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Super73-ZX e-bike review: love and hate can be so much fun


One major draw of #vanlife is the pursuit of unbridled exploration. But custom vans and RVs suitable for extended off-grid living tend to be hulking monstrosities that can be difficult to maneuver in tight spaces. That means bringing along an alternative mode of transportation like an e-bike to scout the viability of unpaved roads and to explore nearby towns unsuitable for large vehicles.

I recently took a new $2,195 / €2,699 (a price that includes the tax) “Agave Green” Super73-ZX home for review from the company’s European HQ in Amsterdam. I tested the e-bike as both a city bike and scout for the Fiat Ducato campervan I had rented for a three-week kitesurfing adventure with my family through northern Europe. The Ducato is small by RV standards but still measures 6 meters (almost 20 feet) long and weighs nearly three tons. Since most of my destinations required travel down poorly mapped dirt roads, I had plenty of opportunities to test the Super73-ZX on a variety of terrain.

My 13-year-old daughter was particularly stoked despite seeing dozens of the best e-bikes in the world pass through our home for review. But only the Super73 elicited an actual squeal of delight, so successful has the company been in marketing its California-cool mystique to her high school demographic. Not even my subsequent demonstration of the “poop shovel” we’d be sharing on the trip could dampen her enthusiasm.

I took delivery of the Ducato, drove it home, and quickly realized the bike rack fitted to the back doors wouldn’t hold the heavy e-bike and its super fat tires. And thus began my complicated relationship with the Super73-ZX.

Love

I love the Super73-ZX, but I also hate it for a variety of reasons I’ll get into later.

Super73 as a brand has undeniable swagger, and I admit to being swayed by the mysterious forces that dictate fashion. Super73’s aesthetics begin with company co-founder and CEO Legrand Crewse. I met “the great cruise” at a trade show back in April, where we commiserated on the challenges of selling e-bikes into the highly regulated EU market. He’s a walking talking SoCal vibe with long unkempt hair, a dazzling white smile, broad shoulders, and a casual demeanor. No wonder Justin Bieber, Casey Neistat, and other celebrities and influencers became such willing ambassadors for the brand.

From a distance, the Super73-ZX looks perfect.

But Super73 was slow to embrace Europe. And once it did set up shop, the company ran into pandemic-related supply issues that allowed brands like Doppio, Knaap, Urban Drivestyle, and countless other imitators to fill the void. Anecdotally speaking, I’ve seen a huge influx of Super73-style e-bikes flooding Amsterdam streets over the last 18 months or so, ridden largely by teens. In fact, when I went to pick up my review bike from Super73’s European HQ across town, I noticed that all three shoppers required the accompaniment of a parent. Teenage girls dictate trends the world over, and my daughter says that Super73 is by far the preferred e-bike brand amongst her friends in Europe’s bicycling capital.

From a distance, there’s something utterly nostalgic about that long banana seat and low-slung frame that speaks to me, or least to my inner 10-year-old and his sparkly green Schwinn Stingray. Those fat sturdy tires and aggressive stance appeal to the adventurous man-child I’ve become.

The large and supremely comfortable seat is certainly a major reason for Super73’s appeal. The ZX can accommodate riders between 4 feet 11 inches and 6 feet 7 inches (1.5m and 2m) tall and easily handles two full-grown adults so long as their combined weight is less than 147kg / 324 pounds. My daughter loves riding friends around on the back, legs splayed to avoid moving parts since my review bike wasn’t fitted with the optional rear foot pegs. I especially enjoyed riding with my wife sitting side saddle on the seat in front of me, cradled safely in my arms (it’s incredibly romantic and very Dutch).

For years I’ve watched in wonder — and yes, envy — at all the fuss being made over Super73 e-bikes in the US. Here in Europe, companies like VanMoof, Cowboy, and Stromer have been slowly perfecting the commuter e-bike built around traditional diamond frames. So I came into this review expecting the same level of refinement from Super73, which has been around since 2016.

Unfortunately, that’s not what I found at all.

Hate

Hate is a strong word, but Super73 is an emotional brand, so I think it’s fitting to describe the ZX’s many disappointments.

The ZX looks fantastic from a distance, but the illusion is shattered upon closer inspection. The mess of external cables routed along the outside of the aluminum frame and held in place by cable ties is one of the first things I noticed. I can overlook such brute-force design on a $1,000 white-label Chinese e-bike but not from such an established, trendy, and well-funded brand as Super73! A few cables ended up getting snagged during the trip, causing some of the ties to snap creating an even greater risk of cable snags. Not good.

