Category Archives: Folding Electric Bikes

Batribike Micro Folding Electric Bike

Batribike Micro

Batribike Micro Folding Electric BikeORIGINAL 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.

The Batribike

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  01427 787774

A to B 79 – Aug 2010

Brompton Sparticle Folding Electric Bike

Brompton Sparticle

Brompton Sparticle Folding Electric BikeORIGINAL STORY FROM FEBRUARY 2009. The Sparticle has been considerably revised since.

Finding a good motor kit to electrify the Brompton is a bit like the hunt for the Holy Grail. I was, no doubt, as excited as many other Brompton owners when the June 2007 A to B announced that the age-long search could be over with the arrival of the Nano. This looked a great kit, ticking many of the problematic boxes that had thus far stood in the way of designing a suitable system. It was reasonably light (in terms of folding electric bikes that is) and the kit didn’t interfere with Brompton’s world beating fold. Unfortunately,it appears the designers have simply been unable to keep pace with demand and it is now all but impossible to get hold of a Nano-Brompton. Enter the Brompton Sparticle, designed by the Cambridge-based Electric Transport Shop, and about to be launched as we went to press.The trial prototype I was loaned came ready assembled, although you won’t be able to buy complete bikes off the shelf like this you’ll need a donor Brompton to which the kit can be fitted by ETS or yourself. Could this be the bike with miraculous Grail-like powers? A viable motorized Brompton, as A to B noted in the original Nano review, combined with train and bus, holds the key to ‘almost any inhabited area of the UK being within easy reach of almost any other’ – using only bike and public transport.

What’s A Sparticle?

A quick nose round the internet suggests that the Sparticle hub motor is something called a Suzhou Bafang, probably the 500-watt model used by Wisper, rather than the more powerful version used on the early Ezee Torq. Those motors are 36-volt,whereas the Sparticle uses a 24-volt system,so too many parallels shouldn’t be drawn. However,it seems the motor has an established pedigree, which is a good start.The rest of the kit – a sturdy looking controller box and a battery which resembles a small plastic handbag – is fitted underneath the seat,clamping around the seatpost. The battery itself slides off the control box when not in use,reducing the overall weight by more than 3kg to around 16kg .As a 12-stone,reasonably sporty,40-year-old,this is fine for me to lift above my head onto train luggage racks and like – if this sounds too heavy,you could shave a couple of kilos by going for a lighter Brompton than the M3L (which the prototype was fitted to).

Folding Fudge

Whilst the first thing you’d probably ask about on most electric bikes is ‘what’s it go like?’ – details of speed, hill climbing ability and the like – the first thing many Brompton owners would surely ask is ‘how does the kit affect the fold and the weight?’. The weight query I’ve looked at – 16-19kg isn’t too bad for an electric bike. The fold appeared to be fine as I lifted the bike out the box and unfolded it.The size has increased with the addition of the seatpost-mounted controller adding some 100mm to the height.But something is certainly adrift even once the seat is raised the rear of the bike doesn’t swing back if the bike is lifted – as you would expect without the seatpost effectively locking the rear frame in place.You have to unhook the front of the bike for this to happen. I couldn’t initially figure out the source of this invisible power working against gravity.Indeed,I rather belatedly realised what should have been obvious on getting the Brompton out the box – even in its fully folded state,the bike shouldn’t theoretically hold together,though it does. With the control box effectively raising the seat pillar height this will not fully lock the rear of the bike and provide a fixed anchor for the front.So why doesn’t it just spring apart like a crackerjack out of a box? A closer inspection up on the workstand revealed what was going on.The Sparticle uses wider, bespoke forks,to accommodate the hub motor.When clipped over the rear frame they provide what appears to be a friction fit – already this strong fit has begun to rub the paint off the rear frame.Whilst this appears to work,I certainly wouldn’t want to rely on it to keep the folded bike together time and again.Indeed, strongly shake the folded bike and it does indeed disassemble itself.Several emails to the designers established that the Sparticle needs to be fitted with the long Brompton seatpost (designed for taller riders) which, I was assured,had been used on other prototypes and locked the folded bike together perfectly.This still appears somewhat of a fudge in design terms – you end up with a folded Brompton bigger than a standard model and you rule out very short riders,for whom the extended seatpost is not suitable because it starts to stick out of the bottom of the frame. The most obvious solution to this would be to adopt the Nano design of a barmounted controller that could be disconnected from a battery hidden within the Brompton’s own front-mounting pannier.Unfortunately the controller box used here appears to be an ‘off the shelf’ model designed only to fit to seatposts.Whilst the designers have taken the time to have bespoke forks made for the kit,it’s a big pity they didn’t do the same for a controller box that would mount elsewhere,so as not to compromise the classic Brompton fold.

The Ride

Like the majority of electric retro-fit systems,the Sparticle is a simple throttle-controlled twist-&-go;you can use the thumb trigger to ease the power on and off at any speed up to about 14mph, when the power all but disappears.This rather limited top speed has a very useful upside though – it appears that the motor is actually geared for a 20-inch wheel, and the effect of putting it into a 16-inch rim is to substantially increase torque – in other words quick acceleration off the mark.That’s extremely useful for nipping in and out of stop-start town traffic and up steep gradients when you’ve got tired legs. In practice this meant only gentle pedalling was required for a very nippy throttle-assisted start.The real power kicks in at about 5-10mph and I streaked away up the gentle hill outside my house with very little pedaling required to maintain 14mph.On longer rides I failed to find a gradient that would defeat the Sparticle – it would even crawl up 1:7 hills from a standing start without pedalling, though this clearly isn’t recommended. This ‘power on demand’ characteristic would probably suit your average Brompton rider well – he or she is likely to regularly buzz through town traffic, and bike/train commuters no longer need to fear that killer climb up from the station that might be an unpleasant end to a tough working day.It will also no doubt be very handy for Bromponites who load a weekly shop or a toddler onto their bike – extra weight is always most telling up hills and this is just where such torque would be useful. With these motor characteristics it felt quite natural to let the motor take most of the strain accelerating briskly up to cruising speed – somewhere above 10mph depending on conditions – then ease off the motor power and let your legs do the relatively easy work of maintaining the speed.I found the power harder to use into nagging headwinds and up gentler but relentlessly constant gradients.You find yourself easing the throttle on, deciding you are using a bit much power and then easing it off again – hardly the most efficient riding style. Still,my test area around West Yorkshire proved ideal Sparticle country – flat stretches where no motor power is required,punctuated by what are generally short but steep hills up to around 1:5. The Sparticle loved to eat these up,with only gentle pedal pressure applied along with full throttle – producing a similar physical effort to cycling on the flat. Riding without power,I found myself forgetting that a motor was actually fitted – the motor’s freewheel seems to add very little resistance over a conventional hub.If you want to extend battery life and don’t need to tackle difficult gradients (and don’t trust yourself to lay off the throttle) there is a small plastic limiter screw underneath the controller (with a rather vague feel and easily mashed up under light screwdriver pressure) that lets you restrict power output – very noticeably at its bottom limit.

A Battery Of Facts

Phylion-branded batteries are used here – a brand associated with a batch of failures on Ezee bikes in the past. Not wishing to stir up trouble between Phylion and Ezee – each seems to lay blame at the other’s door – it seems the best summary of the situation is to say that there is at least a question mark over the reliability of Phylion batteries.Without measuring the current drawn by the Sparticle it’s hard to say if they are being overloaded (allegedly the problem on the Ezee bikes). It really needs a long-term test of the batteries on this system in real world conditions to see if they are behaving as they should.Watch this space. The control box which the battery slots onto is linked to motor,throttle and handlebar ‘Displayer’ via wires that are bundled to the rear brake and gear cables. Battery charge state is shown by two sets of lights,one on the battery and the handlebar-mounted ‘Displayer’ unit. The latter proved totally useless and should be dispensed with – all six lights stay on until the last couple of miles before flunking out alarmingly quickly. The battery indicator is marginally more useful – the first of three lights goes within about 3 miles but it takes until around 25 miles to drop to one light,and once the final light goes you still have about three miles left (all ‘Displayer’ lights still on at this stage!). As the battery is mounted behind you,the battery lights are tricky to check on the move,so the mileage here is approximate.The battery finally gave out at 39 miles after being used on a variety of around-town tasks.A very decent range,thanks to energy consumption of 9.5Wh/mile – good,but not quite as good as the Nano-Brompton’s 7.7Wh.


Good electric bike, shame about the rather crude fold,would be my initial judgement. Given that this was a prototype it would be nice to see some of these comments taken on board for the final production version, which I haven’t experienced. There will be those Brompton owners who won’t give this kit a second glance because of the increased folded size and the need for an extended seatpost. But those currently struggling up steep hills or with large loads might be tempted if they can live with the compromises the kit entails.Unlike the Grail’s promised powers, the Sparticle won’t imbue you with spiritual purity worthy of a great warrior,let you heal the sick or confront universal evil,but it could save you a lot of huffing and puffing and a good deal of time.

Brompton Sparticle Specification

Brompton Sparticle kit only £750 wheel-build option £80 fitted to Brompton £70 . Weight ML3 Brompton plus motor (typical) 15.7kg battery 3.3kg total 19kg (42 lb) . Battery 24-volt Li-ion Capacity 290Wh . Replacement Cost £250 . Charge time 5hr 40min . Range 39 miles Running Costs 10.1p/mile . Electric Transport Shop Tel (Cambridge) 01223 247210 (Oxford) 01865 243937 (London) 0207 4822892 Richard Peace A to B 69 – Jan 2009

Nano Brompton Electric Bike

Nano Brompton

Brompton Nano Folding Electric BikeORIGINAL STORY FROM JUNE 2007. The Nano-Brompton later ceased production, but returned in revised form in early 2012, with a different battery and repositioned electronics. Prices are very different to those quoted here!

