by Lars Hundley
Charge Bikes contacted me and offered to temporarily lend me one of their ebikes for review. I chose the Comfort model, because it’s a “one size fits most” type of bicycle that both my wife and I could share. Charge also makes a City model in multiple sizes that’s a hybrid style bike with the same 250 watt hub motor and price of $1,600, and an XC mountain bike style ebike with a higher end mid drive motor for $2,499. All of them have an estimated range of around 50 miles.
If you’re an avid cyclist who has a spouse or partner who is not, you’re probably familiar with the issues that can come up if you want to ride together. For a non cyclist, a five mile ride is often considered quite long.
It’s almost four miles just to get from my house to the start of my bike rides at a nearby lake in Dallas — an eight mile round trip. A single lap around the lake is another 10 miles. If you’re not a runner or endurance athlete and already in good shape, then something like an 18 mile bicycle ride might not be realistic, and almost certainly won’t be fun.
Having tried out an ebike myself on a vacation in Germany a couple of summers back, I had experienced the amazing difference that it makes on difficult climbs. Hills are one of the biggest challenges to non-cyclists. So I was looking forward to letting my wife try it for the first time, as she had never ridden one before.
The Charge Comfort ebike arrives in an enormous box that is quite a bit bigger than a typical bike box. It’s so huge because the bike comes almost fully assembled, with handlebars attached and even pedals already installed.
Basically, the only thing you need to do is to follow the directions to straighten the handlebars (which are shifted sideways to fit in the box), fold down the pedals into riding position, and put on the front wheel and attach it to the fork with a through axle that uses an included torque wrench so that you know that you’ve tightened it correctly in place.
The instructions are very well thought out and easy, and they even include a special piece of cardboard in the box that holds the front wheel upright while you attach it to the front fork. Ebikes are quite heavy and unwieldy, so it’s more useful than you’d think.
It took me approximately 15 or 20 minutes to completely remove the bike from the box, read through the directions and assemble it, and then plug it in to charge. The battery came with about a 20 percent charge on it, so I could have tried it out immediately if I had wanted to.
There’s even a big QR code printed on the side of the box, if you prefer to watch an assembly video instead of reading the directions. I did not bother, but I think it would be useful for someone who was completely new to bike repair or assembly, or who is a visual learner.
The Charge Comfort is a Dutch style bike, with a step through frame and high handlebars in front for a very upright style of riding. It’s a very accommodating frame style for non-cyclists, because you can easily get your leg over the bike, and you also sit upright where you can easily look around without bending your neck up to see the road.
With a 250 watt hub based motor, there’s plenty of power, but not an alarming amount of torque and speed like some of the Class 3 type of ebikes that go up to 28 mph. I’ve ridden one of those Class 3 ebikes, and I felt that it accelerated alarmingly fast. It also seemed that it would be very dangerous to ride if you weren’t an experienced cyclist. It requires some level of cycling skill to ride at 28 mph on skinny bike tires.
The Charge Comfort is a Class 2 type of ebike that only goes up to 20 mph, which is plenty fast, but still reasonable for someone who isn’t an experienced bicyclist. It can be operated by pedal assist at one of five different assist levels, or by a throttle where you don’t pedal at all.
You have to put in a little pedaling effort to get it up to the full 20 mph because there are only 250 watts powering you and the fairly heavy bike, but it’s almost effortless to ride around at speeds of 12 to 15 mph and still very, very easy if you’re fit to ride at around 17 mph.
It turned out that around 12 mph felt pretty fast to my wife, who does not ride a bicycle very often. So she didn’t even take it anywhere near the limit, and kept the power assist turned down to the easiest level.
There are two main types of ebikes. Hub based motor ebikes where the motor is in the back wheel, and mid drive ebikes where the motor is built into the frame of the bike near the cranks. The hub based motor is the less expensive option, but having ridden both styles of bikes, I didn’t perceive much of a difference on how they feel riding them, from a practical perspective.
Charge uses a Bafang motor, which is one of the biggest Chinese brands. Ebikes are very common in China, where it’s much more expensive to own a car, and Bafang is probably one of the biggest volume ebike motor manufacturers in the world. So although the brand might not be as familiar to you as Shimano, Bosch or Yamaha, they are a major player.
