Monday, March 23, 2020

VoltBike Interceptor Review

A value oriented electric bike available in one size (19"), one frame style (step-thru) and one color (black)
Comes standard with lots of useful accessories including full length plastic fenders, a rear carry rack, integrated LED lights, a compass, bell and ergonomic grips
Entry level 7 speed drivetrain, basic mechanical disc brakes, heavier build ~62 lbs, only sold online but offers a solid year long comprehensive warranty

The Voltbike Interceptor is a feature rich online-only electric bike that would be be useful for urban riding or commuting. It comes standard with full length plastic fenders, a matching carry rack (with standard gauge tubing so it works with most clip-on panniers) and integrated LED lights. While there’s only one frame style and size to choose from (step-thru at 19″) the stem is adjustable so you can extend the handlebar or bring it up and back and the seat post is also adjustable and actually goes fairly low. Overall I really enjoyed the bike but did notice the heavy weight ~62 lbs vs. similar bikes in the mid 50’s. I think the frame and gearless motor are the big contributors here, they reinforced the downtube to add strength (notice that it’s gusseted where it meets the seat tube). There wasn’t as much frame flex as I expected which is a good thing but there also isn’t much give when riding over bumps and cracks because the bike lacks suspension. I think if I bought this bike I’d probably add a more swept-back handlebar and possibly a seat post suspension. Thankfully, at ~$1,600 + $70 shipping to the US there’s money left over to do this sort of customization compared with other similarly specced bikes in the $2k+ price range.

Driving the Interceptor ebike is a powerful and smooth 800 watt gearless hub motor by Mxus. I’ve never heard of this company before but the motor performed as expected. Being gearless, it’s very quiet but does suffer from some drag due to cogging (the magnets inside repel the stater and cause it to slow when coasting). This type of motor could be setup to regenerate electricity when cogging (and even when braking) but it didn’t seem like Voltbike went this route as it often costs more and requires fancier controller systems. All direct drive motors I’ve tested suffer from increased weight and lower torque at slow speeds but they tend to be very durable. Once I was cruising above ~5 mph the motor began to operate more efficiently and really zipped along. One area that could be improved here is in how the motor is mounted… it would be nice to have quick release but more importantly it would be super useful to have a disconnect point in the power cable leading up to the motor. As it stands, if you have to do wheel or tire maintenance the motor will remain connected to the frame and this can become unwieldily.

Powering the Voltbike Interceptor is a fairly powerful 48 volt 11.6 amp hour battery pack. This is definitely above average compared to most other value priced ebikes I’ve tried and it enables the 1,000 watt peak output of the motor. At ~8 pounds the battery is heavier than average (most packs I weigh are ~6 lbs) but it is locking, removable and can be charged on or off the bike. I like that it has an integrated LED readout (so you know how full it is when stored separately from the bike) and that it includes a plastic handle for easy/safe transport. I also really like how the battery connects to the frame, it seats into the top of the downtube and blends in nicely with matching colors (black and white). This low, centered mounting point improves balance and handling while also “blending in” so people might not immediately recognize the bike as being electric (especially because the motor is so quiet). The only real complaint I have about the battery is the independent on/off toggle switch which has to be switched on before pressing “on” again at the control pad. This adds time and makes it easier to accidentally leave the battery pack on when parked which could slowly drain the cells. Also, this on/off switch is positioned at the left side of the pack and could be bumped more easily when pedaling than if it were at the top. To maintain this battery store it at ~50% charged and avoid extreme heat and cold, check in on it every few months if you haven’t gone for a ride and bring it back up to 50%.

