Izip Express Review

August 8, 2012
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The Izip Express a few years back cost $3000, which even then seemed like a lot of money for this electric bike. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) was considering adding electric bikes to their arsenal, and Currie President Larry Pizzi took four bikes to the LAPD for them to try out. The LAPD liked the bikes, but wanted them to be more robust, with better components, and with larger battery packs before they could use them for police work. The bike was redesigned to fit the needs of the LAPD, and 100 were sold to them and are now being used by the LAPD. The same bike that was sold to the police is available to the public for the price of $5000.

 

 

What do you get for $5000 from an E-bike company (Currie) that is known for affordably-priced E-bikes? Yes, the same company that is most known for their $500 Trailz. and their cheap $200 electric scooters sold in Wal-Mart and Target?

Here are the expensive features of this bike:

A large 36-volt 20-Ah (720 watt hour) battery pack made up of 100 high quality lithium manganese Samsung cells. This will easily get you easily 35 miles of range. This is my favorite feature of this bike. (see this bike compared to others in our watt hour story)

A 750 watt mid-drive motor  (but it doest not run through the gears).

A Rock Shox suspension fork (Rockshox is still around?)

A Gates carbon belt-drive system on the left side of the frame that connects the motor to the rear wheel (one of the slickest pieces of bike tech around).

A planetary gear hub that combines the input of the rider with the power of the motor. (but puts weight in the rear wheel)

A front hydraulic avid brake, but strangely combined with a caliper brake in the  back. (you can’t have a disc brake rotor in the back  because of the left hand belt drive)

A 27-speed chain ring  gives the pedaler (not the motor) a wide range of gears. (way too many gears for an electric bike, and adds to the complexity of maintaining and actually riding the E-bike).

 

On the handlebars, the only controls are standard brake levers and 2 sets of shifters (for the front and rear derailleurs.)

 

This bike offers one of the simplest interfaces i have ever seen on an electric bike. No dashboard, no handlebar switches, no throttle, just a simple on switch and an up and down arrrows built into the top of the battery case below the top tube. To operate this bike is as simple as turning it on, and choosing your level  of assist. Once you are riding, the controller automatically adds motor power depending on how fast you are pedaling.

This is the coolest set of handlebars I have seen on a Currie product.  Finally! Black anodized and perfect geometry. This thing looks cool from the rider’s perspective…really cool.

When you peer down at the frame, the top tube actually splits into two so that you can see the 3 simple buttons and dash board with simple lay out lighting up between your legs. This is an elegant and effective solution for a dashboard.

 

 

Even though the Izip Express is easy to ride,  at the same time this bike is one of the most complex bikes mechanically that I have ever ridden. It uses a mid-drive motor connected to a belt to a rear hub that looks like it would be big enough to be a geared hub motor, but it is actually a planetary gear box to blend the rider and the motors input into one. I am not really sure what is happening here, but when you turn on the motor while riding, the bike suddenly becomes harder to pedal.

Here is a copy of the patent of the planetary gear hub which is exclusive to Currie:

 

How it adds power, and what this bike “feels” like…its one of the most odd things I have ever experienced on an electric bike. You definitely feel and hear the motor as it comes on. It does not come on smoothly but abruptly and somewhat loudly. It is  hard to forget you are riding on an electric bike when your ride this machine. Also it does not look stealthy at all, or sound stealthy. You are not fooling anyone when you ride this electric bike.

The Express is a mid-drive, and I am a big fan of mid-drives but do not see the point in them when they do not utilize the bike’s gear train. This motor is a single speed, but is connected to the rear hub via slick Carbon Gates belt drive.  With no gears, the only other advantage you get is having no weight in the rear wheels, but the planetary hub does add weight to the rear wheel.

Mid drives tend to be a bit noisy and the Izip express is no exception. You can hear belt noise and the motor whirling sounds every time you pedal. What I wish is this bike had a more powerful motor. I wouldn’t mind all the extra complexity, noise etc…if this bike had a 1500 watt motor. At $5,000, and the enormous effort that was put into this belt drive, this bike deserves to have some more gusto. I think Currie was too careful with this product release to make it too compliant with the federal 20-MPH maximum electric bike speed limit. Other companies such as Optibike, Stealth and Specialized are releasing bikes that go 30+ MPH, so if you are making a police bike, that bike should be fast. If you want to just go 20-MPH why bother with such a complex  and expensive system?

