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Kalkhoff Pro Connect Review & The Panasonic Crank Drive

by Josh Lipton

It’s been a busy summer of sales at the BikeShopHub.com and the JOYBAG® project stalled out of the gates a bit as our team got sidetracked from blogging with fulfilling all of those nagging orders that kept coming in.  But like a caterpillar into its cocoon our collective JOYBAG® mind has been weaving away and preparing for a beautiful unveiling of JOYBAG® wings.

So to get back on the horse, I decided I would start writing some shorter posts about the electric bikes that we’ve been testing.  To kick things off, here are some thoughts on the Kalkhoff Pro Connect Sport 250 E-Bike.

Kalkhoff of Germany:

Kalkhoff Pro Connect Review & The Panasonic Crank DriveThe German company Kalkhoff, like many European based cycling companies, has put a strong effort into ebike development.  Conversely this has not been the case with most US based bicycle companies with only some relatively feeble efforts here and there.

The way American companies have emphasized electric bikes has been like McDonald’s emphasis on “healthy” Happy Meals.  Not blaming anyone though.

While in Europe, ebike sales are up to around 20% of all bikes and more than 40% when it comes to dollars.  I’m guessing that we’d be lucky if ebike sales were even measurable at the 1% level.  But jealous bickering aside, let me get back to what the Germans have done well with their ebike focus.

The Panasonic Crank Drive:

A standout aspect of many top European electric bikes is the use of a crank drive system rather than a hub drive system.  In the US, front and rear hub motors have been the dominant motor drive.  This has also been the case in China as the crank drives are quite a bit more expensive.  But Europe has embraced the crank drive system, and the Panasonic crank drive used on the Kalkhoff Pro Connect has been the market leader.

Of the five bikes that we are reviewing in the JOYBAG® project, the Kalkhoff is the only one of the bunch utilizing a crank drive motor.

JOYBAGA crank drive system requires a frame designed to position the motor and battery behind the bicycle’s bottom bracket.  This integrated positioning of the Panasonic system, makes for an overall longer rear end of the bike.  This laid out frame design works together with having all of the weight of the battery and motor centered and low at the bottom bracket, resulting in a very stable ride.

I really like how almost all of the bikes that I’ve seen with the Panasonic drive look.  While the casual observer might not even notice the battery and motor, an acute observer often states how integrated and unobtrusive the system appears to be.

Electric Bike Drive Harmony:

The Panasonic crank drive is a pedal assist, meaning the motor is triggered to assist while pedaling.  Driving the chain rather than the hub is very effective because the motor can spin at its most efficient speed through its range of gears just like the cyclist.

The beauty of the Panasonic crank drive is the natural transmission of power that it yields.   The smooth transmission of power subtly surges you forward as if the source of the power were your own legs.  The classic, harmonious connection of man and machine, bicyclist and bicycle, is seemingly synthesized into even greater harmony through the electric motor.

Say what you will about what place electric bikes should hold in cycling culture, the feel of a riding a well executed electric bike like the Kalkhoff is compelling.

 
Burley nomad 229

13 Responses to “Kalkhoff Pro Connect Review & The Panasonic Crank Drive”

  1. Ted Johnson says:

    The one weird thing I noticed about the Kalkoff when rode it once or twice, is that the torque sensor wants to kick in even when you’re at a dead stop, say, waiting at a light with your foot on one of the pedals. With one foot on the ground, and the other foot resting on the pedal, the motor eagerly wanted to go, and I had to restrain it with the brakes.

  2. BluesCat says:

    Wow. You could walk by that bike, look at it briefly as you pass, and walk away believing you just saw a hybrid with a heavy-duty chain guard and a hard-shell frame bag.

    Dang! From the looks of it you could put a set of Trekking handlebars on it, and a Brooks saddle, and you’d have DF bike that even the Ol’ Cat could get comfortable on!

  3. Terry Harrigan says:

    Well there are crank designed eBikes in the USA. One specifically comes to mind but I won’t advertise it here.

  4. Joel says:

    I feel like a thundercloud on a beautiful sunny day when I say this: it is not a legal “bicycle”.

    New Jersey, also paraphrased as the “*estopo State” only recognizes bicycles as being fully powered by humans with no other sources of energy.

    Drive one of these bikes at your own risk unless it gets registered as a Moped or other power vehicle requiring all licensing and insurance as other motor vehicles.

    I love the idea but it will detract from the current free wheeling (pardon the pun) no license or paperwork required bicycle definition.

    We could be inviting problems to the cycling world in the USA by encouraging non-human powered devices into our definitions.

    I have been known for playing Devil’s advocate in my lifetime and many readers might want to send me to Hell for my thoughts!

    It is OK, I ride like my seat is on fire anyway!

  5. JohnnyK says:

    I have noticed that there has been a lot of posts about ebikes on this site. Honestly the way I see ebikes is that they are just motorcycles. They remind me of the old photos of the first Harleys. Why not just get a moped they cost about the same and can ride with traffic? I guess I don’t see the benefit of a ebike.

