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Hands-on: Urtopia’s 13 kg carbon fiber ebike promises big smarts

The lightest ebike we've tested aims to be one of the smartest

Hands-on: Urtopia’s 13 kg carbon fiber ebike promises big smarts
Napier Lopez
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Napier Lopez

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Napier Lopez is a writer based in New York City. He's interested in all things tech, science, and photography related, and likes to yo-yo in Napier Lopez is a writer based in New York City. He's interested in all things tech, science, and photography related, and likes to yo-yo in his free time. Follow him on Twitter.

There are two types of ebike riders: those who want as much power as possible, weight be darned, and those who prefer something that balances power with a natural riding experience.

The Urtopia ebike, a futuristic carbon fiber ride currently crowdfunding on Indiegogo, is the latter.

The bike is currently being offered at an introductory price of $2,000 and the company plans to ship to early backers in February 2022. As of the publication of this article, the bike has raised over $1 million, with 26 days left on its campaign.

I’ve been able to test ride a prototype unit for a few days, and at just over 13 kg (29 lbs)m it’s the lightest ebike I’ve ever reviewed. It’s one that offers an experience that feels closer to an ‘acoustic’ bike than almost any ebike I’ve tried too.

Urtopia carbon fiber ebike

But Urtopia goes a step further too: it packs a variety of built-in smarts that make it a veritable ‘tech’ product too. There’s voice control, a built-in alarm system, turn-by turn-navigation, turn signals, radar, and more. It aims further than just providing a powered ride — although that ambition opens up room for some potential pitfalls.

The bike is currently being offered at an introductory price of $2,000 and the company plans to ship to early backers in February 2022. As of the publication of this article, the bike has raised over $1 million, with 26 days left on its campaign.

Lots of smarts

First, some specs:

  • Carbon fiber frame, fork, and handlebars
  • 13 kg (29 lbs)
  • 250W rear hub motor with 40 Nm of torque
  • Torque sensor-based pedal assist
  • Hydraulic disk brakes
  • 35mm 700C puncture-resistant tires
  • 360 Wh removable battery (36V/10 Wh)
  • Claimed 130 km (80 mi) range in the assist level 1
  • 5 levels of pedal assist, ranging from no assist at all, to a throttle-like ‘turbo mode’
  • 20/32 km/h (15.5/20 mph) speed limit in the EU and US, respectively
  • Two frame sizes covering people from 165cm to 200 cm (5′ 5″ to 6′ 7″)
  • 3 frame designs
  • Single-speed gates carbon belt drive (as opposed to a chain)
  • Large dot-matrix display integrated into handlebars
  • Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and 4G compatibility
  • Integrated headlights, tail lights, projection lights, and turn indicators
  • iOS and Android apps for changing some settings
  • Integrated bell sounds (customizable via app)
  • GPS location
  • Motion alarm
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • Haptic feedback in the handlebar
  • Millimeter-wave radar to alert you of vehicles behind you
  • A gyroscope for adjusting power if you’re going up a hill and fall detection
  • 10-year warranty on the frame
  • 2-year warranty on all other components (including the battery)

Urtopia carbon fiber ebike

That’s a lot of smarts to pack into one bike, and several of the smart features were not available during my first rides as the app was not yet ready (I’ll update this post once the app is released). Urtopia also stressed that as my review unit was a prototype, some of the finer details were not finalized.

Still, there’s a lot to like even in prototype form — as well as some things I hope to see improved before launch.

A wondefully natural pedaling experience

The most important thing to me is always the feel of the pedal assist, and the Urtopia nails it. The bike seems to use the same torque sensor as the Tenways ebike I recently reviewed, which is to say it offers some of the smoothest pedaling around, even compared to high-end brands like Specialized and Brompton.

The gentle acceleration curve, the nearly-silent motor and belt drive, and the minimal 13kg weight make the Urtopia feels more like a ‘regular’ bike than almost any ebike I’ve tested to date. Heck, the motor and belt drive are so quiet that the Urtopia is actually even quieter than most non-electric bikes. It’s almost a little eery, and the smoothness really adds to the sense that the bike is making you feel stronger, as opposed to simply being hauled by a powerful motor.

Urtopia carbon fiber ebike
The Gates carbon belt drive is always a welcome touch.

Granted, at 250W of sustained power, this isn’t going to be giving motorcycles a run for their money, but the torque sensor means that the bike is able to intelligently deliver power as needed. In my experience, on bikes that are meant to be pedaled, this is more than enough power (not to mention 250W is the limit in the EU before you’re required to have a license). It should also help the battery last longer.

It’s also worth mentioning that though 360 Wh isn’t that big of a battery in the grand scheme of things, it’s the biggest battery I’ve seen in an ebike under 35 lbs; most of them are roughly 250 Wh, and they’re often not readily removable should you want to buy a second pack to extend your range.

