Last fall, German e-bike maker HNF Nicolai introduced their new flagship, the utility pedelec XF3 Adventure with full-suspension and dual battery. We had the chance to test the "Unimog of e-bikes" in pre-series over 3,000 km in Morocco and Europe. Here, we share our experiences in the field.
I've always been in love with the Unimog. In September 2020, Mercedes-Benz’ iconic offroad utility truck finally found a two-wheeled brother – the XF3 Adventure by HNF Nicolai. When I learned about this new bike being under construction, this was reason enough to partner up with the young company based near Berlin for our upcoming project E-Traction – The Trip. We were promised a sturdy, timeless, extremely offroad-capable e-bike that would live up to its four-wheeled role model. Admittedly, such claim pushed our expectations high when Silvio and I picked up two of the first prototypes at the HNF factory in Bitterfeld in November 2019.
For an extended test trip, we took both 25 km/h pedelecs to Morocco in winter 2019/20. This trip was also the proof-of-concept tour for our new project that started afterwards. In Morocco, the bikes had to prove duress under stress on any terrain and qualify not only for our world trip but also for serial production. "Surfing" through the sand dunes of Erg Chebbi was just the icing on the cake of this trip!
Our experiences from Morocco flowed into the final modifications of the frame, which is developed and handcrafted at Nicolai Bicycles in Germany. The final frame ready for production went on a new journey with us in September 2020. This time, for testing purposes, it was built up as s-pedelec supporting speeds up to 45 km/h.
Alongside with Silvio and our 4WD motorhome "Elefantino", the XF3 Adventure proved to be an excellent travel companion that I rode over 2,525 kilometers between Paris and Lisbon. In addition to several smaller mountain ranges, crossing the Pyrenees was a true highlight.
Plenty of range
In it's appearance, the XF3 Adventure stands out by two major characteristics: Its distinctive downhill geometry with exposed steel spring in Nicolai-style and its dual battery that is fully integrated into the frame.
The battery provides a total of 1,125 watt-hours per charge (500 Wh in the top tube, 625 Wh in the down tube). Enough energy that I could cover an average of 91 kilometers in the highest support mode (Turbo mode). Over a total distance of 2,525 kilometers, this means an energy consumption of 3.22 kWh or 27.75 battery charges. In other words, I consumed 12.4 Wh of energy per kilometer.
This data refers to my rider's weight of about 80 kg including luggage that added to the fairly high weight of the bike itself – 33 kg. Over the total distance, I climbed 44,524 vertical meters. Estimated 70% of the route were asphalt roads, otherwise gravel roads, forest and dirt roads with some sandy sections as well as mountain trails.
Ride as the crow flies
No matter on what surface – the XF3 impressed me with its powerful pull and absolutely smooth run. "It invites you to just ride as the crow flies," as YouTuber Alex Bangula ("Elektrisiert") hits the nail on the head. This was my experience also: Even in challenging terrain such as stones, roots, bushes or stairs, the bike just rolls over everything as if it was nothing.
The well-proven trio of Bosch drive (4th generation Performance CX line), Gates Carbon belt drive and Rohloff Speedhub gear-shift ensures a harmonious interaction between the components of the drive train. With the 14 gears of the electronic Rohloff E-14 hub, the XF3 easily covers everything between difficult passages on steep mountain trails and speeds of about 38 km/h. Beyond that, I had to "upshift" my own cadence a bit to ride the s-pedelec to its support limit of 45 km/h.
Uphill, the XF3 Adventure climbs with incredible ease despite its weight. Thanks to 85 Nm of torque, it retains a strong pull even on steep passages. In the past, I always rode bikes with derailleur and had to get used to hub shifting at first, especially uphill. But once I got stuck on the slope, I realized a clear advantage of the hub: You can downshift while standing and kick off again in a lower gear. For more comfortable shifting, Nicolai has designed an extension to Rohloff's thumb switch. While riding, shifting happens in a fraction of a second if you take the power off the pedal for a moment. Under load, the electronic control of the E-14 is supposed to provide software-controlled force compensation. However, it makes sense to pay attention to gentle shifting yourself. In case the Rohloff does not shift promptly and cleanly, you can easily calibrate it by using key commands.