    • Ted Johnson says:

      JohnnyK:

      This kind of explains my position on e-bikes, although I think it convinced absolutely nobody who was already anti e-bike.
      http://www.commutebybike.com/2011/09/26/e-bike-is-to-bike-what-trolling-motor-is-to-rowboat/

      I think “Why not just get a moped” could be an entire post. I hear that a lot. But the short answer is:

      I want to get exercise. I don’t want to use gas. I don’t want to make motor noise. I want to contemplate hauling four or more bags of groceries up that damn hill without ultimately deciding, To hell with it, I’ll just use the car.

      Frankly, I don’t think I want an e-bike either, but I think I get why some people would.

  6. BluesCat says:

    JohnnyK (and Ted, too) – Actually, I’d like to have an e-bike. Wish I could afford one, especially this Kahlkoff in Josh’s article.

    The last couple of months, I was kept off of my bikes because of a lot of traveling I needed to do via airplanes and cars.

    I had bumped my right knee just beforehand, so when I sat and sat — with my leg bent — on the airplanes and in the cars I developed some inflammation in a ligament just left of the kneecap. I’m just now getting back to having full motion of the knee without any swelling or pain.

    The few times when I have commuted on either bike, as I hit a pretty nifty little upgrade close to my office I have been heard to exclaim “Ouch, ouch! Oo, oh! Dang! Wish I had an e-bike!”

    Joel – Well, because of the fact that the Kahlkoff looks so much like a regular bike, I think the hippie-radical-commie-pinko side of me would prevent me from NOT risking riding it in Jersey!

  7. Joel says:

    Dear BluesCat,

    You truly have at least nine lives because you you fear “The Man.” I am afraid of riding anything in New Jersey let alone a powered two wheel cycle device.

    Live long and prosper my friend.

  8. Joel says:

    Dear Ted,

    I also get why some people would like to get an e-bike. As I progress in the years, I do see a day where I would like to bike but my muscles might not be fully capable of supplying all of the energy that I need to fulfill my heart’s desire.

    It is like a scene from a very bad “Star Wars Parody,”: “Ted, Ted, I am your father, look at me, the mechanical assistance that I need to stay alive is not all that bad considering the alternatives, do you really just want to ride a bicycle with a little electric motor and battery or do you want to drive a three-thousand pound automobile using only your mind and a very few muscles?”

    Only on this website will you find such a magnificent argument, “…To use electric assistance or not to use electric assistance,” that is the question. “Is it nobler to reject any type of innovation in the pursuit of cycling purity and idealism, or do we allow a pragmatic thought to alter our model of an ideal universe?”

    Whoa, I think that I just blew out a frontal cerebral quadrant on that one. Time to chill and meditate.

  9. Ted Johnson says:

    I once rode through the heart of New Jersey, just to see if the state deserved any of the derision it receives. I entered from New York City, went south and spent a few hours in Atlantic City. Then I went west on US-40 towards Wilmington, Delaware. It was all really quite lovely (except for Atlantic City, which is the most depressing place I’ve ever been).

    I did this 200-mile journey in in less than a day, and then continued on to Washington DC. I was on a 1000cc Honda Gold Wing motorcycle. Which, in the minds of some people, is no different from having done it on an e-bike.

  10. Paul says:

    I have a Kalkhoff or as you say Kahlkoff bike. I like it. I travel 14 miles one way into school. I think the bike is all about maintaining a nice pace even on big hills without feeling dead at the top. What I have learned after owning my bike is the faster you go the more efficient it seems. Like the perfect gear of rider, bike and motor is to push the bike at a good pace in 8th which is the top gear. On very steep hills it is best to go as slow as possible then the assist will help the most. I think in most states you don’t need any special license or registration if the speed assist is under 20 mph and the watts are under 1000. So far my bike has worked great. no problems with the motor or battery. The downside to the bike is that at 50 lbs if you have used up all the battery you will have no assist for the hill and you will feel it in your legs.

    • Ted Johnson says:

      @Paul: Thanks for pointing out the misspelling! Oops. At least we were consistent and misspelled it wrong, the same way, every time. And Josh and I were united in our not catching it. That’s something, right?

      I’ve fixed them all.

      Josh has another mini-review of the Kalkhoff coming up, and we’ll try to get it right the first time.

      Good points on the use of the bike. The advantage of the hub motor is that you can use the motor more efficiently by allowing it to run at higher revs at low speeds. That explains, I think, why going up hill at low speeds works with the Kalkhoff, but with a front or rear hub motor going up hills slowly really saps the battery quickly.

  11. 4REEE says:

    @BluesCat:

    When my wife and I were on vacation in Vancouver, BC, we rented a pair of BionX ebikes.

    Were rode from Yaletown into UBC and on a steep hill climb, I hurt my right leg.

    I kept thinking, “How the heck are we going to get back in time to return the bikes or get charged another 2 hours of rent time?”

    Thank goodness there was a throttle control on the bike. I hate the thing because it’s a tiny button. The more you push down, the faster the bike goes. It’s the range of motion of the button that’s not so great. Very little range.

    Because of that it sort of makes the bike feel squirrelly to ride, BUT it saved me. We were able to make it back to the rental on time.

    Riding with the throttle left the battery with only 1 bar, but I was so thankful for that throttle control. I wish the Kalkhoff had that option.

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