Express vs Metro

 

 

I rode this bike along-side, and trading off with a Currie Izip Metro and I can testify that the Express has just a bit more power. We actually did several impromptu races, and on flat ground there was very little difference between the 2 bikes, although the Express seems to be a better hill climber. The Izip Metro has a throttle, which means you can really get instant juice to the E-bike, where in the Izip Express you must pedal really fast  before the bike achieves full power .  Therefore at many points the Metro actually feels zippier than its expensive counterpart. To its credit the Express does have twice the battery than the Metro.

In terms of aesthetics I personally prefer the Izip Metro’s frame, but like the Izip’s Express choice of components and super clean control interface. I like the Metro for the convenient front rack.  In terms of ride quality, I prefer  the Izip Metro because it is silent, fast enough, and you have the option of both pedal assist and throttle on demand.

At half the price. the decision on what bike I would buy between these two would be a no brainer. But the manager of the Currie store said that recently one customer who lived up a big hill in Malibu (has money) returned a Currie Metro and bought the Express instead because he needed the extra hill climbing power of the Izip Express.

This bike does not have any of the features I would expect on a $5000 electric bike, the kind of features that should make your heart race.  If you want your bike to be on our most expensive bike list, and be marketable,  it better have some outstanding qualities to match up with other bikes at that price point.

Conclusion

I would like to spend some more time with this electric bike. I feel it is so complex it takes some time to fully appreciate what it has to offer. How far it can go, how the pedals and motor integrate, etc. Because this electric bike has the biggest   battery (720 watt hours) and packs the most power (750) watt, and because of its beautiful dashboard this is my favorite bike in the Currie line. Whether it is worth the $5,000 price tag is a whole separate issue.

$5000 20-MPH bike??

The problem with a $5000 / 20-MPH bike is that it doesn’t make any sense when you consider that anyone can  buy a simple E-bike hub motor kit from a number of manufacturers. They can slap it on a bike of their choice, hot rod it,  and with very little investment can build a bike which will outperform this $5000 bike at almost every level…for a fraction of the price. Read our story here how one person built an electric bike for a total investment of $1600 with a top speed of 42-MPH (without pedaling) and was able to crush 5 $13,000 Optibikes in a race to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado.

Even without hot rodding the motor, there are plenty of 1000-watt hub motor kits on the market that will effectively achieve speeds of 30-MPH.  There are several e-bike manufacturers (like Hi-Power Cycles)  which are starting to offer turn key bikes with hot rodded hub motors pre-installed that achieve speeds of 30-MPH and beyond.  Speed and power isn’t everything, but when you spend this kind of money it is almost essential that you have the choice to go fast when you want to.

If you are going to offer a 20-MPH bike for $5000 it better have some awesome aesthetic features to really set it apart. Although this bike is nice, there is nothing on it to make me say “WOW“, which at this price point there should be. Sadly this is one of those electric bikes when someone asks you how much it cost you better not answer, or maybe just save face by telling a fib. It would be hard to justify to anyone I know that I spent $5000 on this bike.

In fact while test riding this bike I came across this exact scenario. I stopped at the chess tables in Santa Monica, and a table full of chess players noticed the Izip Express and one asked the common question “how much did it cost?”  Put on the spot…(and embarrassed) I decided to lie and say $2000. At this point an old man who apparently knew a thing or two about e-bikes accused me of lying, and said that a bike like this cost somewhere between $1000 and $1500. A t this point I decided to level him, and tell the truth and admit that this was a $5000 electric bike I was test riding. At this point the entire table of chess guys broke into laughter.

I spent a pretty great deal of time playing chess as a teenager at this spot and this outburst bothered me more than I like to admit. One guy who was playing speed chess said “When they don’t sell, the price will drop.”…and a few chess players agreed. Heck I agree. This bike does not make any sense at this price point to anyone who cares about money and probably wont sell very many outside of the LAPD. So how can it be fixed? Dropping the price is a great start…I think last years price of $3000 was the right price of this electric bike, and the breaking point of where you can keep a straight face when answering “how much it cost?”

