The Karmic Koben wasn’t the first e-bike I’ve ridden, but it was one of the first ones I was able to spend more than a few hours on. Prior to my in-depth e-bike experience, I would’ve considered myself a purist. It was sacrilege to even consider riding a bike that had a battery and motor on it. But after a few days, the true benefits a pedal assist bike offers started to stand out. Short trips that would normally take 10-minutes in a car were easily replaced with a quick 12-minute ride.
Going to further 15+ mile destinations would normally be a car trip, but knowing that I was getting some fresh air, saving money, shortening ride time, and doing some work made the Koben an easier choice. Its ability to perform on dirt or pavement opened up route possibilities, and because there is no throttle it became a great option for getting around campus. But even after putting my time in on the e-bike, something about plugging a bike in on a regular basis seems odd. At least now I can truly understand what makes pedal assist so appealing…
The large [19″] Koben has an aluminum frame with a green paint that shimmers in the sun, a 30.9 seat tube, and a single cage mount when the battery is mounted. Because it’s sold consumer direct Karmic provides a number of tools including a 5Nm torque wrench and two 3-way hex wrenches. A 1×11 Sram NX rear derailleur and 11-42 cassette handle the abuse from a Bafang MAX motor that puts out 80 Nm of torque and 350W. The motor system was surprisingly good. Bafang is usually a popular choice for aftermarket ebike conversions, but in this case it some stock on Koben. Compared to other ebikes it has a slightly awkward engagement delay, but it was quiet and easy to manage. The left controller on the handlebars gave 5 pedal assist options and standard information such as trip distance, average/max speed, and total miles.
The battery locks to the frame with a 450Wh capacity and endures over 500 full-charge cycles. Battery life is monitored on the computer head and indicators on the battery itself. Bringing the $2,500 rig to a stop are SRAM Level disc brakes on 180 and 160 mm rotors.
Karmic really focused on making this new iteration of the Koben their “go anywhere bike” and they hit their mark well thanks to the tire choice. The stock setup with WTB Ranger tires [27.5″ x 2.8″] offered just what they wanted; a well-rounded rig that can handle dirt, pavement and everything between.
Personally weighing roughly 175lbs [+ 44.4lbs bike], I found 17psi front and back offered enough cushion when on the trails and plenty of support to keep the tires from getting squirrely in turns.
But as much as I love trails, I was really looking to do a lot of rides around campus and town. So after a conversion to WTB Byways [27.5 x 47mm] the bike felt more nimble and still retained plenty of squishy goodness.
Koben Use & Impressions
To test out the bike’s potential, I traded my beater Raleigh in for the Koben on my usual commute to class. It was refreshing to arrive to class after a ride mostly dry; especially on hot 90°+ days. The 10-mile round trip was easily within range for the battery and left juice for outings later in the day. Short trips are what really opened my eyes to the benefits an e-bike has to offer. For me, there are often times when riding a bike simply takes too much preparation and ride time. My schedule was hectic at times trying to balance work, school, writing, and life. Squeezing in that extra trip to the bar store or last-minute team meeting would turn into a quick drive. But with the e-bike as an option, I was more inclined to make a ride out of everything.
The Koben offered the versatility to take shortcuts through grass, woods, and stairs, but ultimately did so in a slightly klutzy way. The front end felt strange in tight turns no matter how much time was spent on the bike, but this could potentially be solved by putting 6’3″ me on an XL [21″] frame, or it could simply be due to putting 47mm tires on a bike built for 2.8″ plus tires. Otherwise, the bike fit was comfortable on long casual cruises and it handled wide flowy turns and maneuvers well.
Ultimately, the Karmic Koben managed to tone back my skeptical views on where e-bikes hold value to average and advanced riders. There’s something about being able to crush 25mph on the roads with substantially less effort that never failed to put a smile on my face. Its speed made local trips easily accessible while its rugged build paired with wide tires gave the bike on and off-road capabilities. Plus, having flat pedals reinforced the casual feel of the bike and made it less of a chore to prepare for a ride. I believe the Koben could be a good option for someone looking to see and do more on one bike while keeping it casual with a bit of extra boost.