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The Moultoneer on the ARCC Moulton TSR Electric

It’s been three years since the Moultoneer, the Moulton Bicycle Club Magazine, took a spin on our electrified ARCC Moulton TSR. Digging up this glowing review from people who know their Moultons was a pleasant throwback.

See what Tom Esslemont of the Moultoneer had to say below:

If I were to be brutally honest, up until recently any thought of riding a bicycle with some form of electric assistance has not appealed. Poorly packaged machines that become ‘styling exercises’ with their plastic housings etc, always sprung to mind.

In September I attended the Cycle Show at the NEC in Birmingham…arriving at the event with it’s usual blaze of colour, lights and bikes of all kinds I entered with an open mind, curious to see what was new in the cycle world for the season.

I assumed Moulton might have had a stand at this yearly show and was a) surprised they weren’t there and b) pleasantly surprised that the spaceframe was represented by ARCC, the friendly group of highly innovative developers of assisted solutions for bicycles.

As many Moultoneers will be aware, ARCC include a decent range of TSR models within their catalogue of assisted bicycles, offering something extra for the Moulton rider who chooses an electrically assisted bicycle.

After a chat with the staff on their stand at the show, I was drawn into learning more about what the product is and what it was actually like in principle. Obviously the TSR was a draw from a Moulton cyclist’s perspective, but this neatly packaged addition to the frame and drive of the bike was of particular interest and, for me, an alien concept as I had not experienced assisted cycling before.

On a rural estate off the main trunk road in perfect surroundings for riding bicycles; quiet country lanes and Cambridgeshire Fen villages provided excellent opportunities for a spin on the TSR.

The company kindly provided me with one of their demo machines, this being a red TSR 2 fitted with the SRAM Automatix hub and combined with a twin chainring/front mech combo, resulting in 4 ratios. It is a useful specification with room for plenty of tyre options and V brakes which, like the TSR 9 and 27 are versatile bicycles which suit a multitude of uses.

I decided to take the approach on reviewing this system as an unbiased critique that didn’t particularly focus on the TSR itself (as I already know how well they ride) but more on the experience of using it, the practical function and feedback the overall impression I retained from a few days in the saddle with the ARCC product.

The ARCC Intelligent Drive Pod

The thing that I was immediately drawn to was the lack of intrusion to the appearance of the bike that these additions made. Essentially the TSR has a rebuilt front wheel with drive unit (in the front hub), the power pack/battery and control unit affixed to the head tube, a sensor that is fitted through the drain hole in the bottom bracket shell and the associated wiring, complete with connectors to retain the separability of the frame.

The bike still looks like a TSR. The whole kit being a retrofit system means that once can upgrade an existing machine.

How does it work?

From a user’s perspective, the essential ‘ingredients’ are the main control unit, mounted within its own custom head tube mounting bracket. Very tidily done too, I must say, beautifully finished and robustly machined (CNC’d from solid billets of Peraluman 470 Aluminium), along with the attached 4.0Ah Bosch battery pack; an industry standard battery which is apparently available virtually anywhere in the world. The unit lends itself to the Moulton nicely, with a polished and hard anodised finish that is sealed against the elements.

The battery pack is fixed in place in a robust manner with lever action for locking and unlocking the battery pack. It is an intuitive mode of operation when swapping batteries and, with practice, is speedy and efficient at the side of the road.

The Power Selector controls the level of assistance, i.e. from a very subtle assistance through to a quite literally electrifying performance (which can be bloody good fun!).

There are neat graphical indicator LEDs that relay battery levels and power status, handy for keeping an eye on how the unit responds to input and the battery life (which was exceptional). I found it particularly useful on a 30 odd mile hilly ride in the Ribble Valley near where I am based – conserving power to retain the experience for the duration of the ride. Incidentally on the subject of the batteries, the demo machine was actually supplied with a secondary holder that allowed a spare battery to be held on the frame (where the bottle cage usually is), further expanding the possibilities for using the ARCC system for longer runs.

The front wheel

The front wheel is rebuilt into a special powered hub; this is a 250W geared, brushless hub motor. It is very smooth in operation and I only felt any resistance at very slow speeds, mainly when coming to a halt at junctions. I was surprised how smooth the transition was from a standstill to moving; OK with this type of installation there will always be an element of ‘jerkiness’ but this remained smooth and consistent throughout. This lends itself to being confidence inspiring and even newbies like me to enjoy the system, removing many preconceptions I may have had in my mind prior to loaning the bike.

