Review: Kalkhoff Pro Connect Disc (March 2011)
We try the Kalkhoff Pro Connect Disc, a high-end machine from 50cycles. It’s powered by the latest Panasonic drive and extended-range battery, so how does it perform? Read the review in full...
Posted by Peter Eland on Thursday 19 May 2011
This review appeared in Electric Bike magazine Issue 2. Click the viewer below to read the review with the original print layout - or scroll down for the full text and images online!
Kalkhoff Pro Connect DiscWe try the Kalkhoff Pro Connect Disc, a high-end machine from 50cycles. It’s powered by the latest Panasonic drive and extended-range battery, so how does it perform?
» BACKGROUNDA happy side-effect of the popularity of electric bikes in continental Europe is that we in the UK benefit from the highly-competitive market over there – in the form of some impressive imported bikes over here.
One such is our review bike, the 2011 Pro Connect Disc from Kalkhoff, which is part of Derby Cycles, Germany’s largest cycle manufacturer. In the UK, Kalkhoff bikes are imported by 50cycles, based in Loughborough and established in 2003. They recently opened a second shop/showroom in Richmond (just south-west of London) and also sell direct via their website. A network of demonstrators, largely existing customer volunteers, is also on hand to give test-rides across the country.
The 2011 Pro Connect Disc is the latest in a series of Pro Connect models running back several years; at £1895 (inc UK delivery) it’s a high end bike. It comes with a two year guarantee, which also covers the 18 Ah Panasonic battery, for which spares are available at £525 (smaller, cheaper packs are also available). The new battery packs have considerably more capacity than the older (typically 10 Ah) versions, and also increased life expectancy: 1100 cycles before capacity drops to 60%; previously this was 500 cycles. They also fit any Panasonic-powered bike since around 2007, and use the existing (rather bulky) ‘drop-in’ charger. A more compact travel charger is also available (for £127.95).
Three frame sizes are available, all in a diamond-frame layout. Ours was the smallest, 50 cm size.
Our bike was supplied direct from 50cycles, fully assembled and with just the pedals to attach and the handlebars to straighten.
» ON THE BIKEFinished in a subtle matt brown, the bike’s alloy frame is a fairly conventional cross-bar design, extended to accommodate the Panasonic drive unit. It’s a shame that no white version of the Panasonic is available: this would look fantastic with the co-ordinated white forks, chainguard and saddle highlights. As it is, the grey battery and drive are unobtrusive, and the rest of the parts are in sober black.
The latest 18Ah Panasonic battery is, surprisingly, not all that much larger than the older 10Ah model.
The drive motor is concealed below the battery, and it drives the same gear which you turn with your pedals. This in turn drives the bike via the chain and gears. The system senses how much force you’re applying to the pedals, and adjusts the motor many times a second to match this or more. The latest version of the Panasonic system, as used on this bike, can add twice your effort; that’s up from 1.5 times for the previous model. If you stop, so does the power, almost instantaneously.
The motor unit drives the chainring, sensing how hard you’re pushing the pedals and adding up to twice as much again from the battery.
The system is controlled via the handlebar console, a new design for this year. As before it’s very simple to use: there’s a power button, and two more to switch between the three power levels, plus a battery status display. It might have been nice to have a more elaborate display of speed, distance etc., but if it bothers you, you could always ask your dealer to add an inexpensive cycle computer.
The new Panasonic control unit is simple and intuitive – if not especially informative! Note also the bell (below the control unit) and the supportively-shaped Ergon grips.
The Panasonic drives a Shimano Alfine 8-speed hub gear, a top of the range model (at least until the upcoming 11-speed version reaches these shores). The 8 speeds offer a 316% range, and with the electric assist to help, this is more than enough for most situations. Gears are changed via a trigger-type shifter on the bars; this lets you keep full grip on the bars as you shift, just tapping the levers with thumb or fingers to change up or down.
The 8 speed Shimano Alfine hub gear will handle most situations
Next to the gear shifter is an odd little control which turns out to be the lock-out for the suspension forks. As you ride along you can press the latching button to lock the forks solid, for extra control or easier climbing without ‘bounce’. Press again to release. The forks are from a good manufacturer, SR Suntour.
The suspension fork lock-out is controlled by this neat push-button device
Fitted into the forks is a Shimano hub dynamo, powering a lighting system including a state of the art ‘Cyo-T’ LED headlight unit from German specialists Busch & Muller. This has automatic switch-on, a daylight running mode and ‘standlight’ (it stays on for several minutes even when you stop). It also throws an amazingly bright beam, definitely good enough to ride on unlit roads or paths at night. All of the lights and wiring are neatly and securely installed.
The high quality 'Cyo-T' headlight is neatly installed
Front and back wheels (700c) both benefit from Shimano rims to match the hubs, fitted with good quality and robust Continental tyres. Both wheels are also fitted with disk brakes, again Shimano, and activated via hydraulic hoses rather than cables. Hydraulics tend to give better power and feel, and can be lower maintenance than cable disks – although when repair is needed, it is a more complicated procedure. But the Shimano hydraulics are well proven and should be reliable.
