Reading all the rave reviews (written by vendors) of the Stromer online recently, I have been hankering to test ride a Stromer, but like when I test ride any bike, I want to borrow it long enough to run the battery to empty at least once. I got my chance when Blazing Saddles in Fisherman’s Wharf offered to loan me one of their newer Stromers (standard edition) for a day of test riding fun.
Notice: Stromer just came out with a redesigned bike..the St1 Elite and Platinum. Read our review here.
I have been up close to Stromer several times and have been impressed by its appearance and on-paper specifications. I liked this bike so much before riding it, I even recommended it to some friends who were looking for a turn-key electric bike. The night before riding the Stromer I could barely sleep in anticipation. Heck even Actor Leonardo DiCaprio owns a pair of Stromers, and was recently spotted on the streets of NYC riding them…this is one cool looking bike. However once I rode the bike I was disappointed with its ride quality and performance…more on that later. Lets focus on the positives:
Stromer = Visual Stunner
No wonder famous actors don’t mind being seen and photographed on a Stromer. This is not your usual designed-for-dorks-by-dorks electric bike. I love the way the Stromer looks. It is a beautiful bike. It is on our list of stealthiest bikes. The Swiss did a great job of building this bike to look stylish and to come off good in photo. I wish they would have put the same thought into how the bike rides and performs.
Purpose built frame
By far the Stromers most impressive feature is its purpose built frame. Purpose built frames are rare, and only a handful of manufacturers have attempted to market a bike with the battery built into the frame (see our short list here). Because of this frame, the Stromer feels perfectly balanced, has no unsightly wires, and does not sport a conspicuous (and heavy) battery rear rack like most electric bikes.
One word I would use to describe the Stromer is balance. This is the most exceptional quality of the Stromer bike, for me at least.
In weight: It feels perfect in your hand when you pick it up. Although it has the weight of a rear hub in its rear, it has the weight of the battery towards the front in the downtube.
In Speed: The Stromer is not too fast, and not too slow. It walks a thin line for me to be acceptable for almost all riders.
In Design: The Stromer is beautifully balanced in its design. There is nothing that detracts the eye or screams out electric bike. It is completely silent in its operation.
The Stromer weighs in at 62 pounds. Compared to other electric bikes this is not exceptionally good and is in fact about average. Weight is an equation where you have to figure the amount of watt hours of battery, suspension, frame quality, etc. Just for fun lets compare the 62 pound Stromer to an exceptionally good bike, the Optibike (read review here) which also weighs 60 pounds, but has over double the battery in watt hours (960 watt hours) and a quality full suspension. And the Optibike utilizes a super efficient mid-drive system.
In all, you will get over 3X the range with an Optibike at the same weight, but granted it will cost you 4X as much ($12,000). But it just goes to show the Stromer is more about looking light weight than it’s actually about being light weight, and it has lackluster range results for its weight. The German made Focus Jarifa at the same price range of the Stromer, is atleast 10 pounds lighter and has twice the range of the Stromer with its efficient mid-drive system and 460 watt hour Panasonic pack.
The Stromer has all the way around chosen budget components (heavier) for this bike which is disappointing, and probably cut costs by allowing its frame to be a little heavier than necessary, although at least they managed to make the frame somewhat spiffy looking. Probably the largest weight culprit is the direct drive motor they chose. Its disappointing that Stromer did not choose a much lighter and more efficient geared hub motor such as the BMC (read review here). Disappointing, but only because of the relatively high price of this E-bike.
One of the stand out features of the Stromer is the custom battery pack design which snaps in and out of the frame. Stromer took the trouble to get a patent on this system…and patents are not cheap. The battery has a key lock to prevent theft. The Stromer uses a 36V / 10-Ah, 360-WH pack built into the downtube consisting of small cells made by Samsung. These cells are high quality 18650 Li-NMC. The pack has a custom BMS. In total, what you get is reliable battery pack that should be good for at least 500 charge cycles and has a one year warranty, just in case. The quality and design of this battery is outstanding, however…it is too small for the amp-hungry direct drive motor. Also the shape of this battery is not very practical for carrying a second battery on the rack or in a back pack. It is too long and cumbersome to carry.
