Test-riding GM’s Ariv Meld and folding Merge e-bikes

Test-riding GM’s Ariv Meld and folding Merge e-bikes
GM’s Ariv Merge folding e-bike in Amsterdam/QUICKBIT

GM likely isn’t the first name you think of when it comes to bicycles. But America’s largest automaker, which is home to Chevy and Cadillac, is hoping to change that with the launch of its Ariv e-bikes (pronounced like “arrive” and stylized as “ARĪV”) in Europe this week. I was able to meet with the Ariv team in Amsterdam to test-ride both the Ariv Meld and the nearly identical-looking foldable Ariv Merge.

As someone who’s currently testing the first e-bike from Brompton, a name that’s synonymous with compact folding bikes, I have to say I’m highly impressed with GM’s first foray into electric bicycles. But before we get to the accolades, let’s dive into the specs.

GM’s new e-bikes come in two compact flavors: the single-speed, 19kg (almost 42-pound) Meld, and the foldable eight-speed, 22.5kg (almost 50-pound) Merge. Both of these pedal-assisted city bikes are powered by 250W mid-drive motors of GM’s design and are capable of hitting the EU maximum of 25 km/h (16 mph). Both bikes are equipped with removable 240Wh batteries that are good for about 64 km of “real-world” range after a full 3.5-hour charge, according to GM.

The €2,800 Ariv Meld and €3,400 Ariv Merge are now on sale in the Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium, and only online. If you’re hoping to take one for a test ride, then you’ll have to attend one of the many European bikes shows that GM is attending. Otherwise, you can take your chances on Ariv’s 30-day return period, but you’ll have to cover the fixed €99 shipping cost. Hannah Parish, Ariv’s head of business, who previously worked at both Cannondale and Specialized, wouldn’t tell me how many preorders have taken place, but she assured me that interest was high. “We’re pleased with preorders so far,” she said.

Common specs:

  • Proprietary 250-watt GM mid-drive motor that produces 75 NM of torque
  • Pedal-assisted power up to the EU limit of 25 km/h
  • 64km (40 miles) of “real-world” range after fully charging the 240Wh battery for 3.5 hours
  • The battery can be charged in the bike or removed (with a standard 5mm hex key) and charged inside
  • LED display integrated into the top-tube shows battery and power level
  • Ariv app communicates with the bikes over Bluetooth
  • Fitted with GPS and GSM radios that will be used for location services coming later this year
  • Aluminum frame and fork, with all cables, routed internally
  • 16-inch tires
  • Hydraulic brakes
  • Fits riders from 152 cm to 192 cm
  • Integrated front (65 lumens) and rear (10 lumens) LED lighting
  • The integrated USB port to charge your phone and the rear lights (cable included)
  • Fenders, custom Quad Lock phone mount, kickstand, and bell all come standard
  • Available in “raven” (black) or “tin roof rusted” (red) for fans of The B-52’s
  • Engineered and designed in Michigan and Oshawa, Ontario; assembled in Vietnam
  • Supported by Live-Cycle service in launch countries
  • The 30-day trial period, two-year limited warranty on motor and battery

Now is the time when I say, yes, good e-bikes for commuters are expensive, but that cost can be offset by savings elsewhere. Electric bikes like GM’s greatly extend the range of what is normally considered “bikeable,” allowing many city-dwellers to reduce or even eliminate their dependency on cars or public transportation, while also promoting a healthier person and planet. Shut the motor off and pedal the Ariv bikes like normal if you’re looking for a workout or set them to the maximum pedal-assisted power mode in order to quickly arrive at the office without breaking a sweat. Folding bikes like the Ariv Merge are especially cost-effective as they can often be carried onto public transport for free, even during peak commuting hours. In Amsterdam, for example, that can save you about €14 ($16) per trip over the cost of a regular bike, even ones as small as the Ariv Meld.

The Ariv Merge is the more interesting of the two bikes. While both bikes are designed for the first and last mile of any commute, the folding Merge is more adaptable to compact European cities. Like all folding bikes, Ariv requires its owner to do a series of specifically choreographed moves that take practice to master. I found the dance to be simple to perform after only a few tries, though I had by no means mastered it. Still, thanks largely to the lever located just below the front light, I found it to be more intuitive and natural to fold and open than the Brompton e-bike I’ve been testing.

Trolley mode is a bit of a mixed bag. I’ll need more time to test it, but it’s easier to push the folded Merge than it is to pull it, which can be tricky. (You do it while holding the seat, not the handlebars like the Brompton.) You can pull it, but this requires you to lean the bike on only the front wheel. I do have to reward points to the Ariv team for engineering the bike to trolley on its own two wheels. Brompton adds an additional three tiny plastic wheels (two on the frame, one on the rear fender) for trolley purposes, which offends my sense of design. But that’s me. I doubt most other people would care.

The Ariv Merge I tested felt super light to ride, even though it weighs almost 50 pounds. The Shimano Alfine eight-speed shifter was overkill for Amsterdam’s flat terrain, but I was happy to have it when starting from a dead stop. Starts were quick and torquey, with enough power to easily pop a wheelie when I chose to. The Merge’s balanced design was much more fun than Brompton’s, where all of the weight — the battery and hub motor — is over the front wheel.

I didn’t hear a single rattle from the Merge, even when coming off of curbs or riding over long stretches of Amsterdam’s brick streets. That’s not to say it’s silent. The 250-watt motor was noisy, about as loud as some of the more powerful Bosch motors I’ve ridden, and about the same as the Brompton e-bike. The grips were comfy, as was the most upright riding position, with a saddle that felt just right during one 30-minute test ride. The integrated display that shows the four power modes (which can be controlled with the +/- buttons on the handlebar) and battery remaining was clearly visible even in direct sunlight. I did not get a chance to test the Ariv app.

As one final comparison to the Brompton e-bike — which, let’s face it, is the Ariv’s chief competitor in the countries where it’s launching — let me say this: I definitely prefer the looks of the Ariv Merge. Brompton’s battery-in-a-backpack and exposed cabling are, well, ugly, even if they’re practical. I also appreciate the beautiful engineering that went into hiding all of those cables in the Ariv Merge.

Parish told me that the two-year-old Ariv project is operating very much like a startup within GM. It has access to all of the labs and testing centers, with GM acting as Ariv’s private VC investor. “Our plan is to start small and scale fast,” she said. While she wouldn’t say how it’ll scale or where it’ll go, it’s clear that these first three countries and first two bikes are only the beginning. Even the custom-built GM motor and drivetrain were developed to accommodate other designs, I’m told.

That’s good because GM is onto something with its Ariv series of bikes, and I can’t wait to see where they’ll take us.