Propella 3.0 ebike review: Cheap thrills
“Propella’s 3.0 adds a few upgrades to our favorite affordable electric bike.”
- Affordable price
- Attractive, subtle design
- Solid build quality for the price
- Optional suspension seat
- Basic electronics
- Mediocre top speed
When I reviewed the Propella 2.2 ebike earlier in the year, I found it to be a fun and functional commuter model that offered a lot of bang for the buck. While I wasn’t overly impressed with its range and component set, I did feel that the 2.2 was a lightweight and affordable option for those looking to jump into the ebike market.
Fast forward a few months, and Propella has introduced an updated 3.0 version, which brings some nice refinements to an already solid product. In fact, the company has managed to make an already enticing model even better, retaining its crown as the budget ebike to own.
Similar bike, new battery pack
At first glance, it isn’t easy to see a difference between the Propella 2.2 and its 3.0 sibling. Both models have a very similar look that includes the company’s signature reflective blue wheels and a low-key design that camouflages its electric components nicely. But dig a little deeper and you’ll start to see a few subtle changes, some of which are merely cosmetic, while others make for simple, but effective improvements on the original bike’s performance.
One of the more noticeable changes is a redesigned battery pack. On the Propella 2.2 model, the battery looked a bit like a water bottle bolted onto the frame, which made it more difficult to identify as an ebike. The new version looks more like a traditional ebike battery, albeit a slim and streamlined one. The refreshed battery design doesn’t call much attention, however, allowing it to continue to fly under the radar for the most part.
Sadly, the new battery doesn’t bring longer range with it. The Propella 3.0 is still rated for approximately 20 to 40 miles of pedal assist depending on the settings you use the most. That’s about half what you’d find in most other ebikes, so those with range anxiety will still need to bring a charger or an extra battery with them when making a longer commute. Recharge time remains a brisk 2.5 hours, so it doesn’t take long to get the battery fully juiced up again.
The new battery pack powers the same 250-watt hub-mounted motor that was found on the Propella 2.2. That drive system is capable of providing pedal assist speeds of up to 18 miles per hour, so if you’re in the market for a fast ebike, you may want to look elsewhere. Urban commuters will find it to be more than adequate for weaving through traffic or climbing steep hills however.
With five levels of pedal assist – activated via a handlebar-mounted LCD screen and controller – the bike can deliver as much or as little power as the rider needs. As with most ebikes, finding the balance between pedaling entirely on your own and having the motor lend a hand is the key to extending battery life as far as possible. Thankfully, the included display makes that easy to do by making all of the important information available at a glance. It’s small, and simple, but it works.
New fork, smoother ride
Another design change that isn’t all that evident at first glance is Propella’s use of a new front fork on the 3.0’s bike frame. The new fork is a bit thicker and features a slightly different shape, which helps to improve ride quality in a noticeable way. On the 2.2 model the ride was fine, but not particularly outstanding. On the 3.0 things are smoother and more refined.
This is especially noticeable on longer commutes, which are more comfortable in general. The bike handles bumps and cracks in the road much better as well, which was greatly appreciated both on the bike and after the ride was over, with less muscle fatigue setting in.
Speaking of improved ride quality, Propella now offers an optional accessory that is a dramatic upgrade. The Kinekt Suspension Seatpost is an additional $200, but it makes a huge difference in terms of comfort while in the saddle. The seatpost comes with a set of springs built in that are designed to further lessen the impact of riding on a rough road.
The revised bike handles bumps and cracks in the road better than before.
To put the performance of this accessory into perspective, it is roughly the equivalent of going from a regular mountain bike with a front suspension to a full-suspension model instead. Considering how affordable the Propella 3.0 already is, spending another $200 to get such a major upgrade in ride quality seems like a no-brainer.
That said, for testing purposes I also rode the 3.0 in its stock configuration and found it to be on par with the 2.2 edition in terms of comfort. The standard seat and seatpost combo are more than adequate for daily rides, although they aren’t nearly as comfortable as when I upgraded to the Kinect seatpost. The new front fork gives Propella’s newest bike the edge over the previous generation however, helping to smooth out almost every aspect of the ride.
One of the things that I noted when reviewing the 2.2 model was that the rear tire would sometimes get a little loose when going around corners at higher speeds. At the time, I chalked it up to the rear-hub motor sending too much power to the wheel while cornering, and although it was a bit unnerving it was never so bad as to actually cause a crash.
This happened with much less frequency when riding the 3.0 and never to the same level of severity. On paper, the two bikes use the same components, and not much should have changed in this area. Yet the 3.0 felt more stable when cornering while pedal assist was engaged.
Both the Propella 2.2 and 3.0 share the same cycling component set, which I found to be reliable and adequate on both models. These components were picked to help keep costs down rather than to provide top-tier performance. The main goal is to deliver an ebike that is very affordable, and in order to do that some compromises had to be made. Still, the chainset, gears, pedals, tires, and various other parts do a good job of straddling a line between price, dependability, durability, and ease of maintenance. This includes a set of mechanical disc brakes, which provide plenty of stopping power without the price tag of hydraulic models.
As with its predecessor, the Propella 3.0 comes in two different versions – a single-speed model that runs $999, and a 7-speed edition that incorporates a Shimano gear system and sells for $1199. If you’re riding on mostly flat terrain and are looking to save a few dollars, the single-speed model will more than meet your needs.
However, the $200 premium for the 7-speed model is worth the money, providing more versatility when it comes to riding. Between changing up both the gear you ride in and the level of power assist from the electric motor, it is possible to dial in the exact settings you need for cruising down a road effortlessly or climbing massive hills that would normally be a significant challenge.
The new Propella doesn’t come with built-in lights, which was one of our quibbles with the earlier version. Many ebikes, particularly those aimed at urban commuters, now come with lights already mounted on the frame, and I would have loved to have seen that upgrade included here. That said, if it meant raising the price or impacting the range of the bike by draining the battery faster, this is yet another compromise that I can live with.
Propella offers a one year warranty on all of its bikes, with a 14-day return policy.
The Propella 3.0 remains a great bargain in the ebike space. The bike is still an excellent option for an entry-level model that doesn’t try to compete with higher priced ebikes in terms of specs and performance. Instead, it stands alone as a quality ride that will surprise and delight cyclists on a budget.
Is there a better alternative?
As stated in my the Propella 2.2 review, there are much better ebikes on the market, but you won’t very many at this price point. This is especially true for commuters and casual riders who are on a limited budget. But today’s ebike market is evolving quickly and there are now options from most of the major manufacturers, including Trek, Specialized, and Raleigh.
The Swagtron EB12 is one possible competitor for the Propella 3.0, but it underlines why the Propella is a better option. The Swagtron doesn’t look or feel as robust and has a slightly lower top speed. It’s $200 less, because it has a 7-speed drivetrain for $1,000 — but I think it’s wise to spend a little more on the 7-speed Propella 3.0.
Still not sure what to buy? Check out our favorite electric bikes of 2019.
How long will it last?
Like its predecessor, the Propella 3.0 is built to last, with a frame and component set that are simple, yet durable and reliable. That should make for years of worry-free riding with just simple, basic maintenance to ensure that everything stays in working order. As with most ebikes, the battery may be the first thing to go, and Propella offers replacements for $249.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you’re in the market for an electric bicycle, but don’t have a lot of cash to spend, the Propella 3.0 will make you very happy.