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Shimano Steps E6100 e-bike review

7 Sep 2018
Verdict:

Shimano hopes to dominate the ever growing e-bike market, we take a ride around London to test the system

For 
Light, tactile, intuitive and just simple fun
Against 
Aesthetics still hold e-bikes back a little

E-bikes seem set to dominate the earth – being light, accessible, minimum impact and minimum effort for the rider. In many countries on the continent, e-bike sales now rival those of normal bikes. Unsurprisingly, Shimano wants to be on top of the sector.

The Shimano STEPS (Shimano Total Electric Power System) was first introduced in 2013 as a complete transmission and e-bike power solution, and the E6100 is the latest iteration. As with much of Shimano’s most innovative road racing technology, the current focus is on urban and hybrid riding.

It has a similar essential design to Bosch’s crank-drive system, however Shimano has developed some thoughtful features and boasts some impressive stats.

Weight and range

The whole system comes in at an impressive 2.8kgs. While my hefty hybrid came in at close to 15kgs, it was palpably lighter than other e-bikes I’ve ridden.

The range of the E6100 is also worth shouting about – 180km of assisted riding, using a 504 kWh battery. The Li-Ion battery is also fast charging and powers the front and rear lights directly.

The motor has four different support settings: High, Normal, Eco and Walk - the latter simply powers the bike very mildly while walking uphill with it.

It offers up to 60Nm of torque, which is in line with the performance end of Bosch’s range of motors. It adds a sturdy boost.

While 60Nm transfers to a substantial wattage, the maximum allowed power for the system is 250W as an average. That means that what may feel like a 500W boost will quickly taper down as the cadence increases.

What does that all add up to, though, and what does Shimano’s system actually feel like to use?

Assist or resist

For those that have never used an e-bike, it’s important to realise that the bike does not motor along beneath you. Rather, sensors will measure the pedal stroke hundreds of times and generate power to assist pedalling. It feels like the motor is in the rider’s quads, not the bike’s cranks.

STEPS is a little more honed than most. The initial assistance doesn’t kick in for half a pedal stroke. That’s important as often the jolt from more powerful e-bike motors kicking ino action can make handling a little unpredictable.

Conversely, the cut-off for the electronic assistance is also an important transition. Owing to EU regulation, once an e-bike reaches 25kmh the electronic assistance cuts out. Again, if the motor is too powerful up to this point then cuts out entirely then the sensation is like dropping an anchor behind the bike.

STEPS uses a graduated drop-off, which lets the power off proportionally as you approach 25kmh to make the transition smoother. This was something that I really noticed in contrast to other systems. In addition to the relatively light weight of the bike and STEPS hardware meant it wasn’t too hard to pedal the bike above 30kmh.

Shimano’s experience of cycling meant that the using STEPS felt like normal cycling, and not hopping on a moped. The assist always seemed to encourage efforts carefully, and was always smooth and intuitive. I ended up favouring the ‘Normal’ setting ahead of ‘Eco’ or ‘High’ because of the smoother more natural level of assistance.

What’s more, the STEPS system offers fully automated gear shifting, when used in combination with the Nexus Inter-5E internal gear hub. That was a real revelation, though I only tried it briefly, as the gears shifted sharply, smoothly and always at the right point.

A true commuter with Nexus automatic gearing

What’s more, when stationary, the gear will automatically shift down to the lowest resistance when setting off again.

The STEPS E-6100 can be used with an automatic Nexus hub or with normal external Di2 or mechanical gears.

Interface

The most important feature of the STEPS E-6100 is probably the easy-to-use interface.

E-bikes often come specced with specific head units, and Shimano does offer this, but also offers direct compatibility with any smartphone via Shimano’s E-tube communication system.

A smartphone can be placed where Shimano’s own head unit would normally sit, or the entire system can work without a head unit for an unusually minimal look.

That leaves just the thumb buttons to turn the system on and off and increase or reduce the level of assistance. The buttons were very much in the tradition of Shimano’s Di2 shifter buttons, which have a pleasant and positive click.

The head unit is useful, though, to demonstrate the level of assistance (Eco - High) and the battery level. After a 15km ride through Central London, often on steep inclines, the battery didn’t have a dent in it.

A ride on Shimano’s new e-bike system was an interesting experiment for me as a sworn road rider. It’s a very different side of cycling, and refreshing to enjoy a moderate pace on a bike without the lycra.

Most of Shimano’s most innovative road technology began life in the testing bed of the commuter market – electronic Di2 shifting being a prime example. With road bikes increasingly employing electronic assistance, Shimano’s progress on motors is a space worth watching.

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