Operating the Interceptor is fairly intuitive, aside from the two-step power on mentioned earlier. Once the battery and LCD display are activated you’ll see readouts for Speed, Battery Level and Assist Level. The button pad allows you to arrow up or down between nine levels of assist which is more than average (many ebikes I test have just 5 levels) and these finer increments allow you to dial in assist. Lower levels offer less power but will conserve your battery and allow you to reach greater distances. At the highest levels the bike will hit ~20 mph and given the seven speed cassette pedaling is comfortable. I appreciated the 12 magnet pedelec sensor and the brake lever motor cutoff switches (when you pull the brakes the motor will instantly cut out). one drawback to the control system is the lack of throttle-only mode. Basically, whenever the bike is on you’re in some level of assist and can override it by using the trigger throttle near the right grip. The throttle is fun to use but will drain the battery more quickly if you’re not pedaling along and I feel like the bike could benefit from a more standard sized grip on the right vs. the half-grip they went with. Overall, the display panel and inputs are easy to read and use while riding, even without taking your hands off the grips. It would be nice if the display panel could be removed easily when parking but at least it swivels to avoid glare. The cockpit is a little crowded and I’m not sure the compass+bell thing is the best use of space… maybe they could swap that out for a smaller bell and go back to full sized grip on the right.

In conclusion, the Voltbike Interceptor is an electric bike that offers a lot of value and versatility to a wide range of users. It’s easy to mount, fairly adjustable and very powerful but the limited frame size, heavier build, extra on/off step, lack of motor cable disconnect and lack of suspension make it a bit rough around the edges in my mind. There’s room for improvement but for the price it’s still a solid offering. Again, I’m 5’9″ and the bike felt good… since it’s only available online you might be taking a risk in terms of fit if you ordered it but the support seems solid. Voltbike offers several models and this is one of the most complete. It would make an excellent commuter platform or “around town” electric bike for getting groceries and running errands.

Pros:
Clean look, the matte black frame is professional and hides cables and wires nicely (many of which are integrated through the frame)
Battery weight is kept low and center, the pack locks to the frame and can be charged on or off the bike, it includes a plastic handle for easier transport
The motor is smooth and quiet (being gearless) and offers great power with 800 nominal 1,000 peak watts
Integrated LED lights both run off the main battery pack so you don’t have to worry about turning them off after each ride or replacing individual cells
Step-thru frame is very approachable, easier to mount vs. swinging your leg over the back wheel (which could accidentally kick the rack)
Extremely affordable considering you get fenders, lights, a rack and a powerful motor and name brand battery with a one year warranty
Voltbike has been in business since 2012 and has a decent reputation for replacing parts and offering good customer service, they are expanding the number of models and types of ebikes being carried
It’s neat that they offer a free helmet with the purchase of any ebike and that the helmets are Department of Transportation (DOT) approved, for me the helmet was a bit heavy but the straps were easy to adjust and felt secure
Cons:
The right grip has been shortened a bit to make room for the trigger throttle, brake lever and bell+compass, for me there is just barely enough room and I feel like the length was designed to work with a half-twist throttle vs. a trigger, maybe they could use a longer grip since they are using a slim trigger here
The adjustable angle stem can get loose over time if you ride off-road or go off curbs, check in on it and tighten to avoid loosening
No suspension here, the front fork is rigid and the seat post is fixed, consider adding a Thudbuster or cheaper suspension post to add comfort
Only available online, you’ll have to do some assembly and adjustments yourself and you cannot try it before purchase, keep in mind it only comes in one size ~19″
Limited color and size selection (black and medium step-thru), it felt good to me (I’m 5’9″) and the adjustable stem and seat hight help
There doesn’t appear to be disconnect point in the power cable running from the controller to the rear hub motor, this could make wheel maintenance more difficult
The on/off toggle switch on the battery protrudes from the left side and may be easier to bump or kick while pedaling, it may be easier to accidentally leave this on after a ride vs. the main display on/off
No bottle cage mounts on the downtube or seat tube, you might want to add a saddle rail adapter or seat tube cage
The motor does not freewheel as efficiently as a geared design (due to cogging, the magnets inside repel) and they did not take advantage of regeneration here
Heavier build at ~62 lbs due to the large battery, gearless motor and overbuilt frame (reinforced for strength due to step-thru design)
No throttle-only mode, you’ve got 1-9 assist and you can override the throttle but there isn’t a “zero” assist level so anytime you pedal when the bike is active the motor will be activated
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