When Cannondale told us about their Topstone Neo SL e-bike we thought it sounded great. An e-bike built for roads, lanes, byways, gravel trails or just about anything you can point it in the direction of with an ultra discrete, lightweight Mahle ebikemotion X35+ drive system. No we’ve had a chance to get our hands on the bike we’re even more impressed than we had anticipated.
When you first see the Topstone Neo SL you realise just how far e-bikes have come. You’d be forgiven for asking the question ‘Where’s the motor?” The simple answer is that this clever hub-based motor really does hide in plain sight. Despite its subtle appearance, the assistance achieved by this lightweight motor is far from it. 250W power with a 250Wh battery provide three levels of support ensuring assistance is always there when you need it. A maximum range of 47 miles is achieved when used conservatively so you really can go the distance.
Controlled by the integrated top tube controller, assistance is always within reach. You can turn the system on, select your assist level and see your battery charge, all at the touch of a button leaving plenty of space on the bars for any other accessories you decide to take along for the ride. Charging is simple thanks to the easy access charging port. This also allows for an optional range extender for a total battery capacity of 450Wh allowing you to ride even further!
The lightweight aluminum frame and full carbon fork provide a smooth and stable ride. The geometry is perfectly balanced to allow you to munch miles in a back-friendly position without being too slack. You can still get pretty aero in the drops! Clearance for 700x42c tyres provide all the cushioning and grip you’ll need on the more technical trails, tubeless compatibility means you can get the pressures nice and low too.
Functionality is catered for with multiple mounts for water bottles, racks and storage. Fit a set of fenders to keep the grime off in the damper months and you’ll have a year-round companion if you don’t mind facing the elements making it the perfect companion for commuting in style.
Available in two differing builds, the Topstone Neo SL1 comes equipped with Shimano’s GRX600 1×11 Speed groupset, the Topstone Neo SL2 has Shimano GRX400 2×10 Speed, providing reliable functionality you’d expect from a Shimano hydraulic disc brake groupset in both cases. The SL1 even has some fine finishing kit like the Fabric Scoop saddle, Promax carbon seatpost both of which aid in soaking up any buzz. WTB Resolute TCS, 700 x 42c, tubeless-ready tyres and Cannondale 16 degree flared handlebars round up a really well-thought-out build.
We have read a lot of very complicated guides to eBikes and there are a lot of conflicting bits of advice around battery life, legal issues and basically the best e-bikes to buy. We decided to write this plain common sense guide to buying an electric bike to try and debunk some of the myths.
What is an eBike?
An eBike is a bicycle that uses a motor powered by electricity to aid with pedalling. They are also known sometimes by the term pedelec. Originally they were normal bicycles with motor’s added to the rear or front wheel and batteries bolted to the frame. Most modern e-bikes however are custom designed and have an electric motor that directly drives the pedals (crank driven) and integrated batteries.
You don’t need any specialist equipment as all of our e-bikes will charge directly from a mains socket.
In the UK the motor is only allowed to help ease the burden of pedalling and cannot drive the wheels without the rider pedalling the bike. The assistance is also limited to a top speed of 15.5mph, you can pedal quicker than this but at this speed the motor assistance will cease.
As the power source, the battery is a critical component of your electric bike and an important criteria in your purchase choice.
What kind of batteries do e-bikes use?
Most modern ebikes use lithium Ion (Li-ion) batteries as they are super light and compact because of this can store a lot more power into a smaller space.You may find a few old lead acid (NiMH) batteries on older models (not on any of our bikes). These are cheaper but are also heavy, slow to charge and don’t last as long.
How far will a charge take me on an e-bike?
This is a real how long is a piece of string question as it depends on the size of the battery, the power of the motor and how much of the work you are doing vs the motor. A good rule of thumb is that an average rider on an average e-bike should get between 15 – 30 miles between charges. If you are in a hilly area then that number is more than likely to be closer to 15 than 30 miles as e-bikes really come into their own at helping you climb hills.
How often should I charge my battery?
Most people that ride their e-bike every day to work will simply charge the bike every evening and it doesn’t do the battery any harm. In short the time taken to charge the battery is related to how much charge it has left in the first place. Generally though the longest any battery will take to charge is around 5- 6 hours. Battery manufacturers (Li-ion) reccomend that to prolong battery life you should never let it fully discharge in fact for optimal performance you should recharge before charge drops below 50% capacity.
Where does the UK law stand on e-bikes?
There is a lot of misinformation from some disreputable sites out there but the law in the UK surrounding electric bikes is pretty simple.
The info below is taken directly from the UK Gov site…
“In Great Britain, if you’re 14 or over you don’t need a licence to ride electric bikes that meet certain requirements, and they don’t need to be registered, taxed or insured.
Electric bikes meeting the requirements are called ‘electrically assisted pedal cycles’ (EAPCs). They can be 2-wheeled bicycles, tandems or tricycles.”