There is around 3.9kg added to the weight of the overall machine, which will differ depending on the model. Incidentally, ARCC offer various models, a choice of colours, handlebars (including drops) and a variation on gearing.

What is it like on the go, then?

My first ride was a brief hour in between work which took in some local parks and urban cycle paths in Preston City centre. I was eager, like many others no doubt, to try this bike on ‘full throttle’ with a heavy foot if you like, zooming about feeling almost like your legs were being energised magically. It is a very good fun (and fast) machine to use in this way, but I quickly learnt to calm down and do a reality check…

This bike would mainly be used for commuting and town/light country duties, so I decided to attempt to replicate the style of riding one would expect to undertake. A handy route was one that I used to use daily on a non assisted Moulton, with plenty of start stop traffic, short, steep hills in places, and the opportunity for some faster riding in the open cycle paths through our local Moor Park.

I used the power level adjustment down to a low setting, trying a few levels between 1 and 4. Each increment adds more noticeable assistance, but I felt that even on the lowest setting it gave a relaxing level of assistance that many could benefit from.

It all felt very natural; normal cycling essentially, and don’t try this thinking it is going to power the bike for you! You have to pedal, so at all levels, you are still making the bicycle move.

With the additional weight added to the front wheel and frame it didn’t feel particularly affected by this, nor feel any less nimble. The TSR has always felt like a bike you can throw about a bit, and this still retained those qualities. It still very much felt like a Moulton!

A useful indication of the flashing LED gives rapid feedback, so you know when it is cutting in and out on power delivery.

The A mode adds another dimension to the experience. According to their brochure the mode ‘utilises the in-built “Inclinometer-Accelerometer” sensor (I assume this is the wire that is fed into the bottom bracket shell). This “allows the ARCC pod to recognise hills and gradients, and accordingly provide automatic compensation by increasing or decreasing the power delivered.”

The idea here is to keep a smooth, flat power assistance that takes into account the hill, as if travelling on the flat. It really works; a very, very clever feat of electronics engineering that makes one realise the extraordinary levels of detail the company have gone to, it is a genuinely intelligent addition to the already excellent Moulton TSR.

The equipping of the test bike with the SRAM Automatix Auto 2 Speed Hub is perhaps a very sensible one, as it demonstrates a) how naturally the addition of the system works but also b) shows how the breadth of capability of a relatively simply geared bicycle can be massively widened with the assistance.

Within this mode the rider still has the power level control at his or her disposal, so the ‘intelligent’ assistance level can be varied too, from a relatively discreet to a very obvious level of assistance for serious hills. And we did take it on some very steep hills on the second outing, a round trip in the beautiful Ribble Valley.

‘Launch Control’ Mode

The ability to have a head start in traffic, for example whilst getting away from the lights, is activated by holding both brakes and adding pressure to the pedals. Once the light on the LED indicator stabilises, and the brakes are released (with rider pedalling) there is a 3 second period of maximum power to the motor. This is especially useful to assist with safe clearance from busy junctions in heavy traffic. The rest of the cyclists behind you will dislike you pretty quickly I would imagine!

Everyday use and batteries

The system is supplied with a 30 minute mains charger, the same type one would use for recharging power tools. Useful features like a battery charge status indicator complete the unit. One neat touch was a weather proof neoprene cover that was supplied with both batteries; given the inclement weather we experienced on the second test trip this was welcomed. I imagine, long term, the covers will also help keep the battery housings in good condition.

Who would use this system?

On my drive back from ARCC’s HQ I was trying to ascertain to whom product is aimed. It is a high tech system that is packaged in such a way that is highly user friendly and, from what I have gleaned, is an everyday application which doesn’t distract from the experience of cycling.

I didn’t find it intrusive, the pedal motion is just as natural as a non-assisted bicycle, and yet, with this system fitted, I am confident that for me, anyway, that cycling should be an option for any able bodied person.

From a ‘techie’ wanting to add this to their commuter TSR, an all weather machine with assistance on the longer commutes, or perhaps for someone who would feel the benefit of this confidence aspiring product.

Overall, I was quite taken with this thoroughly high tech approach. I am also pleased this was my first opportunity to try an assisted cycle, as it has changed my thoughts on what they are like to use.

All I can say is, give it a go. You might be very surprised.

Authored by Tom Esslemont, Originally appeared in The Moultoneer, The Moulton Bicycle Club Magazine, Issue 119, (Spring 2018)

Photo credits: ARCC Bikes

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