Sometimes a product has stories to tell which go beyond simply comparing the function and aesthetic of objects. These stories can be controversial, and they can be intriguing. Simply mention the name LeMond and anyone who’s been around bikes will have something to say – and now that conversation includes lightweight carbon e-bikes.
The LeMond Prolog, and its step-through stablemate the Dutch, have lots to talk about. Greg LeMond’s Tour de France wins and the history of the LeMond Racing Cycles brand. LeMond’s anti-doping stance and conflicts with Lance Armstrong and Trek. The LeMond Carbon Company’s US-based carbon manufacturing that’s suited to much more than just a couple of urban e-bikes. The seamless integration in those e-bikes of essential components often written off as accessories. And, the potential bikes like this have to disrupt transportation paradigms.
Sure. These bikes are relatively expensive, mostly recreational machines – but just as ideas tested and experience gained in Formula 1 racing cars and World Cup mountain bikes eventually trickle down into more accessible consumer products, LeMond’s cutting-edge products offer a glimpse into what might be around the corner in our own apartments, office building bike rooms, and much, much more.
I know what you’re thinking. LeMond… carbon… e-bikes? Really? So yes, to get that out of the way first: the new LeMond is a relaunch and reimagining of a brand previously focused on racing bikes. In the past the brand leaned heavily on Greg LeMond’s experience on the international road racing stage, and this new line of electric-assist models appears to be a departure from that history. But, is it?
With bikes that appear to be aimed at a much different market, has LeMond jumped the shark? Or is his company simply maturing with an audience that found him relevant in his racing career in the ‘80s? Looking at the upcoming LeMond 8 Concept, it’s obvious LeMond hasn’t given up on the idea of unassisted go-fast bikes. And while the LeMond e-bikes may not look particularly performance-oriented, there’s a whole lot going on under the surface.
26 Pound… E-Bikes?
Before we get too deep into those details, though, let’s talk about what makes this e-bike different from any other: the weight. LeMond claims 26 pounds for the Prolog without fenders, and 27 pounds for the Dutch, with fenders. It’s standard practice for companies to weigh a size Medium bike and to claim the weight with the lightest build kit they offer, often without pedals, so I wondered if LeMond’s claims would hold true in the real world.
In the class of recreational and commuting e-bikes, which fit fenders and racks and have integrated lights and all that, the norm is a 45-55 pound bike. There are a handful of road-focused e-bikes under the 30 pound mark, and a growing list of “super light” e-commuters in the 35 pound range, but for the most part, e-bikes are still heavy.
Turns out this size Large Prolog, with the fenders and pedals, and aluminum rims with tubes, weighs 28.2 pounds. Those fenders and pedals weigh 570g and 340g respectively, which is bang on 2 pounds, so the claim of 26 pounds isn’t even unreasonable. In fact, it’s incredible, considering there’s a motor and battery on board.
How Do They Do It?
26 pounds, 27 with fenders. How do they manage that? For the most part the Prolog is a very simple bike, using a standard Shimano GRX drivetrain and single-piston hydraulic brakes, normal rims and cheekily-branded 700×38 LePanaracer Gravel Kings.
Then there’s the electronics: the Mahle eBikeMotion X35 system puts the motor in the rear hub, the battery inside the down tube, and a single-button controller on the top tube. The X35 system weight is 3.5 kg, but 300 grams of that would be replaced by a standard rear hub – so we’re talking 3.2 kg, aka 7 pounds. (For those already irritated by my mixed use of metric and imperial measurements, I apologize. It’s something we do in Canada. Just like apologizing.)
Subtract the Mahle system from the Prolog’s 26-pound actual weight and you have a flat bar gravel bike that weighs less than 20 pounds. What does it take to get a bike with big tires, aluminum rims, tubes, a heavy cassette, and lights and fenders to weigh 20 pounds? Shaving grams at every possible opportunity.
A Design Object
In terms of design, the LeMond is gawk-worthy. It’s clean, uncluttered, minimal. It’s essentially a high end, flat bar gravel bike, with an electric assist system that you almost don’t even notice. The simplicity reminds me of Apple products, which, while not without criticism, have a loyal fan base. It’s the kind of bike that garners attention wherever it goes, particularly with that racy pink paint.
The LeMond stem and bar are one molded piece of carbon, and the headlight is built into the front of the unit. The seat stays have integrated tail lights and all the wiring is run internally. The battery is, naturally, inside the down tube, which doesn’t even look overly bulky. Brake and shift cables enter the frame under the stem. If not for the chunky rear hub, you might even miss that this is an e-bike.
But, of course, this is a bicycle, and not simply a design object. While the Prolog features many instances of unique problem solving, it also verges on being overdesigned – where the intended sleekness of the finished product sometimes gets in the way of actual usability. The question is, does LeMond’s push for simplicity upset the balance of form and function?
