Nihola Trekking ebike review

The Nihola Trekking ebike is a conventional (well, for this blog at least) two-wheeled upright bike with Shimano Steps electric assist. Nihola are better known for their child-moving box trikes, so this is a bit of a change for the company. David at Laid Back Bikes was kind enough to let me use one of his demo bikes for six weeks of regular commuting; here’s how that went.

(Slight aside: this was also my first time riding any kind of ebike on my commute. I’ve split out the general “what’s an ebike like to ride” stuff into a separate post, which you can find here. There’s graphs and everything—you’ll love it.)

Nihola Trekking ebike

The Nihola Trekking ebike1we’re coming back to that name at the end, fear not… is a single-size, aluminium-framed, “city” ebike that comes with a rear rack, mudguards, kickstand and lights as standard.

Let’s talk through the bike, and then I’ll cover my thoughts on the pros and cons.

The frame

I like the look of the frame, although it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. The low step-through is excellent, making it very easy to get on and off even with a child on a rear seat. There’s a good range on the saddle height, and the stem is also adjustable in angle, so most people will be able to get a comfortable position.

The front fork has suspension (Suntour, apparently). There’s only about 5cm of travel2you’re not hucking off rocks on this, sunshine, but it takes the shock out of any potholes you fail to dodge and dampens road buzz through the handlebars a treat. It is pretty soft, so if you insist on standing up while climbing and heaving on the bars, you’ll want to lock it out using the rotary knob on the top of the right fork leg.

Last bit of frame stuff—the rear rack is bolted on (separate mounts for rack and mudguard). This gives you options to swap in something a little chunkier if desired; just remember to get something that will also hold the rack-mounted battery (which locks in place).

Drivetrain and motor

All Shimano:

  • 1 x 10 speed, with a 44T cog at the front and a 11-36T cassette at the back;
  • A Deore rear derailleur (and obviously no front derailleur);
  • Mechanical trigger shifter, which can drop up to three gears at a time3although the third “click” requires quite a long throw of the thumb lever, so those with smaller hands might only be able to drop down in pairs.

Shifting is nice and crisp and the gear range is sensible with a bias towards the low end (more so than that 44T front cog would suggest). This isn’t the kind of bike where you’re going to be pedaling hard downhill, but you can spin nicely up 15% hills at a decent cadence (with motor support…)

Talking of motor support, the Shimano Steps unit here is very good. It’s the E6000 (which is the commuting/touring range, and one version behind the latest E6100 model as I write in Nov 2019), paired with a 416Wh battery.

Shimano is probably still a touch behind Bosch in terms of ride quality, but unless you had two bikes side-by-side and could hop between them I’m not convinced you’d notice. Power comes in smoothly, and in proportion with the effort you put in yourself4ie this is a torque-sensing system, rather than a crank-cadence-sensing one. Because of EU legislation that power has to cut out at 25kph, but there is a slight fade from about 24.5 to 26kph; it doesn’t feel like you’ve dropped an anchor into the tarmac at exactly 25kph.

On the flat, I tended to use the motor to quickly get up to speed, and then sit above the cut-off at about 27kph (you’ll have the energy to do that because the motor helps with that sapping acceleration away from every red light, and because the Nihola Trekking rolls very nicely). There’s no motor resistance that I could detect above the cutoff (or with the motor off), although you’ve clearly got the extra weight of the motor and battery if you’re trying to go uphill without assistance.

The only zone to avoid is 25-26kph. Here it feels a bit “surge-y”, as the motor constantly cuts in, boosts you above the cutoff speed, then fades out. It’s going to be the same with any (legal…) ebike system in the EU though, and the fix is easy; push harder, or ease off a touch.

Steps display on the right, my Garmin GPS on the left (but you knew that already). Note the accuracy of the Steps calculated speed—not bad at all. The control on the left is for the motor. Grey buttons go up or down the assist, top black button cycles through time, distance, etc on the bottom of the Steps display, or toggles the lights with a long press.

Range depends entirely on how you ride it. 416Wh is at the larger end of battery capacity (500Wh being the sensible limit for a single battery at the moment, it seems), and motors at the crank will always be more efficient that those in the wheelhubs. For what it’s worth, I did 90km with about 800m of climbing (but generally riding above the motor cutoff on the flat), with about 15% capacity left. It’s certainly enough for any daily commute, and most people could get away with just charging once a week.

Last point on the motor. The on switch is on the battery itself, which is very slightly fiddly to get at if you’ve got panniers on. Doable, but not as easy as a button on the handlebars.

Wheels, tyres and brakes

622mm wheels5Normal “road” bike size, so 700C/29er, with quick releases. Tyres are Schwalbe Marathon GT, in the 622×38 size. Pretty much the perfect choice for a commuting bike.

Brakes are Shimano Deore hydraulic discs with 160mm rotors. See “perfect choice for a commuting bike”, supra.

Other bits and bobs

The grips are those slightly flattened ergonomic jobs that you’ll either get on with or not. Handlebars are on the skinny side away from the stem which makes fitting additional lights/gps units a faff—you’ll need a good number of shims for most mounts.

