If I had to dream up a bike to perfectly capture the 2021 ethos, it would have a high pivot, be made of burly aluminum with high-quality components, have mixed wheel sizes, be sold directly to consumers, and likely have a one or two-syllable name that vaguely nods at aspirational values and the higher levels of human achievement that we all aim to capture in our biking. As it turns out, my 2021 concept bike might now exist in reality, too.
We've recently caught glimpses of a new eMTB from British direct-to-consumer brand Bird that appears to be just that - an aluminum descender with a Shimano EP8 motor. It will be sold under the brand name Ethic to sidestep a copyright issue that would arise from creating a Bird eMTB - Ethic "as in work ethic, design ethic, ride ethic," the brand said. (Also, Bird says Bird-E is a terrible name.)
The Ethic is a high-but-not-that-high pivot eMTB that can be run as either a 29er or a mullet and will be sold directly to consumers using the same customization process as Bird's other bikes, in which customers select each component individually using Bird's online bike builder tool. The bike isn't just meant to check trend boxes, either, as Ethic makes clear in explaining how the bike came into existence.
Ethic says the idea for an eMTB originated from repeated customer requests combined with Bird and Ethic co-founder and chief designer Dan Hodge's personal riding preferences: Dan says his motto is "smiles over miles" and considers himself the type of rider who pedals uphill as a means to an end - that end being riding as much downhill as possible. Thus, an eMTB that could help him to access more descending made perfect sense.
The project planning started in 2019 with some design decisions. Should Ethic make a dainty eMTB that rides like a lightly-assisted trail bike, or should it be a heavy-duty descender with as much power as possible? What motor made the most sense? What about the frame layout? How could Bird fit a motor onto a bike without sacrificing space for a water bottle, a proper shock, and good geometry?
Eventually, Ethic settled on the Shimano EP8 motor because it is relatively compact and light, there's a 630 Wh battery option, and the logistics worked out with relative availability. Unlike the other main contender from Fauza, the Shimano motor also wouldn't compromise the space inside the front triangle. As for the frame itself, Ethic wanted to prioritize geometry over all else. "There is no compensation available for poor frame geometry," Dan explained, "which is why it is the most important factor in mountain bike design." No shiny parts or great suspension performance can make up for bike design with fundamentally bad geometry.
He noted that many brands end up putting long chainstays on eMTBs because there isn't much room for a motor, a traditional main pivot, and decent tire clearance all while keeping chainstays short. Still, he absolutely didn't want to create an eMTB with geometry that he would find unacceptable on a standard non-motorized bike. Looking at several digital renditions of possible bike designs and searching for a solution to that cramped bottom bracket area, it became clear that the main pivot needed to move elsewhere - up - to keep the chainstays short.
Beyond simple space requirements, another draw of what Dan calls the "mid pivot" with an idler wheel is that anti-squat can be adjusted simply by changing the number of teeth on the idler wheel to raise or lower the chainline.
Ethic settled on a chainstay with a flip chip to adjust it between 440 mm and 448 mm for use with either a 27.5" x 2.8" or a 29" x 2.5" rear wheel. We don't have details on the full geometry numbers, but Bird says it has a 64-degree head tube angle with a 160mm fork.
Through the course of the testing, Ethic redesigned the idler axle to make it much stronger and added a lower chain guide. There's clearly been some thought put into the design: "The final design uses a stainless steel jockey wheel, mounted to a thick stainless steel axle that runs on needle roller bearings on the drive side and a deep groove bearing on the non drive side. The bearings run in a oil bath that gets refreshed during the yearly service. There’s also a lip seal on the drive side to keep the dirt out and the oil in. All the seals and bearings are off the shelf items that can be easily sourced and replaced when needed."
Dan says he's ridden it much more than he normally rides to put through the wringer and says it rides just how he wants it to.
Now, the Ethic just needs parts and delivery dates. The bike shortage has made sourcing parts extremely difficult, and small brands are hit the hardest. Ethic says the delivery estimate for the Shimano motors is sometime in 2023, with frames coming from the brand's fabricator in Taiwan sometime around then as well. With the design and planning done, the brand is now simply playing the waiting game.
"Unfortunately, that’s the best information I have right now. We have frames on order, we have E-bike parts on order. We’ll be launching the bike as soon as possible. I think we’re all looking forward to some post Covid normality with bikes and bikes parts on more sensible lead times than we have at present," Dan wrote.
"Let's raise a glass to 2024."