We’ve championed electric bikes since they first appeared, but somehow folding electric bikes have always proved a technological leap too far. Some are woefully underpowered, others have a limited range, all are bulky, and some are monstrously heavy. Our line has consistently been, don’t buy one. A good conventional folder is lighter, cheaper and more enjoyable to fold and ride, because by and large – the available electric machines add nothing to the capabilities of a good unpowered bike. This changed slightly with the arrival of the Dahon Roo EL, which showed what could be done with a good folding bike and quality power-assist system, but it was a bit weak and very expensive. Back to the drawing board. What is a folding electric bike actually for, you might ask? Some would consider it no more than something to throw in a car boot for a powered trundle round the park, but more usefully, it is (or could be) a priceless weapon for extending the door-to-door capabilities of public transport. For the average person on foot, the realistic range from a railway station might be a mile. On a folding bike, this increases to five miles – or perhaps ten in favourable conditions – but if there was a machine that most people could ride swiftly and with relative ease for twenty or thirty miles in an hour or two, almost any inhabited area of the United Kingdom would be in easy reach of almost any other. That’s the dream, and with the Nano Brompton – a kit produced by Tony Castles of EGO – it has become a practical reality.

Nano Technology

This machine has been a long time coming. We had some small involvement at the beginning of the project, talking through ideas and bringing a few engineers together, but the trail then went rather quiet. In the background, electronics boffin Tony Castles was working away, sourcing equipment and putting miles on the bikes. Prototypes have been out and about for a few months now, but our test bike is the first that could accurately be called a preproduction machine. The Nano Brompton will be available in kit form to convert an ordinary Brompton, the package including widened forks, a motorised front wheel, and controller for £250, plus battery of your choice (ours is a typical 266Wh lithium polymer costing another £250. The battery is usually mounted in the front pannier bag, with power passing, cleverly, through the front carrier block to reach the motor. The beauty of this elegant solution is that although the power-assist kit adds more than 6kg to the weight of a typical Brompton, the weight is evenly split between the bag and the bike. Our fairly typical donor L3 weighed 11. 3kg before conversion, and 14. 4kg afterwards, plus about 4. 4kg for the front bag. That’s quite a lot to carry up a flight of stairs, but much, much easier than the alternatives.

And, if you can afford to convert a new S2LX, you might be looking at a bicycle weighing only 12. 8kg, which is lighter than most un-assisted folding bikes. You need a battery, of course, but there’s no need to go for the whole pannier/battery option – we’ll come to this. Other bikes have come close to the Nano Brompton on weight, but never on a bike so compact, that goes so far, and does it all so damn effortlessly. The Nano Brompton has its quirks, but in the dysfunctional world of folding electric bikes, it’s close to miraculous.

Key Components

Kits can be bad news for the uninitiated, and on the Brompton, things like cableruns and the precise alignment of bits and pieces are rather critical to avoid folding tangles. So although the kit is supplied with clearly illustrated instructions, we wouldn’t recommend fitting it unless you have reasonable engineering skills, and a good understanding of how and why the Brompton folds the way it does. It took us about four hours, including two dashes to the computer to ponder the illustrations, particularly concerning the motor cable exit, where a lot happens in a small space. Nevertheless, once fitted, it worked right out of the box, and worked rather well.

The key component is the Nano – a new breed of sensor-less brushless motor. Just to recap very quickly:older DC motors (Powabyke, for example) have mechanical brushes and are only so-so efficiency-wise, newer ‘hall-effect’ motors (almost everything else) replaced the brushes with little sensors in the motor, linked by a fat cable to electronic switches in a separate control box. The sensors tell the switches when to fire, spinning the motor. These devices can be very efficient, but if one of the tiny wires breaks, they’re out of action that’s a big problem on a folding bike, where cables can have a hard time.

On the Nano, the sensing is done by a clever feedback system, so the motor only needs three small power wires. A slight oddity is that the Nano gives three little kicks before the sensing system settles down, producing a brief rattle, but the noise is followed by absolutely silent power. This is possible because of another technological advance – the whining (howling in some cases) sun and planet gears common to most electric bike drives have been replaced by a group of rollers. The old Yamaha PAS used something similar, but it made a few noises:the Nano Brompton is silent. On a very quiet road, pulling hard at low speed, the motor makes a tiny hum, but to put this into perspective, it’s quieter than the soft ‘shshsh’ of the over-run clutch when the motor is turned off. In practice, you can ride with a group and no-one would guess that there was anything unusual about the bike, except for the control box on the handlebars, the larger than usual front hub, and the fact that the rider apparently has bionic legs.

On the road

Brompton Nano graph

So what’s it like to ride? Plonk the bag in place, and if the battery is inside and turned on, a movement of the twistgrip will give instant assistance, so you need to take care. The twistgrip is supposed to be on the right, but we fitted in on the left, allowing throttle-on gear changes, although this does leave the control working backwards, so even greater care is needed when mounting and dismounting. We’d like to see a safety switch in a nice accessible position.

Engage first gear, open the throttle, and with that characteristic tiny rattle, the motor engages and pulls cleanly away. Power seems limited at first, but the motor gets into its stride from around 9mph, pulling with a startling amount of torque just at the point where your acceleration would normally be slackening off. The silent waft of power keeps coming until just over 14mph, when assistance suddenly ceases, the bike reverting back to being a conventional, if slightly heavy, Brompton. Most riders will go faster if conditions allow, but when the next hill approaches, you simply reopen the throttle. At first, nothing seems to happen, but as speed falls below 13mph, the motor begins to pull, silently and without fuss. And that’s all there is to it.

Maximum assisted speed is barely more than 14mph (13mph as the battery approaches empty), but this ability to climb rolling hills at 12 or 13mph results in surprisingly fast journey times. Our ten-mile commute takes 37 minutes, which is about average for an electric bike, and on the fast side for a conventional bike – three minutes faster than the unassisted Brompton S2LX, for example.

Not very exciting? Our commuter route is largely flat, in a Dorsetshire sort of way the Nano Brompton only really comes into its own in hills. Once the gradient has pulled speed down to 10mph, the motor begins to really pull. Oddly, but not uniquely, the Nano averages a higher speed in hilly country than it does on the flat (14. 7mph against 14. 2mph). On these more serious gradients, it just knuckles silently to the task, climbing more or less anything you put in front of it – not particularly fast, but at a good steady pace. On longer gradients, the kindest technique is to put the Brompton in gear two and keep speed down to a steady 10mph or so by adjusting the throttle, which takes some practice. On really steep hills, just open the throttle, select first and power on up. We found a restart on a 1:6 hill very easy, despite a little wheelspin, and the bike is soon romping away at 7 or 8mph. The maximum gradient depends on the number of gears available and the amount of muscle power you can provide. A typical cyclist should find 1:5 fairly straightforward and 1:4 seems possible, provided it isn’t too long. Incidentally, putting all this torque through the front wheel doesn’t cause the slightest instability, even with 16inch wheels.


In the past we’ve tested folding electric bikes that went 16 miles (disappointing), 12 miles (hopeless), five or six miles (waste of space), and so on. They tend to have lightweight batteries, poor gearing so you can’t put any effort in, short cranks, tiny wheels and squidgy tyres. This is the first time we’ve tried one with quality free-running tyres, a decent-sized battery (266Wh lithium-polymer) and efficient motor. It looked as though the Nano Brompton was going to go a long way on a charge, but just how far? After gobbling up our 14-mile hilly course in the morning, we kept going after lunch. . . and ended up going, and going. At 20 miles it passed the maximum endurance of the Giant Lafree and other efficient but under-batteried electric bikes. At 22 miles (still averaging 14. 3mph) it passed the ‘muscle’ bikes, such as the Ezee Torq. At 30 miles it passed the ‘big bike being ridden with economy in mind’ barrier. At 35 miles (and still averaging a healthy 14mph) it passed the big, heavy, crude machines like the Powabyke. At around 40 miles, power began to wilt quite significantly, bringing the average speed down below 14mph, but the Nano Brompton just kept right on going. Not very fast, admittedly, but powering up hills at a steady 8mph when requested. We’d love to have seen 50 miles, but in fact the bike cut out at 47. 9 miles, having averaged 13. 4mph for just over 3 1 / 2 hours. In ten years testing electric bikes of all kinds, we’ve only beaten that once, and then only very marginally. In June 2001, the special longrange version of the Dawes S-Drive did 48. 9 miles at exactly the same 13. 4mph average speed. And that had a battery weighing 8. 2kg. The new Giant Twist (tested in A to B58 ) is supposed to go 40 miles on a charge, but it’s so slow, quite frankly you’d die of boredom before finding the limit.

We should put our figures in perspective because if you don’t pedal the Nano Brompton, you might see less than 20 miles, and if you pedal with limited enthusiasm, you might see only 30 miles. On the other hand, the sky’s the limit for maximum range, because it’s a nice bike to ride unassisted, so on a sunny day in East Anglia it might go 50 miles on a charge, or 100 miles, and so on. We try to ride all power-assisted bikes in the same way:at the sort of gentle pace a reasonably fit person could expect to keep up all day. What this tells us is that if you ride the Nano Brompton in that fashion, with power engaged for about 2/3rds of the time, but the motor only working really hard on hills, you can expect to see in excess of 40 miles.

