BEND, Ore. – Given where you’re reading this review, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we like cars around these parts. Myself and my fellow editors are not the cycling sorts who shake their fists at you while huffing up a canyon road wearing zip-up spandex shirts. Cars are great, long live the car. However, there are plenty of times when cars totally suck. Like when you’re stuck in traffic or find yourself 19 cars deep in the school drop-off line. Perhaps you live in a town where parking is at a premium or you’ll be lucky to crest 25 mph. Maybe you’d rather not burn gas or pay big EV bucks for running short errands.
In these scenarios, an electric bicycle can be terrific. And if you’re looking for one that’s especially terrific for this city- or suburban-bound, errand-running scenario, feast your eyes on this Gazelle Ultimate C380+. Now, you can obviously find cheaper e-bikes than this $4,500 example, but just as I previously did with the Vintage Electric Café and GoCycle GX, I want to highlight electric bicycles that stand out from the crowd and might be a wee bit more interesting to read about for car enthusiasts and those not usually inclined to the two-wheeled realm.
In this case, the Ultimate C380+ by 125-year-old Dutch bike maker Gazelle boasts state-of-the-art componentry, stout build quality, a clean design and compelling performance – elements that any car enthusiast should appreciate as being representative of a connoisseur’s choice. That’s certainly why it caught my eye and why I reached out to Gazelle to give it a whirl … or electrically assisted pedal.
Now, I must admit to being very much a cycling novice. If you’re looking for an authoritative review of the Ultimate C380+, this won’t be it. However, I can tell you what it’s like to ride as an e-bike novice, how those components differ from what you might be used to, and how this slick gray Gazelle performed during a week here in bike-haven Bend, Ore., as well as in my hometown of Agoura Hills, Calif., that lives up to its name with precisely 0 flat roads.
The C380+ features a Bosch motor good for 85 newton-meters of torque, or 63 pound-feet. Other Gazelle Ultimates have 65 or 75 nm Bosch motors. Peak power output is 600 watts, which is on the upper end of the e-bike scale – some bikes have 750 watts or more. The motor is mounted at the pedals, as opposed to the rear wheel hub, which is beneficial for the purposes of balance and center of gravity. You know, like a mid-mounted engine. It also provides a more consistent and cohesive blending of foot and battery power. The Vintage Electric I rode had the motor mounted on the rear hub, which resulted in the pedals feeling more like a car’s accelerator – even light pedaling seemed to surge the bike forward with the max output from whichever motor level was selected. The C380+ motor, by contrast, adds more power as you pedal more and as the gearing (more on that later) demands. Rider and motor are more in sync. It feels natural, and well, bicycle-like.
That said, the C380+ still performs the e-bike task of allowing you to make your way up a hill or maintain a rapid clip without huffing, puffing and showing up to your destination dripping in sweat. There are four levels of power assistance: Eco, Tour, Sport and Turbo. There’s also Off. I had the bike in Eco and Tour in my rides around mostly flat Bend, with quick dips into Sport when trying to quickly cross an intersection or finding myself on a small hill. Sport was used far more extensively back home in Agoura Hills and on the long, gradual incline of the paved Rimrock and Haul trails that lead from Bend up toward Mt. Bachelor – especially when my 30-pound son was riding shotgun in his Thule Yepp Maxi child seat. I only engaged Turbo to have a laugh – “hey, I’m going 20 mph uphill!”
Doing that is going to hamper your range, however, which you can easily see happen in the LCD control pad as you thumb your way through the assistance settings. Max range for the Bosch battery is 55 miles, but that’s in Eco mode. Running on Turbo the whole time would drop you down to 22 miles … which, dude, is still 22 miles on a bicycle. The battery itself is mounted neatly within the frame, but it can be unlocked and removed so you can charge it inside your house, at your desk or at one of Bend’s 18 brew pubs after failing to notice mid-ride that you’re out of juice (hypothetical, I swear). Removing it also significantly lightens the hefty 55.6-pound Ultimate C380+ should you need to hoist it onto a garage rack or a hitch rack like the Yakima Stage Two I used for the journey up to Central Oregon (the story about that drive in the 2023 Honda Pilot TrailSport is coming soon). That said, there is also a charge point on the bike frame so you can keep the battery locked in place if you prefer.
While your left hand is tapping the electric assist + and – buttons on the LCD control pad, your right hand must deal with a very different type of bicycle control. The Ultimate G380+ does not have a traditional set of bicycle gears. Instead, it has an NuVinci Stepless Manual Trekking Groupset Continuously Variable Transmission. As the lengthy name suggests, it functions like a car’s CVT, albeit manually controlled. You twist the handlebar control, which moves a little orange bike on an orange line that arches upward to mimic increasingly hilly terrain. It’s an interface that’s equal parts cute and clever, and certainly easy enough for anyone to understand. I found myself fiddling with it more than I would gears, which isn’t a bad thing given the ease of doing so, but it can take a while to get a hang of judging the exact blend of “Gear” ratio, electric boost and leg effort needed at any given moment.
The NuVinci hub allows for another novel element of the C380+: the Gates carbon belt drive, which takes the place of the typical chain. The belt consists of nylon teeth and carbon fiber cords, which means there’s no need to oil it, you don’t have to worry about dirt clogging it up, and well, it looks a lot cooler. While the NuVinci hub can work with a chain, and does so in Gazelle’s lesser Ultimate T10 model, the carbon belt doesn’t work with a derailleur and therefore needs something like the CVT-like NuVinci. It’s one of the key reasons the Ultimate C380+ costs more than the T10, along with its more powerful motor and fork-mounted shocks rather than the T10’s single internal-to-headset shock (in the post at the base of the fork).
The brakes are hydraulic, and they’re beautifully modulated. Much like a German car’s brake pedal, there’s an ample amount of early travel with just a hair of braking before a much firmer, reassuring bite comes in the more you pull.
The tires mounted to the Ultimate C380+ aren’t skinny road bike tires, but they’re definitely meant for pavement. There were a few less-than-confident moments when I ventured onto some dirt paths as well as some paved paths blanketed in pine needles. I wouldn’t say no to a toothier hybrid bike tire. I also wouldn’t mind a more padded seat, but that speaks more to my personal preferences.
The C380+ you see here features the high-step frame in the bigger of two sizes (a “Dutch large” I was told), but there is also a mid-step available in an additional smaller size. All other Gazelle Ultimate models offer a low-step (no crossbar element) option, but they also either have a chain and/or the lesser internal-to-headset suspension. All have less powerful motors, either with 65 or 75 watts. Prices within the Ultimate family range from $3,749 to $4,749. The C380+ MSRP is $4,499, with the only more expensive version being the Ultimate C380 (no plus) that is low-step and has a less powerful motor. To save your expensive cycling investment from getting nicked, every Gazelle comes standard with an Axa Imenso ring lock mounted directly to the bike (you’ll find these on basically every bike in the Netherlands). Also included are LED head- and taillights, as well as the cargo rack and fenders. The latter are thankfully positioned in a way that didn’t interfere with the Yakima StageTwo bike rack.
All told, I was thrilled with the Gazelle. It’s definitely pricey, but then, it sure seems like you’re getting a suitably elevated product. Luxury cars with state-of-the-art components, stout build quality and elevated performance are definitely pricey, too. But don’t just take my word for it. After writing all of the above, I stumbled upon this Bicycling.com review of the Ultimate C380+ that concluded it’s “possibly the ultimate commuter e-bike that will have you effortlessly zipping along at up to 28 mph.” Is that v-max a bit scary? I thought it was, but then again, I’m the novice.