Our major cities would be far more pleasant to live and commute in if city planners and consumers embraced e-bikes. If you never had to worry about being taken out by an angry or distracted motorist, riding an e-bike would be the most pleasant way to commute.
I’ve tested many e-bikes over the past few years, some costing more than my car.
But I’ve always been more interested in the entry-level models, those that an average commuter might be able to afford. For the past year I’ve enjoyed riding a no-name model from eBay that I purchased for $900, but it immediately needed a few hundred dollars in brakes and servicing to make it roadworthy.
Last Saturday, Aldi offered a "Special Buy" e-bike for just $999; Cell's Ultimo E1.0 Urban. I took it for a spin and, frustratingly, it is better than my current e-bike in almost every way.
The Urban is available in two Dutch frames: a traditional roadster design in matte black, and a step-through model with a few extra flourishes like rimmed wheels, tanned grips and saddle. The design of the frame forces you to sit upright more than a mountain or racing bike. It took a few rides to adjust but overall I felt a little safer in this position; I could see more of the traffic around me, and I was more visible to the traffic.
I was a little nervous the roadster would be too big for my tiny little legs; I’m 172cm tall, and worried I’d look like Kermit the Frog riding this thing. Thankfully the crossbar has a slant that makes it easy to step over, and while the saddle sits far back from the handlebars I was able to comfortably control the bike. But the long length of the Dutch design gives the bike a real sense of stability; you wouldn’t want to take it off-road, but cruising through bike paths and city streets is incredibly comfortable. The built-in bike rack comes ready for shopping, or you could attach a pannier for more options.
Powering the bike is a massive 374Wh 36v battery. This battery can push a hefty 10.4Ah power to the bike. But ignore the numbers, just know the Ultimo Urban tackled hills far better than my current model. Also welcome is a battery that slides out of the frame very easily, allowing you to charge at your desk at work, and making the bike less attractive to thieves.
As with most entry-level e-bikes, a brushless motor is built into the rear wheel. This gives the pedal assist a bit of a jolt when you first kick off, and is less pleasant to ride than bikes with central motors built into the frame. I’ve seen people complain about the kick of a rear wheel motor, but I’ve never thought it was unpleasant enough to pay the premium for a centre motor. And thanks to the long, solid frame, the jolt is smoothed out a little.
A Shimano seven-speed shifter wraps around the handlebar, and it feels great sliding between gears, although there is the standard crunch if you switch gears at a standstill. To avoid this, I kept the bike in a middle gear when on busy roads, and instead adjusted the power of the pedal assist; turning it all the way up to push off from traffic lights, then turning down again to blend in with peak hour traffic. Only on long winding bike paths did I really adjust the gears.
On the other side is a tiny little onboard speedometer that also shows how much power is left in the battery. If you’d like more details of your route, there’s a built-in USB charger and accompanying smartphone app. The frame includes bright front and rear lights, powered by the main battery, to make riding a little safer at night.
Overall this is a fantastic cruiser, ideal for shorter commutes and quick trips to the shops. I hope — like Aldi's Expressi Coffee Makers — this becomes an all-year product.