Meet the Stromer ST2, the best electric bike on the road

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Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
The ST2 electric bike from Stromer will put a big smile on your face. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
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Oh. My. Gosh. The Stromer ST2 electric bike is so much fun, it should not be street legal.

Two weeks ago I had zero interest in electric bikes. I’ve ridden traditional bicycles my entire life and I love them. The very idea of an electric bike was repellent — even in a hilly city like San Francisco. Hills and exercise are the entire point.

Then I test-rode the Stromer ST2.

Three seconds in, I’m laughing like a madman as the ST2 takes off like a rocket. I spend the next 30 minutes flying up and over the hill where I live, laughing like a loon and having the time of my life.

Now I’m a convert. The ST2 is the best electric bike on the market. It performs like a champ, has a ton of high-tech features (including an iOS app), and actually looks cool and not ridiculous.

Best of all, it’s a screaming blast to ride.

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Everything’s nicely integrated, like the ST2’s battery pack, which pops out of a door on the side of the down tube. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Electric bikes have been tipped to be the next big thing for years but still haven’t taken off, despite the fact that almost every major bicycle brand now sells one. The market is still relatively tiny, selling only 160,000 units in the United States in 2014, according to industry group Electric Bikes Worldwide Reports. By contrast, about 15 million regular bicycles are sold each year. Problem is, most e-bikes are big, ugly, expensive and irredeemably dorky.

Enter the ST2, the third-generation e-bike from Stromer, the electric bike division of BMC, one of Switzerland’s biggest bike makers.

The ST2 was just launched in the United States after a hugely successful introduction in Stromer’s native Europe. In fact, the U.S. launch was delayed because of such high demand. It won a Eurobike gold award and has been earning 10-out-of-10 reviews wherever it’s been ridden.

Ready for a rocket ride?

The ST2 is pedal-assist, which means the electric motor kicks in when you pedal.

The sensation is spectacular. When I first turned the pedal, the bike lurched forward and my neck snapped back in an almost comical manner (I’m exaggerating a bit, but that’s what it felt like). I wasn’t expecting such power and speed. It felt like I was perched on a two-wheel rollercoaster.

I flew down the hill, clicking quickly down the gears to get more speed. The pedal assist gets faster as you pedal, and I was flying. Then I turned up Bernal Heights‘ imposing hill. Swear to god, it felt like I went up the hill as fast as I went down.

The Stromer ST2 has a traditional, 20-speed mountain bike gear system, which the motorized hub supplements. You still have to pedal, but you can power up hills. You can really power up hills. I had to stand up and mash the pedals on the steepest slopes, but it was much easier — and faster — than making the grade without motorized assistance.

I arrived at the top of the hill breathing heavily and high as a kite from the exercise and the fun. I immediately turned down the hill and came right back up again — several times.

Street style

The ST2 has got style.
The ST2 has got style. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

The ST2 is a beefy bike. The aluminum frame is made of 6061 aluminum alloy, and comes in two styles — sport (high step) and comfort (step-thru). It’s available in multiple sizes, but comes in only two colors: glossy white or matte black.

It looks boss. Unlike most e-bikes, which range from ugly to hideous, the ST2 has a cool urban aesthetic.

Everything’s integrated, from the battery pack and motor to the brake and gear cables. Up front is a cool, built-in LED running light that gives the ST2 a Cylon vibe. It also has an LED headlamp for night riding and a rear blinky. There’s even a USB charging port on the head tube for keeping your iPhone alive or juicing a bike computer.

There’s no suspension, but the big balloon tires and carbon-fiber fork provide some cushion.

It has matching alloy fenders with a rear rack, and a beefy kickstand that keeps the porky bike upright. It weighs a hefty 62 pounds.

All the components are high-end and durable, from the Shimano Deore XT derailleur to the beefy disc brakes and Schwalbe Big Ben tires.

The wheels are 26-inchers and the axles are locked. They’re harder to get off in the event of a flat, but also somewhat theft-proof if the bike is locked on the street. In this town, lots of people walk around with their quick-release wheels in hand.

Stomer_ST2_piggy_back
A bicycle made for two. The ST2 got both of us (a combined weight of about 360 pounds) up Bernal Hill in San Francisco.

