EletiofeThe Civilized Model 1 Bridges the Gap Between Bike...

The Civilized Model 1 Bridges the Gap Between Bike and Moped


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I’m sitting on Civilized’s Model 1 electric bike, and it feels like a painfully slow teeter-totter. The rear suspension starts to hiss—psssssss. Air escapes from the shock absorber underneath the bodywork. The bike’s back end starts to sink, all the way down, until the suspension bottoms out and stops. The onboard air compressor kicks in. It sounds like a tiny jackhammer. The bike’s rear ends starts to puff up again and rise.

As flashy as it is, it only takes 10 seconds to set the pneumatic, self-leveling rear suspension on Civilized’s Model 1 electric bike. It’s elegant, but it’s still a working bike designed to carry two people—or one and a child seat—and a load of cargo in its expandable pannier bags. Adjusting the bike’s suspension as you add or subtract passengers and cargo keeps the ride quality consistent because the system is always using the right amount of shock stiffness for the weight it’s carrying. It’s like Goldilocks—the suspension is always juuuust right. And it really works—just not for everyone.

Hole-y Moly

Photograph: Civilized Cycles

Before I brought the Model 1 home, I took a test ride around the Brooklyn Navy Yard with Civilized’s founder, Zachary Schieffelin, on the back seat. I aimed for every train track crossing and pothole—you know, for testing’s sake. The Model 1 soaked them all up, even with 330 pounds of mankind riding on top of it. With its wide tires and powerful electric motor, the Model 1 reminded me more of carrying a passenger on my motorcycle than carrying one on any bicycle I’ve ridden.

However you combine it, the bike can carry 400 pounds total. Two adults could load up the pannier bags (at 25 pounds in each bag) and still cruise along at well over 20 miles per hour. Most cargo bikes have a comparable capacity—our current favorite cargo bike, the Tern GSD, can carry up to 440 pounds—but unlike most other bikes, the Model 1 will adjust itself every time for new weight once you go through the routine. It also comes with a handy double kickstand in the center, instead of a less-stable single-leg kickstand.

When the plastic hard-sided pannier bags are closed, they each hold a reasonable 20 liters of cargo. The battery and charger mount inside, and there’s an integrated three-digit combination lock on each pannier so you can store things in them, like a car trunk. You can also open the plastic shell to expand them to up to an 80-liter capacity. That’s enough for a full week’s grocery run, although they’re less secure from theft with the fabric section exposed.

Depending on the power settings and rider weight, expect 25 to 30 miles on a full charge. That’s really low for an ebike, especially one at this price, but would be enough for commutes, errands, and coffee runs if you live in a city and don’t try to take it for an all-day ride without charging. There’s room to mount a second battery in the other pannier bag that will double the range. You can charge a device from the USB ports in the battery, as well.

With a 750-watt mid-drive motor, acceleration is strong and the bike picks up speed quickly. The beauty of a well-done mid-drive motor like this is that the pedaling feels very natural. It’s a class 3 ebike, meaning it has a throttle that’ll let you accelerate to 20 miles per hour without pedaling. You can eke out a 28-mph top speed if you pedal. With a mid-drive motor this good, though, I rarely felt like I needed to use the twist throttle, which works by rotating the handlebar grip like a motorcycle.

Pedaling from a dead stop was easy and smooth, and the five-speed mechanical gearshift made it simple to fine-tune the pedaling effort between electric assist levels. The hydraulic four-piston disc brakes do a solid job of stopping the 89-pound bike, even though you’re not going to lose any fillings from tremendous braking performance. 

The one major downside is that it’s a pretty tall bike. Civilized’s website says the bike will fit people 5 feet 2 inches and up, but there’s no way somebody of that height could mount this bike and have their feet touch pavement. I’m 5 feet 10 inches, and I had the seat height set pretty close to the bottom of its range. There’s no frame option for shorter riders.

Limited Edition

Illustration: Civilized Cycles

Although it’s not as complex as VanMoof’s security system, you can lock the bike with a PIN through the display screen. The headlight has a high-beam setting, like a car, and can detect oncoming traffic to temporarily self-dim to keep from blinding them, like a fancy car. The fenders do a good job of protecting the rider from road spray. I didn’t ride it during or after any heavy rains, but I aimed at a few nasty-looking puddles and didn’t get splattered.

You can have one now as long as you live around New York City—and if you buy one before they run out. They’re launching locally in an “extremely limited offering,” according to Civilized. Everybody else in the contiguous US has to wait until January 2022, but if you place a (refundable) preorder, then they’ll knock $1,000 off the price (totaling $4,449). You can have it in one of three colors: silver, black, and the gorgeously deep Empire Red.

As a car guy, I couldn’t get a comparison out of my mind: the Citroën SM. Like the Civilized Model 1, the Citroën SM was an upmarket, stylish, mechanically sophisticated cruising machine that was built to be usable for mundane daily tasks. If Civilized was aiming for an electric vehicle that bridges the gap between bicycle and moped, they hit their mark. Now if only they could do something about that height requirement.

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