The Bafang controller is very simple and easy to use. There’s a power button, and then there’s a plus button and a minus button where you can choose more or less assist. The screen clearly shows your current assist settings, and how much battery you have left, including an estimate of how many miles you should be able to ride.
You can turn off the assist completely and ride it like a regular bike. My wife chose to ride many of the flat sections of our ride together with the assist turned off, because she didn’t want to go faster than her comfort level of 12 to 15 mph. When there was a hill, she was only using the lowest assist level, which gave her enough power that she didn’t really have to put any real effort into climbing the hill, at a speed that felt safe to her.
You would be able to climb the hills at a faster speed on a higher setting. Or if you loaded the rear rack of the bike with groceries, you might want to use a higher setting to help propel the extra weight.
The bike has a fully loaded capacity of 330 pounds, with a maximum of 300 pounds for the rider and 30 pounds for the rear rack.
I was pleased to see that Charge chose high quality Goodyear commuter tires for the Comfort ebike, which are heavy duty enough that you’ll be able to avoid many flat tires. The tires have reflective sidewalls, which is really terrific for being seen in the dark, or at dawn and dusk.
Even better, the Comfort includes both a front headlight that turns on when you turn on the bike and a red rear taillight, so you can see and be seen. The headlight is adjustable, so that you can point it where you want the light to be shining so that you can see best.
One thing I wish that the rear rack would have included was some kind of a spring loaded clamp to hold things down. If I were using it to run errands, I’d probably add some kind of basket on top of the rack in back, attached with a bungie cord so I can carry the basket inside.
A 20 Mile Test Ride
I took the Charge ebike out for a 20 mile test ride around Dallas to see how it worked on steeper hills, and how long the battery really lasted. It’s rated for up to 50 miles of charge.
I’d describe riding around on this ebike as a way to experience the joy of riding a bike with none of the effort, unless you want it. At any point you can turn off the e-assist and just pedal it like a regular Amsterdam style bicycle. And from the opposite perspective, at any point you can decide to use the throttle instead of pedaling at all and you can ride it around like a silent moped.
With zero assist, it’s a very heavy bike though. It weighs about 50 pounds. So when you hit an uphill, it’s going to take some work with the motor turned off.
The good news is that the Shimano 7 speed gearing is exactly correct for this bike. The easiest gear is low enough that you could still ride up hills and make it home if you ran completely out of battery.
And on the other end, the highest gear is really only appropriate to the top speed of the motor, which is around 19 mph. You’re spinning pretty fast at that speed. But it’s still exactly right for this bike.
An Amsterdam style bike is not meant to ride at high speeds, because you are sitting very upright. I took it down a long and steep hill and hit about 28 mph on it, and that was really as fast as I would want to go on this bike. The upright geometry is meant for fun riding, not high speed.
The cable actuated disc brakes give you plenty of stopping power. I actually assumed they were hydraulic when I was riding because of how well they grabbed, but when I checked carefully later I saw the metal cables. This is probably an advantage, because you don’t have to worry about things like hydraulic leaks or bleeding.
I rode up some steeper uphills, and found that at the lowest level of assist, it would generally get me going around 7 or 8 mph with minimal effort. Each level of assist gives you another 1 or 2 mph at the same effort, and I could still keep a speed of up to 14 or 15 mph up those steeper hills. If I used the throttle only and didn’t pedal at all, I could still get 12 or 13 mph out of it. A very, very steep hill or a heavier rider (I weigh around 150) would change things, as you’re working with 250 watts of motor power.
If you’ve ever wanted to re-experience the simple joy of just riding around on a bike like when you were a kid, with no worries about how hard you’re working, then the Charge Comfort ebike is a great choice. It’s also terrific for situations where you’d like to ride to a destination without getting sweaty, or for someone who isn’t an athlete to be able to ride a lot farther on a bike comfortably, without getting exhausted.
I wondered if 250 watts would be enough assistance, but it turned out that it definitely had the right amount of power to give you plenty of assist and pick up, without being dangerously overpowered and only suitable for someone who has high level of bike handling skill.
Best of all, it’s priced similarly to mid range regular bikes that don’t have any motor at all, so it’s a very reasonable purchase.