Power to the pedals

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
Choose the amount of power assist, and flash the headlight. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Technically, the ST2 is a Class 3 S-Pedelec bike (short for Schnell-Pedelec or Speed-Pedelec), which means it’s limited to a top speed of 28 mph. Class 3 e-bikes are one rung below motorcycles and mopeds, and in some parts of Europe, they’re considered motor vehicles. But in the United States, it’s still a bike.

The ST2 is driven by a powerful, 500-watt motor in the rear hub and an enormous lithium-ion battery pack. The SYNO Drive motor offers a whopping 35Nm of torque, which, like I said, can be head-snapping even up an incline.

The bike has three levels of assist: 1 is like a gentle push, while 3 is full warp factor 9. It’s very high tech. A trio of sensors — a torque sensor, an accelerometer and a gyroscopic incline sensor — decide the precise amount of assist for each pedal stroke.

The assist level is selected by a backlit button panel on the right-hand shifter, which makes switching accessible and easy. Level 3 brings the most fun, but I eventually settled on level 1 unless I was absolutely whipped. I like to get the blood pumping.

The battery pack is a big long brick of lithium-ion cells from Samsung, rated at 48 volts/17 amp hours. It weighs a hefty 11 pounds and sits in the oversize down tube behind a lockable panel that pops open and closes with a satisfying click. The battery is removable, for charging on or off the bike. It’s a breeze to pop it out and lug it up to your office for a recharge during the day or your apartment at night.

The battery takes about five hours to fully recharge and offers 60 to 90 miles of riding, depending, of course, on a range of factors, from speed to the prevailing winds and hills. In my day-to-day riding, it barely dipped below 90 percent charge, though admittedly I racked up only a few miles a day and charged it at night. However, I gave my son a ride home on the back one day, and our combined weight of approximately 360 pounds ate up a full 40 percent of the battery.

To save juice, the bike offers regenerative braking. When the brake are pulled, the system cuts the motor and returns some power to the battery. It’s difficult to determine how much difference it makes. Stromer claims it’s significant, and works best when the battery gets low. The regenerative system can also function as brake assist on long descents, which is handy for a 60-plus pound bike.

One negative: The regenerative brakes may put a drag on the wheels when coasting. There’s a noticeable drag when you stop pedaling. At first, I found it a bit annoying, but I got used to it and it doesn’t really affect the ride at all. It’s a minor quibble.

There’s an app for that

Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac
The ST2’s LED screen displays data like the battery’s charge and miles per hour. Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

The ST2 is highly connected, with Bluetooth, GPS and a GSM cellphone connection built right in. On the top tube, just behind the handlebars, there’s a touch-sensitive LCD screen that gives access to some of the bike’s controls, but the real action is via the myStromer App.

The app enables several performance tweaks (you can crank all the torque and speed settings up), monitors the battery’s charging status, and lets you control anti-theft features. The GPS tells you where the bike is located if it gets stolen or you forget where you left it, and enables a LoJack-like security feature. The bike can be tracked if it goes missing, then locked and disabled with the lights freaking out to attract attention.

You can also do over-the-air software updates, and upload the bike’s service history to the cloud.

Stromer_ST2_App_screenshots
The MyStormer app provides maps, bike status and performance tweaks, like upping the maximum speed or range. Screengrab: Stromer

And now the bad news

The bad news is that the ST2 costs $6,990. I cried. If only it were $1,000, or even $2,500. Consider that you can get a cheap scooter for $2,500, and a high-end Vespa for about $6,500. Scooters offer lots of storage and are no effort to drive (but you do need a license).

$7,000 is a lot of coin, but e-bikes are for transportation. If you are considering the ST2 instead of a bike or car, the price tag might be easier to swallow.

But oh my. It’s a bummer, because the ST2 is the best way to get around the city. It’s healthy, super-fun and parking’s a breeze, even in North Beach, the seventh level of San Francisco parking hell.

I genuinely don’t want to send the ST2 back, and if I could steal it, I would. But there’s the pesky GPS.

The Stromer ST2 is available from San Francisco’s New Wheel electric bike store in Bernal Heights.