Review: Wisper 906 Alpino (March 2011)
The Wisper 906 Alpino is a bruiser of a bike, and ours came with a beast of a battery. Is it too much to handle, or could our reviewers take it in hand? Read the review in full...
Posted by Peter Eland on Thursday 19 May 2011
Wisper 906 AlpinoThe Wisper 906 Alpino is a bruiser of a bike, and ours came with a beast of a battery. Is it too much to handle, or could our reviewers take it in hand?
» BACKGROUNDWisper is a well-known name in UK electric cycling. Energetic and genial co-founder David Miall enthusiastically promotes electric bikes in general through the trade association BEBA of which he is chairman, and of course via Wisper Bikes. Wisper have also been at the forefront of efforts to clarify the legal regulations in the UK, and they say that their bikes have already been independently certified to comply with the comprehensive European standards which are likely to apply in the UK before long.
Wisper have developed a solid reputation for product support, usually via their dealers, but direct with customers if necessary. Their guarantee is also more comprehensive than most: six years for the frame, and two years for other parts. The warranty is also transferable to a new owner, provided the used bike is bought via an official Wisper dealer, of which there are many both in the UK and overseas – some are listed in the dealer map pages later in this issue. It’s also good to see user manuals going back several years available for free download via their website.
Our test bike, the 906 Alpino, is at the top end of the Wisper range, with a recommended retail price of £1899. It’s one of nine machines which they sell, ranging from around £1000 to the only bike above the Alpino in the range, the ‘carbon-matrix’ framed 906xc at around £2500. Batteries are covered by the two year warranty but spares are available, costing around £550 for a high-capacity model as used on the test bike.
There’s a smaller-framed 26"-wheel version, also in white, as well as the 28"-wheel model we tested. Rider weight limit is 140 kg.
» ON THE BIKECalling the 906 a ‘bruiser’ as we did opposite is perhaps a little unfair; the frame itself is fairly compact. The impression of a substantial, hefty machine comes from several factors: the bold white of the frame and its hydroformed bulk at the front, the large battery pack, the chunky tyres and wide mudguards, and not least the high stem and handlebars.
The oversized tubing, large joint areas and general proportions of the frame look to have been designed to provide a rigid, relatively compact platform to fit a wide range of rider sizes; the steep ‘slope’ of the frame means the saddle can go a fair way down if necessary. The frame size, as measured from the centre of the crank axle to the end of seat tube, is around 49 cm. Cables are routed inside the tubes, entering via neat plastic mouldings.
The suspension forks are from a good manufacturer, RST, painted white to match the frame. They’re adjustable for preload (to reflect rider weight) and the red-anodised knob on the crown is a lock-out. With care, you can activate this as you ride along. Typically you’d use it before starting a long climb so that the suspension doesn’t ‘bob’ as you stand on the pedals. It can also be good on smooth roads when you want more precise steering feel, especially under braking.
The transmission employs a Shimano Alfine 8-speed hub gear; again a premium component. Hub gears are good for low maintenance, especially if you ride the bike in all weathers. A ‘trigger’ type shifter on the handlebars operates the gears. The chain has a protective coating for long life even if you aren’t punctilious about lubrication, and your clothes are kept from it by a welcome chainguard.
The hub motor on the front wheel is a ‘Dapush’ brushless DC unit. It’s connected to the rest of the bike via a hefty cable, which separates for easy wheel removal via a reassuringly chunky connector.
The Shimano mechanical disk brakes are another good all-weather choice. Cut-off contacts, which stop power to the motor when the brakes are used, are tidily fitted underneath the Tektro levers.
Wires from these, the handlebar display unit and throttle twist-grip are all neatly guided to the black plastic ‘Front Connection Box’, from where a single heavy-duty cable heads down and inside the frame towards the control electronics below the battery. This system apparently simplifies maintenance; if there’s a problem with any of the handlebar electrics or cables, only the section to the connection box needs swapping out.
The handlebar display is a tidy moulded unit, the rubbery texture inspiring confidence in its waterproofing. The LCD display is clear, and at night you can easily switch on a backlight. Bar-type displays show the currently selected power level, battery charge level and also the power currently being drawn by the motor. Your speed is displayed in large digits, and below that you can select trip or total distance.
Before leaving the handlebars note the adjustable stem, which lets you adjust the handlebar position over quite some range, without tools.
Moving backward along the bike, we come to a suspension seatpost and a fine-looking leather-coloured saddle. On our bike the fit of the seatpost was rather loose in the frame, but the quick-release collar held it perfectly securely when done up.
So to the battery pack, which is housed in a robust-feeling casing in resilient plastic (a polycarbonate and ABS mix, they say). The key switch is a familiar ‘on, off, and push-in-to-unlock’ unit which holds the key captive when switched on; the key handle folds flat to avoid being bashed. The battery slides into place (after you’ve removed the seatpost and saddle) down a plastic guide, and the locking pin engages into this too. It all feels secure and rattle-free.
