A folding electric bike is a great choice for commuters, travelers, RV owners, or anyone who wants an easy to store, easy to move transportation option.
Imagine you are a commuter in the San Francisco Bay Area. Let’s say you start your day with a 15-minute drive to the El Cerrito Del Norte Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station on Cutting Boulevard. You pull your folding bike out of the trunk, flip it together, and roll it onto the 7:16 AM train toward San Francisco. Some 32 minutes later you arrive at the Embarcadero station on Market Street.
You head down Market and take a left on Beale Street. It’s one way and the traffic can be heavy. Your office is just past Philz Coffee near Folsom Street. You roll your bike in the side door, take the elevator to your floor, and push it right up to your desk. Your folded electric bike fits nice and secure in the corner of your cubicle until it is time to head home.
This is just one possible scenario. If you live in a small apartment or a tiny house; or if you own an RV or a boat you can think of plenty of times when a folding electric bike would make exploring or getting around a lot easier.
If you think you want an folding ebike, the next question to ask is which one. As you look over all of the specifications and compare prices there are probably ten features you should be most concerned about.
Top 10 Features for a Folding Electric Bike
- Braking System
- Stem Height
- Service and Warranty
The fundamental difference between an electric bike — folding or not — and a conventional bicycle is a motor. It is the defining characteristic, and for that reason, it is the most important feature to consider.
A folding electric bike motor should provide the proper combination of power and value. It should help you climb hills, pedal through a national park, or commute to work without breaking a serious sweat. And it should achieve these goals without busting your budget since the motor can also be one of the most expensive components.
Look for motors between 250 watts and 350 watts for folding electric bikes. This power range provides enough force to help you pedal in most situations. It also represents the most commonly available motors for folding electric bikes.
You also want to look for motors that are a good value. For example, the 350-watt Bafang Max Drive motor is a “super quiet, mid-drive that measures pedal cadence as well as torque. It’s very smooth. It is one of my favorite sort of like value mid-drive motors,” said Court Rye, the author of, “A Practical Guide to Electric Bikes (Discovering Electric Bikes),” in a video review of the EVELO Quest Max folding electric bike.
“There are [other motors] out there. You know Bosch and Brose, Yahama, Shimano, but this Bafang motor is pretty great in my opinion. You know it is balancing price against functionality,” Rye said.
Motor placement is also important. Folding electric bikes may have a hub motor positioned in either the front or rear wheel or a mid-drive motor situated near the pedals (crankset).
Hub motors may be less expensive, but provide relatively less force at the wheel than a mid-drive motor with similar wattage.
“By directly powering the bike’s cranks, mid-drive motors work in tight coordination with the bike’s already existing gears, amplifying the mechanical advantage they provide. This becomes particularly helpful when it comes to climbing steep hills or navigating extended inclines,” wrote the authors of EVELO’s “The Complete Electric Bike Buyers Guide.”
While almost all folding electric bikes assist you as you pedal, fewer offer a throttle that will power the bike without pedaling.
This feature is extremely helpful for climbing hills or for covering relatively long distances. Look for a folding electric bike that gives you the opportunity to pedal when you want or just power through a hill or other challenging terrain.
A good folding electric bike should store easily and securely. That is after all the point. In fact, some of the main reasons to choose a folding electric bike include:
- Living in a small home or apartment without the room to store a full-sized bicycle.
- A mixed commute that combines cycling with a train ride, bus ride, or even a short drive.
- Vacation travel since folding electric bikes easily fit in a typical RV or the trunk of a car.
An electric folding bike should be easy to fold and secure when it is folded. As an example, check out Pete Prebus’ demonstration of folding an electric bike in his review of the EVELO Quest Max.
Weight also plays a role in how well a folding electric bike, well, folds. Compared to conventional folding bicycles, a folding ebike is going to be heavy. The addition of the motor, battery, electronics, and related components adds weight quickly. So don’t be surprised if a good folding electric bike weighs in at 40 or 50 pounds.
How far a folding electric bike can travel on a single charge depends on at least four factors, including battery size, battery efficiency, how much you pedal, and terrain.
