While not a motorcycle, as we interpret it, a pedal-assisted electric bicycle just might be a gateway product to owning a motorcycle. With that in mind, we tested a couple of the impressive-looking Yamaha Power Assist Bicycles—the Cross Connect, and the Cross Core.
The benefit of electric-assisted pedaling is massive. What a revelation! My other half and I are reasonably fit, though both now just into our 60s. Our hard-tail Specialized mountain bikes are excellent, but even relatively mild hills leave us pretty tired. We have fun and stay fit, but it’s typically very local. The Yamahas allow us to ignore elevation changes almost entirely, and we literally go wherever we want—it’s an amazing, game-changing difference; this technology enables people of different fitness levels to ride together. Yamaha claims it is “fitness without exhaustion,” and that is exactly what we found. We were able to ride dramatically farther than usual, for a much longer time. Yet, we always arrived back home without feeling spent.
There is no throttle. Yamaha uses three sensors on its bicycles—pedal torque, road speed, and crankshaft rotations. These, combined with the sophisticated controller software, detect the road conditions, and decide how much motor assist is required. From the rider’s perspective, it’s all down to how hard you pedal. The harder you push, the more assistance is given within the limits of the mode you’ve set.
You still have to pedal—this is not a motorized bicycle. The electric assistance simply relieves some of your effort. I was able to keep up a reasonable cadence using a combination of the gears and different levels of power assistance, no matter how the road elevation changed.
The Yamaha Cross Connect and Cross Core have four levels of power assist (plus off). The levels are changed by a left thumb-operated rocker switch. Eco+, Eco, Std, and High are denoted on the small instrument display and by a colored LED bar across its top. Changing up or down levels of power assist feels a little like changing gears, except typically you don’t pedal any faster or slower. Plus, your road speed doesn’t change unless you want it to.
Eco+ and Eco modes have relatively little power assistance. They are nice to use on level ground to keep your momentum in a higher gear, or when riding up short, gentle slopes.
As soon as there’s any reasonable hill, I go up to Std level to maintain my speed. I also frequently use the industry-standard Shimano derailleur gears.
Yes, you get a workout for sure and, unlike with my pedal-only bicycle, I had no ‘range anxiety’. Typically, I don’t venture too far afield, as I worry about getting too exhausted and not being able to face the ride home. This concern is simply removed from the equation with the Yamaha Cross Connect and Cross Core. I was always aware that if I bit off more than I could chew, I could simply use a higher level of power for the ride home. It was easy to judge my distance and pace so that I never found myself miles from home and wondering if I could get back; it simply wasn’t a factor.
Electric assistance when pedaling is a fantastic tool. I mounted a dog-carrying box on the back of the Cross Connect, so we could take our dog along with us on rides (he loved it). He weighs 32 pounds, and I was able to maintain a good pace with no problems. However, it means using higher assist levels than without my ‘passenger’, so the battery range is diminished somewhat. Ultimately, the power function allows a lot of flexibility of where you ride, how you explore, and who you travel with.
We typically averaged around 12 mph while riding, and that feels plenty fast enough. Once on a downhill, I saw 38 mph, but I was in a full racing tuck and trying to see how fast I could go.
The Yamaha PWseries ST motor is frame-mounted with the pedals attached to it. This is a significant advantage over hub-mounted motors in other bicycles that torque-steer when on power, making riding them an odd experience. With these Yamahas, the motor’s torque reaction doesn’t interfere with the bicycle’s ride or steering. They ride like normal bicycles–you just feel a lot fitter than you really are.
The motor puts out over 50 ft-lbs of torque and emits a light whine when it’s working. It can definitely be heard by the rider. Fortunately, it is not unpleasant or intrusive, so it didn’t bother me at all.
The 500 Wh battery charges back to full capacity in four hours. The charger plugs into the side of the battery and couldn’t be easier. The battery pack is locked in place, yet easily removable in case you need to carry a spare, although in normal use, it’s doubtful you would need one. The battery has easily enough range no matter how long the ride, or how much assistance we use. I’d estimate that the battery has probably twice the practical capacity that’s typically needed.
Both of these Yamaha bicycle models had a claimed 90-mile range in normal usage. I once ran the Cross Connect down to about 40 percent of capacity on a hilly, 47-mile, round-trip ride, while carrying my aforementioned slightly porky canine passenger.
The weight of the battery and motor is around 23 pounds, so pedaling in Off mode with no assist is practical. The bike feels fairly heavy when you’re only using pedal power, so you would only want to do this in the event of a dead battery. But as mentioned, this is very much a normal bicycle; it rides and handles like a normal bicycle.
The Yamahas are impressive enough, even without considering the electric aspect. High-quality componentry is used, such as smooth-shifting Shimano derailleur gears (front and rear) and excellent disc brakes with plenty of feel. On the Cross Connect, the front suspension works well, and both machines are hard-tail at the rear.
Beyond the componentry, the Yamahas are typically well built, and the finishes are exemplary. That is in line with the Yamaha motorcycles that are so familiar to us.
Both bicycles are equipped with e-bike specific street tires and e-bike drive chains. They are quite clearly optimized for the street environment, so we didn’t take them off-road. They were both comfortable, each with a lightly padded seat and a riding position that wasn’t overly aggressive.
The Yamaha engineers have created well-balanced machines that handle just like a standard bicycle. The extra weight of the battery and motor are both nicely centralized, so nether one upsets the bike’s handling at all.
Both the Cross Connect and Cross Core come with bright, LED lights that can be switched on and off. They are controlled on the tiny, but very comprehensive and easy to read, instrument panel. The lights are not only bright, they are also highly efficient.
The back-lit LCD dot-matrix instrument pods are identical, and carry plenty of information. A button toggles through all the information you could need, including speed, average speed, maximum speed, trip distance, odometer, cadence, and remaining percentage of battery capacity. It also has a USB power take-off in case you want to recharge your phone or other devices. Bluetooth connectivity allows you to link up to an aftermarket cyclometer device.
Yamaha’s Cross Connect is a little more urban-oriented. Attractive looking, the Connect comes with lightweight fenders, a rear carrying rack, and a very useful sidestand.
The Yamaha Cross Core does not have any front suspension, however as a street-oriented bicycle, it wasn’t missed. The brakes are cable-operated and, while not as smooth as the hydraulic brakes on the Connect, they are still excellent performers that gave us no issues.
The small, left thumb-operated controller has an up/down toggle and a select button. The buttons are easy to reach and have a nice tactile feel. Using them is positive and easy while pedaling.
Overall, both of these Yamaha Power Assist bicycles felt absolutely awesome; we simply didn’t want to give them back. They opened up a whole new world for us that helps us exercise as we choose, without over-exerting or exhausting us. Taking that fear out of a ride, regardless of elevation change, is a freeing experience. I have no idea how we will be able to go back to our own pedal-power-only bicycles. The Cross Connect has an MSRP of $2999 and the Cross Core of $2399.
2020 Yamaha Cross Connect and Cross Core Photo Gallery
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.