Kalkhoff were among the first companies to introduce electric bikes equipped with the ever-reliable Panasonic crank-drive motor. The latest Pro-Connect uses a large-capacity lithium-ion battery which delivers greater mileage than previous models, at a lower weight. The result is an ideal speedy commuter or leisure bike.
Ride & handling: Sorted town/country bike with easy-to-use electric assistance
The great advantage of the Panasonic system is that it rides pretty much like a non-electric bike: get on, switch on and pedal off. There are no throttles or buttons to push, with power being delivered in response to your pressure on the pedals.
If you want a further element of control, a handlebar mounted lever allows you to choose between three variable power assist levels – 50% (of the power you input at the pedals), 100% and 200%. Level 1 is a small but appreciable push, level 2 a definite helping hand and level 3 munches up the hills.
The Pro-Connect also rides pretty well without power, with just a small amount of sponginess in the pedal action due to the integral torque sensor mechanism. Handling-wise, it feels much like a normal bike, with the extra weight of the motor distributed amidships and low down.
The only real difference compared to a non-electric bike is the extra long wheelbase needed to accommodate the battery. The upside is extra stable handling, the downside less manoeuvrability in tight spaces.
The latest version of the Pro-Connect uses a new large capacity (18Ah/468Wh) and relatively lightweight lithium-ion battery. Using the optimal power setting – level 1 for the flat and level 2 for hills and headwinds, our 11.5 stone rider managed between 30 and 50 miles. More easygoing conditions would obviously mean more miles.
We averaged a shade under 16mph on our moderately hilly test circuit (bear in mind that, under UK law, electric assistance has to cut out once you reach 15mph), which is only a fraction slower than the much more pricey Koga E-light we tested earlier this year and on a par with the JD Eagle.
This is an excellent result, given that the bike is equipped for practicality rather than speed. It would be nice to see an out-and-out 'racing' version of this motor and battery setup, but while there are faster Kalkhoff models, they aren't road legal in the UK.
Overall, the Pro-Connect Disc is an ideal speedy commuter or leisure bike. At a push, it'll do light touring too but you wouldn’t want to overload the 24-spoked, two-cross Shimano WH501 wheels. It’s also a great low-maintenance bike, thanks to the enclosed hub gears and Shimano front hub dynamo.
Equipment: New battery gives best performance ever; quality Shimano parts
Panasonic's crank-drive motor is one of the most efficient and well-made electric bike systems on the market. It delivers power via a small sprocket that sits behind the bottom bracket and drives via the chain. While the system was first seen in the late 1990s, today's version is considerably lighter and more powerful.
One major change to the Pro-Connect for 2011 is the new 18Ah (468Wh) battery from Derby Cycle, Kalkhoff's German owners. This has an impressive power-to-weight ratio of 150Wh/kg. For comparison, the previous (Panasonic) battery had a ratio of around 120Wh/kg.
As with all lithium-batteries, lifespan is limited – around two years is the current benchmark performance – and replacements are expensive (£500). The good news is that Derby have a reputation for quality and the battery comes with a two-year guarantee (unlike several other high-capacity batteries).
Electric assistance still comes with a weight penalty, but things are improving. With front suspension, an eight-speed Shimano Alfine hub, disc brakes, dynamo lighting, a rack, mudguards and kickstand, the Pro-Connect Disc weighs in at 24kg (53lb).
For comparison, Giant's 1990s Lafree, which used the same basic motor system but was sparsely equipped and had a fraction of the Kalkhoff's 40-odd-mile range (medium setting), weighed around 27.5kg (60.1lb).
The Pro-Connect comes with Shimano's M445 disc brakes. These may be 'entry-level' brakes but stopping is still beautifully progressive yet extremely powerful when needed. The Suntour NCX-D fork is coil sprung and has a handy remote lockout. While it only has 40mm of travel it's just the job for rough tracks and the UK’s pothole-ridden roads.
The Busch & Muller IQ / AXA LED lighting system is one of the most powerful dynamo powered systems around, and front and rear lights have standlight and on/off/auto features. The whole spec produces a really smooth, comfortable and very practical ride.