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Electric and pedal-powered funster
By Steve Guzman, Photography by Steve Guzman

Since 2002, Ultra Motor has been focusing its efforts on creating its ideal, urban commuter vehicle; something so well adapted to city streets that once you’ve got it, you have to wonder how you got by with anything else.

The centerpiece of the A2B Metro is a 500W lithium-ion battery housed internally in the bike frame. The removable battery, which can be charged up in about four hours on a typical 110V outlet, provides up to 20 miles of range, but that can be extended if you assist by pedaling. Being a bicycle, power is also provided by you. The user can pedal without the battery assist, use only the battery power, or do both together. Using only the battery the A2B Metro can reach speeds up to 20 mph. Shifting gears is done just like a typical bike with a 7-speed twist shift and a rear derailleur.

Most commuters may have trouble justifying the $2,699 price tag when they can buy a small motorcycle, like the Sachs MadAss, for the same price. It’s when you look at it from the point of view of the downtown commuter that the move to an electric bike starts to make a lot of sense. The A2B Metro looks very much like a bicycle. Bicyclists are generally treated with more leniency that other commuters and with that bit of knowledge, most of the obstacles that make your morning commute a hassle are suddenly erased.

It’s certainly not a motorcycle, but the A2B Metro can get you around sticky downtown traffic as well as anything on two wheels. The lithium-ion battery is housed internally in the frame, but can easily be removed.

It’s certainly not a motorcycle, but the A2B Metro can get you around sticky downtown traffic as well as anything on two wheels. The lithium-ion battery is housed internally in the frame, but can easily be removed.

In the world of the electric bike commuter, there is no gridlock. You can move to the bike lanes (or in some places, the sidewalks). There are no oneway streets; actually, most street signs don’t apply. You can cut though residential roads, alleyways, or parking lots. Oh, and speaking of parking lots? No more fighting for paid parking when you can park for free just about anywhere (even indoors). You don’t need a license, you don’t need insurance. You don’t need an oil change and don’t need to stop by the gas station. If you can maintain a bicycle, you can maintain the A2B Metro.

All of this works, in theory, but how does it work in practice? Fortunately, I have a good friend who fits that demographic perfectly. Greg Griffin, a senior planner at CAMPO, the Capitol Metropolitan Planning Organization. His main focus is bicycle and pedestrian planning and he lives about 5 miles from his office in downtown Austin, Texas. Most mornings, Greg commutes to work on his Cannondale commuter bicycle. We asked him to give the Ultra Motor A2B Metro a try for a couple of weeks to see what he thought and being the consummate professional that he is, Greg wrote up a rider’s journal of his observations. Here are some highlights:

A2B Metro Journal

DAY 1

A relaxed, upright riding position helps you see over and around cars.

A relaxed, upright riding position helps you see over and around cars.

F.U.N. The first ride on the A2B Metro was a ball. I learned a lot about how a light electric vehicle works for urban commuting. I normally ride a more aggressive commuter bicycle, and immediately appreciated the quality parts on the Metro. Most of the adjustability of a high-quality regular bike is there, but there are as many differences as there are similarities. The A2B Metro’s wide tires and dual-suspension look and feel more like a light motorcycle than a bicycle and even though bike weighs 72 lbs it feels much lighter and easier to handle due to the low center of gravity. Speaking of handling, the steering column and pedaling angles are more relaxed than most bicycles, which puts the emphasis on comfort over hairpin handling. Regardless whether I choose to pedal or not, the cushy ride feels more akin to my old Honda Transalp motorcycle (sold but not forgotten) than my Cannondale commuter bicycle.

Though this bike has comfort and style in spades, the true test for me personally is if it gets me home to my wife and kids faster.

I followed the manual’s guidance to start pedaling from a standstill to save battery, and use the juice to increase cruising speed and ease the hills. The power was really appreciated crossing busy roads, no fear of a slipped pedal or missed gear. As an ex-bicycle racer, I probably have an easier time dealing with traffic than some, but at times the electric motor is not just a convenience, but a true safety feature.

My 4.7 mile commute (shortest route of several favorites) took 20 minutes from garage to bike cage (extra security at my employer), an average speed of 14 mph including red lights. I’ve made the route in as little as 18-minutes on my road bike, but that required as much time to change out of Lycra and pedal-locking shoes and shower. I may save some real time on the A2B after all, especially as the Texas spring begins to heat up.

