Easy Motion NEO City—E-bike Perfection Draws Closer.
Looking and riding so much like a regular bicycle, the Easy Motion NEO City has a lot going for it. This extended test has been great, yet I find myself at a crossroads on how to explain my feelings about it. I tend to be a positive person and push my mind towards that direction on a steady basis. Perhaps when a product is so close to being just right, it is easier to find fault in the details. You be the judge as you absorb this article.
This E-bike is the first version of its kind designed for the North American Market. Initially introduced here last year, this new model offers the dual-control power system that is not allowed on European shores. It has intelligent pedelec (a system that senses pedal pressure rather than pedal movement to trigger the electric motor to life). This intelligent pedelec system is the preferred way to go on E-bikes. Yet, due to the electronics’ programming, I felt I was more intelligent than the bike on many different occasions.
The Easy Motion E-bikes come from the BH bicycle factory in Spain. They have been making quality bikes and racing bikes for something like 100 years. So unlike many E-bikes I test, the bike part is right on and beyond reproach. For over five years they have been in the E-bike business and seem to have found a great place in the world-wide market. I do feel that stepping-up their game here in the states will be necessary.
I got to spend a day last year with part of the crew from Easy Motion. At that point I rode their NEO Cross and joined them on some sales calls here in town to show-off the NEO line to local E-bike shops. (Look below for a link to the article I posted on that). My introduction to Easy Motion E-bikes that day gave me a chance to enjoy the sleek frame with the battery keenly contoured into it. The great ride quality and fittings they add to their E-bikes was also quite obvious.
The NEO Cross is more of a lay-down styled bike, where this NEO City has the up-right seating position that I prefer. It has 700c rims and tires that add efficiency, yet do make for a taller bike and one that can catch grooves and ruts in the road surface easier. As I pondered the drawbacks in the control system (more on that in a minute), I made the trek to Ivan Stewart’s Electric Bike Center to ride the NEO Street model they have on the floor to compare the two.
The Street model comes speced with 26 inch tires with a larger cross-section that I feel is preferable. Almost identical except for the tires, the NEO Street would be the model I would see most people choosing for more comfortable and safer street riding. Although it is a smaller framed bike, so larger riders are steered to this NEO City. I personally feel they should scrub this NEO City and offer the NEO Street in many frame sizes. Both share a dynamo front hub that powers the built-in lighting system that works very nicely.
The other bikes in the NEO line don’t have the lighting package, and I understand that newer models from Easy Motion (City and Street) with factory lights will have them powered off the motor battery (instead of a dynamo) which is much more common here and a less expensive way to do it. In Europe bikes are legally required to have factory lights and battery powered ones are frowned on, so bringing the standard European set-up for lights to the American models was the move for now.
Other features include a chain guard that easily covers the 24 speed drive train, a strong rack with elastic hold-downs, nice ergo grips, some light-weight fenders with mud guards and a kickstand. The saddle appeared very inviting, yet it didn’t live up to it’s looks for my contour. The front fork is great, adjustable and has the kind of strength that one would desire for spirited riding. The tires are marked puncture-resistant, a thing I am big on with all E-bikes (regular bikes too). A rear wheel lock is shown on their website, but was absent on my test bike.
Some other differences in the line up find most of the NEO E-bikes with disc brakes. The City and Street stay with V-brakes that work on the rims of the wheels. Personally, I like rim brakes, yet most of the higher-end bikes (and E-bikes) nowadays are all equipped with disc brakes. No matter, as the brakes on this NEO City worked great with no qualms. And too, the shifting was top-notch with some nice shifters on the handlebars. I don’t see the need for so many gears on most E-bikes, but it is nice to have a very low-gear for the steeper hills.
At the Interbike Electric Bike Media Event last week I got to try out most all of the Easy Motion NEO line. They were a key sponsor and exhibitor there. I also got a chance to ride many of their bikes that aren’t in the NEO line that were on display from Pete’s Electric Bikes. The Easy Motion NEOs use geared, brushless hub motors to power their E-bikes. These motors are smooth, powerful and whisper quiet. Mid-drive set-ups were speced on the ones that Pete’s brought.
Hub motors are still pretty much the norm for most E-bikes. The reason I mention this is that Easy Motion says their bike offers a regenerative mode under braking. I can’t say that they don’t, but during the rides, I could feel no extra resistance that would indicate it. Plus with a geared motor, the mechanism free-wheels when coasting and braking, making me wonder how it could possibly add power to the battery under those situations. I would need a little more proof that it actually has this feature. With all my research on E-bike regen systems (and personal experience), I have found even when working, it is more of a gimmick (and sales tool) than a usable feature.
