Gazelle's New Ammo for the E-Bike Revolution

The Dutch bike builder brings new bikes to the American market.

Riding Gazelle C380 Bikes
C380 bikes.

Gazelle

We are in the middle of an electric bike spike, maybe even a revolution where e-bikes have been accepted as a serious mode of transportation. It has lagged about a decade behind Europe thanks to incoherent regulation and a lack of supporting infrastructure but got a serious boost from the pandemic. Americans seem to prioritize power and price, and almost half the e-bike market is online sales of Asian-made bikes with rear-hub motors.

Then there is Gazelle, who has been making Dutch-style "comfort bikes" for 128 years. James Schwartz once threw a few adjectives at them: "sturdy, comfortable, low maintenance, practical, pragmatic, stylish and heavy." They are upright or "sit up" style with tall frames, great visibility, and great comfort.

Gazelle under the bentway

Lloyd Alter

When Gazelle started building e-bikes, they kept all of those attributes, stuck a battery on the back, and added bulletproof Bosch drives on the bottom. I test-drove one a few years ago, fell in love, and bought it. But the American market is a bit different, and less interested in the Omafiets (Grandma's bike) design, so Gazelle has been developing more contemporary models, and just introduced two new models in its Ultimate series, the C8 and the C380.

Gazelle Ultimate C8
Gazelle Ultimate C8.

Gazelle

The new models don't look like Dutch-style bikes but have most of the attributes. They "marry elegant design, supreme comfort, effortless shifting, and exciting technology, creating a delightful riding experience across town, or on longer touring adventures." The battery has been moved from the rear carrier to the down tube, lowering the center of gravity and cleaning up the appearance, but it is still a step-through design that Gazelle describes as having a "confidence-boosting stability on the road with a low center of gravity and exceptional frame stiffness, and an easy, upright posture." These are under-rated attributes; when you are out on city streets every day and you are not a bike-racing type you want stability and stiffness.

Shimano enclosed hub with belt drive
Shimano enclosed hub with belt drive.

Gazelle

While the usual Dutch-style bikes are low maintenance, these bikes improve on them with belt drives instead of chains (no more chain oil on your pants!) and on the C8, an enclosed Shimano Nexus 8-speed hub gear shift. A great thing about this hub is that you can shift gears when the bike is stopped; I often forget to downshift when I come to a red light, and have a big push to get started again.

Bosch Performance Line Mid-drive
Bosch Performance Line Mid-drive.

Bosch

These are Class-1 pedal-assist bikes without throttles and don't push the bike past 20 MPH. The C8 has the Bosch Active Line Plus drive that kicks out 50Nm of torque.

C380 E-bike leaning on stairs
C380.

Gazelle

Torque is the rotational power of a motor, and the higher the torque, the better the acceleration, especially when getting going from a stop. The Ultimate 380 e-bike has the upgraded Bosch Performance Line with 65 Nm of torque for an extra boost.

But what really turns my crank about the Ultimate 380 is the Enviolo 380 Continuously Variable Drive, essentially an automatic transmission for your bike. I had no idea such a thing existed! You just decide how fast you want to pedal (the cadence) and "the transmission is controlled automatically so that you can always pedal at the same pace, even up or downhill." Or you can turn off the automatic and roll it manually but without steps. "Just twist the shifter slightly on the handlebar and the gear ratio is changed to any ratio within its range. This is easy to do, no matter if you are freewheeling, pedaling under load or waiting at a stoplight." It's also totally sealed and low-maintenance.

I have not tried this bike with this drive, but imagine that it is a wonderful combination for comfort and ease of use. No worries about gears or throttles or anything; just pedal lightly, and between the sensors in the Bosch drive and the transmission, the bike just goes. It sounds like a dream.

These bikes are not cheap, with the C8 selling for $3,499 and the C380 for $3,999. But they are not toys; they are serious machines designed and built to work as dependable transportation for years, in all conditions, like bikes are expected to do in the Netherlands. They are not the flashiest or the fastest e-bike you can buy, but they are timeless, and your kids will be riding it someday.

A Note About Locking Your E-bike

Axa Lock on Gazelle C380
Axa Lock on Gazelle C380.

Gazelle

I have noted previously that there are three things we need for the e-bike revolution: good bikes, a safe place to ride, and a secure place to park. Using a $4500 bike for commuting is worrisome if you don't have a secure lockup for it. The Gazelles come with a wheel lock, but it is not enough.

Axa Lock with Cable
Cable in Axa Lock.

Lloyd Alter

However, those AXA wheel locks have a neat trick that I learned about from a reader: you can buy chains or cables that have pins that go into a socket on the side of the lock opposite the key. Then you can fasten the bike to something solid. I also use a D-lock or a plate lock (or all three) on top of that. I am still not totally comfortable, but that's cycling life in North America.