3rd Element is a company that is located in the city of Gauting (in Bavaria, southern Germany, near the border of Austria). Back in February of 2013, I caught a glimpse of the 3rd Element eSpire, and it is very “eye catching”. I couldn’t find any information about it at the time and was only able to publish a grainy picture. That model was using the distinctive “Clean Mobile” mid drive unit that has a motor around the BB-spindle.
The hugely expensive and now-defunct BlackTrail BT-01 also used the Clean Mobile unit, and there had been rumors that Clean Mobile (owned by the German TQ-Group) was going out of business, or was possibly reorganizing and might survive. I can only imagine how badly that would put a damper on production planning at 3rd Element. The Audi E-bike was also slated to use the Clean Mobile drive unit, and perhaps problems with the Clean Mobile product line is one of the reasons the Audi E-bike doesn’t seem to be for sale just yet.
Its been a while since I had been to the 3rd Element website, but it appears that any difficulties they have experienced in the past have been resolved. The only 3rd Element dealers I have found so far are still limited to Europe, and their products are still somewhat expensive, but…they appear to be up for business with a new “MPF-5.0” drive that externally resembles the well-proven Bosch and Panasonic mid-drives.
All of their models use an aluminum frame to save weight. The brakes are Magura discs, 208mm in the front and 180mm in the rear, and the full suspension models use the Marzocchi components. A 888RCV fork, and a Roco TST shock in the rear.
Their flagship model is the eSpire. It uses the same frame as their 36V “Trail” model, but the eSpire includes a distinctive 50V battery pack that is mounted below the down-tubes, and is located in a space that is normally unused and wasted. The main benefit of locating the battery pack here is that it keeps the weight of the pack low and centralized.
This pack is a significant 840-WH’s of Panasonic lithium cells. It is 50V and 16.8-Ah. It can be found on three variations of the eSpire model; the Motorbike, Moto S-Pedelec, and the Limited Edition.
The 50V / 1,200W eSpire off-road models use the highly respected Rohloff Speedhub 500/14. The evenly-spaced 14 speeds make finding just the right gear when you are crawling up a steep and slow off-road trail an easy task.
The “Motorbike” (Moped?) model uses the 50V downtube battery pack and the 1,200W drive system. It appears very similar to the other eSpire models, but it also includes a 27W headlight, along with an LED tail-light (and brake-light) for street use in traffic. It is power-limited to 50V X 24A =1,200W, and speed-limited to 40 k/h (25-MPH).
MPF seems to finally be marketing their drive in a more aggressive manner, now with improvements over the 4.0 version. With competition like Bosch, they will have to work hard at this or they will not survive. Other E-bikes that are now contracted to use the MPF-5.0 drive are: LEAOS, Concept Cycle-Swiss ONEbike, e-LOM, and Benelli.
Here’s the best picture I could find of the drives’ internals. This compact drive seems to be a well-designed unit, and is typical of what we’ve come to expect from German engineering.
The chainring is geared, so it spins faster than the pedals of the BB-spindle, this allows the use of a smaller chainring in order to maintain a good ground clearance, and eliminates the need for an unusually large chainring that would permit the rider to pedal along with the motor at the top speed.
After comparing the specs of the various 3rd Element models, there are some interesting clues about how this company is trying to find a balance between their customers desires, and the silly 250W power limit for street-legal E-bikes in hilly Germany.
The full suspension “Trail”, and hardtail “Pure” frames are both available with a 250W street-legal power system, and also a 500W system that looks identical from the outside appearances. In fact, the only differences are the amp-limits in the controllers, which I suspect might be fairly easy to adjust, if you joined an internet chat-forum to find out how. The biggest chat forum for E-bikes in Germany can be found here.
A European commuter could buy a 3rd Element E-bike with the EU-compliant 250W power unit (so the paperwork is in order), and then de-restrict it to get 500W, which in a mid-drive is something that I believe is much more reasonable. All of the models are “Pedelec”, meaning that if you want power you have to pedal, there is no hand-throttle available. They are also top-speed limited. You can pedal as fast as you want, but there will be no motor-power at any speed above a certain point.
If you do buy a 500W E-bike from 3rd Element, then to ride it on the street you must get a Class-M “Moped” license. The 50V units have no street-legal version that does not require the Class-M license. You can only ride the 1,200W systems off-road, or for street-legal use in the EU you must have the license, registration, and liability insurance (exact requirements dependent on which country the bike is used in). The 50V models do not have a “no license required” 250W option.
I’ve been seeing more of these 18650-cell based packs that are brick-shaped. This is their base-model pack, using 36V and it’s available in 9-Ah for the EU street-legal 250W drive, or 12-Ah for the 500W off-road system. They both use the same high-quality name-brand Panasonic 18650 cells (18650 = 18mm diameter, 65mm long) which are the same mass-produced cells found in laptop computers and cordless tools.
The larger Amp-hours of the 12-Ah / 500W packs are necessary to provide enough current (C-rate) to supply the 36V X 14A = 500W. The 250W units only draw 7A, so a smaller, lighter, and more affordable 9-Ah pack is adequate.
Both of the Trail models (the 250W and 500W) use the NuVinci 360 continuously variable transmission (CVT) in the rear wheel. This wonderful hub can be shifted while at a stop and operates very quietly and smoothly. The chain-tensioner wheel shown below is only required if the NuVinci 360 is mounted on a full-suspension frame.
For a hardtail, I like their Pure model. The bent downtube provides a large central triangle (more bicycle companies should do this), and this means that a fairly large aftermarket battery pack can easily be fitted in this central location. This is be a great location for the weight and bulk of the battery. The seat-tube is just low enough that you could add a suspension seat-post, which I recommend for any hardtail bike.
The front suspension is an RST SS-M6 model, with a single shock built into the lower steer-tube. I suspect that the stroke is short and stiff, but a small amount of suspension is better than nothing.
Their most affordable model uses the Shimano Alfine 8-speed IGH. Since it does not have rear suspension, there is no need for a chain-tensioner wheel, so they are able to enclose the chain inside a clever chainguard. This not only keeps chain lube from getting on the pants leg of your business suit as you are pedaling down the strasse to your job at the Geschäftsstelle, it also keeps dirt away from the chain so the chain will last longer…
Here’s a pic of a split motor housing, showing the insides.
Written by Ron/Spinningmagnets, November 2013