What’s left? Well, some well-fitted mudguards (although the front one is rather short) and an alloy rear rack. The rack is made from reasonably substantial alloy rod, but the lack of triangulation, especially on the lower supports, makes it look rather less strong than it might be.
The wheels seem well made with stainless spokes and Alex rims, and they’re fitted with fairly substantial 700c x 47 mm Kenda tyres, with a puncture-resistant strip and ready-filled with anti-puncture fluid Slime. Reflective side-walls would have been nice, perhaps. LED lights are also fitted, front and rear, as is a useful side stand.
Finally, there’s a compact charger with built-in cooling fan, audible in a quiet office while it’s working.
» ON THE ROADThe Wisper had the misfortune to be on hand for my commute during the worst of the snowy weather. Although I try to keep review bikes reasonably clean, a few trips through the snow and slush saw an end to that.
Icy conditions are not, perhaps, the Alpino’s favourite. I ended up frequently turning the assistance down to the lowest of its five settings to ensure that the front wheel wouldn’t simply power from under me. On the other hand, cruising along at low power without pedalling was often useful for traversing icy patches, as I could concentrate fully on balance, knowing that the power would be applied evenly and smoothly.
Back onto dry roads, it’s much more tempting to set the power to max and enjoy the ride. You twist the throttle for assistance from a standstill or when you’re not pedalling; once you’re moving the assist kicks in automatically when you pedal. It cuts out at the merest squeeze of the brakes.
Even as a fairly heavy rider I did at times feel that I was having to work to maintain control, especially when manoeuvring round a tight corner – if the motor cuts in at full power it’ll try to straighten the steering, and the weight of the bike means that it can be slow to pull out of a lean. Of course after a little riding you get used to this, and anticipate the motor response. But some lighter riders did find full power ‘a bit much’, initially at least.
One issue many noticed was the motor noise – an unobjectionable buzz at most speeds, but a significantly louder, more rasping resonance between 16 and 19 km/h. If you’re accelerating up towards the 25 km/h limit you’re not in this band for long, but it does sometimes annoy. Wisper tell me they’ve tracked it down to the motor casing design and current batches no longer have this problem.
The battery range is considerable – although as ever hills, rider weight, pedalling etc can affect exact numbers. At best, I managed almost six flat ten-mile commutes with it before a recharge, using the assist fairly heavily. Range was noticeably reduced in the really cold weather. The power slightly weakens as the battery approaches empty.
I had few quibbles with the cycling aspects. Brakes had really good feel and stopped the bike quietly and decisively; the Alfine hub shifted smoothly. The suspension was also effective. It was interesting to experiment with the lock-out function, although with electric assistance to help, instances where it could be needed, standing on the pedals, for example, were rare.
The LED lights switch on automatically. I would have liked some way to do this manually, too – occasionally I’d have liked them on even when it wasn’t dark enough to trigger the sensors. The front headlight puts out plenty of light all around the front lens, ideal for being seen by other road users, while throwing a good bright beam too.
If you’re a confident rider the Alpino 906 is a really enjoyable ride. Having plenty of power on hand means it’s easy to get into the habit of travelling at 25 km/h or so almost all the time – you have to consciously slow down for hazards. The solid brakes, reliable gears and effective suspension all play their part. If there’s a danger, it’s that you won’t get much exercise, unless you’re strong-willed enough to turn the fun factor (power level) right down!
» SUMMARYThe general quality of components on the Wisper is hard to fault, and the fit and finish is good too. On the cycling side there’s little worth complaining about, aside perhaps from the overall weight, which thanks to the large battery may at times be an issue for less strong riders.
And as an electric-assist machine, it’s impressive too. What it is not is subtle: at higher power levels in particular, some rider confidence is needed to cope with the power boost through the front wheel – it can be exhilarating once you’re used to it, though. Lower power levels are easily selected, anyway, for the nervous or in slippery conditions.
This is a machine on which pedalling is very much optional, as it will pull you along decisively whether or not you contribute. The display is excellent, too, providing useful information as you ride.
The only real fly in the ointment was the 16-19 km/h motor resonance on our machine, and this has been fixed, say Wisper. Also, they say they have a new model coming out later in the summer which addresses many of the other minor criticisms we made.
Overall the 906 Alpino deserves serious consideration if you’re looking for a high-end, throttle-type electric bike with plenty of range.
» SPECIFICATIONWeight overall (inc batteries): 27.13 kg
Battery weight: 4.07 kg
Bike only weight: 23.06 kg
Charger weight: 1.09 kg
(inc. mains cable)
Charge time: 3-4 hours
Battery type: Lithium-polymer
Battery capacity: 504 Watt hours (14Ah 36V)
Gearing: 8-speed hub gear (Shimano Alfine). 48T ring, 20T sprocket. Ratios 35-108".
Brakes: Shimano mechanical disks.
Lighting: Spanninga Micro front LED, rear LED, both powered from battery
Other accessories fitted: Mudguards, carrier rack, stand, bell.
Price as tested: £1899.
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