Wish List

Here is an electricbike.com wishlist for a $5000 Currie electric bike:

My biggest wish is for a  big motor so that this Izip can zip around  ILLEGALLY fast. Forget selling to cops, if you are selling a $5000 bike it should be sold to lawbreakers. If you come up with the right wordage (off road only modes) you can sell to both cops and law breakers because even cops like to go fast, especially when outgunned by lawbreakers on faster bikes. I know of no other E-bike on the market that sells for over $5000 and does not break the 20-MPH E-bike speed limit. This bike has plenty of battery, its built like a tank, and it’s begging to go fast. It’s rumored that Dr. Currie helped define the federal legal limits for electric bikes and therefore we understand why the company would want to adhere firmly to the law. However at this price point, an “off road only” bike is in order.

 

 

Integrated lights. A $5,000 E-bike deserves a bright-as-hell headlight and tail-lights that are integrated with the E-bike  battery. When you take this bike home it comes equipped with cheap reflectors. This bike was born to have bright lights powered directly off of its main battery (many bike lights use AA-cells).

Drop the 27 speeds and go with 9 good speeds….or even a Schlumpf drive like on the Stealth Fighter. Deraillers look cheesey on this expensive of a bike, and they add unnecessary maintenance and ongoing adjustment requirements.

Plastic: This bike has prevalent plastic pieces encasing the battery and motor, and they visually really take-away from the image of the bike. At this price point we would like to see no plastic panels, but fiberglass, metal or even carbon-fiber panels. The huge plastic battery/motor box makes this bike look less expensive than what it is.

Better rear rack. What is that rear rack about anyway? As you see in the picture above it is designed to fit a standard police bicycle-bag. Well at this price we should get a bag included in the base price too…and a better looking rear rack.

Overall styling is pretty bland. At this price point we want a breathtaking and risktaking design such as the similarly priced PG-Bikes Blackblock-2

 

 

 

 

Eric has been involved in the electric bike industry since 2002 when he started a 6000 square foot brick and mortar Electric Bike store in downtown San Francisco. He is a true believer that small electric vehicles can change the way we operate and the way we think.

5 Comments

  1. No throttle makes it a non starter in my book.

  2. I like the idea of sharing pedal and motor effort evenly. I would have to ride one to really know how it works. Maybe Currie will have one at Interbike in the test drive area.

  3. I have owned one of these for a little over a month now and have reached a top speed of 42 mph while giving it everything I had and 37mph any day without too much effort, I have no idea what IZIP EXPRESS the reviewer test rode but mine blows the metro and any other ebike I have come across like they were standing still. I have gone up some of the steepest hills here in San Francisco with very little effort, when I ride I am constantly changing gears accordingly and this machine responds very well.

  4. Contrary to the reviewers claim, the motor power from this bike does go through gears – it goes through the compound planetary gear train in the hub which Currie calls their EVO-Drive 2.0. As this gear train has 2 inputs and one output (compared to the more conventional one of each in standard bike gears) there is feedback back through the human power input if the motor is turned on without pedalling enough (or pedalling in the wrong gear). The whole point of the EVO-Drive is to blend both Human and motor power together – in a way that’s far more advanced than other systems used in electric bikes. It’s not patented technology for no reason!

  5. Save your money, even at $1500, and go buy ANY other Ebike. This thing is a maintenance nightmare, and an abortion on wheels. The planetary gear set up combined with the cassette in the back and separate drives to the same hub is an unnecessarily complex drive train, that will have you pulling your hair out, once it gets out of alignment, which happens quite easily at the speeds you are likely to take this e-Frankenstein bike. The bike will be easily damaged by vandals so where are you going to park it, as clearly it’s an eyeful and definitely a ‘target’, even if you can lock it up ? The battery alone will be $1000 to replace when it comes time, and that will occur sooner with the 750 watt motor. Disc brake in front and caliper on back will give you issues when it’s wet, and unequal stopping traction. It’s really sad that they brought this back to unleash on unsuspecting folks that think they need to do more than 25 mph’s on an Ebike. You’ll be a ripe target too for DNR, and other police that are not sure what to think you may have between your legs. At a more than 5 year old design, technology on ebikes is now light years ahead of when dr Franken builder conceived this for some cops who got suckered.

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