After a few years of tantalising whispers and sweet nothings, Brompton now has its own electric folding bike. Starting price is around £2,600.
If that’s too steep for you, what about the alternatives and how about converting a bike to electric?
What’s the best folding bike?
The consensus seems to be that the best folding bike is the Brompton. It’s not the cheapest (and certainly not the most expensive either). It folds neatly, it’s relatively light and it rides like an agile real bike. Could it get even better if it were electric?
The Brompton Electric has a 250W front hub motor but still folds to the same size as a non-electric. The battery can be carried separately in a shoulder bag and has a USB charging port for mobile devices. A smooth ride is promised thanks to an integrated torque and cadence sensor. A six-speed with battery will weigh just over 17kg, so very light for an electric.
We loved it, but the added weight of the electric system may come as a shock to people used to carrying their Bromptons up and down steps.
The best ebikes?
We all have our own needs and preferences. So, it pays to make yourself a shopping list.
Superlight aluminium and a great Bosch motor, the Cube starts around £1700. There are other options too if you prefer a crossbar, for example.
The Bosch drive unit and battery are integrated into the frame and there nine Shimano gears with internal cable routing.
Hydraulic disc brakes, mudguards, lights and luggage carrier make it an all-in-one package.
Orbea electric bikes have internal batteries and are some of the most technologically smart bikes we’ve seen. They have their own app for checking battery levels and other data.
There are step-through and crossbar models and, of course, a choice of sizes.
Prices start at around £1500.
Under £700 and highly rated, the B’Twin Tilt electric folding bike is mostly made of aluminium, unfolds in 15 seconds and can carry you 35km in economy mode.
The battery’s built into the frame for sleekness, although it can be removed for recharging off the bike. The whole thing weighs around 18kg. If you’re over 1.85m tall, this is probably too small for you, however. A great bargain buy with a two-year warranty.
There are, of course, lots of cheaper options from the likes of Giant and Raleigh. There’s a good range at LeisureLakesBikes. And Tredz has a wide range too.
Do test one out in a local bike store, if you can, and buy it there too – it’s good to support these shops and you’ll get help with setting up and maintaining your ebike.
The retrofit alternatives to an official electric Brompton
Folding bikes are great for camping, and especially for campervanners without a lot of room who want to be able to leave the van or motorhome on a site and still have transport. The hills, though, can be a problem! Wouldn’t it be great to have a little help from time to time.
Nano Electric Bikes in Leamingtom Spa (and Marlborough) is a small company that specialises in electrifying Bromptons. They sell kits for home-fitting, will install for you on your existing Brompton or they’ll order a new Brompton for you and electrify it.
We spent a few hours testing their three options a while ago – a pedelec system that means the electric drive won’t start until you start pedalling, a twist throttle and a thumb throttle. It was fun, very tempting and not without a few caveats…but more on those later!
Our test bikes
The Nano kit involves fitting a lightweight motor into the front hub (which entails expanding the forks slightly and so won’t work with titanium forks).
A small controller is fitted to the front stem and a control is added to the handlebars. The battery – a choice of 5ah, 10ah or 4ah power tool battery goes into a Brompton bag and the normal bag connection is fitted with contacts. Take the bag off and the battery stays in it, leaving you with an almost ‘normal’ bike again.
There are three handlebar control options – a push button control on the handlebar for low, medium or high assistance, a twist throttle or a trigger throttle. The law changed in 2016 to make it illegal to have a bike that would move without any pedalling. So, with all these options, a sensor next to the pedal tells the bike when to zoom. It doesn’t start until you put in a teeny bit of effort first.
Twist and gos – bikes that can be powered by a throttle alone – require type approval. It’s something an individual bike owner could do, but it’s more likely that larger manufacturers will type-approve particular models before selling. If the power of throttle-only bikes cuts out at 15.5mph, they won’t be considered as motor vehicles so won’t need registration, tax, insurance and rider licensing.
So what are they like to ride?
We tested all three Nanos, and all three were superb fun to ride. The pedelec was our least favourite because there was a sight delay in the power kicking in, which made it feel a bit jumpy.
We also had an issue with the power refusing to come on at all rather randomly when going up one hill. Nano tell us that their redesigned models for 2016 have reduced that delay to make pick-up quicker. We’ll report back when we’ve tested them.
The twist throttle was far more intuitive as a speed control than the push button. Pull it back further and you go faster. However, even if you’re not using power and are just pedaling, you’re now holding a twisting handlebar end, which didn’t feel all that stable or comfortable.
Our choice – the thumb control
The best option was the thumb trigger. You still get a solid handlebar to hold and a push down with the right-hand thumb gives you smooth power when you need it.
The kits didn’t add much to the weight, though we would choose the 4ah power tool battery over the far heavier 10ah. You can’t go as far on a charge (10 miles or so against 40), but you could carry two batteries and they’re cheaper and more available (they just connect inside the bag with an easy push connection). You can fly with them too.
Making it your own
A downside is that one of the first adaptations a Brompton owner makes is to change the basic foam grips for something more comfortable.
With a bit of cutting down and careful positioning, Ergon’s GP2 (S) are just the job for a far more comfortable ride and better steering. You can’t do this and have Nano’s controls. The other downside is that the modification will void your Brompton warranty.
If you do go for an electric folding bike, we’d really recommend having a bag to store and carry it in. It keeps it clean and concealed when left in the car, campervan or the porch at home.