Orbea Gain: Re-Thinking the Ebike

Orbea Gain: Re-Thinking the Ebike

As a concept, I like ebikes. I’ve got an ecargo bike or a cargo ebike—I’m not sure which to call it. As a matter of practical and almost zero carbon footprint transportation, they are hard to beat. I like that ebikes have the ability to drive more people into bike shops and make both the bike industry and the nation healthier. No downsides. And if ebike owners start to notice the rest of us when we’re out on the road, rather than running us over, that’s another big win.

But road ebikes have flummoxed me. They are heavy enough that you wouldn’t want to put them on a roof rack. They are also heavy enough that if the battery dies mid-ride, there’s the insult of going from riding 20 mph with friends to doing 9 mph on your own. Honestly, you’re going Über your way home, rather than pedal all that weight while also overcoming the drag of the mid-drive motor. The one event where I saw someone riding an ebike was long enough that the rider was unable to finish after running out of battery on the signature climb of the day. So while I don’t have anything against them, I don’t see them as effective a solution as some other applications of that technology.

But I keep my eye on this space because aging. So far, this aging thing isn’t really working out how I’d like. My eyes aren’t what they used to be and Buddha knows I’m not as fast as I used to be. I don’t need help riding, but if this keeps up the way it’s going, I’m probably going to die, though I hope not for another 35 or 40 years, because sons.

Orbea introduced a bike to us last week that has made me look at the road ebike with a different outlook. Called the Gain, it moves in the opposite direction of most innovation. Rather than going bigger and more powerful, the Gain shrinks the components. The motor is smaller and, accordingly, the battery is smaller.

The thinking is reasonably simple: if the bike isn’t so heavy, you won’t need such a powerful motor and if the motor isn’t so powerful, the battery won’t have to be so big, so the bike won’t be so heavy.

The joke we made about the hub motor was whether we could pass it off as a PowerTap hub. That the motor’s diameter was smaller than that of both the cassette and the rotor helped to make the bike look more “normal” to our eyes. Inconspicuous continues to be a selling point with most new technologies.

There’s no turbo boost button, just four modes—off, plus three levels of assist. The mode button is built into the top tube to keep the handlebar uncluttered.

The battery resides within the down tube and while I don’t think placing the charging port at the bottom bracket/seat tube junction was maybe the best location, the design is sleek and attractive.

Orbea’s Gain product manager says that in their testing they completed a 100km ride with 1000m of climbing, so it’s got range.

When a group of us took them out along with a friend of mine (who lives at elevation) who rode the sort of bike we all ordinarily pedal, I could keep up with him, something I would not otherwise have been able to do at 6000 feet. I got back feeling like I’d been out for a relatively easy ride, which is precisely not how I ordinarily feel following any ride at altitude.

We’ve heard all the rationales for people on performance-oriented ebikes: disability, recovery from injury, mismatch in fitness levels, etc. I look at this bike and I think about what my life might have been like if my father or mother had been a rider and how this might have given me added years of riding with them. And then I think about what could still come to pass with my own sons, who will will be kicking my butt in less than 10 years.

Final thought: Father’s little helper.

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  1. scottg

    Finally we can buy actual Team Sky bikes, thanks Orbea.
    [cheap shot mode off]

    Q, does this bike have regeneration modes, regen braking is very nice
    on hills and boosts the range. Regen 1 (lightest setting) is a good way
    to get a workout on the flats or shallow rollers. A 60 mile rated bike
    with regen, will go 60 miles, climb a couple thousand feet and still
    have 40% battery left. (late great Bionix 350w 8.8ah battery, 45lb all up weight
    on a Surly Troll)

    1. Author

      As Corky mentions, there’s no regeneration mode, which would be handy. But there will definitely be an extra bottle battery (fits in a bottle cage), but that begs the question of how you stay hydrated with only one bottle.

  2. Brian Ogilvie

    My wife and I have been thinking seriously about an ebike for her, so we can go out for long rides together without complex negotiations about speed and hills. This one looks like it might be a winner. FWIW, e-mountain bikes were popular in the Austrian Alps when I was there last summer; they even had recharging stations on some of the trails near Zell am See.

  3. Corky McButterpants

    @Kzw: “Maybe you only need half the water if your legs are only doing half the work! 🙂”
    Nice one.

    @Padraig – they kept talking about the bottle battery with the 2018 models… I’d take that with a pinch of salt until you see actual stock; or at least a demo example.

  4. Adrian

    Do you notice any drag from the motor when it is turned off, for example when the road is flat? Also, how heavy is the charging cable/transformer? i can see taking it along for the ride, so you can charge up during lunch break.

    1. Author

      One of the advantages of a wheel-based motor is that there almost no motor drag when it’s not running, unlike a motor that works with the crank, such as Bosch’s system. I didn’t have a chance to check out the charging setup, but all of them I’ve encountered so far would necessitate a backpack and a leisurely sit-down lunch.

  5. Ron

    The Fazua motor/battery combo found in the Focus Paralane is located at the crank and doesn’t have any lag when the motor isn’t running.

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