Downhills off-road are just a pleasure. The bike's full suspension with 160 mm of travel (fork: Rockshox Lyric Select +, shock: Cane Creek), smoothens even the bumpiest trail while the hair-tuned Magura MT5 disc brakes with double piston ensure safe braking. A dropper seat post is installed in series, so nothing stops the ultimate riding flow.
The tires Der Baron Projekt by Continental in the standard version provide perfect grip on off-road sections. For a smoother ride on the road and less vibrations, we mounted the Schwalbe Smart Sam DD tire for the Europe Tour, which also offers higher puncture protection compared to The Baron. In the sand, the wide tires (27.5x2.6'' Continental Baron) clearly played out their advantages.
On road descents, the bike sits firmly on the ground even at over 60 km/h. There is only one thing that can disturb its smooth and sturdy run: Load on the standard luggage carrier causes the rear triangle to swing. The vibrations get stronger as luggage gets heavier and the ground bumpier.
Otherwise, comfort equipment is on a very high level. The cockpit is equipped with the Bosch Kiox board computer as standard and optionally with the Nyon. The small Kiox display shows the important parameters such as battery capacity (in percent), speed, support mode, trip kilometers, etc. Its high contrast and multicolor design make it easy to read although the font is very small. Too small for some riders. That's why Silvio switched to the larger Intuvia on-board computer with bigger font size but less functions.
Speaking of visibility: The Supernova M99 Mini Pro headlight installed as standard (on our first test model we used the larger Supernova M99 Pro as in the picture), brightly illuminates every forest path even in the darkest night. When switching on high beam, LEDs from the automotive sector largely light the environment with 1150 Lumen. This is a great benefit for safe night rides especially on winding trails,
Supernova lights are optimized for being mounted to the handlebar. This conflicts with the Ortlieb handlebar bag which I don't want to miss on any longer trip. It would therefore be great if the customer could choose an alternative position of the front lamp further down.
For the Europe trip, we made such a conversion by ourselves. As the lamp is fully wired with the electronic system of the bike this was quite a rebuild. But we managed using a Go-Pro adapter, that Supernova offers, and a standard GoPro base clip that we mounted to the steer tube.
No pain, no complaint
The saddle as one of the most delicate components is sourced from ergonomics specialist Ergon. In standard version, the XF3 Adventure comes with the SMA 30 saddle which I found very comfortable to ride. For testing purposes, I mounted the Ergon SM E-Mountain saddle (see picture below), which was developed specifically for e-mountain bikers. Looking at the steep ramp at its rear, I was sceptic at the beginning but quickly realized that instead of torture, the daily hours in the saddle rather felt like sessions of caress. In other words: Never before has my butt hurt so little on a longer bike trip!
The SM E-Mountain is designed for long sitting and steep uphill passages. The rear ramp provides special support while riding uphill. The opening in the relief channel does take take away the pressure but lets wind and splash water in. In bad weather, I'd recommend to wear water- and windproof pants.
Just like the saddle, grips are as delicate as they are individual. If you ever had your hands fall asleep while cycling, you know how uncomfortable that is. Since I ride Ergon grips (for example the super soft GA3 mountain bike grip in the right picture above) this has not happened to me anymore. Silvio prefers the GP3 with full-size wings and horns (middle picture).
Privilege with a price tag
The XF3 Adventure is a privilege with a price tag – 9,995 euros. Truly made for rough trails, the utility bike is a great choice for demanding riders who value style and sturdiness on every ground. With excellent riding characteristics and an all-excusing full-suspension, the XF3 Adventure combines the genes of a downhill bike with comfort features – ready to go on all kinds of adventures. In cities, it catches the eye on your daily rides. In nature, with little luggage, it plays its talents to the full. If I had a wish it would be a more stable rear rack for full travel equipment and a speed-pedelec in serial production!
More info about the XF3 Adventure is available on the website of HNF Nicolai.
In addition to HNF Nicolai, Ergon, Ortlieb, Rohloff and Supernova are partners of our E-Traction – The Trip project. And we chose their products for a reason!
A bike that is similar to the XF3 Adventure is offered Nicolai Bicycles as a speed-pedelec up to 45 km/h.