When the battery is flat, you keep riding, and the bike effectively reverts to being an ordinary Brompton. We found that the over-run clutch in the motor caused a little drag at first, but this disappeared after a few miles. At 14. 7mph, the roll-down speed is excellent for a bike with 16-inch wheels.

Recharging takes about five hours. The charger is fairly compact, and weighs only 540 grams, so it’s easy to carry with you. Overall fuel consumption (including charger losses) works out at 7. 7Wh/mile – a tiny figure, and easily the lowest consumption we’ve seen. Running costs (including the depreciation cost of a donor Brompton) come out at a lowish 7. 8p/mile, boosted by the generous range per change.


Whip the bag off, and the bike folds like an ordinary Brompton. It’s about 3cm wider at 32cm, but the other dimensions – 61cm long and 58cm height are typical. The result is a folded volume of 113 litres, or exactly 4 cubic feet. The only other folding electric bike to even register on the radar is the Dahon Roo EL with a volume of 210 litres or 7. 5 cubic feet. Almost twice the size.

The Nano is seriously practical and compact stuff – when you get to the bus stop, the railway station or the office, you’re left holding one bag weighing 4. 4kg (plus your luggage, of course), and a bike weighing another 14. 4kg. You wouldn’t want to run up stairs carrying it, but you wouldn’t with most ordinary folding bikes either. What most people should be able to do is lift the bike into a car boot, or across a railway bridge and onto a train. It isn’t light, but it’s better by an order of magnitude than anything else. This one works.

If you like to travel really light, use a smaller battery. Tony has been testing a tiny 76Wh battery pack that clips on the front carrier block in place of a bag, so your luggage will have to go in a backpack. This weighs 1. 2kg, and although we haven’t tested it to destruction, we think it should be good for ten miles or so, which might be enough for the sort of journey you do. You could keep one of these at the office and one at home, or. . . well, you get the idea, and the bike and battery then weigh only 15. 6kg. Basically, you choose a battery that suits your lifestyle and biceps.

The ability to fold to nothing and and pop on and off the train is priceless. We found quite quickly that the motor was well up to the task of assisting our SP trailer bike, producing a unique three-wheel-drive machine. For us, this makes all sorts of longer train-assisted journeys practical with an eightyear-old, where traffic or gradients would make solo riding impractical.


Where exactly is the competition supposed to come from? The only other decent electric folder is the Dahon Roo, which weighs 18. 1kg complete with battery. That’s more or less the same weight as the Nano Brompton and front pannier bag, but the Dahon offers only (only!) 20-mile range and rather dismal performance. It also costs £1, 199, which is a lot of money for what it is and – more importantly – what it does. We have some sympathy with the Ezee Quando, which climbs hills with remarkable vigour, but is otherwise rather a lump. The rest can be dismissed.

What we can’t tell you is whether Tony will be able to satisfy demand, or whether the Nano will prove reliable in the long run. We’ve had it for a few weeks and ridden a threefigure mileage. A few advance models have been out and about for a matter of months, but no-one really knows how the innovative motor and control system will survive in the notoriously brutal cut-and-thrust of commuting.

All we can say for sure is that it’s a delightful little beast. It does everything it’s claimed to do, plus a bit more, and it offers great value for money. At £499, the motor/battery kit is in the same sort of price bracket as the utter rubbish, yet it’s a smashing bit of kit, comparable in performance to the Heinzmann and other systems costing £800+. Even with a new Brompton M3L, the total comes to only £1, 000 (although you may have to pay someone to fit it). But enough superlatives. If you’re looking for a folding electric bike, take a closer look at the Nano. We trust you will not be disappointed.

Nano Brompton Specifications

Nano Brompton £499 (kit only) . Weight Bike 14.4kg Battery and Pannier 4.4kg Total 18.8kg (41lbs) Gears typically 3-spd Sturmey Archer hubGear Ratios 49″, 65″, 87″ . Folded Dimensions H58cm L61cm W32cm . Folded Volume 113 litres (4 cu ft) . Battery Li-pol . Nominal Capacity 266Wh Max Range 48 miles . Full Charge 5hrs . Consumption 7. 7Wh/mile inc charger losses . Running Costs 7. 8p/mile Manufacturer EGO www. egopt. co. uk tel 07974 723996 mail tony@egopt. co. uk

A to B 60 – June 2007

Dahon Roo EL

Dahon Roo EL

Dahon Roo EL Electric BikeORIGINAL ARTICLE FROM JUNE 2005. The Roo EL went out of production some years ago. Dahon has since tried other variants based on different power systems and bikes, but none has been very successful

Folding electric bicycles are not everyone’s cup of tea, but where other crystal balls reveal recumbent bicycles, or perhaps four-wheel-drives, according to taste, our future scenario includes neatly folded electric bikes, speeding to the hilly suburbs on fast silent electric trains (this isn’t the UK, obviously), and hordes of smiling commuters whining gently home. A light, power-assisted folding bike would certainly widen the appeal of alternative transport.

…is the Sparc good enough to snatch the development lead?

The problem is that the current machines are either big and heavy or small and feeble. If they’re heavy (believe us, we’ve been there) they will never get folded, and if they’re too weak, you might just as well ride a conventional bicycle.There are numerous heavyweights around, but only two serious lightweight contenders: the Panasonic WiLL tested in A to B 46, and the Dahon Roo EL tested in A to B 29. At 17.3kg, the Panasonic was marginally the lightest, and marginally the cheapest (if that isn’t a contradiction with something costing £1,200).At the time, it offered the greatest range: a paltry 10.8 miles. The Roo managed only 9.9 miles then, but its Sparc motor has been upgraded and improved for 2005 – is it good enough to snatch the development lead?

On the Road

Back in April 2002, we tried the original Roo EL, fitted with the then new, and terribly clever SRAM Sparc hub, providing five conventional gears and electric-assist, in one relatively compact package. It looked very shiny and high-tech, but our excitement was tempered by the sad little lead-acid battery and twin motors that sounded to be (and indeed were) borrowed from electric drill technology.

Dahon Roo EL Electric Sparc MotorTop assisted speed was 14mph in theory, but the weak motors meant pathetic hill-climbing and assistance that more or less dissolved above 10mph, giving a lethargic average speed of 10.8mph. Range, from the tiddly battery, was just ten miles. In other words, you really were better off with a conventional Dahon and the near-thousand pound surplus in the bank, earning lovely interest.

Superficially, little has changed on the 2005 model, but the battery has been upgraded to NiMH (already yesterday’s technology in China) and the motors and electronics have been revised to give a bit more poke – in other words, the very changes we suggested three years ago.

First to the battery.This is the same physical size, sitting unobtrusively on the front of the rack like its predecessor, but it’s a little lighter at 2.8kg, against 3kg for last season’s model.That ought to make the machine a couple of hundred grams lighter, but extra equipment means the package now weighs 200g more than before, at 18.1kg.

…those with weak legs and/or mountains to climb should look elsewhere…

The good news (there had to be some) is that this slightly heavier EL goes faster, and much, much further.The new battery has a capacity of 134Wh, some 60% more than its predecessor, but the new technology and improved gearing have helped to double the range to 20 miles.

Under power, the Sparc produces a gentle whine that’s odd enough to attract some attention, but it’s quieter than before.The system works by sensing pedal movement, and squirting a bit of assistance into the hub until either (a) you stop pedalling, or (b) road speed exceeds 14mph.The disadvantage is that the pedals need to turn a bit before the motor cuts in, but thereafter, you’re very much in control.You have to keep turning the pedals, but you don’t have to do any work, because the machine is sensing pedal movement, not your power output. Peak power is up from 120 watts to 170, and the Sparc now maintains that output over a broader range of speed. At a walking pace, it still feels a bit weak, but above 10mph the turbo cuts in and it gets quite chirpy, before fading away from 13mph, and cutting abruptly at 14mph.That might sound a bit disappointing, but in practice, this very limited degree of assistance has been carefully targeted. Provided the hills aren’t too steep, the Roo nips along well, the motors waiting in reserve until speed drops below 14mph, then cutting in to give gentle, steady assistance. Unfortunately, the motors are linked to wheel speed rather than pedal speed, so when you reach a proper hill and begin to change down through the gears, they run slower and less efficiently.The steeper the hill, the worse the effect.

Hills of about 10% are dispatched easily enough, and we chugged gently up a gradient of 17%, thanks in part to the Roo’s low 32″ bottom gear. But those with weak legs and/or mountains to climb should really look elsewhere. If you don’t put any effort in at all, the little motors do a manful job on the flat, but the poor low speed performance limits the maximum gradient to about 5% (1 in 20).

There’s an Eco setting too. Back in 2002, we dismissed this as a complete waste of space, but it actually feels as if it’s doing something now, offering 170 watts at low speed, the power falling gently to cut out at 10mph.

Weight versus range.The 2005 Roo EL is the first folding electric bike to become firmly viable. Nothing comes close for now, but weight of 13kg and a 20 mile range are already practicable.

