Most electric bicycles are expensive. Like, 'you must have two grand lying around' expensive. Cheaper e-bikes exist but only a handful of manufacturers offer anything close to the $500 mark. One of the exceptions is Analog Motion, a four-person startup that crowdfunded a line of e-bikes called the AM1 last year. The range started at £499 (roughly $665) and, unsurprisingly, smashed its £25,000 goal in a single day. And, somehow, the team actually delivered on its promise and shipped hundreds of well-received bikes. Now, it's back with a second generation that promises a similar balance of performance and affordability.
The all-new AMX comes in a few different sizes and frame styles. The cheapest is the Mini, a compact e-bike that was initially sold for €499 (roughly $545) on Indiegogo. At the time of writing, it's still possible to reserve one with an 'Early Bird' price of €650 (roughly $710). The Capital, meanwhile, is essentially AM's standard option. It comes in a Classic or Step frame -- the latter of which has a lowered top bar for easier boarding -- for €769 (roughly $839) ahead of its normal asking price of €1,775 (roughly $1,937). If you have more to spend, there's also a Road model with drop handlebars for €799 (roughly $872) and some limited edition LE bikes -- available in Classic and Step frames -- for €959 (roughly $1,047).
There are 11 options in total, down from a staggering 190 with the AM1. "That makes fulfilling [the orders] significantly easier," Jack Chalkley, co-founder of Analog Motion said. "We realized this sort of false economy in offering customers a lot of choice. They approach us with suggestions and things they would like to see on a bike as if they're things they actually want. Actually, a well-presented [set of] choices is received the best."
None of the AMX models scream "hello, I'm an e-bike!" The battery is visible on every model but it's shaped like a water bottle to hide its true purpose. If you're standing more than a meter away, it's hard to tell that the bike has any assistive capabilities. Unlike countless other e-bikes, including the Cowboy and folding Hummingbird, the AMX isn't trying to make a statement or capture anyone's attention. Every model is stylish but intentionally unremarkable. As the company's Indiegogo campaign explains: "It looks and feels exactly like a bicycle." If you want something that will start a conversation at your local coffee shop, sorry -- this isn't it.
Every model is stylish but intentionally unremarkable.
The single speed bicycle is assisted by a 250W rear-hub motor developed by AM in partnership with Aikema. "To date we've actually never had a motor failure on a customer's [AM1]," Navid Gornall, the other co-founder of Analog Motion explained. "It's just never happened. We feel so confident that our motors are zero maintenance for the entire duration of the product." Chalkley added: "Before the Kickstarter, between [Gornell], myself and the handful of other customers we had, we clocked over 25,000 kilometers on the AM1s and never [once] experienced a motor failure."
It has a top speed of 15.5MPH in Europe and 20MPH in the US, which is the maximum allowed in both regions. Why the single gear? As Chalkley explained: "The [rear-hub] motor supplements any necessary gain you get from gears. Gears are unreliable. Gears are expensive. They're expensive in the cost of the bike, and they're expensive to maintain as well."
The bottle-shaped battery, meanwhile, offers up to 27 miles on a single charge, depending on the effort you exert and the number of hills you tackle. That range is low -- really low, in fact -- by modern e-bike standards, but high enough for most people's daily commute, AM claims. The battery is also removable, which means you can charge it in your home and, if you need to, carry a fully-charged spare in your backpack. Heck, you can even use the battery to charge some of your gadgets in a pinch. The smaller size keeps the bike's weight and, more importantly, cost down too.
"We put a 20 to 27-mile battery on the AMX whereas a lot of [e-bike] manufacturers put double that," Chalkley said. "Double the batteries means double the price. So you can buy two batteries for an AMX if you need them, but if you don't then you can cut that part of the cost out."
The e-bike has two-inch wide Schwalbe tyres for absorbing bumps and, unlike the AM1, Tektro disc brakes as standard. While riding, you'll be peering at a computer with a small OLED display to check your assist level, current speed, average speed and remaining charge. It has a couple of physical buttons for changing the assist level and is "waterproof, dustproof [and] life-proof," the company claims on Indiegogo.
The Mini, Road and LE models have a broadly similar spec sheet. The Mini has a 200W motor, though, and a slightly smaller battery. The Mini and Road models also use Kenda 38C tyres for "great city performance" and "low rolling resistance." The LE, meanwhile, is almost identical to the Capital save for one key feature: a belt-based Gates Carbon Drive. Unlike a traditional chain, belts never get oily or rusty. They require minimal maintenance, too, which is attractive to anyone who doesn't want to spend their precious free time doing repairs.
