Back in November last year I replaced my aging Juicy Bike with an Ave XH-3, and after some 1,600 miles of bedding in, I’m now reviewing it. I’ve added some hi-res pictures for potential buyers, or anyone wanting a closer look. Having now e-commuted daily for the last two and a half years, I write with a better appreciation of balancing the cost of bike ownership with the critical considerations of reliability and performance.
The quality of the XH-3 frame and mechanics is excellent, reflecting the £1800 price tag, and mine is generally handling heavy duty use (and haphazard lubrication) very well. The Tektro disk brakes are great and appear to look after themselves, despite frequent punishment. The same goes for the Rokshok front forks, which offer decent cushioning on mounting and falling off curbs, and unsurprisingly are much better than the cheap unbranded shocks I’ve tried in the past. The Shimano Deore gears need some TLC, but when they have been recently tuned, they purr along nicely, and pop up and down with a gentle flick of a lever.
The bike is equipped with Schwalbe Racing Ralph tyres, which are extra-knobbly for off-road use. Since I’m 90% on asphalt, it would be more efficient to swap to Marathon Plus, but it’s safe to say that the standard fitments are brilliantly puncture-resistant, and are a reasonable default for the bike’s target market. Ave has made both wheels quick-release, which is fine if you intend to buy extra wheels for race events, but isn’t so great if you intend to lock the bike up in public places. Thus, my security strategy is now to (a) use two D-locks every time, one through the frame and one through the front wheel, with a loop for the saddle, and (b) maintain good-quality (new-for-old) insurance cover. I’ll swap out the quick-release axles for fixed ones too, when I get the chance.
The bike doesn’t come with any mudguards, so I’ve added a couple of Zefal No Muds, which were only twelve quid each. Despite not offering ideal splatter coverage – they could do with being a bit longer – they’ve been absolutely fine in practice. Sadly the bearings in one of the pedals have already worn out; however, they do appear to be a bit cheap-n-cheerful, and perhaps should be swapped with better branded ones anyway.
Off-road performance is loads of fun, and this is where the good mix of branded components really come into their own. I live and work next to forestry-managed parks, which are ideal testing grounds for bikes of this kind. Wood-chip forest floors, narrow dirt tracks ensconced in branches, grass valleys to pick up some speed, and the occasional log to hop over slowly: bliss!
Crank drive systems such as this are much more efficient than a (usually cheaper) hub drive, since it can take advantage of the gearing. The XH-3 does not disappoint here, delivering a strong and satisfying ride assistance. However, it’s worth noting that exerting too much pedal effort in an inappropriately high gear can result in the chain bouncing off the crank, which then usually jams hard inside the motor housing. If this happens, it will require several minutes worth of manual (and severe) chain-tugging to untangle it. My guess is that I’ll be wearing out chains and cogs a great deal faster than a hub drive for this very reason.
The very readable control panel has a backlight, which is wonderful for night riding, and is twist-removable for security. It offers a useful balance between assist levels and charge longevity: if you’re a long way from a charge point and the level meter is dipping, just drop to a lower assist mode and the range estimator will bump up another 10 to 20 kilometers. There are four basic ride modes, each having three levels of assist – twelve in total. Whilst I like having road modes (for rare adjustment, like on/off road) and sub-levels for each, I wonder whether fewer levels might have been simpler. It’s worth noting too that these little units cost an extortionate £110 – they must cost all of £20 to manufacture! – so losing one would be a rather painful experience.
There were a few more design problems with the control panel, though most of these, I believe, have been fixed in a recent redesign. The side-mounted buttons are often fiddly to operate, especially with winter gloves. It turns out also that there is no way for the user to toggle between kilometers and miles; even though the unit is capable of it, switching requires dealer equipment, which dealers don’t always carry.
Mechanical support issues are dealt with well, being ably handled by Ave in Germany; when an air leak was discovered in the rear Tektro caliper, they sent a new unit to the dealer, no questions asked. Thus, I was able to carry on riding with a slightly squashy rear brake, rather than having none at all for an extended period.
The supply chain for the electrics is a great deal more complicated, and unfortunately results in a rather difficult support experience. I’ve suffered two electrical issues so far: rain was able to get into my control panel, and deeply-recessed battery terminals have become partially bent during ordinary use. One or the other caused intermittent performance issues for a while, though currently (touch wood) things seem okay at the moment. Control panel first: the word from Germany was that we’d have to take off the panel, the handlebar socket, and the wiring down to the crank drive, and send it all abroad for warranty analysis. My guess is this would leave me without electrical assistance for a month minimum, so we’ve decided against it.
Given this trouble, we decided against sending the battery back too, as we felt that it might be a lot of hassle that might result in a warranty claim rejection anyway. Currently, with the control panel fully dried out, performance is 95% good, with only a few unexpected ‘dead spots’ in motor operation to mar it. I’ve noticed that repositioning the rear wheel magnet can affect things, so I might have a play with that, in case the missing 5% is trivially fixable.
I am assured that other brands aren’t immune to control panel water ingress – the eMotion range was mentioned here – but that where this has happened, the help from the manufacturer has been altogether more supportive. I very much liked the eMotion Neo Cross: I decided against it as I couldn’t see why it was £200 more expensive than the XH-3, but if your dealer stocks both, ask them about the support they’ve had in the past, and choose accordingly. It might be that the extra cash, if you can afford it, is worth shelling out.
In summary, the XH-3 is a great bike mechanically, and in general I would recommend it. The design issues with the control panel are, as I say, fixed in a later incarnation. With regards to the electrical faults, I expect some with all machines, and so would only sound a note of caution around the complexity of overseas support (if you live in Germany, I should think it would be fine!). If I am revisited by any further electronic ghosts, I will persist with the dealer to obtain a satisfactory outcome, and will post again with details. In the meantime, if anyone has experience obtaining support for the “big” e-bike brands, please do share your feedback in the comments.