RIESE & MULLER HOMAGE GT NUVINCI
£4499 with spec as featured
Full suspension e-bike at home in the city or on trail, with lots of options. Richard Peace took in some truly testing terrain, and has, with one reservation, been mightily impressed.
Riese & Müller is a German company best known (at least in their early days) for designing and producing the full-suspension Birdy folding bike. Extremely popular in Germany, the Birdy was up against the Brompton in the UK folding bike market but still scores over the British folder in that it folds down neatly and is full suspension.
In recent years though e-bikes have come to utterly dominate Riese & Müller’s range; indeed the Birdy is now the only non-electric bike that they produce.
R&M bikes are assembled at their factory in Darmstadt near Frankfurt. However, R&M e-bikes are not simply standard diamond frames with an electric assist system bolted on, as many other brands are; R&M e-bikes specialise in distinctive, even funky frames. You might do a double take when you first see the stylish v-shaped frame on the Homage, assuming it is a new futuristic design, but in fact this is just a new interpretation of a classic and venerable Riese & Muller design called the Avenue. This was launched back in 1997 alongside the Culture and the Delite (which have both retained their original names in their new guise as e-bikes). They were launched as a range of bikes combining features of city bikes such as a comfortable upright riding position, step-thru frames and slick tyres with elements of mountain bike technology, most notably a fully-suspended frame, resulting in a range billed as ‘do anything’ bikes. They went on to become iconic frame designs in Germany, synonymous with the innovative and stylish engineering associated with the founders Heiko Müller and Markus Riese.
The E in the E-bike
Fast forward to 2018 and R&M e-bikes have arrived fair and square in the UK, with the company dealing directly with some 35 dealers here (mainly specialist e-bike outlets but also some ‘regular’ bike shops). What’s at the heart of this new found success?
First up, E-bikes are now booming in the UK – in a relative terms at least. UK e-bike sales are guestimated to be around 10% of all bikes sold here whilst in Germany (a market roughly twice the size of the UK) over 20% of new bike buyers plump for an e-bike, with the percentages rising all the time. Still, from what was almost total obscurity in the UK a few years ago, e-bikes are now standard fare in a large number of bike shops across the land, as once sceptical dealers have been won over by the newer breed of reliable electric assist systems and the greater backup available from manufacturers and distributors.
A second factor has to be the greater performance, visual attractiveness, quality and reliability of e-bikes themselves, all typified by the Homage model I tested.
At its heart is a top of the line crank motor, Bosch’s Performance Line CX. Being a crank motor it works by amplifying your pedal effort and the level of ‘boost’ applied is determined by the power setting you have selected using the control buttons on the handlebar control (conveniently located next to your left thumb so you don’t even have to take a hand off the bars to change power up and down the power scale). The lowest level of assist, the so-called Eco setting, tops up your pedal power by 50% of the effort you are putting in, whilst the highest Turbo setting provides 300% extra power, allowing you to zoom up very steep hills as if you were on the flat – quite an astonishing sensation the first time you try it. With 75 Nm (Newton metres) of torque deliverable from the motor quick acceleration of steep hills, even from a standing start is no problem.
Other premium makes of crank motor include Shimano and Yamaha. The key factor here is that the Homage uses a premium crank motor, and one of the most powerful ones at that. There are hub motor e-bikes out there but they tend to be at the more budget end of the scale. If it’s the even application of electric assist over the full range of the gears you want, a good quality crank motor (allied with a good quality torque sensor, which all these systems have) is generally superior in performance to a hub motor system.
The New Twist on the Old Classic
As you may well have deduced from what’s been written thus far, it’s the bike design itself, rather than the choice of motor system (excellent though that is) that really makes the Homage stand out. Looking at pictures from 1999 of the original non-electric models, it’s clear today’s e-bike frames have been more than beefed up – testified by the fact that the Homage is weighty, even by e-bike standards at just shy of 30kg.
It’s not just the superchunky, super-stiff frames that have added weight; Nuvinci hub gear shifting technology is used on this model which also adds weight compared to other gear systems (derailleur and hub gear variants are available though if you prefer them). This clever technology delivers continuously variable gear changing; just twist the grip shifter (whilst not pedalling) and seamlessly move up and down the gear range with no steps. See the video here for a more detailed explanation. Then there are the superwide Schwalbe mountainbike size (27.5 x 2.4 inches) Super Moto-X tyres. These are wide, low pressure but free-rolling on tarmac and capable of trail riding too.
There are two frame sizes of 49cm and 58cm but with plenty of vertical adjustment on the saddle and a small amount of fore and aft adjustment on the handlebars due to their raised profile. All this means you should be able to achieve a very comfortable seating position. My test model was 48cm and at 5’8” I was able to comfortably fit on – it would certainly take a smaller rider quite easily (R&M say down to 5’5”).
Range is perhaps the only disappointing aspect of this kind of bike, but hardly surprising as these e-bikes are built for super strength and reliability, not lightness or efficiency. I estimated a range of around 20-25 miles over off-road Pennine terrain around Hebden Bridge, carrying my 67kg frame, (actually, if you know how tortuous some of the gradients are in this mountain biking Mecca of an area, perhaps 20-25 miles actually seems reasonable on such a solidly constructed machine). The manufacturers generally don't specify ranges but I also managed 32 miles on often hilly tarmac. Extrapolating that I would guess 40 miles plus could easily be realistic for a 68kg rider, like myself, who is careful with the power settings. Of course its always possible to buy an extra battery (or two even, if you have very deep pockets) to extend your range as much as required.
This would make a great touring e-bike; it would take plenty of load, is comfortable for long hours in the saddle and tackles just about any surface bar real hardcore mountain biking tacks. Other gearing options include 11-speed derailleur or a Rohloff hub.
The slicks are also perfectly capable on tarmac. Add to that fact the comfortable riding position, super-powerful LED lighting (powered from the main battery), high quality mudguards, ABUS Bordo folding lock and kickstand and you really do have a fine do-it-all e-bike. If you want to e-bike primarily off-road there’s always the option of changing the slicks to mtb tyres – there is a wide choice available at this 27.5” size.
It’s also worth noting that, in off-road terms, R&M e-bikes with a GT in the name like my test bike are rated for ‘light’ off-road use only, though as I say, I found it pretty capable on rocky and muddy packhorse trails. The GT actually stands for Gran Turismo. Models rated GX will have very slightly narrower tyres but with an off-road tread, whilst models with ‘Mountain’ in the title have wider tyres and a knobblies, as you might expect. Those rated GH are super strong, with a gross weight capacity of 160kg. The models are configurable with different gear, display and suspension options on offer.
Total weight with battery 29.4kg
Battery weight 2.6kg
Weight of bike w/o battery 26.8kg
Battery capacity 500Wh
Tyres 27,5‘‘ Schwalbe Super Moto-X 62-584 Reflex
Brakes Shimano Deore Hydraulic Disc Brakes
Battery recharge time Around 2 hours for a 50% charge and 4.5 hours for a full charge.
£4499 with spec as featured.
Full list of dealers here
PUBLISHED MAY 2018