Hi-Power Cycles XC Series Full Suspension
Juiced Mountain Biking
Hi-Power Cycles is a small outfit in Southern California that truly believes in the mettle of electric bikes. They’re incredibly efficient, totally
silent, virtually pollution-free and, best of all, if you’re commuting on one, you get to dodge the gridlock of traffic by
using the bike lane.
That’s all well and good for getting to an office that’s
buried in a metropolis, but surrounding the Mountain Bike
Action office are singletrack trails. We wanted to put a true
electric bike to the test in our world.
WHO IS IT MADE FOR?
HPC sells most of its e-bikes to commuters, but the build
kit we chose for this bike is designed more for off-road use.
Everything—from the full-suspension design and trail geometry to the powerful brakes—is designed to work well on the
trail. In fact, if you stripped the battery and oversized hub
off this machine, it would look like just another trailbike.
WHAT IS IT MADE FROM?
The XC Series is built with a fairly standard mountain
bike chassis that includes an aluminum frame with 4. 7 inches of suspension travel front and rear. Aside from the pow-ertrain, the components are exactly the same as those we
see on $1500–$2000 unpowered bikes. While we chose the
most affordable build kit, HPC offers several other options,
including top-notch builds that can match any trail rider’s
dream spec. The frame uses a Horst-link-style suspension
design and sports a fairly steep-feeling geometry.
WHAT’S UNDER THE HOOD?
HPC builds its bikes with your choice of three different
motors. Since we primarily wanted this bike for off-road
use, we chose the highest-torque motor, dubbed The Striker.
This motor is designed to give up a little top speed in
exchange for low-end torque.
The power source is a 2800-watt system that runs off a
63-volt battery pack that’s housed in the frame bag. The
bike as a whole is then controlled via an LCD diagnostic
computer mounted to the handlebars for easy access and
feedback while riding. The bike also features a nifty
regeneration mode, which recharges the battery using the
energy that the brakes would normally dissipate.
HOW DOES IT PERFORM?
Moving out: The battery takes about six hours to fully
charge. After that, it’s time to hit the trails. HPC offers the
XC Series in three sizes. Our bike required very little setup
before we headed out for our first ride. The suspension is
air-sprung, and while it needed higher pressure to support
the extra weight, we stuck with our typical 30-percent-sag
setup front and rear.
Pedaling: Pedaling? Lack of pedaling is more like it. This
is the first e-bike we’ve tested that can truly be ridden on
the throttle only. With a fresh battery, riders can expect to
climb even the steepest fire roads at about 19 miles per hour
without using the pedals; however, when you max out the
bike like that, expect to go about 12 miles before you kill the
battery. Fortunately, the on-board computer allows you to
limit the amps being delivered to the hub, which drastically
improves the battery life and forces you to pedal the thing.
You just have to be disciplined enough to not run it wide
open, and trust us, it’s not easy.
Climbing: Climbing a smooth dirt road is a cakewalk with
this bike. When the trail turns to singletrack, though, the
HPC requires a very skilled pilot to navigate the trail. The
brushless motor in the hub lacks the torque to climb anything steep if there’s no momentum, so keeping the speed
up as you approach a climb is key. Since the rear brake also
features an automatic shutoff to the power, we found ourselves trying to feather the brake on technical climbs only to
kill the whole effort before it even started. The HPC requires
a different skill set than either a mountain bike or a motorcycle, but by the end of the test, we found ourselves floating
up nearly every climb we otherwise have to hike-a-bike.
How far can it go? We found ourselves riding 12–14 miles
under hard conditions, including big 2500-foot-plus climbs,
with ease. If you prefer to ride the HPC farther, the on-board
computer makes it easy to dial down the juice to help the
battery last longer—although it will need some more
pedaling help in the lower power settings to get it up the
Nifty regenerating motor: Don’t overlook the chance
to regenerate power when riding a bike like this. We found
ourselves running low on juice several times, hoping we
wouldn’t have to push a 65-pound sled home; however,
even when we completely killed the battery, we were able to
regenerate on a steady descent for just enough power to get
back to the truck. Using your power wisely on these bikes is
critical, and the regeneration option makes that easier.
Descending: Ripping up a climb on this bike is a blast,
but when it comes time to descend, this bike is a handful. While a normal trailbike feels light and flickable, the
65-pound HPC makes it tough to maneuver through technical terrain. Expect some of the time you made up on the
climb to be lost on the descent. This bike is just plain
hard to ride downhill with much speed or confidence.
Rather than blasting through the rock gardens, jumps
and drops we typically rally, we found ourselves
carefully picking our way down the trail.
TRICKS, UPGRADES OR TIPS?
Since the rear wheel weighs about 15 pounds
more than a typical mountain bike wheel, it works
as a pile driver into rocks and roots, meaning the
tire is much more susceptible to pinch flats. Do
yourself a favor and ditch the “pinner” Kenda Small
Block 8 tires for something more robust. A pair of
Kenda’s Nevegal tires would suit this bike better.
We chose the entry-level suspension package,
including a RockShox XC- 32 fork. The fork did its job
dutifully, but a more robust fork with improved damping
control, like our new favorite from the RockShox line, the
Pike, would really make this bike come alive.