What do you get when you combine an iPad and an e-bike?

Image of a bicycle with an unusual frame.
Enlarge / The Carbon’s design is striking, lacking a full seat tube.

John Timmer

As I was trying to figure out how to position the Urtopia Carbon e-bike so it could get enough signal to join my Wi-Fi network and download new firmware, I took a moment to ponder what would have happened if Apple had taken a tiny fraction of the money it has reportedly spent on its rumored electric car project and diverted it into making an e-bike instead. What would years of experience with mobile computing, hardware/software integration, maps and voice commands, and more mean for a bike?

Urtopia is clearly trying to make software one of the Carbon’s differentiating features, but the company is still in the learning stages. There are some interesting ideas in the software, and it’s hosted on a pretty solid e-bike platform. But the package needs a bit more refinement and integration.

The bike

The Carbon’s design is something that only became possible with the advent of carbon fiber frames, and it’s certainly a striking bike. In theory, the joints between the different sections of the tube could be engineered to provide enough flex to absorb some shocks. But the Carbon is probably the stiffest e-bike I’ve ever tested. (I also may have made the ride a bit bumpier by inflating the tires too much, since I was unable to find any indication of what the preferred pressure was.)

Including a storage bag designed for the frame is a nice touch. Too bad it sits where the water bottle holder would go.
Enlarge / Including a storage bag designed for the frame is a nice touch. Too bad it sits where the water bottle holder would go.

John Timmer

While the bike looks cool, there are some downsides. The water bottle holder must attach to the near-horizontal piece under the seat post, meaning that standard holders won’t work—you have to buy one from Urtopia. The lack of a full-length seat tube also puts a hard limit on the length of the seat post. I would have appreciated another couple of inches between me and the pedals, though the bike wasn’t nearly as uncomfortably short as my last ride was. The seat post also integrates the rear lights, so it can’t be replaced with an off-the-shelf part.

Similar complaints apply to the handlebars, which are part of a single piece that attaches to the fork—they integrate both the front light and a display screen. While not custom, the drive train is unusual in that the cranks turn a belt rather than a chain. But you don’t notice anything unusual about the belt when pedaling, and it’s nice to not worry about a chain’s maintenance issues. Since the bike is limited to a single gear, you don’t need to make the belt work with different gearing.

The bike’s battery latches into the down tube and can be released with a key for charging separately from the bike (the bike’s frame has a hole that allows the charging cable to plug into the same port while the battery is installed). The most notable thing about the battery is how light it is, which contributes significantly to the overall bike weight: less than 15 kg (about 30 pounds), by far the lightest e-bike I’ve ridden so far. The flip side is that the battery holds only 360 Watt-hours. While Urtopia rates this as good enough for a minimum of 50 km (about 30 miles), riding the Carbon was the first time I experienced a bit of range anxiety when taking an e-bike out partly charged.

Rounding out the stats is a 250 W rear motor that generates 35 Newton-meters of torque. It’s capped at assisting you at up to 32 km/hour (20 mph), and the torque was generally enough to get the bike up most inclines without problems, though it did struggle on some steeper and longer rises.

The front and rear lights are decent, though the front lights are pointed down toward the road in front of you—they exist more to help you see what you’re about to hit than to ensure you’re seen by drivers. The bike also comes with turn signals, which you can toggle using a rocker switch on the handlebars. The feature works by projecting light downward at the ground, and aside from being of questionable utility in the daylight, it’s probably even less useful in the US, which is home to monster SUVs that make it difficult for drivers to see the pavement within a quarter of a mile of their front bumper.

Overall, it’s a decent bike, but the riding experience isn’t anything to write home about. The unusual part comes from the software, and there’s much to say.

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