Volt Axis review
The Volt Axis is a folding electric bike aimed at commuters, but is it up to the job?
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The Volt Axis uses the excellent Shimano Steps battery and motor system and rides very well, it's just too heavy and cumbersome to be of any real use when folded.
Shimano Steps system provides smooth power
Automatic or manual gears
Belt driven ensures no-fuss rides
Integrated bike lights
Too heavy to easily move when folded
Folding the bike does nothing diminish its size
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The Volt Axis is one of two folding electric bikes in Volt's range taking aim at the urban commuter in need of a little extra assistance. At £3099 the Volt Axis sits above the Volt Metro, its more affordable sibling.
£3099 is a lot of money, but there's plenty about the bike that makes it perfect for commuting. It has integrated front and rear bike lights that are both bright enough for riding in traffic, relieving you of the constant worry about how well charged your removable bike lights are. The headlight can be turned on or off from the control screen on the handlebars.
By using the Gates carbon belt drive rather than a standard chain, Volt has cleverly avoided the irksome oily hands and even more irksome oily trouser leg that can come as a result of normal bike chains. It is also much more silent and smoother, too.
Volt Axis frame
The Volt Axis folds at two points, with a pivot in the middle of the frame that allows the bike to fold directly in half, and then another one on the neck that allows the bars to fold over. The parts then stay put thanks to some well placed magnets. But the result isn't exactly what you'd call portable, though, and folding the bike does nothing to diminish its overall size.
Sadly, this means it hasn't exactly been useful on my train commutes and I prefer to leave it unfolded, finding it easier to push the bike on two wheels rather than try and carry it through the station and up stairs where its weight of 18.65kg makes it almost unmanageable.
Unlike the Brompton e-bike, folding the Volt Axis doesn't make it easier to store, either. Instead of folding down to a manageable size, the bike retains it bulk making it impossible to hide away in a corner or slip it under a desk.
Volt Axis: The ride
However, what it lacks in folding sophistication, the Volt Axis makes up for with its 250w Shimano Steps battery and motor. It's impressively slick, and I was pleasantly surprised that it took less than 10 minutes of riding to work out exactly how the system works.
On the left you control the level of assistance you want, ranging from off, eco, normal and high. Using the button on the right hand side, it's easy to see how the different modes affect the range of the bike. It's perfectly suitable for commuting, and at full charge it was suggesting a range of 30miles, which is a fair few trips to and from the office.
I'll admit, I only used the bike in 'high' mode, and did very little to conserve its battery life, opting instead to zoom around the streets of Clapham, in London, relishing the bike's acceleration.
Watch: Tech of the month 2017
When the battery does need charging, you can either use the key to unlock it and remove it from the seat tube where it resides or plug it in with it still connected to the bike. Volt say it should last 1000 charge cycles.
>>> E-bike batteries: Everything you need to know
The Volt uses a crank-based 250w motor, which is one of the more common ways that companies spec its e-bikes and differentiates it from the Brompton which used a front hub motor and accompanying battery bag. The Volt's motor is also capable of receiving software updates and should, according to the brand, just need to be plugged into a computer.
The Shimano Alfine 8-speed Di2 gears are based in the rear hub and shift using the buttons on the left hand side, although you can opt to switch to automatic if you'd rather avoid the hassle. I usually kept it in manual as I found it took too long to shift through the lower gears when pulling away from lights, leaving your legs spinning. In fact, I did away with the lower gears altogether as it's quite easy to pull away in sixth or even seventh gear depending on the gradient.
The Volt carries the weight of the battery on the down tube and the motor in the bottom bracket, along with a hefty rear hub that houses all the Di2 gears, precariously weighting the rear end. It could be improved by distributing some of this heft more equally, because I found the front wheel lifting when accelerating.
The good news is that there was no shortage of torque when setting off from lights or at junctions and the Volt's motor and battery was more powerful than the Brompton's, pulling me clear of the line faster than most cars.
It's when you hit the 25km/h limiter that problems arrive, and while it might seem contrary to what an e-bike needs, the Volt Axis could do with higher gears, or gear ratios that allow your legs to provide more power after the 25km/h motor limit comes in. Riding alongside a friend on the Brompton e-bike, with its bigger gear ratio, put this in perspective as he rode away from me on flat roads when we came to relying on our legs.
Braking duties were handled excellently by the Shimano Alfine hydraulic disc brakes, and the levers are similar in size and shape to Shimano's mountain biking brakes; with just as much power on hand. Which is a good thing because they've got a heavy e-bike to slow down.
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