Saturday, March 28, 2020

VoltBike Yukon Review

A value priced electric fat bike with a six speed drivetrain, integrated headlight and optional fender + rack kit
Available in two flavors (350 watt motor or more powerful 500 watt motor), sold online only so there is some assembly required but Voltbike offers a one year warranty
Quality Samsung Lithium-ion battery pack, sturdy mechanical disc brakes with motor inhibitor, responsive 12 magnet cadence sensor (offers five levels of assist and throttle-only operation)

Several improvements have been made to the VoltBike Yukon for 2016 and the price has remained. Those include: battery cells are now by Panasonic vs. Samsung, they were chosen due to the better discharge rate (c-level) which is important for zippy throttle performance. The tires have been upgraded to Kenda Juggernaut Sport 26″ x 4″ with wire bead for better seating. The disc brakes have been upgraded to Tektro Novella ebike specific for reduced squeal and smoother operation.

The Voltbike Yukon is a value priced electric fat bike that comes in two flavors, a modest 350 watt or powerful 500 watt capable of ascending moderate hills, slogging through snow or dealing with sand and other soft terrain. Fat tire designs have become popular in recent years because they tend to be very stable and capable off-road. You can inflate the tires to ~30 PSI for efficient use on road (or at least semi-efficient… the knobs definite produce some sound and drag) or you can drop them down to ~5 PSI for some cushion and improved traction. The tires on the Yukon are standard 26″ x 4″ but end up closer to 29″ in diameter when inflated, which is the size of many mountain bike tires. Voltbike is a Canadian company that sells several electric bike models direct online and they ship to America for ~$70 and offer an impressive one year comprehensive warranty. Given their more northern, coastal location (near Vancouver), Voltbike has designed each of their models to work in snow or rain. For an additional $150 they will toss in some matching extra-wide aluminum fenders and a rear carry rack with an integrated LED light for the Yukon! In my opinion that a pretty good deal. I could see myself commuting with one of these during the week and then taking it out on trails for some weekend fun. The biggest complaint I have with this bike is the lack of a suspension fork… but for the price I completely understand. You could always add a Thudbuster and comfort gel saddle to smooth out the ride and I’d probably also explore cruiser handlebars just to bring the seating position up and back a bit. As it ships, the bar is fairly far forward and only offers low-rise which is fine for off-road trail type of riding but can create some back and neck discomfort on longer rides.

Driving the bike is an internally geared 8Fun hub motor spoked into the rear wheel. It’s black, which matches the frame, battery and other accessories, and there’s a disconnect point in the power line which makes maintenance easier. 8Fun (manufactured by Bafang) is a higher quality part and one that I’ve seen on many ebikes over the years. It would have been nice to have matching black spokes and quick release on the wheels could be useful (the tires are so big, sometimes you have to take the wheels off to transport this thing unless you have a truck). As mentioned earlier, there are two motor choices. The standard version comes with a 350 watt motor which is enough for flat paved surfaces and a bit of gentle climbing (especially if you pedal along). For an additional ~$210 you can upgrade to a 500 watt motor and in my opinion it’s definitely worth doing. This isn’t the lightest ebike at ~56 lbs and with the knobby tread, fenders, rack and potentially some gear added on the larger motor will come in handy… but it will also drain the battery more quickly. To get the best range out of this thing I recommend riding in level 1, 2 or 3 pedal assist then occasionally boosting power using the trigger throttle. Pedaling along is fun and comfortable here because the Yukon has a six speed drivetrain. The components are definitely entry level (Shimano Tourney TX) but they’ll hold up if you keep them clean and occasionally lube the chain. I like that the bike ships with a metal derailleur guard, this part will help to protect the shifting mechanisms as you assemble the bike and also if it tips or comes into contact with terrain later on.

Powering the bike is Lithium-ion battery pack that uses higher quality Samsung cells. It offers 48 volts of power and 10.4 amp hours of capacity which is above average for normal sized e-bikes but probably just ride for the 500 watt version of this fatbike. The battery mounts to the downtube and includes a locking core for security but you don’t have to leave the key in when riding which is nice (some cheaper bikes don’t have this option). The pack can be charged while seated on the frame or separately if you want to store the big (potentially dirty) parts in your garage. I love that the pack has a built in strap for carrying and that it has an LED power level readout… this can come in handy if you haven’t ridden for a while, have the pack in your closet and want to know whether it’s full. If you do plan on storing the pack (maybe for the off-season?) I suggest filling it to 50% then leaving it in a cool, dry location. Just behind the pack (on the bike frame) is another black box and this thing is the controller. It receives, interprets and sends signals to the battery and motor. Often times controllers are integrated into battery mounts or sometimes even built right into motors but that’s not the case here. It definitely adds some clutter to the frame but it probably helps to keep that price low and at least it’s black. The battery, controller and wires all blend in with the frame and look pretty good in my opinion. I believe Voltbike does sell additional battery packs (to extend your range or as a replacement) and those go for ~$500.

