Ebikes are heavier, have more power and bigger brakes, and need sturdier components than analog equivalents. It doesn’t matter how much carbon fiber you wrap them in, they’re just never going to feel like your buddy’s tricked-out Pinarello.
The more I ride, the more I realize that I don’t actually want anything that resembles a traditional road bike for getting around town. I’m looking for something like the Gazelle Ultimate C380 HMB. It’s a gorgeous, step-through ebike with a mid-drive motor, variable gearing, and a belt drive. It has built-in lights and a great cargo rack as standard.
It would be absolutely horrible to ride without electric assistance, but who cares? The Ultimate C380 embraces what it is. If you want to pedal from A to B in comfort, ease, and—I dare say—style, this is one of the best all-around ebikes I’ve tried.
The C380 looks like a beefed-up version of the step-through bike you might have whisked around the 1950s suburbs, now with 2021’s finest tech.
It has a bulky aluminum downtube that houses the integrated 13.4Ah battery, but the single upfront shock and fatter road tires keep everything balanced. I like the rear cargo holder, which effortlessly integrates into the utilitarian design. The gray-blue color of my review unit is also striking, especially thanks to crisp yellow accents that invite you in from first glance.
Step into the saddle, and you’ll find a practical cockpit. There’s no color display or crazy app-based gizmos. Instead, you’ll find an easy-to-read black and white control unit, a nice mounted headlight, and the handlebar shifter for the Enviolo trekking hub system.
The Enviolo trekking hub is a sort of all-in-one shifting unit that sits inside of the C380’s rear wheel hub. It doesn’t have the same problems shifting between gears that traditional bike shifters do. Instead, it’s immediately variable, meaning you can twist the handlebar and go from the highest resistance to the lowest without your chain having to step through gears.
I love ebikes with Enviolo hubs because they allow for such smooth power delivery. Find yourself at the bottom of a giant hill? Just shift down—no need to roll through the first few feet in an undesirable higher gear. Find yourself on flats and want to go faster? Just put it to maximum resistance and feel the motor whirr you to the low 20s.
Enviolo hubs are also closed systems, so they don’t need too much maintenance (or de-mucking). And because the chain doesn’t have to pop between rungs on a traditional shifting mechanism, the bike sports an ultra-durable carbon belt drive—no more chain grease on your pants!
One thing on the bike that puzzled fellow WIRED reviewer Adrienne So and I is the included rear-wheel lock (meant to make it impossible to roll the bike). We had no idea how to get the thing to work. That’s not a huge deal, as almost all built-in locks like this are useless, no matter how well they “work.” Someone can just pick up your bike and throw it in a van. Use a real lock.
The smooth ride is mostly due to the single front shock and fatter tires, which are larger than what you’d find on most similar road bikes. They make the Gazelle handle much more like its namesake than the hefty step-through it appears to be.
It’s comfortable and nimble, able to handle even higher speeds without feeling rickety or scary, like some other commuter ebikes. The big disc brakes also stop you fast enough so you’re never worried about being a bug on someone’s tailgate.
You sit with your back mostly straight, the comfortable handlebars sitting practically in your lap, and cruise anywhere you want (within the 25-mile range of the top power mode). You can go further with less power, but that’s not really where the C380 shines.
It’s the best way to ride around town, thanks to the step-through design, and the healthy amount of power that’s applied by the mid-drive motor. You won’t go over 25 miles per hour like you can on more expensive ebikes, but it sure gets you to 18 quickly, especially thanks to the quick-shifting Enviolo. Slow but steady, as they say, and it probably won’t break down.
The 500-watt Bosch motor is just right. I left it in turbo mode most of the time because it’s the zippiest. And even at full speed on the C380, you feel in control, as if the bike can easily handle more power if you fed it a bigger motor.
What I like most about the C380 is that it works for basically any trip I’d want to take in town. Whether you’re headed to the grocery store, back to the office, or are just out for an afternoon ride, it’s a welcome and fun companion. It ticks all the boxes, and it’s pretty too. With the nice wide fenders, I didn’t even mind taking it out in the winter rain.
It’s spendy, but if you’re the type of person who’s trying to drive less, and you want a commuter ebike that is essentially bulletproof, the Gazelle Ultimate C380 is about as good as they come.