Gravel bikes are a category of bicycles growing nearly as quickly as electric bicycles. While sales are stagnant or dropping in pretty much every other category, both gravel bikes and e-bikes are seeing impressive growth. So it only makes sense that the two should blend into an e-bike that is just as comfortable on asphalt as on the trail.
Yamaha’s new Wabash electric gravel bike seeks to set the standard for electric gravel bikes. I was invited by Yamaha to join the first exclusive test ride of the Wabash. And I’m glad I did, because this was perhaps the most fun I’ve had on an e-bike in a long time. Read on to see why.
If I’m being honest, I have to say that I have very little trail riding experience. Despite occasionally dabbling in bombing mountains on $7,000 downhill e-bikes, I mostly stick to the street. And on the street, I’m mostly riding anything from city e-bikes to cargo e-bikes and crazy 3 kW machines.
When Yamaha reached out and asked if I wanted to test out the Wabash electric gravel bike before it was released to the public, I was equal parts excited and intimidated. Especially when I saw the lycra-clad field of cyclist journalists I was going to be riding with. But a pair of the cheapest padded riding shorts on Amazon and one 5-and-a-half hour flight later, I was staring at an impressive looking gravel e-bike with my name on it. It was now or never, lycra be damned.
First ride video
For those of you that like to see a bike in action instead of just reading about it, check out my first ride video below.
Yamaha Wabash Electric Gravel Bike
For the uninitiated (which included myself until very recently), gravel bikes are an odd category of bicycles that outwardly resemble road bikes, yet are ruggedized to withstand the abuse of off-road riding.
The Yamaha Wabash is a prime example, and demonstrates just how versatile an e-bike can truly be.
The e-bike has drop bars that are reminiscent of your standard road bike, but that connect to a one-piece aluminum fork that was purpose designed to thrash over rocks and other obstacles. The bars are also wider and with a larger outward splay, making them more adapted to harder off-road riding conditions.
The Wabash features SRAM Apex shifters that were so foreign to me that I needed a mini-lesson in how they work. Colloquially known as double tappers, you either press them gently to upshift, or press them further (the double tap) to downshift. And what a beauty these things are! The farther you press, the more gears you shed. With these babies you can dump gears faster than a bad habit. That makes them great for quick transitions from downhill drops to steep uphill climbs. Or more likely in my case, when you hit a steep slope and forget that shifting is a thing that exists. A single finger instantly strips you of your several highest gears and lets you power back up that rocky, muddy trail with ease.
Speaking of power, the Wabash has plenty. The motor might be rated at 250 W nominal, but it’s putting out 500 W of peak power, which is the equivalent of having a couple extra riders helping you pedal (if you choose the highest assist mode). That 70 Nm of torque is also welcomed relief for less conditioned riders like myself.
Yamaha also designed in a unique triple-sensing power delivery system. It relies on input from a cadence sensor, torque sensor and wheel speed sensor to more accurately deliver the proper amount of power for every climbing situation, gear ratio and assist level. Yamaha also developed a sensor within the hub to measure wheel speed. Unlike some other e-bikes that cost more than twice as much and still use a single spoke magnet, the Yamaha Wabash can get an instant speed reading, even at lower speeds, because it doesn’t have to wait for a spoke magnet to come around.
With four levels of assist, you can choose whether you’re getting a strong boost in HIGH mode or just a light tailwind in ECO mode. Over the course of 19 miles (30 km), I must admit that I spent a healthy amount of time in HIGH mode. It was amazing for steep climbs that would have left me sucking air half way up without it. I was climbing slopes that would have been difficult to hike up, much less pedal. And without feeling like I was pedaling to save my life, I could actually enjoy the view all the way up the climbs.
But for those that are more talented riders than me, ECO or STANDARD mode provide an enjoyable boost that comes on smooth and is not overpowering. Just because you have 500 W of power doesn’t mean you always need to use it.
A nice feature on the Yamaha display is a color coded light that gives you a quick indication of your electric assist level. When you’re on the road preparing to make a pass or on the trail trying to choose a line between football-sized rocks, the last thing you want to do is try to read tiny letters on an LCD screen. So instead you can just quickly glance at the indicator light. If you see green, you’re in a low power mode. If you see blue, you’re about to get a very healthy boost of power.
I saw some green, but I saw a lot more blue throughout my 19-mile ride.
Amazingly, despite depending on the motor’s power more than I’d like to admit and seeing a lot of blue indicator light, my battery just kept going and going. After 19 miles (30 km) I had used just over half of the battery. And that was mostly in the highest power mode with about 15% pavement and 85% off-roading. And when I say off-road, I mean it. I thought gravel bikes rode on gravel, but either that’s a misnomer or we took a wrong turn. Because I was bouncing up over rocks bigger than my head and through water that was half way to my axles. The bike is actually fully submersible, believe it or not. Yamaha’s own Drew Engleman, who led our ride, told me how he ended up inadvertently testing that on one ride when he wound up in water deeper than he expected. “It was nipple height!” he informed me. And no, he wasn’t referring to the brass nipples on the wheels.
