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Pedal for petals: Arrive as fresh as a flower after a long ride

R Balaji | Updated on November 08, 2018 Published on November 08, 2018

Electric buzz The seven-speed e-cycle reduces the rider’s effort and is handy in heavy traffic   -  Bijoy Ghosh

Running out of breath on your daily commute? Try Hero Cycles’ E Zephyr

Cycling for leisure, for fitness, for the commute or for a combination of all three, is fast catching up with city dwellers. But, with crowded roads and hot weather, it can be a sweaty, grimy problem riding to work or to the party. But here is an alternative to budding cyclists who are looking for some assistance to keep their cool while still going green!

The proposition

Hero Cycles’ E Zephyr electric bicycle probably for the first time in the domestic market, matches its great looks with performance. It may be the icon of the tree-hugger, but it is not without a couple of pain points — more on these later.

Whether as a utilitarian commuter cycle or for just tootling around on weekend chores, the E Zephyr fits the bill neatly. Even the fitness conscious, particularly a newbie, can use the pedal-assist feature to extend the distance covered.

At first glance, the seven-speed, aluminium-frame cycle was not very different from any of the modern, gleaming hybrids you see on the roads. But a chunky downtube and bulky rear hub do catch the eye. The downtube houses the 5.4-Ah Li-ion battery that powers the 250-W BLDC rear hub motor. With the power source integrated in the frame, the machine looks sleek with the wires neatly tucked away inside. The E Zephyr came fully charged from the local dealer and ready to go.

The real difference is apparent when you get on and start pedalling. That is when you feel the motor kick-in with the pedal-assist feature. It is like an invisible force shunting the cycle along smoothly. With no experience on what to expect from a battery-powered bicycle, for someone used to regular bicycle commute in Chennai's traffic, the E Zephyr was fun. But first, a little more on the overall layout.

The dashboard

A control unit on the handlebar’s left side is simple and self-intuitive. There is an on-off button, three power modes — high, medium and low — and a walk-mode button that also doubles up for an on-off button for the LED headlight. Also present is a battery charge indicator with four red lights going on when fully charged. All these come in a compact unit barely bigger than a match box. On the right grip is a throttle that twists smoothly and speeds up the motor for the additional push.

The cycle comes with front disc brake and V-brakes for the rear wheel. Both work adequately. The 700 C tyres are from Ralson and the seven-speed gear is Shimano-made, Tourney, with click shift. The battery, from completely depleted to full charge, takes close to four hours to get juiced up using a standard 120 V household socket.

The commute

While the company claims a range of 40 km on full charge, the cycle reviewed actually turned in about 25 km on the highest power setting in pedal-assist mode — when battery power is used to help you along when you pedal. On the lowest setting, the range increased to over 30 km.

All the commutes were at full payload capacity, with the trips in city traffic and measured on Strava App. Just out of curiosity, when tested in fully battery-operated mode, without pedalling, the range was about 20 km at the top power setting and 22 km in the low mode. But it is in pedal-assist mode that the cycle comes into its own. Interestingly, even at about one-fourth of battery charge, the motor churns out adequate power.

The commute quality improved significantly, even in bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go traffic using the e-bike. With a slight twist of the accelerator, the cycle starts moving from stationary position and then when you start pedalling, there is none of the initial inertia or trudge involved in a roadster.

The power-boost not only contributes to the ease and speed of cycling, but actually adds to safety in traffic. There is a crucial reserve of power available to the rider that comes in handy. Whether moving at a signal or turning, the added power from the motor makes it easy to merge or flow with traffic.

This is a bike that can help those wondering about commuting by cycle make up their minds. If the worry is about arriving all sweaty to office on a regular cycle, the e-bike addresses the issue. It can even fit into a fitness regime. The choice of battery use is with the rider as the E Zephyr is also a very viable seven-speed hybrid despite the 19-kg weight, which is comparable to a standard roadster.

The irritants

The battery charging point is placed near the bottom end of the barrel, just about the lowest point on the frame. Apart from the uncomfortable position, dirt and moisture build-up could be an issue, especially considering the flimsy press-on cover.

Hero Cycles certainly needs to offer mudguards for a bicycle that is positioned as a commuter/leisure ride. This should be designed specifically to fit the e-bike and not third-party stuff. Also, while on the topic, a set of panniers would come in handy.

On request, the bicycle for review came fitted with mudguards, but they were a poor match. Mounted on the quick release at the front, the mudguard was wobbly and did not sit well. While there is an adequate LED headlight, the company could have considered a rear light too. As yet, the e-bike seems to be offered only in a 18-inch frame size, apart from the unisex variant in 16-inch. More choice of frame sizes will come in handy and add to the comfort and fit for riders.

Also, there were a couple of issues possibly related only to the cycle provided for review. On a particularly rough patch of city road, the chain jumped off the rear ratchets on a couple of occasions. Maybe something that a bit of adjustment can fix. More seriously, the front tyre popped out of the rim when fully inflated. So the tyre had to be kept under-inflated. These issues need to be addressed.

Bottom Line

Overall, priced at about ₹27,000, the e-bike is certainly a good investment. Hero Cycles has timed it right to take the groundswell of sentiment favouring environment and fitness to launch this product. Imported brand equivalents could set buyers back several times over.

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Published on November 08, 2018
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