Dahon Roo EL Electric Bike Battery Pack

The Sparc battery fits neatly in front of the rack. It is easy to remove, or can be charged through a plug underneath

The fuel gauge is a 3-LED array on the handlebars, which rather depressingly loses one light at 2.8 miles, two at 7 miles, and the whole lot at 11.8 miles. But there’s actually another eight miles in reserve, because the Roo EL presses on to about 17 miles, then increasingly slowly to a final range of 20 miles at an average of 12.3mph. Not exactly a thrill a minute, but most people could lift the EL off a train or out of a car boot, unfold it and ride 20 miles into the hills at a good pace. OK, that average speed is nearly 1mph slower than the Giant Lafree, but the Roo EL is the first bike to narrowly beat the Giant’s 6.8Watt/hour per mile fuel economy record, taking the honours with 6.7Wh per mile.That’s around 1,500mpg, so you needn’t be too concerned that the Roo EL is guzzling up the world’s energy resources.

None of this sounds very exciting, but it’s a breakthrough of sorts. Dahon, incidentally, claims a range of 31 miles, which is achievable, but only with very limited use of the power-assist.

By our reckoning, the claimed 3 hour 40 minute charge time is a bit optimistic. Our battery took 4 hours 20 minutes to reach an 85% charge, before topping up at a lower rate for another couple of hours, and a trickle charge thereafter.With this gentle, three- stage charge, and a motor that’s relatively kind, we would expect the battery to have a good long life.

…At 18.1kg, it shouldn’t give you a hernia, provided you don’t carry it too far…

If you run the battery down, or just feel like doing all the work, pedal gearing is slightly higher – a more practical 32″ to 81″.This small change makes a big difference in terms of rideability, and that’s the magic of a bike like this – the electric bits add no friction and very little extra weight, so it can be pedalled just like any other 20- inch Dahon. The sporty- looking Schwalbe Marathon 15 Slicks proved slightly disappointing in terms of rolling resistance, achieving only 13.7mph on our test hill.Yes, that’s right, they’re slower than Schwalbe’s chunky puncture-proof jobs on page 24). Quite why, we have no idea.

Dahon Roo EL Power Consumption

Sparc power output (solid line) compared to the previous model (dotted lines). Although still quite weak, the unit is much more practical.



Dahon Roo EL Electric Bike FoldedThis is essentially a standard Dahon folding bike.The handlebars drop down, and the frame folds midway along, sandwiching the bars between the two frame halves. Like most 20-inch Dahons, the Roo come with a little magnet and plate to hold the folded bike together, but in our experience, it’s only possible to get the plates to touch by leaving the handlebars up. On the EL, the width problem is compounded by the large Sparc control switch, which fouls the frame. Dahon claims folded dimensions of 81cm long, which we’d agree with, 56cm tall, which can only be done by removing the seat pillar, and 28cm in width, which is a ridiculous claim, or at least, we’d like to see how they do it, because we can’t.These dimensions would give a folded volume of 127 litres or 4.5cu ft, which just isn’t attainable.

Dahon Roo EL Electric Bike Folded

Folding is easy. Note that the frame halves do not come together well – a common Dahon weakness


More realistically, we made a package of 80cm in length, 65.5cm in height and no less than 40cm wide: 210 litres, or 7.5cu ft. That’s still the most compact folding electric bike we’ve seen, and smaller than average in non-assisted folding bike terms.The Roo EL is heavier than a conventional bike, but at 18.1kg (40lb) it shouldn’t give you a hernia, provided you don’t carry it too far.


Well, of course, you get those five quality German hub gears.The SRAM hub has a rather slow and ponderous change compared to its Sturmey Archer rival, but it’s quiet, reliable and never seems to miss a gear.

Elsewhere, the Roo is well-equipped.The powerful V-brakes are worked by low- friction Jagwire cables, there’s a solid-looking alloy centre stand,Tranz X suspension seat post, a decent rack, mudguards, and a neat smoked-plastic chainguard.The Roo also comes with an unbranded, but effective LED rear light, but oddly, no light at the front.

Height adjustment is reasonable, the saddle going up to 104cm (previously 102cm), and the handlebars adjustable from 95-110cm.When we tried the bike in 2002, the bars were of the briefly fashionable non-adjustable kind, but Dahon has presumably been swayed by customer reaction and put the telescopic bit back in.We’d say that height- adjustable bars just aren’t worth the weight and complication.


At £1199, the Dahon Roo EL is expensive – hardly surprising when the components start life in Germany and China, then travelled via Taiwan to the UK, where a distributor adds a margin, and a UK agent adds another. In the States, you can pick one up for the equivalent of £700, and in the UK and Europe they are sometimes discounted to £1,000 or less, so it’s worth shopping around.

Price aside, the Roo EL has developed into a great little bike. And as the chart on page 18 demonstrates, it has moved overnight from the bottom of the league table to the top. It’s the second lightest machine on the market and – now that the Brompton/Zap has been withdrawn – it offers the best range too.

Specification – Dahon Roo EL

Dahon Roo EL £1,199. Weight bike 15.3kg battery 2.8kg total 18.1kg (40lb) . Gears SRAM Sparc Gear ratios 32″ 40″ 51″ 66″ 81″ . Battery NiMH . Capacity 134Wh . Range 20 miles85% charge 4hrs 20 mins . Spare battery £125 . Running costs 7.8p/mile . Fuel consumption battery only 6.7Wh/mile battery & charger 10.9Wh/mile . UK distributor Fisher Outdoor Leisure tel 0208 805 3088 mail

Thanks to Electric Bikes Direct for loan of the test bike:

 A to B 48 – Jun 2005


Panasonic WiLL

Panasonic Will Electric Folding BikeORIGINAL ARTICLE FROM FEBRUARY 2005.
The Panasonic Will has been out of production for some years.

We’re often told that folding electric bicycles are the next big thing, but the technology always seems to be just around the corner, in a container on the high seas or being re-evaluated somewhere far away. In other words, it just isn’t ready.

Why would anyone want a folding electric bike? Sad to relate, there is growing demand – we kid you not – for electric folders that can be carried to the local park in a car boot and toodled around, giving the rider some virtual exercise. A frightening vision of the future if ever there was one: herds of doddery greys ripping up the ozone layer for a bit of fresh air.

But every new technology has its frivolous applications. Somerset is big country and some towns are relatively inaccessible without a car. If we wanted to get to, say, Radstock (not that we ever do), we’d take a folding bike 18 miles on the train to Frome and cycle the remaining eight miles. Actually, Sustrans is working on a level-ish path, but otherwise, think serious hills. An electric-assist folding bike would make a lot of difference.

Similarly, for someone living in the South Hams of Devon, or just about anywhere in the Peak District, this sort of technology would make a Home Counties-style train/bike commute more practical. It sounds easy, but to get our business, and break into the touring/folder, commuting/folder markets, the bike would have to outclass an enthusias- tically-ridden Brompton or Birdy, and to date, there’s no sign of this happening.We’ve seen nothing that can be swung easily onto the train, and/or manage our archetypal 16- mile round journey, but year on year they improve.


State-of-the-art in early 2005 is the Panasonic WiLL. Actually, the WiLL has been around for a while, and is  in any event based on the older Porta-Ranger model that was already knocking on a bit when we tested it in 2001.There aren’t many similarities though.The staid Porta-Potty frame has been replaced with one of the prettiest alloy designs you could hope to make the acquaintance of, complete with strangely unmatched wheel sizes – 20-inch rear and 18-inch front.

The power unit is lithium-ion, but this isn’t new either, having first made an appearance in Japan in December 2003, arriving in Europe on the Swiss-made Biketec six months later. Significantly (or perhaps not), Giant came very close to upgrading its Lafree to the lithium system in 2004, but changed its mind. Just to recap, lithium-ion batteries are light, but they need some clever electronics.The Panasonic system has two battery options, one of 160Wh (about the same capacity as the Lafree, but at 1.6kg, less than half the weight), and a smaller unit of 80Wh, weighing just a kilogram. In other words, the weight of the battery is of no real significance in the greater scheme of things.

Panasonic has made the bigger battery available to other manufacturers, but its own folder comes with the one-kilogram job, so don’t expect to go very far.

On the Road

First impression on the road is that the Shimano SIS 7-speed derailleur is missing at least one gear at the top end.This is quite common with Japanese folders, which leaves you wondering how they ride ‘em over there. Do all cyclists wobble along at 12mph? Or is it just the folding bikes that get left in the gutter when bicycles, mopeds, car and trucks roar away from the lights? We’d love to know.

The result of limited gearing is a strictly limited top speed. You can cruise at around 12mph, but even in a knee-spinning emergency, you won’t go much over 14mph with a 61-inch top gear. This is seriously debilitating stuff and leaves the Panasonic floundering in the wake of all but the humblest unassisted folding bikes on the flat. We wouldn’t even attempt to storm the rolling Somerset downs with gears like this. More usefully, bottom gear is low too. At 28 inches, it would be low by any standards, but on a crank-driven electric bike, a gear like this will climb any hill South Somerset can produce, albeit at a snail’s pace. Again, we’re confused. Are Japanese suburbs very, very hilly?

Rolling resistance is acceptable, rather than exciting.The 40psi Cheng Shin tyres are a ‘trad’ design, so don’t expect sparkling performance. Actually, they roll quite well at 50psi, hitting 13.3mph on our test hill, but this is a big bike, and these days we expect 20-inch machines of this size to coast a good 1mph faster than that.

The 107cm wheelbase and handlebar height of 97cm are acceptable, but at 79cm – 94.5cm (plus another centimetre or two for the daring) the saddle height is a shade low. The general impression, from the low saddle, uninspiring gear ratios and lethargic tyres is that the Panasonic would be blown away by most unassisted folders in the traffic light Grand Prix. Not a very good start.