Operating the Yukon electric bike is a cinch. Once the battery is charged and mounted to the frame you simply press the power button on the display pad. From here, you can see your battery level (with six bars for more precise interpretation), your speed and your assist level. The bike offers five levels of pedal assist along with a zero level for throttle-only operation. This is awesome! Basically you can operate the bike however you want without compromising… some of Voltbike’s other models do not have this zero level and that means you have to think about how your pedaling might impact the motor vs. just using the throttle. If you are in pedal assist mode here the control system responds very quickly (both to starting and stopping) because it uses a 12 magnet sensor disc. When it’s time to stop and you pull the brake levers another signal is sent to the system to cut motor power. I feel like they did everything correctly with this design and used good parts. in addition to the derailleur guard mentioned earlier, there is also a nice aluminum bash guard mounted to the front chainring and the pedals are decent Wellgo aluminum platform designs… maybe not quite as wide as I’d like. Consider these extra-wide grippy magnesium pedals with adjustable spikes also from Wellgo. I’ve purchased several of these for my bikes over the years and they come in a bunch of colors so you could get white or red to match the highlights on this frame as well.

They Yukon is Voltbike’s most popular model and I can totally see why. It looks good, delivers a lot of value and uses some high quality parts where it counts. You don’t compromise with a single speed drivetrain like the Sondors and you can easily upgrade the motor for more power without spend a lot of money or screwing around trying to do it yourself after purchase. You get a nice display system with lots of drive options. Safety is taken care of with the included LED headlight and really emphasized if you get the rack and have that second light. The optional fenders fit the frame (fat-bike fenders can be difficult to find and fit after-market) and you’ve got the necessary stopping power of disc brakes. I can’t really think of anything else you’d need to get here besides those ergonomic adjustments (seat post shock, saddle, bars etc.) and that’s just based on my own ride preference. I could see this bike being an awesome addition to a cabin or maybe as a Burning Man bike. I attended the festival for the first time this year and saw an amazing selection of bikes… with fat bikes being some of the most popular and comfortable for the sandy desert terrain. Keep in mind the Yukon frame is a bit large at ~20″ and you’ll have to swing your leg over (especially high if you get the rack, don’t hit your knee…) maybe in the future we’ll see more colors or a second size in this thing… or maybe a quick release on the front wheel ;)

Pros:
The matte black paint looks good, matches the large black tires, rims, hub motor, battery and controller box… it also helps to hide the wires and make the bike more stealth
One of the most affordable fat electric bikes I’ve seen, you can get the super-cheap 350 watt version or upgrade to a 500 watt motor for ~$210 more
Awesome extra-wide full length fenders and carry rack sold as a $150 option, they look great and add a lot of utility if you live somewhere that it rains or you plan on commuting with the bike, I like that the rack has an integrated tail light!
I really appreciate the six speed cassette, even though the component line is more entry level (Shimano Tourney) these gears will help you start, climb or keep up at higher speeds (especially with the larger front chainring, it’s nice to have some low gears), the large thumb shifter (SIS Index) is a bit easier to use if you’re wearing gloves… riding in the snow perhaps
The battery can be charged on or off the frame (and has an integrated LED charge level indicator!), if you’re transporting the bike it’s best to take the pack off to reduce weight by ~7 lbs, the pack includes a keyed lock for security (the key is not required to be in while riding)
The high-step frame offers a lot of strength and stiffness, this is good considering the larger, heavier tires and it also makes hanging it on some car racks easier
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
The disc brakes do a good job of stopping this bike and staying clear of mud and rocks vs. rim brakes, I like that the levers have motor cutoff switches built in
Cons:
The controller unit is not integrated into the battery mount and takes up some extra space on the downtube, adds a bit of clutter to the frame but blends in alright since it’s black (like the frame)
No bottle cage mounting points, pretty much all of the space on the downtube and seat tube are taken by the battery and controller, you can always upgrade with the fenders or rack and use a trunk bag for your water bottle or get a saddle adapter
Fairly aggressive stem, low-rise handlebars and saddle create a more active-forward ride that can be less comfortable going over bumps… there’s no suspension fork, seat post or springs but you can deflate the tires a bit (which will also decrease range) or add a basic seat post suspension of your own or a really fancy long-travel one
Only available in one color and one standard size at ~20″, you can’t adjust the stem or bar angle much… just the seat post height, I’d consider swapping out the handlebars for something with a little more rise and sweep back, this bike might not fit shorter riders (it felt alright for me and I’m 5’9″ tall)
There’s not quick release for either wheel (which would be handy for transport given how large the tires are) but there is a quick-disconnect point in the power cable for the hub motor making rear wheel maintenance easier
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
The display panel doesn’t swivel very easily (to reduce glare) and isn’t removable (to deter theft or wear from weather) but it’s fairly easy to reach and is backlit
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