ORIGINAL STORY FROM AUGUST 2010. The Batribike Micro later ceased production, but returned in early 2013 as the Eego Nohak1. The bike seems to have been substantially revised, but the weight and performance appear much the same. Price and availability are not yet clear
Since electric bikes became widely available a decade or so ago, we’ve repeatedly advised avoiding folding electric bikes. The frames are made from cheap, mass-produced stuff and the bikes weigh more than some people can lift, even before the electric gubbins are added. Then the manufacturer bolts on a motor designed for a 26-inch wheel, giving 10mph performance, made worse by horrible spongy tyres. In theory, low gearing means good hill climbing, but the poor seating position and spongy tyres combine to make them monstrous machines – plain useless.
We’ve had a few turn up here, and sent them on their way after a short ride. The distributors are sometimes upset by this, but we courteously explain that the product is not fit for purpose, and thus next to worthless. If they want to keep promoting these things, that’s up to them, but we won’t go near ‘em.
The bottom line with new technology is to rate it against machines available today. Against similarly-priced powered or non-powered technology such as the Brompton or Dahon, is the new machine better? Is it cheaper? Lighter? Smaller? Faster? More reliable? Or perhaps better at climbing hills? Some of these bikes do climb hills (well, you’d hope so, wouldn’t you?), but most are found wanting in every category.
We’ve been aware of the Batribike Micro for a while, but we dismissed it until we had a chance to inspect one. Without being rude to our Chinese friends, it looked way too clever to be a Far Eastern design, and sure enough, the Micro originates with BB-Leisger, a rather obscure German company, apparently dedicated to developing innovative electric vehicles and outsourcing manufacture to its Chinese arm.
Sailing Today voted the Micro a jolly good buy, but we’re a little cautious of yachtie reviews, as they tend to involve a quickie round the marina then back to the RYC for gin and tonics all round. Everything seems better after a gin and tonic.
The saddle height is extremely low, but the bike feels more rigid and practical than it looks enough for a non-assisted folder, and is simply out of this world for an electric. According to the A to B electronic scales, that claim is a little optimistic, but not by much: the bike actually weighs 9.9kg (21.8lbs), which is still lighter than most conventional folders.
The claimed range is 1215 miles. Typically, electric folder claims have to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt, so we predicted somewhere in the region of eight miles. Astonishingly, the Micro exceeded that by a considerable margin, but we’ll come to that. First, some less satisfactory news.
As delivered, the Batribike Micro is unfit to ride. Whatever the trendy young German engineers might have specified on their CAD screens, the Chinese metal-bashers have interpreted it a little differently. There are two main problem areas: the saddle is much too low for most riders, and the handlebar stem/fork join, main frame joint and rear frame bushes are all extremely loose.We improved (but didn’t solve) the saddle height by fitting a Brompton saddle adaptor pin to the seat post, giving another few precious centimetres of leg room, and the main frame joint responded to a bit of adjustment, although that only really masked the play in the hinge. The rather dangerous stem joint (it could easily spin round on the fork threads) we thread-locked in place, which cured the problem, at the possible expense of making headset maintenance a hammer and chisel job, and we just ignored the rear frame play. The bike has a squidgy rear suspension at the back, a la Brompton, and play in the bearings is a nuisance, but no great danger. Having made the machine safe, Alexander was given the job of running it in, which he did with great enthusiasm (watch out, because children and teenagers love it).
The Micro has a number of innovative features that set it apart from the great unwashed mass of Chinese folders. The lithium-ion battery (a lowly 14.4 volts, but a reasonable 158Wh, which is all that matters) lives in the frame, where it should be safe from downpours and questing fingers. Control is by a neat little magnetic ‘key’, which is actually a small magnet on the end of a plastic fob.You bend this against the handlebars and the magnet presumably operates a reed switch inside: holding it down puts the motor at half power, releasing and re-engaging within a couple of seconds gives full.
The bike even has front and rear lights, but neither are legal in Europe on their own: the front LED is set into the frame, and pops on if you swipe the magnetic key at it, which is a great party trick. The rear LED sits on the top of the seat pillar, where it’s easily obscured by a long coat, and vulnerable when the bike is folded. Ours flew off and exploded into a million tiny bits as we put the bike on a train.
The motor is a chunky chrome disc which – clever again – forms part of the front fork, saving another smidgen of weight. Drive is by a straight-cut gear, which engages with similar teeth cut into the plastic wheel rim, where you might expect the brake blocks to go. There are teeth cut both sides, so if one side wears out (there’s no particular suggestion that it will) you simply turn the wheel around. There’s no front brake, but the Micro has a Vbrake on the back, and the front-mounted motor doubles as an electric brake when this rear brake is applied. Clever again, and saving yet more weight.