Hub Motors Aren’t All Bad
I’ll admit right here that I’ve held a grudge against hub motors for years. Maybe it was the proliferation of cheap and crappy fat bikes, scooters that legally qualify as “bikes”, and rats-nest home electric conversions. Maybe it was knowing just how good modern mid-drive technology is getting. Whatever my justification, I was happy believing that hub motor equaled not-good.
And while I was happy to set my personal bar high, I do recognize that affordable hub-drive bikes have more potential to shift transportation paradigms than boutique mid-drives. I love seeing families riding their affordable longtails into the ground. And every electric fat bike on the road is still one less car. I’m discerning about what I’ll ride, but happy to see others using other options.
So yeah. I personally felt above hub motors, my own privilege and discerning tastes and outright snobbery laid bare. This LeMond put one under my butt and changed my mind. And, while mid-drive systems are getting better and better, hub motors inherently have a couple of notable advantages.
First is drivetrain wear. Because the drive unit is between the cassette and the ground, instead of at the crank, the accelerated drivetrain wear associated with mid-drive bikes is non-existent. In fact, it’s possible that your drivetrain will go longer than on your acoustic bike because the motor is doing some amount of the work.
The second advantage is the bike’s usefulness when the battery isn’t turned on. Mid-drive bikes tend to feel like churning sand when being pedaled with the motor off. In contrast, with no additional resistance added by the unswitched motor, the Mahle system feels remarkably like a regular bike.
The beauty of the Mahle system, and the LeMond’s light weight, is that it feels natural to pedal the X35 system beyond the 20 mph limiter or with the motor turned off. I think that’s actually my favourite part about the Prolog: how natural it feels to ride just as a bike. Most e-bikes remind you at all times that you’re on an e-bike. The LeMond simply doesn’t.
Weight vs. Range
Another way LeMond shaved weight from the bike is with a relatively small capacity, 250 watt-hour battery. In comparison, the entry level battery capacity for an e-bike you’ll find in a bike shop is 400 Wh, while 500 Wh is pretty common, and many higher end bikes come with batteries up to 700 Wh. Those numbers equate to physical 18650 cells encased in battery packs, and those cells aren’t light.
While the smaller capacity at first sounds like a problem, it turns out this bike has a lot of range. In the same way that a lighter rider can get a lot further on an e-bike’s battery, the LeMond’s lighter base weight lets it go further with each charge for any rider. Since it’s a pleasure to pedal this bike with or without power, it’s easier to be judicious about your battery usage.
Though a Hub Motor Still Has Its Drawbacks
Of course, a hub motor system is not quite as sophisticated as a more expensive mid-drive. The Mahle motor gets all its data from a single sensor on the cassette lock ring. The system doesn’t have a torque sensor, so the motor is basically on or off. If you’re pedaling, it gives you power at the output level you’ve chosen. Stop pedaling and, after a short delay, it stops giving power.
Again the simplicity of this system is perhaps perfectly suited to the purpose. You might expect more sophistication at this price point, but do you actually need it? The advantages of modern mid-drive systems, like highly sensitive torque sensors that accommodate for lurch and help you in technical terrain, are arguably not as necessary in the urban environment. Sometimes less is more, and maybe that’s the point.
It’s also a bit more complicated to get a hub motor wheel out of a frame than a mid-drive or unassisted bike. I’ve heard horror stories of Rad bike owners spending hours changing a flat. The LeMond’s is about as easy as it can get: it takes just a few extra moments over a regular wheel removal. The axle nuts use an 8mm allen key and the single wire is easy to unplug at the chainstay.
The Mahle axle is actually of larger diameter than the 10mm dropout slots, with flats that prevent it from rotating in the frame – no external torque arm needed. This is how they’ve managed to make the rear end look so clean, and, apart from the hub itself, not look like an e-bike at all. Just a single wire going to the non-drive side of the wheel that’s easy to unplug at the chainstay when you need to get the wheel out.
A Tailored User Experience
Like an Apple product, LeMond’s bikes take some of the decision making away from the consumer. You’re trusting the company to make those choices, and enjoying a sleeker user experience. As a subscriber to the Apple ecosystem, I’m familiar with the limitations of highly designed systems. At times it can be a bit frustrating, but once you catch on (or give in), the experience can be quite enjoyable. Ripping around town, keeping up with traffic, on a bike that hardly weighs more than my own gravel bike, is enjoyable indeed.
Now, in order to best take advantage of an Apple computer you need to learn some keyboard shortcuts, which requires memorizing a sequence of buttons to press. Using LeMond’s single button interface on the top tube is exactly like that. Powering on and off, changing assist level, turning lights on and off all require a different sequence. Like learning a secret handshake. I kept a pdf of the user guide accessible on my phone as I learned to work with the system. There was a learning curve.
