Let’s start out with saying that I always found the concept of Fazua’s drive system intriguing and genius. Two bikes in one? Sign me up. But taking a closer look and learning about the details shows that there is still room for improvement.
Bulls Wild Flow Evo RS
Battery: Fazua 252Wh
Tires: Schwalbe Nobby Nic Addix Performance 29 x 2.35”
Weight: 18.94kg/41.67lbs. (w/out pedals)
To get one of the biggest issues out of the way, starting the bike is not as straightforward as it should be. I would have never thought that I’d need an instruction manual on how to start an e-bike, but with Fazua’s system, it helps.
It turns out, pushing the start button on the handlebar remote doesn’t do much for you. Little did I know, the battery shuts into a deep-sleep mode every eight hours from which it only can be awoken by removing it from the bike and pushing a standby button at the top of the battery. That’s similar to needing to pop the hood of your car to push a button on the engine before being able to drive off if you fail to move it within an eight-hour period. Ummmm ...
It gets worse when you lock the battery so it can’t get stolen (if your bike is equipped with that locking feature) and take a trip with your car to a remote location for a bike ride, only to figure out that you left your key at home and can’t start your bike’s motor (something that almost happened to me once, which would have ended up with typing the rant of my life). Basically, it’s the most user-unfriendly piece of engineering I’ve seen in a long time and, in lamest terms, should really, really, really be fixed.
Removing the Drivepack unit from the bike itself is not a super simple task either. The so-called Locker mechanism that holds the Drivepack in place does not represent the most ingenious piece of engineering. Again, without an instruction manual you’ll be hard-pressed to get it open, no matter how strong your fingers are. Cussing profusely doesn’t help at all (I tried), but pushing the release button hard with a broomstick does. A colleague told me of the Drivepack falling on his foot once. Mine dropped onto the ground more than once during that getting-to-know period, so I can relate. But that’s not the correct way to do it.
Looking down at your bike, you have to wrap your fingers around the (usually dirty) Drivepack and pull it towards you. Then you have to push the release button on top of the downtube with your thumbs and at the same time release the Drivepack with your fingers. Right. Once lowered, there’s a secondary catch that can hold the battery halfway released from the frame for loading. I managed to get the battery and mechanism stuck in an angled position more than once when not perfectly aligned, which required some fiddling with the secondary latch to get it unstuck.
By the way, there’s no external loading port on the bike or generally available for the system, so you have to do this procedure every time you want to charge your bike. I ended up leaving the battery hanging in its charging position before my next ride to awake it from its stupid slumber mode and save myself at least one opening and closure procedure before each ride. There’s a Locker pX mechanism available that claims to deliver an improved user experience, and I can only hope it does.
With the Black Pepper Performance update, released in April 2020, a bunch of the motor management system’s flaws have been taken care of. One of the most important improvements was extending the motor’s cadence support range. With the original setting, pedaling at a higher pace often felt like pedaling into a wall – the quicker you spun your pedals and harder you pushed, the less support you got from the bike with the power dropping off outside the optimal cadence of 65 to 85 crank revolutions per minute. It felt even less like that, to be honest. After the update you’re blessed with a constant motor output from 55 to 125 revolutions per minute, which is a major difference out on the trail and almost making it hard to believe that the same motor can be so heavily affected by a software update.
With a completely overhauled motor control, the ridie feel has been revamped, delivering a truly natural assist. It wasn’t bad before, now its transition is buttery smooth over the entire range and abrupt changes in pedal revolutions don’t affect pedaling fluidity anymore.
Depending on the settings, you can now noticeably change the power delivery and motor assist to your liking. Since the process of changing the settings requires a computer and some fiddling with the USB cap of the Drivepack, that process might take a while to find your perfect setting, but it’s worth it.
Of course, the higher the support, the quicker your battery is going to drain. Since I only found the update a week before this review went online I wasn’t able to go through extensive testing again and figure out how each of those modes affected the real-world power usage or performance. From what I could gather, running on the highest possible settings for all motor management setup and running in Rocket mode resulted at about a 12 percent power drain for every 100 meters of altitude, picking the moderate settings throughout only required about 10 percent.
