It's cheap, but is it up to the task?
About a week ago, a good friend asked me for my opinion on an electric bicycle he was sent to review. As an avid American cyclist, who also commutes to work with the power of 2 wheels and some leg power, I have always shunned the idea of electric assist. The idea almost feels like cheating.
The bike comes from a Swedish company called Stark. The model I had the chance to spend some time with came with the oversized 4” wide tires option. The first impression was that the bicycle looked extremely heavy and uncomfortable, but I was willing to give it a chance.
Stark is trying to be the first company to provide an electric bicycle to the masses for under $400 (our tester was pricier at around $999). That in itself is a difficult undertaking considering a quality conventional bicycle can far exceed that price point even for a beginner bike.
Some basic info on our test bike
The model I commuted on did have front and back mudguards, which was a huge plus, and a rear cargo rack. I would have preferred a rear rack that can accept pannier bags, but a couple of bungee cords and I was able to secure the necessary items for a day at work to the rear rack. Next problem was the saddle, the saddle was oversized and uncomfortable. It's a popular misconception that an oversized padded bicycle saddle offers more comfort, but in reality, it's just the opposite. A slimmer more conventional saddle would be more appropriate.
The bike has five levels of power for the electric assist. Level 5 is rather impressive, but for my 12-mile round trip commute, I kept it in 1 or 2. The components are rather entry level which is to be expected for the price point.
Day 1 of my morning commute to work
It was a cool summer morning and my 6 miles were effortless. The extra-wide tires did allow me to hold my coffee in one hand and still feel stable and confident, although I wouldn't recommend doing so.
Where the Stark really shone was the ride home. After a 10-hour shift at work, I was tired and faced with a 6-mile return trip in 13 mph headwinds. The bike, set to level 3, made the ride home surprisingly enjoyable. With my more aggressive riding style, I got about 18 miles of range from a full charge.
Day 2 and 3 were pretty much identical experiences.
Day 4: Dude, where's my chain?
On day 4, I had a catastrophic failure of the chain. I feel this is partly due to the lower quality chain, coupled with the big tires it's trying to turn. That was the end of my time with this bicycle, as the chain fell apart in several places and replacing it didn't occur until a few days later before the bike was due to be returned.
Overall, I think with a few changes like the saddle, rear rack and chain, this has the potential to be something quite amazing for the price range Stark is targeting. The 4” oversized tires I didn't see much use for and feel they hindered the bike more than they helped.
The bike is heavy, if you have to negotiate any stairs whether it's carrying the bike into the office, your home or apartment it’s going to be close to impossible for the normal person. Those tires add a lot to the overall weight of the bike and don't really seem necessary.
Closing and recommendations
As tested, this would be a great bike for keeping at the weekend cottage, or to ride around the neighborhood with the kids. As a dedicated commuter, as configured, I don't feel I would personally choose it. I don't feel like the lower quality components would hold up very long to daily abuse. I know Stark offers other models and I think with some changes this could be an excellent option for anyone who occasionally commutes shorter distances.
At this super low price point, if Stark can find a way to get it to the U.S. market, in brick and mortar stores where shipping costs won't come into play and have local shops that can perform service and maintenance, then I can certainly see a market for it.
I look forward to seeing what Stark can bring to the market in the future. This experience did open my eyes a little wider into the vast world of electric bicycles.
***Editor's note: You can visit Stark Drive's website by clicking here. Below, we've included some additional words from Stark, as well as some specifications for its various offerings.
We'd like to point out and emphasize that a previous reviewer damaged this bike. InsideEVs accepted the bike for review and repaired it as best as possible. However, there's a chance our chain failure was related to a bent rear derailleur and/or damage to the chain from a previous reviewer.
When we deal with kickstarter companies and prototypes, many details may change from the intial request for a review to the actual product delivery. It has come to our attention that much has changed. Please reach out to Stark Drive directly for details and clarification.
It worth noting that all we had available to test was the Block 1 or Version 1 of Stark Drive Torque, there have been countless improvements to the Block/Version 2 Model - details here.
More from Stark Drive:
Stark Drive has chosen not to 'reinvent the wheel' (no pun intended) so we went with an existing frame design built on readily available molds in order to reduce the cost of tooling and manufacturing. We have chosen the best components designed to work in harmony with one another while keeping total cost at the forefront of our design goals.
The result is the most affordable electric bike in the world, bar none. Take a look at Stark Drive and the many customization opportunities that we offer as we believe that the perfect electric bike is the one that matches our customer's needs.