Connecting the Skarper unit to the frame is brilliantly simple. The rear section slots onto the DiskDrive at two points, and the tapered front end clips securely into a small bracket that you mount to the bike frame. Press the only button on the unit, wait for the status light to come on, and you’re ready to ride.
Riding the backstreets and gentle hills of north London, I was hugely impressed by the help offered by the Skarper and the instantaneous pull I felt as soon as I started to pedal. The assistance isn’t overbearing, and it won’t freak out first-time ebike riders with inconsistent, aggressive acceleration. It simply works, just like a decent ebike should, helping when you need it but not making you feel like you’re on a moped.
I tried the Eco and Max modes, and while full power was more fun, both offered a solution to avoid getting sweaty on a daily commute. Given the compact size and simplicity of the unit, this is a huge accomplishment.
What surprised me most during the test, however, was the fact that the big, goofy step-through commuter bike was more fun to ride than the ultralight gravel bike. It bounced along with a real sense of joy, feeling like an infinitely superior pay-per-ride city bike. Maybe I didn’t enjoy the pro design because it’s the sort of bike that is fast, fun, and engaging to ride without electric power. In truth, it’s the bike you hurtle to work on, under your own steam, and then mosey home on, with Skarper taking the strain.
The prototype needs a bit of finessing. In my tests, the bearings made a bit of a racket (apparently caused by letting a BMX rider do jumps with it at a trade show), and it pulled a little too forcefully at times when turning through tight corners. But even after my short ride on this preproduction model, I could easily see the potential.
Puzzling Price Point
There’s no escaping the debate about cost. The Skarper is expected to retail for around £1,000 ($1,190), a sum most casual cyclists would rather just spend on a complete ebike. A quick search on Amazon reveals 577 complete ebikes for sale at a lower price. So how can the company justify such an outlay?
“There’s a real value fallacy in buying a £1,000 ebike,” Darwood says. “Battery and motor component costs are high, so you’re essentially paying for a motor, battery, and a bike built with unbranded parts that wouldn’t cost more than £100.”
“So you can find what appears to be a bargain of an ebike, but the truth is, if you’re buying from a leading manufacturer such as Specialized, Giant, or Trek, there’s almost nothing available for less than £2,000. So what we’re saying is, go to a bike shop, spend £1,000 on a hybrid commuter bike with quality components, and then buy a Skarper,” Darwood says.
On the face of it, that’s an awful lot of work and expense for the average bike commuter to be bothered with. But the fact remains that you don’t need to buy a new bike to use the Skarper; you may be able to install it on the bike you’ve been riding for years, as long as it has disc brakes.