Review: Full-carbon Urtopia ebike turns heads and delivers the goods
For some people, the word "ebike" brings forth visions of heavy, dumpy, utilitarian things that are far from exciting. Such is certainly not the case with the full-carbon Urtopia, however, which I recently discovered for myself after riding the bike for several weeks.
At a glance
- Zero-lag electrical assistance
- Smooth belt-drive drivetrain
- Quite light for a full-size ebike
- Distinctive design
- Single speed may not be everyone's cup of tea
- Not compatible with all third-party accessories
First of all, the Hong Kong-designed ebike's name is not a typo – it refers to an "urban utopia." Following a successful Indiegogo campaign, the bike has shipped to backers and can now be ordered via the company website for US$2,799.
As far as basic non-electric-bike specs go, the Urtopia features a carbon frame, fork, handlebar and seat post; a single-speed Gates Carbon belt-drive drivetrain; house-brand aluminum rims with Kenda Kwest 700 x 35c puncture-resistant tires; plus house-brand hydraulic disc brakes.
It weighs just 33 lb (15 kg) – which is slightly up from the originally promoted 30-lb weight of the prototype, but still impressive – and it's capable of supporting a maximum rider weight of 240 lb (109 kg). Buyers can choose between Medium and Large frame sizes.
The Urtopia's electronic specs include a 250-watt rear hub motor; a down-tube-incorporated lockable/removable 360-Wh Samsung lithium-ion battery; an integrated 100-lumen StVZO headlight; an integrated tail light with projected turn indicator lights; plus a handlebar-stem-integrated LED control screen. The latter displays data such as charge level, current speed, distance travelled and motor-assistance level.
Speaking of which, riders can choose between five such levels utilizing one of two bar-mounted button controls. A top assisted speed of 20 mph (32 km/h) is possible in North America, or 16 mph (25 km/h) in Europe. One charge of the battery is claimed to be good for a range of 30 to 80 miles (48 to 129 km), which falls roughly in line with what I got.
Other snazzy features include a thumbprint scanner (in one of the button controls) for unlocking the bike; voice control via a mic in the display; a haptic feedback system that buzzes the bars to confirm changes in assistance level, etc; plus an anti-theft system which sounds an alarm and alerts the user via an accompanying app if the bike is moved while left unattended. Among other things, that app can also be utilized to adjust settings, locate the bike via its GPS coordinates (should it get stolen), and for turn-by-turn navigation.
Upon first trying the Urtopia out for myself, I was really impressed both by the smoothness of the belt drive, and by the fact that the bike's torque sensor activated the motor as soon as the slightest amount of pressure was applied to the pedals. On some ebikes, there's a noticeable lag before the motor kicks in.
The torque sensor additionally helps compensate for the fact that the Urtopia is a single-speed, as it automatically increases the amount of assistance when riders start pedalling harder while climbing hills. That said, some people may still miss the ability to shift to a lower gear in such situations.
For riding on flat roads and modest hills, I found that Assistance Level 1 was all that I needed. There is an option of using no assistance at all, although that can make for a bit of a slog when starting up from a stop.
The headlight certainly proved to be sufficient for lighting up the road, and it automatically came on in dark conditions, which is a nice touch. I'm not entirely sold on the bar-activated turn indicators, which are projected onto the road on either side of the bike. They'd likely be more noticeable to drivers if they simply took the form of lights that were visible up on the bike itself. Additionally, the seat-post-mounted module which they're projected from is a bit bulky.
On the plus side, though, they do remain shining steadily when they're not blinking to indicate an upcoming turn. This feature allows them to serve as virtual lane markers, showing the distance that motorists should leave between their vehicle and the bike when passing.
Hardcore rain-or-shine commuters might not like the fact that due to the Urtopia's rather "unique" frame design, it's not compatible with any ol' off-the-shelf fenders, racks, bottle cages or kickstands. Such accessories are available through the company website, made specifically for use with the Urtopia.
The only real (but smallish) gripes that I do have regarding the bike involve noises made by it.
For one thing, the stem-integrated display produces geeky sound effects every time a function is accessed through it – that feature gets pretty old, pretty fast. Fortunately, it's simple to mute those sounds via the app. The only problem is, muting them also mutes the bike's electric bell. Of course, riders could always just buy and install a traditional mechanical bell. Additionally, a Urtopia rep has told me that the problem will be addressed in future models.
I also noticed that while my demo bike was nice and quiet on smooth roads, it did produce a rattling sound when going over bumps or other obstacles. This turned out to be due to one of the internally routed hydraulic brake hoses knocking against the inside of the frame. Again, I've been told that the company is aware of this issue, and will be rectifying it going forward.
All in all, I found the Urtopia to be a fun, cool and capable alternative to more traditional commuter ebikes. Factoring in its carbon construction, light weight, built-in lights and LED screen, it's also quite a good value for the money.
Product website: Urtopia