Gazelle Ultimate C380+ HMB electric bike review
Aug 02, 2023
Looking for an everyday e-bike that goes the extra mile? Gazelle’s Ultimate C380+ HMB is — as the name suggests — the ultimate electric town bike. With the best of nearly everything on board, from Enviolo/Nuvinci’s continuously variable transmission to a maintenance-free Gates Carbon Drive belt system to a powerful, capable Bosch mid-drive motor, the Gazelle puts together all the pieces in a way we haven’t encountered with many other bikes.
The Gazelle’s Ultimate C380+ HMB is a first-class, pedal-assist e-bike that offers the best of everything — from its premium build to a powerful Bosch motor. If you’re ready to invest in an electric bike as an alternative to transport, commuting and even everyday chores, this premium bicycle is worth its steep price.
The Ultimate C380+ simply outperforms everything else we’ve ridden in its class — that class, loosely defined, being the town bike. Stateside, the townie can be anything from a basic commuter clunker to an elegant, basket-and-rack-adorned classic, and the C380+ takes everything you might want in such a vehicle and executes it about as well as I could possibly imagine. It’s great for any sort of ride, be it commuting, shopping or just plain recreational wandering for any distance short of touring.
The Gazelle C380+ is something of an extreme take on that concept, however, with a lineage that goes back to what’s known to Europeans as a “trekking bike” — a relaxed load carrier that’ll get you anywhere you need to be. So, you get a suspension fork, hydraulic disc brakes and so forth, along with the integrated Dutch-style cafe lock for the rear wheel.
But the important thing here is performance, and the C380+ is simply excellent on this front. The thing to focus on is the Bosch Performance Line mid-drive motor, which is smooth to respond (it uses a well-optimized torque sensor to measure your pedaling input) and operates in Class 3 to get you up to a traffic-friendly 28 mph with ease. It’s even reasonably quiet (mid-drives have a reputation for being a little louder than hubs) and not much more audible than a hub-drive motor. It certainly isn’t noticeable above road noise, even in our rural and semi-rural test environments.
Mid-drives are an optimal choice for heavy-duty e-bikes overall and are superior to hub drives in many ways: They are typically more responsive to torque sensing than hub-drive motors (which are getting the input via the chain), they result in a better-balanced bike and they let you change a rear tire without making you want to curl up in a ball weeping by the side of the road.
The use of a mid-drive motor also allows the use of an internally geared hub (“IGH”) transmission — in this case, the elegant Enviolo continuously variable transmission, in its top-end 380% incarnation (that’s the widest range of gearing the company offers). The Enviolo is hands down my favorite transmission for commuter bikes, cargo bikes or anything heavy.
In place of 7, 9, 11 or even 13 distinct gears as in derailleur or traditional IGHs, the Enviolo is a planetary gear system that gives you an infinite number of gear ratios. You just adjust with a twist shifter to adapt to the terrain, and once you get the hang of it, you’ll never struggle to find the right combination to get up a hill, or even have to deal with feeling just a tad over- or under-geared after a long day, as you can with a derailleur system.
REI’s Co-op Cycles Generation e1.1 electric bike is a great utility ride for all
The drive provides power to the hub using the Gates Carbon Drive belt system, which uses a continuous belt (akin to the serpentine belt that drives the accessories running off your car’s engine) in place of a chain. It’s quieter than a chain and requires no maintenance at all — no lube, no nothing. But just to make doubly sure you never soil a pant leg, the C380+ has a chain guard just in case. That’s attention to detail!
All considered, the C380+ is just a fantastic bike to ride, and the hub coupled via the belt with the powerful Bosch motor made short work of our test course of hilly terrain, with grades up to 15%, whether or not the bike was loaded with grocery panniers up to the 65-pound limit of the sturdy rear rack (an even greater capacity than you’ll find on utility oriented models like the Co-op Cycles Generation e1.1).
Fit and finish and the rest of the component specs are in keeping with the pure performance aspects: The lighting system is robust, bright and adjustable; the hydraulic brakes let you modulate speed precisely; it’s comfortable, with solid, predictable handling; and it’s ready to go for most tasks out of the box. Just add panniers. Everything is so well thought out it’s hard to imagine swapping anything out aside from choosing a saddle to your taste (if you’re particular).
Compared to most bikes, and even most e-bikes, the C380+ is expensive — even at its reduced 2023 pricing. But, to be honest, the pricing is not out of line with the competition, and the C380+ gives you far more for your money in terms of practicality and performance than the similarly priced Super73-R Adventure. Sure, it’s much more expensive than the Ride1 Up Turris — a great bike in its own right and in many ways a similarly configured trekking/commuter/all-rounder, but the differences in fit and finish and componentry is night and day.
The lightweight Velotric Thunder 1 e-bike looks and feels like a regular bike
Unlike some high-end models currently shipping with the Enviolo/Nuvinci CVT system, the C380+ doesn’t have automatic shifting (we tested this setup on the Tern HSD S+ earlier in the year). While, for me, as an experienced rider, I’m actually happier without the automatic system (riders used to a high pedaling cadence may not be well served by the current crop of automated shifting systems), some people accustomed to seeing it on similarly priced and slightly less expensive bikes from Tern and Van Moof may miss it.
If you’re a commuter or city cyclist who wants all of the technological sophistication the industry has on offer for your everyday grocery-getter, look no further. What Gazelle has put together here is something along the lines of a Porsche or Maserati or BMW SUV — you get the elegant engineering, nimble handling, and modern conveniences of a sportscar with the utility of a station wagon. And it costs a lot less than a Porsche.
The Swytch Kit lets you transform the bike you already own into an e-bike