The Ekano has been my first long-term eMTB test rig, with a test period spanning the second half of the year and seeing riding in five countries along the way, from the trails local to the Propain headquarters in Vogt, Germany; through the Swiss, Italian and French alps; and culminating in a few months back home in the Tweed Valley, Scotland. It’s safe to say I’ve given the Ekano the full spectrum of eBike riding, from all-day Eco epics through to all-Boost blasts to catch the last of the light in a day; and even a good share of lift-assisted park riding in some of the French Alps finest bikeparks. It hasn’t all been plain sailing, and the Propain hasn’t been the ideal tool for all of the riding, but it’s safe to say it shines in a few areas.
First up, the sizing of the “extra-large” is certainly not what we’ve begun to expect from an XL bike in 2023, with a reach number that is on the shorter end of what we’d expect a large to have these days but a seat tube length that’s every bit XL. For my preference of a shorter reach and my long legs, I was actually happy with the fit, as I feel a 10mm reach decrease is appropriate on eMTBs compared with their acoustic counterparts, to offset the loss of agility caused by the weight of the motor. Your input has more effect on the bike when the reach is shorter, but less of an effect when the bike is heavier. But if you’re any taller than me, or have shorter legs than me, then I’d say you’re going to be a little stuck with the geometry. The industry has moved fairly quickly towards numbers that simply work better for the majority of riders and riding, and the fact that the Ekano uses a frame that was designed back in 2018 is quite telling here.
Another thing that’s taken leaps and bounds in the eMTB world is the electronics integration. We’re beginning to see less and less removable batteries, and those that are removable are done so in a cleaner and more elegant manner than the large key hole on the side of the top tube. The battery capacity also shows its age, with “full power” eMTBs now coming with a 630Wh at minimum, and many lightweight eMTBs nearing the capacity of the Ekano. Save for the extra wiring compared with some of the new wireless displays and remotes, I don’t have any issues with the controller and display on the EP8 system – the remote is low profile yet tactile, and the display is sleek enough and in a sensible place to avoid damage unless it goes seriously wrong. The charging port is partly blocked by the bottle cage if you’re running one, which makes it a little fiddly to get the charger in, but isn’t a major issue.
On the trail, the EP8 system worked as usual – predictable and dependable, but not quite as powerful in feel as the likes of the Bosch or Rocky Mountain systems. For a typical climb in “regular bike” territory it’s not an issue, but when you get to steeper and more tech climbs you may begin to fall behind some more powerful systems, especially if you’re on the higher end of the weight scale like I am at 211lbs (96kg) dry. Until you hit the limits of the capabilities of the motor though the EP8 system has a lot going for it, with fairly well controlled power, relatively smooth and quiet running and acceptable range for the battery capacity. That capacity proved to be a major limitation of the Ekano though. 504Wh on a full-fat eBike is not very large, especially when 750Wh is becoming more common, and so the “range anxiety” was a real factor for my weight and terrain. The 6.5lb (2.9kg) battery does just about open up the possibility to invest in a second unit and carry it in a large pack for the epics, or store it in the van, and switching out can take as little as two minutes, but if you don’t have a spare then your time in boost is limited.
I had a hunch that I could burn a battery in an hour in boost mode if I tried hard enough, and proved myself correct on the notorious Golfie trails in the Tweed Valley that play host to some EWS and EWS-E stages. Including a 2km road transfer to and from the trails, I averaged 13mph (21km/h) and squeezed in almost 800m of descending over three laps. I was working hard and it certainly wasn’t a typical ride, so I can’t quite decide if it’s a positive display of how useful an eBike can be for a rider on a tight schedule, or a worrying depiction of the limited capacity of the 504Wh battery on the Ekano. Take it as you will, one thing is absolutely for sure – the bike didn’t stop me from having fun, nor from working up a serious sweat, and there’s no chance I’d have amassed such a ride in an hour on an acoustic machine – double the time taken and you’re in the right ballpark if I was trying hard.
