This isn’t the first bike we’ve tried from Bristol Bicycles. Last year we reviewed the S’Park Street model and it scored very well indeed. The E-Touring is twice the price in this all-singing-all-dancing city touring build; but thankfully it's also a really good bike, especially if you’re planning on moving more than just yourself, or the terrain is challenging where you live.
Before even swinging a leg over, the first thing that struck me was how beautifully set up and tuned the bike was. In this respect, this is the best bike I've tested so far. A lot of effort must have gone into building up the bike prior to delivery. Nothing rattled, squeaked or needed any extra attention or adjustments. Although several components – the rear derailleur for example – are not top-of-the-range b any means, they have been carefully installed and adjusted so the whole bike still has a fantastically high quality ride feel, and it looks great.
The frame I was testing was the small step-through model; there’s also a bigger version with a double-diamond frame too. To me it still feels like quite a large bike, although I think a good compromise has been made to accommodate a wide range of people. Bristol Bicycles say it's suitable for a height range between 152cm and 176cm, and at 167cm tall I fall in the middle of that range.
The bike has a sit-up-and-beg ride position typical of many city bikes, which means I was not at all struggling with the reach. When standing next to the bike however, it still feels like quite a tall bike with a long head tube that puts you high up from the ground. Stepping off the saddle and straddling the top tube, the frame feels quite compact; there is not much standing space between the saddle and the diagonal crossbar. I often ended up swinging my leg back over as I would on my normal bike which has a regular crossbar. If you need a low step through, the E-Touring probably isn't the bike for you.
The frame is very good looking with the batteries and motor system well integrated. I even received some compliments from other cyclists about my nice ride! The paint finish and logo are subtle, minimalist and contribute to that high-quality feel.
Load-carrying is always important for me when reviewing a city bike like this one, and Bristol Bicycles caters well for this by allowing you to customise many of the components when you order - the price starts from £2,450, but the price of our build includes extras such as pannier racks. You can add these when you order from Bristol Bicycles at point of purchase on their website (and in their Jake's Bikes store in Bristol of course) with options to customise the handlebars, saddle, pedals and lights.
The version I was testing had the basic rear rack, which was nowhere near strong enough for my family shopping trips, partly because the long struts fixing the rack to the seatstays were very flexy. A heavy-duty version is available for only £10 more, which would likely have done the job perfectly well. I didn't have front racks on the test bike but these can also be selected, and I would probably choose to have them included if I was buying one. My personal preference is to be able to balance a bike which is heavily loaded. I am slightly mystified as to how these front racks can be mounted though, as the front fork looks like it only has very limited lugs.
I’ve not tested a Brose drive system before, and I was very impressed by how quiet and smooth system is. It feels like a very natural city bike to ride, and it allows you to input quite a bit of pedal power (should you want to), especially when in the lowest setting. I found the maximum assist a little disappointing considering the motor has a high torque output, and it doesn't appear to deliver the instant acceleration I've experienced on top-of-the-range Bosch systems; nor does it quite achieve some of the high speeds I’ve experienced going uphill with such systems.
The motor power is easily sufficient for steep hills, and the battery seems to last a long time. I would probably ask for a more wide-ranging cassette for our very steep and hilly city, as the lowest gear wasn’t quite low enough for the steepest hills here in Bath; but for flatter terrain, it would be fine. The charging socket is easy to access with a little magnetic plug that provides a nice detail.
The screen interface unit is quite small, which means the bike doesn’t stand out as an e-bike too much if that matters to you; however, this does mean it might be a bit difficult to read for some of us, and I struggled sometimes with changing the power level. The buttons were a little sensitive and I was often skipping two levels when I just wanted to nudge it up one. It was only an issue changing it whilst riding.
Some of the details were great: the pedals, the saddle, the mudguards. The lights are okay for summer evenings, but maybe not powerful enough for winter riding. The brakes were great: just powerful, smooth, and reliable. This would boost the confidence of any inexperienced e-bike rider.
Overall, the customisation options, the super-quiet Brose motor and attention-to-detail in the setting up of the Bristol Bicycles E-Touring could make it a serious contender if you're looking for a very capable city/touring e-bike. Because it comes from a small UK-based company, I imagine there will be lots of advantages to this, from the personal touches to the extra level of service you often get from an LBS.