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Switzerland's BMC are known for making high quality bikes that like being ridden fast, whether it be in the world of road racing or mountain biking. Their 257 AMP AL TWO, though billed as an urban commuting style e-bike, follows very much in that tradition of sleek, precisely-designed bikes built for speed. I thought it would be ideal for a long day ride - on leisure rather than commuting duty - over the rolling beauty of the Leicestershire Wolds. The route takes roads that are favoured by many roadies around the imposing landmark of Belvoir Castle.
Although beautiful Leicestershire Wolds villages are probably the standout feature of this ride, it has a superb mix of surroundings, from the blend of modern, vibrant university life and ancient history in Leicester, to the canal paths and water meadows to the north of one of the country's most under-appreciated urban centres.
Leicester is a great place to end a long day's riding, offering the opportunity to explore the huge variety of restaurants that reflect the city's varied racial mix. It's also a city of history (highlighted most recently by the finding of Richard III under a car park). My ride began in the past, at the ancient Aylestone packhorse bridge south of the city centre. It's a lovely rural spot to start, with the River Soar and the Grand Union Canal running through the area and the quaint King's Lock Tearooms lying on the canal just south of the bridge.
The high quality access ramping up to the Grand Central Way railpath gives a clue as to what comes next - several miles of smooth, well-surfaced railpath. In fact it is so well-surfaced I don't even feel it is necessary to turn on the power on the BMC as I scoot quickly along, making my way into Leicester's centre. Just to the east lies the now famous cathedral where Richard III was recently laid to rest.
It soon gets sufficiently busy that the highly visible daytime running lights on the bike seem a useful warning feature, especially when I leave the main route for a brief excursion to the hub of Leicester's city centre life, the large open area around the Memorial Clock Tower. This really is e-bike city, as dozens of electrified food couriers mingle with pedestrians.
The bike's highly visible orange and beige design also helps it stand out in urban surroundings that are anything but dull. I hadn't realised until I started cycling past some of its amazing artworks, but Leicester is a major centre for superb street art with the works of some internationally recognised artists gracing its walls.
It's all change at Abbey Park as I take another step back in history; the resting place of Henry VIII's chancellor Cardinal Wolsey and these days also a restful place for a coffee in glorious surroundings.
On the clearly signed National Cycling Network Route 6 (NCN 6) urban surroundings drop away, with Leicester's Space Centre one of the last reminders you are near a big city before several miles of water meadow, with canal towpath also threading its way through the lowlands at Watermead Country Park.
There are hints of the hills that lie ahead as NCN 48 signs take you over gently rolling roads through the start of a string of idyllic villages such as Rearsby, with its very own ancient packhorse bridge and ford. I've still barely touched the power button many miles into the route, as the BMC feels so easy to trundle along on without power.
At picture postcard Scalford village you have the option to detour into the busy town of Melton Mowbray, synonymous with pork pies, but a nice place to take a break even if you aren't a fan of meat and pastry. The area by the church is particularly attractive and the ancient Anne of Cleves pub nearby has a nice beer garden ideal for a group ride break.
After this, I finally use motor power rather more, as extended climbs come and go, the mellow stone cottages and churches reminding me of the Cotswolds. Even on the steeper climbs I don't feel the need to go any higher than the lowest Eco level setting, so stiff and responsive is the BMC frame and so easy to pedal without power is the Bosch Performance Line CX mid-drive.
On the short steep descents, the Pirelli Angel GT tyres feel smooth and fast and help maintain speed up the next hill, despite their super tough construction based on highly rated motorbike tyres of the same name.
The removable Kiox display proves useful in more ways than one (note it's not the Kiox 300 display that appears on Bosch's latest 'Smart' system as BMC have opted to go with the more fully developed though older software system 2).
I found the best way of estimating my range was simply to count the battery % remaining and measure it against the trip distance. I realised careful use of the power levels could potentially give a 100-mile range on a single charge - the bike really was as efficient as it felt to be.
If you want to keep an eye on your fitness the Kiox is particularly handy. The default screen shows a 'power bar' with the amount of power you are contributing versus the motor's contribution, whilst a data field on a following screen shows the actual watts your human input is contributing.