The built-in lights are from Axa, and are…OK. The front light in particular is an area where I feel Nihola have certainly worked to a budget. You could pick your way forwards with no other ambient light, but it would not be fun. I’d recommend splashing out on an additional pair of lights front and back6Although I’d always recommend two independent light sources at either end, so that’s not unsurprising.

The Axa headlight is mounted to the fork crown, and includes an integrated reflector. The light slung under the handlebars is my Exposure Strade stick-of-instant-sunshine, on a stem faceplate mount to work around the narrow handlebars.

The mudguards are mudguards; nothing to say apart from it’s nice to see them included. On the “keeping clean” vibe, there’s a sensible chainguard to keep your trousers from being shredded.

There’s a handy nurse’s lock to immobilise the rear wheel if you’re leaving the bike somewhere in-sight and want to prevent a tea-leaf just riding off on it. There’s also a length of additional cable that plugs in to that lock and can be looped around a static object. It’s a pretty stout cable, but I’d still encourage you to take it off the bike and forget you have it—if where you’re parking is not secure enough to only use the wheel lock, use a proper U-lock rather than something that could be snipped through in seconds.

Cables run internally after a bit of a spider’s web beneath the handlebars, although you could tidy that up with a couple of cable ties.

The saddle is wide and padded, with a handle built into the underside.

Pedals are weird. Hard plastic affairs with not great grip, they both fold to lie alongside the crank. I suppose this is useful if you need to park the bike in a really narrow space, but it does seem an odd feature to spend money on. I swapped them out for a pair of Shimano M324s whilst I had the bike.

Finally; a functional single-legged kickstand mounted under the non-drive-side chainstay. It works.

Three good things

It’s excellent value and ready to ride

Here’s the key point. Laid Back Bikes are selling the Nihola Trekking for £1600. At that price, this bike has no flaws. None. At £2000 we can start to mention niggles like the untidy front cabling and lack of front storage, and for the RRP of €2,799 I’d really want the battery in a better position[MFN]Nestled into that chunky downtube, for preference.[/MFN] and better pedals and lights.

However, at that £1600 price, if you want an ebike for commuting on or general city use, just buy this one. You could ride it straight out of the shop and not have to tweak a thing.

The Steps assist is smooth, powerful and has good range

I talked about the assist in a bit of detail above, and described the impact it made on my commute in this post. The best praise I can give it is:

  • With the sole exception of that narrow-yet-awkward 25-26kph bracket, it feels like riding a normal bike, but for much less effort.
  • It just works.
  • You miss it massively when you use a non-assist bike again.

It’s easy and comfy to ride

The Trekking hits a nice spot of being comfortable in normal clothes, but still letting you travel along at a decent pace. Saddle and handlebar grips are good, and there’s lots of adjustability to get them both in the right position for you.

Three less good things

(We’ve all remembered that sentence above saying “at £1600 this bike has no flaws”, yes? So, nit-picking time.)

Battery position limits use of the rear rack

Rear-rack mounted is the least good spot to put a battery. It’s fine, but downtube or seat-tube mounted is always going to be better, with the weight lower down.

It also puts quite a lot of weight on the rack, and makes it awkward to clamp on childseats (my Hamax Siesta wouldn’t fit). Panniers are fine, so long as you can adjust the horizontal position of the clips.

There’s no options for front storage

I love a good bit of upfront storage on a bike, particularly for lobbing stuff in and not having to think about it (in the last week on my normal bike it’s been: gloves, a scarf once I warmed up, a punctured tube, six pints of milk, a football, and a jacket for my five-year-old).

The Nihola Trekking has no bosses on the front for the rack, and no way of fixing a box or rack on the steerer tube. It’s a shame, as it would add a good bit of extra flexibility to the bike.

It’s horribly marketed by Nihola

I said we’d come back to the name.

This bike is lumbered with the moniker Nihola trekking E-bike-10 Speeds. It sounds like a washing machine, possibly for outdoor clothing.

Worse, the Nihola website seems to treat its only two-wheeled bike as some kind of long lost and not entirely welcome uncle. There’s nothing on the homepage, and the dedicated page for the bike consists of some uninspiring technical text, a single image that’s stretched to the wrong proportions on mobiles, and a link to the pdf of specs.

I can guarantee I’ve spent more time on this review than Nihola spent on that webpage, and it’s such a shame, because the bike is cracking. Someone has clearly spent a long time designing and specc’ing equipment for a really good city and commuting bike, and then it’s then been given the cold shoulder by anyone with an interest in selling the thing.

I’m pretty confident that with an irritating on-trend name (City Spark perhaps, or eLeap) and a few hours throwing together a dedicated website and some basic marketing spiel, this thing would sell really well.

It deserves better from Nihola.

Conclusion – would I buy it?

No, but only becuase I need an ebike that could carry two kids.

If you fancy trying an ebike, and child carrying is not a must-have, the Nihola Trekking should absolutely be on your list.

Just try and forget that name…

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