"It's quiet and one less thing to think about," Chalkley explained. "When you rely on a bicycle to get you to where you need to be on time, consistently everyday, you just want as few variables as possible." Gornall added: "Our mantra is clear: We want to make affordable e-bikes. And something like a belt drive, even three or four years ago, was a very prestigious component to have on an e-bike. Even now, it's still prestigious but it's trending down towards that kind of more affordable price point."
"Our mantra is clear: We want to make affordable e-bikes."
On a wet and murky day in London, I was able to try a prototype AMX LE with a white Classic frame. For the most part, it was enormous fun to ride. The weather was awful but I instantly started grinning as, with barely any effort, I soared past lycra-clad cyclists in London's Victoria Park.
The motor wasn't perfect, though. It would often kick in suddenly and quite aggressively, propelling the bike forward with an unpleasant jolt. Then, as soon as I hit top speed, it would disengage with the same alarming speed. The choppy ride wasn't enough to disrupt my balance, nor my overall enjoyment of the bike. I do wish, though, that the motor sprung to life with a little more finesse.
At 15.5MPH, the single gear was also too low to impact the bike's momentum. It's like cycling downhill -- eventually you hit a speed where even the highest gear does nothing. I had to retrain my brain, therefore, to be comfortable with intermittent effort. I would pedal for a half-second, stop and wait as the motor brought me up to top speed, then pedal again as soon as it disengaged. Even on the lowest power setting, I found that the AMX's motor was wrestling control away from my legs. I've experienced this before on a couple of e-bikes such as the Mate X -- a slight power imbalance that makes it hard to pedal in a slow but constant manner.
I know, I know -- it's an electric bicycle and I shouldn't complain about not pedalling. The motorized assistance is why you buy an e-bike in the first place! I do wish the motor was tweaked, though, to be a synchronized partner that complemented, rather than took over, your relaxed pedalling. Or maybe I need a slightly higher gear? It's hard to say for sure. Regardless, the AMX I rode was a prototype and could be fine-tuned before release.
One other nitpick: the computer was a little too close to the center of the handlebars. The display was crisp and the buttons nestled underneath were responsive and easy to press. I had to take my right hand off the handlebars, though, to change power levels. It's a small inconvenience but one I would like to avoid while cycling through the busy and occasionally dangerous streets of London. In fairness, I suspect most owners will find their preferred setting and never touch the computer again.
Otherwise, I was impressed with the bike. It's refreshingly simple and doesn't have any superfluous 'technology for the sake of technology' features. There's no companion app for your phone or so-called 'smart' locking system. The bike doesn't have built-in GPS tracking, either, or fold down like a Brompton, Gocycle or Hummingbird. To get started, you simply press a button on the battery pack, turn on the handlebar-mounted computer, swing your leg over and ride away.
The AMX doesn't look or perform like a $2,000 e-bike. But that's okay. The AMX is an exercise in reduction and, based on my limited impressions, delivers on its goal of a cheap but reliable form of electric transportation.
"We're fighting to keep things simple," Chalkley said. "It's a much harder exercise. You ever see that episode of The Simpsons where Homer Simpson designs a car and he creates this monster? It's an exaggeration and it's a comedy, but in reality a lot of businesses have this perception that customers will only buy something if it has this, this and this. And we just don't think that's the case. And a lot of people come to us because of that pure and raw experience we create."
"We're fighting to keep things simple. It's a much harder exercise."
Even if the ride isn't the smoothest, I think this e-bike range is worth considering. Every model is just so cheap -- especially if you pay the prices currently listed on Indiegogo. As with all crowdfunding campaigns, there's no guarantee that the AMX will ever materialize, though. Analog Motion is a tiny startup, too, that might not exist in five or 10 years time (the same argument can be levied against Cowboy, VanMoof and other e-bike startups, though). The London-based quartet has proven it can deliver an e-bike, however, by keeping its design and technological ambitions modest. If it can do the same again, the little-known team will have a claim to the throne of best cheap e-bike.
"Designing an expensive bike is easy," Chalkley said. "you just put the best components on it and you end up with an expensive bike. Designing one that's kind of more accessible for more people is the proper challenge. And that's the challenge we're in."
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