Yamaha shocked the world in 2017 by announcing four new bikes at the big North American bike show, Interbike. Those bikes went into production and started shipping to consumers last year, and we’ve had a chance to ride all of them and review one so far.
They announced the fifth bike to their lineup last year by announcing a drop-bar gravel bike called the Wabash. It’s named after the Wabash Trace trail that runs over 60 miles through Iowa—from Council Bluffs to the small town of Blanchard near the Missouri border.
Yamaha delivered us one of the very first Wabash units to hit the U.S., and we couldn’t wait to ride it and see what it’s like.
The Wabash is a drop-bar bike with a traditional, double-triangle frame with modern amenities like thru-axle wheels and disc brakes. The aluminum frame and fork construction make for a solid but stiff ride. Cable routing is largely internal, and there are external cable clamp bosses to mount a dropper post, if you’re so inclined. The seat tube is 30.9mm to fit a variety of posts available.
There is a bottle-cage mount on the seat tube and bosses, and mounts for a rear rack and front and rear fenders.
A SRAM Apex drivetrain is complemented by a KMC X11e e-bike-specific chain. SRAM dual-piston hydraulic brakes are plenty for this bike, and the magnet for the speed sensor is built into the rear rotor, while the sensor is integrated into the rear of the frame, something Yamaha started with their other bikes.
The 700c rims are mounted with Maxxis Speed Terraine 33mm tires, which are a good choice for the right combination of low-rolling resistance and off-road grip, as they have really small knobs in the center but more aggressive ones towards the side to aid in cornering. The tires are tubeless-ready, but the rims aren’t. Larger tires with more volume can be used also, but Yamaha suggests not going over 40mm if you ever plan to mount fenders and/or a rack on the bike.
The wide handlebars are meant for gravel riding and are covered with padded cork tape. An integrated small headlight comes on with a push of a button on the display. It’s bright but has a fairly narrow beam.
Yamaha had two choices for which motor to put in the Wabash. Since it’s an off-roader, at least part-time, they could have easily put in the PW-X motor, with one extra mode that boosts the torque to 80Nm at the highest setting, making it similar to their hardtail eMTB, the YDX Torx. They instead decided to go with the PWSeries SE, the same as on the rest of their line.
We asked them why they don’t put a 28-mph, Class 3 motor on a drop-bar bike. Their answer was simple and responsible—since the Wabash is meant to go off-road, they wanted to keep it as a Class 1 bike to keep it legal for street and trails. This makes perfect sense, and the hand-off from pedal assist at around 20 mph is so gradual, you barely notice it.
“Our over-exuberance was met with some sketchy moments, but that’s what happens on an e-bike!”
The motor offers instant torque—from zero rpm up to a maximum of 70 N/m and at a cadence of up to 110 rpm. There are four levels of assist: Eco+, which essentially overcomes the extra weight of the battery and motor; Eco, which offers a bit more power; Standard, which was our mode of choice for all but the steeper ascents; and High.
The bike comes with Yamaha’s one and only display. It’s in a rugged case and mounted in front of the stem so you don’t have to look too far down to see it. The controller is behind the bars on the left side, near the stem. It’s a neat configuration, for sure, but you have to sit upright to reach it. The world’s smallest bike bell is directly opposite it, also with the same reason to sit upright.
The 500-Wh battery gave us enough range for several rides before needing to recharge it. We rarely used Eco and only used Eco+ to find out if it was any fun. It wasn’t. We’d love to see an integrated battery on future Yamaha bikes. It seems there’s a natural progression toward this, and it really improves the look of the bike.
WHO IT’S MADE FOR
This bike is designed for commuters who want to ride flats in their suit on the way to the office, then switch to their cycling shoes, flip the pedals over, clip in and find fun dirt paths on the way home. As drop-bar bikes go, it’s a relatively inexpensive and capable bike for some light off-roading.
We used the Wabash for both paved and unpaved expeditions. On the road there’s plenty of gearing even for steep hills. The aggressive rider position makes you want to go faster. We’re big fans of fingers always on brakes, so we mostly rode with our palms resting on the Apex brake hoods. The single shifter for the rear derailleur controls up- or downshifting.
The relatively narrow tires translated bumps pretty harshly through the unforgiving aluminum frame and fork. We almost got stuck in a few grooves on the street, which is something commuters might consider. If you have horribly maintained roads, you might want to think about running wider tires.
We loved the smooth transition between power assist and no assist, we could accelerate from stops, never having to roll through to carry momentum. Above 20 mph it’s all the strength of the rider, and this bike’s pretty easy to keep up there. Controls were well-placed overall. Most of the time we had to change position to ring the little bell or change power mode, neither of which we did much. Whistling was easier than the bell in traffic.
When we hit the dirt, the bike provided more fun than we expected. There aren’t a lot of options for gravel bikes in the e-bike world, so this was a treat! It’s definitely a different experience than that of even a front-suspension mountain bike. Plenty of energy is transferred to the rider, especially from the front end, over rocks and bumps. We did like the padded cork tape on the bars. That did actually help smooth out the bumps.
The 42t large rear cog and the power-assist turned up to High was just enough to climb most steep inclines, but lacking any suspension made getting through rutted sections troublesome.
Descending on the Yamaha was a blast. It was nimble, and that was a good thing. On all the off-camber corners, even with all the loose rocks and dirt, the tires bit, never sliding once. The one time we did skid was the usual skid test to make sure the rear wheel can lock up, even while we’re sitting on the saddle. Modulation kept that at a minimum.
If we had one complaint, it would be that Yamaha really needs to update the form and function of their e-bikes. The Wabash, while a good performer, does have the look and feel of a bike from 2017. Being that they are as large a company as they are with a vaunted history of turning out incredibly designed motorcycles, we have higher expectations of what Yamaha could deliver. The Wabash looks dated as it lines up next to the competition, many of which now feature integrated batteries.
Overall, this is a really fun bike to ride, and it does love to go off-road. It feels as natural in either environment. The great thing about drop bar bikes is the variety of riding positions it offers. It would definitely be a fun commuter, especially if there’s a dirt shortcut along the way. There’s a lot of value for the price, especially with the level of components.
Motor: Yamaha PWSeries SE
Battery: Yamaha 500 Wh, 36V lithium-ion
Charge time: 4 hours
Top speed: 20 mph (with assist)
Range: 30–50 miles (tested)
Drive: SRAM Apex 1
Brakes: SRAM Apex hydraulic, 160mm rotors
Fork: One-piece aluminum, 12x100mm thru-axle, fender compatible, internal brake hose routing
Frame: Yamaha hydroformed aluminum
Tires: Maxxis Speed Terrane, 700x33c TR EXO
Weight: 42.3 lbs. (large)
Color choice: Latte
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