Power Assistance

In common with all the best electric bikes, the Panasonic drive system is almost invisible. The motor is part of the bottom bracket, and more or less hidden by an oversize chainguard. The tiny battery sits above it, but you could mistake it for a bit of frame tube or a water bottle.

The power switch is on the handlebars, offering two levels of assistance, or nothing if you prefer.The ‘Off’ setting leaves you with a typical, under-geared folding bike as one might expect, and ‘Lo’ is too Zen-like to be worth discussing. It sort of whispers encouragement. ‘Hi’, on the other hand, offers quite  perky acceleration, as a torque-sensor engages the motor to match your pedal strokes.This feels exciting, but it’s all over very quickly. Above 10mph in top gear, the motor begins to run out of steam, and by 12mph, your legs are whizzing a shade faster than most of us would prefer, and you’re on your own. Progress continues thus until you confront a steepish hill, which the bike saunters up in one of its higher ratios, only dipping into the 300 watt peak power reserves on the steepest bits. Our meanest, cruellest gradient is 17% (1:6) and the Panasonic rasped gently up in 2nd gear – we never found an opportunity to use 1st in anger.

This steady, but rather tedious progress continues for about three miles, at which point the first of three ‘fuel’ warning lights flicks off (the separate battery gauge still showing four out of five lights, incidentally). At seven miles the second instrument light is extinguished, with the battery still displaying two out of five. Rather disturbingly, the battery meter then goes from half to empty in less than a mile, and by 7.8 miles, both gauges are flashing, indicating reserve. It then changes its mind, and does another three miles before conking out at 10.8 miles. Average speed is a woeful 10.6mph.

This sounds rather dismal against electric bikes that can run for twenty miles or more at 17-18mph, but at 17.3kg, the Panasonic is the lightest electric bike on the market. Not that long ago, we were testing conventional folders weighing that much, so it’s quite a good performance all things considered. And in hilly country, 10.6mph is better than it sounds.

Panasonic Will Power Consumption

The peaks correspond with power consumption in the different gears. The grey area is wasted power

Charging is excellent. Lithium-ion batteries need clever technology to stop them going pop, and the same mysterious electronics give an uneventful and rapid charge of about one hour 40 minutes – the fastest we’ve seen (Panasonic suggests 40 minutes longer). Mind you, it’s also the smallest battery we’ve seen. Efficiency, both charging and running, is similar to the NiMH-powered Lafree. Power consumption is a nominal 7.4Wh per mile, or 10.7Wh if charging losses are taken into account, as they must be, unless you have your own solar/wind/hydro power plant. Just for the record, there are few powered vehicles (except of course, for the traditional bicycle) that can beat that.


Strangely, for a machine with a state-of-the-art alloy frame, and lithium-something-or-other battery, the WiLL is equipped with some frightful accessories. The brake blocks, callipers and cables are cheap and profoundly ineffective.The front manages a best stop of 0.54G, which is tolerable, but even with a mighty heave, the rear brake only scrapes up to 0.22G. If you’re wondering how to interpret these G-force readings, 1.0G is the force of gravity, which is a bit difficult to achieve horizontally. A good stop is 0.7G, a reasonable one 0.5G, and 0.22G is pathetic. In practical terms, the WiLL comes with one functioning brake.

The bottom-of-the-range Shimano derailleur we’ve already mentioned, there are no lights or rack, but the WiLL has a little stand, and a bell. Mudguards are those floppy plastic things, which prove better than nothing, but not much. All a bit disappointing on a machine costing £1,200, give or take an exchange rate fluctuation.

…Why, oh why, oh why, do manufacturers never listen?


Panasonic Will Folding Electric Bike - FoldedRemarkably good. The electrical bits cause no complications, so folding the WiLL is much the same as any other 20-inch job.The handlebar stem has an elegant catch, rather like a convex version of the Brompton U-clamp (a round bar, in other words). Once released, the handlebars fold down and clip into place, something that always gets top marks in our book.The mainframe hinge is a bit trickier, and you need strong fingers to push back the safety catch, heave the lever, and winkle the locking bar from its lair in the frame. Once done, the bike folds in a trice, and with the attractive MKS FD6 pedals folded (best accessories on the bike), it’s done. As usual, one of the folding pedals is superfluous, so they could have saved a few quid there, and in contrast to the handlebar stem, the frame doesn’t clip together, so the package continuously falls apart.Why, oh why, oh why, do these manufacturers never listen?

Folded size is 41cm wide, 69cm tall (or 67.5cm with the useless saddle stem rear reflector removed), and 88cm long. Folded volume is 249 litres or 8.9 cubic feet.That should be acceptable on all but the busiest trains, but it’s a little bulkier than the Dahon Roo/Sparc and much bigger than Honda’s little Compo, formerly the WiLL’s sworn enemy, but now apparently withdrawn.


We don’t think £1,200 bicycles should have rubbish brakes and indifferent tyres, but the Panasonic WiLL is also the lightest electric bike around, and it narrowly outperforms the other two super-lightweights: the Dahon Roo and Honda Step Compo.

With another gear, lighter, more effective tyres and brakes, and a bigger battery, the WiLL would weigh about the same but go nearly twice as far at a sensible speed. It’s not for us to tell Japanese multinational corporations how to run their affairs, but those changes would make it a jolly interesting machine.


Panasonic WiLL £1,200 . Weight Bicycle 16.3kg Battery 1kg Total 17.3kg (38lb) . Gears Shimano SIS 7-spd . Ratios 28″ – 61″ . Batteries Lithium-ion . Capacity 73Wh . Range 10.8 miles . Full charge 1hr 40m . Fuel consumption Overall 10.7Wh/mile . Running costs 8.8p per mile . Manufacturer Panasonic of Japan . UK distributor Electric Bikes Direct tel 0870 345 0775 mail web


Honda Step-Compo

Honda Step Compo Electric Folding BikeThis article dates from June 2004, and the Step-Compo has long since disappeared. It was a brave effort by the Japanese – a lightish, stylish folding electric bike, but it was soon overwhelmed by cheaper Chinese tat

Not everybody can see the point in owning one, but most people recognise that a folding electric bike needs quite a dose of high technology if it’s going to be portable and rideable. To satisfy these two contradictory requirements, take the most efficient motor and batteries you can find, bolt them to the lightest frame and add the neatest folding mechanism.The Honda Compo is a classic in such company, and naturally enough, it hails from Japan, where space-saving electrical gadgets are very much the thing.

Honda has been producing folding electric bikes for the domestic Japanese market since April 1998, with the launch of the racy-looking Raccoon Compo.Three years later, the Raccoon was replaced by the lighter, and even more stylish, Step Compo. Export efforts revolved around the simultaneous launch of the Step Wagon – one of those bloated people carriers, the Americans laughingly call mini-vans (you should see the maxi). In America, the Compo is viewed as a Step Wagon accessory, but for the home Japanese market, this compact, cute and reasonably light machine seems to have been aimed primarily at women – not the station wagon kind, but everyday ladies making everyday bicycle journeys. Electric bikes are big news in Japan, with sales of close to 500,000 last year, and – being Japan – a sizeable minority are folding models.

…Mayor Ken’s Wonderful Congestion Charge has created a whole new market…

OK, an electric folding bike is ideal for Mr Macburger’s leisurely circuit of the trailer ark, and Mrs Suzuki’s station commute, but would you or I want one? Demand has apparently rocketed in the UK this year, with several dealers reporting container- loads of bikes pre-sold before arrival. Most are for leisure use, but a growing minority of buyers are, like Mrs Suzuki, looking for a practical rail-link folder, and let us not forget Mayor Ken’s Wonderful Congestion Charge, which has created a whole new market in motorised car-boot jobs in and around London.

In theory, a folding electric bike offers all the storage advantages of a conventional folder, plus the ability to laugh at gradients and headwinds. In practice, most of the current crop are either too heavy, like the ETC, or offer limited performance, like the SRAM Sparc-powered Dahon Roo. A glance at the graph below reveals that nothing quite hits our weight/performance target, but some are getting close.

The Honda Step Compo

Forget those dorky shoppers and frightful frumpy folders of old – the Step Compo is one of the neatest and most sharply-styled small bikes you could hope to find.The general stance is vaguely Birdy-esque, but otherwise the machine is more or less unique. The frame is delightfully crafted aluminium, featuring an oval blue-anodised main tube, hinged at the rear to a silver-anodised monocoque housing the power unit and battery, with two arms reaching back to provide rear wheel drop-outs.The polished alloy saddle stem pops out the top of the monocoque at a rakishly sharp angle.The front end is less satisfactory from a styling point of view, with a rather ramshackle hinge operated by a sort of wand, and slightly naff chromed stem and forks.

Despite this front/rear disparity, the Compo is a real looker.The motor/gearbox assembly is styled along motorcycle lines, but it’s unobtrusive, and the tiny battery nestles invisibly behind the saddle stem.To the untutored eye, this is no more than a bicycle with a slightly unusual frame, and you really do have to look hard to pick out the electrical accoutrements.

Electric Bike Performance Chart

STATE OF THE ART: The lightest electric bikes tend to have the shortest range. Note that the best performer to date is also the crudest – the Zap friction drive fitted to the Brompton

…Honda claims the motor will pull to 14.4mph, but this certainly isn’t the case…

Gears come, very sensibly, courtesy of a light and compact Nexus 3-speed hub in the rear wheel. Like the Panasonic power unit fitted to the Giant Lafree and other electric bikes, power is fed into the crank (through what would conventionally be the bottom bracket), so both human and motor output is fed through the gears in the rear wheel.This is the best system for hilly areas, because the motor effort can be geared down, which keeps the motor singing happily, even at low speed on steep gradients.