PAS or POD (pedal assist system or Power on Demand)
First of all regarding the dashboard. I recognized this dash and its made by the same Chinese company that makes inexpensive Chinese 9C hub kits out of China. This was my first tip-off that Stromer was using cheap Chinese components to round out their sweet purpose-built frame. The Stromer I tested had the simpler LED dash board (the fancy LCD dashboard comes on more expensive models) where I could simply choose between pedal assist or power on demand (twist throttle). It was very nice to have an option because sometimes you feel like not pedaling at all (being lazy).
Once you choose which mode you want, you then choose your speed…low, medium or high. Of course the lower the setting you choose, the harder you have to pedal and the longer the battery lasts. In my experience most riders just choose “high” but there is one major draw back to this….you lose range. On high mode you really feel the motor in both PAS and POD mode. When you pedal on PAS you feel the motor come on in a hard and abrupt way. You can also feel the motor come on in the medium mode, although not as hard. In low mode the power comes on so smooth you barely notice it, but that’s because it is not a lot of power. I would prefer that somehow the bike could gradually apply the power in the higher modes instead of sticking it to you right away for a smoother experience as I have felt when riding other pedelecs.
The Stromer uses a torque sensing feature built into the rear torque arm which makes its PAS much smoother than PAS systems that use cadence systems which just measure how fast you are measuring. However the torque sensor is not as refined as ones that are built into the bottom bracket such as the Panasonic driven Jarifa. Once the PAS system senses you are applying torque it seems to add power all at once, giving a jerkier feeling than the Panasonic which applies power on a gradual curve.
Unlike most electric bikes, the Stromer has opted to use relatively thin wires which can handle a maximum pressure of 80 psi. The bike I rode had its tires pumped up to maximum, and although this makes the bike slightly more efficient it also makes the ride more jarring. The hard saddle which is not very comfortable adds to the jarring effect of riding the bike. The fact that this bike weighs 60 pounds and has a relatively aggressive riding geometry does not help things. Also the front suspension forks don’t help much to smooth out the ride.
I did two tests on this E-bike, one with pedaling and one without. I found that the Stromer has around an 8-mile range if its run without pedaling on an average hill and wind conditions while in high mode. This is not an outstanding result, but can be expected given that its motor is a direct drive hub motor which is not especially efficient, and the battery pack is small (360 watt hours). After that 30-minute expenditure it was time to swap batteries, and this time try again with peddling…and there were no surprises then either. I was able to get a 15 miles ride with moderate pedaling, alternating between “high” and “medium” modes. Travelling at low speeds and pedaling hard, I found myself always tempted to juice the bike more and more. Having the power on tap is a temptation that few riders will be able to resist. So real life range is completely dependent on how much energy you put in. In my experience, whoever buys this bike is going to eventually want more range when they are in “high mode” and therefore will need to invest the $700 in an extra battery pack.
Hub motor performance
The Stromer uses the same direct drive hub motor as used on the A2B electric bike. The A2B Metro runs this motor at 500 watts, the Stromer runs it at 600 watts, getting a little more oompf. The hub motor is usually silent…except for when climbing steep grades, it grunts and makes an unhappy mechanical noise. Otherwise it is virtually silent. As I have said before this is a direct drive hub motor, and they are known for being heavy, but reliable. At the price point of the Stromer, I would have preferred a more efficient and lighter geared hub motor.
The Stromer compared to most production E-bikes is surprisingly quick in “high” mode. Unlike the weak 300-watt motored E-bikes I have tested recently, this bike is fun to ride and does feel very much like a most production E-bikes. However because of its small battery pack, and does not ride very far when pushed, and does not feel very efficient, especially when climbing hills. It is what you would expect from a medium grade hub motor at 600 watts.
Stromer offers a second battery for $700. Because of the shape of this battery (long and skinny), it would be awkward to carry this battery on the rear rack or in a backpack. The Stromer E-bike has no way to plug-in an auxiliary pack, which is a bummer. It would be nice to carry your own battery pack on the rear rack, and just plug it in when the stock pack ran dry. Regarding hot rodding the Stromer, you can forget about it. You are stuck with this slick Stromer battery, and a controller that is also built into the frame. There is no practical way to hot rod this bike.