The carrier rack on this bike is a good one, strong and with plenty of support for panniers. There’s also a useful prop-stand. A small pump attaches to the rack for emergencies (I’d take it off before parking the bike in public…). Mudguards are good quality too, though the front one is flap-free and surprisingly short.
A kickstand is a helpful addition to any bike; this one is mounted neatly to a purpose-made boss on the frame.
The contact points on any bike are important for comfort, and there’s been no scrimping here. The saddle is a medium-width, fairly sporty model from Fizik, and the Ergon handlebar grips are the best available. They really support your palm and wrists for extra comfort, and the short curved ‘bar ends’ at the outside offer an extra hand position – changing your grip can often be welcome on longer rides. That’s especially the case on this bike, which even with the adjustable stem at its highest provides a fairly leaned-over riding position, close to a traditional cycle touring posture.
» ON THE ROADFrom the first push of the pedals the Panasonic drive works its magic: it feels as if you’re either a lot stronger, or lighter, than you expect. It just takes much less effort to accelerate and retain speed. With each pedal stroke, the muted whine of the motor rises and falls slightly as it adapts to the pressure you put in. Stop, and a fraction of a second later so does the motor. Riding along, you just pedal normally but go faster: it’s a very intuitive system.
Starting off from a standstill does sometimes throw up some quirks, though, especially if, like me, you like to pedal hard and fast to accelerate away from traffic lights. Naturally, just as in a car, you’ll change down a few gears so as to be able to accelerate more effectively. Now, because the assistance speed is limited by law to 15 mph, the motor has to taper off when you’re pedalling fast enough to reach that speed in top gear. In lower gears, it’ll still cut out at that same pedalling rate (because the motor doesn’t ‘know’ which gear you’re in).
This means that you can set off in a lowish gear and the power assist will boost you nicely for a few pedal strokes. Then as you get up to speed it’ll cut out because you’re pedalling too fast, so you need to shift to a higher gear sharpish to slow your pedalling rate, bringing the motor back into play. With some practice you can keep the motor accelerating you continuously by well-timed gear changes.
This is only really an issue at all in stop-start town use when you want maximum acceleration; if you prefer to take your time you can even leave it in top gear all the time instead. You can also ask 50cycles to fit a smaller rear sprocket, raising the pedal cadence at which it cuts out.
The Panasonic crank-drive system is known to be especially good on hills. With the bike in low gear and assist on full power, it’ll take you up even the steepest gradients with only modest rider input.
The Suntour suspension fork seemed well chosen for the machine – this is no off-roader, so huge travel isn’t needed. Judging by the dirt pushed up the legs by the fork’s seals, it moved only about 40 mm in everyday riding. That’s plenty to take out the shock of all but the worst potholes, but not enough to dive disconcertingly when you brake. The fork lock-out’s handlebar switch did make it super easy to engage as you ride, and the resulting rigidity was welcome at times when climbing.
The brakes were really superb, with a positive bite point and great feel, and plenty of power to stop you hard without excessive finger pressure on the levers. Combined with the wide bars and Ergon shaped grips, this contributed to a great feeling of comfort and control.
» SUMMARYWith its purposeful looks and the latest more powerful Panasonic drive, the Pro Connect Disc is no mean performer, and the bike components are of an equally strong specification.
But to get the most out of this bike you’ll also need to be at least a modestly capable rider: it’s the nature of the Panasonic system that it multiplies your efforts rather then replaces them. Some skill with the gears is also helpful to keep the system working to best effect. Master that, though, and the crank drive combines with the gearing to provide excellent assistance, especially with hill-climbing.
Of course £1895 is a fair deal of money for most of us, but for the price you get a lot of ‘goodies’: hydraulic disk brakes, a really good suspension fork, great lights, and that huge battery all spring to mind. The Panasonic system is well proven and widely used, so there should be no worries on the reliability front.
Overall, this is a bike for the demanding cyclist, I feel, who wants to extend his or her range rather than to replace pedalling with motor power, and to do so with quality kit that needs nothing much upgrading.
» SPECIFICATIONWeight overall (inc batteries): 23.98 kg
Battery weight: 3.19 kg
Bike only weight: 20.79 kg
Charger weight: 0.70 kg
(inc. mains cable)
Battery type: Li-Ion
Battery capacity: 468 Watt hours (18Ah 26V)
Gearing: 8-speed Alfine hub gear. 41T ring, 19T sprocket. Ratios: 31-95”.
Brakes: Shimano M445 hydraulic disks
Lighting: front LED (B&M IQ
Cyo T), rear LED (AXA Riff)
Other accessories fitted: mudguards, carrier rack, stand, bell, pump.
Price as tested: £1895.