Hilltopper Sprinter Review - 2020 Version w/ Trigger Throttle & Water-Bottle Style Battery


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IMPORTANT UPDATE: As of 12/18/22, less than two years after purchase, this kit has failed twice, and I can no long recommend it. Please see updates at the bottom of this review. I may provide a third update if Clean Republic addresses the problems adequately, but I now have a bad feeling at least about this model year of this kit. I notice the updated version of the Sprinter does seem to be a bit different. See the Update at the end of the review for a description of the problems.

This is a review of the 2020 Hilltopper Sprinter front hub kit. You can find the full specs of the bike on the Clean Republic Website, so I won't reinvent the wheel here. (Man, that's a terrible pun.) Here's what it looks like on a mid-90s Trek 930:

Survivor Smallest.jpeg
Here's what you probably want to know:

Added Weight: About ten pounds, maybe a bit less.
True Range: The kit can do 15 miles with about 1,000 feet of vertical including about 4 or 5 flat miles if you don't use the motor going downhill, back off the throttle and don't always use full power going uphill except when you need to, and just tap the throttle when needed on the flat terrain-- for a minor rise, to pass another cyclist, etc. Figure more like 13 miles for 1,300 feet of vertical. This is based on a 150 pound rider.
Top Speed w/o Pedaling: Depends on weight, but for me, about 16-17 MPH. (I will double check that.)
Motor cut-off speed: Very hard to assess, because the motor doesn't seem to stop providing assist at a certain speed. It will continue running even if your own pedaling effort is driving the bike faster than the motor can-- if you hold the trigger down at 30 MPH going downhill, the motor runs, it's just not adding any power. It feels like the motor is still helping up to about 23-24 MPH. At 25 or 26, it feels like, "I'd be going this fast anyway pedaling as hard as I am."


* This is an outstanding entry-level kit made by a company that's been around for a long time, and who took very good care of me, even during the pandemic. If you're not sure whether an e-bike is for you, and you don't want to make a $2,000-$5,000 commitment, consider getting one of these for six months and $600 or so and see if e-biking is for you. In six months or a year, you can get a better, fully integrated bike, and have a spare e-bike for friends or when your main ride is in the shop for maintenance.
* The power-to-weight on this bike is great; if you start with a 30 pound hybrid or mountain bike, you wind up with a short-range, 40-pound electric bike for $600. So if light weight is important to you-- say, you carry your bike down the stairs, you're a lighter rider, or any number of other reasons-- this is a great option.
* Bike has a great moped-like feel at low speed on flat terrain.
* Having a front-hub motor this small and lightweight has it's advantages; a minor increase in weight in the front actually improves the balance and handling of my Trek.
* 250 watts is probably the perfect amount of power for a front hub. Once you get used to it, you can use the all-wheel drive to your advantage-- an extra blip of power at the end of a tight curve allows you to corner harder and faster than you could even if you had iron legs. It pulls you through the last part of the curve just like a front-wheel drive car does on winding canyon roads. (Be careful until you get used to it.) A more powerful front-hub motor might behave more unpredictably and dangerously.
* For a hub kit, this bike performs better on hills than it has any right to. If you are reasonably fit and have a decent granny gear, you can absolutely go up a 15% grade that's about a block or two long, probably can do short stretches of 17%. I can ride up hills that I couldn't ride without a motor, not because I didn't have the leg power to do it-- though yeah, they were painful for sure-- but because the front wheel would rise off the pavement if I leaned too far back or the rear wheel would spin if I leaned forward. Two-wheel drive solved the balance problem.
* The installed kit is very stealth, if that's important to you. People will not know you're riding an e-bike unless they look closely.
* The kit is relatively easy to install, though it seems like the front dropouts need to be filed down a bit to fit the kit's front wheel. Have your LBS do this if you are not completely comfortable with it. Steel front fork is highly recommended.
* The battery range does not seem to have dropped in 8 or 9 months and I've been beating the hell out of it. Feels like it's still brand new.
* If you have a problem, Clean Republic will take care of you-- great communication, replacement parts shipped quickly, though they will want to walk you through a troubleshooting process. (I wanted that, too.) They've been around for a while, they upgraded this kit several times, and from all reports, this version is the best yet (but see below r.e. controller failure.) I wouldn't buy a kit from anyone else.


