Bike Review – SmartMotion Pacer GT

Ah, yes, we remember it well. When we tested the original SmartMotion Pacer a year ago (EBA, April 2017), it flew through the EBA office with flying colors. In short, it was outstanding. It had tons of power, great ride quality, control and durability on par with other brands that cost twice as much. Originally developed for the New Zealand Postal Service, those bikes were tested in harsh conditions for five-plus years of daily use.

 

The beefy rack is incredibly useful, can handle up to 25 kilograms of cargo, and the optional saddlebags are very easy to use and hold everything you’ll need for work or shopping. The BodyFloat post is an option we’d highly recommend. It is the smoothest suspension post we’ve used.

THE BIKE

At first glance the GT model is similar to the original Pacer—same unique square tubing on the frame, same top tube-integrated color display. The biggest difference here is that the motor is now a Bafang mid-drive instead of a rear hub motor, and it has a belt drive. It uses big 27.5-inch wheels with 2-inch tires that are a great mix between a bigger contact patch and lower rolling resistance.

The fork has a shock built into the crown to take out some of the bumps, and the bike comes with an optional Body Float seatpost that gives you a very comfortable ride on an otherwise very rigid aluminum frameset.

The battery sits inside the downtube, protruding a few inches above but leaving a clean look. The side of the battery has a built-in USB port to charge your phone, and there’s another one right on the display bezel.

Like the original Pacer, it has an included headlight and a big, bright LED strip down the bottom of the downtube, which is handy for visibility at night and seeing the road, but we find it eye-catching (and therefore safe) during the day as well.

THE MOTOR

In addition to the mid-drive motor and Gates belt drive, the Pacer now uses an internal-shifting rear hub. Interestingly, Pacer tried two options for the hub, both the NuVinci CVT and the Shimano Alfine. We test rode both, and they were right to choose the Alfine. The NuVinci loses too much power at the hub. The CVT we tried was nice, because its glissando changes are all but impalpable, but the inefficiency isn’t worth the smoothness. Who doesn’t want all the bike’s power to reach the wheels?

The optional saddlebags are attractive, large and very easy to put on and take off.

Bafang’s MaxDrive mid-drive is the heart of the bike. At a mere 350 watts, it offers five levels of assist. Those levels don’t have names as in other systems, but instead show on the display as parts of a circle with five being the highest. We love plenty of assist, and we found that level 3 was more than enough for all but the steepest hills. Level 5 will get you anywhere you want to go in an effortless hurry. We were never fully able to ride it long enough in a day to expend the whole battery; 672 watt-hour was plenty enough for every ride we threw at it.

WHO IT’S MADE FOR

This is a great bike for commuters with the sturdy built-in rack and the optional easy-attach saddlebags. They’re spacious enough to carry briefcase, lunch and even the charger. But, you shouldn’t need a charger unless your commute is 20 or 30 miles. The huge battery will easily get you there and back.

No chains required. The Gates belt drive requires no maintenance, won’t get your leg dirty and is completely silent.

THE RIDE

Thanks to the belt drive and internal-shifting rear hub, the bike is virtually silent. It’s very noticeable at first, then your ears just enjoy the sounds of nature around you, the other cars or your friend’s latest tall tale. The belt is not only quiet, it’s maintenance-free. There’s nothing to ever lubricate, which means no dirt on your pant leg.

The Shimano Alfine hub works really well with the system. You can feel a slight drop in power as the motor senses the shift, and you can only shift one gear at a time, so you will have to remember that as you come to a stop. There is a thumb throttle if you do forget, or if you just want the bike to drive you along. The throttle will get you to 20 mph, while pedaling can get you to 28 mph.

We love that the bike offers you the choice between cadence and torque sensors. It’s something easily changed in the menu on the screen. Some people like the cadence sensor, since you can ghost pedal the bike along. We still prefer the torque sensor, as it offers greater control of the power and can give you longer range.

There’s even a built-in bottle cage, which is a really nice touch.
The bright color display allows you to see everything you need to at a glance. Battery level on the bottom, power level on the top. Behind that flap at the top is a charge port and a USB port for charging your phone. The battery has both of those ports as well.

The Pacer simply glides along, and if you are on imperfect roads, the suspension fork and the optional Body Float seatpost takes out the bumps. The semi-rigid, uncomfortable saddle is made more pleasant by that bit of suspension.

Simple controls to turn on the system, increase or decrease assist level, and a throttle are all in one place.
Magura MT4E+ brakes allow easy brake modulation and stops with the 180mm rotors. They have motor cutoff switches to allow better control, especially when using the cadence sensor.

Schwalbe Big Ben tires, at a large 27.5 inches but medium 2-inch size, offer both low rolling resistance and a comfortable ride. They have retro-reflective strips along the sides for nighttime safety to enhance what you get with the great lighting package. There’s plenty of grip, and the bike feels planted even when cornering at speed.

THE VERDICT

The new SmartMotion Pacer GT is one of the quietest electric bikes we’ve yet ridden, and the controls are among the best on the market, if you like a lot of choices. The LED lighting kit makes it safer and more visible any time of day or night, it’s a very comfortable bike to ride, and its beefy, industrial look is fantastic. This is a lot of bike for the price.

There’s not much travel on this suspension fork, but it’s more than enough to take out all but the biggest potholes on the road.

SPECS SMARTMOTION PACER GT

Price: $4000 (estimated)

Motor: Bafang Max Drive 350W

Battery: Panasonic 48V 14 Ah/672 Wh

Charge time: 4 hours

Top speed: 20 mph

Range: Up to 45 miles (tested)

Drive: Shimano Alfine

Brakes: Magura MT4E hydraulic disc brakes with 180mm rotors

Controls: SmartMotion

Fork: Alloy Head Shock

Frame: 27.5” low-step hydroformed Aluminum

Tires: Schwalbe Big Ben, 27.5×2.0”

Weight: 58 lbs.

Color choices: White/black

Sizes: Small, large

www.smartmotionbikes.com


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