The electric-powered mountain bike is not a totally new phenomenon. Mountain Bike Action reviewed the Denali electric bike back in 1999. Many riders pointed out, correctly, that with footpegs instead of pedals, the Denali was really a motorcycle that used mountain bike components. True electric mountain bikes have used “pedal-assist” designs, but have been so pricey, poorly executed and clunky-looking that riders didn’t take them seriously.
However, just as early mountain bikes eventually evolved from poorly executed and clunky designs into high-tech and sophisticated designs, so, too, is the off-road e-bike market enjoying a similar maturation. In just the last year, many European brands have jumped into the long-travel e-bike market with some serious-looking and expensive canyon-huckers. Brands like Hai-Bike, Cube, KTM and Ghost have 2014 catalogs stuffed with photos of their bikes being ridden in places no one would’ve dared taken an electric bike just a few years ago. And still, there are others brands who are entering the off-road fray with more modest ambitions. That’s where the Easy Motion Neo Jumper comes in.
The market has changed with the introduction of the $3999 Neo Jumper, a model from Easy Motion, which is a division of Spain’s BH Cycles. This is the first pedal-assisted mountain bike that really looks the part.
WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
If one thing has rung true in all of our inquiries with various e-bike companies, it’s that no one seems to be reading from the same playbook when it comes to reciting the rules and limitations that impact e-bike use. While the myriad of federal, state and city laws seem to be the basis for much of the confusion, it’s the off-road side of the e-bike market that, for good reason, is far more ensitive to the popularity of power-assisted mountain bikes.
The Neo Jumper adheres to some interpretations of the rules in that it does not exceed 20 mph with the power assist. But, the fact that the bike is spec’d with a handy twist throttle seems to also cast it into a prohibited category. We asked some park rangers their thoughts on the bikes, and they replied in no uncertain terms that when it comes to riding e-bikes in wilderness areas, “No motorized vehicles means no motorized vehicles.” In California, the Neo Jumper would be welcome on any Off-Highway-Vehicle-designated trail or road where a licensed car or motorcycle is allowed.
Although it’s not legally binding, the International Mountain Biking Association board’s consensus decision on e-bikes is that, “Mountain biking is human-powered, and using any power source to assist or replace muscle power means that the activity isn’t mountain biking and requires different management strategies. Therefore, trails that are not managed for motorized use should not be open for bikes that feature any kind of non-human power source.”
WHAT ABOUT THE TECH SIDE?
Our 18-inch bike (measured from the center of the bottom bracket to the top of the seat tube) tipped the scales at 50.7 pounds, with the weight being biased toward the rear of the bike. The 6-pound lithium-ion battery that snaps seamlessly into the downtube takes about six hours to fully charge. The other weighty component on the bike is the 350-watt, planetary-gear-driven motor, or RDS (Rear Drive System), housed in the rear hub. While not as easy to remove as a conventional quick-release rear axle, it is not a big hassle to stow the 19mm wrench necessary to do the job. The RDS unplugs to slip it out of the dropouts. The power output depends on the POD (Power On Demand) setting.
Enabling the RDS is the POD settings that are selected on the LCD display mounted on the handlebar. There are five POD settings. “ECO,” the lowest setting, gives the rider a claimed 70 percent more power, and three additional settings—“Standard,” “Sport” and “Boost”—increase the power assist up to three times the rider’s power with every crank rotation. The fifth setting allows you to dole out the RDS’ power by twisting a throttle so that you don’t need to pedal at all.
As for the bike itself, the Jump starts with an aluminum frame and runs with Rock Shox suspension that provides 4 inches of front- and rear-wheel travel. Tektro hydraulic disc brakes with 160mm rotors are there to slow the 26-inch wheels down. A hardtail version is also available for $2699.
WHAT ABOUT THE RIDE?
The Neo Jumper elicits a universal reaction from every first-time rider: laughter. In the easiest setting, a slight push to the pedals results in immediate and exhilarating acceleration. It feels identical to riding with a tailwind and a riding partner pushing you along. You still pedal, and spin and torque the pedals, but every effort is supplemented by a noticeable boost from the RDS. It is a blast.
As far as how long the battery will last, we found that on a pavement ride with 751 feet of climbing and a 15-mph average, we got 35 miles and still had one bar showing on the battery indicator, which would be good for another 8–10 miles for that ride. On a far more challenging route where we climbed 2559 feet and averaged 12.75 miles per hour, we got 17.6 miles before the battery was empty. That ride was about 50 percent climbing (the RDS working hard) and 50 percent descending (no input from the RDS).
Most riders found that they rode at the same speed as on their regular bike—they just did it with less effort and a lot more acceleration. The biggest surprise is that a rider can still get a serious workout. If you push it, you will sweat, elevate your heart rate and open up your lungs. Of course, you can always choose to ride without any battery assist, and good luck to you. Getting a 50-pound, dual-suspension bike up to speed (any speed) requires a Herculean effort.
With just 4 inches of travel, the 50-pound bike definitely has inherent limitations. And just as any mountain bike can be pushed beyond its original design limits, the Neo Jumper is not meant to be a serious freeride machine intended for extreme hucking. This is a (heavy) full-suspension bike designed to add extra comfort and peace of mind in lightweight off-road conditions. In essence, the Neo Jumper is in its element when ridden on dirt and paved roads. It is ideal for running errands. With an extra battery charger at work, it would be a great commuter. And since the bike looks like a normal mountain bike and makes almost no noise, it is a blast to use to torment roadies.
We can’t say with certainty how long the battery will last, but the company claims their lithium-ion battery will last between 700 and 1000 charges. And no, the Neo Jumper does not have a battery harvester that would allow the battery to recharge while pedaling. Regardless, it would create a noticeable amount of drag, and it wouldn’t produce enough usable electricity to be of any value to the bike’s battery. That day will come when it’ll overcome those negatives, and then, friend, everyone will be commuting on an e-bike.
Is the Neo Jumper a mountain bike? Yes, but it is a cheater bike that could cause you problems depending on where—and how—you ride it. No doubt the thought of power-assisted dirt bikers zooming through the outback is something that any concerned cyclist ought to be worried about. Still, the irony of hearing opposition to off-road e-bikes from those in the knee-pad and full-face-helmet camp is pretty rich, as it has been these same types of riders who themselves have caused so much havoc with hikers and equestrians over the years.
As it is with the road e-bikes, the purists will balk at the Neo Jumper for not being a “real” or “authentic” experience. But, real or authentic according to whom? If just one person can get off the couch and find themselves pedaling outdoors—yes, even with a little assistance—that is a good thing that should be encouraged. Despite its off-road guise, like every power-assisted bicycle, the Neo Jumper could play a big part in the future of commuting.