There’s a big following for steel and titanium tourer and gravel bikes, be it singlespeed or geared. This is because of the unfussy, understated looks and forgiving ride. They are perfect for longer or more endurance based rides, loaded with kit for overnight stays and unsupported travels.
So my prediction is that as ebike retrofit kits become lighter and more discreet, skinny tubed gravel bikes will be seen rocking them. Especially with the ability to swap these lightweight versions in and out easily with very little change to the original bike. You can still have that hipster Crust gravel bike and have an ebike assistance when you want it.
Most gravel bikers aren’t adverse to adding a bit of weight to a bike… with all their bike packing gear…. so what’s a few extra kilos?
Retrofit kits can really open up the usability of bike giving that extra range, speeding up those hillclimbs and, where ebikes have really come into their own, opening cycling up to those who have not physically been able to manage it previously. A fully loaded gravel bike can really take the wind out of the sails uphill and on multi day excursions the battery boost could stop you falling behind of a ride schedule or open up longer trips entirely. Or hey, enable your buddy to actually join you!
There are a couple of different types of ebike retrofit kits available. Hub drive and mid drive. Hub drive is exactly as it sounds, the electric motor is hub based and drives the wheel from there and are available in both front and rear wheel applications. Mid drive kits are mounted to the bottom bracket and drive the cranks. General rule of thumb is that the hub drive motors are lighter as they require less connectivity to the bike (gearbox to the crank, additional mounts and housings etc). As far as ride feel goes the mid drives are supposed to give a more natural feel over hub motors as they work as if it’s your legs were applying the power to the drive, rather than the potential ‘pulled along’ feel of a hub drive.
With the above in mind here’s a couple of kits that I think would really fit in well with a custom gravel/adventure/tourer build:
Originally designed as a Brompton upgrade (I believe) its now available as a universal kit for all bikes. Simply a replacement front wheel (disc and rim brake compatible) with a handlebar bag battery pack. All controlled by a crank cadence sensor, simply pedal and the packs brains works out how much assist to add. The Pro kit weights in at 3.3KG (thats everything! batteries and motor!) and thats not a lot when you compare the variation in weight of bike packing kit and rider combo. I weigh in at 75kg so and extra 3kg for the added assist is a no brainier.
The assist gives up to 50km of range and has a top speed of 30kmph, so not to be sniffed at. It can be turned on and off as well to save that assist for when you need it. There’s also an app to help you tune those levels of assist and speed.
With its minimal weight and size I think this kit is a very exciting prospect for gravel bikes and bike packers. I for one would love to try one, my only reservations would be how well the battery pack is fixed at the bars and power going to the front wheel. There’s no price listed on the Swytch website at the moment but I believe them to be between £500 and £750 depending on model.
Another kit very similar to the switch but with a bottle cage mounted battery pack.
With the bottle cage battery lowering the centre of gravity and removing the weight from the bars you should get a more natural ride feel than the switch. The only downside is the battery bungs up one of your bottle mounts, but for bikes with multiple bottle locations it wouldn’t be too hard to move this around.
A nifty feature of the Cytronex is the boost button. The only thing you see on your bars is a button that allows you to change the level of assist or turn things off entirely. The system has three levels of assist that are all tuneable for range and power via an app or your computer.
The other thing I like about the Cytronex is the ease of sensor fitment. The Cytronex uses just one rpm sensor that picks up off the rear cassette. Essentially the same as a flywheel position sensor in a car. This makes for very easy fitting without any faffing around with the crankset.
The only thing I can see where the Cytronex is a little hazy is the range, they don’t quote a specific number on their site. But I’m their defence this is totally down to user, ie weight and level of assistance. But they do say that you should get two hours of continued assistance if set to the lowest output, but riders have achieved up to 140km of range on a single charge when used purely as an assist when needed. Impressive!
The Cytronex kit kit depending on variables chosen on your setup is available from around £950.
So there’s my prediction. Gravel bikers/bike packers succumbing to the ebike and making their adventures even more adventurous!(whilst still being able to keep their Indy bike brand frame steez!).
Yes there’s the issue of charging a battery but both of these kits have a fast charging system available that’s not heavy and can charge a battery within two hours. So if you are touring between hotels or just visiting a cafe for lunch/ coffee then keeping the battery charged shouldn’t be a concern.
Now to save my pennies for one……