Gone are the days of electric bikes with bulky batteries attached to the frame, and gone are the days where riding an electric bike meant an unwieldy hybrid, or a ‘sit up and beg’ shopper.
Wilier, renowned Italian bicycle brand, have pushed the boundaries of design to produce the lightest, most agile electric bikes. I have ridden the Wilier Jena Hybrid gravel/adventure bike extensively now, and really familiarised myself with what it tries to accomplish.
Gravel/adventure bikes recently are becoming somewhat of a phenomenon in the road cycling world, and I think it’s fair to say that they have garnered mixed opinions. Whether you set out on a ride in your finest ‘lumber-jacket’, with your well-groomed beard flowing in the wind, and a faint taste of craft ale lingering from the previous night, or whether you don the Lycra to ride with your club mates; I am fairly certain you will appreciate the design of this machine, and the undeniable spot it has in the cycling world.
Wilier Jena Hybrid Frameset
The Wilier Jena Hybrid frameset takes its design from the standard Jena frameset, adding an internal battery and a charging port. It is far from being as aggressive as a racing frame, such as their similarly priced Cento 1 model, however it does have slightly steeper geometry than other gravel/adventure bikes from competitors. This certainly gives the Jena Hybrid a more ‘racey’ feel than other brands, yet still a very confident and stable ride, especially when sitting in the drops and descending/cornering at speed. There is less built-in compliance with the Jena than other bikes of this caliber because of the Wilier designers striving to minimise weight, for example the Cannondale Topstone Lefty with its suspension fork, or the Specialized Diverge with its stem shock absorber. A suspension seat-post could be installed, however it is by no means an uncomfortable or jarring ride, running the tyres tubeless at a lower pressure and using good riding technique can alleviate this. One detail of note in terms of comfort is the handlebars that come installed as standard have a small rise from the center of the bars, giving a more upright position when riding on the flats. For this reason, the Jena Hybrid is a very adaptable bike whilst riding, you can descend at high speeds in a very efficient, aerodynamic, and controlled position in the drops, you can also sit upright and open to climb comfortably, or to relax a little more. Geometry is very well thought out in this build, and when you couple that with some of the frame’s features, the frame shape, the frame’s built in compliance features such as the bent rear stays, and multiple mounting points for racks and accessories, you can really start to see how much of a ‘do everything’ bike this really is.
We have a set of Wilier’s own NDR30 carbon wheels with a Miché front hub installed on this bike, which are the same wheels they use for the pure road models, yet with the motor discreetly built into the rear, there are different rim depths available. The wheelset comes in at roughly 1,600 g for the pair, minus the motor of course, which is a respectable number for a bicycle of this price point, and it really shows. Bringing these wheels up to speed is snappy, with the motor on or even off. The Vittoria Terreno Mix tyres that come standard are noticeably slower on the road compared to slicker tyres, although this is not a road bike. When the going gets rough these are very capable tyres, grip is comparable to tyres with much more tread, paired with the lightweight wheels and electric assistance, this bike is exceedingly fun to whip around and really inspires you to swing around corners, jump out of the saddle, and push the limits of what is rideable with a gravel bike.
We opted for the Jena Hybrid with the Shimano GRX RX800 1×11 speed mechanical groupset, and hydraulic braking. This is Shimano’s gravel specific groupset, and has a couple of features not seen on their road models in terms of gearing options and ergonomics. Starting from the top we have the shifters, where a lot of thought has been put in to the terrain-specific design. The hoods are long and comfortable, there is a large contact area for a real tight grip, which is vital in some gravel circumstances. And the brake levers are better shaped to be operated easier from the hoods position, and comfortably too when angled slightly on flared drops, which are becoming very popular on gravel bikes. Safety and ergonomics have been considered greatly in the design of these, I also personally feel these design choices would be very suitable for a pure road bike too, given that I am riding on the hoods at least 90% of the time. Shifting is very precise, with reassuring feedback to let you know you have shifted. As usual with Shimano, I never had any issues with ghost clicks, or mis-clicks. Every single shift made, transferred immediately to the rear derailleur, with a satisfying click. The rear derailleur is another favourite component of mine. All shifting was instant, the chain stepped right into place effortlessly, and made a great metallic noise which would please me every time I heard it even on the longest rides. Shifting performance is very comparable to Ultegra and it continues to perform under load even with the motor churning out additional watts.
