Review: Nireeka's powerful, carbon-framed Prime e-fatbike is a beauty
There's really nobody in the ebike world I can think of that makes bikes like Nireeka. These guys aren't interested in stealth, or retro, or making bikes that look like anyone else's. They work exclusively with their own carbon-fiber frames, which feature strangely flowing sci-fi designs with twisting edges and curves and angles in a style of their very own.
This Dubai-based company stormed onto the scene with a killer deal on its first bike, the dual-suspension, hub-drive Homie, back in 2018, and backed it up this year with a mid-drive, hardtail, fat-tired cruiser called the Prime. And Prime's the name for it alright, I can't think of any other bicycle that looks so much like it could suddenly stand up and start commanding the Autobots.
I own another mid-drive ebike, a big, fast, intimidating-looking no-name black thing out of Taiwan. The Prime absolutely dwarfs it. In fact, as I'm pulling it out of the box and assembling it, I'm struck by the size of the components themselves.
The front wheel comes out of the box first, with its 26 x 4-inch, chunky Schwalbe Jumbo Jim fat tire and giant 203mm brake disc on. It's bigger than either wheel on my old 250cc KTM dirt bike. Picture a typical quick-release front axle for a bicycle ... Nuh-uh. The front axle on this thing is half an inch thick, and it attaches to the full-length air-cushioned suspension forks on our test bike using much the same procedure as a motorcycle, pinch bolts and all.
Those attach to the steering head via a pair of nicely machined and black-anodized triple clamps, leading up to an angle-adjustable clamp that holds a shapely carbon handlebar. On the bars are the standard controls: Shimano's Deore brake levers and Deore XT thumb/trigger shifter, and the switches, thumb throttle and full color dash for the bike's Bafang G510 motor, which is also known as the M620, the Ultra, and sometimes the Max for reasons scrutable only to Bafang itself.
We'll get to the motor in a minute; this bike is dominated by its frame, a chesty, angular beauty with internally-routed cables to keep the look clean, and a big, key-locked slot behind the front wheel to hold the battery – a chunky, 840 Wh pack full of LG lithium-ion cells giving you up to 100 km (62 miles) of riding range. The seat – in our case, the comfort option – floats on its carbon post in a split upper support linking to the steering head and downtube. The paint job on our bike is the optional pearlized red, and it's a genuine stunner.
The frame is built specifically to accommodate that Bafang Ultra motor, wrapping around it before splitting into a wicked, wide hard tail reaching back to the rear wheel, where you'll find another enormous brake disc and the gear cassette. On our test bike, that's a funky black-coated Sunrace CS-MX8 wide-ratio 11-speed cassette stretching all the way from 11 to a whopping 50 teeth. I don't think I've touched the bottom two gears yet.
The Ultra is the biggest, baddest motor Bafang makes, and it can be specified up to 1,000 W with a peak of more than 160 Nm of torque. That's a heap of power. It runs intuitive "you pedal, it helps" torque sensing in Eco mode, lazy-fast "just keep the pedals turning and it'll accelerate" cadence sensing in Sport mode, or you can give up on all pretense of exercise and just jam your thumb into the throttle and unleash continuous power at roughly the rate of two Lance Armstrongs.
It's a mighty powerplant, well matched to the heft of the bike. And it is a hefty beast, even if the extensive use of carbon makes it significantly lighter than it looks. In standard trim with the half-size battery and hard carbon fork, it weighs 28 kg (61.7 lbs). As specified on our test bike, it's more like 31.4 kg (69.2 lb). You do not want to carry this baby up a flight of stairs.
The weight is a factor when you're lifting the thing around, but disappears as soon as you set off, leaving you to enjoy a comfy and pleasant ride. I haven't spent much time on fatties, but those huge tires nearly make the suspension fork redundant when it comes to comfort, soaking up the bumps nicely and taking potholes in stride.
The fork, on the other hand, once it's correctly adjusted, allows you to point the thing straight at gutters and ascend with an admirably cushioned touch. I'm not sure exactly how much travel it offers, but it's a lot – at least 6 inches (~15 cm), and I know this because that's roughly the distance between the tire and the battery box. If the fork pressures are too low, the wheel will rub on the frame before the fork bottoms out, and this is no fun for anyone. I run the fork pressures higher than usual to make sure that never happens, but a hard stop before the tire starts rubbing is a change I'd like to see in future batches.
While we're on that air fork, its triple clamp arrangement makes for a narrower steering lock than the standard carbon fork. This again doesn't impact you much on the go, but can make things a little unwieldy in u-turns, tight trails or when you're wheeling the bike around in the garage. The carbon fork is lighter, and offers a tighter turn, but the air fork setup just looks so freakin' badass and gives such a feeling of invulnerability to bumps and gutters that I suspect I'll keep it on.
Another change I'd like to see is the ability to run the seat higher. The Prime is a tall bike to hop onto, but the motor is set quite high for impressive ground clearance. So when running the standard seat at its highest position, I can't quite straighten my legs as much as I want to on the pedal strokes (I'm 5"11/180cm). On the other hand, the seat comes down impressively low, making it a curiously accessible for a bike so physically large, and a longer seat post would poke into the frame, so I understand the choice.
And I don't mind not being in a position to pedal flat-out on this bike, because it really has more of a cruiser feel to it than a platform for high-speed, strenuous exercise. The rolling resistance of those fat tires sucks a bit of speed out of the motor – the highest we've seen thus far at full throttle on a flat surface was 33 mph (53 km/h), while another bike with the same motor and thinner street tires made 35 mph (57 km/h) on sport mode pedal assist alone. Mind you, 33 mph on a bicycle feels crazy fast.
