Review: EBCO Urban Commuter UCR60 (Summer 2011)

The UCR60 is one of six bikes offered by EBCO, a company new to electric bikes but with an enviable bike industry background. We tested it: does this £1499 bike measure up to expectations? Read the review in full.

Posted by Peter Eland on Thursday 6 Oct 2011

This review appeared in Electric Bike magazine Issue 3. Click the viewer below to read the review with the original print layout - or scroll down for the full text and images online!



EBCO Urban Commuter UCR60

Ebco review photo copyright Electric Bike Magazine


The UCR60 is one of six bikes offered by EBCO, a company new to electric bikes but with an enviable bike industry background. We tested it: does this £1499 bike measure up to expectations?

After several years of planning and preparation, EBCO launched last year with a compact range of six bikes, all using the TranzX PST electric assist system from JD Group of Taiwan, a well established system also used on many bikes in mainland Europe. Behind the company are Rick and Paul Stanforth, widely known in the UK cycle industry as the founders of Saracen, in its time one of the best-selling mountain bike brands in the country. EBCO is based in Warwick, and as well as selling direct via their showroom and website, the bikes are available via a network of around 30 selected dealers across the UK.

Alongside the UCR60 in the range is the low-step-through equivalent, the UCL60, at the same £1499 price; then two models (UCR30 and UCL30) at £1099 with more modest battery capacity and specification. Finally, two versions of the modernist 20"-wheeled ‘Eagle’ bike at £1599, with even larger battery packs, complete the line-up.

There’s a single frame size for the UCR60, which EBCO say will suit riders with inside leg measurements from around 28" to 37". The UCL low step-through version is slightly smaller.

EBCO bikes come with a five-year frame warranty, and one year for parts and battery. The battery is, they say, expected to withstand around 500 charge cycles before it starts to lose significant capacity – so about two years in daily use. Spare battery cost is to be confirmed.
Our bike was supplied direct from EBCO, needing only minor assembly and a charge before the first ride.

» ON THE BIKE

The UCR60 isn’t the first and won’t be the last bike to go for an all-black colour scheme: it’s smart, discreet and doesn’t show the dirt. The matt finish on this bike seems tough, and the colour co-ordination extends to pretty much every component bar the front hub motor and the rear hub gear, both silver. The graphics are also agreeably understated.

Ebco review photo copyright Electric Bike Magazine


The high and wide-swept handlebars are one of the first things to strike you about this bike. The long angle-adjustable stem, which you can lock and unlock without tools, lets you position the bars anywhere from low down and forwards to upright and close, and at the angle of your choice. Well-shaped ergonomic grips, solidly secured to the bars via a clamp system, support your wrists.

Curving between the grips is a rigid plastic ‘bow’ which holds the electric assist display console. This can be simply pivoted around by hand to suit the angle at which you’ve set the bars. Sometimes it was handy to swivel the control downwards to avoid reflections in strong sun, too.

Ebco review photo copyright Electric Bike Magazine


Ebco review photo copyright Electric Bike Magazine
The display unit is built into the handlebars, and you can adjust the angle as you ride for the best view.


The electric system’s controls are clustered on a separate unit near your left hand. Four large, rubbery buttons are provided for assist mode, ‘turbo’, power on/off and lights on/off. It’s easy to use and feels solid.

Ebco review photo copyright Electric Bike Magazine

The electric assist is controlled via this cluster of big, rubbery buttons near the left-hand grip.

At first glance you might miss the front suspension: unlike most which have the suspension in the fork legs, as for motorbikes and most mountain bikes, this bike uses rigid fork legs and places the suspension element within the fork shaft. It’s an arrangement which is arguably tidier, especially given the relatively short suspension travel, 35mm. This is fine for road use, where it just has to deal with vibration on poor surfaces and the occasional pothole. Mountain bike users need considerably more, but longer travel also means more dive under braking. So it’s an appropriate choice here. A rubber bellows keeps dirt out of the moving parts.

Ebco review photo copyright Electric Bike Magazine


The fork also accommodates the motor in the front wheel, a fairly bulky unit. I thought the cable arrangements particularly neatly done, with a plastic shroud giving a clean exit from the hub, and a reassuringly chunky metal connector to attach it to the bike’s wiring – which in turn is neatly secured with P-clips to the fork blade.

Ebco review photo copyright Electric Bike Magazine


On the other side, the motor has a Shimano roller-brake fitted, the latest IM-80 model which is noticeably more powerful than previous versions. It’s a sealed unit which is pretty much impervious to the weather, and requires very little maintenance. A good choice for an urban commuter machine.
Further items of note on the fork include the LED headlight, powered along with the matching rear unit via the main battery (with several hours-worth of light available even after the battery is empty for motor use). There’s also a steering damper fitted, essentially a spring working between fork and frame to keep the front wheel from flopping round when the bike’s parked. The spring’s too weak to affect the handling as you ride, but it’s a great help when propping the machine up on its stand.

The transmission is via an 8-speed Shimano hub gear, with twist-grip shifter on your right hand. The rustproof-coated chain is protected by a plastic guard, keeping trousers tidy. Like the front wheel, it’s built into a good quality Alex 700c rim with stainless spokes, and fitted with Kenda 40mm wide tyres complete with reflective stripes on the sidewalls.

Ebco review photo copyright Electric Bike Magazine
Hub gears mean you can shift gears even when stopped, and the chainguard protects your clothing.