The ZX is also fitted with Tecktro mechanical disc brakes, not pricier hydraulic brakes, which are more reliable and provide better modulation. That’s surprising given how easy the company makes it to override local US and EU laws by putting the bike into a so-called “off road” or “unlimited” ride mode via a simple slider in the Super73 app. The rider must tap the screen to accept liability for choosing the more powerful modes, which is a poor substitute for better brakes.

Super73 makes it very easy to override the legal defaults. It outsources app development which explains why the speed values don’t match the company’s own specs for the European ZX.

In the US, the ZX ships in the perfectly legal Class-2 (mode 2), which allows for throttle operation and pedal-assisted riding up to 20mph. It can be reduced to Class-1 (mode 1) in the app or raised to the sometimes legal Class-3 (mode 3) for speeds up to 28mph. The unlimited off-road setting (mode 4) lets the bike go beyond 28mph and isn’t legal on any public road. In Europe, only the throttle-less mode 1 is legal as it complies with regulations that keep e-bikes limited to 250W and a top speed of 25km/h. Mode 2 increases the max speed to 37km/h, mode 3 to 40km/h, and finally 45km/h for mode 4 by tapping all 2000 watts of peak power produced by the rear-hub motor. Super73 lets you further refine the pedal-assisted power in 25 percent increments of whatever Ride Mode you’re in. (See the sidebar if you’re interested in a rant about the off-road mode.)

The speed override can be found under the Vehicle menu in the Super73 app. But Super73 doesn’t make its own app; instead, it farms the work out to Comodule, which means it’s the same basic app you’ll find governing e-bikes from dozens of other brands. The app’s user agreements include bizarre placeholder text in places that should say “Super73” (which the company is addressing after I informed them) and the maximum speeds listed for each Ride Mode don’t match Super73’s own guidance on the matter. The app works fine, but there’s nothing unique here; no Super73 flare or added value. However, I do like the app’s ability to provide simple turn-by-turn guidance via arrow indicators on the ZX’s small but effective monochrome display mounted on the left side of the handlebars.

The Super73-ZX lacks a torque sensor which would in theory make the ride more natural by matching power delivered to the pedals to the power I exert from my legs. Instead the ride produced by the noisy motor is deeply unintuitive, especially when riding in any of the faster “off-road” modes since Europe doesn’t allow for throttles on this class of e-bikes. Anything above 25km/h and you’re just pedaling for show by spinning your legs without any resistance at all.

Low-speed torque production is also abysmal. So, if you haven’t downshifted before coming to a stop you’re going to struggle to get moving again, especially if you’ve stopped on any incline or have a passenger in tow. You can’t stand up to mash down on the pedals either because of the bike’s geometry. The solution is to hop off and run alongside the e-bike to push start it. Super73 doesn’t publish how much torque the ZX produces and wouldn’t provide a number when asked.

There were several times over the last three weeks in the Fiat Ducato where I’d stop on unfamiliar dirt roads to grab my bike in order to ride ahead on scouting missions. The last thing I wanted was to get trapped in a place where turning my 20-foot rig around wasn’t possible. Unfortunately, for those missions I had to rely upon my mountain bike since the Super73-ZX was too heavy to safely carry on the bike rack fitted to the doors of my campervan rental, even with the battery removed. At 31kg (68 pounds), it’s heavy for an e-bike with most European commuter e-bikes hovering around 20kg (45 pounds). Although it only took about five minutes (and two people) to unpack (and repack) the ZX from inside the Ducato’s “garage,” my mountain bike was available in seconds from the external bike rack.

Despite its low profile, the Super73-ZX isn’t as compact as it appears in images. The ZX’s handlebars do fold relatively flat after loosening four bolts. But the 2 foot 7 inch (79cm) seat height proved to be too tall to fit the e-bike inside the Ducato’s garage without first raising the van’s folding bed. That meant having to remake the bed after each travel day which I’m not a fan of.

Had to pack the ZX inside the “garage” since the bike rack was too weak

Super73-ZX helping to dry my kitesurfing gear after helping to scout the location.

Super73-ZX charging off a giant Delta Pro portable battery from EcoFlow.

The ZX’s tiny, but functional display.

Lesson learned: fit your van with a heavy-duty bike carrier rated for e-bikes, usually hung off the tow bar. And if you’re in the market for a Super73, make sure the carrier can accommodate fat tires and that you’ve got a good anti-theft solution figured out because the ZX draws attention.