As far as practical upgrades, the bike I rode had a bike rack on the rear which was a really handy addition during my test ride. I think adding a rear rack that is welded to the frame would be great, if you don’t mind the slight detraction from the looks of the bike. It would be a super sweet handy and cheap upgrade.
And for hot-rodding forget about it..this is a terrible platform since if you hot rodded you could not use the stock battery which his the true beauty of this purpose built frame.
Having been in the electric bicycle rental business (Extreme Green Machines in Fisherman’s Wharf) in the past, I know that if anyone knows the reliablilty of an E-bike, it is the company renting them out. Rental fleets get ridden every day, and get ridden hard. According to one of the managers at Blazing Saddles Rentals, the Stromer is not as reliable as even their A2B bike, and is prone to sporadic failures with the BMS, throttle and controller. This was suprising to me given the price point of the Stromer, and the fact that it is a direct drive hub motor, and DDs are normally known for their reliability. But then again, after testing the bike and examining it up close, given the second-rate components chosen on this bike, it makes sense that the bike would not be bulletproof. And bulletproof is a quality I would really expect in a $3000 direct drive hub bike.
Another thing to consider about the Stromer is that if its battery, throttle system, or controller fails, all these parts are proprietary and cannot be upgraded with another brand of part. Battery replacement for example is $700 which is pricey (but not too out of line) for a 36V / 10-Ah battery. Even though the PAS system looks cheap and Chinese, you can bet it would be expensive to replace if it fails.
The Stromer comes with Suntour Raidon suspension front forks with no optional upgrades (unfortunately). These have been frequently reviewed as being heavy and low quality suspension forks, and can be bought on ebay brand now for $150-$200. This seems to me to be consistent with the rest of the Stromer strategy which is to use 2nd-rate components to bring costs down even though the frame is high quality.
When riding on this bike it felt like a cheap suspension. It did not do a good job at all of smoothing out pavement bumps. It was a rocky ride. I would prefer if Stromer would has skipped suspension forks all together which would have lowered the price and weight of the bike, and also improved its look. When it comes to cheap suspension, I prefer no suspension at all.
The Stromer uses Avid BB5 mechanical disc brakes which are what I consider an entry level quality of disc brake. These brakes feature a convenient tool-less brake pad adjustment and brake pad replacement feature. If you are riding, and find that your brakes are no longer grabbing as tight, just pull over and turn a little orange knob, and your brakes are tight again. However, like the rest of the Stromer components, these brakes are considered middle shelf when it comes to quality. You can get a brand new BB5 brake set on ebay for $70.
The Stromer does a decent job of hiding the wiring, as can be seen in the above picture. Because the battery is built into the frame, for the most part the wires are well hidden.
I noticed the Stromer comes with a cheap $3 bell that screams: made in China. And once I got on the bike, I tested the bell…not surprisingly it had seized. In all honesty, there aren’t that many nice touches in the Stromer that I rode, especially for what I would expect in a $3000 bike.
Differences between Stromer models:
The big difference between the Stromer Standard that I rode and the other models is a LCD dash board on the higher-end models. The LCD dash gives you a more accurate battery meter and throws in the extra feature of a speedometer. Personally I would save the money and buy a much more effective Cycle Analyst for $140 instead.
On the $4000 Elite addition you get two things you really don’t need…hydraulic disc brakes, and a triple chainring on the bottom-bracket, giving you a total of 27-speeds. From my perspective, 27-speeds adds an extra derailleur to upkeep, an extra cable to hide, extra complexity when riding, and is completely unnecessary on an electric bike. The only time you would need 27-speeds is if you ran out of battery juice and have to pedal home, AND you live in a hilly region.
In general I would just recommend saving the money and going with the Stromer Standard. If anything, YOU could upgrade the components such as hydraulic disc brakes at a tremendous money savings. Any local bike shop can upgrade the shifting components and brakes if you end up needing that. Personally I think the Stromer Elite is ridiculously overpriced at $4000 for what it is. I would highly recommend staying with the standard edition for $3000 if you buy a Stromer, and if anything upgrade to a Cycle Analyst, and possibly a higher grade front suspension fork. A Thudbuster suspension seat-post would also be a useful addition.