On the Road
The bad news is that we’re dealing with a single-speed bike, and as that single gear is only 51 inches, top whack will obviously be a bit compromised.We would suggest upping the gearing slightly, but the motor doesn’t have a freewheel, so a higher gear would only result in a lot of effort turning a dead motor. Talking of effort, the tyres are 35-40psi jobs, 14-inch at the rear and 12.5-inch at the front, although surprisingly enough, rolling resistance isn’t too bad. The biggest problem for a rider of 5′ 9″ is that the seat post is about a foot too short. Despite this major drawback, after a few turns on the shortie 155mm cranks, you’re nipping along. Press the magnet thingey against the alloy bars and the motor whines into action. This takes a bit of practice, because the ‘key’ needs to hit the right spot. In Low, there a gentle pull up to a stately 9mph, and in High, a slightly more urgent whine from the motor and reasonably nippy acceleration to 10.6mph; rather less than the 12mph claim.
This might not seem a considerable speed, and the lack of a freewheel on the motor means the poor thing gets a bit frenzied above 15mph, so you can’t even go downhill at any speed. But as we’ve found before, bikes like this are constant speed machines: you might only do 13mph down hill, but you’ll rarely do less than 10mph anywhere else.
On our largely flat ten-mile commuter ride, the Micro took 481/2 minutes, putting it way down with the likes of the unpowered Hemingway, A-bike and Strida, slower, much slower, than a good conventional folder, and a full ten minutes behind the slowest electric bike. That doesn’t sound very competitive, and it isn’t, but riding ten miles on an A-bike is hard and rather dangerous work, whereas on the Micro it’s a breeze. The little motor is only rated at 120 watts and can’t do much to help you, but it packs enough oomph to haul you up a 1:15 (6%) hill with quite gentle pedalling. If the hill gets steeper there isn’t much you can do to help, unless you have very short legs, strong knees, or stand out of the saddle. The Micro is quite noisy, because straight-cut gears always are, and in this case they’re grinding away out in the breeze.Without a freewheel, there’s no blessed relief from the racket when the motor’s off.
Ups and Downs
Going downhill, the rear V-brake is remarkably ineffective, and the front electric brake comes in with a bit of a jolt, which can be scary, although it’s less fierce at speed. This can be dangerous stuff: the brake is safe enough in a straight line on a dry road, but on a loose surface, or a corner, or in the wet, it could have you off in a jiffy. The principal is good, but practical electric braking needs a slightly cleverer approach – either a ‘soft’ engagement, or a real graduated brake feel. The brakes are important, because with no motor freewheel, there’s a risk of the motor flying apart at high speed and locking up the front wheel, so it makes sense to put a cap on it. We settled on 17mph, but saw 21mph once and lived to tell the tale.
The blurb implies rather vaguely that the front brake is a regenerative device, but it doesn’t recharge the battery. We can be quite sure of this because (a) the braking characteristics are all wrong, and (b) the regenerated power is being dumped into a great big resistor inside the handlebars, somewhere under the bell. Ride down a short steep hill with the brakes on, and the handlebars get too hot to touch behind the bell. If you really did try descending Porlock Hill, you could fry your breakfast at the bottom. Even on a modest hill you could burn your fingers if you gripped the bar at the wrong moment, so care is needed here. Imagine if you will, our tester traversing the Dorset downs, periodically crashing that electric brake into engagement to keep speed below 17mph, and the handlebars getting hotter and hotter… Too much braking and the bell will melt, too little and the motor might explode.We’re made of tough stuff here.
Climbing steep hills is much less exciting. The motor soon wilts as the gradient steepens, making 1:10 the practical limit, unless you have very tough legs. We actually achieved a 1:6 restart, but only by standing out of the saddle (not difficult, obviously) and riding quite hard all the way to the top. Average speed on our hilly 13.8-mile course comes out at a lowly 10.5mph; much lower than other electric bikes. But to be fair, several bigger machines have gone pop on the way round. The Micro just keeps plugging along.
Riding the Micro is a bit of a yawn, even on High, but it does work, and it works quite well. If you live somewhere flat and enjoy a quiet and uneventful life, you might even choose to ride in Low, which will give significantly greater range and lower consumption.
Low-powered, low-speed electric bikes tend to be economical, and this one is no exception. After completing the hilly course on High, we kept going, and going and going, for a total of three hours. The final range was 29.7 miles at 9.8mph.Yes, we could probably ride those hills faster on a 3-speed Brompton, and so could most reasonably fit cyclists, but not everyone is willing or able to do that.
