Monday, June 3, 2013

Stromer ST1 - Something More Than A Bicycle

Stromer ST1 - Something More Than A Bicycle

This spring Papa Wheelies became a Stromer dealer. Stromer is a Swiss brand of electric pedal-assisted bike making headway in America. This type of machine is an idea that has been evolving for the last decade or so and has been getting more and more refined as the technological constraints involved have advanced.

For the past 5 or 6 years we have struggled with how to best tackle this niche. We have sold a few - special orders mostly - and helped a number of individuals tinker with the bike mechanic aspects of bolting a two-stroke gas-powered engine onto a variety of bicycles not designed for the job. We have stocked a battery-powered, pedal-assisted three-speed steel cruiser or two and searched out inexpensive options for a number of customers, but it has never been something that has caught on enough, and the last Torker pedal-assist electric bike we stocked sat around for well over a year before finding a home.

That Torker was fun to ride around town, especially uphill, where you could push a hand-throttle, and as long as you were at least soft-pedaling, it would pull you up the hill. But it was clunky. The mechanism to turn on the electric assist was essentially a cadence magnet, so you needed to pedal a full pedal-stroke before the assist abruptly kicked on. And the front-hub-mounted motor meant that the assist would pull you from the front wheel while your pedaling forces were driving you from the rear, which would be a little disconcerting.

Enter the Stromer. It, and the new Specialized Turbo (which is starting to be available in the US in very limited numbers this year), are a new generation of this genre. The Stromer is very seemless, with a torque measuring device located at the rear hub that not only immediately powers up when you first put pressure on the pedals, it also adjusts power based on rider input. So, if you soft-pedal it adds a gentle push, and when you really push it really moves!

It feels like riding a bike, but with extra power in your legs. The 500-watt brushless motor in the rear hub and the large Lithium-Ion battery integrated into the downtube mean the bike weighs close to 60 pounds, but the weight is so well distributed and the power coming from the motor, well, overpowers the weight.

From a stop at a traffic light or stop sign within 2-3 pedal strokes you are moving along at 20mph, keeping up with cars and trucks and outpacing them at times! The Stromer has four power settings: Power, City, Tour & Eco. For the first few weeks we had Stromers in stock they never left the Power mode, and I took a Stromer ST1 Platinum on the local 8-mile New Castle Island road loop and blew up most of the Segment KOM's on Strava on a quick lunch trip.

It wasn't until I took an extended 15-mile ride on a Stromer with a battery that wasn't fully charged and got worried that I would run out of juice that I started playing around with the other modes. Eco mode is really how a Stromer is meant to be ridden. It gives you the least amount of power assist. It doesn't accelerate off the line and doesn't really feel any different than just riding a bike, until you realize that with a moderate effort you are ticking along at 20+ mph! For extended commuting or extending your typical range on a bike, you can get 50-65 miles on a charge. Regenerative breaking, like in a Toyota Prius, refunds up to 10% of battery power.

Even so, we'll probably keep the demo Stromers in Power Mode for zipping around town, feeling like a kid again, and outpacing cars without breaking a sweat!

Stromer ST1 Elite $3499.99
Stromer Platinum Carbon Fork $3999.99
Stromer Rental/Demo $100/day (applicable to purchase)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

2013 Specialized S-Works Venge with Campagnolo EPS Electronic Shifting

We recently built up the most expensive custom bike we've ever stocked at Papa Wheelies: a 2013 Specialized S-Works Venge frameset built up with Campy Super Record EPS electronic shifting and a set of ridiculously light DT Swiss RR525 wheels.

The Venge is Specialized's aero road bike, a category that has been heating up over the last few years, with a number of companies jumping on the bandwagon, and for good reason. Bikes like the Venge or the BMC TimeMachine Road can be stiff, responsive, relatively lightweight, give you an appreciable aero advantage and be very capable descenders. In fact, last summer I was right on my boss's wheel heading down a steep descent in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire when he started pulling away from me. I looked down at my computer as I helplessly drifted behind to see that I was going 53.5 mph and getting dropped on my stupid round-tubed bike!

This build up is an incredible machine! It weighs in at under 14 lbs and whistles through a headwind. I took it out for a short 10-mile loop for a shakedown ride to make some adjustments on the shifting. The Campy is smooth and precise, and after testing a number of Shimano Dura Ace and Ultegra Di2 bikes (Ultegra Di2 has become a very good-selling gruppo over the last year, but that's another story) Campy is as good as you would expect given the price tag. After setting up the bike in the shop and tuning it (which is more like programming a computer than wrenching on a bike) my ride revealed that the front derailleur was a little out of adjustment. Adjusting it was a relatively simple operation I could perform at 15 mph: hold down the hidden button on the right shifter for 6 seconds until the blue light flashed, entering it into setup mode, then adjust the derailleur out 1/10th of a millimeter per click until aligned, hold the hidden button down again until it flashed out of setup mode, and shift to see how it works.

The DT Swiss wheelset is as light as anything I've ever ridden. At 990 grams for the pair, they are pounds lighter than a lot of wheels out there. You could put a set of something more aero like Zipp 404 Firecrest Carbon Clinchers on this bike and still be below the Tour de France weight limit.


Flashing through downtown Portsmouth at the speed limit to get out to Route 1B towards New Castle Island, the Venge felt effortless. Heading across the causeway bridge at the first town-line sprint I easily outmaneuvered my shadow to a convincing win, HA! In actuality, I was still in mid winter condition, and didn't expect much from a performance standpoint on this ride. The bike felt great - the geometry is very similar to the Tarmac and sprints well (Mark Cavendish won Worlds in a sprint finish on one in 2011). And at 13.75 lbs it climbed like a dream up the local test piece, the Alpe d' Sagamore to the Col du Luster King Auto Detailing!

Pulling back into the bike shop parking lot I popped my Garmin into the computer dock to upload the ride to Strava, not expecting much from my out-of-season form, and shocked to find that I had racked up 6 personal records on a ten-mile loop I had done a hundred times before! I guess the proof really is in the pudding, and for $16,500.00 you can truly buy speed. As I hung the Venge up on the wall I realized that unfortunately for me since I can't buy that much speed, I'll be chasing this out-of-shape loop on this fiery Venge for some time to come on my round-tubed bike!