I did quite a bit of riding on this NEO City. I let my wife ride in on several group rides we’ve done lately. I normally hand my test bikes around to lots of friends and people I meet during rides, but was a little more reserved with this one. Part of the reason I didn’t was that I was concerned that people would scuff their feet on the battery housing when mounting and dismounting the bike. Although it is a low-framed bike, the place for your feet to swing over the bike is small and I didn’t want the bike to get scratched. The other reasons are still coming (safety concerns).
The bike rides very nicely. For the most I was pleased with it and enjoyed riding the City immensely. It is the way the electronics are programmed that draw my dislike. Before I go there, let me talk about one other feature that I am not sold on. The handlebars are mounted on a easily adjustable stem. With a single locking lever, you can change the handlebar height and angle. Unfortunately I have had bad experiences with these, one in the plastic safety latch breaking easily. On this stem the main catch is metal, but the slide is plastic. The other, and bigger problem is if the internal adjustor is not set right, the bars can move quickly and abruptly out of place and cause a loss of control. I had been lucky not to go down when this happened the first time and I always check it well on any bike I ride with this stem. And too, I go out of my way to check any other rider’s bike I see with these and explain to them how to set it right.
OK, on to the big things I see the need to be changed on the Easy Motion NEO City (and I would think on all of the NEO line-up for that matter). Starting from small to big, here is what I think. I do feel that all these problems could be fixed with a quick movement of keystrokes on the programmer’s laptop. I have offered to help Easy Motion with them, but they say I am the only person ever (world-wide?) to mount these concerns. They claim it took years to get it where they wanted and are happy with the way it works. I messaged back and forth with many at Easy Motion and even had an in-person talk with Steve (CEO at Easy Motion USA) at the Interbike event last week about these failing on their E-bike.
The biggest part I feel I have in evaluating E-bike performance and safety is the feed-back I give to the makers to allow them to get their bikes performing well and to make them as safe as possible for the consumer (you and me, the riders). Although my words did not fall on deaf ears at Easy Motion, they fell on ears that are convinced I am wrong and they are right. If you feel the same as me, let them know. The changes I am recommending are easy and can be reprogrammed into the bikes that are already on the road. I have worked with reprogramming test E-bikes I have had before and I know it is not that hard.
First up is the lack of smooth, seamless power the Easy Motion offers in the pedelec mode. I have ridden most of the intelligent pedelec (torque sensed controlled) bikes on the market and found that almost all are great in this respect. This bike tends to surge (motor turns on and off too quickly) as you ride on level ground with mild pressure to the pedals. This is not a big deal, causes no safety issue or riding discomfort, yet makes you feel like the bike is not thinking well. I did feel as if it was wasting power as I rode. As I said before, I felt I was smarter than the bike at many times. In addition to this, I feel the electronics need more power level ’notches’ to give a smoother ride under power-assist.
The extra ’notches’ would allow you to ride at slower speeds without the surge of power that uses extra battery energy and causes riders to feel as the bike is taking off when they don’t want. I found this to be an issue at all the power sensitivity levels. If I used the hand throttle instead of the intelligent pedelec mode, I could make the bike respond to my needs instead of its own. And that folks is not what I call intelligent pedelec control. Next, more about the hand throttle.
This E-bike, like many, has a handlebar mounted display unit that gives you info and has buttons to allow changing the bike’s functions. Most with torque-sensing (intelligent) pedelec allow the throttle to over-ride the pedelec at any time when you feel the need. This is preferred and allows ’dual-control’. On the NEO City (and the others in the NEO line), you need to toggle the display buttons to ’no assist’ to allow the throttle to operate the motor. And so, to get back into the pedelec mode, you need to re-toggle those buttons to do so. This requires taking your eyes off the road and watching the display to confirm you have found the setting you like. Very bad and easily changed by the programmer.
More about the display unit before I go on is important to my discussion at this point. It reads out your bike’s speed (from a sensor in the rear-mounted hub motor). It will tell you distance and the such, similar to a regular bike computer. It has three buttons, the middle one is to power up and down the bike. It also allows you to toggle between the modes on distance traveled and other functions. The upper and lower buttons have more than one function too. They can work the level of assist sensitivity between 4 levels and ’no-assist’ (+ and -). The lower button also turns on the backlight for the display so you can read it at night (I like this). You need to hold it for about three seconds and then the light comes on.
With a control system with only three simple buttons you would think things would work just right. In fact the control system is simple and easy to operate. The bad news is that danger and potential personal injury are lurking in these buttons and the electronics they operate. Each of these dangers could be easily erased if the programmer set-up the motor so it will only come-on when the bike is already in motion. Once a E-bike hits a couple mph, the having the motor being able to start to work is the norm for most E-bike companies that offer torque-sensed pedelec systems. I pleaded with Easy Motion to make these changes, yet they like it this way. They say no one (but me) has ever mounted these concerns of safety in their system and has never been hurt. I find that hard to believe.
