommending this bike for a test ride to someone with relatively deep pockets searching for a pedal-assist electric bike.
Where to Buy:
In New York City, NYCE Wheels carries some OHM Cycles and can provide expert advice on e-bikes in general.
If you’re not located in New York, you can still order an OHM Cycle through the NYCE Wheels site for a $200 shipping fee.
Alternatively, you can use the OHM Cycles site to find a dealer near you in the USA, Canada, Italy, Netherlands, Germany or Spain.