Mounted to a substantial rear carrier is the 240Wh (10 Ah, 24V) lithium-polymer battery, with the wires running from it neatly down a channel on the back of the seatpost, and thence inside the frame until they emerge near the fork crown. The battery itself is removable (by key, of course) by sliding it out of the rear of the rack. This is optional: you can charge it in place instead if you prefer; just lift a rubber cover on the side of the battery and plug the charger in. It all seems well-designed, rattle-free and secure.

Ebco review photo copyright Electric Bike Magazine
The battery slides into the substantial rear rack and locks in place.


What’s left? EBCO have decided not to include a suspension seatpost (as you’ll have read in past reviews, many don’t perform that well anyway) and instead there’s a good alloy seatpost and a wide, supportive saddle. They’ve also added folding pedals – they are solid enough when riding, but can be flipped open to lay flat against the cranks. Possibly handy when storing the bike away!

Ebco review photo copyright Electric Bike Magazine
The pedals fold flat(ish), possibly handy for storage.


» ON THE ROAD

The character of the UCR60 can be varied quite noticeably by simply moving the handlebars – from a very upright cruiser-style bike to a crouched-over more sporty ride. Occasionally, facing a howling headwind on the way home, I would drop the bars for some aerodynamic gain: the tool-free adjustment really is handy.

Either way, it feels like a solid and stable bike; like many electric bike it’s not exactly light (at around 26 kg), so this is perhaps to be expected. But the short-travel front suspension, solid seatpost, secure brakes and general rattle-free construction all combined to make it feel dependable. The brakes pull you to a halt silently and strongly, gear changes are drama-free, and thanks to that steering stabiliser, even parking it is easy: just drop the two-legged stand and it stays secure, without the front wheel flopping round.

Unassisted, it rides well: not a speed machine but apart from a little extra weight, it’s much like any other bike. The decent tyre pressure and good gears make for fine get-you-home riding – but of course the whole point is to add in electric assist.

The TranzX system used in the UCR60 is of the ‘pedelec’ type: it senses how hard you’re working (via a sensor in the bottom bracket) and matches your effort via the motor. Setting off from a standing start there is a slight delay before the power cuts in, a turn of the pedals or so, but then it responds smoothly and powerfully, with only a light buzz to let you know the motor’s working.

The power assist can be set to three levels, with an additional ‘turbo’ boost effectively providing a fourth level. It did feel a little less eager in the lowest setting, but I couldn’t really tell all that much difference between the rest of them, and even the ‘Turbo’ boost button seemed to have little real effect. With my five-miles-each-way commute not really threatening the range, it was very tempting to leave it on Turbo all the time.
Even in this mode, it is good to use the gears to best advantage, especially for that first turn of the pedals before the motor assist takes the load off your legs. One of the features of the hub gear used on this bike is that it can be shifted at a standstill, so it’s easy to select a lower gear before you set off.

Once you get going, the electric assist makes accelerating up to the standard 15 mph easy, and the cut-out at that point is handled smoothly: as your speed dips below the motor picks up again gently. As with many electric bikes, you quickly get the knack of riding at just below the cut-out speed, so that you’re covering the maximum distance with minimum effort.

Hillclimbing is pretty good too: all but the steepest gradients don’t slow you down excessively, though they do eat battery of course. At 240 Wh the capacity of the UCR60’s battery pack isn’t among the largest around (nor is it the heaviest, of course…) but on the flat and with a heavyish rider (me) putting in modest work on the pedals, it managed 30-odd miles per charge, in line with EBCO’s claims. That’s enough for most there-and-back commutes with charge to spare, away from the worst hills at least.

» SUMMARY

The level of fit and finish on the UCR60 is most impressive, and so too is the way that low maintenance and practicality has been designed in from the start. This should be a bike to transport you year round and in all weathers with a minimum of attention. It’s also a comfortable bike and easily adjusted to get a good fit.

The TranzX system also impressed, with well-behaved power assist, a good display and intuitive controls. The delay before it kicks in when setting off might be a drawback for some riders, although the gears compensate to an extent. More effective ‘economy’ settings might also be good to let you really stretch out the battery capacity if you run short, but that’s a minor matter.

Overall this felt to me like a quality bike with handsome looks and functionality to match; it has the backup of a well-funded and experienced company too. If the price is in your budget ballpark, it should be on your shortlist and a target for a test-ride.

Peter Eland

Specification

Weight overall (inc batteries): 25.8 kg
Battery weight: 3.1 kg
Bike only weight: 22.7 kg
Charger weight: 1.45 kg
Battery type: Lithium-polymer
Battery capacity: 240 Watt hours (10Ah 24V)
Gearing: Shimano 8-speed Nexus hub gear. 38T ring, 16T sprocket. Ratios 34-104"
Brakes: Shimano IM-80 roller brakes front and rear
Lighting: front LED, rear LED
Other accessories fitted: mudguards, carrier rack, stand, bell.
Price as tested: £1499.

VERDICT

HIGH POINTS:

  • Great build quality and attention to detail
  • Low-maintenance parts and design
  • Comfortable ride and easy adjustment
  • Smooth powerful assist
  • Understated good looks

LOW POINTS:

  • Battery capacity not huge
  • Not the lightest bike
  • Not quite silent
  • Assist doesn’t start immediately when setting off
  • Only a single frame size available

GOOD FOR:

  • Everyday commuters
  • The maintenance-averse (within reason!)
  • Anyone looking for a smart, fully-equipped machine

Available from:

  • EBCO: Tel 01926 437700 or see www.ebco-ebikes.co.uk
  • Contact EBCO or see their website for a list of dealers


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