The climbing position on the Ekano is relatively relaxed and laid back compared with the modern crop of eMTBs, but not to the extent of being problematic once you’ve slammed the saddle forward in the rails (more than in the images). When the saddle is slammed forwards, there’s just about enough weight on the front wheel to keep things in check until you hit the steepest climbs in the easiest gear. The pedaling support is sufficient to keep the pedals clear on the climbs for the most part, yet there’s exceptional traction from the rear end to help keep things fairly comfortable (once you’ve switched out the painful Sixpack saddle) and the rear wheel stuck to the terrain below, so the Ekano ascends pretty damn well for less dynamic situations. A lack of early-to-mid stroke support and the high overall weight mean that the extra-tech dynamic moves are very tricky though, requiring a lot of strength and energy to muscle the Propain around. This weight is thanks to the 11.6lbs (5.3kg) weight claimed for a Medium size frame without the drive unit or battery – you’ll need to add another 12lbs (5.5kg) for those.
I gave it away – the Ekano isn’t an agile descender. This isn’t a factor of the geometry, which actually sits fairly central in the scale of eMTB’s I’ve spent time on, but instead a combination of the portliness and the early stroke compliance of the suspension on both ends. The Ekano will happily devour the first half of its travel with minimal input, keeping it stuck fast to the ground until there’s a significant obstacle or big effort by the rider to help it on its way into the air. This has negative connotations for sure, but meant that the Ekano really came to life in the highest speed portions of the Portes Du Soleil, as well as ironing out the rough very well on some truly epic alpine descents.
The Propain Ekano isolates the rider well from the terrain below, making for a very comfortable ride that’ll truck through the rough, but can result in a slight lack of control on the sections demanding the deftest of touches. On flat out bikepark terrain though it was a force to be reckoned with, charging through braking bumps as if they weren’t there and letting speeds get silly high. There was a surefooted feeling all round, but enough compliance between the wheels and frame to hold a line well.
That progressive-regressive curve means you get good use of the entire travel, but the flip side is I experienced the most bottom outs on the Ekano of anything I’ve ridden for quite some time, even with the maximum three bottomless tokens installed at 30% sag. Moving down to 27% sag improved things to an acceptable level, but I would still like to see some more leverage progression personally, so that a coil shock would be more ideal. Their choice to offer a coil as a stock option is surprising to me, and I’d wager that many owners are either experiencing the same issue or are running minimal sag. Progressive springs may just about do the trick, but I simply don’t think we need regression in our leverage ratios at this point in bike and suspension development. With an air shock and plenty of volume reduction to give the required spring progression though, the rear end works just fine.
The component spec across the bike proved to be solid and dependable throughout, with barely a hiccup throughout the test period. Contrary to my American compadres, I enjoy using Sram’s CODE brakes, and the set on the Ekano were no exception. Good modulation, consistent feeling and plentiful power to stop the Ekano on some long and steep alpine descents. The Rock Shox suspension package may not be the most up-to-date on my test rig, but was a solid performer, offering a fine mix of compliance and control other than the bottom out-happy shock. The Stan’s wheels held up well, only requiring a couple of go-overs with a spoke key, and somehow holding the tire long after I put a couple of sizable dents in the rear rim following a puncture in a rock garden. Aside from the Sixpack saddle being very uncomfortable for me, I’d have happily left the bike as stock as a consumer and racked up the miles.
Onto the two major issues that I faced, which may be a cause for concern but should no longer be an issue according to Propain. The battery fell out of the downtube, twice. The first was on a medium sized jump landing, which certainly used a good amount of travel but didn’t reach bottom out. The second time, many rides later, was on a more mellow section of trail, but crucially one that was far from home with a good bit of elevation to gain. Following the first time I’d made it a habit to check the lock was tight and the battery properly located before every ride, so I was surprised when this happened. Clearly something wasn’t right with the lock mechanism on my bike, and Propain assured me that this wasn’t a common issue. At the end of testing, a crack appeared on the top side of the down tube in what was a very strange place. It turns out this is where the battery mount on the inside is welded to the frame.
Propain’s response to the issues faced reads as follows:
“Propain is a rider owned and more importantly rider operated business. Almost everyone at Propain rides and is passionate about their work. Our engineers strive to build the perfect bike, looking for every opportunity to improve the design, product testing or the manufacturing process during development. Nevertheless, the test bike provided to Loam Wolf showed a crack where the battery mounts are welded into the downtube. Any failure of the final product is very concerning to us, and we study every case carefully to ensure it leads to the right improvements and most importantly safety of the rider. In this case a similar failure already led to the necessary improvement in production which solved the problem long before.
The Loam Wolf’s test bike was produced before the change was initiated – The failure is assumed to be caused by a defective mechanism or misalignment of the battery mount. This is certainly not a common issue.”