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Muto e-bike review: multipurpose excellence

A near-perfect city bike with innovative ‘Click & Roll’ accessory system

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What makes the perfect electric city bike? That depends on who you ask and where they live.

For Europeans, a bicycle is often the primary mode of transportation in relatively flat, bike-friendly cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, or Berlin. We ride our bikes everywhere — to work, shops, daycare, and cafes — before locking them up outside each night. We use our bikes to carry groceries, kids, and Christmas trees, sometimes all at the same time, while friends straddle the rear carrier to hitch a ride.

In such an environment, the perfect e-bike has to be affordable, adaptable, durable, and easily serviceable. It should also be as attractive as the young European professionals who are increasingly buying e-bikes for the purposes of a healthier, more environmentally friendly commute.

Lots of e-bikes tick some of those boxes, but I’ve yet to find one that ticks every box needed for daily commuting in my home city of Amsterdam. Until now. It’s made, surprisingly, by Stella — a Dutch company known for making utterly forgettable e-bikes loved by grandparents.

Three years ago, Stella tasked a small internal team with shedding its stodgy image by designing an e-bike that would appeal to young urbanites. The result is called Muto, a pedal-assisted electric bike that has the potential to become the default e-bike for Europe and beyond.

Electric bikes are exploding in popularity globally. There are a few breakout brands like VanMoof at the premium end, Rad Power in the middle, and Swagtron on the budget side, with hundreds of brands filling the gaps. Some e-bike makers are truly unique, but many, especially at the low end, are little more than nameplates affixed to off-the-shelf Chinese e-bikes assembled from a catalog. Eventually, the industry will coalesce around a few winners, but right now, it’s anyone’s game.

More new e-bikes are sold in the Netherlands than regular bikes, and Muto’s parent company Stella claims to sell more than any other brand. The 10-year-old Dutch bike maker, headquartered in Nunspeet, about 50 miles east of Amsterdam, had been assembling about 600 e-bikes a day prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

Notably, Muto has a removable battery that neatly integrates (and locks) into the downtube. Most Stella bikes suffer from bolton-exia — a condition native to e-bike makers bad at design. Symptoms include bulbous growths on the downtube (Rad Power!) or lazy slabs of lithium resting on rear carriers (Swagtron!). Muto has none of that. It’s clear that Muto’s designers sweated every last detail.

As such, Muto gives Stella access to a booming new market of young urban commuters. It’s more than just a new bike; it’s a new brand that relies on a new European manufacturer that manages distribution from Venlo, not Nunspeet, a Dutch town along the German border.

Muto’s first e-bike has typical base-level specs for Europe: a 250W motor with 25 km/h (15.5 mph) top speed and a 70km (43.5 mile) estimated range when set to medium power, or 40 km (24.9 miles) when set to max, according to Muto. The 252Wh battery recharges to full in about 3.5 hours.

I was able to conduct a single endurance test, taking the battery from 100 percent to zero over a distance of 31.2km (19.4 miles). Although the test was conducted over flat terrain, it was a very windy (15-knot average) day. Fortunately, the bike was very easy to pedal home the last 2.8 km (about 1.7 miles) under my own power, thanks to the near-frictionless drivetrain and 8-speed shifter.

But the ride is the least interesting part of owning a Muto.

Adaptability

The name “Muto” is a play on words like “metamorphosis” and “multipurpose” hinting at the e-bike’s unmatched ability to adapt.

To start, the big M logo is more than a nod to the name; it’s also the shape of the frame. The step-through M-frame is suitable for riders ranging from 159cm to 190cm tall (5 feet, 2 inches to 6 feet, 2 inches), which covers 80 percent of Europeans, according to Muto. The aluminum is glued like an aircraft, not welded, for a seamless look. It’s available in black, gray, blue, and white. The black frame is my preference, while the gray frame looks especially gloomy, like a glossy coat of furniture primer.

My review bike came with the tall seat post, which was fine for my 183cm (6-foot) frame. I was also able to comfortably use the shorter post. My wife, who measures 164 cm (5 feet, 5 inches), tested the bike with the short saddle and found the lowest setting on the high side despite being three inches (7.6 cm) taller than Muto’s stated minimum. The saddle is very comfortable over long distances although the default riding position is quite sporty. The handlebar can be adjusted higher for those who prefer a more upright riding style.

Muto’s biggest innovation, though, is with the interchangeable “Click & Roll” system. It lets you quickly add or remove a wide variety of Muto-designed boxes, bags, and carriers to the front and rear of the bike. The mounts can be locked with a key to prevent theft.

Nine configurations in 69 seconds.

Headed to the office? Snap Muto’s sleek €59,95 Chameleon Bamboo carrier onto the back to hold Muto’s waterproof €69.95 Starfish pannier stuffed with your laptop, lunch, and rain gear. When you return home, leave the computer bag behind, move the carrier to the front, and snap the €65 Urban Iki rear child seat onto the back. A bar integrated into the frame folds back over the rear fender to support the weight of your kid. The video above shows nine configurations in just 69 seconds.

Yes, new parents, that means you can easily leave the child seat at home on date night, allowing you to maintain some semblance of pride when pulling up outside that trendy new cocktail bar.

At launch, Muto is available with five different custom-designed carriers of varying sizes and five different bags. Muto says more accessories are on the way.

Durability

Muto is built tough. The e-bike weighs 23.5 kg (51.8 pounds) before all of the accessories are added. Its slightly smaller 26-inch wheels are ideal for cities and come fitted with Schwalbe Big Apple tires that are wide enough to glide across tram rails and ruts. Shimano hydraulic disc brakes stop the bike assuredly, even when loaded down with an adult, child, and a few days’ worth of groceries. A sturdy center-mount stand keeps the bike upright when it’s time to step away.

