Riding the Hanebrink X2

Man riding X2 on trail
Descending is fine, but this is no downhill bike. Keep the speeds in check and prepare for the brakes to howl when slowing it down.

The X2 seeks to expand the usability of the human-powered, ultra-fat-tire concept by adding electric assist and appealing to adventurous riders who want to ride where the trail gets too soft and uncharted for other bikes to venture. While the huge tires and low gearing won’t win it any drag races, the X2 will zip along capably on the street. As long as you’re not in a hurry, it works fine on perfectly flat pavement or cement. Riding the edge of the road with its sloped or crowned surface takes some learning. The steering will feel heavy compared to any bicycle, and you will have to keep a steady input into the bar steering uphill a little to run straight. The tires proved exceptionally robust, combating flats on- or off-road, and they will allow adventurous riders to tackle trails they never thought possible.

The X2 starts off conventionally enough, with a welded aluminum hardtail frame—and that’s where the convention ends. The bike uses heavily modified, Hanebrink-specific, custom-spun aluminum wheels and golf-cart tires; a super-wide bottom bracket; and an equally wide triple clamp. The skeletonized triple clamps hold a pit-bike mini-motocross spring fork.

WHAT’S “UNDER THE HOOD”?

A 750-watt, brushless, direct-drive electric motor drives a 14-speed gear configuration that motivates this bike. The motor was intended to be a hub motor, and it retains the spoke holes, but it is mounted amidships on billet brackets. A brand called StokeMonkey popularized and patented a drive like this for cargo bikes that needed gears and power to haul loads in San Francisco. The StokeMonkey uses a crankarm with sprockets on both sides of the bottom bracket. Hanebrink refined the design by having the engine output shaft act as a jackshaft. The chain from the crank runs to the inboard side of the engine shaft. The outboard end has two sprockets, and the chain to the cassette runs from one of those sprockets. With the lower (smaller) sprocket selected, it is only possible to use the three largest sprockets on the cassette. In use, you only select the low range for climbs that would be a hike-a-bike on a human-powered bike or even most assisted mountain bikes.

direct-drive hub-motor-powered mid drive
There is some clever engineering in this direct-drive hub-motor-powered mid drive. Instead of how a jackshaft or a second crank is with gears, all of the chains connect to the same shaft. You can shift between two engine sprockets—one for normal riding and a smaller one for slow climbing.

Getting the hang of the shifting is a learning curve. The rear shifts with a grip shifter mounted on the left side of the bar. The front shifting is handled by an old-style thumb-lever shifter on the left side. To shift the rear, back off the throttle to ease the load on the chain, cassette and grip shift. The front two-speed needs to be shifted carefully, and you should ease it in. This is more like shifting the transfer case on a truck to 4WD than it is like normal front shifting.

The 51-inch wheelbase and 20-inch diameter by 8-inch-wide monocoque wheels and tubeless tires—the widest we’ve yet to test—provide stability in tight turns and ample traction on loose dirt, sand and snow. The wheelbase and heavy-ish front end mean it will climb like crazy with little tendency to wheelie.

The suspension duties are handled by the dual-crown triple clamp fork, which is a modified mini motorcycle fork. The 8 inches of travel provide shock absorption in uncomfortable terrain and manage the most unforgiving of mountainous terrain.

Thumb shifter for the engine sprockets
Shifting is a little unique. The grip shifter’s pattern is backwards. The thumb shifter is for the engine sprockets. You need to shift the engine sprockets delicately, but it works fine.

HOW DOES IT PERFORM?

Having the motor makes this bike usable on-road and off-road. This bike will claw its way over just about anything on the trail. The 8-inch-wide tires deliver enough traction for even the loosest terrain. No question, without a motor, this bike is going to get lapped by just about anything else out there. However, with a motor and two huge battery packs strapped to the underside of the dedicated rack, this bike actually becomes viable. Hanebrink claims this bike is fully street-legal as a low-speed electric bicycle. It has the 750-watt motor (the legal limit), and even when we had the thing pinned, we could only tick about 20 miles per hour—again, legal. And, it has pedals that work, so it’s legal to ride on the street as a bicycle with no registration, insurance or a driver’s license required in California. And trust us, you want to be legal, since the police will take a hard look at anything so unusual in appearance. From a distance it looks more like a Tote Gote or a two-wheeled ATV than a bicycle.

One thing we learned early on is that unless you appreciate moving at crawl speed, fire-road use becomes a full-throttle affair. Due to the bike’s weight and low gearing, a standard pedal bike can usually outpace the X2. Despite its somewhat menacing look, even at full throttle, this is not a fire-road ripper and is really intended for slow-going exploration and technical riding. The huge tires prevent it from handling the way a normal bike does. The tires contribute more suspension “travel” than early suspension bikes, but tire suspension has no damping. Think of this as a monster truck on the trail. It will go just about anywhere, but it helps to be pointed in a straight line to do it. Once you gain experience with the X2, it will handle twisty trails fine, but the looser the surface, the better it works.

Initially, we weren’t even sure why this bike had pedals on it, other than to make it street-legal. They seem merely like footpegs on this bike rather than a usable way to drive it. However, after putting some miles on rugged and steep terrain, we found that the best technique for riding this beast is to let the motor do the lion’s share of the work, and then use the pedals to supplement the power to crest the tops of the hills.

BURN TIME

With two batteries to draw from (the second battery is a $500 option we found most welcome), the X2 can handle some serious range on a single charge, making it even more appealing to fans of adventure riding. While we never ran both batteries all the way down to the last drop of juice, we did take a single battery down on several 10–12-mile loops with several hundred feet of climbing. Not only did we never run out of juice with the X2, we still had a “full tank” in reserve just in case.

Second battery
If you are considering an e-bike in this price range, the additional $500 for a second battery is money well spent. This bike is about exploring and adventure, and the second battery is about getting home.

SPECS

Price: $7650, $8150 (as tested)

Motor type: 750-watt sealed brushless

Battery: 48-volt, 9.6 amp-hour dual system

Charge time: 3–4 hours

Top speed: 20 mph on flat terrain with throttle only

Range: 15–30 miles each battery with normal pedaling

Drive: Custom 14-speed system with Shimano shifting

Brakes: Magura MT2 hydraulic

Wheels: Monocoque aluminum with sealed bearings

Tires: 20” x 8” wide

Fork: Dual-crown triple clamp, 8” travel

Frame: Aluminum hardtail

Cranks: Modified FSA with single ring

Weight: 85 pounds

Sizes: One size

Contact: www.fortunehanebrink.com