Review: Byocycles Chameleon 20 (early 2012)
With a fold to fit any car boot, and a price to fit most budgets, is the £699 Byocycles Chameleon 20 a cheap and cheerful way to enjoy electric mobility? We try it to find out. Read the review in full.
Posted by Peter Eland on Monday 13 Feb 2012
This review appeared in Electric Bike magazine Issue 4. Click the viewer below to read the review with the original print layout - or scroll down for the full text and images online!
Byocycles Chameleon 20
With a fold to fit any car boot, and a price to fit most budgets, is the £699 Byocycles Chameleon 20 a cheap and cheerful way to enjoy electric mobility? We try it to find out.
Founded in 2008, Byocycles are based on England’s south coast, at Havant. They’re now part of A-data, a well-established electronics company, and are also members of the BEBA industry group. Recently a new sales manager has been really shaking up the range, switching battery supplier for better reliability, and moving to dealer only sales.
They currently have a range of five models, ranging from the £1346 ‘Fox’ (with infinitely-variable Nuvinci transmission) to the £699 ‘Chameleon 20’ reviewed here. There’s also a 24"-wheeled version of the Chameleon (for £799). All use the same drive system and battery, although the more pricey models have a more sophisticated LCD display.
Byocycles bikes are available only through their 15 or so dealers; as we go to press the list is being finalised and they’re also about to launch a fully revamped website. They provide a one year guarantee on all bikes including the battery.
» ON THE BIKE
The Chameleon’s frame is, despite the name, fixed in colour, but it’s a goes-with-everything black. It’s built in aluminium alloy, with the frame extended at the back to accommodate the battery pack, and with a sturdy hinge in the main tube for the folding. Another hinge at the base of the stem lets the handlebars fold down. The stem itself is in two sections, with a quick-release allowing you to set the height of the handlebars.
At the front there’s a set of basic suspension forks. The 20" wheels are shod with some comfortably wide-section Kenda tyres. Some rather short plastic mudguards are provided at each end, as are front and rear LED lights – the front driven from the main battery, and the rear a stand-alone battery unit. There’s also a useful kickstand. The pannier rack is a basic quality model, but it’s well-chosen for this bike with loops extending well back to support panniers – which you’ll have to place well back on the rack to give clearance for your heels. Especially if you have size 12 feet like me!
The back of the wide saddle is supported on rubber balls, forming a sort of suspension system, and it’s mounted to a flip-up mechanism for access to the battery.
This an aluminium-cased unit, with the usual flip-up handle and battery status display on top, and with contacts underneath which engage with the bike. Capacity is claimed to be 360 Wh (10 Ah, 36V). Control electronics are concealed below the battery base, and wires run from here to the motor and handlebars. It all seemed pretty much hard-wired in: I couldn’t see connectors to let individual parts be easily detached. This also applies to the rear wheel, making tyre changes or puncture fixing a little more challenging as the back wheel remains ‘tethered’ to the bike. That said, the wiring all looked tidy and neatly bundled together.
At the handlebars, there’s a bit of a surprise with more functions than are customary. As well as the usual power level selector and battery status display on the left of the bars, there are controls for the front light and a horn. More unusually, a little rocker switch is located under the bars next to the throttle on the right hand side, offering a choice of three settings: P (pedelec), N (no assist) and A (accelerator/throttle). The first controls the motor automatically via a pedalling sensor – it kicks in after a turn or so. The second is power off, and the third is ‘pure throttle’, with no pedalling required.
The electrical controls are spread between both sides of the bars, with the display console for power level setting to the left. The twist throttle is on your right hand, and the three-way mode switch is well placed for your thumb alongside it. The gear changer is less ergonomic, with its above-bar buttons for up and down shifts, but I doubt most riders will need to use it much.
Also on the bars is the shifter for the Shimano six speed gearing: a bit of a stretch for smaller thumbs to reach, perhaps, but no problem in everyday use, as we’ll see.
Both brake levers are equipped with contacts to cut the electrical assist if operated. They work on V-brakes on each wheel.
Overall weight of bike and battery was measured at 23.48 kg. A generic charger was supplied with the bike, which will charge from empty in 4 to 6 hours. Also in the box was a basic toolkit.
» THE FOLD
To fold the Chameleon, first just lower the saddle and fold the pedals. Then you can undo the main hinge: this involves releasing the quick-release lever, and lifting it up to disengage the safety catch. I found the mechanism here a little clunky – it can be awkward to get the main hinge to release. Once it’s loose, just swing the two halves together. The bike now rests on the metal brace below the chainring.
To fold the handlebars down you unscrew the handwheel which locks it together via a wedge arrangement. There’s no safety catch on this mechanism, so be sure to check it before each ride. The handlebars then fold down to the side.