Put another way, “the range of the battery you need depends on the type of riding you plan on doing. If you plan to use more motor power than pedal power, then you’ll be using your battery’s charge quicker and will, therefore, need a larger range. If you plan to pedal a lot and use the motor assistance only periodically, you can probably use a battery with a smaller range,” according to chapter eight of the “The Complete Electric Bike Buyer’s Guide.”
Court Rye, gives a nice demonstration of how pedal assistance impacts range in one of his Electric Bike Review reports. In that example, a folding electric bike with relatively little pedal assistance has a range of more than 40 miles while the same bike with more pedal assistance has a range closer to 25 miles.
Also consider that an electric bike runs on a relatively large rechargeable battery, and if you ride your folding electric bike often charging is going to be the habit you cannot forget.
It is common for an ebike battery to take about four hours to charge fully. If possible choose a bike with an easy to remove battery and store the battery at room temperature when not in use.
For your folding electric bike look for batteries with around 9 or 10 amp hours. Often these batteries can conservatively provide around a 40-mile range without adding significant weight or cost.
A traditional bicycle drivetrain can consist of several moving parts, including a crankset, cassette, chain, derailleurs, and shifters. Collectively, these components work to drive a bike forward.
They also determine the relationship between how fast a rider pedals (cadence) and how rapidly the drive wheel turns. A bicycle in a relatively high gear could take more effort to pedal but would result in more drive-wheel rotation with each stroke.
A conventional drivetrain, even in its most basic form (single speed, single gear ratio), can be effective for a folding electric bike. So don’t be concerned if an otherwise high-tech electric bike uses a conventional bicycle drivetrain. If the bike meets your needs and your budget, it can still be a very good option.
If you want more, you could upgrade your folding electric bike’s drivetrain in at least two ways, adding a belt drive system and an internally-geared hub.
As an example, several EVELO electric bicycles — including the Quest Max folding ebike — use the Gates Carbon Drive belt system instead of a chain. This system provides a much smoother and quieter ride than a conventional chain drive. The Gates Carbon Drive is also clean since you won’t need to grease it. Finally, it is much more reliable, lasting much longer than a chain.
The second upgrade is to add an internally-geared hub like the NuVinci continuously variable transmission. With this transmission, you don’t have specific gear steps, think first gear, second gear, etc. Rather, you have a nearly infinite number of “gears” between the low and high. The transmission always applies the best “gear” for the current riding condition. This is particularly helpful for an electric, mid-drive electric bike which can generate relatively more power and torque at the hub.
Powerful folding electric bikes need equally powerful braking systems that automatically disengage the electric motor when you brake.
When you choose a folding electric bike look for manual or hydraulic disc brakes, similar to the disc brakes available on several EVELO models. These heavy-duty brakes have the force needed to slow an ebike.
You will also want motor inhibitors. These systems disengage the motor when you pull the brake handle so that you don’t have to fight against the powerful ebike motor.
Good quality folding electric bikes will typically include an electronic instrument panel. This panel is the information hub for your ride.
It should include information about speed and distance. Allow you to control the level of pedal assistance the bike’s motor is providing, and estimate the battery level and current range. (See an excellent example.)
This feature is for tall riders. Many folding electric bikes are lower to the ground than a standard bicycle or a standard electric bicycle. While this is important for many reasons, including a relatively lower stand-over height and a more compact outline when folded, it can also make a folding ebike feel pretty small — think clown bike in a Shriner’s parade small.
To resolve this issue, look for folding electric bikes with long, adjustable or replaceable stems that bring the handlebars up to a comfortable height.
Folding bicycles don’t often include suspension or other forms of shock absorption. Thus, the ride can be somewhat less comfortable than a big, cushy cruiser.
But tires can help. A relatively larger and more inflated tire can make for a comfortable riding folding electric bike. You can, of course, upgrade tires on your own too, but it is a really nice feature when your ebike had great tires from the start.
Service and Warranty
It may seem odd to include service as a top feature for a folding electric bike, but when you purchase an ebike you are starting a relationship.
In the past, you probably had a favorite local bike shop. You could bring your bike in for a tune up, pick up a new chain, and even browse the latest models.
Because of changes in retail economics, this may no longer be the case. There simply are fewer bike shops. Thus, most electric bikes are purchased online, direct from the bike maker.
With this in mind choose a bike with an outstanding warranty and customer service.