The Smalo LX2 E-bike Is a Joy to Ride, but It’s Not for Everyone

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With its onboard 4G chip, wireless automatic gear shifting, and purported use of AI technology, the Smalo LX2 City Electric Bike is aiming for the cutting edge. It wants to be the bike of the future, so I put it through its paces to see if it lives up to its promises.

A quick look at the Smalo LX2 City Electric Bike

Pros

Cons

Specs

  • Price: $2,980

  • Colors: Midnight Black, Arctic White

  • Wheel size 28″

  • Rider’s height: 5’8″-6’4″

  • Weight: 51.1 lb

  • Dimension: 1885 x 680 x 1055 mm

  • Motor: Bafang 250 watts

  • Battery range: 37 – 74 miles

  • Charging time: 80% charge in 2h30min, Full charge in 3h40min

  • Top assist speed: 20 mph

  • Warranty: 5 years for frame. See full warranty policy here.

  • Bluetooth connectivity

The look: the Smalo LX2 is a sexy bike

The Smalo LX2 is a stylish looking ride. It’s reminiscent of the VanMoof X3 in looks and minimalist design philosophy, but the LX2 is sleeker than the somewhat chunky X3. The Smalo’s matte-black finish, classic bicycle frame geometry, tiny display screens, integrated headlight, and battery built into the down-tube add up to a futuristic bike that turns heads. The motor, wires, and battery are all hidden or unobtrusive, so the LX2 could easily pass for a meat-powered bike. Overall, it looks distinctive enough that you’ll be met with “what’s that?” stares out on the road.

In keeping with the bike-of-the-future vibe, the LX2 is packed with bells and whistles, like an app that provides diagnostics and lets you lock and track your ride from a distance, an anti-theft alert, and the supposed use of AI to learn from your riding style. But the biggest selling point of the LX2 is its “smart mode” that handles both the gear shifting and the pedal assist.

The ride: when the rubber meets the road

Smalo LX2

Credit: Stephen Johnson

Stylish or not, I was suspicious of the LX2 before I rode it. The e-bike and tech worlds are both glutted with overpriced, over-hyped junk, and this is a $3,000 bike from a brand I’d never heard of promising AI integration and that it’s an “e-bike that thinks for itself,” so I was more than a little skeptical.

After a hassle-free assembly that took about 30 minutes, I charged up the battery and took the LX2 for a spin down my local bike path. Immediately after hitting the “Smart Mode” button, I became a believer. This thing glides. On a flat bike path, the LX2 on is one of the most fun e-bikes I’ve ridden. The gears shift automatically and wirelessly, while the front-wheel drive motor provides smooth assist without any conscious input from the rider. I was concerned that I would feel less in control on an auto-everything bike, but the LX2 feels organic, with a smooth power transfer from the torque-sensing assist and like-butter shifting through all seven gears.

Exactly how the LX2’s AI integration works is something of an open question. I assumed that the bike changes gears and assist level based on the amount of pressure applied to the pedals, but Smalo’s business director Michael Smith told me there’s more to it than that. He said that, while the bike’s algorithm is proprietary, the LX2 uses a combination of GPS, rider weight, rider strength, wattage, a clinometer, and a barometer to automate your bike ride, and that the company updates the bike’s firmware regularly to improve its performance.

Whatever’s under the hood, tooling around on an LX2 is effortless, with no learning curve. You pedal how you want and it adjusts to what you’re doing without you even being aware of it. Put a little effort in and you’re quickly cruising at the LX2’s top speed of around 20 mph. Slow it down and the Smalo will downshift through the gears for you. It’s slick, exhilarating, and requires no thought, so you can spend your commute looking at the scenery instead of worrying about what your bike is doing.

Smalo LX2

Credit: Stephen Johnson

If it’s been a while since you’ve ridden a bike, or if the idea of gear shifting has always confused you, this will be your new favorite bike. That said, the LX2 might frustrate more experienced bikers. You can’t set the cadence for the pedals, so you’re basically stuck with the settings the bike wants you to be in. Also, if you’re looking for something with a ton of power and torque, look elsewhere. It’s very much a bike, not an electric moped with ornamental pedals. There’s no throttle. The motor is a discreet 250 watts, and the LX2’s front-wheel drive is designed to augment your pedaling, not replace it. The motor is whisper-quiet though, like a bicycle from a sci-fi movie, and there’s even an electric horn to warn people that The Future is coming up fast on the left.

