Remember the A2B Ultra Motor electric bikes we saw at the gadget show? The ones being tested by Raef of The Apprentice fame? Well, we managed to blag a pair for an extended test, and we can bring you the definitive verdict.
What are they?
Essentially, they're bicycles for people that are either too fat, lazy, or too disgusted by their own sweat to rely on muscle power alone. Two versions are available -- the A2B Metro, which lets you cruise along without pedalling, and the A2B Hybrid, whose motor is activated only whilst you're pedalling. Both are powered by a 36-volt lithium-ion battery above the rear wheel, and a hub motor at the centre of the rear wheel itself.
The good stuff
We tested both bikes on the same 8-mile route over several days, and each time we arrived at our destination less tired and smelly than if we'd have ridden standard cycles. To operate the Metro, you simply hop on, twist the 'throttle' on the right handle, and off you go. It's limited to a top speed of 15.5mph, but can reach 20mph if you hold the 'off-road' boost button located next to the throttle on the right side of the handle. On a flat road, with pedal power and maximum boost enabled, we hit around 25mph, which is quicker than most cyclists, and indeed many cars in the city.
The A2B Hybrid is slightly less impressive due to the fact you actually have to pedal to get anywhere. A little gadget on the handlebars allows you cycle between three driving modes (downhill, flat and uphill) each of which provides progressively more power assistance. Tackling hills in the uphill mode is quite satisfying -- ascents that force other cyclists to dismount can be tackled with relative ease. On a flat surface, we averaged speeds of around 14mph, which is enough to keep up with slower cyclists.
The less good stuff
The bikes aren't without fault. On the first day of testing the Metro, we rode through a small pothole, which caused the suspension to bottom out. This, in turn, caused the rear wheel to strike the mudguard, which subsequently broke and fell off in the middle of a busy 3-lane road. The leftover shards of mudguard that were still connected to the bike then began rubbing against the tyre, causing it to explode loudly. Ultra Motor was quick to repair the damage, and said it would correct the suspension on future models to eradicate the problem.
A few days later, more problems with the Metro. The power randomly cut out -- usually after going over a rough patch of road. Whether this was because of loose wiring or water damage caused by the missing mudguard is difficult to say. What we can say is that losing power and having to pedal a bicycle weighing 37Kg (as other cyclists whizz past you, laughing) isn't much fun at all.
The A2B Hybrid can be a pain, too -- literally. Its seat is very uncomfortable and, unlike the Metro, is shaped like male genitalia. Believe us, it's the last thing in the world you'll want to sit on. More significantly, the bike doesn't provide the same amount of power as the Metro -- mainly because it lacks an "off-road" boost button. As a result, it's actually quite difficult keeping up with most cyclists and simply isn't much fun to ride.
The Hybrid's handling isn't great, either. Most of its weight (from the battery, motor and rider) is loaded above the rear wheel, which makes the front feel abnormally light. Simply taking one hand off the handlebar to indicate a turn can cause the front wheel to wobble, which is obviously quite dangerous in wet or gravelly conditions. This problem is compounded by the Hybrid's slick tyres, whose ability to dissipate water in rainy conditions is limited at best.
Should you buy them?
The A2B Hybrid is pretty pointless, in our opinion. Being forced to pedal when the bike has a perfectly good motor just doesn't make any sense -- especially when you've paid £1,749 for the privilege.
The A2B Metro is a different proposition, however. Sure, every day something new fell off, broke, or squeaked in a manner that suggested it was made of old baked bean tins, but watching other cyclists gawk in amazement as you pull effortlessly away is satisfying.
You get a two-year warranty for the motor and battery, with a lifetime warranty for the frame, so if you get any problems, the dealer you bought it from should be able to help. If you can afford the £1,949 asking price, then it's certainly worth checking out.
Here's the removable 36v battery that powers the A2B hybrid. It weighs a substantial 5.4kg, which upsets the weight distribution and balance of the bike. Most of the weight (including the driver) sits above the rear wheel, which can cause the front end to feel disconcertingly light when travelling at high speed.
The information display on the Hybrid lets you turn the motor on or off, and to cycle through the three riding modes. "Downhill", "flat" and "uphill" modes are available, each offering progressively more power assistance.
The downhill and flat modes are pretty pointless -- you're best off keeping it in uphill mode the whole time, unless you're some kind of fitness freak. But if you are, why are you buying an electric bicycle?
That black rubber section on the handle is the Metro's twist 'n' go "throttle". The raised section to the left of that is the battery level indicator, and the grey button to the left of that is the off road boost button.