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Top of the Line Technology and Energy Efficiency with this Awesome Bosch-Powered Adventure e-Bike
With summertime’s arrival, many of us are thinking about our upcoming adventures. Whether they be short or long, in the city or out in the boonies, the Zen Samurai adventure/touring e-bike can give you a thrilling time. Designed by Guinness World Record holder Ravi Kempaiah, who holds the title for the longest 5000+ mile e-bike journey, the Zen Samurai evolved from Kempaiah’s world record-breaking experience by featuring the technology and components that will have you thinking about adventures.
The core of this bike is its Bosch 350-watt mid-drive motor, Gates Carbon Belt drive, internal gear hub, and Bosch 13.4 amp-hour battery which combine to give an awesomely advanced ride that will make you want to keep riding (I wanted to keep riding, and find some record to break, before finally dismounting from this bike!)
In our following review of the Zen Samurai electric bike we cover all the details of what makes this adventure/touring bike a great option as a precision-built e-bike that’s easy to ride and can take you many, many miles.
Whether you’re a distance rider or not, the Zen Samurai feels like a top quality e-bike, designed by high performance professionals, and giving this e-bike a ton of value for what you pay for. The Electric Bike Report team had some memorable experiences test riding this e-bike, giving us lots to report to you in the upcoming sections. So, if you’re as intrigued as I was, then you’ll want to keep reading this Zen Samurai e-bike review.
Bike Category:Adventure / Touring / Commuter
Class 3 E-Bike:PAS pedal assist up to 25 mph, no throttle.
Comfort and perfomance galore. It’s a tech-loaded bike with all the features really enhancing the ride.
Balanced power distribution from the Bosch mid-drive motor.
Easy gear selection with the Enviolo Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) 380 internal gear hub.
Cleaner, quieter and longer lasting Gates Carbon Drive belt.
Efficient energy use, and up to 50-mile range on one Bosch 13.4Ah battery.
Battery charges in 2-3 hours with the 4-amp fast charger.
Both the Bosch motor and Bosch battery are UL certified, giving you increased safety and reliability.
Lots of customization options, including battery, frame size, gear hubs, forks, lights, display units, seatpost suspension, brakes, paint color and tires.
It’s great value in terms of what you get for what you pay on the base model, but it is a pretty high starting price point that can add over a thousand more for enhanced features.
Honestly, we couldn’t find major flaws with this bike, leaving us to fret about minor things, like wanting a 2nd battery charger – so we could ride sooner!
ELECTRICAL SPECS & FEATURES
Class: Class 3, pedal assist up to 25 mph, no throttle
Motor: 350W Bosch Gen 4 Mid-Drive, 85 Nm – UL Certified
Battery: 36V, 13.4Ah/482Wh Lithium-Ion Bosch PowerTube 500 – UL Certified
Range: 50 miles (single battery), 100 miles (dual battery)
Zen e-Bikes packages the Samurai with a stellar menu of components to make this a top-notch commuter/adventure/touring e-bike. Key components include the energy powerful 350-watt Bosch Gen 4 mid-drive motor, which produces 85 Nm of torque; energy-efficient 36-volt Bosch 13.4 Ah battery; the super-easy-to-shift Enviolo 380 CVT internal gear hub; and the quiet, clean and long lasting Gates Carbon belt drive system. The drivetrain alone checks a lot of boxes on many e-riders’ wish lists, but that’s not all this e-bike has to offer.
The Samurai model Zen sent us came with some optional components, including the Fox AWL e-bike specific air fork, instead of the stock Manitou Machete air fork; Magura CT5 SE 4-piston caliper hydraulic brakes, instead of the Magura CT4 twin-piston caliper brakes; Kinekt suspension seatpost; and two batteries instead of one. So, when I write about the suspension, brakes and range, keep in mind that these relate to the options.
Using a belt-driven internal gear hub, instead of chain and derailleur, the Samurai is one of the smoothest riding e-bikes you’ll find. Bosch motor and dual battery give you up to 100 mile range.
Energy efficient power produced from the 350W Bosch motor, yielding more miles while using less energy from the battery.
Two 13.4 Ah batteries, the frame integrated and the bottom tube-mounted add-on, helped us ride close to 100 miles on a single charge.
Our test bike had optional forks, brakes and the suspension seatpost post. But when you look at the standard features for this bike, they are still great components that most riders would be super happy with. Such as the Manitou Machete air forks that come standard. I’ve tested those on other bikes and found them to work great. The standard Magura brakes are the next best brakes to the Magura CT5s we tested. So overall, whether you get the options or not, this bike offers great value as a base model in the $4000 range.
So even though I am sharing with you our review of the upgraded version of this e-bike, I have no doubt that the base model still delivers on performance and quality. And speaking of performance and quality, that leads me to the next part – our performance review of the Zen Samurai commuter/adventure/touring e-bike.
