Of all the Currie Izip bikes I haved tested–the Metro (read review), the Express (read review), the Zuma, and the Ultra–the Ultra was my favorite. In this review I will first break down the points I liked, and save what I didn’t like for last.
One thing you get when you buy a Currie product is a brand that is known for reliability. Currie really seems to have it figured out in terms of the battery, motor, and controller combination. The battery pack uses quality Samsung cells and is warranted for one year. All the other components are warranted for two years. They seem to have really good quality control all across the board.
The leadership of Currie I have met seem determined to provide good customer support after the sale. This is a rarity in the electric bike business. Ebike manufacturers come and go, and usually care only about getting those first dollars from you for the initial purchase. Currie has been around for 15 years, and is currently the biggest manufacturer of electric bikes in the USA. They have done something right to earn that spot.
A friend of mine is an electric bike repair technician, and we decided to put Currie to the test. We ordered some parts for a Currie Izip in his rental fleet, to see how they would respond. Currie hit a home run, with an immediate and professional response from their repair department. The company tracks every Currie Izip owner in their database, listed by the bike’s serial number, and had all parts inventoried and in stock. Stromer and A2B, on the other hand, failed this test miserably, barely responding to our emails requesting parts.
When you buy electric bike, you will inevitably need parts and support. Currie seems to be one of the better choices if you are looking for longevity and reliable customer support. Before you buy into an electric bike company you should really ask yourself if this company will be around in five years time. Currie seems like a good bet, especially since last year they were bought out by a major Dutch ebike company, Accel Group. (read story here)
This bike rides smooth. It has decent power and decent range. Like all Currie products, it will not go faster than 20-MPH when unassisted (as per the law) but it has decent torque and hill climbing ability, which makes it feel pretty zippy.
The Currie Ultra is built upon what I call a “purpose built” frame (read our story). The battery is built into the down-tube, a feature I really like. The easiest way to build an ebike is to build it with the motor in the rear hub and the battery set into some kind of rear rack. To me this not only looks ugly, it also makes the bike back-heavy.
The Ultra has a very balanced look and feel, because the battery is built into the downtube. However, one drawback of the Ultra battery is that it is not removable like the Stromer (read review). The Stromer also has the battery mounted in the same place, but it’s removable. A removable battery would allow you to double your range by toting a second battery. 360 watt hours (36 volts x 10-Ah) is really not a lot of juice for longer trips. You can realistically only expect a 18 mile range with this pack.
One Color Choice
I loved the color of the bike I tested. But Currie got lucky with me. Check it out above…it matches me and I blend right in with the bike. I personally like the color of the Ultra, which is more subdued compared to the outlandish and somewhat bright Zuma and the Metro. However it is unfortunate that if you want an Ultra you’re stuck with just one color. If you don’t like it, you will have to go with another ebike.
The other color choice I saw for the Ultra was last year’s (2011) model, also subdued. These models are still around so you can still pick one up in this color. This one had a snazzy suspension front fork (a mono-shock just below the head-tube) which I like better styling-wise than the 2012 bike.
Front Suspension and Tires
The Ultra utilizes super thin high pressure tires which normally would equate to a jarring ride. These tires are good for efficiency, but not so good for a comfortable ride. The Ultra balances this by providing front suspension forks to cushion the ride. Because these tires are so thin, this bike would not make any kind of good off-road bike, not even fire trails or single track–which a shame since it does have front suspension forks. However, as a city commuter this is a good package. Usually I prefer no suspension to a cheaper suspension fork, but I gotta say on the test bike I rode, the Ultra suspension felt surprisingly smooth.
The Currie, like the rest of the Izip line, offers a very basic dashboard display. It features a battery fuel guage, and 5 levels of power assist. You can choose either power-assist mode (throttle) or pedal-assist. The throttle can override the pedal-assist at any time.
When you are in pedal-assist mode, an ebike needs to somehow figure out how hard you are pedaling.
The other Currie bikes I tested use a cadence sensor, a simple RPM sensor on the crank that applies power based on how fast you are pedaling. But the Ultra uses a torque sensor, which actually measures the tension you are putting on the chain while you pedal, and power is applied accordingly. This is a much smoother feeling and makes me feel more “bionic” than the cadence sensors. When I ride with a torque sensor, and use it to apply power, I end up pedaling much more than I would if using a pure throttle, thus getting better range and more exercise. The Currie system allows you to override pedal-assist by applying the throttle anytime; convenient, but also makes it easier to be lazy!
The disc brakes, the shifting components, the tires, and the front suspension all seem to work well…but not buttery smooth (like expensive bike tech would be). The Currie Ultra consists of mid-range components. I do like the kickstand, which seems designed well and does its job perfectly.
Adjustable-angle handlebar stem
Those who read my Izip Metro review know that I was not a fan of the Metro handlebars. The Ultra has a leaned-forward handlebar with adjustable stem which I find to be much better than the Metro. I also like the seat better than the extra beefy seat on the Metro.
The product that compares best to the Izip Ultra is the new Pedego City Commuter (read our review). For about the same retail price, you get a bike with fenders and chain guard, better dashboard, a swappable and larger 48v / 10-Ah battery, fenders, better disc brakes, more color choices and a simpler shifting system. What the Ultra offers over the City Commuter is purpose-built frame with better battery pack integration, better balance. and front suspension.
The Pedego City Commuter seems poised to give Currie a serious run for the same money. The other bike to consider if you’re considering an Ultra is the Stromer (read review). Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of these bikes, and it comes down to what style and features appeal to you. We hope to do a shoot-out with these three bikes in the near future.
Things I Don’t Like
Because this is a review, not an advertisement, (we receive no money or incentives from any ebike company to write reviews), I can also say what I don’t like about the Izip Ultra and not risk losing a meal ticket.
At its price point ($2700) I would like a larger battery. As said before, 360 watt hours is not a lot. Also I wouldn’t mind the power and speed of a 48 volt system.
Also, I don’t see the need to have 27 gears in an electric bike. Currie president Larry Pizzi and I have argued this point several times. To me, 27 speeds with front and rear derailleurs adds unnecessary clutter to the bike, making it more complicated to operate. In my experience, with over 10,000 miles pedaled on ebikes, eight speeds is plenty. The only time I ever wished I had more gears on an electric bike is while riding in hilly San Francisco with a dead battery. Also, the front derailleur adds cost to the Ultra. So it’s part of what you are paying for when you buy this bike, and you have no option to opt out and go with less gears for less money.
The biggest problem I have with the Ultra is its lack of attention to detail when it comes to coloring and other aesthetics. Although I think it does a little better than the Metro in the seat and handlebar department, it is still missing something.
Retail price: $2700
watt hours of battery (read explanation): 360
Battery Range: 18 miles (real range estimated)
Battery estimated life cycle: 500 cycles (claimed)
Battery Chemistry: Lithium NCM (Nickel Cobalt Manganese) Samsung 18650 cells
Motor: Rear geared hub motor 500 watts
Brakes: Disk brakes avid bb5
Tires: Vittoria Randonneur 700 x 35c
Front Suspension: SR Suspension Fork
Warranty: One year on battery, two years on other components, lifetime on frame
Charge time: 4-6 hours
Written by Eric, October 2012