Compact 20"-wheeled electric bikes are popular for the city market thanks to their small footprint and full-size riding characterisitcs, and the Orbea Katu-E 30A is a really good example of the genre. It's easy to ride with a good motor, and it has some useful luggage options for urban duties.
"The Katu-E 30A is the eBike for everyone from ages nine to ninety-nine", say Orbea. We're fairly sure that 99-year-olds would prefer a lower step-through than that of the Katu-E, which is dropped but not especially low. It will work for a broad range of people though.
"It’s the perfect utilitarian machine, designed with a careful attention to the requirements of everyday life, from getting the groceries to getting to work", they continue. "A small form-factor built around 20” wheels makes storage easy, and the smaller wheels lends maneuverability in tight urban situations. With our remarkably stable Katu cargo system, carrying larger loads on your bike has never been easier."
That cargo system is a standard rack mount on the rear, and at the front a pair of mounts that can accept a big basket for shopping or baggage. Because it's the frame that carries the load rather than the fork, it makes the bike more stable when loaded. The Katu-E also has a double kickstand to keep the bike stable and upright when you're loading it up. Ours didn't come with a basket; various builds of the Katu-E are available, with all the 2017 models (this bike is 2016 spec) now having one as standard.
This bike has the Bosch Active Line motor. You can read all about the different mid motor systems here; the Bosch system is a market leader and the Active Line sits below the higher-torque Performance Line and Performance Line CX systems. It's still got plenty of poke though, and is used on a huge variety of electric bikes. The Katu-E comes with the standard 400Wh battery which offers a useful range. Exactly what that is will depend on your riding style and where you're riding.
> Where to buy Orbea e-bikes
The motor is paired with a Shimano Nexus three-speed hub. Hub gears are common on mid motor bikes but the three-speed isn't one you see that often. We're not sure why, because it's simple and well-built and the range of gears you need on an electric bike isn't huge: you're getting plenty of help on the hills and there's not a lot of point going beyond the assist limit of 15.5mph at the other end.
Small wheels keep the whole bike compact, which is good for manoeuvering in town and storing at home, although the Katu-E lacks other storage bonuses such as folding bars or pedals. There's plenty of air in the 2.25" Kenda tyres, but you also get a basic suspension seatpost for a bit of extra cushioning. The fork is rigid though. At the front the adjustable stem and high riser bars give you a nice upright position. Like many small wheelers it's a one-size-fits-all bike with a 20” frame.
Dave says: The Katu-E is a really fun bike to ride. It's not skittish, it feels well-balanced, and the 20” wheels with big 2.25” Kenda tyres cope with a wide range of surfaces. Orbea offer builds with a suspension fork but I don't think the Katu-E needs one: your weight is over the rear wheel anyway, and 20” suspension forks aren't very good.
The Bosch Active Line motor is excellent, as ever. It's not the quietest option but for urban use it has a really smooth power curve, and enough grunt to get the bike up steep and long climbs with ease. The Nexus three-speed hub gear gives enough range for climbing and cruising; the gaps are bigger and the range smaller than you'd get with a derailleur setup or 8-speed hub but it wasn't ever really an issue and the hub is simple and reliable. As with other hub gears, you need to learn to back off the power when you're changing gear, especially when you're changing down.
Given the static position of the chain it's a shame Orbea didn't choose to fit a full chain case; the minimal chain guard is better than nothing but you can still catch your clothes on exposed chain. Orbea have taken to fitting short 152mm cranks to their e-bikes because they say they work better with the Bosch motor; nobody commented on them when riding and the bike feels natural enough when you're pedalling; I'm not sure I found it an improvement but it's a lot less noticeable than you'd think.
Range-wise the Orbea has plenty, with a 400Wh Bosch battery. It's not the kind of bike you'd buy for long point-to-point adventures and it was happy enough doing a week of commuting and errands on one charge. I was getting about 50km out of the battery but that's with a big climb home from the office each night, and plenty of time in the higher power modes.
The riding position is very adjustable and everyone that rode the bike – a range of sizes – found a position they were comfortable with. Your actual position varies a bit depending on how tall you are, but there's nothing extreme; you're just more sat up if you're shorter. Controls fall easily to hand and the Shimano hydraulic disc brakes stop you with ease.
The Katu-E is designed to carry loads and there's a front basket available; it wasn't supplied with our build but sensibly it's specced on all 2017 models and it's mounted to the frame, not the fork, so it doesn't affect the bike's handling so much when loaded. You can also fit a rear rack if you prefer to use panniers. The double kickstand isn't the widest but it's enough to keep the bike upright while you're loading it up. The 2017 Katu-E bikes all come with mudguards fitted as well and they're good quality and fairly long, keeping the rain off your bum and your shoes.
Overall this is a very enjoyable bike to ride and great as a general commuter and errand bike. The front basket would make it even more useful so it's good to see that it's standard spec from 2017. At less than £2,000 for a Bosch-equipped city bike it's more or less where you'd expect in terms of outlay, and it's well-built with quality components.
2017 range update: The closest bike to this in terms of spec in the 2017 Katu-E builds is the Katu-E 20LR - that gets an 8-speed hub and basket, for £1,999. The rest of the spec is the same.