New Zealand represents!
We’ve seen a lot of U.S.- and European-designed bikes of late, but with the arrival of the SmartMotion Pacer, we’re now looking at an e-bike coming from New Zealand. Apparently, this was a project born from necessity, as the New Zealand post office needed help to make better bikes for delivering mail and packages, so they approached Anthony Clyde to help modify the Reiker Cycles bikes that were already in use.
They don’t just need a bike with good range; they need something rugged enough to withstand industrial use. Anthony’s solution was the SmartMotion eDrive system. It took two years of collaboration with Reiker and the NZ Post to test components, upgrade and redesign the system until it was robust enough to meet the needs of postal delivery.
WHAT’S THAT IN DOG YEARS?
A year of postal delivery is tantamount to 10 years of what a typical bike endures. Postal carriers in New Zealand ride 250 days a year, through sunny days, rain, hail and everything in between. They carry heavy loads all the time with lots of stop-and-go riding. The bikes take the abuse, and there are some that have been in use for four to five years already, still on the same motor and battery. This points to reliability, for sure.
Are they built in New Zealand? No. Like most bikes, they’re made in China. Clyde carefully sourced a factory that met his specifications for delivering quality. The bike is unique, with a great-looking frame built from hydro-formed aluminum, and an integrated display screen on the flat top tube that drops low enough to step through but high enough to not give men pause when climbing onto it.
The bike looks great and is well-spec’d, with a comfortable enduro saddle, Shimano Deore components, a very sturdy rear rack, fenders and lighting. The ergonomic grips feature bar ends, which make it look a little dated, as it resembles the bigger version from mountain bikes in the 1990s. They do offer you respite from sitting in the same position on long rides, but in our opinion they look a little goofy. If you don’t like them, you can swap them out; however, they cannot be removed without replacing the grips.
The display on the top tube is gorgeous and big. It’s bright enough to be seen in full sunlight, and it’s in color, making it easier to see all the elements arranged in a dial format. It’s properly out of your way while riding, but provides easy-to-read information—from power level and battery level to range, power currently being used, speed, average speed, max speed and trip info. When you switch it to Night mode, the white background on the display changes to black and is easy to read without blinding you.
LIGHTS & ACTION
We first saw the Pacer at Interbike last year. In fact, it was hard to miss, as it was mounted on a rotating pedestal, and one of its most unique features—an LED strip on the bottom of the downtube—was lit up for everyone to see. It captures your attention in darkness or daylight, providing an absolutely great daytime running light and a great safety light in the dark. It’s not bright enough to light the road in front of you at night, but that’s not an issue, because there’s a 900-lumen Roxim LED headlight that provides great light to see with. And, the LEDs all switch on when you switch the system into Night mode by pressing the “+” button on the power controller for a few seconds.
We found Night mode to be great, even in daytime, to allow the lighting to be on for safety reasons, and the display on Night mode was still easy to read even at mid-day. There did seem to be a slightly higher drain on the battery, so if you’re worried about range more than safety, Daytime mode is easy.
There is a Walking mode for times where you might be pushing the bike up a hill at walking speeds, easily accessed by pushing the “-” button on the controller and holding it for a few seconds. The charge port is located just above the display under a rubber cover. Flipping that cover up also allows access to a very useful USB charge port for your phone.
The Pacer is a 28-mph speed pedelec, considered a Class 3 bike in California. So under pedal power, you can go up to 28 mph with motorized assist, but it also has a throttle. That throttle won’t take you to 28—only to 20 mph, which is Class 2 territory.
As soon as we threw a leg over the Pacer and started pedaling, we immediately felt the surge of power. Five hundred watts is plenty enough on this bike to get you up to 28 mph quickly.
We prefer pedaling, so we were usually north of 20 mph going everywhere. There are five levels of assistance, but the second level was plenty for almost everything except the steepest of hills. We took one 35-mile round trip with a lunch stop with a friend in the middle. Potentially running late, we made the 17-mile distance using level 3 most of the way with almost 10 minutes to spare.
This much speed and power opens up options! Because, even using that much power for that distance, we only used 20 percent of the battery. Under normal use with that 17-amp-hour battery, we’d expect you’d get 100-plus miles out of it. That’s in the territory of the Stromer ST2s, a bike that costs nearly four times as much!
Our bike came with an optional BodyFloat seatpost. It’s a suspension seatpost that takes out many of the bumps you encounter on normal roads. Since the Pacer has no suspension of any kind, this made the ride smooth. Seriously, we’ve ridden other suspension posts before, and the BodyFloat was by far the best one yet. It’s tunable; we had ours set fairly tight, and it made the bumpy streets of Los Angeles so much more tolerable without feeling spongy.
With the 27.5×2.0 Kenda tires, rolling resistance is minimal and contact feels solid in corners. We felt no slip even on sand-dusted concrete paths. The ride was confidence-inspiring.
There are both torque and cadence sensors to help deliver power. You can actually toggle between which one controls the power delivery based on your own preferences just by holding down the power button for a few seconds. Cadence-sensing means all you need to do is turn the cranks and power will be delivered. If you’re really tired and don’t want to put in full effort, you can do what’s called “ghost pedaling” in this mode, which merely means slowly spinning the cranks with your feet and the bike will still speed along.
For those of us who love the full bicycle experience but want to have our own effort matched by the motor, the Torque mode is awesome. It’s very intuitive, kicking in more on hills, and helps you accelerate like Superman.
THESE ARE THE BRAKES
For all this talk of speed and acceleration, what about controlling it and stopping? For the price of this bike, you’d expect mechanical Tektro brakes, which are standard for this price level yet inadequate for a speed pedelec. Talking to the folks at SmartMotion, when you add motor cut-off switches to the Tektro mechanical brakes, the cost isn’t much higher to jump to a good hydraulic brake. And jump they did, opting to spec the bike with Magura MT4e brakes. The modulation ability of these brakes is fantastic. You can slam on them or slow very precisely, and if you have to use just one brake, you can do so with confidence.
The Pacer comes with a rack and fenders—good ones at that. The fenders are sturdy and protect you well from water splashes. The rack is beefy and looks like it could hold an adult in a pinch. Available options include the pannier bags for the rack and the BodyFloat seatpost. We recommend both. The bags make it easy to carry your books or laptop for work or school, and the seatpost will save your butt, literally.
At the end of the day, the SmartMotion Pacer was nothing less than incredible. High praise for sure, but when you consider that it has the performance and range of a high-end Stromer for so much less money, it all makes sense. What it lacks compared to the Stromer is the level of connectivity and the Swiss-build quality. We think many people would chose to buy two of the Pacers for less money than one of the higher-end bikes that can still cost twice as much. We’d definitely spring for the BodyFloat seatpost and the saddlebags. This bike is an incredible bike as a commuter, especially with the good cargo rack.
Frame: 27.5″ low hydroformed top tube with integrated controller and LCD
Wheels: 27.5″ Alex rims
Tires: Kenda 27.5×2.0
Motor: High-speed brushless hub motor, 500W
Battery: Panasonic 48V, 17 Ah
Controls: SmartMotion, integrated
Charge time: 4 hours
Top speed: 28 mph
Range: 70 miles, depending on riding style, load and terrain
Drive: Shimano Deore, 1×10
Brakes: Magura MT4e hydraulic discs with 180mm rotors
Weight: 55 lb.
Sizes: Small (16”), large (18”)
Color choices: Classic Red, white
MSRP: $2799 ($3199 as tested)