Review: Felt Sporte Electric Bike

The Felt Sporte is a hybrid bike with a mid-drive electric assist motor. It has a stiff, aluminum frame and a comfortable saddle. Mine came with lights (powered by the bike battery), a back rack, fenders, and a bell.

There's a small control console/computer mounted on the handlebars that shows you speed, the amount of power the motor is contributing to your ride, and remaining battery. You can cycle through a series of other stats, including remaining range, trip time, trip distance, bike odometer, average speed, and max speed. It also has a button to toggle the lights. Buttons positioned by the left grip allow you to control the power mode the bike is in and cycle through the different information displays.

The battery mounts on the downtube, and you can remove it to charge it, or charge it in place. The charger is small enough that it's not terrible to stick it in my pannier, but as I'll get to below I've figured out how to not need it for round-trip work commutes plus a little extra travel each day.

Battery Life, Power Modes and Speed

Most electric bikes have some way to set how much help you get from the motor. The Sporte has four modes:

  • Eco
  • Touring
  • Sport
  • Turbo

Under Eco mode, my bike reports it can get about 60 miles on a charge, but the bike is contributing very little help. Realistically, it's probably not a lot more than what it takes to offset the added weight of battery and motor.

In Touring mode, the bike reports closer to 40 miles of range on a charge. Having done a few commutes in this mode, I'd say it allows me to average 20 miles per hour over my 10-mile commute with about as much effort as I would have put into maintaining an average of 15 miles per hour on my cyclocross bike.

Having experimented a little with Turbo, Sport, and Touring modes, I've learned a few things:

  • A "Turbo" commute to and from work leaves me with a reported two miles of life left in the battery when I get home that night (assuming I stay in "Turbo" mode).
  • A "Turbo" commute to work, and a "Touring" ride home leaves me with about six miles of battery life (assuming I stay in "Touring" mode).
  • A "Sport" commute to and from work leaves me with about four miles of battery life.
  • "Touring" commutes to and from work leave me with at least 10 miles of battery life at the end of the day.

So for my ideal use case, I can leave the charger at home and have enough battery left for a run to the store after work if I go fast one direction and slightly less fast another. The charger is so light, though, that I don't really mind packing it along and plugging in at the office, which means I've got way more juice for getting around at the end of the day if I don't want to go straight home.

In terms of speed in each mode, I've found I can complete my 10-mile commute in about 38 minutes in Turbo mode, and closer to 41 minutes in Touring mode. In Turbo mode, I can peg the bike at 20 miles per hour without a lot of effort – I didn't even sweat under my rain gear a few days ago. In Touring mode, it hangs around closer to 17 or 18 miles per hour and there's a bit more effort to keep it there (but not enough to make me sweat a ton).

I like Turbo mode for the sense of getting somewhere fast, but it powers the bike so much that it's constantly reaching 20 mph and cutting back the motor, which is disconcerting and feels a little weird as resistance comes and goes to the pedals. I don't have to really expend a ton of effort to get it to that speed, so it's constantly backing off. Sport mode is a little more smooth, and still goes pretty fast.

Range Computing

I can gauge all that stuff about range and speed because the bike's computer is constantly calculating how much life you have in the battery. It's been an interesting thing to monitor, because the motor is pretty sensitive to load and it doesn't take much to drain the battery.

According to what I've read, the computer is basing its range calculations on the previous two miles of energy consumption. Steep or long hills can have an immediate effect on the estimated range left on the battery, and will cause the computer to drop a few miles of range off right away. Coming off a steep or long hill, the computer is a little more conservative about adding the mileage back.

To illustrate:

When I start my commute home, the computer is working from the last two miles of data, which are pretty much a flat ride along the river, a gentle rise from crossing the Hawthorne Bridge, a steep drop down into downtown, and then a few flat blocks into work. So it might show about 20 miles of range left in Sport or even Turbo mode.

