BIKE TEST: KALKHOFF INTEGRALE s11
Almost 100 years ago Heinrich Kalkhoff was riding a bicycle to deliver mail in his hometown of Cloppenburg, Germany. He often suffered flat tires, so he started dealing bike tires and other bike parts from his family home. In 1920 he started buying and selling used bikes as well. In 1923 he started producing his own bicycle frames with the help of two employees in his own production facility. By 1936 he had grown the staff to 40 and had sold 250,000 frames, only to be shut down for the war. In 1950 production resumed with fervor and a bicycle boom ensued.
The company has changed hands a couple of times since, but the philosophy of fine German engineering and innovative design and technology lives on today.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Kalkhoff has been making electric bikes for about 10 years, and the Integrale is its new flagship. The frame itself is cast from mostly one piece of aluminum, keeping lines clean and welding to a minimum. The 17-amp-hour battery is integrated into the downtube where it helps keep the center of gravity low and the weight very well-centered. They even throw in a nod to Henry Ford by saying that you can have the bike in any color you want, as long as that color is matte black—matte diamond black to be precise.
The cabling is beautiful, most of it being routed through the stem and to the downtube stealthily. It is one of the cleanest-looking bikes we’ve ridden. The headlight is wonderfully bright at night. And, the included fenders and a modest rack on the back are nice touches. The rear light is mounted on the rack. Seatpost height is controlled through a nearly hidden bolt key at the top of the seat tube.
The tires are Schwalbe Big Ben, which we love for all-around riding thanks to their grip and very useful reflective sidewall strip. They offer truly confidence-inspiring performance on any surface and every corner we took them through.
The Integrale uses an Impulse mid-drive motor driven by a Gates Carbon reinforced belt instead of a chain. When you’re riding, you barely hear the high-performance motor, and there’s no chain noise. You’re struck by the low noise, even when going full speed. It’ll never squeak, get rusty or require any lubricant. In fact, it’s self-cleaning.
The handlebar-mounted display is big and clean, mounted atop the front of the stem. It actually sits so much in your field of view that we thought at times it was a little too omnipresent. But, were it mounted over the amply wide stem area, it would likely have covered the USB port on the back, which is perfect for charging your phone on a long ride.
You see, you’ll need your phone, because there’s an app for the bike, which connects to the bike via Bluetooth. It’s a navigation app that uses your phone’s GPS to get you wherever you want to go. It’s useful, though we discovered that the maps don’t have every restaurant listed. On our first attempt we found everyone around the one we wanted but not the exact one—and that one wasn’t new and was in a well-known area.
Even without the app, though, the on-screen menus allow for immense choices for customization. If you like to feel a “whoosh” of power when you ride, you can tweak the software for that. If you’d prefer a smoother, subtler application of power, you can have that as well. User customization is not only possible but encouraged!
To really try out the Integrale, we traveled to Ojai, California, an artistic resort town filled with boutiques, galleries and resorts north of Los Angeles. We rode the trailhead of the Ojai Valley Trail, which is a fun place to visit and ride. It’s part of a trail that goes all the way to the beach in Ventura, California. It’s a great place to take some bikes, ride to the beach, have lunch and then head back. It’s about 18 miles each way and a 745-foot elevation difference. Not a steep overall climb, but a good test of the battery and motor.
It takes about two hours getting down to the beach and stopping to enjoy the views and taking your time. We had the Integrale set in Eco and did a lot of coasting, using about 3 percent of the battery by the time we arrived at the beach. That’s not a typo—3 percent—which meant there would be a lot more used on the way back.
The S11 features a Shimano Alfine internal 11-speed rear hub that shifts quickly and easily with programmable delays to make shifting speeds customizable too. Power drop at shift is almost unnoticeable, something beginners and experienced riders will appreciate; if they notice it at all, it’s so seamless.
After a great fish taco lunch at Beach House Tacos, we rode along the beach a bit, then headed back. We wanted to make it back in time to see the Pink Moment, a momentary atmospheric effect created when the last vestiges of sunset light hit the top of the Topatopa Bluffs. By the time we were leaving the beach, we had to book it back! We put the bikes into full-assist mode and took off.
In those 18 miles we passed quite a few other riders, averaging close to 18 miles an hour. We arrived with time to spare—just. We had used just under half the battery at this point. For a bike that claims a 50-mile range, we think under normal riding conditions they’re generously underestimating it. Without using the full assist all the time and always riding uphill, you’d likely do much better.
We can say the Integrale is absolutely comfortable for an entire day in the saddle, even carrying extra stuff on the rack and wearing a backpack. There’s just enough suspension travel in the fork to take the vibrations and small bumps out of the road. It’s also very comfortable going over 20 mph and very confidence-inspiring. We also witnessed people riding the Integrale at the Electric Bike Expo, and all who rode it really liked it—from inexperienced to experienced riders.
Riding the Integrale exudes quality and fun. It’s a great touring bike, is good for commuting and has a long battery range. It’s comfortable to ride, with easy-to-reach controls and is very simple to ride. It’s not an inexpensive bike, nor does it feel like one, either. Quality German engineering and nearly 100 years of experience making bicycles shine through and offer an amazing, comfortable ride that will last for a great many years if cared for properly. Heinrich would be proud of this bike. ■
Motor: Impulse Evo 350W
Battery: Impulse Evo RS, Li-Ion 36V, 17 Ah
Battery life: 1000 cycles
Charge time: 8 hours
Top Speed: 28 mph
Range: 50 mile
Drive: Shimano Alfine 11-speed, Gates Carbon Drive Belt
Brakes: Magura MT5 Speed hydraulic disc brakes
Controls: Impulse Evo Smart with on-board navigation
Fork: RST Pulse Air, Magnesium,
Frame: Impulse Evo RS V1, Aluminum
Sizes: S (48), M (50), L (55), XL (60)
Color: Matte diamond black