Honda Step Compo Folding Electric Bike Stem

The styling at the front is less satisfactory

Gear ratios are highish for a small- wheeled bike at 43″, 59″ and 80″, but low in electric-assist terms. Unassisted, the bike nips about like any other small folder, although the extra weight, and a degree of mechanical resistance in the power unit, make the machine feel quite slothful.Turn the key to the green ‘ON’ position and it’s a different story. Unlike the Panasonic Porta-Ranger we tried back in December 2001 (the Honda’s natural competitor), the Compo is a perky little performer, with enough oomph to lift the front wheel in first gear if you don’t take care.This tendency is exacerbated by a short 98cm wheelbase and rear- biased weight distribution (65% of the weight is over the rear wheel). It shouldn’t cause a serious upset, but you do need to take care pulling away, particularly on steep gradients.


Note the aluminium monocoque, power key, hinge and motorcycle styling cues.The battery lives in the box behind the saddle stem


The Honda power consumption graph is quite revealing. The white peaks represent power used by the motor in each gear, while the grey area represent the power drawn from the battery. At low speed, a considerable amount is wasted.

Within a few seconds, you’re up through the gears at 8 or 9mph in top, with the power-assistance starting to fade away. By 10mph, the motor is fading fast, and top whack is a shade over 12mph. Thereafter, you have the choice of cruising gently along at 12mph with the motor making a modest contribution, or taking advantage of the 80” top gear and pedalling on to 14 or 15mph on your own. If you take the high speed option, you need to reach down and fumble with the key, because the motor will otherwise continue to buzz uselessly as you pedal. Incidentally, Honda claim the motor will pull to 23km/h or 14.4mph, but this certainly isn’t the case.

With saddle adjustment of 71 to only 96cm, we found higher speed a bit beyond our reach at first. Strangely enough, there’s plenty of stem left when the saddle hits the maximum height stop, so if you buy a Step Compo, we’d recommend doing what we did and drilling out the height stop pin.This enables the saddle to be raised to 100cm or so, which should suit all but the lankiest Europeans. However, a word of warning in best nanny state tradition – beware of making such adaptations if you’re both tall and chunkily built, because with a stem as steeply raked as this, there’s a real risk of over-stressing it, with rather unpleasant consequences. It’s worth remembering that these little bikes are designed for delicate porcelain-skinned Japanese ladies, not hairy barbarians like you.With the handlebars fixed at a lowish 91cm, the very tall may feel a bit ‘bum-in-the-air’, but for some that racy position will be an advantage.

Road behaviour is on a par with most other small-wheeled, short-wheelbase bikes. The Compo is nippy, but easily caught out by potholes, and rolling resistance is a bit depressing.Tyres are the ‘small’ 305mm 16-inch size widely used in the Far East. State-of- the-art rubber in this size rolls quite well on a good surface, but the 50psi Duro tyres achieved only 13.4mph descending our test hill.That’s respectable, but noticeably slower than the ‘big’ 16-inch Brompton tyre, for example, and very slow by 26-inch standards.

The real beauty of a crank motor is hill climbing, and once the going gets tough, you soon forgive the little Honda any slothfulness on the flat. Compared to the Porta-Ranger, and the similarly-powered Lafree, the crank sensor is insensitive, so a little more muscle power is needed before the motor chips in. But pedal reasonably hard in first gear, and the Honda will climb anything South Somerset has to offer. Gradients of 12.5% (1:8) are easy, restarts at 18% a mere trifle, and we just cleared 22%, or 1:41/2, and you don’t see many roadsigns like that outside t’Dales. Serious gradients are quite hard work, of course, but a great deal easier than riding a conventional bike, and faster than pushing one.

A word of warning.The Honda power unit buzzes along quite efficiently on the flat, but if the motor speed is allowed to fall, the power managed only 9.7 miles at consumption will rise alarmingly. Forget to change down on a hill and you’ll be eating batteries. In this a modest 11.8mph…” respect, the fuel-sipping Panasonic is streets ahead.

Another difference to the Panasonic system is the ‘Eco’ setting.The Giant Lafree delivers full power until you reach a hill, when the motor output is ‘capped’ to limit the climb speed. On the Honda, power is unaffected, but you have to give the pedals an extra push before the motor cuts in (thereafter, you can pedal as normal). Forget it – like most economy devices, this one is virtually useless. If you want to ride for economy, avoid straining the motor at low speed, and turn it off once in a while, something that applies to all electric bikes.

Equipment is limited to the centre stand, a bell and a pair of vestigial mudguards that might be useful in a shower, but would leave you very wet in serious rain.

Range & Charging

honda-step-compo-electric-bike-rangeThe Honda Step Compo’s nickel-metal hydride battery is genuinely handbag-sized, weighing just 2.2kg.The problem is a capacity of barely 84 Watt/hours.To put that in perspective, the Lafree has a 156Wh battery and the Ezee Forza 314Wh – almost four times the size. Surprise, surprise, the Step’s bijou battery is lighter, but gives barely a quarter of the range. Riding our usual hilly ‘mountain’ course, the Honda managed only 9.7 miles at a modest 11.8mph. Riding exactly the same course on ‘ECO’ yielded a range of 10 miles at 11.6mph. Honda claims a range of 121/2 miles with normal power and 19 miles on ECO.That might be possible in laboratory conditions, but you’d be lucky to achieve anything similar on the road.

The battery has a neat and fairly accurate 5-LED fuel gauge, but you have to nip round to the back of the machine and press a button to see it. With the range being so limited, the lights pop off at intervals of little over a mile, although the final flashing ‘reserve’ light stays on for almost quarter of a ‘tank’ – more than two miles. In practice, of course, the light flashes away unseen and unheeded until the motor cuts out.When it does, this sprightly little machine starts to feel a bit depressing. The frame is rigid enough, but the ‘stiction’ in the drive makes it hard to pedal, and the limited gear range and rather high gearing doesn’t help either.

We generally recommend buying an electric bike with twice the battery capacity you need on a typical ride. On that basis, the Honda is really only up to trips of five miles or so, which is a bit disappointing. It’s hard to understand why the engineers went for such a small battery, accounting for only 12% of the vehicle weight.Twice the battery would give a range of more than twenty miles (bigger batteries discharge more efficiently too), for a weight gain of only 2kg – a trade-off most people could live with.

Overall running costs, including bike and battery depreciation, consumables and electricity, works out at around 8.5p per mile – one of the most expensive around. Fuel consumption – including charger losses – is just over 14 Watt/hours per mile, which compares rather badly to the Panasonic-powered bikes. (The leisurely Porter-Ranger achieved about 11.5Wh per mile and the much faster, and wonderfully efficient Giant Lafree ST, 10.8Wh per mile.)

The good news is a rapid charge.This comes out at about two hours twenty minutes, putting the Honda amongst the exclusive list of electric bikes that will recharge over a leisurely lunch. Unfortunately, the charger is pretty big (25cm x 10cm x 5cm) and in 240 volt land (that’s almost everywhere except Japan and the USA), the bike needs a chunky 240-110 volt converter too.This pair, plus leads and plugs, weigh almost 2kg, which doesn’t sound much until you realise that on ten to twenty mile trips you’ll be carrying this little lot in a backpack…

Incidentally, to transform the performance of the Honda Step Compo, simply swap the rear 14-tooth sprocket for a 13-tooth, increasing the gear ratios to 46″, 64″ and 86″. This increases the maximum assisted speed to 13mph plus, giving the bike a more relaxed long-legged feel at the expense of extreme hill climbing ability. This simple change results in a higher average speed (12.7mph) and a greater range (10.4 miles). Well worth the effort.



The Honda makes a neat and compact folded package. Off the stand and with the saddle stem removed, it’s even smaller

How long have you got? The easiest way to fold the Step Compo is to put it on the neat little centre stand, and release and fold the handlebars, mainframe and pedals.The VP-116 pedals are reasonably compact, but a bit cruel to fingers, and nails in particular. Fold One is a less-than-a- minute job, producing a package of 186 litres or 6.6 cubic feet. which is much much smaller than the Porta-Ranger and well into conventional folding bike territory.The wheels need to be strapped together (a strap is supplied) and the package sits very tidily and securely on the stand. Folded like this, the bike would be welcome on most train services, but you’ll need the arm muscles of an all-in wrestler to hoik 18.7kg on board.

…the Honda Compo is a stylish and effective electric folding bike…

If you have another minute to spare, removing the saddle stem and strapping it between the wheels reduces the volume to 158 litres, which we’ll call Fold Two, and lifting the stand reduces the volume to 130 litres (4.6 cubic feet).With the stand up, the package tends to fall over, but this lower, slightly longer Fold Three package will go almost anywhere a Brompton will go. And that’s seriously compact.

Last but not least, if you have five minutes to spare, the Honda has a clever trick up its sleeve, for not only is this a folding bike, it’s a separable one too. As tricks go, it’s a bit long-winded, involving no fewer than 26 illustrations in the helpful (but entirely Japanese) handbook. Basically, you start by whipping out the battery, unfastening a quick release on the left handlebar, twisting and removing the left twistgrip and brake assembly and putting it in the battery box. Having relocated both the front-rear cables to the rear, you fold the handlebars as normal, open the frame hinge and press a little release button, which rather alarmingly allows the hinge to fall apart.This leaves you holding a 2.2kg battery, a front section weighing 4.2kg, and a much larger rear portion with all the electric and drive gubbins, weighing in at 12.3kg.The process is grease-free and relatively quick and foolproof.Whether it would be any use is another matter, but clever, nonetheless.