So yes, the Prime can do speed if you feel the need, but to me it feels its best when you chill out in eco mode and enjoy the scenery. That scenery will include plenty of tonsils. People gasp when they see this bike going by, and I don't blame them. It's louder than other ebikes, both visually and in the tire and motor noise it makes, and it looks like some kind of weird dirtbike from the future. Be prepared to answer lots of questions; the Prime stops people in its tracks, and that's something to factor in if you're planning to ride it on the street where its top 1,000W motor option isn't street legal in many places. The standard motor, mind you, is limited to 750W and around 28 mph (45 km/h).
The handling feels great to me; it corners exceptionally confidently on tarmac and the tires offer superb grip on grass or gravel, as well as being fat enough to roll happily on looser dirt. It'll make light work of softer off-road trails, and if lockdown restrictions ever end here I look forward to taking it out on a beach cruise or two as well, because I bet it'll eat sand for breakfast.
Likewise, those huge disc brakes offer excellent power and feel, more than enough to lock up the wheels for lavish skids, but never coming on stronger than you ask for. That's an important thing to feel confident about on a heavy bike that's capable of serious speed, and the Prime certainly doesn't skimp on stopping power or tire grip.
The Shimano XT gearshift system feels clean and positive, although there's something to note here: Nireeka has gone for quality, big-name components here and it's done so at a price. Shimano's brake and gearshift systems aren't designed to work with the Bafang motor, so the Prime doesn't cut the motor power off when you hit the brakes or shift gears.
It's not a huge issue with the brakes, except when you're standing still. Put too much weight on the pedal at a standstill and the bike starts to push against the brake. That might result in the odd topple but it's a mistake you're unlikely to make often.
I'm a bit more worried about the gearshifting side of things; in pedal assist mode, the motor continues supplying drive for maybe half a second after you stop pedaling, so unless you're really thinking about what you're doing, it's easy to shift up while the motor's still pulling on the chain. Considering how much pull it's got, that might be a recipe for short cassette life, and riders will need to learn real fast to shift real slow to preserve their cogs. The alternative would be to go to Bafang-compatible components, but feeling the quality and direct action of the XT gear compared to the flaccid no-name e-brakes and shifter on my other bike, I can see why Nireeka made that decision.
Another motor-related potential issue arrived in the form of an email advising owners not to run the throttle while you're using pedal assist, since the interaction between the two can "cause serious damage to the motor" and void the warranty. I'd like to see this prevented in what I'd expect to be a fairly trivial software update; I had the bike for a few days before I got this message, and I was combining throttle and pedal assist all over the place. It doesn't seem to have damaged anything, but I bet a lot of others will make this mistake if it's not locked off. I'd recommend taking the throttle off until it's sorted out.
My other issues are minor: the battery charge plug is located right behind the front wheel in the perfect spot to fill up with mud and water if you don't pop the little rubber cap on properly, and I forget to do that maybe 80 percent of the time. Also, moving the seat up and down can scratch up the finish on your carbon seat post. And our test bike is one of a very early batch that included a security feature that requires you to find your keys, drop the battery out and press a button to wake the bike up if you leave it alone for 12 hours. The latter gets old very quickly, but Nireeka has removed it from newer bikes and will, I believe, be putting out an update to get rid of it on others.
We intend to follow up with a video review once lockdown is lifted and we can get out and about and take the Prime to some more interesting places – that's if we can fit this beast in the car! In the meantime Nireeka has supplied us with the carbon fork and sports seat, which we'll switch over to at some point, as well as a set of fenders.
I have to admit, I can't bring myself to fit the fenders. They're highly practical, particularly in the mud or rain, but here's the problem; the Nireeka Prime is such a spectacular looking bike that I don't want to sully its lines for the sake of grim utilitarianism. To hell with fenders, I'll ride it raw and wash the dirt off. It's pretty enough that even wiping it down gives me a little tactile thrill, and I don't care how sad that sounds.
This is only Nireeka's second bike design, and while there are some teething issues and improvements to be made, this bike feels tight, fast, fun and tough. It also has a sheer presence about it that very little else can match. That's for better and for worse; there is zero stealth to be had, particularly with this glowing red pain job, and I'm a little terrified of parking it anywhere with nothing but a bike chain to protect all that beautiful carbon and paintwork, but designer Max Shojaie has done a terrific job developing a recognizable style and realizing his vision in a dazzling product.
The company's Chinese manufacturing hookups have also allowed it to deliver these carbon beauties at import-level prices. Where something like the Yamaha YDX-Moro costs between US$4500-5500, and European brands are charging crazy money for 250-watters, the Nireeka Prime as we're riding it (with pretty much every performance and bling option ticked) costs US$3,752.
The base price is considerably better: US$2,499. Options applied to our test bike include the carbon handlebar and seatposts, the adjustable angle handlebar mount and its carbon spacers, the shiny pearlized paint job, the magnesium air fork, the smart taillight, the 1000 W motor upgrade, the throttle, the 203 mm brake rotor, the larger 840 Wh battery pack and the Shimano XT shifter and derailleur system upgrade with that wide-ratio Sunrace cassette.
The Yamaha is a dual-suspension enduro machine, and not a good bike to compare it against, but to be honest, I'm not sure I can think of what the Prime's direct competition would be. There are many other manufacturers building bikes around these muscular Bafang mid-drive motors; the Luna X-1 and Sondors Rockstar spring to mind as other well-priced, powerful bikes manufactured in China. The Luna in particular looks like a great bike, and runs nice componentry too, but again it's an enduro focus, and its carbon frame looks like, and probably is, something straight out of a Chinese catalogue.
Nireeka has been much more ambitious with design, and gone out of its way to make sure the Prime has a compelling and original look as well as serious performance, quality components and a very accessible price tag for what it offers. We're impressed.