The first stage of folding (pedals and stem) leaves a commendably thin package, although with no reduction of the bike’s length. When you do the full fold the package really needs a strap to hold it together.
The folded package is car-boot sized, but actually lifting it in is quite awkward, First, it’s a heavy bundle at around 23 kg – a handful if you’re not strong. Also, unless you carry it on its side with the handlebars on top (not easy), it tends to ‘fall open’. There’s nothing holding the folded package together. You could improvise with a Velcro strap or the like, of course.
» ON THE ROADThe two ‘active’ assist modes available via the handlebar switch both come in handy. The ‘pedelec’ mode is good for longer stretches, so that you can benefit from the assistance without cramping your wrist by holding the throttle always on. Conversely, the throttle mode is better for stop-start sections: it helps you pull away from a standstill in particular. Quite often I’d set off with throttle, then knock the switch over to pedelec once up to speed.
Even the ‘no assist’ setting is handy at times – for instance when lifting the bike up some steps, when you don’t want to activate the motor if you knock the throttle. Or when passing a bunch of disreputables to whom you’d rather not advertise the fact you’re riding an electric bike. The motor has an unobjectionable buzz, not really audible over traffic, but noticeable to passers-by on cycle paths or quiet roads.
The motor’s pulling power is hard to fault, and it’ll drag you up to 25 km/h quickly – first-time riders may want to turn the power down from full to get used to the ‘kick’. Once it’s up to speed, on the flat at least, it becomes evident that the gears are just too low for you to help the bike along by pedalling unless you can spin your legs like a demon! This is a bit of a pity: pedalling might not add much to your speed, but it keeps you warm and promotes a bit of fitness. And it would be nice to feel you’re making some contribution to the motion.
This means that unless you’re going uphill, there’s no point in changing gear – just leave it in top. Hills don’t slow the bike down all that much until the gradient really rises, and I didn’t find a hill to stall it.
Generally the ride was stable and comfortable, with the tyres and saddle combining to soak up the bumps. If you pull on the bars there is some flex evident in that long stem, but it’s not an issue at all in normal riding. As a fairly tall rider I found the riding position comfortably upright, with the handlebar height adjustment providing a good range.
One annoyance was the plastic rear mudguard. It’s held on at one end only, with the other ‘sprung’ slightly against the frame. Unfortunately it rattled abominably on anything but utterly flat surfaces. Thankfully Byocycles tell me that the mudguards are being replaced with properly mounted aluminium ones for future batches, which should solve the problem. I’d hope they’re also a bit longer: a ride on wet roads showed that the very short plastic one at the front did little to prevent spray from the front wheel hitting the rider.
Unpowered, the Chameleon isn’t a particularly lovely bike to pedal. It feels rather turgid, and suddenly you need to use those low gears. Stay within its capacity is my recommendation. The charger is light enough to take with you for a top-up en route if the opportunity presents itself.
» SUMMARYFor the money it’s hard to be too critical of the Chameleon 20: it lacks refinement, certainly, and at 23 kg it’s a heavy machine to lift into a car boot, although in compensation the 120 kg weight rating may inspire extra confidence for heavier riders.
Other than that, though, it has to be said that the Chameleon 20 is very much typical of the affordable e-bikes assembled from generic Chinese components, available from many suppliers. That isn’t intended as a negative necessarily: over the years most of the ‘bugs’ have been ironed out and the overall quality improved by distributors who value customer satisfaction (it’s better business to have happier customers with reliable products).
But like many such machines, it lacks some thoughtful touches which might add to pleasure of ownership – a way to keep it together when folded, for instance, or accessible plugs for easy replacement of electrical parts. Or a gearing range which lets you make a meaningful contribution through the pedals. Byocycles do say that in current batches they’ve replaced the plastic mudguards with properly secured metal ones, answering one of my niggles.
You do get a solid frame, well-functioning electrics and a pretty good comfortable ride. It’s not a bike you want to run out of power on, but so long as you keep it well charged it’ll whisk you along briskly.
One to check out if you want a basic, car-bootable electric bike on a budget, and the finer details of cycle aesthetics aren’t a major factor.
SPECIFICATIONWeight overall (inc batteries): 23.48 kg
Battery weight: 3.42 kg
Bike only weight: 20.06 kg
Charger weight: 0.58 kg
(inc. mains cable).
Battery type: Li-Ion.
Battery capacity: 360 Watt hours (10Ah 36V).
Gearing: 6-speed Shimano derailleur gear. 46T ring, 14-28T sprockets. Ratios 30"-61".
Lighting: front LED, rear LED.
Other accessories fitted: mudguards, carrier rack, stand.
Price as tested: £575, inc VAT and free UK delivery.
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