Porteur Electric Bike Review: Crowdfunded bike delivers — on a basket
Bruising encounter with an uncouth electric MTB? Barked your shin on an ungainly battery pack? Gaze upon the Faraday Porteur, and soothe that fevered brow. This might just be the sweetest-looking electric bike you’ve ever seen. It’s up to you to decide whether it has the necessary oomph to handle life outside the bike lane.
Faraday, another electric vehicle company named for another pioneering scientist, is quartered in Palo Alto — just a klick or two from the Stanford alma mater of founder and lead designer Adam Vollmer. But the Porteur’s spiritual home is surely Oregon, the tree-hugging, decaf-quaffing US epicentre of all things right on. Oregon begat the Oregon Manifest, a utility bike competition, and in due course the Manifest begat the Porteur. But not until Vollmer and team had put his prize-winning design before the people. The project was crowdfunded via Kickstarter, where it received $177,268 of startup money from 368 backers.
The Manifest judging panel challenged competitors to ‘Build the ultimate modern utility bike’. In many respects, Vollmer’s vision aligns rather well with theirs. They like innovative design, and they prefer hand-built to high-tech. Well, the Porteur is part-handcrafted, uses natural materials where possible, and substitutes builder-friendly steel tubes for big-industry aluminium.
It’s a fair bet that those judges weren’t expecting power-assist entries – but, then, the Porteur works hard to conceal its electrics. The batteries stash neatly away inside standard-diameter frame tubes, and there are no unsightly cables. With the sub-40lb weight and simple, elegant colour scheme, you can forget it’s an e-bike. Almost.
Aside from neat detailing and excellent colour co-ordination, another characteristic of US handbuilt bikes is high price. The Porteur fits right in here, too, weighing in at $3800 for the standard model and — ouch! – $10,000 for the Collector’s Edition Porteur.
If that isn’t enough to put you off, let’s take a closer look.
Faraday claim that the Porteur was “inspired by the classic European delivery bikes of the 1940s and 50s”. It would be truer to say that it borrows heavily from the pastiche bikes of the past decade — but ‘retro’ styling is a bubble that no-one wants to prick, and a young designer could find worse role models than Matthew Grimm of Kogswell or Grant Petersen of Rivendell.
What you get for your money is a steel frame built in Paul Sadoff’s much-loved Rock Lobster shop and equipped with the kind of double toptube you’ll sometimes find on a period Whitworth or Rudge. That extra tube is a crucial design element, communicating a steady, reliable delivery-bike ethos while also providing a hidey-hole for batteries and some of the electrics. Wheels are 26″ — the popular MTB spec, not the hard-to-find Old English Roadster — and shod with relatively slender 35c tyres.
Only one colour is available, a pristine, delicate white, accessorized with tan leather and light wood. On the other hand, there are three different frame sizes, which is a really good thing. (You’d be surprised how many expensive e-bikes are one-size-fits-all.)
And there’s no suspension. Our experience with a venerable Raleigh three-speed suggests that you won’t need it. (You won’t try bunnyhopping any manhole covers, will you?)
Motor, Gears and Brakes
Let’s pass quickly over the rather conventional rear end with its eight-speed Shimano Alfine gearhub, the crank with its attractive
custom-designed chainring, and the solid Avid mechanical disk brakes. These are the kind of good-to-excellent parts that you will find on most upmarket roadsters, and they aren’t in any way specific to an electric bike. Um, hint, hint? That’s right… the Porteur bucks current trends by putting the motor in the front wheel. The motor in question is a modest 250W job, in no way remarkable. But Vollmer’s deployment of this standard component is very interesting indeed.
Look at the handlebar. No speed selection. The Porteur expects you to do most of the work. If the going gets tough — a big hill, or a headwind – you can hit the thumbswitch. The bike will then release a precisely-calculated dripfeed of extra power to the motor, just enough to keep you on the move. Keep your thumb down, make the bike do all the work, and you’ll find yourself proceeding at a sedate 17mph or so while the battery lasts. Most folks, however, settle into the expected pattern of self-propulsion relieved by occasional boosts.
The ‘brain’ which handles the necessary power calculations tucks into a neat waterproof package under the saddle. A few riders have commented that it can be a bit temperamental, leaving nothing to push against when it unexpectedly revs up the motor. But, hey — this is v1.0!
Batteries and Charging
As you’d expect at this pricepoint, the batteries are high-end lithium-ion types. They’ve been slimmed right down to fit into the frame tubes, so their capacity is limited to an underwhelming 195Wh. If you run the bike flat-out, this meagre reserve will translate into a range of 15 miles or so. You’ll get further if you exercise restraint, but we still reckon that the Porteur is a little underpowered for a big-city commute. (Faraday ship it with two chargers as standard, which you might interpret either as practical commonsense or an acknowledgment of defeat.)
The batteries don’t demount, so you’ll have to take the bike indoors for its charge. But it will look great in the office, and you can get it to full capacity in an impressive 45 minutes.
Gadgets and Options
Gadgets first. Check out those lights! These are gorgeous LED units that fit neatly inside the frame ends and switch themselves on automatically when it gets dark. They won’t cut it on a pitch-black backroad, but they’d be just the ticket for navigating a dimly-lit bike lane. Thumbs up, Mr. Vollmer.
Options? Well, there’s always that Collector’s Edition. Then again, who needs options when the standard Porteur ships with such an appealing kit-out? Best of the bunch is surely the demountable basket rack, fully integrated with the frame and capable of carrying up to 30lbs. (So positively no passengers — whoa there, Butch.) The cutaway Brooks saddle and matching tan leather handgrips and framebag are nice enough, if a little over-familiar. The wooden fenders are a damp squib, trick-looking but expensive and impractical.
Last but definitely not least, why has no-one commented on that colour-coordinated white stem? We’re guessing it’s an original Rock Lobster creation. If so, it’s worth a couple of hundred all on its own.
Yoicks and away?
Faraday are to be praised for building an elegant machine that’s perfectly suited to its smalltown/suburban niche. If your daily route features long, tree-lined avenues bordered by white picket fences — and your paycheque features lots of zeroes — here’s the electric bike for you. Remember to always keep some organic tofu in that basket. You never know when you might need it.