It helps that the “low-tech” parts of the LX2 are from known manufacturers. It’s a solid bike even without the motor-assist, with a flexy-enough aluminum frame and 28-inch wheels to smooth out city bumps without the need for suspension. The rider posture is upright enough to be comfortable, but not so upright that your weight is distributed in one place. Without a professional fit, I was comfortable on this bike for all of the 100 or so miles I rode it—the grips feel good, the saddle’s nice. Overall, it feels solid, even at high, downhill speeds. Strictly as a bike, it passes all tests.

So I was feeling smug and future-facing on my cutting-edge, auto-everything e-bike—but then I rode it up a hill. 

The downside of the Smalo LX2

Smalo LX2 "cockpit"

Credit: Stephen Johnson

To test out the hill-climbing capabilities of the e-bikes I ride for Lifehacker, I take them on a couple runs up and down a paved trail in LA’s Griffith Park with a 1,200 foot elevation gain spread over about 2 miles with lots of changes in steepness. So it’s a fairly big hill, but not Kilimanjaro or something. The challenge revealed the limitations of an automatic bike: uphill riding is a marked contrast to the smooth glide of the LX2 on flat ground.

As even a bike newb can tell you, smoothly riding up a hill involves anticipating upcoming inclines and shifting before you need to. No matter how “smart” a smart bike is, it can’t see the future, so hitting a hill on the LX2 results in gears changing unexpectedly and too late. The auto shifting worked okay on more gentle, smaller inclines, but for steeper sections, the LX2 kept me in a higher gear than I would have chosen. It would often seem “stuck” in a higher gear, so I’d have to pedal harder to keep moving, which puts strain on the chain, so it wouldn’t shift down.

Overall, my trips to the top of Mount Hollywood took a lot more effort than they would have if I was controlling the motor and the gears, an option you don’t have on this bike. The LX2 doesn’t allow the rider to manually set their own pedal assist level (beyond a “boost” button that turns on max-assist for a short time). You can manually change gears, but not while pedal assist is active. Maybe a future update will change this, but for now, it’s either automated assist on everything, or no assist at all, a major drawback for any kind of difficult riding.

Maintenance, size, and battery safety

Smalo LX2 front-wheel

Credit: Stephen Johnson

I rode my LX2 for around 100 miles and didn’t have any mechanical issues with it, but the LX2 has the same potential for maintenance issues as any bike. The mechanical parts all come from legit manufacturers like Shimano, so repairs shouldn’t pose a problem to a decent bike shop. That said, it might cost you a little extra: integrated, unobtrusive parts look cool, but tend to require more labor, and even routine home maintenance like lubing the chain requires taking apart the guard that covers it. The manufacturer assured me that they work closely with local bike shops to repair anything that needs to be fixed, and Smalo bikes come with a five-year warranty on the frame and a two years on the battery.

Speaking of the battery, according to the manufacturer, the LX2’s battery is certified to European, CE standard. It’s hard to say whether it lasts the promised 37-74 miles on a charge because it really depends on how hard you pedal.

While Smalo is a newer bike brand, the company behind it, BESV, has been making e-bikes for European and Eastern markets for over a decade, so if you’re worried about the VanMoof fiasco repeating itself and being left with a cutting-edge, high tech bike that doesn’t work because the company behind it went belly-up, it seems unlikely.

The Smalo LX2 comes in one frame size, and is designed for riders between 5’8” and 6’2″. I’m at the bottom edge of the height requirement, and it didn’t feel too big.

The verdict: It’s not for everyone, but maybe it’s for you

If you’re in the market for a distinctive looking, fun-to-ride, futuristic e-bike that’s sure to turn heads, or you want a hassle-free, don’t-have-to-think-about-it city commuter, the LX2 might be your dream ride—as long as your city is relatively flat. If you’re looking for an e-bike that’s more versatile and powerful, or you actually want to control all aspects of your ride (or at least have the option to) you should probably look elsewhere.

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