It’s hard to tell when the bike is about to conk out because the fuel gauge is without a doubt the most useless we have ever seen. It must have been something of an afterthought, because it isn’t mentioned in the handbook and we didn’t even spot it until someone set the bike running in a dark room.The gauge consists of three very dim blue lights on a sort of transfer fixed to the handlebars. How it works, we’ve no idea, but there’s nothing to get wet and no moving parts. The bad news is that they’re too dim to see in any sort of daylight, they point forward away from the rider and they only light up when the motor is running. Try spinning the motor up to speed on the spot (watch your fingers that cog could take one off) and it registers full because it needs to be under load to give a meaningful reading. Quite useless, but with that sort of range, who cares?
As the battery is in the bike, the neat little charger plugs into the front of the main frame, a full charge taking about six hours. The battery seems to be somewhat bigger than the manufacturer’s claim (again, rather unusual) with a capacity of about 190Wh, suggesting overall power consumption of 7Wh/mile, which is good going in hilly country and on full power. At 6.4p per mile, running costs are amongst the lowest we’ve seen, for a number of reasons: the bicycle is fairly cheap, as is the battery (it can be replaced at the importer’s workshop for just £150), and the range is very good for this sort of bike. The guarantee is for only 12 months, which is a bit limiting, but as the bike and battery are quite cheap, that’s not as bad as it sounds.
A simple fold-in-half machine, the Micro makes a small, if rather untidy package. The length of 69cm is OK, as is the height of 54cm, but the handlebars stick out awkwardly, pushing the width up to 49cm.This makes the ‘official’ size of the folded package a rather substantial 183 litres or 6.5 cubic feet, although in reality, the bike is light enough, and suitably shaped for squeezing into all sorts of corners.You can, for example, put it between the seatbacks on the train, and we even managed to scissor it either side of a glass screen on the train where a nominally more compact Brompton would never fit.
Carrying the folded bike is difficult because there are no clips to hold anything together, so you have to sort of bundle it into your arms. The technique is to stand grubbyside (cream linen trousers pressed against the chain ring at thigh height) and take the weight by the silver front frame, leaving the bars to flap about and poke passers by. None of this sounds very easy, but remember it’s lighter than most folding bikes, so a longish trek – up and down the Tube escalators for example – is easy enough. The bike comes with a shoulder bag, but putting it in is like wrestling with jelly, and the bulky bag is a hindrance when you ride away. In theory you could carry it, but in practice no…
There is a great little bike trying to get out here, but it’s effectively disguised. In practice, the short cranks and 79cm saddle height will rule out the Micro for taller people, and that’s that.The limited hill-climbing power will see off a few more potential customers, and anyone with reasonable oomph in their legs will be able to ride 25 miles on the flat without much more effort on any decent folding bike for about the same price.The same goes for average speed: on the flat, most people could ride faster on a 20-inch Dahon or Bike Friday.
That leaves a rather smaller market: short and lightish people (less than 80kg) who can’t put much effort into riding and need something for the mobile home. If you – or perhaps more importantly – your partner, is a weak cyclist and you want to chunter along the canal bank together, or enjoy the local Sustrans trail, it’s ideal.The Micro is easy to transport by car, bus or train, and if you don’t mind proceeding at a modest speed, it can give assistance for three enjoyable hours. It would be ideal for certain disabilities too. As long as you’re small, can balance on two wheels, and lift 9.9kg, this bike is a much more practical and entertaining proposition than a mobility scooter.
We could talk for hours about how it could be improved for the six billion people for whom it doesn’t quite fit the bill. With range to spare, a little more power wouldn’t go amiss, and a Brompton-style two-speed derailleur and reasonable top gear ratio would help too. Heavier surely? Not if you got rid of the unnecessary rear suspension. Bigger wheels would help in numerous ways – the diminutive 121/2-inch front wheel serves little purpose, because with the motor driving the rim, the wheel size is irrelevant to the gearing. We’d sort out the regen too: a great selling point, but only if it recharges the battery rather than toasting your fingers. Finally, the seat tube needs to be much, much longer, and to avoid folding problems, that means telescopic. If the manufacturers think we’re being harsh, we’re only trying to help refine a promising but rather flawed product. On the positive side, it’s the first folding electric bike we’ve agreed to test for several years, and with a few provisos, it actually works.With a little development, the Mark 2 could be very exciting.
Batribike Micro Specification
Batribike Micro £599 . Weight 9.9kg (22lbs) . Gear Ratio 51-inch . Battery Li-Ion Capacity 189Wh . Replacement Cost £150 . Max Range 29.7 miles . Full Charge 6 hrs Overall Consumption 7Wh/mile . Running Costs 6.4p/mile . Folded Size L69cm H54cm W49cm . Folded Volume 183 litres (6.5 cu ft) . Importer Fallowgate Ltd www.batribike.com firstname.lastname@example.org 01427 787774
A to B 79 – Aug 2010