THE BIGGEST TREND in the e-bike industry today is the “S-pedelic.” If you’re still riding a beach cruiser, here’s the intel: “Pedelic” is shorthand for “pedal electric cycle,” which means that the rider’s expended energy is assisted by a small motor. Add that “S” prefix and things change drastically. In Europe—and especially Germany, the continent’s largest e-bike market—“S” stands for “schnell” (speedy). That figures: The land of the Autobahn, the Nürburgring, and the Porsche 911 Turbo is a place where people take their schnell seriously. In fact, these bikes are so fast and torquey, they’re classified as mopeds throughout most of the European Union. Add a modest amount of human power to the pedals, and these bikes can easily approach speeds of 30 mph.
Perhaps you dream of being an S-pedelic commuter: sleeping late, zipping to the office, and arriving with time to spare, your freshly pressed Thomas Pink unsullied by pit stains. If so, one of the e-bike brands that’s probably pinging on your radar is Stromer. The Swiss company’s flagship model, the ST2, has garnered reams of fawning reviews and a mantle of prestigious honors. Like many fashionable e-bikes, though, Stromer is not for bargain hunters or the faint of heart. The base ST2 is $7,000. You want to add sport mode? The ST2S is $10,000. That’s why the latest addition to the Stromer lineup has become such a popular test-ride request at bike shops. Instead of being insanely expensive, the new ST1 X is, at $5,000, merely ridiculously expensive. It promises most of the performance, along with the same styling and build quality of the ST2S, but at half the price. Let’s charge up and see how schnell this thing is.
The ST1 X frame is the same platform used on the company’s $10K model. Unlike some high-tech e-bikes, this frame is more sober than stylish. That’s the point—the shape caters to comfort, performance, and shock absorption instead of some fantasy about what the Dark Night might ride through the streets of Gotham if he had to lower his carbon footprint. That slightly angled top tube is as rakish as it gets. The rest of the details—from the flat but conservatively tapered handlebars to the custom wraparound fenders to the teardrop cutouts in the chainring—are an exercise in restraint, classicism, and good taste. To minimize visual clutter, all the tech is cleverly integrated. The touch display, which resembles a tiny iPhone, is inconspicuous, set flush with the frame. The large battery pack is neatly concealed in that stout down tube. Even the cables under the bars are stowed away, tightly bunched in zippered neoprene sheaths before being internally routed through the frame. The paint job on the review unit is Matte Charcoal (Gloss White and Matte Copper are options), which lends a slightly sinister DARPA vibe to the civilized neo-Bauhaus design; those wavy TIG welds are gorgeous. Despite its quiet presence, the ST1 X still turns heads. But the admiring stares tend to come from designers, art directors, and German tourists.
The STX 1 boasts top shelf e-bike features like regenerative braking (to capture and recycle precious energy), a large lithium-ion battery (for high torque and long distance), and a purpose built 6061 aluminum frame (the same alloy used to make Audi’s A8 chassis). The thing that really sets the ST1 X apart from the competition, though, is its connectivity. And I’m not just talking Bluetooth. The bike’s performance is tuned using a proprietary algorithm, which can be customized. Stromer can ping it to apply free firmware updates on the fly. It connects to GPS satellites for theft protection and tracking. Even your grease-stained mechanic can remotely monitor the system status and peruse your service records to schedule maintenance.
The magic that makes this all happen is Omni, Stromer’s impressive cloud-based platform. Download the app to your phone, and you have access to the Stromer portal as well as all the chips and software inside the ST1 X. Snow in the forecast? There’s a ride program for that to control wheel slippage in the sloppy stuff. Can’t concentrate at work because you’re not sure the ST1 X has enough juice for the commute home? Just log onto the Stromer app to check the battery status. Maybe you need an afterburner kick to make it to an important meeting on time. Simple: tap the handlebar-mounted display for maximum torque, turn the pedals, and go. The screen is pressure sensitive, so wearing gloves isn’t a problem. I preferred using the control pad ring located on the right handgrip. The small backlit buttons allow you to control the lights and click through the three torque-assist levels. Looking down to navigate an LCD display while picking through traffic is never a good idea.
Bike Thief PSA
As this WIRED true crime story illustrates, the “Theft Mode” feature on the ST1 X is no marketing gimmick. Switch it on and the bike’s GPS-locating and anti-theft capabilities are activated. If a scoundrel moves the ST1 X just a few feet, the onboard security system locks the rear wheel, which essentially bricks the bike. The lights will also begin to flash, and a text message alert will immediately be sent to the owner. The stymied criminal will receive a message, too. The word “THEFT” will flash on the bike’s built-in LED display screen. If you suspect your ST1 X has been whisked away in a van, call the cops, feed them the GPS tracking data, and wait for the collar. A Stromer rep claims that so far there have been 40 thefts of their highly desirable e-bikes in the US and that in each instance the owners were quickly reunited with their property. If you forget to engage Theft Mode, no worries—it can be launched remotely via the Stromer app. This doesn’t mean you should leave the ST1 X unattended in a dicey neighborhood. There will always be scavengers who will strip an expensive bike for parts. But if it’s parked in front of a bar or restaurant this is the kind of digital security blanket that will relieve stress and prevent you from anxiously peeking out the window every five minutes.