Circuit Speed Test: Zen Samurai Review
The Circuit Test revealed a well-balanced progression in how the Samurai’s motor engaged with the rider’s pedaling. The transition between PAS levels were also consistent, as were the motor’s average speed in each PAS level. You want an e-bike’s power output to be predictable, for safety and for optimum control. The Samurai accomplished all in great fashion! I found myself using the Touring mode (PAS 2) and the Sport mode (PAS 3) most often. The Turbo mode (PAS 4) didn’t deliver very much additional power, so I skipped using it so I could get a little more range out of the battery. Eco mode (PAS 1) was mostly fine for flat sections and slow cruising.
The Enviolo CVT shifts smoother than any derailleur unit we’ve reviewed, which says a lot about the quality shifts this unit produces. Important to note, gear changes on this bike can only happen incrementally. That means you’re not able to shift from, say, 1st gear straight to 7th gear on this e-bike. The grip shifter does not have indexed clicks, like you find on derailleurs. Instead, you change gears about one-eighth of a full twist each time. With power coming from your pedaling and from the mid-drive motor, you need to be thoughtful in your gear selections. You get the best ride out of this bike when you know what gear you should be in. This e-bike is designed to work with an active rider who understands how to use a mid-drive motor with an internal gear hub. It’s not difficult to learn, and takes knowing what’s involved.
As with all mid-drive motors, the manufacturer recommends that you treat gear changes on the Samurai like you would on a motorcycle: always starting out in 1st or 2nd gear and gradually shifting upwards. That’s because mid-drives generate a ton of torque that immediately impacts your belt and rear gears. Using this shift method not only alleviates the heavier wear on your transmission but it also enables the motor and gear hub to engage more evenly, which is what you need for better acceleration. When you try to start out in 7th gear, not only are you putting added wear on the gearing but you’re also causing a drag in your acceleration.
Created by the world record holder for longest non-stop e-bike ride, the Zen Samurai is one of the leaders in energy efficiency and is likely an e-bike you will want to ride for a long time.
Productive pedal power in all gears and PAS levels using the 55-tooth E*thirteen alloy 165mm chainring.
Gates belt drive to the 22-tooth rear sprocket precisely delivers your pedaling power to the Enviolo internal gear hub, for a perfect ride.
Range Test & Battery Performance: Zen Samurai Review
The Range Test was one of the “wow” parts of our testing, not only because the Samurai did what it was supposed to, but also what it did – travel almost 100 miles in between charges. Our Samurai came with two 13.4 amp-hour batteries to accomplish our 98-mile ride in the minimum PAS test, using Eco/PAS 1.
Weighing in at 57 lbs with one battery, the second battery only added another 6.3 lbs to the bike, and it still felt like a relatively lightweight commuter e-bike during our rides. There is a lot to be said about the Bosch technology Ravi Kempaiah and his team chose for this bike.
Unlike most other e-bike power units you see now, which have a 48-volt system, Bosch uses a 36-volt system exclusively. Not only is it safer and less prone to breakdowns, but it also consumes electricity more efficiently, and it’s the voltage limit for all e-bikes in the European Union (EU).
Chances are, with a 350W mid-drive motor, using two 13.4Ah batteries on a 48-volt system, you’re likely going to get a maximum range that’s 15-20 miles less than what the Samurai reached in our test, using Bosch’s 36-volt system. We were so impressed with the Bosch system that our only complaint – the charge port being a little too low to the ground, and more likely to attract dirt – seems nitpicky.
The Zen team really deserves accolades as industry leaders in their work with batteries. Among their list of priorities are standardizing batteries industry-wide, and making them interchangeable with other bike brands and with a variety of household electronic products (like gardening equipment and tools). They are also developing batteries that will have an 8-10 year lifespan, and are recyclable after their time is up. In a recent phone interview, Mr. Kempaiah cited the huge positive environmental impact this battery design will have, preventing millions of batteries from ending up in our landfills each year.
Hill Test: Zen Samurai Review
We designed the hill test to be the most difficult part of the review process. This isn’t a “make or break” test, some great bikes have gotten below-average results on this test. That doesn’t mean a bike is lousy, it just means hill climbing isn’t its forte. The Samurai passed our hill climb test, but it did so at a slightly slower pace than many of the other commuter e-bikes we tested. There are two main reasons: mid-drive motor and 36-volt system.
Most e-bikes we’ve tested have rear hub motors and cadence sensors. They are designed to output maximum power based on the PAS setting the rider chooses. This gives the sensation of going faster, regardless of how much the rider is pedaling, and it also uses up battery power more quickly. Mid-drives usually come in smaller watt sizes (in this case 350W vs the 750W rear hub motors we see most often now). They can do more with less power because they work with the pedaler (not in spite of), and that power output is going to the belt that works with the gearing.
The Zen Samurai rides awesome as a commuter e-bike; swap the Super Moto-X tires with the Johnny Watts knobbies, and you have the perfect e-bike for long distance ride on dirt trails.
Optimal pressure distribution with the Ergon 3 grips, alleviates sore wrists and numbness. Plus easy access to PAS buttons & headlight switch.
Simplified shifting, using the grip shifter for the Enviolo CVT 380 internal gear hub. Smooth feel for flawless gear changes.
