First ride: Bultaco Brinco S electric bike

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The Brinco does turn heads, even in London(Credit: Bernard Zieja)

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Bultaco has dramatically widened the appeal of its electric Brinco with three new models, all of them road legal. Until now, the Brinco has only been offered in 60 km/h (37 mph) off-road form – the new bikes are homologated for the road and come as a 45 km/h (28 mph) moped or 25 km/h (15.5 mph) pedelec.

The original high-speed Brinco carries on as the Brinco R, while the R-E is basically the same bike, restricted to 28 mph. The Brinco C is more road orientated, with shorter travel suspension (150 mm at both ends, instead of 180 mm front and a massive 270 mm rear), slightly wider bars and lower seat. The most road-friendly of all is the Brinco S, with the same suspension plus a broader "comfort" saddle and skinnier Schwalbe Apple road tires. The changes to turn the Brinco road legal aren't that many – it's got a 750-lumen headlight, an LED stop/tail light, kickstand, horn, mirror, numberplate holder and a few reflectors.

All three new Brincos share the same basic architecture of the original, with an alloy frame, single rear shock and front forks that wouldn't look out of place on a small motocrosser. It looks like a mountain bike on steroids, except that there's a 2 kW electric motor in the rear wheel and a can't-miss-it 1.3 kWh lithium-ion battery locked underneath the frame. And there are pedals, driving the rear wheel via a 9-speed derailleur, with a two-speed overdrive box neatly enclosed within the bottom bracket.

So in a very real sense, this is a hybrid which combines electric and human power, and according to Bultaco, we shouldn't think of the Brinco as a bicycle, nor a motorcycle/moped, but as something completely new. And they could be right. There's nothing new about mopeds, or pedelecs, but this is a combination of the two.

On the Streets

Bultaco gave the street-legal Brincos their world launch in London, at a trendy electric bike shop just a stone's throw from Tower Bridge. Britain isn't a huge market for pedelecs, but London is big on cycling these days, and Bultaco was keen to point out that in restricted 25 km/h form, the Brinco can be ridden on the capital's growing network of cycle paths, and in Europe by anyone aged 14 or over with no need for a license, helmet or insurance. Bultaco dealers will be able to derestrict the bike if needed.

Sit on the Brinco and it feels more like a mountain bike than anything with a motor. It's very slim, and at 42 kg (93 lb) weighs about half as much as the simplest and most basic 50 cc scooter. You sit high – on its lowest setting the saddle is still over one meter off the ground – which gives your legs a good power stroke for pedaling.

The Brinco doesn't have a key, just a rubber band containing a transponder, unique to each bike and worn around your wrist. Touch that to the digital display, everything lights up and you're good to go. Two kilowatts equals about 2.6 bhp, which is about the same as a moped, but add in the legendary torque of an electric motor and the Brinco's low weight and you've got the recipe for exciting urban performance.

And that is what you get, the motor delivering strong, linear acceleration up to an indicated 31-32 mph on the digi display, which also shows an odometer and battery level. It's certainly fast enough to keep up with town traffic, and ahead of it, in congested inner London. The city put a congestion charge on private cars (but not motorcycles) several years ago, but the innermost roads still get clogged with red buses, black taxis and a growing number of private and Uber cabs.

But this is all meat and drink to the Brinco. What adds to the fun is that you can boost power by pedaling. All right, it's not that much – the average human can produce around 200 watts, boosting the Brinco by about 10 percent, but it's enough to make a difference. Pedaling also makes you feel good, Remember that cheesy TV series of the 1970s, the Six Million Dollar Man? Well the Brinco makes you feel like him, with a few endorphins whizzing round your system to heighten the effect.

One interesting point is gearing. I've ridden super-fast electric bikes before where the pedals ran out of revs at 20 mph, but the Brinco's 9x2 transmission has very high top ratios, allowing you to keep pedaling, and putting in useful power, at 30 mph.

Fortunately, it also has the running gear to support this sort of performance. The quality Magura brakes are very strong, with a dinky little four-pot caliper for the front disc, and in fact the rear locked up a little too easily in the wet. The suspension too gives you confidence in the bike, being smooth and well damped. Because the bike is so slim and light, it can slip through gaps that a conventional 50 or 125 cc bike would have trouble with, and sitting so high, you get a really good view of what's going on ahead. In fact, my only real criticism of the Brinco's in-traffic performance is that squeezing the brakes lightly automatically cuts off the power, so you can't keep fingers on the levers, ready to brake.

The Brinco has always been an on/off-road bike, and Bultaco underlined the point by taking us to a local BMX track. The bike is certainly well able to cope with dips and jumps, and way beyond my limited ability. Either way, it offers the option of riding your Brinco to the BMX or motocross track, having your fun, and riding home again.

Now then, the practicalities. Bultaco claims the battery will last "up to" 100km (62 miles) but that's on the Eco setting. I didn't get the time to do a proper mileage check, but on full power, I wouldn't expect more than 30 miles. The Brinco also lacks some essentials for commuting. There's no direction indicators, for example, or luggage rack, though I'm told these will be available as options. Nor is there a steering lock or any security hardware. Instead there's the Bultaco app, which includes a tracking system via Bluetooth, so if your Brinco is stolen, you should know where it's gone.

Verdict

The Brinco is certainly great fun, and very good in traffic. If anything holds it back, it'll be price. Thanks to the quality components and assembly in Spain, the R-E and C come in at £4,495 (US$6,590) and the S £100 more, so it's the same price for both 25 km/h and 45 km/h bikes. Some governments do offer a subsidy on electric two-wheelers, but where they don't, the Brinco costs more than twice as much as a moped. On the other hand, it will be cheap to run, and I think it represents a genuinely new idea. Here's to the future.

Bultaco Brinco S specifications:

  • Motor: Brushless AC, in rear wheel
  • Power: 2 kW
  • Battery: Lithium-ion, 1.3 kWh
  • Recharge time: 3 hours
  • Brakes: Front - Disc, 4-pot caliper, Rear - Disc, 2-pot caliper
  • Suspension: Front - Telescopic forks, fully adj, Rear - Single shock, fully adj
  • Weight: 42 kg
  • Colours: White or Black

Product page: Bultaco

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