London-based Gocycle is your regular reminder that not all electric bikes are equal.
E-bikes, like electric cars, are available in a dizzying array of styles and price points. If a $150,000 Porsche Taycan Turbo can coexist with a $30,000 Nissan Leaf, then this $5,000 Gocycle GXi can coexist with a $1,000 Swagtron EB12.
Electric bike sales are exploding worldwide as people look for alternatives to public transportation in an age of social distancing. Elderly riders in Europe discovered long ago that basic e-bikes can extend their mobility and independence well before young urban professionals began flocking to nicely designed electric bikes for a greener, healthier commute. City e-bikes are also catching on in bicycle-obsessed places like Berlin, Copenhagen, and Amsterdam where electric motors assist parents trying to pedal home on two-wheelers loaded with children and groceries. Electric cargo bikes now carry entire families in addition to goods. The e-bike market is clearly evolving, leaving plenty of room for market segmentation.
The Gocycle GXi isn’t for everybody. Nobody strictly needs a million-dollar hypercar either, but lots of people want one.
Let me begin by saying that the Gocycle GXi is one of the most advanced e-bikes that money can buy. It’s exactly what you’d expect from Gocycle, a company founded by a former design engineer for McLaren cars.
The new Gocycle GXi marries the performance of the company’s flagship G3 model with the 10-second-folding capabilities of the GX model I reviewed last year. As such, all of the things I loved about the GX — attention to design and suitability for long or last-mile commutes — carry over to the GXi as well.
My review GXi (base price £3,699 / €4,199 / $4,799) was fitted with a number of options to make it into a professional commuter bike. These include a pair of mudguards (£80 / €99.98 / $119.98), Front Pannier (£149.99 / €179.99 / $199.99), and a Supernova Light Kit (£218.49 / €251.75 / $284.99). That brings the total price to (£4,247.48 / €4,730.72 / $5,403.96). If you gasped at those prices, you’re surely not alone. The GXi is expensive.
I tested the ultra-premium Gocycle for almost two months, putting about 400 km (250 miles) on the odometer, often riding 17 km / 10.6 miles in a single stretch or twice that to return home with about 10 percent battery remaining in the tank. I set up the GXi in US mode (despite living in Europe), allowing me to access 500W of power and a max speed of 32 km/h (20 mph), something I only unleashed well outside of the Amsterdam city limits.
The GXi’s biggest advancement over the GX is the electronic three-speed borrowed from the G3. It employs what Gocycle calls “Predictive Shifting,” replacing the manual Shimano Nexus shifter found on the GX. I have mixed feelings about the “predictive” bit. For the most part, it works, deftly shifting to a higher or lower gear as needed. It does require a slight pause between downstrokes to allow the internal gear hub to complete the shift, which is disconcerting at first. But soon, I was riding and shifting in easy rhythm with the bike.
Predictive Shifting was less successful at anticipating my desired gear selection when riding in lots of unpredictable stop-and-go traffic or when trying to manage my cadence while riding alongside another bicyclist. Fortunately, a twist switch on the right-hand grip can be used to override any errant gear selection as needed. You simply roll the switch up or down to shift gears. You can turn Predictive Shift off completely, though that requires a rather convoluted process of throttle and shifter maneuvers instead of just a toggling a switch in the app. Despite its faults, I’d rather have it on than off.
Speaking of the app, I tried to avoid it, as I did when I tested the GX. I guess it’s slightly less buggy than the last time I looked at it, making it easier to endlessly tune the power-delivery profiles. (I mostly rode in the default City+ profile.) While it does a good job of walking new owners through all of the bike’s features, the clunky design is incongruent with the premium bike you’ve just purchased, sullying the otherwise delightful unboxing and assembly experience. The app can also serve as a dashboard when turned sideways into landscape mode and attached to the handlebar using Gocycle’s crude but effective mounting bands.
Overall, the ride is fun, fast, and looks fine as hell, thanks in part to those chunky hub-mounted magnesium wheels. And you won’t find a single exposed cable to interrupt the clean lines. Even the desperately large Gocycle wordmark disappears into my black GXi’s frame. I receive more spontaneous compliments riding Gocycles than any other e-bikes I’ve ridden, which is saying a lot here in Amsterdam, the bicycle capital of the world.
Innovations that once felt futuristic are at risk of becoming pedestrian
Still, I can’t help but think that Gocycle innovation has slowed. The GXi adopts features found in Gocycle’s G3, which was launched in 2016, and built upon the electronic shifting features carried over from 2012’s G2. I’m currently testing an unannounced e-bike (more on that soon) that shifts more smoothly, intuitively, without all of the GXi’s noise, and with a similarly small front-hub motor that feels just as powerful.
My point is this: technical innovations that once made Gocycle feel futuristic are at risk of becoming pedestrian on bikes that cost half as much.
Some other observations:
- The daytime running lights and reflective tires make the GXi supremely visible. The optional Supernova Light Kit is extremely bright, providing very good nighttime illumination even when racing along desolate bike paths lit only by street lamps.
- I expected more long-range comfort from a seat called “Velo D2 Comfort.” The Ergo Comfort grips live up to the name, though.
- The GXi pedal on the drivetrain-side is detachable, not quick-folding like on the GX. I prefer the GX design as I don’t have to worry about losing the pedal when folding the bike up or walking alongside it in the train station. As a I result I usually just left it attached despite the occassional damage to my shin.
- The steering on the GXi (and all Gocycles) is a bit twitchy compared to a full-sized bike, but not nearly as bad as most 20-inch foldables. I like the feel, personally; it’s super responsive like a BMX bike.
- Illuminated dots run the length of the handlebar to indicate battery level, power assist, gear selection, and more. It all makes sense after a few consultations with the manual.
- The Gocycle pannier bag with laptop sleeve is super useful for long commutes. It’s roomy and can be attached and removed in seconds.
- The fan in the so-called “fast” charger that comes bundled with the GXi is noisy. That’s a problem if you need to charge the battery in your living room (like I did) for the four hours it takes to go from zero to full.
- Throttle only works when the bike is set up for US mode and only after the bike is up to speed. (It can’t be used from a dead stop.)
- I wish the GXi had a fourth gear for peddling beyond the top, pedal-assisted speed of 32 km/h (20 mph). Most riders won’t care.
- Leg power is required to get the bike moving in all rider profiles. This helps keep the front-hub motor small and extends the life of the battery.
- Electronic shifting is noisy, sounding like a Michael-Bay-produced sound effect. I kind of like it.
- The motor whines more than it should at this price.
- The front-folding center stand can be tricky to deploy.
- A fiddly rubber band keeps the folded bike closed, which is a little disappointing on a $5,400 bike.
Is a McLaren hypercar worth $1 million? To me, no. But to a certain class of people, it is. Similarly, some people will pay three times more for a Leica camera even though it doesn’t take photos any better than a Sony. In both of these cases, you’re not just buying the product, you’re paying to be associated with what it represents. Unfortunately, the 11-year-old Gocycle brand hasn’t earned McLaren or Leica status yet.
Is the Gocycle GXi a great e-bike? Yes, absolutely. It’s the most sophisticated folding e-bike you can buy right now. It’s certainly unique. And for some, those two reasons might justify a purchase at any price.
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