To test the durability of the Click & Roll system, I took my daughter, who weighs 40 kilograms (88 pounds) for a ride while sitting in the Chameleon carrier attached at the rear. Muto says the rear carrier is rated for 20 kg (10 kg at the front) or 27 kg with child seat. Nevertheless, it held up, even though her body position created a powerful lever force on the mount as we bounced along Amsterdam’s cobbled roads.

The brake and gear cables are semi-exposed but mostly routed through the frame in order to avoid snagging when parked in crowded bike racks. The cable management also gives the bike a clean, finished look.

Serviceability

Muto is only sold online. That means no local bike shop to complain to when something goes wrong. Fortunately, outside of the front-hub motor and electronics, most of Muto’s components are repairable by any bike shop. Muto’s parent company Stella has over 45 bike shops in the Netherlands and is opening its first stores in Belgium and Germany this year.

24/7 roadside assistance is available in select countries when purchasing insurance through Muto (more on that later). And you’ll definitely want insurance if you’re planning to leave your expensive electric city bike parked outside.

Fortunately, Muto’s drivetrain consists of a maintenance-free Gates carbon belt drive and Nexus 8 internal geared hub. That means eight speeds with no rust, no derailleur, no external lubrication, and no splatter on your trousers.

Muto offers a 30-day money-back guarantee and standard two-year warranty. If the electronics or motor fails, you can contact Muto for repairs, which might involve a pickup and return in a specially designed Muto return box. Individual parts with instructions can be ordered directly from Muto. While that sounds obvious, it’s not so easy when buying €500 e-bikes off Amazon or Indiegogo. Muto is an e-bike you’ll keep for years, not until the first breakdown.

Value for money

Muto is being offered for an introductory price of €1,549 (plus shipping) that jumps to €1,699 at some undefined point in the future. That’s not cheap, but it’s also not expensive — it’s right in the sweet spot for what you should expect to pay for a good-quality electric city bike that can hold up to daily use for years.

Muto can be purchased anywhere, but it’s prioritizing four European countries at launch. Shipping to the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany costs €30, or €49 to Denmark. You can also buy it from the US, but delivering it could be costly since Muto hasn’t made any overseas shipping arrangements yet.

Muto comes with a real-wheel lock integrated into the frame. However, it doesn’t offer any kind of GPS theft recovery found on more premium bikes. Instead, Stella has partnered with Kingpolis insurance in the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium. The insurance costs about €8 per month, depending upon location, and can be terminated after the first year. It covers bike theft, damage, and 24/7 breakdown assistance in Europe.

The base Muto comes with a ton of features you have to pay extra for from other brands. These include a simple bell, mudguards, reflectors, and integrated front and rear lighting, including adorable little “Muto” lights on the side of the bike. The lights cannot be turned off as a matter of safety, according to the company.

If you’re buying a Muto, then you’ll definitely be buying some of the carrier accessories. Fortunately, those are also reasonably priced, but you’ll have to pay between €5 and €10 to have them shipped.

Muto bikes are available now to test-ride in Amsterdam, with Berlin and Copenhagen pop-ups coming soon.

So. Muto ticks all the boxes, but is it perfect? Not quite.

To start with, the control pad mounted on the handlebar that shows the battery and power levels is hard to push. For my riding preference, the issue is exasperated by the need to push the top button seven times every time the bike turns on in order to get it back into max power mode. (It would ideally remember the last setting.) Muto supports nine pedal-assisted power modes, which feels like five too many on the road. Muto doesn’t offer any type of app integration, which is fine by me.

Power is delivered quietly and evenly to the pedals. I rode my test Muto almost exclusively in max-power mode as the lower power modes require more effort than I’m willing to expend (exercise!) on an e-bike. Getting the bike started relies almost exclusively on leg power. That’s because Muto is only fitted with a cadence sensor to determine when to engage the motor, as opposed to a more sophisticated (and expensive) torque sensor that delivers power more intuitively. It’s fine: the gears shift smoothly and reliably.

Muto also lacks a throttle as you probably guessed. If you’re looking for a hulking 700-watt vehicle that rides like a moped, then Muto isn’t the e-bike for you. So-called “speed pedelecs” must be ridden on streets alongside cars in much of Europe, instead of the safety of bike paths, making them impractical for use as city bikes.

Muto does have walk support, though. Pushing the lower button on the control pad turns on the motor to provide enough power to easily push the bike up special bike ramps found next to the stairwells in European train stations, for example.

I also have a modest concern with Muto quality control. The first test bike I received appeared to have a slightly warped disc brake, which caused the front wheel to rub somewhat while riding. I couldn’t see the warp, but I could hear it, and a €1,500 bike should ride silently, even on the cobbled roads of Amsterdam. Then, on my replacement bike, I found the rear-wheel lock difficult to close. It sounds minor, but the annoyance builds to a crescendo when you’re struggling with it a few times every day.

I should note that my bikes were classified as pre-production bikes, near the final stage of development before mass production begins. At least one bike was also used by another reviewer before I received it. That might explain the hardware issues, or might not.

The issues were minor, and I might not even mention them if the bike cost €750. But at twice that price a buyer should expect more. Regardless, if you’re interested in buying, you might want to wait a few weeks to ensure Muto works out any bugs that might exist in its manufacturing and assembly process.

Muto is a fantastic e-bike designed for city dwellers who use, or want to use, bicycles as their primary mode of transportation. It’s so good, with so many thoughtful features available at such a reasonable price, that it could very well become the Toyota Camry or VW Golf of electric bikes.

If you’re in Europe and in the market to buy an e-bike, Muto should be near the top of the list for consideration.

Update March 31st, 8:45AM ET: Review updated with confirmation from Muto that my review bikes were pre-production models.

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