Honda also supply a neat soft bag affair to carry the bike at Fold One plus the stand. This comes complete with shoulder straps, or a front strap and rear castors – much easier, but for smooth surfaces only. A neat touch is that the seat tube drops into a steel subframe fixed to the castors, so the bike stays upright and most of the weight ends up on the wheels.You might not want to wrestle the bike into the bag very often, but it’s obligatory on the Shinkansen and pretty useful on the Routemaster to Little Cobblington. The usefulness of the bag is limited by the gross weight (20kg, including 1.3kg of bag) and the usual folding bike Catch 22 – what do you do with the bag when you ride off?


On paper, it’s easy to dismiss the Honda Step Compo. It’s heavier than most (but not all) conventional folding bikes, and slower than a full-size electric bike, with about half the range. Even amongst folding electric bikes, some of the crude Zap friction-drive conversions we’ve seen do much the same thing for little more than half the price.

On the positive side, it folds well, it’s pleasant to ride, and it’s a stunning looker. If style is your thing, whether on the commuter run or cruising those hilly Sustrans leisure routes, you might well be tempted by the Step Compo.

With a high-tech lithium-ion battery, higher gearing, and a few grams shaved off here and there, we think the bike would be greatly improved. Meanwhile, a spare battery will increase the range to 20 miles, for about £150. It will also reduce the need to carry the heavy charger on longer day rides.

We think the Honda Step Compo certainly does have a place in the great scheme of things. It isn’t cheap, but if you can live with the limited endurance, it’s a stylish and effective electric folding bike.


Honda Step Compo £1,095
Weight (bicycle) 16.5kg (battery) 2.2kg (total) 18.7kg (41lb)
Gears Nexus 3-speed
Ratios 43″ 59″ 80″
Batteries Nickel-metal hydride
Nominal capacity 84Wh
Maximum range 9.7 miles
Fuel consumption 14Wh/mile
Full charge 2hr 20m
Running costs 8.5p/mile
Test Duration 60 miles
Manufacturer Honda web
UK distributor 50cycles tel 020 7794 5508 mail web


Ezee Quando

Ezee Quando Electric BikeThis article was first published in June 2004. Ezee has more or less gone out of business now, and big heavy electric folding bikes like this are very much a thing of the past

We have to be honest; most electric folding bikes are horrible.Without being so cruel as to name names, we’d have to admit that half of the bikes we’ve tested are either complete rubbish or close to it.

Part of the problem is the conflicting design constraints discussed elsewhere, but that doesn’t explain everything.The fact is that the Chinese are churning out cheap rubbish and greedy middlemen are flogging the things in the UK for mouth-watering mark-ups, without even test- riding them. How does 250% profit sound?

The Shanghai Ezee Kinetics Co, run by Waiwon Ching and his son Ken, is a bit different.Working from a small factory in Shanghai, and a European office in France, the pair are determined to break the ‘pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’ pattern and introduce a decent range of Chinese bikes.

We tested the Ezee Forza back in June 2003 and were suitably impressed.The electronics needed some fettling, but the basic concept – quality alloy frame, nickel-metal hydride battery and fast, efficient motor – proved perfectly sound.The bike has gone on to reach nearly 2,000 miles on long-term test and continues to work well. Mr Ching has now launched a folding bike called the Quando, and we had a brief look when father and son passed through the UK earlier this month.

Like the Forza, the Quando has a nicely-engineered aluminium frame, NiMH battery behind the seatpost and a powerful brushless hub motor. Unlike its big brother, the wheels are 20-inch, the frame folds, and the motor is in the rear wheel, rather than the front.The disadvantage of this layout is that you can’t fit a geared hub – one of the Forza’s best features.

Ezee Quando Electric Bike Hub

The Quando’s rear-mounted motor is compact, but it leaves little room for gears. Note the band brake.

We’re not very happy about the Ezee dual power control system.This has been brought about by confusion over whether UK electric bikes are legally allowed to motor along without the rider pedalling (they probably are allowed at present).The Ezee system features a torque sensor on the crank that brings the motor up to full power a second or two after the rider starts pedalling. The motor can also be more precisely controlled with a conventional twistgrip throttle, but this does not have a safety switch to prevent accidental power application when standing still.

We’d like to see a simpler system, where a crank movement sensor feeds power to the twistgrip, rather than squirting 36 volts straight into the motor.We only dwell on this because the Quando is the most powerful folding electric bike we’ve seen, so precise control is important, both for safety and fuel efficiency.

Ezee Quando Electric Bike Suspension

The rear suspension pivot and polymer are under the battery

The bike also has a single 53″ gear. If you can picture this, the rider starts pedalling and one second later the characteristically smooth, torquey brush-less motor cuts in, propelling the bicycle forward at a cracking pace.Within a few seconds, you’ve passed 12mph, leaving the 53-inch gear behind – further acceleration relying on the motor alone. On full throttle, the power continues to arrive smoothly and cleanly right up to (or a shade over) the 15mph legal limit. At this stage the bicycle stops accelerating and relaxes into a quiet cruise. Hills of up to 10% are simply ironed out, but steeper gradients will slow the motor to varying degrees. For example, our, ahem, 83kg rider (not Jane, incidentally) slowed the bike to 11mph on a 7% (1:14) gradient, 7mph on a 10% gradient, and the bike even managed a restart with reasonable enthusiasm at 12.5% (1:8)… all without turning a pedal. Anything steeper, and you need to provide some modest assistance, the absolute limit depending on how heavy and how fit the rider is. Our steepest local hill is about 18% (1 in 6), and we cleared that relatively easily, so an enthusiastic rider in the North Yorkshire Dales should do a lot better.

 …with one fairly low gear and oodles of power, this machine is more moped than bicycle…

Brakes are somewhat low-tech for such a speedy projectile – a nondescript caliper on the front and a rather noisy and ‘wooden’ band brake on the rear. Stopping requires quite a heave on the levers, producing a brake force of .33G from the back, which is just enough to lock the wheel (but not in reverse – see page 11).That’s adequate, but the similar .33G brake force from the front caliper brake is some way short of the power we would normally expect.

The Quando has suspension – a Moulton-style sliding fork at the front and a polymer bungee at the rear. Both units work well enough, but the front suspension can bottom- out with a nasty crash on rough roads, and the rear has no damping effect, so the bike tends to pogo up and down a bit when you’re pedalling fast, which you usually are.

Saddle height is a bit limited too, at 84cm – 94cm.That’s too high for some of the grey- market customers it might appeal to and too low for taller folk. But this is a prototype, so we can afford to be generous – these are relatively minor faults. Like the Forza, the Quando is fully equipped with mudguards, a stand, a chunky rack, bell and trip computer.



The handlebar hinge is well engineered, but there’s a bit of play in the pivot bush

With one fairly low gear and oodles of power, this machine is more moped than bicycle, so range is less than it might have been, had we been able to test the bike in our normal ‘flat-out, plus typical pedal-power’ mode.That said, 15 miles is a good result in hilly country and with hardly any assistance from the rider. Average speed is around 141/2mph, which really isn’t bad when you consider that it’s difficult to pedal above 12mph and the motor only runs to 15mph…

Fuel consumption (including some losses in the charger) is close to 30 watt/hours per mile, but this high figure is hardly surprising when you take the performance into account. Back in June last year, with the same battery pack, a slightly less powerful motor, and more suitable pedal gearing, the Quando’s big brother consumed 18 watt/hours per mile, giving an excellent range of 33 miles.With the torque-sensor disconnected and a choice of pedal ratios, we think the Quando could easily exceed 20 miles, even on our hilly test route.

With the rocket boosters empty, the bike is still quite pleasant to ride. Despite a little play in the handlebar hinge (very common this), the frame is rigid enough to make pedal effort productive and the 53″ gear is a reasonable compromise.


The folded. Quando could pass for a conventional 20-inch folder

Recharging proved a bit of an unknown quantity because of a suspected charger fault, but the figures suggest four hours or more to reach a 90% charge (the Forza took five hours) and the rest of the night on a slow trickle charge to top right up. The charger is the same light, compact fan- cooled unit supplied with the Forza (see A to B 36).


Like most 20-inch bikes, the Quando folds into a large package, but the operation is easy enough and the result is very neat, all things considered. Dimensions are 38cm wide, 90cm long by 66cm high.That comes out at 226 litres or 8 cubic feet. Not minuscule, but perfectly acceptable by non-assisted 20-inch standards (the archetypal Dahon Vitesse measures 190 litres, for example). In terms of weight, the Quando is a very different animal. It’s lighter than some folding electric bikes, but at 25.7kg (20.2kg with battery removed), still way outside our folder viability zone (see graph, page 26). Once again, improved gearing and range would make a lot of difference.We think 25.7kg is a lot of hardware for a 15-mile ride, but probably acceptable with a 25-mile range.The bike would be capable of this with the right gearing.


Some people wouldn’t choose the Quando if it was the last bicycle on earth. But for others, it’s the dream machine they’ve given up hope of finding. If you’re old or infirm and you need a bicycle that can easily haul you home when you can’t manage another pedal stroke, this is one of the best options available. As a boat tender, the bike would cope with steep, unpaved climbs from remote harbours and carry back provisions on its substantial rear rack. The Quando would also suit a commuter in a hilly city, storming up gradients that leave conventional cyclists puffing and blowing.There are smaller electric folders available, of course, but this machine folds well enough to carry in most car boots, by train, or by boat, assuming reasonable stowage space.

