Hands-on review: WAU X Plus electric bike
A bike that is unashamedly electric, with a sharp motor and 100-mile range.
WAU has a single electric bike model on the market at one time and has recently discontinued the WAU X and replaced it with the WAU X Plus, the model under review here.
First thing that strikes you as you haul it out of its box is that it is heavy – a really solid bit of kit. This makes it feel well-made, but weight is not the friend of the cyclist. More on this later.
The box didn’t contain the instruction book, presumably because it was a review sample that had passed through other reviewers' hands before me. However, anyone who is acquainted with tinkering around a bike with an allen key would have had no problem putting on the front wheel, pedals and aligning the front fork. In other words, setup is not difficult.
So, as you stand back and admire your fully assembled purchase, here is a big issue. What the bike looks like. There is a trend for e-bikes to try as much as possible to hide the battery within the frame of the bike – an easier task when that bike has the mountain or hybrid chunkier format. And while that is very much the style of the WAU bike, there is no effort to hide the battery away. It conspicuously fills the triangular gap in the centre of the frame, and why not – it is a space not used for anything else. There is no question to the casual onlooker that this is an e-bike.
That may not be a problem to most people, but to a few it might. This article is not about the considerable pros and largely dismissible cons to electric bike ownership, but there remains a proportion of e-bike cyclists who would quite like to be considered cyclists and the e-bike as a slight betrayal to the cycling fraternity. If this resonates with you then maybe the WAU bike is not the ideal choice. If you are ready to embrace e-bikes, with the opportunities and freedoms they can present to people of many physical conditions, then the design makes a positive statement – this is unashamedly an e-bike and wants to be recognised as such.
One of the key concerns of potential users of e-bikes (as with electric cars) is range anxiety. Unlike an electric car, which is inoperable once discharged, an e-bike is still a bike. As mentioned at the beginning, this is a heavy bike, so does that make it of limited use? Far from it, in fact. Although weighing in at around 30kg - approximately twice the weight of this reviewer’s road bike loaded with rack and paniers - it is a well-engineered machine.
The WAU bike offers eight gears, compared to the typical 30 or so on a traditional bike, but these gears cover a similar range, albeit in bigger chunks. The gears are made by Shimano – standard on quality push bikes. Steep hills, even on such a heavy bike, are therefore perfectly doable. Surprisingly, it is the big gears where it feels it could do with another one on top, when speeding downhill.
This is probably more of reassurance – you will never be stranded - than practical use to the target customer of the WAU bike, because this is a bike that will be mainly used in electric mode.
Once the bike has been switched on there is a choice of having the motor off or in one of five active settings. Like all e-bikes, the motor only kicks in when the bike is being pedalled. As an approximate guide on the lowest setting, peddling with minimal effort, the speed is about 12mph. At the top setting this is about 20mph. One of the most pleasing experiences to the regular cyclist is that these speeds remain fairly constant whether going up or down hill. It begs the question why there five levels in there – why wouldn’t you go as fast as you could? One reason could be to match the speeds of cycling companions on non-electric bikes. Another reason could be that 20mph is actually quite fast – the countryside might be whizzing by too fast, while another reason still could be to conserve battery life.
The motor, an upgrade to a Bafang Rear Hub 250W Motor in the new model, kicks in almost immediately the pedalling starts and it can have quite a pull, particularly in higher settings. Equally, the motor stops when the user freewheels, picking up again as soon as pedalling recommences. If E&T could find fault with this e-bike, it is that the transitions between motor on and off can feel a bit clunky. However, marrying both the manual gears and electronic settings to the speed can smooth this out – it just takes a bit of practice.
A nice optional feature is an additional lever that provides a quick motor boost, irrespective of the setting or if pedalling or not. WAU calls this the Thumb Throttle and it is particularly useful when in manual cycling mode and you just want a little help getting up a slope.
The battery is claimed to provide a range of 100 miles, which was not tested by E&T, but is claimed by the manufacturer to be the first e-bike to reach this milestone. There are two Samsung lithium-ion power cells available: the 10.5Ah (378Wh) battery gives a range of 40 miles, while the 25Ah (900Wh) unit provides 100 miles, but will add £600 to the cost of your bike.
Another optional extra is the colour LCD unit, which provides all the usual details about journey length, speed and battery status. In direct bright sunshine this was not easy to read, but we considered in certain lighting conditions that any display would struggle. The standard display is black and white and essentially does the same job, also saving you £130, although admittedly it doesn’t look as nice.
As said before, this is a bike that wants its electric credentials on show. While cycling has become one of the many domains for the gadget enthusiast – handlebars can resemble an instrument dashboard – the WAU has an electric glow that goes a step further. With lights on the seat stays and an illuminated logo on the battery, this is a bike that stands out in the dark, which is a nice safety feature. Those seat stay lights are also indicators (controlled from the handlebars) if letting go of the handlebars and sticking your arm out is an unnerving experience. There is also an integrated front light.
From an environmental point of view, electric bikes certainly have a smaller carbon footprint than cars if they are going to be used for commuting or a station run – they could have a big impact on carbon emissions from daily travel going forward. However, WAU has also paid attention to other environmental considerations.
The frame is made of aluminium, which may not be as light as alternatives but it will last forever and the aluminium used is, together with British made ultra-strong ABS computer/battery frame panels, all made directly from recycled raw materials. Care has been taken not to mix any unnecessary compounds/alloys to ensure that even after the full use of the bike all parts are easily broken down back into raw materials ready for new products and applications. The company claims its goal is to ensure nothing goes to landfill.
The issue surrounding old batteries, which is vexing the whole e-mobility sector, is also being addressed. Linas Pozerskis, co-founder of WAU, said: “Due to the specific way we have constructed the proprietary lithium C3 power cells, we plan to roll out a buy-back scheme allowing us to give the cells a secondary lease on life and neatly re-use all cells in a linked format into power walls.”
This would suit applications such as caravans, homes to run all appliances (allowing for solar roof energy storage or capturing cheaper energy during the night) together with remote energy storage applications such as solar panel farms, factory plants away from the main grid. “This is a big programme we plan to unveil as soon as the core team completes the current growth/hiring stage,” Pozerskis added.
In summary, this is a well thought-out, well-made and slightly showy machine that is very enjoyable to use.
WAU plans to release 20,000 new bikes in Britain and the EU by 2024 together with the power wall programme.
The basic bike, with 40 mile range battery, starts at £1,890.
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