Review: BuyBuyBicycles Electro-city (Autumn 2010)
Retailing at just £549 plus delivery, the Electro-city looks like an affordable way to go electric with the versatility of a folding bike. So how does it perform? Read the review in full...
Posted by Peter Eland on Thursday 19 May 2011
This review appeared in Electric Bike magazine Issue 1. Click the viewer below to read the review with the original print layout - or scroll down for the full text and images online!
BuyBuyBicycles Electro-cityRetailing at just £549 plus delivery, the Electro-city looks like an affordable way to go electric with the versatility of a folding bike. So how does it perform?
» BACKGROUNDBuyBuyBicycles are an internet-based supplier based not far from Stansted Airport. They specialise in folding bikes, but their range also includes road bikes, mountain bikes and accessories. When it comes to folding electric bikes they have three models, with 16", 20" and 26" wheels.
Our review bike is the ‘Electro-city’ with 16" wheels, priced at £549 plus delivery (£39.75 in mainland UK). Our bike was a demo machine with some cosmetic damage from previous testing, most visibly on the rear rack.
There is a one year warranty on frame and non ‘wear and tear’ bike parts. The battery guarantee is six months, and they say that expected life is of the order of 1000 cycles. Spare batteries (24V, 8 Ah) are available for £190 plus delivery.
The bike arrives almost fully assembled but not checked or serviced by the seller, so you’ll need to sort out adjustments for brakes, gears etc before use. In fact, as is the case with many of this sort of mail order bikes, it is a warranty condition that it is serviced before you use it. If you are not competent yourself, bike shops will charge for this, of course. Details are in the ‘terms and conditions’ section of the BuyBuyBicycles website – I recommend reading this thoroughly before purchase.
Maximum rider weight is 95 kg.
» ON THE BIKEWhen you unpack the Electro-city it may well be the first time it’s seen the light of day since being packed by the manufacturer, so a little checking and tweaking will be in order. Tyres will be flat, and likely the battery too. Put it onto charge straight away, and find a pump with either a hose type adaptor or a very small valve head to fit between the tightly spaced spokes.
That done, you can sit back and take a look. The curves give the bike a distinctive look, and the brushed finish on the aluminium frame is attractive, while the welding also appears tidy. Cables are guided neatly underneath the main frame, so it’s hardly more cluttered than any other folding bike. A metal plate at the front guides the cables from the handlebar. It looks like a mounting point for something, too, perhaps a basket, but I wouldn’t want to put much weight on it.
Suspension forks are fitted to the front wheel. These use a basic spring system, with no adjustments possible. The Kenda tyres on the 16" (305) wheels are 2.125" wide and with a maximum pressure rating of 65 psi – ideally use a pump with a pressure gauge to get them close to this for best performance.
The transmission is a basic six-speed derailleur system using »
Shimano’s entry-level ‘Tourney’ components. Plastic guards around the chainring help protect your trousers.
The braking comes from V-brakes on the front, and a ‘band brake’ at the back. The levers are decent alloy models, with motor cut-out switches both sides.
Given the size of the frame and wheels it was a pleasant surprise to find that the seatpost extends just enough for me (at 6' 2") to get the saddle to the correct height. A catch allows the saddle to tip forwards so you can remove the battery without affecting your seat height setting.
A rear rack was fitted as standard, as are metal mudguards and a fun ‘compass’ bell. Unless you have truly tiny feet, lack of heel clearance will mean you can’t use the rack to carry panniers. A top bag would be fine, though. The LED rear light is also fitted to the rack.
So to the electrical components. First there’s the battery, which slides in behind the seatpost. The battery seems well made mechanically, with an aluminium shell and plastic end-caps. A tiny three-LED display at the top gives a basic indication of the charge state when you press the button. A key (four are provided!) turns the battery on and off, and also releases it from the frame. The key is held captive when the battery is switched on.
The battery slides down behind the seatpost and locks in place
The motor in the rear wheel is made by Bafang, a reliable manufacturer. There’s no obvious way to disconnect the motor for puncture-fixing or tyre changes. Cutting (and subsequently replacing) the cable ties securing the motor wire to the frame should give you enough slack to squeeze a new tyre or tube in, though.
The Bafang motor is a reliable choice. The rack is potentially useful, but heel clearance makes using panniers problematic
There are two elements to the handlebar controls: the throttle on the right-hand grip with a three-LED power indicator, and the ‘console’ in the middle of the bars, also including a ‘dual beam’ headlight with no fewer than 14 LEDs. The lights front and rear are switched on by a push-button by the left-hand grip. The console has a bright and clear six-element battery level display, plus ‘battery dead’, ‘power on’ and ‘lights on’ indicators. There’s also a horn pictured, but that seems not to be implemented on this model.
There’s a three LED battery level display on the throttle housing
The display console also houses the front lights
» THE FOLDThe Electro-city fold is quite simple: undo the central hinge (it has a safety locking mechanism, so you need to lift the pin once you’ve undone the lever) then fold the bike in half. You can then drop the saddle and fold the stem, and fold the pedals too if you wish. The order in which you do things isn’t critical, so it’s fairly foolproof.
