Decades ago, small motorcycles were a pretty popular way to off-road in the United States. One of the reasons why they were popular is their lightweight and compact design. The engine positioned low on the frame and a step-through design made them easy to handle, especially on off-road terrains. The low center of gravity provided better control and stability, making them suitable for both beginners and experienced riders.
A great example of this is the Trail 90/110, also known as the CT series, which was introduced in the 1960s and quickly became a favorite among off-road enthusiasts. It was equipped with an innovative dual-range transmission, allowing riders to switch between high range for regular riding and low range for off-road conditions. This model was also known for its rugged durability and could handle various terrains, from city streets to rocky trails.
But, in the decades since, motorcycles and other personal off-road vehicles have done what other American vehicles have done: start taking steroids. While their power and speed have grown, they’re also a lot harder to get out into the woods. Instead of doing something like drag a bike with a Ford Pinto, everyone thinks they need a larger pickup or even a trailer to get their vehicle out to the backcountry and have some fun with it.
As Doug Larson, a columnist from Minnesota once said, “Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days.”
Sure, many of us would like to go back to a simpler and more lightweight past, but it’s easy to forget that older two-stroke bikes could be a real headache. Fouled spark plugs, engine rebuilds, flooding, and many other things used to plague the experience at times. Plus, the old 90cc motors really weren’t big producers of torque, which could be a pain on rugged, steep terrain.
Sure, you could still have a lot of fun with seven horsepower and six lb-ft of torque, but there were hard limits you had to think about when choosing a line. So, the extinction of such bikes really can’t all be blamed on the EPA. People just want more capability, and are willing to compromise to get it.
EuyBike Sent Me A Breath of Fresh Air
When I first heard from EuyBike, I have to admit that I thought their S4 moped-style e-bike was a big gimmicky. As you can probably see in the photos, its retro looks kind of call back to the “good old days.” But, a bike that looks like a motorcycle often fails to be a very good bike or motorcycle substitute.
Fortunately, when I took the S4 out to explore the area around a 10,000 ft peak in southern New Mexico, I found myself feeling a bit like I did as a kid playing around with those old, light-weight motorcycles.
Sure, e-bikes only tend to put out 1-2 horsepower and don’t have much in the way of top speed, but the S4 does have something the old underbone motorcycles it’s made to look like never had: dozens of lb-ft of low-end torque. In fact, it has over ten times the torque of those older bikes on hand with a , quick twist of the throttle.
Another thing I quickly remembered was how small ICE powerplants struggled at higher altitudes. Power loss at 10,000 feet could be very noticeable, but with the S4, it has the same electric power in the mountains of New Mexico that it would have on a beach in California, and this makes for a very fun experience.
Another big advantage to the S4 over those retro bikes is that you don’t need to bring any fuel along. Instead of finding a place for a gas can that could stink up the interior of your vehicle or present a fire hazard, you just need to have a way to charge a battery. In my case, my Jackery power station and 800 watts of solar power I brought with me was overkill (you could easily get by with a much smaller and cheaper solar generator and still have weeks of fun on a long camping trip).
In fact, if you were to bring along a smaller solar setup on a bikepacking trip, you could cross large stretches of backcountry without a drop of fuel or the need to find grid power (assuming there’s good sun).
So, in many ways, EuyBike managed to actually file the rough edges from the days of yore.
Dual Suspension Makes A Bigger Difference Than I Predicted
Another thing that was better than expected was the dual suspension. If you’ve driven up to mountaintop campgrounds, you probably know how rough and messed up a steep forest road can get. This is especially true for areas now plagued by high-speed side-by-side UTVs that anybody with a pulse and a 600 credit score can buy.
Ruts, washboarding, roots, and the rocks everybody unburies on such roads are no problem for the S4. It’s small and maneuverable, so you can often avoid the discomfort of going over them, but if you have to go over some bumps, the bike continues right along, letting the center-mounted spring soak all of that abuse up. I even went over some fairly gnarly bumps on a path meant for walking, and the bike went over it all like a champ.
Other features, including hydraulic brakes, a seat you can configure for cargo or more butt, and a decent headlight, all make for a decent value proposition, even when the bike’s not on sale ($1399 as of this writing, $1699 normally).
Supplemental Pedal-Power Still Helps
While torque, a great suspension setup, and a comfy motorcycle-like seat are all nice, there’s one area where e-bikes are behind the “good old days”: horsepower. With only 1 or 2 ponies cleverly hidden in the rear hub, you’re not going to climb a long hill the way you would with an old underbone dirtbike.
But, there’s always another horse or two to be had as long as you’re willing to put in some effort. Sure, that’s not as easy as burning some gasoline and pulling up the long hill, but let’s face it: most of us could use some exercise. Between the electric motor, a low gear, and my legs, I didn’t come across any road that I couldn’t get to the top of (even the steepest one that led to the 10,000 ft campsite).
Plus, having two sources of power is nice. If you get injured or your chain breaks, you can still get around on battery power. If you run out of battery, you can probably still pedal yourself out of the backcountry instead of drinking your pee like Bear Grylls.
All-in-all, I’d have to say that I’m a lot more impressed with the retro-styled EuyBike S4 than I thought I would be. Instead of being a lame bike built around looks, it proved itself to be a fun way to explore the forest.
This article is sponsored by EuyBike. EuyBike sent an S4 electric bike to the author for the purposes of this review.
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