As black as Batman’s socks (but also available in a glorious lipstick red), the Levit Tumbi is a distinctive e-bike with a universal frame, thick tyres and a rack on the back that’s designed for comfortable travel on smooth infrastructure.
As long as you can go in a straight line, that is. It's not a bike that likes to change direction quickly, which is less of a complaint when you consider that you won't be going particularly fast to begin with. Not that you can tell, as the LCD display doesn’t do anything as sophisticated a measure speed or distance, preoccupying itself purely with matters of battery level and assistance setting, as well as allowing you to turn the integrated lights on and off by pressing and holding a button.
The LCD sits on the left, with a gear shifter on the right that moves across seven sprockets. It’s a simple enough system to get your head around, though it did make us wonder when we’ll see a consumer-level e-bike with a symmetrical arrangement; some sort of electric gear shifting mechanism allowing for digital displays on both handlebars. That’s for the future, however, and what we have now works perfectly well.
The side-pull block brakes are soft, and immediately set up a yowl on one of the driest days of the year. The handlebars, with their long sweep into something like cattle horns, feel disconnected from the actual action of steering which, on our review model, wasn’t improved by tightening the hex nut. This, combined with the motor’s tendency to activate half a second later than we expected it to, led to some wobbly moments as we pushed off from the kerb. Likewise the Microshift 7-speed drivetrain, which changes gear easily enough, could do with an extra notch in both directions. There's a feeling of ‘almost’ about the Tumbi.
Then again, maybe you just have to ride it on its own terms. This isn’t an e-bike designed to splash through the potholes or hop over rocks. It has a rear hub motor, known as a Levit HD, instead of a mid-mounted unit. Not particularly fast, rugged or nimble, it’s a bike for smooth cycleways and wide paths, where it excels at its main purpose, gliding sedately along leafy suburban cycle lanes, picnic loaded onto the useful rack on the rear. The saddle features a quick-release catch to adjust its height instead of fumbling with a hex key, connecting the charger is simplicity itself, mudguards and kickstand are integrated, and while we may have moaned about the lack of options on the LCD, there's enough information there to get you to your destination.
The bike is light enough to lift easily, and there are definite benefits to the frame shape other than its deference to Victorian modesty. It makes it simple to get on and off no matter what you're wearing, meaning you can ride it to a pub, or the office, without worrying too much about the state of your trousers. The funny thing about riding a universal-framed bike is that, if you’re used to a crossbar, you really miss it. It feels like there's a yawning chasm in front of you that you’re going to fall into, and how can the bike possibly retain stiffness with nothing in the middle? Surely it’s going to fold up at any second?
These fears don’t last for long, however. The bike doesn’t fold up (something longer-distance travellers might like to note, however, is that the lack of a crossbar can make it tricky to fit on a two-pronged car carrier), and you don’t fall forwards into the chain rings. Or at least we didn’t. The name ‘Tumbi’ possibly doesn’t help here, being far too close to ‘tumble’. Any implications for the frame’s stiffness are just not going to matter too much on a bike that’s not going more than about 12mph. Adopt a suitable position, merrily ring the bell and say good morning to the vicar, and you’ll still get a great e-bike experience from the Tumbi. The 468Wh battery appears to be long-lasting, and the power is there if you request it, multiplying the effort you put in.
Stone age man would understand. He used force multipliers to bring down mighty aurochs and bison, we use them to bring home agreeable rosé from Waitrose, but it’s exactly the same thing: using our big brains and technology to make our difficulties melt away. And bikes like the Tumbi do exactly that, miles and slopes that would otherwise have prevented people from cycling are suddenly no problem, the idea of cycling somewhere becomes as second-nature as hopping in the car. It’s a gateway bike into the world of active transport, and despite shortcomings that may put off those for whom tight-fitting clothing comes naturally, will make those who do choose it very happy.