Although there’s no suspension onboard, like many carbon fiber bikes, the Urtopia provides just enough vibration absorption that it does feel significantly nicer on rough roads than most ebikes I’ve used with such narrow tires. As for durability, the proof is obviously in the pudding, but it is reassuring that Urtopia is willing to offer a 10-year warranty on the frame. Of course, that depends on how willing the company is to honor its warranty — and whether Urtopia is still around in 10 years.

Urtopia carbon fiber ebike

The headlight and taillight are also both bright, and the projection lights are pretty nifty. The bike will beam the Urtopia logo on the ground to your left and right to make you more visible at night. These lights also double as turn signals, but unfortunately, they are not visible in the daytime.

I haven’t had the bike long enough to make a range assessment, and I think the 80-mile claim is likely optimistic even on Eco mode. But based on my experience with similar bikes, I would imagine 40-50 miles is actually doable, considering the battery is larger than usual for this weight.

It’s also very much worth noting that the bike is very pedal-able with no assist. The motor doesn’t introduce any noticeable drag, and though you won’t be flying up hills on a single-speed bike, I found it was comfortably geared for pedaling up to about 35 km/h (22 mph). If you do run out of battery, you’re basically left with an average-weight single-speed bike.

It might be a little too futuristic for its own good

The Urtopia gets the basics of the ride experience right, and that’s my number one priority. On that alone, it competes with some bikes that are significantly more expensive. But while a lot of the more futuristic details are very enticing as well, I do have some reservations potential buyers should be aware of.

The carbon fiber frame allows for minimal weight, but leads to some unfortunate limitations. There are no mounting points for racks, for instance, limiting its utility for anything other than getting from point A to B (some universal racks might work, but they’re not recommended for carbon frames). It’s an ebike; I should be able to carry things if I want to.

Likewise, the use of a non-cylindrical ‘aero’ seatpost limits the ability to add accessories like a suspension seatpost or some cargo trailers, and the integrated display means replacing the handlebars isn’t an option either. By comparison, the cheaper Tenways C-GO 600 is only a little heavier and is as customizable as a regular bike, although the battery is smaller and non-removable.

Keep in mind these issues are common in carbon fiber bikes and therefore aren’t exclusive to the Urtopia, but they’re worth mentioning nonetheless.

Urtopia carbon fiber ebike
Urtopia says the final version of the display will be brighter in direct sunlight, although I found it was large enough to still be legible on my prototype.

On the ‘smart’ side of things, I was actually pleasantly surprised to find the voice controls were reliable and fast, working to change assist levels, lock the bike, or toggle the lights on and off effectively. I rarely had to repeat myself twice, although I didn’t test the voice commands at high speeds.

Frankly, I expected a disaster in the voice control area going into this review, so I’m very glad to see this wasn’t the case. I’ve also already found the built-in alarm useful for very quick stops, and it’ll serve as a handy deterrent for tampering (in addition to a proper lock, of course)

But on my pre-production unit, at least, you can’t activate the headlight and taillight without voice control — what if I get caught in the rain or it’s a very windy day and the microphone can’t hear my commands?

To list some other annoyances, some of which could be fixed with an update or via the upcoming app:

  • You can’t make the bell or alarm louder without making all other system sounds obnoxiously loud too.
  • There is a 0.5-1 second-ish delay before the digital bell actually makes a sound — much too long to avoid a potential emergency.
  • The radar function only works when the turn signals are activated.
  • Voice functions don’t work when the bike is in turbo mode (the control pad becomes a throttle button).
  • You can’t turn off the bike without activating the alarm. This could be annoying if you just want to leave the bike in a shared basement or other secure places where someone else might have to move your bike. Currently, I just disconnect the battery.
  • Adjusting the seatpost height is a little awkward, as it requires you to finagle an Allen key deep into a hole under the top tube, limiting the amount of leverage you have to for tightening the screw.

It bears repeating though that this is a pre-production bike and that I did not have access to the app and some features yet. I’ll update this post when I get a better idea of what additional settings the app gives you access to.

Urtopia gets the basics right, and the extras are compelling

While Urtopia still needs to refine some of the bike’s smarts, it also gets a lot right — more than I was expecting.

Urtopia carbon fiber ebike

In any case, they are mostly minor complaints in the grand scheme of things. Even if it didn’t pack any fancy smart features, I’d argue the Urtopia would be worth its price (well, its IndieGoGo promotion, at least) on the weight and ride quality alone. There aren’t many ebikes you can sling over a shoulder and carry up a flight of stairs as easily as a normal bike, and even if it’s not wildly powerful, the smoothness of the pedaling experience is second to none.

As always, you should only support crowdfunding projects with a healthy understanding of the potential risk involved. Delays, product changes, etc, are not uncommon. Still, unlike so many crowdfunding campaigns I’m pitched, Urtopia was willing to send me a functional prototype that performed admirably. If the company can stay true to its delivery and warranty promises, the Urtopia ebike is a compelling option for those who want something that feels like a bike from the future.

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