Every now and then you need to go to Italy and ride bikes in the sunshine. Or, at least, I do. This time I persuaded the nice folks at Bianchi to lend me their new Manhattan city e-bike for the week, and I'm glad I did: it's a very nicely-specced fast urban bike that's fun to ride and built to last. It comes recommended if you're looking for something nimble for urban or leisure use.
Bianchi's Manhattan range consists of four bikes: two different builds in two different frame designs. There's a standard diamond frame (the one being tested here) and a slightly lower step version that Bianchi call a Unisex frame. The down tube mounting of the battery limits the amount that they can drop the top tube, but it'll make it a bit easier to swing a leg over.
Shimano XT gearing is high quality and dependable stuff
Build-wise, both bikes are pretty high spec. This derailleur-geared version gets a Shimano XT 10-speed drivetrain, Shimano hydraulic brakes and decent-looking Tec Sport wheels. That little lot will set you back £2,799. There's also a hub-geared version using Shimano's excellent Alfine 8-speed unit, which is £200 more.
The frame is nicely built with smoothed welds
Both bikes use the same alloy frame and fork, and both feature Shimano's STEPS city motor with a 400Wh down tube battery and the larger of the two LCD displays. With 50Nm of torque on hand Shimano's E6000 motor is well up to the task of hauling you up the hills, and we've found that the direct drive nature of the motor means that it's a bit more pleasant to ride without power than its main competitor, the Bosch Active Line. That easy rolling is certainly helped here by the 37mm slick tyres which also add a touch of comfort to what's a fairly stiff bike.
Spectra tyres were a new one on us but they performed well
Like the Raleigh Strada E we tested last year the Bianchi is a stripped-back affair. There are no mudguards (save for a splashguard in front of the motor) and no chain guard either, marking it out as more of a fair-weather leisure bike than a full-on all-year commuter. That being said there are mounting points for mudguards front and rear if you want to weatherproof the Manhattan. You do get a kickstand for easy parking. The lack of accoutrements, along with the lightweight drivetrain and wheels, make the whole package pretty manageable in terms of weight, coming in a shade over 20kg.
Dave says: The position of the Manhattan is a bit more purposeful than your standard city e-bike: it feels like a bike that's designed to be nimble and quick, and it delivers on that promise. The ride is certainly firm – there's no suspension fork or seatpost here – but even on the very varied tarmac of Emilia-Romagna (it's even worse than the UK!) the bike never felt uncomfortable, thanks in no small part to the 37mm Spectra tyres that are fast-rolling but with enough air in them to take the sting out of bad surfaces. It's not like sitting on the sofa, but it's not harsh either. At the front the good-quality grips help too.
Shimano's remote is easy to use
Shimano's E6000 system doesn't hold any surprises: it's a good quality motor that makes mincemeat of pretty much any climb. The three assist levels offer you a good balance of range and power, and the fact that there's not too much noticeable drag in the drivetrain means that it's more likely you'll just turn the motor off on the flat. That's especially true here: the light weight of the bike and the fast feel mean that it's not hard to wind the bike up to the 25km/h assistance limit.
When you do point the bike uphill the bar-mounted remote is easy to use, allowing you to flick through the modes as the going gets tougher. It's one of the better controls out there, intuitive enough that you can move from lower to higher assistance (or vice versa) without taking your eyes off the road. There's a third button on the remote that changes the information on the display and you get the usual mix of bike computer functions and e-bike-specific stuff, including a range indicator that I've generally found to be pretty good.
The LCD display gives you plenty of info
The 11-36 tooth cassette isn't the widest you can get – the XT rear mech can handle a 42-tooth big sprocket – but it gave enough range for cruising and climbing, and I didn't feel that the bike was over- or undergeared, the range is about right. The gears worked flawlessly thoughout; the shifter is a lower-spec Deore unit but I had no problems with it at all. Stopping the bike courtesy of the Shimano hydraulic brakes is easy and confidence-inspiring. Again, they're not the highest-spec brakes you can get but functionally I didn't have any issues at all.
All in all the Manhattan is a great bike for cruising about in the sunshine. It's fast and pretty nimble on the roads, and the tyres will cope with the odd towpath or fire road excursion too. One strange omission is the lack of any bottle bosses: in the 25° heat of Italy in June I could have done with somewhere to put a water bottle, even if the bike was doing the lion's share of the work. It seems crazy to not have any when there's space on the seat tube to fit them. It's fairly easily remedied with something like Zefal's Gizmo mount but it's not ideal.
That's a fairly minor gripe in the grand scheme of things and overall the Manhattan was fun to ride with good quality kit and a powerful motor. It edges out the Raleigh Strada E for me in terms of the ride and the overall look and feel, although the Raleigh scores much better on value with an electronic shifting rear hub for £2,500.
Riding along the flat didn't need any help from the motor
Vicki says: The thing that I noticed first about the Bianchi was that it was really easy to ride, and change the asisstance mode and display as you go. There are only three speed settings, but the bike was very responsive and great to ride through the Italian hills. That was definitely helped by it being much lighter than other bikes I'd tried. I found the bike comfortable, including the quite sporty saddle. Controls-wise I found the gears and brakes a little tight for space on the right handlebar, but I got used to it, and if I'd had the bike for longer I'd have probably got the controls adjusted to give myself a bit more room.
The motor performed brilliantly, with no problems. It's a very responsive system, and as you get a really good range on the eco setting and only turn it up for the climbs, the battery lasted really well. I did a 45km loop on the Manhattan into Rimini and back through the hills and only used up about 20% of the battery: on the flat I was happy to ride the bike without powere, although I could have done with somewhere to put my water bottle!
The Shimano city motor is a great all-rounder
Overall it's an easy, enjoyable bike to ride, would make a great commuter bike. I'm mostly a fair-weather cyclist so the lack of mudguards wouldn't bother me...