Our maximum PAS test is designed to see what a motor contributes when there is only basic pedaling from the rider. The torque sensor on the Samurai knows when we are pedaling uphill (unlike the cadence sensors on other e-bikes). But we’re not working harder on that, so the torque sensor doesn’t tell the motor to work harder. Makes sense!
The takeaway for it’s test result is this: the Samurai is designed to take the edge off, to remove the fear of meeting a hill you can’t tackle alone, and in that it does the job well. It won’t set speed records up the hill, but it helps out intuitively, and makes the impossible possible.
Safety and Brake Test: Zen Samurai Review
Electric bikes can reach some significant top speeds, especially compared to regular bikes. Rider safety is our top priority, here at the Electric Bike Report. This makes our brake test the most important test we do. We use a closed course, make multiple test rides, measure each ride’s stopping distance, and then calculate an average.
The Zen Samurai performed very well in our brake test, with an average stopping distance of 17’9”. We can attribute these results to several factors, including its light weight and premium Magura MT5 braking system and we were not disappointed.
The Magura MT5 hydraulic disc set features 4-piston calipers, which is better than the twin-piston calipers we see on most e-bikes. The caliper 180mm rotors grab really well, make no funny noises, and stay consistent. This was also the case when I did a lot of downhill braking. Magura’s 4-piston calipers activate the brake pads to the rotor with great precision.
The average distance among all the e-bikes we test is between 20 – 22 feet. To come in at more than 2 feet shorter, that’s a bike with great brakes! This should make you feel safer as well as feeling more confident when you’re out there riding.
Ride Comfort & Handling, Cockpit, and More: Zen Samurai Review
When you sit on this bike and feel the ergonomics, you will understand how this bike was designed by a world record holder in long distance rides. I rode for two hours and felt good enough to ride at least two more. My only issue was the saddle lacked the added padding my tush needs. But that’s a personal preference that most other riders don’t share with me.
The 680mm handlebar was sized just right. The stem was simple and quick to adjust for giving me the proper reach. The grips were snug and comfortable to hold for hours on end. The levers were easy to reach, using my standard two-finger method, and the display buttons were easy to see and find while riding, which enabled me to control the PAS levels with simplicity.
Clean cockpit connected to 680mm wide bar, with a slight bend back for added comfort. All buttons and levers are easy to access & operate.
Seat comfort provided by the Ergon SF3 gel saddle. Softening the bumps on the ride is the Kinekt suspension seat post.
Smoother suspension, and dialing precision rebound in a snap, with the Fox AWL air fork, 120mm travel.
Better-than-average stopping power, thanks to Magura’s MT5 hydraulic disc brakes, with 4-piston calipers and 180mm rotors.
The display unit features a 5-bar battery gauge. We prefer seeing an actual number for a more accurate reading, and that can be found on the optional Kiox and Nyon units. The standard display shows the odometer, trip meter, clock, maximum speed, PAS levels (Eco, Tour, Sport, and Turbo) top speed and average speed, and the walk mode. There’s also a USB port for your smartphone, GPS or other small electronic device.
Everyone on our test team appreciated the cockpit layout and comfortable controls on this bike. The handlebar turned with smooth precision, like what we’re used to when riding the more expensive high end bikes. No rattles or goofy noises coming from this bike – this bike runs in smooth harmony.
Summary / Where to Buy the Zen Samurai
As mentioned before, the Zen Samurai has a great package of features that give this e-bike tremendous value for the mid-$4000 price range it’s listed at. This definitely a step up in quality that fits any rider wanting a commuter/adventure/touring bike with a sizable range and top notch components.
The Enviolo CVT gear hub, grip shifter and Gates belt drive are real game changers. They make this bike feel so smooth. I never found myself in the wrong gear, nor did I ever experience shifting issues. It simply doesn’t get any easier than this. There’s comfort in knowing that the motor and battery are from Bosch. They are leaders in this field and I had a lot of confidence knowing their motor and battery would not fail on me.
And then when you consider this bike, and company, is the brainchild of a very accomplished tech wiz, Ravi Kempaiah, who set a world record in riding an e-bike farther than anyone else, then you know that you’re getting a smartly designed, smartly built e-bike in the Zen Samurai. There’s so much to love about this bike that I could keep writing about it.
It was difficult for any of us to find something we didn’t like about the Samurai. The things we did list are rather mundane. For example, we love the super fast battery charger but would like to get a 2nd charger for charging the 2nd battery at the same time. And the battery charge port is a little too close to the ground that it might be more susceptible to attracting dirt, but that’s about all.
Zen is a direct-to-consumer retailer and ships their bikes, free of charge, to all 48 contiguous US states and to Canada. I know this is a lot of money to spend on an e-bike you haven’t even ridden, but I have to admit that I was happily surprised when I hopped on the saddle and rode 50+ miles personally, and discovered the greatness of this e-bike. That’s why I am comfortable recommending this bike. You get a lot for your money, and should have a lot of reasons to enjoy riding this bike. Each of us had grins and thumbs up for this bike by the time we were finished reviewing it – that’s how highly we think of the Zen Samurai!
Happy Riding! Make sure to let us know if you have any questions down in our comments section or if you think we left anything out in this review of the Zen Samurai.