Braking is made easy on this bike due to the hydraulic system, and it’s exactly as you’d expect for a higher end groupset. Again it is very comparable, perhaps even indistinguishable from Shimano Ultegra. Modulation and stopping performance is excellent in wet or dry, however given the extra grip and width from the tyres, locking up the wheel doesn’t occur so easily, giving the Jena a whole extra level of control.
The groupset we used was the 1×11 setup, which came with an 11-42 cassette and a 42 tooth chainring. I am a big fan of 1x drivetrain setups for their simplicity, and I have no issues with the larger jumps between ratios on the rear. It is worth bearing in mind however that if you’re used to a straight block cassette, or a tight road cassette, this gearing may take some getting used to. The bottom end 1:1 ratio gives you a total of 27.5” gear inches, which coupled with the motor will get you up any climb with ease, in fact on my trips I didn’t even require the 42 tooth cog. The top end, 42/11, will give you 40 mph if you can spin up to 130 revolutions per minute, which is plenty enough for this style of bicycle!
The electronic assist is controlled by one button (called the ‘iWoc’ control), there are four different power settings, each indicated intuitively by a different colour, red for maximum power, green for minimum. The button is mounted on the handlebars and can be accessed safely whilst keeping both hands on the handlebars. Whilst the button is not being operated the battery level will be displayed, using the same ‘traffic light’ system. The Mahle Ebikemotion system does not adapt to power output like a crank drive system would, instead it will deliver a constant power depending on the setting it is on, up to the legal limit of 15.5 mph (25 kph) this can work a lot better for some people as it will constantly be trying to spin up to maximum speed regardless of fitness level or the individual’s power. The battery is completely internal within the carbon frame, and does not affect the size of the frame, given that carbon tubing can be oversized anyway this frame does not look like an e-bike, save for the charging port which is very subtle. The torque in the Mahle motor is well matched for such a lightweight and naturally fast e-bike, I had no problems on even the steepest hills, despite being a larger rider at 100 kg, I also found despite torque and speed the motor remained consistently very quiet. From riding around hilly Somerset and Dorset terrain I found the range on maximum power to be ~35 miles, so I’d say that was a safe bottom-end estimate, though it can vary greatly from individual to individual depending on a multitude of factors. It is also worth noting that a range extension battery can be fitted in place of a water bottle.
Extremely lightweight as an e-bike, the motor and battery combined weighs a respectable 3.6 kg, coupled with the full carbon monocoque frame this bike weighs in at a mere 12.5 kg, lighter than many non-electric bikes!
Great comfort factors considering slightly aggressive geometry, a fine balance between fast and sporty, and comfortable for longer distances.
Very confidence inspiring level of control, fast or slow the stability is always present and noticeable.
The renowned Italian design is not lost on this bicycle, the colour and the shape complement each other, the bike looks fast, modern, and built with style in mind.
A lot of fun to ride, an electric motor on certain roads, tracks, and trails is brilliant, coupled with the feel of the bike and frameset there is certainly a lot of fun to be had whipping around!
I found the Selle Italia X3 Boost saddle unbearable after 5 miles or so, it almost seemed like it was suited to female anatomy as it seemed shorter and slightly too wide for myself. Saddles are generally very personal however and many people will swap it out regardless.
Cycling this kind of bike can often exceed the 15.5 mph cut-off for electric motors on the road, so it can feel at times like there is a lot of unnecessary weight on the bike, especially if you are a fitter rider. However, when off road, travelling slower, stopping and starting more, or going up long ascents, this is a much-welcomed trade-off.
Battery is non-removeable unlike other e-bikes, so you must store your bike near a mains socket to charge it. Not a problem for myself as my bicycles enjoy the comfort of the living room, however could be an issue for people with limited space or no mains in their garage.
The Wilier Jena Hybrid is an outstanding machine, and if it’s intended use is fulfilled, it comes with very few downsides and an exceedingly fun and responsive ride. The rear wheel Mahle drive does a great job, and hides sandwiched between the cassette and disc brake rotor. The only indication that it is electric, is the rear hub, and the speed you start passing your fellow club members on the climbs!
If you are looking to take your bike elsewhere and nearly everywhere, stray from the roads to find trails, bridleways, and gravel cycleways, this is the perfect machine. If you are looking to take part in long distance, or lightweight e-bike touring this can also be set up to suit your needs perfectly.
Written and edited by Sam Harris.
As of the time of this review this bicycle is in stock and available for test ride at Riley’s Cycles.