I'm forever spoiled for other electric bikes. Sure, it only comes in one color (Viper Red), and it costs $5000, but this bike is Trek at its best.
One of the more enjoyable, and instructive, elements of covering electric mobility regularly is that once in a while, I get to actually get behind the wheel, or in the saddle in this case, of a product and see how it performs in the 'real world'. Although looking at images, reading spec sheets, and watching videos of e-bikes and scooters can be informative on a very basic level, especially when comparing the details of similar models, there's nothing like a hands-on interaction for getting a real feel for the product. I recently got to spend some time riding Trek's Super Commuter+ 8S around my neck of the woods, and quite frankly, I really did not want to give it back. However, seeing as I wanted to stay in the good graces of both TreeHugger and Trek, I thought it best to return the review bike...
As it happened, I was still in possession of a loaner unit of the Copenhagen Wheel when I got the call to pick up the Super Commuter+ 8S, so I had the unique opportunity to trade off between one extreme (an all-in-one drop-in electric bike wheel) and another (a purpose-built e-bike developed by a legacy bicycle company) for about a week. All told, while I really enjoyed the Copenhagen Wheel, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a drop-dead simple e-bike conversion, I absolutely fell in love with the Super Commuter+ 8S. That might seem like a strong statement to make about a bicycle, but those of you who have a soft spot for pedal-powered machines know what I'm talking about.The Super Commuter+ is built on an aluminum frame with a carbon fiber front fork, and it integrates a 350W Bosch Performance Speed mid-mounted motor powered by a 36V 500Wh Bosch lithium-ion battery pack mounted on the down tube. The bike has a range per charge of up to 92 miles, depending on the riding mode and the terrain of the route, with a total charge time of about 4.5 hours. A control unit and display on the handlebars allows for quick access to ride and bike data, as well as selection of the pedal-assist mode (Eco, Tour, Sport, Turbo).
It weighs in at about 52 pounds, features Schwalbe Super Moto-X 2.4" tires, includes a Shimano XT/11-speed drivetrain and has dual Shimano Deore hydraulic disc brakes for stopping power. A large LED headlight and small red LED taillights help with visibility, and front and rear fenders help keep most of the road grime off the rider, while the low-riser Bontrager handlebar and Satellite Elite grips offer a comfortable and effective hand position while riding. The removable battery pack can be charged either on or off the bike, and a lock secures the battery to the bike.
My first impression was that the brilliant red color scheme and fluid lines of the Super Commuter+ frame sure do draw the eye, and although the frame appeared somewhat bulky when compared to a conventional road (or even mountain) bike, a quick ride was all it took to confirm that this bike was anything but sluggish or heavy on the road. The ride quality was excellent, with the Super Commuter feeling absolutely solid beneath me, and not a rattle was to be heard even when riding at speed on my bumpy dirt road. The 27.5" fat tires just ate up the road, and evened out all but the biggest potholes, and even though there is no suspension on the bike, it made for a smooth and controlled ride.
Riding the Super Commuter+ with the electric drive system completely off doesn't feel hard or heavy, and with 11 gears, it's certainly possible to ride it manually across a variety of terrain, but once I got a taste of the pedal assist from the bike, it was kind of game over for me. Even on the lowest setting, the bike's drivetrain was sufficient to boost my efforts significantly, whereas putting it in Turbo mode took almost all of the work out of pedaling. Because there's no throttle mode, the rider still has to spin the pedals, shift the gears, and 'control' the amount of power coming out of the drive system, but on the highest power level, the amount of effort required is almost ridiculously small. Going up a steep hill, I just had to shift down into a lower gear to keep my cadence up, and the bike responded appropriately to keep me moving uphill at speed, with no sluggishness.
The way that the electric pedal assist system kicks in is pretty amazing, considering the full amount of power that's available in the unit, because it not only responds to the rider pedaling quicker, but it also responds in proportion to the amount of force put into the cranks. Mashing on the pedals and shifting through the higher gears will result in a rapid pick-up in speed, but done so smoothly that there's no feeling of being propelled faster than you'd like (which is something that some throttle electric bikes and scooters are prone to). However, the bike does have a top speed of about 28 mph, so if you're not used to going that fast on a bicycle, there are some adjustments to be made (like making sure your helmet is on and buckled).
This bike has a lot of power, and can outpace cars when taking off from a dead stop, which makes it a lot of fun to ride, and the drive system is very quiet - a slight electric motor 'hum' is audible when riding on a very smooth road, but quickly becomes unnoticeable unless you're trying to listen for it. The hydraulic disc brakes are bombproof, and capable of bringing the bike to a rapid stop if desired, which is really important when your 52-pound bike is capable of getting up to 25+ miles per hour. The weight of the bike sounds heavy, but I could easily lift and mount and unload it from my car's rear bike carrier with no problem, although if multiple flights of stairs were part of my daily routine, I'm not so sure I'd enjoy hauling it up and down those as part of my commute.
Because my cameraman (and wardrobe and hair crew) had the day off, I didn't film any of the Super Commuter+ 8S, but this promo video for the bike offers a glimpse of the bike in motion:
Although the Super Commuter+ is an impressive bike, there were a few aspects of the bike that weren't exactly perfect, such as the rack system on the rear, which mostly just secures the fender (and possibly supports pannier bags) [Edit: Per Trek, "The weight capacity is 15kg/33lbs and it holds most panniers. It also has the eyelet at the base for easy strapping bungees."], but which isn't set up to carry anything on top of. For a daily commuter bike, I'd be looking for more carrying capacity, and perhaps a rear rack could be attached to this bike to increase the carrying capacity, or it could be paired with a small trailer for hauling groceries or other cargo. The other less than desirable aspect of the bike is its color scheme, because it only comes in one color, Viper Red, and while I happen to like that color on a bike, not everyone wants to ride a blazing red bike.
And now for the nitty-gritty: The real sticky point on this Trek is its retail price, which is about $5000. I can't argue that the bike isn't worth that much, as it's a well-designed and manufactured bike from a leading bike company with tons of experience and an extensive parts and service infrastructure, and the Super Commuter+ 8S certainly rides like the premium e-bike that it is. However, the divide between those who can and would spend five grand on a bicycle of any kind and those who can't and won't is a big one, and even though this could be a car-killer with some added carrying capacity, the financial return on a five thousand dollar e-bike for avoided gas, insurance, and parking costs can take quite some time to manifest.
That said, those in the market for a well-engineered and high-quality electric bike, and who don't mind paying more upfront for the benefits of a quick clean transport option (and one that's also a hoot to ride) might consider taking the Super Commuter+ for a test ride, as it's a very worthy contender for a daily commuter bike.
[Disclosure: I was loaned a Trek Super Commuter+ 8S for review purposes, which I sorrowfully returned to the company afterward, but all opinions, errors, or omissions in this review are mine alone.]