With eBikes flying off the shop-floor in increasing numbers, I got an invitation to try out something a little different, the Bultaco Albero. A cross between motorbike and bicycle, it’s a Moto-Bike! With the company’s roots being Spanish the test was to be held in sunny Malaga. Perfect, lots of zipping around on dry roads in the autumn sun, better pack me flip-flops! Or so you’d think…
A quick check of the weather while packing revealed rain for the two days I would be in Spain. Apparently it hadn’t rained for six months, so we were especially lucky that mother nature would turn on the water works, just for us. Hoping that BBC weather had got it wrong, I packed waterproof boots, trousers and jacket.
But enough about the weather, what about the Bultaco Albero? I must admit that I hadn’t heard of Bultaco before, but it seems the marque has some history. Founded back in 1958 by Don Paco Bultó – Paco+Bultó=Bultaco! – the company was famous for its lightweight two-stroke trials bikes, at a time when four-stroke was the norm. Bultaco had international success with riders such as Ángel Nieto, Jorge Martínez Aspar, Sammy Miller and Barry Sheene.
The original company closed in 1983, but the name was picked up by a new company specialising in electric vehicles in 2012. Less than three years later the first Bultaco Brinco was rolling off the production line in Barcelona. The Brinco was an off-road Moto-Bike, very much in keeping with the company’s history. Roll forward another two years and Bultaco launch the urbanite Albero. Where the Brinco was at home scrambling around off-road, the Albero’s natural environment is more civilised.
Ok, so the Albero is a town dwelling electric Moto-Bike, but what is a Moto-Bike? In Bultaco’s own words it is “a cross between a motorcycle and a bicycle, with a striking, hybrid combination of electric propulsion activated by a grip throttle, and independent pedalling, allowing the rider to adjust, at will, the level of effort he wishes to make.”
So you have a twist-grip throttle that you can use as a motorbike. Or pedals and an eighteen speed drivetrain that you can use like a bike. Or a combination of the two. The choice is yours, you decide when to go electric or when to use your own effort. But what’s it like to ride?
Well, after looking at the weather for the umpteenth time and realising that it was going to be a wet day, we donned waterproofs and set out. To start the Albero rather than a key – how 20th century – you simply hold a NFC bracelet against the handlebar console. You can select three modes for your ride, Sport, Tour or Eco. Each setting affects top speed, acceleration and range.
Pedalling around the plaza under my own power before setting off, the Albero feels like a mountain-bike. The suspension is fully adjustable, but with most of my off-road riding experience being on rigid bikes, I left it alone. The ride was, plush. Sitting tall in the saddle or standing on the pedals, the Albero was happy doing figure eights, that boded well for rush hour riding.
First stop on our itinerary was a photo call around the Plaza de la Marina. Locals were treated to the sight of us recreating Bambi’s hesitant first steps, on ice. There’s nothing better when trying to get used to a new bike than riding it on a smooth wet surface, while your peers, bemused locals and a photographer look on. Happily I stayed upright, a few of us manged unintentional wheel spins and a few slides, but we all stayed upright. Today’s conditions were going to make the day interesting.
The photo-shoot had at least allowed me to get a little more familiar with the Albero. As I said operating as a bicycle was fine, a little heavy yes, but once rolling it was fine. Twisting the throttle was much like riding my old Vespa. The same lack of weight means it doesn’t take much to get you going. As we headed off to the port on a wide two lane road I was left lagging behind the others.
Pedalling helped close the gap, but I was still behind, I needed a bigger gear. A quick kick to the centre of the right hand crank switched to overdrive! This changes the 38 tooth front ring, via a clever internal gear-box, into a 63 tooth monster. That helped, but the others were still far ahead what was going on?
A quick look at the handlebar mounted console revealed the problem. My early morning fiddling had left the Albero in Tour mode, we had been told to use the Sport setting for today’s ride. A simple button push and I’m back with the group. The Albero can certainly shift when it wants to!
Back in the fold and we begin a tour of Malaga. It’s certainly a pretty place, although with a lot of smooth road surfaces that were challenging. The Albero is equipped with some impressive disc brakes and it required a delicate touch not to lock up. However the Magura brakes had plenty of feel and I was able to avoid any slips.
