Ribble has launched a new collection of hop on-hop off electric bikes, including what it calls an "electric, step-through gravel bike" that features a Dutch-style sloping top tube alongside Schwalbe G-One tyres, a Mahle motor and what I can only describe as a dose of the Frankensteins.
When Cycling Weekly's machine arrived for test, my immediate reaction was to raise an eyebrow (well, both, to be honest) and ask, "Why??" But after a 90-minute lunchtime smash fest which left me grinning from ear to ear, I suppose the answer is, "Why not?!"
The new Ribble CGR AL e Step Through (accompanied in its launch by the Hybrid AL e Step Through) breaks almost every convention in cycling's hallowed rule book. It looks like nothing I've seen before. Probably for good reason.
However, with the cycling community growing rapidly as more people look for sustainable ways to travel – and exercise – safely amid the Covid-19 pandemic, this bike will no doubt provide an option for a new breed of cyclist looking to traverse mixed terrain in comfort, and with an added boost.
Ribble says this bike will "give [riders] the freedom to explore over a greater choice of distances and terrains." I'm sure the intended user is likely to take it on a few canal paths or around the local park, but to put this claims to the test I set off for a proper thrash fest around my local off-road trails. Whilst I doubt that's what the designers had in mind, it handled the terrain just fine, thanks.
Ribble's E-bike Step Through models
I have to admit I always thought the notion of lowering the top tube to aid getting on and off a bike was an outdated principle reserved for the days when women wore Victorian-style gowns, bustles and corsets. However, seeing my dad get on to an electric road bike recently (sorry Dad!) I quickly realised that this is far from an antiquated need. So let's put that concept to bed now: a dropped top tube is not reserved for riders wearing long skirts, and can be helpful for those with less flexibility than the typical aging racer.
The Step Through bikes are available in two guises: the dropped bar Ribble CGR AL e Step Through and the flat-bar Ribble Hybrid AL e Step Through. Both options come with the same frame geometry and even share the same tyres; the flat bar just creates a slightly more 'heads up' position.
There's only two frame sizes: XS/S and M/L with riders from 5ft 1in to 5ft 11in catered for – which does make me think that Ribble is pointing its offering at a female market: the average UK male is 5ft 9in but plenty will fall outside of this (and even more will tell you they do).
I've got to admit that the flat-bar machine looks more sensible to me, though I did make use of the curly ends when hurtling down a sodden clay descent along the North Downs Way.
Both aluminium-framed options are lightweight for an assisted bike thanks to the use of the Mahle Ebikemotion motor system, which as per Ribble's other e-bikes, is positioned in the rear hub. Builds start from 13.7kg, progressing to 15kg with luggage racks and mudguards.
The Mahle hub motor provides a maximum of 250w of assistance, via a 250Wh Panasonic battery. It's controlled by a button on the top tube, though you can also pair it to a cycling computer and fine-tune your assistance level there. As always, in the UK the assistance will cut out at 25kph/15mph. The Mahle system pairs with an app which offers an array of party tricks, such as the option to have the motor kick in at a desired heart rate, and you can also purchase a range extender to add extra mileage. The charging port is located at the bottom of the seat tube.
Spec wise, the CGR models start at £2,399 with Shimano Tiagra shifting and Tektro cable-operated disc brakes, with the Shimano 105 hydraulic brake version at £2,799. The flat-bar option is available with SRAM Apex 1x shifting at £2,299, while a 'fully loaded' option comes with racks and mudguards for £2,399.
Who is this bike for?
Ribble is pitching this bike squarely at cyclists seeking comfort, practicality, and the freedom to choose any road or trail that gets them to the desired destination (even if that's just out of the house).
CEO Andy Smallwood said: "Cycling’s popularity has increased over the past decade with more and more people discovering the benefits and joy of cycling. We’ve added the new e-bike Step Through models to our existing world class range to provide even more choice for everyone, whether thinking of getting into cycling or life-long cyclists like myself."
"Whether you're ditching the car, riding for leisure, or just looking to get fit, the new Step Throughs are designed to make your everyday life easier. Their versatility, practicality and design are a great way to get around and to experience the benefits of riding an e-bike."
The target audience is unlikely to take the bike down muddy, rooted, sodden clay trails. However, I certainly gave it a go – and honestly, it was a lot of fun.
The Shimano 105 groupset is not really designed for such a mission, and the chain slap emitted from the rear end had me longing for a GRX clutched rear mech. I'd also probably favour the 1x build of the flat bar option, especially with the ample range on the rear.
However, none of my usual trails were rendered out of reach by this aesthetically divisive machine. If anything, hitting the power button just helped me get up and over some of the steep, wet ascents otherwise out of my grasp.
Sure, it looks like a Frankenstein bike – but what's wrong with taking a little bit of the best of all worlds and grafting them together if it makes you smile?
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