05 Dec

My electric-mountain-bike baptism was one of fire. It appeared in the form of the insane SWIND EB-01, which, unlike the test machines that were to follow, didn’t arrive by courier in a cardboard box but was personally delivered by its designer, Sylvain Rubio, and his boss, Raphaël Caillé.

Caillé is the MD of Swindon Powertrain, which was established in 1971 to maintain the engines of Formula One racing cars and has become a powertrain specialist over the years, encompassing all areas of motorsport and the high-performance-road-car industry. Rubio, meanwhile, is the firm’s technical director and was previously employed by McLaren Automotive to design and develop engines for its current and future models. A lifelong off-road-motorcycling fan, he began in 2016 to contemplate the possibility of developing a two-wheeler that could offer similar levels of performance and excitement to a petrol-engined motorbike, while still retaining the look, the eco-friendliness – and the pedals – of a top-quality mountain bike.

Starting with a blank sheet of paper, Rubio worked on the project for “a good 1,000 hours” to produce the SWIND EB-01, which is described by SWIND as “the world’s first hyper-electric bicycle” thanks to its remarkable 15-kilowatt electric motor (that equates to around 20 combustion-engine hp) and 60mph top speed. Much of the genius of the design lies in the shell frame, a high-tech hybrid made from aluminium and carbon that incorporates the air-cooled, 1.75-kilowatt-hour, lithium-ion battery pack (the most powerful ever fitted to a bicycle), the electric motor and a nine-speed sequential gearbox that shifts seamlessly regardless of speed, load or terrain. The rider provides all the momentum through pedalling until the electric power is invoked by turning a small, handlebar-mounted twistgrip after choosing one of three settings: Eco for a relatively gentle assistance level and optimum battery range; Normal for a noticeably greater level of “help”; and Boost for the full, high-speed, wheelie-inducing, incline-devouring EB-01 experience.

With a range of up to 80 miles and a charge time of under 90 minutes, the £15,000 machine is undoubtedly the ultimate in electric MTBs – but Caillé emphasises that it is not, strictly speaking, a conventional bicycle.

“In order to be road-legal, an electric bicycle should not be able to provide any assistance above 25kph/ 15.5mph and the assistance should only come through pedalling, not through a twist-grip,” he explains. “We intended it to be an off-highway toy that wealthy people will probably use on their private estates or where they have permission to ride. Each one will be hand-built to the individual customer’s requirements, using the same technology but finished in any way they require.”

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