Continental have a new 48V mid motor system, and it does something we’ve always thought more e-bikes should do: combine the motor and the gearing in one place. And it’s really good, too. Other manufacturers should sit up and take note.
A mid-motor gearbox has various advantages. Firstly, it means that all the complicated bits are kept in one place and sealed against the weather; it also means it’s easier for the motor to know what the gears are doing. You can use a single-sprocket rear wheel, which is strong, light and easy to remove if you get a puncture. The majority of the system weight is centrally-located low down in the bike, which should help with handling; the motor/gearbox of the Continental system weighs a claimed 6.5kg, which seems likely to be about right given what we know of the weights of the components it contains.
Continental have teamed up with Nuvinci for the gearing in their new motor. Nuvinci’s continuously-variable N-series planetary hub is well established. It’s a clever drive, which uses a drive ring between two rings of ball bearings. Depending on the position of the drive ring, the gear ratio can be continuously varied.
While Nuvinci do their own automatic shifting system, called Harmony, the Continental system is more configurable than Nuvinci’s own. Where with Nuvinci you get to choose between high, medium, and low cadence, the Continental drive allows you to input the exact cadence you want, and the motor and gearing will constantly monitor each other to keep your legs turning at that rate, no matter what the road does.
Ride impressions: Good power and so simple to use
Making bikes easy to use is bound to make them appeal to a wider audience. Not everyone wants to have fine control over their gearing: many people would rather the bike took care of that and they just pedalled it along. That’s exactly what the Continental drive does, and it does it very well.
Setting your cadence is easy: hold down the plus key on the remote, toggle up and down and hit menu to save your setting. I say it’s easy, but that’s with the proviso that it’s useful to know what your normal cadence is, and that’s not something a casual user would know. In many ways Nuvinci’s three-setting system makes more sense.
If you’re at a standstill the gearbox will be in its lowest ratio. As soon as you set off the brain will adjust the gear ratio to keep you at your pedalling cadence. As with the Harmony system there’s a second or so of spinning fast when you set off, and then the gear catches up. But once you’re going it couldn’t be simpler: just pedal. When the road goes up you’ll slow down, and the gear ratio will adjust downwards to compensate. Once it flattens out, or heads downhill, you’ll speed up and your effective gear will go up.
There are four power settings in the system, one through to three and then Boost which is ideal for a quick getaway from the lights and grinding up steeper inclines. There’s plenty of power available from the motor and getting to the top of a hill was never an issue. One issue was that the motor was a bit noisy, but we were riding pre-production prototypes and Continental were aware of that issue; they told us one of the main tasks to get the motor to full production is to make it a bit quieter.
Other than that we had no issues with the drive at all. It’s powerful, relatively compact and both Continental’s motor internals and Nuvinci’s hub internals are proven technology. Systems like this are surely the future of city e-bikes. There’s really no downside and it makes riding even more accessible, to a wider range of people. We expect to see more combined motor and gearing units announced in the next year, from big players in the industry.