Beatbike - first impressions!
We've been enjoying reviewing the spectacularly lightweight £499 Beatbike for a review coming up next issue - and in advance of the full review, here's a few pictures and our first impressions...
Posted by Peter Eland on Wednesday 16 Jan 2013
The Beatbike is imported by Beatbikes of Newcastle upon Tyne, and is described on the packaging as a 'recreational electric bike'. This set a good tone for me: it's not making unrealistic claims of being a 'super-bike'. But as we'll see, if you take it for what it is, and make it do what it does best, it'll do a very satisfying job.
There's a single model, with a rider weight limit of 95 kg and a one year warranty, for £499. Carry case and strap, tool kit and charger are all included.
As you can see, the Beatbike has a compact, folding alloy frame. The finish is a tidy sparkly silver. A side stand next to the back wheel makes it stand up convenienty for photos. It arrived boxed, and comes with a convenient mini toolkit. Really there's very little to do though except unfold it, pump up the tyres and put it on charge...
Wheels are 12 1/2" x 2 1/4" (203 x 57) size, unusual for an adult bike but tyre spares are easily available as it's a standard enough fitting. As you can see there's just a single speed rear wheel, and an enclosed band brake on the other side. Note also the bent valve stems for easier pumping - it's still easiest to use an adaptor tube or even a shock pump.
Up front, the wheel hosts both a disk brake and the 180W electric motor. I'm not a huge fan of the 'squash the tube flat and drill a hole' school of forming front dropouts as seen here (where the axle bolts into the forks), but it'll do the job.
The handlebars have nice ergonomic grips (hooray - many more expensive bikes could learn from this!). There's a fairly standard electric assist control with off/on, three power levels and a battery charge display. Note also the electrical cut-out contacts on both brake levers.
The cables from the handlebar are neatly braided, though it looks as if the ends are closed with electrical tape rather than the more traditional and possibly more durable heatshrink. No biggie!
The charging point on the side of the frame protected by a rubber cap. The cable exiting at the top of the frame doesn't look very well sealed by its grommet - I hope there's internal waterproofing too (and a drain hole or vent, as the frame tube slopes down so any water that does get in will trickle to the back - none was obvious).
The BeatBike is very much a 'pull you along' sort of machine, with the pedals for emergencies or help on hills - and starting off, because the electric assist doesn't kick in for a pedal turn or so. Then there's a buzz as it pulls you up to speed, and you neeed to keep turning the pedals (without necessarily exerting any effort) to keep it running. If you stop pedalling it cuts out - but not especially quickly, unless you also pull a brake lever a little to activate the cut-out. Otherwise it'll propel you on for a good fraction of a second at least.
Top speed is claimed to be 25 km/h (12 mph), a little slower than most UK e-bikes (15 mph is more common) but it feels fast enough on the Beatbike: bear in mind this is a short hop machine anyway. The range is 'up to 25 km' or 15 miles per charge - I did get a little less than this typically, but it's been cold weather for testing (all batteries have lower capacity in the cold) and I'm at the top of the allowable weight range. The lighter you are (and the shorter) the better - tyre efficiency drops right off when they're squashed down, and a lighter rider should get much better range.
One question in every rider's mind was 'how do the small wheels cope with potholes?'. Surprisingly well is the answer. This speed bump looked rather more impressive in the flesh than in the photo, with quite harsh 'edges', but the Beatbike just rolled over it and many more. In all of our test riding (and using a little common sense) we didn't really have a problem with bumps. The wide tyres shouldn't be pumped up too hard anyway, and being soft and wide they soak up even fairly large holes and rough surfaces well. This also gives an agreeable suspension effect. Unfortunately all of this comfort has the downside that if you turn the electric assist off, riding the Beatbike unassisted isn't particularly efficient or fast.
Uphill the BeatBike goes fairly well, though on steeper hills you'll need to add significant pedal input if you're not to bog down and stall. Even for our 5' 6" model, let alone for me at 6' 2", the saddle at its maximum extension was too low, meaning pedalling risked aching knees. So unless you're short, I'd steer clear of the worst of the gradients and stick to being pulled along. The saddle, incidentally, doesn't look very wide but I found it comfortable to sit on without pedalling.
Going back down the hills, we found the brakes surprisingly capable, and the front disk brake especially had some welcome bite. The handling was secure enough to feel comfortable if you don't build up truly excessive speed - which the soft tyres don't really permit anyway most of the time.
Our model found the Beatbike a real joy to carry and manoeuvre, in comparison to many electric bikes we've tried. It's super easy to lift up steps, into storage spaces, or the like! This could be a huge issue for those with less upper body strength or anyone who finds the weight of most electric bikes a real obstacle.
Start with this...
Pull out the pin a bit against spring pressure so you can fold that back brace...
And the saddle folds down backwards to give this...
Now undo the quick release at the centre of the bike, and guide it so it slides down the slots in the side plates...
And this lets you fold the handlebars and front end back.
Now you can unfo the handlebar end quick-release and pull out each handlebar end, and fold them down...
And the finishing touch is to fold the pedals...
The final finishing touch (awaiting photograph) is to pop it into the supplied carry case - both for protection and to keep other luggage clean. Good to see this included as standard.
As electric bikes go, the BeatBike is both remarkably affordable (£499!) and remarkably light (just under 14 kg). Of course, achieving each of those figures has entailed some compromise. For the price, you get finish and components which are rather basic in places, if functional, and you only have a single speed (no gears). For the weight, look to the small wheels and smallish 24V, 6Ah battery (concealed within the frame).
But Beatbike have managed, to a large degree, to turn these limitations into virtues by cleverly combining them with a folding frame. It all hangs together well: the small wheels enable a small folded package, which will fit easily into a car boot or across the back seats (in most cars, two or even three BeatBikes would be no problem). The light weight means it's easily lifted in or out of said car (or boat, or camper van etc). The small battery goes with the small wheels and limited gearing: given the second two factors, this isn't a bike you'll be making great long journeys on anyway. So a limited battery range isn't a problem, and nor is the lack of saddle height for a 'proper' pedalling position.
I see the Beatbike as a great add-on to other forms of transport; it's not a replacement for a full-sized e-bike for longer trips, but it fits the bill for short hops when you want to go faster and with less effort than walking. Caravanners looking for easily stowed transport for trips to a village shop, perhaps? Urban commuters needing to cover the last few miles from a train station? Park and riders looking to get some exercise for the last leg of their commute? All possible Beatbikers!
Direct from Beatbikes: see www.beatbikes.com or phone 0191 491 4175
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