The Kiox display was also helpful with navigation. Although I had my smartphone on the bars with an OS map on display, it would also have been easy enough to Bluetooth it to the display via Bosch's eBike Connect app. As long as you have the relevant GPX file on the app, the display's navigation screen shows a simple line for you to follow. Later testing showed this basic info to be a surprisingly quick and easy way to navigate as you cycle along.
After a string of idyllic villages, many with oh-so inviting pubs, the Disneyesque outline of Belvoir Castle comes into view - not in fact a castle but a stately home with a tempting cafe at the gates and magnificent views over the Vale of Belvoir.
The return route is a much flatter and quieter affair with the option of a decent quality bridleway section (dry weather only) along the edge of the aptly named Terrace Hills with views over the Vale of Belvoir through the trees. This is a good point at which to mention that the BMC has a piece of unusual suspension technology that helps smooth out 'backpacking lite' tracks such as this one. The ICS MTT x Redshift Suspension Stem has elastomer suspension integrated into it, allowing the stem to pivot very slightly, so smoothing out slightly rougher surfaces like this bridleway. (BMC say this is 'tunable', presumably by changing the hardness of the elastomer.) It looks as though you could also fit very slightly wider tyres on as well, or at least ones with a more aggressive bikepacking style tread, so the bike could be finessed to make it a bit more suitable for light backpacking.
It's then a case of more or less following the the 'spine' of the Leicestershire Wolds and weaving your way on largely quiet roads to rejoin your outward route.
Signage, navigation tips and rail connections
Through Leicester, the Great Central Way is signed in its own right and is part of National Cycle Network route 6. At Birstall village north of Leicester NCN 6 you continue along the attractive Grand Union Canal, but signs now show you are on NCN 48.
Up until now everything has been access control free, but some A-frames appear, so those with extra wide bikes or bike/trailer combos may have a bit of a struggle to negotiate this particular section. Once leaving the traffic-free sections behind it's easy to follow NCN signage - though my route used the lovely gated road from Wycomb to Goadby Marwood as a virtually traffc-free alternative to the NCN hereabouts. Much of the return section from Belvoir Castle to north of Melton Mowbray uses quiet unsigned tracks and roads.
If you want to avoid retracing your route back into Leicester, hourly trains run from Melton Mowbray and accept bikes on off-peak services.
Category: Road classic (with short off-road option that's easy to bypass on-road)
Length: 77.6 miles
On/off road split: 75% on road (58.3 miles), 25% traffic-free (19.3 miles)
Surface conditions: All good hard, sealed surfaces apart from the short off-road bridleway section after Belvoir Castle - though if it's wet a road alternative is advised as there are several in the vicinity.
Access / barriers: Some A-frames and bollards in area of Watermead Country Park
257 AMP AL TWO – how did it perform?
BMC bill the 257 AMP AL TWO as an urban commuter, but I felt it was ideal for this kind of very extended day ride. And I only used Eco power assist and rode much of the time without power assistance. Quite incredibly I had 32% battery capacity left at the end of the ride.
The huge gear range was also a massive boon that helped take the bike beyond the mere urban commuter category and into the hilly leisure and sporty riding category. The 1x12 Shimano Deore derailleur setup featured a staggering 51-tooth 'granny gear' that would undoubtedly help you conquer the very steepest of hills, even with a full touring load on the very solid rear pannier rack. The rack construction - integrated into a superstrong alloy rear mudguard - is rated for 20kg despite its minimalist design and so the bike could easily be taken on tour with a reasonable load on board.
The stiff frame aids immediate and efficient transfer of your pedal power - the bike was noticeably fast even without motor power - and the Pirelli tyres are fast and rugged. All of this adds up to a bike that's just as at home on long country rides like this as it is in the city.
Finally, as I ended the day in the dark, it's worth mentioning the super bright Lezyne front light. Again the strong metal construction stands out, along with the super powerful and effective illumination, meaning unlit roads and tracks are no problem at all.
BMC 257 AMP AL TWO price: £5,100