The folded package doesn’t hold itself together much at all. But it does stand neatly on the little support at the front, and should be easily car-bootable. The folding package measures around 85 x 65 x 47 cm.
» ON THE ROADIt took a few rides to really figure out the Electro-city. The way its assist system works is quite clever, and not entirely expected.
The first thing I noticed was that on our demo bike, you can twist the throttle with the bike (and pedals) stationary and the motor will spring the bike forwards. This can be a bit of a danger: more than once I was wheeling it around and accidentally triggered the throttle. BuyBuy tell me that current models now have an on/off switch at the handlebar, which would make it a lot easier to switch off fully, without reaching down to the key on the battery.
This behaviour also lets the motor help you set off. Sitting on the bike, you twist the throttle and the bike moves off immediately under power. You can help it out a bit with the pedals if you like, but even in top gear you very quickly can’t spin your legs fast enough. But soon it stops accelerating, and you’re still not going very fast…
Now, you need to release the throttle! The motor then kicks in with renewed vigour – but it’s now in ‘pedal assist’ mode, so it stops when you stop pedalling. The motor power also depends on how fast you pedal: twiddle your legs speedily and you get a few more mph out of the motor. Note that your legs aren’t doing any work as they spin, because the gears are way too low.
This system works quite well in that you only need to twist the throttle when accelerating from a standstill. In normal riding your wrists can stay relaxed.
The motor runs smoothly, with a buzz which is definitely noticeable by passers-by unless you’re in traffic. It propels you along at a decent pace on the flat, but it does tend to struggle somewhat on steeper hills: the speed drops to the point where you can add useful work through the pedals.
Ride comfort is pretty good under motor power, with the fat tyres providing plenty of cushioning. Unfortunately this is a bit of a mixed blessing: it means that when the batteries have died and you need to pedal the bike unassisted, the squashy tyres soak up your energy and progress is slow and laboured. The gears are still too low, but I did occasionally need to move out of top!
Braking performance was quite acceptable, especially considering the relatively low top speeds you’re likely to attain on this bike.
A more serious issue is that if you pedal while going around a corner, you will ground a pedal if you lean the bike more than a few degrees. With the bike on a flat surface the bottom of the pedals is just 2" or so off the ground. On each of five other bikes I measured, clearance was at least 4". It can be quite alarming when a pedal does hit the tarmac, and potentially dangerous.
The range of this bike improved slowly as the batteries ‘conditioned’, from 7.5 miles on the first ride up to 12 or so, all on the flat and with a fairly heavy rider – it would go further with a lighter person on board. Given the low gearing, there’s little scope for extending this range by pedalling more unless you can spin your legs like a demon.
Riding the battery to exhaustion revealed the unfortunate fact that the lights (otherwise rather good) cut out when the main battery dies: be sure not to run out in the dark. Sadly the lovely bright ‘console’ display with its six bars was faulty on our demo machine: it showed full power until the moment the battery cut out completely dead. BuyBuy have confirmed that this is not normal. The three LEDs on the throttle were more reliable, going from green to amber then red in line with battery depletion.
If you have power available at both ends of your trip, it’s probably worth taking the charger with you to top up. It’s a lightweight unit, silent in use, and compact.
The charger is compact and light, so you could easily take it with you for a half-way charge
» SUMMARYThe Electro-city does deliver an electric ride, and if you want a simple sit-on electric scooter for relatively short trips it will do the job without breaking the bank.
That said, the compromises involved in making an electric bike to this price point are evident. It’s not the bike to get if you want to contribute much significant by pedalling, except setting off and uphill. Then again, not everyone wants or is able to pedal.
Given the limited battery warranty, this bike is probably best for less than intensive use, or perhaps as a holiday steed (but remember to keep the battery topped up between uses). The simple folding will be particularly handy for storage and transport.
If your plans for it are more ambitious, you may well be better off spending more: this is more likely to result in satisfaction long-term. That said, you could buy three or four of these for any one of the other bikes we’re reviewing this issue. Its affordability could open up electric-assisted mobility to many buyers who simply can’t afford a more sophisticated machine.
» SPECIFICATIONWeight overall (inc batteries): 23.19 kg
Battery weight: 4.04 kg
Bike only weight: 19.15 kg
Charger weight: 0.425 kg
(+ 165 g for the mains cable)
Battery type: Li-Ion
Battery capacity: 192 Watt hours (24V 8Ah)
Gearing: Six-speed derailleur (Shimano Tourney). 42T ring, 14-28 sprockets. Ratios 23-46".
Brakes: V-brake front, band brake rear.
Lighting: Front and rear LEDs, both powered from main battery (cuts out with motor power)
Other accessories fitted: Mudguard, rack, stand, bell.
Price as tested: £549. UK delivery £37.95.
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