Before the update, the support used to feel more like someone pushing you at walking pace with a hand on your back and the power delivery in River or Rocket mode felt more like the lowest support mode, or something in between the lowest and medium mode on most regular e-bikes, rather than the dazzling punch to the pedals of one of the higher settings from the competitors in this test.
After the update, with the highest motor setup settings with a power output of 300W, it was possible to keep up with someone riding at regular efforts with Specialized’s medium Trail mode next to you (which is already pretty powerful). You still probably had to put more energy in and your battery consumption would suffer, but keeping up wasn’t even an option before. Since there is a note in the Toolbox that warns you that overheating could be more of a problem in this setting, with the bike regulating down the power output in that case, this highest motor setup appears to be better suited for using Rocket mode for shorter but more demanding sections of trail, rather than continuous use. In either motor setup configuration after the update – even riding in lower Breeze and River modes – the bike was simply significantly more fun to pedal around than before.
Fazua’s evation is still less powerful than regular e-bike systems in their highest settings, but that might actually appeal to some riders out there.
Also, accelerating from standstill and when going beyond 25 km/h results in a seamless transition after the update. Only once in a while when you suddenly stop pedaling can you notice a slight clicking noise from the motor, but it’s nothing to fret over. It’s amazing, by the way, how silent the motor is running. With an almost regular look of the bike’s frame, this concept truly is hard to distinguish from a regular design of a bike.
It was a bit weird that the bike’s internal speedometer reading showed 3 to 4km/h less than my Garmin at higher and around 1 to 2 km/h at lower speeds. Usually it’s only off from other e-bike systems by 1km/h at the most, if at all. So essentially, if I trust my Garmin more than the Fazua’s internals, the motor only delivered support up to 21 or 22km/h, rather than the 25km/h that it should.
There’s a bit more play for the motor’s freewheel to engage, which could result in a longer delay until the hub engages, especially if the hub’s internals has a larger engagement angle itself. I only noticed it occasionally and wasn’t bothered by it but it might be a factor for some.
Out of all systems, doing that lap test before the update was by far the least fun and rewarding. With the rather large 38-tooth chainring and only a 46 cog as the lowest gear on the cassette, the bike was struggling on the short, really steep inclines, even in Rocket mode. With the improved cadence range after the Black Pepper firmware update using the moderate preset for motor management on the test lap, the bike fared much better in every aspect, resulting in considerably higher speeds on the uphills, a far more natural riding experience at a higher cadence and ultimately an entertaining ride.
On the downside, I only managed to climb about 250m less in altitude at a shorter overall distance, but I'll take that over the old setup any day of the week. Plus, I’m pretty certain that if the bike was setup on the lowest motor preset you’d probably be able to cover a similar distance as before but you’d still enjoy the performance much more.
Thinking about reach, I never considered carrying an extra battery in my backpack, but at a low weight of about 1.4kg, even I could entertain that thought, not ruling out the Fazua’s capability for epic long rides.
Rocket mode (before update): 16.2km/935m @75kg estimated (21.62km/1,246m @55kg tested)
Rocket mode (moderate setting, after update): 12.38km/723m @75kg (16.51km/965m @55kg tested)
At around 50% charge a slight drop in power delivery is noticeable, probably due to the small size of the battery and natural reduction of power output. At around 20% there’s another noticeable drop, but this one is explained by the system deliberately scaling back the support at around 15 to 20% to extend reach. At 3% the motor support shuts down to meet some countries’ requirements.
By talking so much about the engine, you shouldn’Pt forget what the lower weight of the total system does to the handling of the bike. While our test bike with carbon frame and mostly aluminum components still weighed about 19kg, breaking below the 20kg weight barrier does make a difference. Some bike manufacturers can scratch at that mark with a regular e-bike setup, but you’d have to spend an arm and a leg for that sensation.