* You will probably have to file the dropouts to fit the wheel. Factor in the extra cost or labor into your budget.
* The instructions I got were not completely accurate-- the diagram had an extra washer in it, something like that. No big deal, I could figure it out, just a bit irritating.
* While I don't think it hurts the motor to climb 850 feet or so in 4.5 miles on a moderate-to-steep variable grade-- I've done it at least 25 times-- bear in mind that this does put a lot of strain on the motor if you run flat out. I recommend letting go of the throttle completely whenever it's flat, and backing off the throttle slightly when it's not that steep to avoid overheating. I have never observed overheating on this kit, I just think that's good practice with any hub motor based on what I've read on EBR.
* You have no battery gauge. The only way you know you're nearing the end of your range is when power drops noticeably at full throttle-- figure you only have a mile or two when this happens, which means if you're five miles from home, you're going to be working very hard.
* Make sure you tighten the screws for the battery cage very, very tight, particularly if you are riding over bumpy terrain. Better yet, add zip ties-- very tight-- to secure the battery cage to the frame just in case. Use a big screwdriver to tighten the screws-- I used a small one, and for the first couple of months, the cage rattled loose a few times, though once I got them tight enough, the problem stopped for good. This also means: Listen to your bike, avoid riding with headphones. If something is rattling more than it usually does, STOP and check it.
* You will have the battery die occasionally before you get to your destination if you're riding over 10 miles in hilly terrain, no matter how careful you are. There are just too many variables -- it could be windier than you planned, or you might just use a lot of throttle going 24 MPH on flat terrain through winding curves because you're having too much fun, or you might be having a bad day and not be working as hard as usual to supplement the kit. If you're careful, though, this won't happen often, and won't happen far from home!
* This is not a kit for someone who wants to get absolutely no exercise and ride it like a moped, even though it feels like a moped sometimes!


* Important: My controller did fail on this bike after six months, see "Known Problems." Hilltopper / Clean Republic took very good care of me. I do believe the warranty only covers one replacement of a part within the warranty period. I've had the bike eight months (though it was inoperable for a month during troubleshooting and repair), the controller failed after about 7 months of riding 4 or 5 times a week, 8 to 15 miles per ride. If the controller fails a second time, I don't think it's covered-- and I absolutely will post back here and update this review if that is the case.
* Very important: Something has failed again-- different problem this time, motor turns the wheel, but only when it's not in contact with the pavement, motor fails immediately under load. I have contacted Clean Republic a second time; until I have a fix or satisfactory solution from them, this kit is no longer recommended. I am in the troubleshooting process right now. Clean Republic sent me an 'auto-reply' with a series of troubleshooting questions that I don't remember them asking the first time I had problems with the Sprinter kit, so I half suspect some kind of factory defect. It almost seemed like they might be aware that there are issues, because the questions they asked were very specific, and seemed to cover this particular problem. ("Does the wheel turn when you engage the throttle and lift the wheel of the ground?") If they make it right, I will update this review, but as of 12/18/22, I would have to conclude that the service life of this kit has proven to be very short.
* Also Important Update of Update: I think Survivor is dying a long, slow death. The December, 2022 problem did somehow resolve... but now, the battery life is down to about five miles! I'm pretty sure what has happened now is that I left the battery on too many times, and the passive drain on this system is wicked. So I'm pretty sure I pooched my battery, though it could be another controller failure. Because I'm training for skiing, I have been riding the bike anyway, and using the battery just to climb the last hill to my house! So, I might limp my way to the three year mark. Definitely having second thoughts about this kit... but I may also see if Clean Republic will let me buy just a controller and battery, give me a decent price on it. I definitely need a "B" bike for fitness riding, and despite all the problems-- some of which, it seems, may be my fault-- I'm thinking of kicking the can down the road just a bit further...!

Hope that's helpful!
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Thank you for this! I've been considering this kit for my similar vintage steel Trek before dropping money on a complete ebike. This is super helpful.
This is now my "B" bike, but it still does get used-- not just when friends come over, sometimes for shorter fitness rides when I just don't want to haul out my Motobecane, even though it's only 6 pounds heavier! Still a fan of the kit, I think it's a great introduction to e-Biking, even though I'm still very new to the sport myself.
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Thanks for the great writeup. I was eyeing this front wheel Hill Topper kit for an old hybrid bike.

On a side note, it's interesting that modern day gravel bikes are just evolving into what 90's hybrid and rigid mountains bikes were (fatter 700c, RedShift suspension stems, and suspension seat posts).