The price remains a bit vague for the time being, but the target is £650 – cheaper than the much less effective Bliss or Powabyke folders. If the makers can achieve that, they have a guaranteed winner.


Ezee Quando (estimated price) £650
Weight (bicycle) 20.2kg (battery) 5.5kg (total) 25.7kg (57lb)
Gear ratio 53″
Batteries nickel-metal hydride
Capacity 324Wh . Range 15 miles
90% charge 4+ hours
Fuel consumption 30Wh/mile
Manufacturer Shanghai Ezee Kinetic Technology
fax +86 21 58224040 mail sales@ezeebike web
European enquiries Ken Ching mail



Bliss Electric Folding BikeThis review was published in February 2004. The Bliss has long since disappeared, and electric bikes have changed a great deal. Interesting historical item though!
Sooner or later, someone will produce a practical folding electric bike. Unfortunately, the Bliss isn’t it, but intriguingly, we think this dog’s-breakfast of a machine points the way to the future.

The Bliss

The Bliss is a dumpy little aluminium 305mm (16″) wheeled folding bike with a central frame hinge, and fold- down bars, producing a relatively compact folded package.Whatever its dynamic qualities, (or lack thereof), it’s a cute-looking little machine, sold – rather absurdly – in City,Touring and Extreme (ie, off-road) versions. Unusually, it features full suspension and a relatively state-of-the-art electric drive system. At 22.9kg (50lb) it’s extremely heavy by folding bike standards, but a clear leader amongst folding electric bikes, which just goes to show how impractical these machines still are.

With a height range of 64cm – 98cm, the standard saddle stem (there are alternatives, apparently) provides a reasonable adjustment range, and thanks to a rigid alloy frame, the front end of the bike is quite solid. Unfortunately, the handlebar stem is tall and flexible, an effect made worse on our sample by a poorly-machined and wobbly hinge.


The protruding suspension arms can be a nuisance

For these reasons, you wouldn’t want to pull on the bars, so gears are important.The Bliss has gears, but the 6-speed Shimano SIS derailleur is the sort of dodgy equipment fitted to cheapo children’s bikes, so most eight-year-olds would sneer at the 29″-58″ ratios.That’s neither low enough nor high enough to make any sort of sensible progress. Fortunately, power-assistance lends a hand up hill, but the motor is geared to give a top whack of only 11mph, and with a 58″ top gear, human power tops out soon after.Yes, 14mph is attainable, but 12mph is more realistic. Incidentally, one Bliss owner has fitted a slightly more realistic Sachs 13-21 tooth gear set (with some machining), giving a 62″ top gear – a small increase, but a transformation in terms of practicality.

Rolling resistance is so poor that higher gearing doesn’t give the benefit one would expect. A combination of wide, squidgy 16”x1.95” low-pressure tyres, tight bearings, wonky rims (causing binding brakes), and a strange friction-box movement sensor on the crank, combined to give a non-result on our test hill. In other words, it failed to complete the descent, the first bicycle ever to fail.

Looking rather desperately for the positive, the rack looks quite solid, and the dinky front suspension forks work rather well, although without damping, so watch out for motion- sickness. On the other hand, the rear suspension is virtually immovable, and the width of the brutish rear frame forces you to ride with a bow-legged gate. Suspension is largely unnecessary anyway, because the squidgy tyres wallow cheerfully through most road shocks.They’re rated at 35psi, but 36- spoke, deep section rims mean it’s a bit of a wrestling match getting air into them.


We won’t dwell overlong on folding, because it’s a dismal affair.With the saddle stem removed and plonked in the middle, the Bliss makes a package of around 52cm wide, 57cm tall, and 75cm long. Much of the width is caused by the handlebars and suspension forks failing to come together.

Given the short wheelbase (yes, it’s prone to wheelies in the lower gears), it hardly seems worth folding the Bliss at all. Any other grumbles? Well, the VP112 folding pedals are years out of date and positively dangerous, and there’s no securing strap, so this ungainly 22 litre (7.8 cubic foot) package has to be held together as you heave it into a car boot, for example.

Get the feeling we don’t like it? The problem is that we know folding bikes rather well, and this simply isn’t a good folding bike.The Bliss appears to be designed in China to appeal to overweight overly- wealthy Westerners who want something to chuck in the car boot – all shiny alloy and go- faster coil springs, but a functional disaster area. If you have very low expectations of folders (or electric bikes, for that matter), you might be happy with something like this, but if you’ve ridden something better, you’ll be extremely disappointed.

…If you have very low expectations… you might be happy with something like this…

The Drive System

bliss-electric-bike-motorThis is the neat bit.The brushless DC motor measures only 130mm in diameter, and 100mm in width. So if the engineers at Pashley, Brompton or Dahon are reading, yes, this sort of thing could be squeezed into the front wheel of your folding bikes. At a rated output of 180 watts, it’s not particularly powerful, but the peak power of 288 watts at 8mph is useful enough, and combined with the low gearing, gives the Bliss a capacity to climb just about anything, albeit at a fairly sedate speed. The motor doesn’t so much buzz or whine, as emit a pleasantly high-tech harmonic, just like state-of-the-art Millennial machines are supposed to do.

Speed control is switchable to avoid the legislative morass. In ‘pedelec’ mode the bike cranks gently up to full power when you pedal, but the ‘e-bike’ mode is much better, providing full control via a sensitive and responsive twistgrip throttle. As is so often the case, we tested the pedelec mode and never used it again, so if we were buying the bike, we’d dump the friction box straight in the bin, Euro- regs or no Euro-regs.

Elsewhere, the battery box is claimed to contain a Nickel-Metal Hydride pack of 192Wh, 216Wh, 240Wh, or 312Wh, depending who you believe. Our test equipment suggests a true figure of 170Wh or even less, making the claims look a bit naughty.With a range of 11 miles at a rather lethargic 10mph, overall fuel consumption (including charger losses) comes out at 19 watts/mile. That’s one of the worst figures we’ve seen, but it’s probably not the fault of the motor – most of those watts are being absorbed by the tyres, the wonky wobbly bits, the see-sawing suspension and so on. If pedalling isn’t your style, the Bliss will motor for about seven miles, provided you keep clear of hills (it won’t quite climb a 10% gradient). We should point out that the manufacturer claims the bike will climb a 10% gradient without assistance, and run for 20 to 30 miles. These claims are clearly as inaccurate as the battery capacity.

The battery includes a multi-LED fuel gauge, but you can’t see it when on the move, and it’s pretty useless anyway, zipping up and down the scale according to throttle position. When stationary, it gives some useful data – the 1st light goes out at three miles, the 2nd at 4.5, third at 5.7 and forth at nine miles. As the battery conks out two miles down the road, the remaining half dozen LEDs are superfluous. The good news is that the battery weighs only 3.8kg (8lb 6oz), and a full charge takes less than three hours, after which the charger maintains a safe ‘trickle’ charge.

If you’re thinking of buying any electric bike, always test ride it with the power off for at least a kilometre to make sure you can get home with a flat battery. Riding unassisted, you realise just how unpleasant the Bliss really is – pedalling is a bit like treading treacle.

The way Forward…

Now, we must apply a bit of imagination. Let’s take an ordinary Brompton or Dahon, costing £250-£500. As standard, the bike might weigh 11kg or so, and be capable of a good 15mph cruise on the flat and reasonable progress in mildly hilly country. It’s a good compact folding bike, but not really up to 600 foot ascents.

Now factor in a decent NiMH battery pack, Bliss-style brushless motor and a few other bits, and you have a bike weighing about 17kg, that folds well, nips along at 15mph on the flat, but can also climb gradients of 10% with relative ease, and much steeper hills for short periods. Bring all these elements together and you’d have a viable machine.


We’re told that the Bliss is selling well to motorists evading the congestion charge. That’s great news, of course, but we still think it’s a poor purchase. Electric bikes dwell in a fairly well defined viability envelope – step outside it and they cease to serve any purpose.The best are light enough, free-running enough and efficient enough to thoroughly outclass their non-powered equivalents, but the Bliss simply cannot compete with a human-powered folding bike. In other words, you really would be better off buying a conventional Dahon (a third of the price) or a Brompton (anything up to the same price, but faster, lighter and a sheer delight to ride).

The Bliss costs £700, and to be perfectly honest, we wouldn’t recommend buying one if it cost half that. If you can live without the fold, the far superior Giant Lafree costs about the same to run, because it goes further and faster on a charge. Are there any better electric folders around? In a word, no, because most of the alternatives are heavier and even cruder. If you really want one, go for a Heinzmann-powered Fold-it or Brompton.This option is expensive, but you’ll have a proper folding bike with decent equipment and a near 20-mile assisted range.


Bliss £699
Weight Bicycle 19.1kg (42lb) Battery 3.8kg (8lb) Total 22.9kg (50lb)
Gears Shimano SIS 6-spd
Ratios 29″ -58″
Batteries Nickel Metal-Hydride
Estimated Capacity 170Wh
Maximum Range Pedelec 11 miles Motor-only 7 miles
Fuel Consumption Pedelec 19Wh/mile Motor-only 30Wh/mile
Full charge 21/2 hours
Running costs 7.5p per mile
UK distributor Bliss Bikes tel 0870 241 8446 web mail