While I can’t begrudge the ZX for not fitting a standard bike rack fitted to a rental, I really hate its lack of refinement. All my family members shared similar complaints, even my two boys (19 and 21) who flew in for a week to join us.

Everyone still loved it though — and weirdly, so did I. It’s just so much fun.

My trusty scout vehicle and campervan.

Fun

Despite my criticisms, the Super73-ZX is undeniably fun to ride and to be seen riding. So much fun that I’d forget about all the aforementioned issues.

The Super73-ZX was such a pleasure to use for exploration whenever we reached our destinations. It proved to be an indispensible vehicle that could easily and quickly take me places my campervan couldn’t.

The motor helped to flatten hills so long as you approached them with speed, and those LZRD tires designed for cornering on asphalt still provided decent traction on packed sand, loose dirt, and gravel. The ZX’s fat 20×4.5-inch (front) and 20×5.0-inch (rear) tires absorbed bumps so well that I can’t imagine getting much value out of paying for the optional front-fork suspension package.

The Super73 quickly became my family’s preferred mode of transport to explore the local area to search for surf and fishing spots and wild campsites. It was also the most effortless and stylish way to enter cities and villages in order to stock up on groceries, often some 5 to 10 miles away from our campsites.

And riding two-up was such a pleasure that it makes me want to abandon traditional diamond-framed e-bikes forever. Everything’s way more fun with two on the bike, even when we had to get off to push it a little.

Other observations:

  • I managed 27 miles (44km) before the 615Wh removable (and lockable) battery died after riding exclusively in the maximum pedal assist setting (4 of 4) and what I’d estimate to be a 60/20/20 percent split of my time riding in modes 1 / 3 / 4, respectively, with two passengers 25 percent of the time. The battery charged from zero to full in 4.5 hours using the 3A charger. Both the range and the charge time are in line with Super73’s claims.
  • I was able to ride my pedal-assisted (no throttle) ZX at a sustained 45km/h (28mph) maximum speed in Ride Mode 4 as reported by the e-bike itself, but only a slight downhill. My watch, however, reported 42km/h (26mph). On flats the ZX maxed out at 43km/h (27mph).
  • The ZX’s motor and fat tires combine to produce a very noisy ride compared to most commuter e-bikes. That can be a good thing in the city as it announces your presence from behind as you overtake others on bike lanes. It’s not so good in the still of nature.
  • Super73 sells a wide range of interesting accessories to personalize your ride with a Southern California style. These include surfboard racks and colored bike chains, but most aren’t available in Europe yet.
  • The European ZX ships with a light package, bell, and mudguards, but no throttle. It also doesn’t come with a chain guard, which is standard on the US model, resulting in more than few greasy trouser smears when riding on bumpy roads.
  • Super73 suffers from a lack of attention to detail. The website reports a different max capacity than a label pasted onto the bike (I’m told the real number is 147kg / 324 pounds), the app reports different maximum speeds than the website, the EU website reports an 8-speed kit instead of a 10-speed kit my EU-based ZX was delivered with, and the app’s terms and conditions still include placeholder text for the company’s location and contact information (which I’m told is currently being addressed).
  • The ZX got three new colorways recently: Panthro Blue, Agave Green, and… Ron Burgundy, which is just perfect from this SoCal company.
  • The display and on-bike controls are simple but effective. The circular LCD on the left side of the handlebars is visible in all lighting and shows speed, range, pedal assist strength, and total distance traveled. It’s flanked on the left by two physical buttons that let you step through the pedal assist levels and turn the lights on and off. On the right is the mode button. The power button is located on the battery.

The Super73-ZX always delivered with a smile.

I transported the Super73-ZX over 2,200 miles across five countries in search of adventure. Never has an e-bike felt so at home in so many places. Whether conspicuously parked outside of SOHO House in Amsterdam, bombing down grassy hills in Sweden, scouting campsites along unmarked dirt roads in Denmark, or searching for the next great kite spot on remote beaches in Norway, the ZX was an excellent scout bike that always delivered with a smile.

If you’ve ever truly loved someone, then you’ve probably found moments where you hated them and their annoying ways with proportional vigor. This is my relationship with the Super73-ZX. It’s not the most refined e-bike you’ll find for the price, but it expresses California style so enjoyably that you might not even care.

All photography by Thomas Ricker / The Verge



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