The bike must have pedals that can be used to propel it
The electric motor shouldn’t be able to propel the bike when it’s travelling more than 15.5mph
The motor shouldn’t have a maximum power output of more than 250 watts
It must also display one item from each of the following:
The power output or manufacturer of the motor
The battery’s voltage or maximum speed of the bike
Where you can ride an EAPC
If a bike meets the EAPC requirements it’s classed as a normal pedal bike. This means you can ride it on cycle paths and anywhere else pedal bikes are allowed.
An e-mountain bike or e-mtb (for those too lazy to type it’s Sunday name) is an electrically assisted mountain bike. An electric motor assists the cyclist when he or she pedals, the level of assistance is selectable and you can switch the motor on and off. Sales of e-mtb’s are really starting to grow this year and we are seeing more and more out on the trails.
If you fancy seeing an e-bike in action, here’s a video showcasing Specialized’s answer to the e-bike, The Turbo Levo.
Types of e-mountain bike
When it comes to your choice of e-mountain bike the options aren’t really that different from regular mountain bikes. You still get to choose between full suspension (full sus) and front suspension only (hardtail). There are still a plethora of wheel sizes to baffle you but in the main 27.5 (also known as 650b) and 29ers are the mainstay. You can even find some pretty cool looking electric fatbikes and plus-size wheels if that is what you fancy.
If you are starting out, hardtails are generally cheaper and offer a more cost effective first e-bike. You can pick up bikes like the Cube Elite Hybrid C:62 29 Race 500 from as little as £2,999 and they are pretty tasty bikes that will cope with forest fun as well as give you an easier (and less sweaty) commute to work.
e-MTB full suspension
Full suspension e-mountain bikes are tonnes of fun. They are not cheap but if you live somewhere that doesn’t have an uplift and are forced to endure 20 minutes of uphill slog for 90 seconds of pure unadulterated downhill ecstasy, we reckon it’s worth every single penny!
For riders who still have the descending skills of a pro-downhill racer but lack the fitness of an XC whippet, the power-assisted motor can’t help but put a smile on your face as you pass your mates on the climbs.
A full suspension e-mtb generally has two shock-absorbers, one at the front and one at the rear. They are a little more complex to set up than a normal bike but if you visit one of our specialist e-bike stores in Southampton or Chichester the team will show you how and you will never look back.
e-MTB motors and batteries
If you are buying a good quality e-MTB then the motor will be of a mid motor design, this is where the motor is positioned at the cranks (pedals). This gives the bike better balance and smoother power delivery and generally makes it easier to ride on the trails. If you are looking at an e-mtb with a motor at the front or rear wheel then we would advise strongly against this.
There are only a few recognised manufacturers of motors that really have the torque and power to be effective on an e-MTB and most of the major manufacturers will come with a motor from either Bosch, Brose, Yamaha or Shimano e-step to name a few. Motors for ebikes are legally limited to 250W and will provide assistance up until around 15.5mph at which point the motor will cut out but you can still pedal the bike as normal.
There is generally a control unit mounted on the handlebars that allows you to control the level of assistance. Most have a pretty simple and intuitive design and we have yet to find one that we can’t ride.
Remember though the more power an assistance that you use, the quicker the battery will run down. On most e-MTB’s the battery is either built into the down tube or placed on it. This placement keeps the centre of gravity low and means that the bike is still fun to throw round the trails.
Be careful however if you are looking at a smaller battery to save weight, if you are riding local or commuting and have somewhere handy to charge the bike then the weight saving is great but if you are out on a trail you don’t really want the battery to run out half way round. A good rule of thumb is always to go for the biggest and best battery that you can afford. You will generally find that most e-MTB’s come with a 400Wh or 500Wh (the higher the Watt Hours the longer the battery can deliver electricity for between charges).
e-MTB brakes and transmission (gears)
Most e-MTB’s will come with hydraulic disc brakes and you’ll generally find that they come with the usual suspects from SRAM, Shimano, Tektro (TRP) and Magura. They are pretty stock so you can usually use spares and bleeding kits that you use for your current bikes. The only slight difference is that in general because of their increased weight the disc rotors on e-mtbs tend to be a little larger.
In terms of transmission (gears) you will find that most e-MTB’s have a wide range rear cassette (isn’t that true of most modern MTB’s) with 10 or 11 rear sprockets. If you can, we advise trying to find a bike where the largest rear sprocket has 40 teeth to help you with big hills.
Most e-MTB’s come with similar stock tyres to most mountain bikes and they do the job just fine. Remember though that you are riding a much heavier bike with a bit more power than usual so you may want to adjust your pressures from those that you normally stick to. In general we would suggest going for a grippier tyre than you usually use until you get used to the ride.
Tyres are a very personal choice though and the reason we can’t give you a definitive answer is that we can’t even agree in the office.
If we have missed anything off this guide or you have some more information that we don’t then please feel free to send it to us here on firstname.lastname@example.org and we will add it in.
Now get out there and try and little e-MTB riding!