DAY 2

My bicycle doesn’t have an on-switch.

My bicycle doesn’t have an on-switch.

Last Friday’s evening commute taught me the most important lesson of efficient biking with the A2B Metro: relax. Instead of pedal pumping out of corners and up hills to stay closest to 20 mph, I let the motor do more of the work, and it makes all the difference. Even though it was quite warm, I arrived at home clean and ready to play with the kids. Almost like driving a car, except without the emissions.

I tested for magnetic motor drag by doing a couple of downhills over 20 mph without the motor engaged, then adding the juice.  The motor does not seem to drag whatsoever, it just doesn’t ‘kick-in’ to provide additional power over 20 mph – that’s reasonable.

DAY 3

Packing the pannier for work this morning, I noticed I forgot to flip the ‘on’ switch on the charger leaving with an orange-level (medium) charge. I ‘biked’ in this morning with no problems, moped-style – pedaling to get it started, and steeper hills, and using the motor for most of the way.   I pushed it hard enough to completely drain the battery but felt fortunate that I could just pedal home in the traditional fashion, a bit slower than usual, but it worked fine. I’ve got it charging right now.

The Metro is really fairly similar to the new breed of cruiser, typified by the Electra Townie, that has super-relaxed seat tube and head tube angles, making for a ‘couch-like’ ride. Definitively relaxed, you could say. Sounds fun, and it is, but when you want to stomp up a hill quickly, the fun ends. The Metro’s 3-inch wide tires and swishy dual-suspension are more like rolling Jell-O down the street than Lance Armstrong’s ascent of the Pyrenees. But after all is said and done, it really is fun to have a bike focused on being fun and relaxing, that’s a good friend to have.

Here’s where you access the go-go-juice.

Here’s where you access the go-go-juice.

DAY 4

The Metro works much better after a full charge. I appreciated thinking for a moment whether I wanted to ‘carry’ a textbook to work in my pannier or not, and electric power made the decision for me: “Sure!”

I’ve found riding it like a moped also solves bicyclist ego issues. If I pass a cyclist, they can see I’m not pedaling, and not a regular rider with super fitness. They can feel smug in their superiority as a human-powered vehicle (as I sometimes admit), and I am equally so by combining most of the benefits of biking without that clear-the-conference-room freshness from a good morning exercise.

DAY 5

The electric motor is found in the hub of the rear wheel. We wish it was a little easier to lock up.

The electric motor is found in the hub of the rear wheel. We wish it was a little easier to lock up.I’ve found that there's one thing that often adds some time to my commute: Curiosity. Today I was approached by a co-worker acquaintance with "Oh, so that's who's been riding that electric bike. How do you like it? Where's the motor?..."

Had a meeting after dusk today. While downtown Austin is one of the safer cities I’ve been to, it’s well known as an attractive market for bicycle thieves. So, I was a bit worried locking up a loaned bike outside. Ease of locking is not a strong suit of the bike. I’ve only found one spot on it that has a welded loop to use a U-lock securely on, and that’s a tight spot in front of the rear wheel. Since I also have a secure cable for looping wheels, I used it on the rear wheel, which includes the (valuable, I anticipate) electric motor inside the hub. Though I left it all alone at the bike rack in a darkish spot, it was there when I finally got out of the meeting. Whew.
“Whew”, Indeed!  The A2B Metro is definitely not the kind of bike that you want to leave propped up against the wall. Thanks to Greg for really putting the A2B Metro though its paces.

The 2011 edition of the A2B Metro should be available soon and Ultramotor plans to add dual projector LED headlights and a speedo to the package. There will also be a wide variety of options available like luggage racks, baskets, bags, and a secondary battery pack which brings the Metro’s range up to 40 miles between charges.

It’s not as fast, cool, or attractive to the ladies as a motorcycle, but this electric commuter requires no license or insurance and is oddly appealing from a practicality standpoint.

It’s not as fast, cool, or attractive to the ladies as a motorcycle, but this electric commuter requires no license or insurance and is oddly appealing from a practicality standpoint.

Overall we found the A2B Metro to be of solid construction, attractive design, and relatively good performance. Of course, electrics still can’t compete with their similarly priced, crude powered cousins… yet.

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