Like their four-wheeled cousins, hybrid-electric bicycles have taken off of late thanks to modern versions that finally offer commuters a viable, reliable alternative to taking the car. Their obvious appeal is that they offer an easy (if typically expensive) way to cut down commute time while also offering welcome assistance with uphill climbs that often amount to commuter dealbreakers. One such unit that excels is Currie Technologies' eFlow E3 Nitro.
The street-legal eFlow is a study in efficient design: Embedded in the rear wheel hub is a whopping 500-watt, high-torque silent motor; the lithium battery does double duty as the seat post; it has hydraulic disk brakes with regenerative braking; an easily adjustable front shock absorber; and a 20-speed SRAM Apex drive system. The battery holds enough charge for about 25 to 35 miles of travel, depending on rider weight, terrain, and mode. That translates into an hour or two of powered ride time, or more than ample for the average commuting rider. And the battery can be recharged easily (via either a direct plug in the base of the frame, or by removing the battery pack from the seat post) and takes just four to six hours to go from dead to full. One thing to remember, though, is that once the battery is depleted, the final stretch of the ride is on all you – and at a husky 52 pounds, the eFlow is a formidable burden on any terrain that isn't flat.
Still, with a range that is easily within the typical commute and the ability to fast-charge as insurance, the eFlow's value comes down to how it rides, and more to the point, how it drives. The eFlow comes with two power settings, Pedal Assist Mode and Power On Demand (POD). Most e-bikes operate only as pedal assist – that is, their motor kicks in when pressure is sensed on the pedal and offers supplementary oomph. The POD function is instead much like a motorcycle via a built-in throttle on the right handlebar. The idea is that you can peddle all you like without using up precious battery life, until you really need it. Then – whammo! – it takes off from a dead stand if need be.
In the POD mode, we were able to get the eFlow to cruise at 20mph on level ground without any pedal power from us. Now, that might not seem fast, but it is, especially once you start to pedal along or take a hill at a slight decline and the speedometer leaps quickly to 32 mph. With such speed comes the need for excellent brakes. We could smell the twin Tektro Auriga E-Sub hydraulic disc brakes during steep declines as they arrested our speed while simultaneously recharging the battery under the seat. The 20-speed SRAM Apex front and rear derailleurs pair perfectly with the SRAM SL700 shifters and performed smoothly as we shifted gears for the uphill climbs. Downshifting in the POD option, with the throttle all the way open, we could barely pedal fast enough to keep up with the bike. It's a total blast.
Whatever concerns might have intimidated a would-be bicycle commuter before – showing up to work in a complete flopsweat, for one – are completely eased by the eFlow. Your only worry is whether you can ever go back to a manual bike again. [$3,995; Eflowebike.com]