The Volt Connect is a well-equipped hybrid e-bike that looks ideal for commuting, leisure rides and touring. Most notably it uses a Bafang M200 mid-drive which Bafang class as a “city” mid-drive rated at 65Nm torque — around the same as the highly regarded Bosch Performance Line Gen 3 motor. The motor also weighs around the same as the Performance Line at 3.2kg. Bafang have previously been best known for making reliable budget hub motors. Will the M200 mid-drive be a serious rival to Bosch?
Aside from an intriguing motor, the rest of the spec on the Connect looks promising too. There is a frame integrated 504Wh battery with Samsung cells that comes with a two year warranty, nine Shimano Alivio derailleur gears and Tektro Auriga hydraulic disc brakes.
The Connect runs on Schwalbe Big Ben 27.5" x 2" tyres with K-guard puncture protection, known for their toughness, fitted on Alex rims. There's a Suntour NX1 steel spring suspension unit with the usual relatively small amount of travel found on budget leisure forks.
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There are hardwired and powerful front and rear LED lights, a sturdy rear rack rated at 25kg, full length SKS mudguards and a well-made and effective kickstand. There's also a wheel lock (fairly easily removable if you don't want the extra weight) and lock on grips - both nice practical features.
All in all it's a very comprehensive package.
The Bafang M200 mid-drive system starts to accelerate smoothly as soon as you apply pedal pressure with a very sophisticated feel to the torque sensing giving a very bike-like ride. This is reinforced by the fact that it doesn't feel the most powerful mid-drive out there, so you always get the sense that the bike is responding to human input rather than the motor applying lashings of power in response to the pedals just spinning around - a familiar scenario with many of the more powerful mid-drives.
The effect falls down somewhat when you reach the cut out speed of 15.5mph as the motor power declines dramatically rather than falling away gradually as it does on some other systems. This is a pity as it is surely something that can be remedied with a software tweak. Perhaps Bafang are just being extra strict in applying the 15.5mph law, but the law itself does allow for a progressive reduction in motor power above the speed limit rather than prescribing a sudden cessation of power. It's a pity, as it rather spoils the wonderful, smooth, quiet riding experience that has gone before it.
I don't want to make too much of the cut-out effect; it's only really noticeable in certain situations - usually in the top power level (three of three) and heading up a moderate hill. The 15.5mph limit is reached and as the motor cuts out quite suddenly the hill is suddenly pulling you backwards. On steeper hills where you don't reach max speed, or on easy terrain and in lower power levels, the motor power is super smooth all the time. It's also a lovely bike to ride with no motor assistance, over flat terrain for example.
The Connect's hill climbing performance over our extended hill climb was perfectly adequate without being spectacular - again the rather abrupt cut out slightly marring the performance. The ultra-steep climb was also conquered without any dramas. Again it wasn't the fastest when up against what are clearly designed as more powerful mid drives, but it succeeded in easily cresting the hill where many hub motor e-bikes have failed. This shows how it's not raw power alone that counts, but high torque and a good range of gears.
The range test returned an impressive projected range of around 50 miles over hilly Pennine country and the consumption figure of around 10Wh a mile is very impressive. Despite the lack of out-and-out speed up steeper hills, the M200 is a great hill climber. It felt to be peppier than a Bosch Active Line Plus, especially when in the top power level, but perhaps not quite up to the level of a Bosch Performance Line. It easily climbed 10-15% gradients, its plentiful low speed torque proving very effective when allied with the lower gears of the nine speed Shimano Alivio derailleur gearing.
The display was one of the best I've tried - clear, easy to operate and with all the ususal data fileds plus the less common 'watts' produced by the motor. This showed the motor was capable of outputting a steady 400-500 watts up long, steep climbs - more than enough to get most riders up most hills.
Other performance aspects gave a very smooth ride. Gear shifting and braking were effective and smooth, with plenty of gear range and plenty of nicely modulated power in the brakes. Comfort is generally very good - there's an adjustable stem meaning I could easily attain my desired upright riding position and the combination of 2" wide tyres and fairly soft suspension (it has both compression adjust and lockout features) works very well. My only quibble was the hardness of the suspension seatpost that seemed to be aimed a much heavier riders.
How does the Connect measure up?
What other hybrid touring style e-bikes are in the same price bracket? The recently reviewed Neomouv Adonis 2 is another mid-drive looking to break the mid-motor stranglehold of Bosch, Yamaha et al and it is in a similar price bracket at £2,360. It has a similar sized 504Wh battery with a speedier-up-the-hills Neoassist mid-drive and is similarly well-equipped with extras. Of course only months and years can really prove if these new motor systems are well-made for the long term. If they prove to be so, and the companies can undercut established mid-drives on price, then it could be a trend that shakes up the market.
As we also noted in the Neomouv review, Cube and Haibike are two of the best value ranges using exclusively high quality mid-drives. The 500Wh option of Cube's Touring Hybrid One is £2,599 and the Haibike Trekking range starts at £2,449. Best value of all is Decathlon's Riverside 540E at £1,999.99 with the excellent Shimano E6100 mid-drive. Raleigh's hybrid range starts at £1,900 and all use the lower-powered Bosch mid-drive options.
The Volt Connect is a very comfortable and smooth e-bike to ride and is undoubtedly well-equipped with good quality components. If they could tweak that motor software to give a less abrupt cut out of power and bring the price down just a little it would certainly more than hold its own in the above company.