That commute home, though, immediately involves a steep hill (over the Morrison Bridge) before flattening out. So the calculated range plunges by several miles, and it will stick on that calculated number for a while once things flatten: The computer is still averaging out that steep climb, so it might claim you've got 12 or 13 miles of battery left for the next two miles. It takes a few miles for the calculated range to begin to slope off at the rate you'd expect for the mode you're in.

I get the same thing in the morning when I start my ride to work: Since the ride home involves a gentle upward grade and ends with a hill a couple of blocks long, the calculated range is pretty conservative: The last two miles in memory were all uphill. So on a fresh battery it might report 30 or 35 miles of range, and maintain that figure for a mile or so, then it might even begin to add miles to the calculated range for a bit longer before the previous night's travel drops off the end of the rolling average.

Reviewers periodically complain about the range gauge being all over the place, but in the absence of the bike somehow knowing what sort of terrain you're going to be traveling over in the next 30 miles, I don't know that the engineers who designed the range gauge could have done much different.

The Riding Experience

You know, I like it a lot.

The bike itself is pretty comfortable. The ride is upright, so I feel like I have better 360 visibility. The stiff frame and road tires make me feel connected to the pavement.

Biking under power is a pretty nice experience, really. I wasn't sure what to expect when I started all my test rides: Would the pedals move on their own? (No.) Would it surge ahead and feel out of control? (No.) Would it be loud? (Not really, and only when going up hills or in the process of getting up to cruising speed.)

You have a sense of being helped along, but because there's shift sensing and because the motor cuts out if you squeeze the brakes or stop pedaling, there's never a sense of precarious control. The hydraulic brakes do a great job of stopping even at relatively high speeds.

The things I've paid the most attention to in the week I've had it have been:

  • How do I feel at the end of each ride? Generally, I'd say I've felt energized. Heartrate monitoring shows that I'm in a decent zone during my rides, and when I get off the bike I feel good: I can tell I've worked, but not to the point of exhaustion.
  • How do I feel at the end of the day? Good! Rather than feeling like I've used up my discretionary energy, I'm up for more. I never would have voluntarily biked to the grocery store two miles away after doing a round trip to work, but I do now.
  • How does it affect the quality of my ride? Positively. It's nice to have help getting up hills. It's nice to get a boost when starting back up from a stop.

Downsides? Mostly that I have to pay attention to the battery. I've got a long commute and I'm still enjoying how much more quickly I can do it without being drenched in sweat at the end, which means I'm using faster modes and chewing through the battery quicker. I've considered splurging on a second charger so I can just keep one at the office and not have to pack it along each day.

I'm also a little self conscious about it. I can go pretty fast relative to most of the commuter traffic around me. The Hawthorne Bridge, for instance, has become a very new experience to me as I come to grips with the fact that even coming up off the ramp from the trail, I've got a speed advantage on most of the people on the bridge. I can do 17 or 18 mph up the hills I encounter, too. I use my bell religiously when passing, and I try very hard not to slide back into my lane until there's plenty of space between me and someone I passed.

That self consciousness isn't a terrible price to pay, though, for enjoying my ride so much more, and not paying quite as big a time penalty to come in by bike. With my cyclocross bike, a commute realistically took an hour for the ride plus cleaning up on the other end. That made it pretty much a wash compared to my Max commute (also an hour with walk to the station thrown in). I don't know what it would be like in a car, but that's a non-starter: Our family has managed to keep ourselves to one car, and I hate the thought of paying parking, gas, and all the rest for a daily commute that I'd despise on the best of days. With an electric bike, I have a faster commute that's less tiring while still helping me get some exercise in.


About the Felt Sporte Electric Bike


Summary: A mid-drive electric bike with a relatively stiff frame and aggressive geometry that makes it easy to help it along.

Purpose: Given a 10-mile bike commute, a little help from a motor goes a long way to making that commute a daily affair.

Date bought: April 5, 2016

Good buy? So far so good.

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Updates to This Review

Added some notes about the range calculator.
April 14, 2016


Things is © 2015 Mike Hall.