Review: Spencer Ivy 'Spencer' (early 2012)

Spencer Ivy produce just two eponymous models – the cross-bar ‘Spencer’ and low step-through ‘Ivy’. We tried ‘Spencer’ courtesy of their dealer in Crossgates, Leeds. Read the review in full.

Posted by Peter Eland on Monday 13 Feb 2012

This review appeared in Electric Bike magazine Issue 4. Click the viewer below to read the review with the original print layout - or scroll down for the full text and images online!



Spencer Ivy 'Spencer'

Spencer Ivy produce just two eponymous models – the cross-bar ‘Spencer’ and low step-through ‘Ivy’. We tried ‘Spencer’ courtesy of their dealer in Crossgates, Leeds.

Spencer Ivy review - Photo copyright Peter Eland/Electric Bike Magazine


Spencer Ivy are a relatively young electric bike company, based in London’s Docklands and founded in 2010 by Va Hua and Joy Barber. They’ve had a high profile ever since, with PR coups including getting Prince Charles to ride one of their bikes (as reported last issue) and many appearances in the London-based media. They’re also active on the social networks, have produced a free e-book full of electric bike advice. As we go to press they’ve just launched a new smartphone app.

Their bikes are designed and assembled in Germany, taking advantage of the production, finishing and quality control facilities at Derby Cycle, one of Europe’s largest manufacturing facilities. The UK operation sells them both direct and via a network of (currently) eight dealers, and bikes can also be ridden at two holiday centres – see their website for the full list.

Their most northerly dealer, as we go to press anyway, is The Bike Shop in the Crossgates area of Leeds, and they kindly agreed to let us come and try a ‘Spencer’.

Spencer Ivy review - Photo copyright Peter Eland/Electric Bike Magazine


Both this and the low step-through Ivy retail at £1895, with a considerable range of optional accessories available. Also available is a ‘black styling pack’ for £85, which involves the various silver parts of the power assist system, including the battery casing, being finished in gloss black to match the frame. The frame comes in one size: 50 cm (19.7") for Spencer, while there are two sizes for Ivy.

Spare batteries come in 18 Ah (£525), 10 Ah (£405) and 8 Ah (£395) versions, and chargers in either standard ‘dock’ or lighter ‘travel’ versions (£127.95 each). There’s a commendable two year warranty on the entire machine, including batteries.

» ON THE BIKE

Key to Spencer Ivy’s corporate image, and reflected in all of their branding and presentation, is the ‘classic’ look to their bikes. With simple black frames, a clean appearance thanks to careful cable routing inside the frame and generally sober styling, the bikes do seem to strike the right distinguished note.

Spencer Ivy review - Photo copyright Peter Eland/Electric Bike Magazine


The overall design is of a relatively sporty hybrid, ideal perhaps for city commuting. The bike is well equipped for that purpose, with full mudguards, a really good quality dynamo-powered lighting system, and a rack to carry luggage. A mini-pump clips to the rack, but I’d pop it in a bag myself unless you’re always sure of secure parking. There’s also a stand to keep it upright when parked, and a frame-mounted ‘nurse’s’ lock to immobilise the machine.

Spencer Ivy review - Photo copyright Peter Eland/Electric Bike Magazine
The hub dynamo and LED headlight are good branded items and will provide a strong beam with no need for batteries.


No suspension is fitted, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Many riders prefer the more direct feel this gives the handling, and it also saves weight. Plus, the elegant look of the bike is enhanced by the slim fork blades fitted, especially with the brake mounted on the back. Replace those with the fat tubes of a telescopic suspension fork and it would lose a lot of grace.

The bike is built around a Panasonic drive unit, a well-proven system used by several electric bike brands over the years, and widely supported in terms of spare batteries and chargers by several electric bike dealers and suppliers. It’s a torque sensing system, so it operates automatically as you start pedalling, measuring your efforts and adding to them.

Spencer Ivy review - Photo copyright Peter Eland/Electric Bike Magazine
Spencer Ivy review - Photo copyright Peter Eland/Electric Bike Magazine
The Panasonic battery packs are widely available. They simply clip in and out of the frame-mounted socket; you need to remove the pack for charging. As an extra-cost option, all of the silver bits can be painted black.


The motor is concealed near the rider’s feet, at the centre of the bike, and it drives through the same axle that is powered by the pedals. So the power assist goes through the bike’s gearing system – in this case a Shimano Alfine 8-speed hub gear. That means that even on the steepest of hills the motor can continue to spin at a decent rate in low gear rather than ‘bogging down’ as some hub motors can.

The basic handlebar console lets you set the assistance level and provides a three-level battery status display. It would have been nice to see a more informative display, perhaps, although a cycle computer with readout of speed, distance etc. could be added cheaply enough I suppose.

Conveniently the Panasonic motor has a built-in plastic shield around the drive gear and chain, and this is extended towards the back of the bike to form a chainguard. It adds a lot to the practicality of the bike for transport that you don’t have to worry about dirty or torn trousers – just get on and go, however smart your clothing.

» ON THE ROAD

The Spencer is quite a direct-feeling bike: the frame feels rigid and relatively light, and it rolls along rattle-free. With no suspension you can point it very precisely, brake hard if you need to without dive, and generally it responds well to riding in the cut and thrust of traffic.