Part of the tour took us up into the hills above Malaga, on a route that I would have struggled with under my own power. Sitting down and powering up under power felt wrong, as a cyclist. As a tourist though it was great, some of the hairpins were so steep that one of our group entertained by popping wheelies as he rode; show-off!
I rode most of the climb using a mix of power and pedal. Standing and honking on the bars, while giving the throttle a little ‘gas’ made me feel like I was a pro! Or I could just sit and let the motor do the work, but using both was easier.
There is a cruise button on the left, push it and the motor puts out the power you were just riding at. Great for climbing as you don’t have to worry about the throttle. Although I didn’t have any problems with throttle control while climbing.
After a very brief stop to see the view, what there was due to the rain, it was time to tackle the twisting descent. Under normal Malaga conditions, this would have probably been an adrenaline junkies joy-ride. With rain pouring down creating mini-rivers, it was time to give those brakes a really good test! Suffice to say they performed as well descending as on the flat. Despite Malaga’s town planners creating a roller-coaster of a descent, I made it down safely.
So far we had covered fast riding on wide roads, where the Albero had kept up with the faster traffic. Rain slicked climbs had shown it had the grunt to get you over any climb. Meanwhile the tricky descent had shown it’s brakes had the right amount of modulation for safe descending. Next we were into the twisty old town, for some manoeuverability testing.
Bultaco had gotten permission to ride around part of the old town and here the Albero really shone. As I mentioned the combination of rain and mix of smooth surfaces made for some challenging riding. Add in narrow streets strolling tourists and bustling locals and you have an interesting route.
That upright position made for good vision and the wide bars gave plenty of control. Standing up on the pedals I felt comfortable and the Albero responded well. Track stands were easy while waiting for pedestrians to decide which way they wanted to go, or for gaps in the traffic. The suspension made crashing over kerbs a breeze, although it took me a while to feel comfortable without clipless pedals. Too much of a roadie I guess, our guide was more than happy to bunny-hop at every opportunity. So it was obviously just me.
The Albero has some impressive Schwalbe Crazy Bob tyres that performed faultlessly all day. I didn’t get a chance to really push them, but I figure that any rubber that handled all that wet without dumping me on my backside is good! While riding down a particularly narrow alley – with a V-shaped central gutter made from some sort of polished stone and following a group of tourists – I remember thinking “I really hope they don’t stop!” Of course they did, but I was able to stop and track-stand without slipping, hitting the shop displays or tourists; big tick Albero for control!
So after a couple of hours of wet riding over pretty much every kind of urban riding you can imagine, it was time to say goodbye to the Albero. Bultaco had laid on lunch at a local restaurant for us to digest the days riding. The overall feeling everyone one had was? Fun. Riding the Albero was a blast, from the first twist of the throttle I had a big grin on my face. Ok the conditions made for a slightly pedestrian pace, but this is a great way to get around town.
As a cyclist, riding the Albero was a little confusing. Being able to switch between powered and unpowered riding made for an easy and relaxed ride. But I’m a cyclist, arriving hot and sweaty at journey’s end is just part of riding! With the Albero I was able to blast round town for two hours and was able to sit down to lunch in non-cycling clothes, without smelling like , well, a smelly cyclist!
So who is the Albero for? If you’re commuting into town, the car is expensive, needs to be parked and pollutes. Public transport is expensive and unreliable, at least in my experience. That leaves walking or cycling. If you have any distance to cover, then a bike is the sensible solution. But what if the ride is too long/hard, or you don’t have changing facilities?
The Albero gives you the freedom to avoid traffic jams and standing nose to nose with other commuters. When you arrive you can park anywhere and can go straight into work, fresh as a daisy. And if, like me, you live at the top of a steep hill, the ride home after a tiring day needn’t be a chore.
I really enjoyed my short time with the Albero, would I give up my bike though? No, I’m a cyclist and love the physical act riding a bike. But I can see a place for the Moto-Bike, helping to cut pollution and traffic queues. Getting drivers out of their cars and onto an eBike could help clean up our cities and even bring a smile to jaded commuters.
So the Bultaco Albero, it’s a Moto-Bike. You can ride it like a motorbike, you can ride it like a bike, or you can Moto-Bike! However you use it you’ll have a great time.
Check out the Bultaco site for the Albero’s full technical details. Remember different countries will require you to have different levels of registration and insurance. Check with your local Bultaco dealer to find out which model is right for you.