BMW has been making bikes for years, but it wasn't until this week that we took the time to pedal around in one. After all, it's pretty clear that four wheels are more fun than two when it comes to the roundel. But, well, maybe not always. For example, if you're trying to navigate through a dense urban center, then a car often falls short compared to a bike if you're looking to, you know, actually get where you're going. We'd certainly rather get some exercise as we run our downtown errands than sit in traffic and then struggle to find parking. And if that city is Amsterdam, a place where they put the aggressiveness into being bicycle friendly, then we'd rather have a bike any day of the week. Even a rainy one, which is how it was when we took the BMW Cruise e-Bike 2014 for a spin this week. Here's what we learned:
- In addition to the standard bike pedals, the Cruise e-Bike adds a 250W Bosch electric motor (it's a BMW, so of course it has Bosch parts) that puts out 48 Newton meters of torque (35.4 pound-feet) to assist you when your legs are moving. This part is important, since the e-Bike, technically something called a "pedelec," does not offer up any momentum if your feet stop. If it did, then the e-Bike would be considered a scooter in some jurisdictions, and that means you would need a license and/or a helmet. The Cruise e-Bike is just a bike, but one that's easier to use.
- I've been a practical biker for years, riding for transportation and fun when I've lived in cities and even in a rural home seven miles from the nearest town. I've ridden 70+ miles in a day many times, but I've never been on electric bike. It's an odd sensation, to be sure, the first few miles, but I quickly got used to the way the bike is there to assist you. The motor provides assistance to match the power of your legs, anywhere between zero and 225 percent, depending on the mode. BMW says there are three sensors taking measurements 1,000 times a second. It certainly responded near-instantly to my pressure, which did take some getting used to. You know that feeling when you start pedaling on a bike? How it takes a second to overcome inertia and get moving? That doesn't happen with the Cruise e-Bike.
- Electrical power comes from the 400-Wh battery (also by Bosch) that BMW says is good for "around 100 km" (62 miles). We're not sure how that's measured, given that you have to be pedaling the whole time, but let's just say that if you're going about your daily business, you'll always have enough charge. The battery is locked to the frame, but you can remove it with a key to take it in and recharge it, a process that takes 90 minutes for the first 50 percent and then another two hours (so, 3.5 hours all told) to get to 100 percent (all on European outlets of course, which is where the bike is sold).
- The 22-kilogram (48.5-pound) bike is solid, and somewhat heavy and difficult to maneuver when you're not sitting astride it. The thick black and white frame certainly looked better than the standard city commuter bikes that are all around this town and the fenders kept some of the wetness off of our person. The BMW logo is present at the top of the front fork but also on the included bike lock.
- There are no hills to speak of in Amsterdam, so we couldn't much test out the 6-kph boost the system is capable of providing up slopes (going up bridges was all we could find for non-horizontal surfaces). The city is also so bike friendly that there are barely any curbs to speak of, so the suspension fork with 75 mm of spring travel didn't get a huge workout. On the cobblestones, the e-Bike felt as smooth as one can expect. Maybe a bit smoother.
- Other technical features include front and rear disc brakes, front and rear lights powered by a hub dynamo and a handlebar-mounted computer that doesn't just display useful things like speed and distance but also controls the bike's various modes. There are five settings: off, eco, tour, sport and turbo. Off made the bike feel like it was dragging (whether from increased friction from regenerative braking or because I was just so used to the electric assist), and eco and tour modes did not provide all that much assistance. Sport was good, but since I didn't care much about depleting range - the pack said 45 km when I left the hotel (climbing to 47 as I pedaled before starting to drop down - I soon realized that anything other than turbo wasn't really worth it. Turbo is the most spritely, which means it is way more fun than the other modes, once you're used to the pep. The everyday bike commuters we blew past on the bike paths didn't know what hit them.
- So, that's the good news, but there's bad as well. Namely, the fact that the BMW Cruise e-Bike 2014 costs 2,799 euros. Which is $3,785 US and totally bonkers for a city bike that I'd worry would get stolen every time I took it out. Oh, well, at least I got to ride it for one afternoon.