Features of the Stromer Standard (as tested)
Features of the Stromer Deluxe:
Features of the Stromer Elite:
Comparison: Stromer to Focus Jarifa
While riding the Stromer, I could not help but to compare it to the Focus Jarifa which I test rode two days before (Read my review on the Jarifa here). The 2 bikes have similar qualities:
First of all, let me say I like the look of the Stromer much better, and to me aesthetics are important. The Stromer hit it out of the park with its clean purpose built frame. When you look at the two bikes above you can barely tell the Stromer is an electric bike, where as the Panasonic battery pack on the Jarifa is a dead give away. However Stromer really skimped on the rest of the bike, where as the Focus Jarifa did not. It is obvious from the ride and feel of the Jarifa; quality components were chosen all the way down to the rims and tires….where most of the components on the Stromer feel comparatively cheap.
These 2 bikes have two very big differences, the Jarifa is a mid-drive (a Panasonic system), and the Stromer is a rear-wheel direct drive hub motor. The Jarifa actually lets the motor use its 8 gears, and the Stromer”s motor is a single speed, and the gears are for the peddler only. The Panasonic puts out 300 watts of power, while the Stromer puts out 600, but because of the efficiency of the mid-drive Jarifa, the two bikes have comparable performance (ie top speed and hill climbing performance). The Pansonic has a giant battery of 460 watt hours, where as the Stromer is smaller at 360. The Focus Jarifa comes with much higher end components especially Avid hydraulic disc brakes, and a quality shifting package.
In short I liked the Focus Jarifa bike much better. The power came on so smooth on the Jarifa that it was easy to forget you were riding on an electric bike. In comparison, the Stromer was jerky and unrefined. The Focus with its efficient mid-drive, large battery, and aggressive pedal assist (no option of power-on-demand on the Jarifa) had an unbelievable range. I took the Jarifa for a 2-hour ride and could not even get the pack half empty, even riding steep SF hills, where as on the Stromer the pack was literally drained in half an hour of riding.
The Focus Jarifa felt much better as a bike, and was 10 pounds lighter, even with its larger battery pack. Riding these bikes back to back (with a 2-day break) the Jarifa really stood out as a much better solution for most people. However with its 600 watt motor, the Stromer is zippier and feels more like an electric bike and is more fun to ride in that regard. It is zippier with fast acceleration, although top speeds on the Jarifa and the Stromer were about the same.
Comparing these two bikes has made me even a bigger believer in the mid-drive system for efficiency and weight savings/balance.
It’s surprising to me how much fanfare has been devoted to the Stromer in the US (mostly by internet companies that sell the Stromer) and how little attention has been paid to the Focus Jarifa which in my mind is a way better electric bike.
I was impressed with the way the Stromer looked and felt, but was disappointed by its lack of range, and mediocre build quality and performance. The speed and power of this bike is acceptable, but I would expect more range and better components for $3,000. Basically, other than the slick-looking purpose-built frame, every thing else on this bike is lackluster.
Honestly, if this E-bike were mine, I would like to replace all the components on this sweet frame, but because the battery and controller are proprietary such a proposition would not be financially practical. But I would have liked to see this bike with a more efficient and lighter geared hub motor such as the BMC to make it lighter weight and more efficient. Also I would like to see hydraulic brakes and better shifting components.
I have been looking forward to test riding the Stromer for several months now and expected a much smoother refined experience. Although I thought the bike was made in Switzerland, when I was able to get up close and review the Stromer I realized the entire bike was probably manufactered in Taiwan with a lot of China components. What you get from Switzerland is exceptional design on the frame and battery pack, a slick Swiss sticker on the front of the bike and on the top tube, and a super high “designed in Switzerland” price tag.
Unfortunately the American Dollar does not go very far in Switzerland and the price of this bike is proof. At $3000 this bike is no bargain. In terms of ride quality and performance, there was nothing exceptional about the Stromer. It could not hold a candle to the BMC-powered bike I normally ride. However, I really do like the look and stealth nature of this bike. This bike is not the “game changer” I have been looking for, in fact the Focus Jarifa comes much closer to the mark at the same price range.
Written by Eric, July 2012