There are benefits to being able to use the motor from a stop. Adding a small touch (too much is not good) of power as you begin to move from a stop can help stabilize you and make riding easier and safer. This is something I like on the E-bikes with throttle only power control. It does waste some of the battery’s power, but can be useful. Although if you have ever grabbed the throttle by mistake when reaching for the handlebars you know how dangerous it is as the motor powers up and the bike tries to surge away from you while at rest. Yes, the NEO can do this too.
Now to the upper button. If you hold that on you enter the ’walking’ mode. This is part of where my safety concerns really begin. It is normal to sometimes dismount your E-bike on very steep hills and push it on up. When you are doing this it is nice to use some of the motor’s power to help you. The correct way to do it is to hold the throttle a little bit and find the speed that works for you. If you hold the upper button on this NEO, the motor will come on and stay on at a pre-determined speed in ’walking mode’. The deal here is what if you pushed that button by mistake or were trying to turn on the light (that is controlled by the lower button) and never expected the powerful motor to activate.
Most if not nearly all E-bikes are purchased and ridden by people that are new to biking, haven’t ridden for years or have health and strength issues. If the motor comes on unexpectedly, even an experienced and strong rider can lose control of the bike. It can move into traffic, run into objects and people (kids?) and even cause you to fall on or under the bike (I’ve seen it happen). It is so important that the bike’s motor only comes on when you want it too. Do you feel the same way?
When you are stopped and waiting for the signal to change or traffic to clear, it is normal to hold your foot on the pedal in the correct orientation as you anticipate getting started again. If you do that on an Easy Motion NEO the motor will come on. It is not so much that most people will lose their balance, but it could cause that action. At the least it is wasting that precious battery power you might need to make the final mile of your journey. The bike should not want to go when you don’t want it to. This too is easily changed by the program of the controller.
The biggest danger here I found by mistake at Ivan’s E-bike Center. As I said I went there to ride the Street model to see if both bike’s control systems operated in the same way, (BTW, they do). I decided to take some photos of the bike while I was in the street near traffic. Holding my camera in one hand and moving the bike into a different position with the other, the pedal arm came in contact with the kickstand as the bike rolled backwards. You may have had this happen with your regular bike and it can be a nuisance. On this Easy Motion it became a major struggle (or much worse). We’re talking rearing into a wheelie and hold on to your socks kind of excitement here.
The torque of the pedal arm against the kickstand told the motor to go. As I pulled back and tried to restrain the bike, the motor kicked in with more power. As scary as this was at the moment, I was glad it happened so I could report this danger to you. Maybe I should have turned off the bike’s power switch, but I was only stopped for a minute. The folks at Easy Motion said I should have been holding the brakes, as each brake handle has a safety motor cut-off switch (something all E-bikes should have). In the above situations too, holding the brake would keep the motor from starting or running.
Yet, would I hold the brake to try and turn on the display lights? Would I always hold the brake lever at every stop? Some might, but as a long time cyclist, I don’t see the need unless I’m on a steep hill or other obstacle. This bike can try to go when you aren’t ready and I think it shouldn’t. I think you have gotten a feeling for what I saying here so let’s move on.
My last critique has to do with the battery. Although it is very sleek and powerful, it can only be charged when removed from the bike. It has no notch to make removal easier, but it is not too hard to manage that chore. A carry handle would have gone a long way to make me more comfortable when moving the battery about. I was also concerned about scratching it when it was placed on different surfaces for charging. A few times it didn’t tuck back into the frame all the way without some manipulation. More room for improvement?
This bike has all the tools to be every man’s and woman’s bike. I would suggest that if you have one already or are planning to get one, that you consider all I’ve said here. This is the longest review I’ve written to date and do I feel this bike is worth the effort to go that last step to make it perfect. I would be surprised to see Easy Motion share my review on any of their social media pages, yet I hope they do. They have got a great product here that can be awesome with the smallest additional effort on their part. I hope they choose to listen. If and when they make the changes I have outlined, you can be sure I will report on them in full.
So close yet so far away, Turbo Bob.
“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do!
I’m half crazy, all for the love of you!
It won’t be a stylish marriage,
I can’t afford a carriage,
But you’ll look sweet upon the seat
Of a bicycle built for two”.
—Harry Dacre, Daisy Bell.
Have a look at the video I posted on the NEO City
Read the article I wrote on meeting the Easy Motion crew
Easy Motion USA can be found on the web and Facebook
You can find Easy Motion NEO E-bikes locally at Ivan Stewart’s Electric Bike Center