- Good power
- Low maintenance
- No gears
- Dim screen
- Battery not removable
Belt-driven, apparently made from guttering downpipes, and with both a Raleigh Burner and a suspension bridge somewhere in its ancestry, the Honbike Uni4 is nothing if not distinctive. And while that may be enough for fashion-forward commuters, it is, for the rest of us, also an excellent ride.
Ours is white, with black also available, but it’s not the colour that’s going to draw attention to the Honbike, rather the asymmetrical construction that is, for once, not the fault of the person who put it together.
Despite this it’s well balanced, and there's a feeling of smooth lines, modernity and neatness about it. It’s a bike you’re going to want to keep clean, display on the wall for Kevin McCloud to raise an eyebrow at while you explain to him that you have no experience in building a three-storey barn conversion out of straw, and ride through the city streets with your coat billowing out behind you while sipping a latte.
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The bike arrives in a mild state of disassembly, but all tools are provided apart from something to snip off the cable ties. Luckily there aren’t that many, and the bike is well protected in transit by some neatly Tetris-ed polystyrene. Nuts are covered by plastic caps that have to be levered out of the way with an Allen key before you can apply the wrench, remove the front axle, and fit the front wheel, the brake disc ensuring you put it on the right way round. The pedals, brilliantly, are attached using a hex key rather than a spanner, and slip onto the cranks easily before being tightened.
As bike building experiences go it’s largely painless, the front mudguard (which uses three small bolts) being the only fiddly part that’s possible to attach wrongly. There's no wiring to connect up, and even the brake cabling is run inside the frame.
At a shade over 20kg it’s no featherweight, but lifting it shouldn’t be too much of a problem, and it can probably be negotiated onto most car racks too.
Controls, screen, front light (the rear light takes AAAs) and battery are completely integrated. The screen is small, a bit dim, limited in function and absolutely hooked on the idea of kilometres. If you want information beyond your immediate speed from the Honbike, you’ll need the company’s phone app, which connects via Bluetooth - but not the ANT+ service used by some cycle computers.
Rubber buttons on the left switch between power levels, and there's a clever integrated mechanical bell on the right. Our yearning for an electric bell that plays Ride of the Valkyries remains unrequited.
The level of assist you’re getting from the 250W rear hub motor is shown by a tiny coloured arrow: blue, green or red. These stand for Eco, City and Sport, and with no gears (a disconcerting situation for someone who’s been riding geared bikes for 30 years), this is all the variation you’ll get. Holding buttons down activates the lights and walk mode, which is also evoked by a throttle lever that in this UK-spec bike has been neutered.
That fabulous asymmetric frame, like something Lady Gaga would wear to an awards ceremony, has one small drawback. It’s quite chunky, so your right calf can brush against it as you turn the pedals. This isn’t going to end your relationship with the bike, as the finish is smooth enough that you slip right by, but it’s going to get you muddy in some situations.
There's also the issue of the integrated battery. You’re not able to carry a spare or source a replacement, and you charge the entire bike rather than snapping the power source off and carrying it indoors. You’re going to need a charging socket in your cycle storage, or a partner who doesn’t mind a bike in the hallway. A range of around 50 miles at least means this is not likely to be something you’ll be doing every day.
The standard saddle is broad and comfortable, but completely replaceable if it doesn’t liaise with your posterior in exactly the right way. This is, however, the only change you’ll be making. While there's a bit of room on the straight handlebars for an additional air horn or searchlight, the frame at the rear isn’t going to allow a rack to be attached. A rear carrier unit that clips to the seatpost is marked as ‘coming soon’ on the Honbike website, where you can also buy replacement parts, chargers, and a bottle holder that sits upright on the frame beneath the saddle.
Honbike’s chunky aesthetic extends to the wheels, which have six thick spokes and roughly treaded 27.5 x 2.0in tyres that are wider than most. Rolling resistance isn’t too much of a problem for e-bikes, and for a leisurely ride like the Uni4, it makes a lot of sense to have the wider wheels. It means gravel tracks and other loose surfaces are within its reach as much as the roads and paved paths are.
The belt drive is also beautifully tailored to its intended audience, the lack of rust and lubricants meaning it’s easier to store and live with, while in motion it’s almost completely silent apart from a whirr from the motor and clicking as you freewheel. Having no gears means you’ll be pedalling quite fast when you hit 15mph, so anyone hoping to whoosh down a cycle path every morning as if being chased might choose to look elsewhere.
The Honbike Uni4 is a great combination of looks and usability, plus a surprisingly reasonable price. The single-speed, belt-driven Tenways CGO600 might be cheaper, but doesn’t look as good, while Vanmoof's e-bikes (Honbike’s main competitor in building bikes out of thick white tubes) cost a lot more. It’s a decent all-rounder that will turn heads wherever you take it, and its smooth and uncomplicated ride makes it an attractive choice.