There’s heavy competition among makers of four-figure street bikes. They hit all the high notes: beefy rubber, integrated fuel cells and lights, aluminum fenders and racks. Inevitably, though, they fall short. It’s always something: inferior parts or workmanship, noisy drive systems or rattling fenders, off-putting colors. Don’t even mention apps and software.
That’s why Stromer owns the luxe e-bike category. The ST1 X is attractive, tight as a bongo, and dead silent at speed. All the components pass bike geek muster: Shimano SLX 11-speed drivetrain, Tektro Dorado hydraulic discs, rebranded Ergon saddle (love that anti-chafe silicone coating), Schwalbe BigBen Puncture Guard tires, and, stuffed in the rear hub like a caged cheetah, the power plant that’s guaranteed to thrill: CYRO Drive. This new A2B design generates a formidable 35 Nm (Newton meters) of torque, just a smidgen less than the slightly quicker but significantly pricier ST2S. That’s enough direct drive assist to beat most cars off the line and draw a cop’s attention. Unlike the popular Bosch and Yamaha center drive motors, the CRYO has no gears or moving parts. That makes it incredibly durable and quiet.
“I’ve got customers who’ve logged 20,000 miles on these bikes with zero issues,” says Paul Morlock, the owner of Electric Bikes of New England. “The Stromer motors are bulletproof.” So bulletproof that last year Ravi Kempaiah, a University of Chicago Ph.D scholar, used a Stromer to set the Guinness World Record for longest journey on a motorized bike: over 5,000 miles in 34 days and change—with no mechanical failures. Your puny 5-mile work commute? Don’t make Ravi laugh.
The Tesla S and Stromer ST1 X are both powered by efficient lithium-ion cells. Unlike the Tesla crowd, though, Stromer owners don’t suffer from the dreaded “range anxiety” syndrome. The stock 618-Wh battery in the ST1 X is rated at up to 75 miles. For those who crave more energy, battery upgrades are available: 814 Wh (max 90 miles) and 983 Wh (max 110 miles). The pack can be charged inside the bike (via EnergyBus magnetic port) or removed and charged in the home/office. Because the charger is only 2 amps, topping off from empty requires 5 hours of plug time. Stromer estimates battery range based on a 170-pound rider pedaling on a smooth, flat surface using the lowest torque setting. If you enjoy drag racing Volkswagens or are less than svelte, the jumbo battery option is a good idea. Ditto if you live in a city that’s particularly hilly (San Francisco) or windy (Chicago). What’s a few hundred extra bucks for a Stromer bigshot like you?
The ST1 X is a comfortable ride, too. The body position is forward but not aggressively so, making long trips and commutes less fatiguing. Two frames sizes are available: 17-, 20, and 22-inch. There’s also a step-through 17-inch frame for “ease of mounting and dismounting, even when you’re wearing elegant clothes.” Perfect. Now Leo has a bike to ride to the Oscars.
With a 9-pound battery serving as ballast in the down tube and a 13-pound engine mounted in the rear hub, the ST1 X has a low center of gravity and decent weight distribution. The upshot is handling that will cock eyebrows, even when carving tight corners. The ST1 X tips the scale at 60 pounds, but it doesn’t feel like that when you’re eating up asphalt at a clip that leaves fellow cyclists (and some motorists) in a slipstream of dust.
The CYRO power assist is immediate, powerful, and smooth. The spec sheet claims a top speed of 28 mph, but I managed 30 mph in the flats without breaking a sweat. It may not sound fast, but on a bike that’s flying. Most pro riders are only averaging 25 mph at the Tour de France. Imagine being bitten by a radioactive and juiced-to-the-gills Lance Armstrong. Now you’re suddenly a super cyclist with pedal power far beyond the abilities of mere mortals. Your eyes will water and you’ll hear wind turbulence. Scaling steep hills is a kick, too. No need to attack the incline with momentum. Just pedal at a normal RPM. The bike will do the rest. If the hill is particularly steep and you’re gassed at the top, press the “+” button on the right handle grip for two seconds, swing your legs over the handlebars, and relax. “Boost” mode will kick in propelling you along at a brisk 12.5 mph, no muscle power required. If you live in a walk-up, “Move” mode will also come in handy. It rotates the rear wheel at a slow walking pace, ideal for toting the bike up stairs or negotiating a crowded boardwalk. Without it, schlepping this hunk of aluminum is a workout.
The $5,000 Question
Should you take out a small business loan and trade in your vintage Schwinn Stingray for a new Stromer ST1 X? If you’re in the market for a commuter e-bike and demand style, quality, features, and plenty of pure, unadulterated schnell then yes, pull the trigger. You don’t get all the juicy perks, like the integrated headlight and USB port or the primo drivetrains offered on the ST2 models. But the rest of the core Stromer DNA has trickled down: the hand-welded frame, ingenious long-range battery system, a stealthy 500-watt motor, all the Omni/app goodies, and the same build quality.
You’ll be ridiculed, of course, by friends and office mates for dropping $5,000 on a bike that isn’t made of carbon fiber. But then you can hop on the sublime ST1 X, set the CYRO torque to max, lay a patch of rubber, and chuckle like a jackal.[“Source-wired”]