So, when lifting the bike up in the parking lot it still feels a bit chunky, but already when handling it next to an average e-bike when loading it into or even onto a car for example makes a huge difference. More importantly, when riding the bike it does react more like a regular bike than a hefty e-bike. Without pushing into corners on the downhills and with being able to lift the front end moderately easy, you don’t really have to adapt your riding style to enjoy the ride.
Before the update it seemed to be a bit more difficult to figure out how far you can get with the Fazua drivetrain, compared to other e-bike systems. I had a fit friend with a weight of 70 kg take the bike out on an extended ride, spending about 95% of the time only riding the Breeze mode. We managed to finish the loop covering 1,380 meters of altitude and a distance of 45.9km. He had three bars remaining. A few days later I did the exact same route with the bike, using the same modes at the same areas and weighing 15kg less but I ended up on the last bar of battery power at the end. Since we finished the lap quicker the first time around, I assume that he put more leg power in, pushing the threshold and saving battery in the process. Again, without recording those separate rides with a torque meter and with the cadence range having changed significantly, that’s just a wild guess.
To activate the walk assist you have to first shift into no support mode (white) and then hold the lower button for two seconds to activate the bike’s push, which isn’t immensely powerful but could be a help in some situations. You have to keep resting your thumb on that lower button during the push, if you lose contact you’ll have to start back up with the two-second delay.
I was slightly disappointed that the eleven levels on the Remote b display for battery weren’t designed to crank it up to eleven but that the top one is reserved for system messages. A blinking yellow light tells you if there is a connection error to the speed sensor. Before the update the battery charge indicators seemed to erratically jump levels once in a while. Sometimes it took quite long for even the first three levels to drop, then you lost a bar within a minute, without the terrain or riding giving a real explanation for it. Again, the update seems to have done the trick and the app and display correlates the remaining charge correctly.
By using the app you can see the exact percentage of power used as well as every other detail you might be interested in, including rider input. It would be great if there was a handlebar display available that could show that info. In bright sunlight and depending on the color of the support mode, it’s sometimes a bit harder to figure out the exact charge but overall, I appreciate the more detailed information of ten levels compared to five energy bars from many other systems.
Being able to remove the motor Driveunit and battery is smart, essentially giving you two bikes in one. However, it doesn’t seem to make full sense on a bike designed for a certain category of riding and spec. Our test bike, the Bulls Wild Flow EVO RS is part of the trail bike category with 120 mm of travel front and rear and comes to a weight of 18.9kg without pedals. With the unit and battery removed, the bike still weighs about 16kg with the separately available aluminum Downtube Cover installed, weighing 490 grams. I don’t think that anyone would truly enjoy pedaling around a trail bike with 16kg. I gave it a spin and wasn’t highly entertained for that category, although in an emergency situation it would still be better than nothing. The Wild Flow’s top model, the SL, packed with lightweight carbon goodies, is rumored to scratch at the 16kg weight mark with engine, which would change things dramatically.
On an enduro bike like NOX’s Helium Enduro Pro, which also uses Fazua’s evation drive, the removable system also makes a lot of sense, even with the bike weighing more. The 180mm travel ride comes to 19.9 kg complete, so about 17 with the system removed. Taking it out for a day doing shuttle runs or going to the bike park without a motor suddenly becomes a real option. Apart from that, I’ve taken quite a few heavier big-hit bikes on extended rides in the past with the downhill being the true reward, so I wouldn’t even rule out the option of pedaling that kind of bike up the hill if necessary.
A Fazua-equipped bike also seems like the perfect solution for a weaker rider wanting to keep up with strong riders on regular bikes.
All in all, I wasn’t really excited over the performance of Fazua’s evation before the firmware update. But that Black Pepper update made a huge difference for the better, pushing the concept closer to the refined drive systems of established e-bike players while enjoying the more natural weight and handling of the bike on your ride. You even develop a routine with removing the battery excessively even though it always reminds you that the battery’s deep-sleep mode is not a user-friendly solution.