One of the best things about working at a recumbent specialty shop is getting to try all the new things that come out without having to buy them yourself. We had a customer this fall come in looking for an Ice Adventure with the Shimano E-8000 electric assist option. He decided to order one sight unseen and it would have been hard to tell which one of us was more excited for it to come. We had ordered in one of the earlier generation two years before with all the bells and whistles (auto shifting, internal rear hub) but were unable to try it outside on the test hill due to bad winter weather.
My concern was if it would have low enough gears or a powerful enough motor to handle the steep hills in our area. We had been adding 350, 500 or 750 watt hub motor kits from Bionx and Falco to customers bikes and trikes. The Shimano STEPS is a 250 watt mid drive style electric assist which I hadn’t had much experience with. A mid drive style replaces the crank and has just one chain ring instead of the usual three on a recumbent. At the back wheel there can be a rear derailleur and an 8,9,10,or 11 speed cassette or an internal hub with from 3 to 14 speeds. Imagine using just the middle ring on your current bike or trike and just shifting the rear gears. For most people in our area that wouldn’t be a large enough spread of gears to keep riding fun.
Well, turns out the Shimano STEPS kicks major butt! I rode up the local test hill where usually I struggle to get up to two or three mph and was able to cruise at seven or eight in the middle gear in the back using the highest level of assist. I went to the bottom and rode back up in the lowest gear going four or five mph with hardly any pressure on the pedals spinning quickly instead of straining like normal. The mid drive motors are good climbers because they get more out of a smaller motor by using gears to step up the power output to the chain and then use the bike or trikes gears to further multiply the power moving you up the hill. On the flat I had it in the Normal (150% help) mode and could easily cruise in the fourteen to eighteen mph range without killing myself and keep up with people on two wheelers.
Ice trikes did some informal, real world research into what to expect for range on a battery charge. Using an Ice Adventure with the E-6100 motor, the 418 Wh battery and a 165 lb rider in the hilly Cornish countryside they got 42 miles at the Normal (150%) level of assist. Riding a Sprint X with the E-8000 motor and the 504 Wh battery they got 60 miles at the same assist level and same course.
Shimano STEPS VS Hub Motor
There are a couple of things that stand out using a Shimano STEPS vs a hub motor kit. When you pick up the rear wheel of a trike with hub style assist to roll it to your car, the rear end of the trike feels very heavy. The battery and hub add 20lbs at the back and it’s noticeable. With the STEPS, the battery and motor are on opposite ends and keep the balance of a trike very even. The other thing that is noticeable is the way the trike looks. With an add-on kit it is hard to hide the wires to make for a clean installation. It often looks a bit home built. With the STEPS added at the factory, the wiring and motor are integrated into the frame of the trike or bike and blend into the background. Another thing different between the two styles revolves around service. A bike shop that is used to working on Shimano equipped “normal” road or mountain bikes should be able to work on your STEPS system whether they sell recumbents or not. Shimano Di2 system software uses the same program for working on and fine tuning Shimano STEPS so any shop that works on higher end bikes with electric shifting can work on your recumbent with electric assist. That will not be the case with a Bionx or Falco hub system, the software is proprietary and only dealers of those systems will know how to help you. If there is a negative to the Shimano STEPS it’s that it can’t be added to a bike or trike you already own. The frame is modified at the factory to help route the wiring internally and the bottom bracket is specially designed for attaching the STEPS motor. That is already resulting in some trike owners trading in their current trikes to get the electric assist option.
If you want more information or to set up a test ride please contact Lee@bicycleman.com.