OUR FIRST EXPERIENCE ON AN E-ROAD BIKE WAS RATHER PLEASANT
Words and Images: James Raison
Leading into the Tour Down Under I was given the opportunity to ride a bike from the most beloved, uncontroversial, and positively received market segment: an e-road bike. Sarcasm aside, I want to make my position clear on e-bikes before kicking the review off; I think they’re brilliant. No market segment has the power to get butts on bikes like this one and I’m all for growing the cycling public. I don’t need one but some people might, so I’m absolutely open to reviewing them for potential buyers.
So, when asked if I wanted to test an Orbea Gain M20i 19 I naturally said yes. It’s a versatile package; an endurance-ish road frame that can take up to 40mm rubbers and convert to a gravel grinder. I didn’t have long with the Gain but certainly long enough to find it a compelling bike for potential e-bike buyers. Big thanks to Norwood Parade Cycles for loaning the Orbea to us.
Frame: Orbea Gain Carbon:
Flat Mount Disc Brakes
700x40C max tyre size
Fork: Gain Carbon Flat mount
Crankset: Shimano Ultegra R8000 50x34t
Handlebar FSA Energy Compact
Stem: FSA Energy
Shifters Shimano ST-8020
Brakes: Shimano R8020 Hydraulic Disc
Cassette: Ultegra R8000 11-32t
Shimano Ultegra 8020 GS
Front Derailleur: Shimano Ultegra 8020
Chain: KMC e11 Turbo Silver
Wheels: Mavic Aksium Elite Disc UST
Tyres: Mavic Yksion Pro 700x28 UST
Seatpost: FSA K-Force 31.6mm
Saddle: Prologo Kappa Space STN size 147mm
Motor: Ebikemotion X35 25kmh
Battery: Ebikemotion 36V/6.9A
RIDE AND HANDLING
The Gain rides like a few endurance-focused bikes I’ve thrown a leg over with its relaxed head and seat tube angles, matched with a quite elongated wheelbase giving it a chilled ride. It’s not a particularly fast handling bike though. The Gain’s higher than normal bottom bracket and, again, the sheer length of its wheelbase have taken some of the zip out of it. That said, it can be threaded down fast descents with impressive stability. Orbea have done a good job balancing out Gain’s geometry. I wouldn’t have expected a bike that crosses over road and gravel capabilities to handle so well as a purely road bike.
One could’ve expected the 12 kg heft (weighed by me, with pedals) to ruin the ride but it was easy to forget I was on such a heavy rig when not using the motor. Its centred battery and low, rearward motor have hardly any effect on how the bike turns. The front end steering is unaffected by the weight at the back. You absolutely notice the added weight on the climbs but not so much on the flat.
As for how the motor affects the ride experience; it’s not much in reality. 25 kph is where the motor cuts out so it only assisted me under acceleration and while climbing. Despite what you might think, it’s not necessarily a KOM killer. Even at max output the motor will only hold you at 25 kph on relatively low climb gradients. On a 5% hill it can keep you there if you’re willing to hustle but steep gradients like 9-10% it hovered just under 20 kph with near-threshold effort from me. The motor assistance might make you faster than yourself but it’s simply not enough to make you a Pro Tour wattbomber.
POWAH AND BATTERY
Power comes from an ebikemotion X35 hub motor unit in the rear wheel that pushes out 250 W and a maximum torque of 40 N.m. The wattage output is the legal maximum and is standard across most performance-focused e-bikes but the torque is roughly half of what you’ll find in an e-MTB. Road bikes don’t need the torque wave that e-MTBs do. The battery is subtly stored in the down tube beneath the bottle cage with only a small lump giving its presence away. It’s charged through a port at the junction between top and down tube. Orbea have done a good job minimising the aesthetic impact of the motor and battery.
E-bikes live and die on how and when the power comes and what its power application feels like. The Gain does quite well being smooth and subtle enough not to interfere with your riding. There’s 3 power modes you cycle through with clicks of the glowing button on the top tube with green showing the lowest, orange showing medium, and red giving you full biscuit.
The rear-drive system doesn’t have the immediacy of mid-drive but it’s attentive enough. From a standing start the the lowest power mode takes a couple of pedal strokes before it gives you a boost reminiscent of a strong tail wind. The medium and high levels are more vigorous with a more torque-y boost to them. Importantly they don’t come on so strongly as to interfere with your clipping in.
In motion there’s a small lag on power feed-in as the sensors gauge your efforts and deploy some watts. Again, it’s a smooth system and even the highest setting doesn’t surge or surprise like a mega-torque-heavy e-MTB system. I did note some lag in cutting the power as the motor continued to give watts after I’d stopped pedaling - sometimes rolling to a stop at traffic lights. I also managed to trick the motor into putting out power with no power from myself by pedalling slower than the ratchets in the rear hub could engage. So, it’s not the most sophisticated pedal sensing system but it’s fine once you’ve figured it out.
The battery that lives in the down tube is a 250 Wh unit but I didn’t have much time to test its range and charge times. One 90 minute ride using high power modes on steep hills didn’t cause the battery indicator to drop below 75%.
Assessing e-bike builds requires adjusting your expectations because the introduction of a motor and battery puts them out of step with motorless bikes. In short; you get lower grade parts to keep the price down.
Nonetheless there’s a lot of great stuff on the Gain. Shimano’s mechanical hydro Ultegra R8020 is fantastic. I’ve had R8000 on my own bike, and the hydraulic version is stellar. Shifting is fast, smooth, and accurate even under load from the motor. Braking is outstanding and hand ergonomics are very good. It may still be mechanical shifting but it’s so damn good you’re not missing out compared to Di2. The compact 50/34 chainrings and and 32t cassette at the back is the right choice for this type of bike. Plenty of gear range to get you up the hills.
Wheels are Mavic’s warhorse Aksium Elite Disc UST wheels with the rear sporting 32 spokes laced to the hub motor. They’re not fancy, they’re not light, and they don’t find their way onto many bikes at this price point but they’re tubeless ready and they rolled very well indeed. The bearings are shockingly good in such an entry-focused package. The Mavic Yksion UST tyres felt perfectly capable but I didn’t have much time to really push them. I like that they spec 28mm wide rubbers to improve comfort and put more rubber on the road.
The remaining finishing kit is an adequate mix of FSA Energy bar/stem and K-Force post with a Prologo Kappa saddle perched atop it. I didn’t ride it for long enough to form strong opinions on the small parts..
There’s a lot of tyre clearance on the Gain.
The Gain a difficult bike to tie together and put in context. The e-road market is still in its infancy and we’re quite early on the learning curve. What the Gain does right is feel unremarkable. Discretion is the better part of valour when it comes to e-road bikes. Pull out the motor and battery and you’re left with a pleasant and versatile endurance bike that’ll take road rubber all the way up to 40 mm.
For those that want a bike that helps them get to, and stay at 25 kph should most certainly check out the Orbea Gain. It just feels like a road bike and that’s exactly what it needs to do. For now, there’s not much more we can say. We’ll need to have some more e-bikes come through the office… provided people don’t burn it down for riding e-bikes…