Even after learning to work with the system, I still think having the button and power indicator on the top tube is kind of annoying. You have to take your hand pretty far off the bar to do the secret handshake just to add some power for a hill. But, when you’re pedaling and enjoying the ride, the simplicity of the system is elegant. I wouldn’t mind the option of a bar-mounted assist adjustment, via something like SRAM AXS blips.
In addition to the single button controller, eBikeMotion has an app that will track your rides, and also shows the percentage of battery remaining. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the Mahle system interfaced with a Wahoo head unit, augmenting the bike’s simple UI with a percentage of battery remaining and an indicator of what assist mode you’re in. The simple graphical battery indicator is a complaint I have about all e-bikes, so it’s nice to see the LeMond has some options.
If you’ve read my reviews in the past, you’ll know that I’m super picky about bike fit. Bar shape, bar height, and reach to bars, in addition to saddle choice and position, are incredibly important parts of a rider’s interface with their bike. A simple bar and stem swap can turn a totally unrideable bike into your one and only, and can adapt your bike to new uses as your needs change.
I had to let go of my usual approach with the LeMond: the integrated stem and bar is not adjustable, and you get what you get. What you get with the Prolog is a broomstick-straight bar that is unforgiving in terms of moving your hands around. The Dutch’s swept bar offers a bit more flexibility, but I still can’t get past it. With no adjustability, you have to luck into a perfect fit, or deal with a compromise.
I realize that most people who ride bikes never give such ideas any thought, but for enthusiasts, it’s a crucial aspect of the fit and customization of their bike. If millimetres really can make a difference (and I believe they do) then you’re really stuck with LeMond’s integrated stem. It’s extremely high level engineering, and it looks so slick at first glance, yet I’d love to see some different options for folks investing in these bikes.
A Few Comments…
LePanaracer. How fun is that? LeMond has custom-branded 700×38 LePanaracer Gravel Kings and I’m here for it. I was a big fan of these tires on the Fairlight Secan and they’re a good match for the Prolog as well. The frame has room for more tire, which could also be fun…
Shimano Reliability. This is the first I’ve seen a GRX derailleur paired with a non-series flat bar shifter. I was pleased to see my favourite RT-86 rotors in use with the non-series Shimano brakes. You might wonder why LeMond went with GRX instead of something like XT if they don’t offer a drop bar option, but Q-factor is one argument and the unobtrusive look of the non-series shifter and brakes isanother. It’s cool that the bike uses off-the-shelf maintenance parts.
The Paint. The colour is great. I absolutely love it. Dusty, matte pink is suggestive. But trying to keep this bike clean is worse than playing whack-a-mole. The matte finish picks up smudges seemingly out of thin air, and any time you try to clean one smudge, another will randomly appear. I asked for the pink because it’s just so good, but I can’t help but wonder if the black would be less work to keep clean.
Fenders. This is another for better or for worse situation. On the one hand, the colour-matched carbon fenders are light (about 570g for the set including additional hardware) and much stiffer than any plastic fenders. The custom hardware is nice and the colour match looks great on an already neat-looking bike.
Yet while the proprietary fenders are supposed to be a perfect fit, they were merely close. I had to file a number of holes where screws go through, and in the case of the chainstay hole, had to elongate it by about 5mm so the bolt would even go in.
Lastly, the radius of the fender matches the tire but leaves a large gap visible on the side profile. This fender fan is mildly disappointed, but happy fenders were considered on a bike that otherwise is very stripped down.
Who’s It For?
The trope that e-bikes are only for elderly folks who still want to ride bikes is tired. There are many ways that e-bikes can be life changing. If it’s the tool that allows you to replace a car trip, it’s done its job. Sure, that job could be accomplished by a cheaper bike, but some folks want more than that. (Repeat after me: hub motors aren’t all bad!)
Perhaps the biggest feat the LeMond pulls off is just how natural it feels to ride with the motor switched off. Not only can you buy more range by turning off the motor when you don’t need it, but the range anxiety normally associated with e-bikes – the fear that you’ll be stuck walking the thing home – simply doesn’t exist with the LeMond when you can also pedal it easily enough.
The Future of Urban Transportation?
I absolutely love the idea of an e-bike you can carry up the stairs to your apartment. If you’re reading this site, you might, like me, believe that bicycles have more power to shift transportation paradigms than electric cars.
It’s easy to point fingers, but there’s no getting around the fact that e-bikes are useful tools. While a $4800, full carbon, fully integrated e-bike may take the idea further than most people need, it proves the point that not all e-bikes need to be maximum-utility and maximum-range.
The Prolog is a simple bike that’s easy to use and helps you on your way. Fenders as intentional, not an afterthought. Front and rear lights always ready. Something to talk about over a cortado. Lots to talk about, really.
Editor’s Note: During Morgan’s review period, Greg LeMond was diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. Greg says in his official statement that it is “a type of leukemia that is not life-threatening or debilitating”. We wish Greg and the LeMond team all the best as they navigate these rougher waters.