Spencer Ivy review - Photo copyright Peter Eland/Electric Bike Magazine
There’s a welcome gentle sweep to the handlebars which puts the wrists at a good angle.


The electric assist cuts in seamlessly, and very quietly indeed, from the instant you start pedalling, adding to your efforts and very much reducing the strain of acceleration and hill-climbing. But you do have to keep pedalling, and it still feels very much like cycling – just without the hard work. With traffic around it’s easy to forget that it’s on, you get used to it so easily. Turning it off and riding unassisted is an interesting reality check to show just how much it helps.

One quirk of crank-drive systems like the Panasonic is that they are set to tail off the assistance when you spin the pedals at a certain rate, corresponding to the legal cut-off of 25 km/h in top gear. If you’re the sort of rider who prefers spinning the pedals quite fast you may hit this limit quite quickly, when accelerating for example, and have to change into a higher gear than you’d prefer to get the electric assist to cut back in. Not a problem if you pedal in a more genteel fashion.

Because the motor is always adding to your efforts, rather than having to drag you along unaided, crank drives like the Panasonic tend to be sparing of batteries. The standard pack’s capacity of 240 Wh isn’t huge by today’s standard, but it’ll give more than enough range for most. Spencer Ivy claim 50 miles in ideal conditions – for a heavyish rider like me and with plenty of stop-start acceleration, 30 is perhaps a safer bet. If you do need more for a long or hilly commute, then one of the benefits of the Panasonic system is that you can simply slot in a bigger battery.

» SUMMARY

The Spencer looks good, is well equipped with quality parts and uses the proven and responsive Panasonic system to deliver a responsive ride. It’s a fine implementation all round. The price isn’t particularly excessive for a bike with the 10 Ah Panasonic set-up, and the components are of a quality which reflects the price tag. The fact that the bikes are sourced in Germany may also carry some positive weight.

It’s tough for manufacturers of bikes using a drive system like the Panasonic to really distinguish their bikes from others using the same drive: when it comes down to it, they will all ride very similarly as far as the power assist aspects go. So the differentiation has to come in the bike quality, the service level from the company concerned, and style.

Spencer Ivy make a convincing case on all three grounds, so if you’re looking for a distinguished-looking steed and torque-sensing drive you won’t go wrong with one of their Panasonic-powered machines.

Peter Eland

SPECIFICATION

Weight overall (inc batteries): 21.9 kg
Battery weight: 2.6 kg
Bike only weight: 19.4 kg
Charger weight: 0.65 kg (inc. mains cable).
Note: weights are manufacturer figures – we didn’t get a chance to weigh the review bike.
Battery type: Li-Ion
Battery capacity: 240 Watt hours (10Ah 24V)
Gearing: 8-speed Shimano Alfine hub gear.
Brakes: Shimano Deore XT V-brakes front and rear
Lighting: front LED, rear LED, powered by Shimano hub dynamo.
Other accessories: mudguards, carrier rack, stand, bell, pump.
Price: £1895 as tested.

VERDICT

HIGH POINTS:

  • Panasonic drive is responsive and reliable
  • Almost silent
  • Quality components
  • Well styled
  • Fairly light
  • Two year warranty

LOW POINTS:

  • A more informative display would be welcome
  • Just one frame size

GOOD FOR:

  • Distinguished types who want a bike to match
  • Anyone with steep hills to conquer
  • Riders who want to pedal, not be pulled along
  • Those who prefer a relatively low pedalling cadence

AVAILABLE FROM:


Posted by Paul Johnson on Wednesday 20 Feb 2013
My new Spencer bike, well what can I say,soon as I had a test ride I was hooked, the Panasonic crank drive is superb, and threw the 8 speed hub gear makes the system literally maintenance free, the bike looks and feels quality, which you expect from Germany, hills are a pleasure to go up, I am so pleased with the bike, opted for the larger capacity battery for an extra £85, which can give me a range of up to 90 miles, go try a spencer ivy you will be impressed, built by derby cycles who make kalkhoff and Raleigh Dover and Leeds models.

 
Posted by Paul Johnson on Sunday 7 Apr 2013
I have now had my Spencer Ivy for 5 weeks, and have covered 150 miles would have been more but due to the weather of late has restricted my cycling. The bike has been a pleasure to ride, I tend now to ride anywhere, before the Spencer just rode and avoided hills, the Spencer has performed very well, the only problem I have is gear changing 1/2/3 gears difficult sometimes to engage, and have to stop pedalling to get them to change, but it is a bedding in process, and many have had same problems with other branded bikes with the same gears,but they do settle down eventually.as I write this on the 7th April 2013 I am over the moon with this bike, and other people should go out and give the Spencer Ivy a try,when I went to "the bike shop" at cross gates at Leeds I was going there to buy a cheaper Raleigh Ebike,but difficult to remove the battery, the chap at the shop showed me the Spencer, rode both Raleigh and the Spencer the latter in a different league for riding pleasure, so I was hooked on the Spencer, and here I am now writing its praises.

 
Posted by Paul Johnson on Wednesday 29 May 2013
Now had the Spencer Ivy 3 months and 700 miles, no problems to report, it is a gem of a bike, and has made me go out and cycle more often, not worried about all the hills around Otley, it does make cycling a real pleasure, the bike will be going in for its free service after 3 months of use.

 

 
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