But I digress. Where was I? Oh right, the battery!
At my rate I was going to eek out around 38 miles (56 km) of range in HIGH power mode, but the Yamaha Wabash is rated for 75 miles (121 km) of range in ECO mode. Considering I’m not the model for a seasoned rider, most others should get closer to that than I did.
The battery is also incredibly sophisticated. Despite looking more or less like any other e-bike battery, its unassuming appearance hides some pretty neat tech. It’s programmed for the best battery life possible, gradually reducing power once you start getting closer to the end of the charge. It also regulates power based on ambient temperature to keep the battery as healthy as possible.
The LED lights on the top of the battery can be used to check charge level like pretty much every other e-bike battery. But Yamaha also programmed some pretty cool diagnostic features to it as well. With the right combination of presses and waiting for the battery to communicate in return with the right number of flashes, it can tell you everything from battery health to potential problems and even the total number of cycles on the battery during its lifetime.
And in case you were wondering how long the battery lasts, Yamaha backs it with an almost unheard of 3-year warranty. So if that’s how long they’ll cover it, you have to assume it’s going to give you a good bit more than that. That 3-year warranty also covers the drive unit and frame, by the way.
I also like how the battery is removed – it exits sideways out of the bike. That left the designers more room to play with frame design and didn’t require an overly large triangle to account for battery removal.
The ride also gave me a chance to test out some other cool biking gadgets while I was there. Yamaha prepped us each with a Pelican case and gear for our phones and to carry some tools, like a Crankbrothers bicycle multitool, tire lever, CO2 canister, etc. The case worked great, though I can’t speak for the tools because fortunately I didn’t have a need for them.
A couple guys who were a little more into the lycra and less into the e-bikes wanted to drop their tire pressure back to something that felt more familiar to them (against the advice of many). Within literally a minute they were pulling out the CO2 and fixing a flat. Word to the wise: listen to the manufacturer on tire PSI ratings!
We also got outfitted with a Sena R1 cycling helmet with built-in Bluetooth. That thing is awesome! It has embedded speakers and a microphone, allowing us to pair our helmets on the ride and communicate, even from nearly a kilometer apart. They were pretty easy to use, though one guy couldn’t figure out why music was coming out of his helmet until he realized that it was paired with his phone.
Of all the things that I like about the Yamaha Wabash, the best part is perhaps its extreme versatility. In the same ride I was able to climb rock-laden mountain trails like a billy goat, bomb back down the other side like mad fool, and then hit the streets for some high speed passes.
On one road posted 45 mph I nearly broke the speed limit. I probably would have, except that as I just kept accelerating like I was on a gliding mag lev train, watching the speed creep past 40 mph, I finally wussed out and grabbed some brake. Sorry, but my e-cargo bikes just don’t go that fast. I usually only hit those speeds on electric motorcycles, and doing it on wheels barely wider than my thumb was just a bit too trippy for me. But the fact that the bike could do it effortlessly and then climb back up the other side like a real road bike was an impressive demonstration of the Yamaha Wabash’s duality. It lives a life with one wheel on the pavement and the other on the trail. And it’s just as happy on either.
I’m fortunate enough (or silly enough) to have a stable of e-bikes at home. But not everyone is like me, and most will only have one e-bike in their garage. And for anyone who wants to be able ride like on a road bike and still hit the single track to bounce off boulders, the Yamaha Wabash is the only e-bike I’ve ridden that can do it seamlessly.
Don’t expect to find a large number of color choices for the Wabash though. Or any choices, for that matter. To paraphrase another motor vehicle maker, “you can have it any color you want, as long as it’s Latte.”
At $3,495, the Yamaha Wabash isn’t cheap. But considering it can do the job of multiple bikes, that price starts to look like a steal. Plus, you’ve got to account for the list of high quality parts on the bike. The frame includes hidden rack mounts to integrate with Yamaha’s rack and fender lines. The multiple frame sizes use a stair step geometry to fit a wide range of riders more comfortably. The SRAM Apex shifters work beautifully. The SRAM hydraulic disc brakes provide optimal braking force with just a light single-finger touch. In fact, on one occasion I actually got my back wheel significantly higher in the air than I had expected – and learned to calibrate my brake pulls better from then on. The bike is also dropper seat post-ready and the Yamaha team even included extra cable mounts to run the dropper post cable – a nice added touch.
The whole bike just speaks volumes about the attention to detail and time that the designers spent creating the Wabash. It feels so solid and well put together that even a novice rider like me felt comfortable dropping a foot down off rocks and logs while barreling down hills with a reckless abandon on a bike that looks more like a hipster-mobile than a downhill bike.
What I felt on this bike was something like pure freedom mixed with childlike glee. As someone who is admittedly not a strong rider and is accustomed to e-bikes with throttles, I had a bona fide blast pedaling to my heart’s content on the Yamaha Wabash. And while my sore tush should heal quickly, it will take much longer to wipe this silly smile off my face.
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