Hummingbird Folding Electric Bike Gen 2.0 review: box ticker, wallet emptier
By Jon Porter, a reporter with five years of experience covering consumer tech releases, EU tech policy, online platforms, and mechanical keyboards.
Photography by Jon Porter / The Verge
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"The world's lightest folding electric bike" is a claim that ostensibly ticks all the boxes for a rideable. A foldable design that makes it easy to store and carry on public transport? Check. An electric motor to take the effort out of hills? Check. A light 22.7-pound (10.3kg) construction that makes it easier to carry in and out of train stations and into your walk-up apartment? Check. The Hummingbird Folding Electric Bike Gen 2.0 has a lot going for it on paper.
It's an enviable spec list for anyone who, hypothetically, may have recently moved to a building on top of a hill, 20 minutes away from their nearest station. But they’re also specs that anyone looking for a folding bike to help with a public transit-based commute could benefit from. On a crowded train commute, no one wants to be lugging around any more weight than absolutely necessary.
Hummingbird is one of three major producers of folding electric bikes based in the UK alongside Brompton and Gocycle. At £4,495 (around $6,224.50 / €5,303.36), its new e-bike is expensive, even by the standards of these high-spec folding electric bikes (Gocycle's recently announced range of G4 bikes starts at $3,999, for example, while Brompton's starts at $3,550). But it's a bike that comes so close to having it all that, for the right person, this could easily be a price worth paying.
The Hummingbird Folding Electric Bike Gen 2.0 (which for the sake of brevity I’ll be referring to as the Hummingbird Electric 2.0) has a similar profile to Brompton's classic folding bikes. Yes, its frame is significantly thicker, but the combination of small, 16-inch wheels with an elongated seat post and handlebar stem means that its profile feels instantly familiar. But Hummingbird has done a better job to minimize and hide as many cables as possible. The bike's rear motor is entirely self-contained, meaning it also houses the battery and sensors, with no need for additional cables. As such there are just two brake cables running down from the handlebars, one of which is routed internally through the frame to reach the back wheel. There's no ugly battery pack hanging off the handlebars either. It's a slick design, all in all.
So too are there similarities with Brompton's folding mechanism here. Opening one latch is enough to let the bike's back wheel swing and fold up underneath the bike's frame, and a second folds down the handlebars. A small plastic ridge on the end of the handlebar locks under the rear wheel mechanism to hold it in place. The seat post's standard height adjust latch can then be used to hide its length within the frame, and the pedals are also removable if you need the extra space (I never did). Folding the bike is a painless process that you can do in under a minute with a little practice, although I found it a little more fiddly to unfold it because of how tightly the handlebars lock onto the rear wheel's folding mechanism. Hummingbird tells me this is a problem specific to my demo bike, and that it should be less tight on production models.
It's an easy process, but Hummingbird's bike doesn't fold nearly as compactly as a Brompton. While folded, the Hummingbird Electric 2.0 measures 46 x 23 x 8 inches (117 x 60 x 20cm), compared to 23 x 22.2 x 10.6 inches (58.5 x 56.5 x 27cm) for a Brompton or 34.6 x 24.2 x 14.6 inches (83 x 61.5 x 37cm) for Gocycle's G4. It's small enough to fit on a moderately crowded train, but you’ll have an easier time if you stow it in an area designed for luggage. At least you don't have to put up with the restrictions or costs associated with trying to take a full-size bike on the train — in London, for example, there are significant restrictions placed on when you can take non-folding bikes on trains and the Underground.
What Hummingbird's electric bike lacks in space efficiency it arguably more than makes up for in portability. Its 22.7 pounds (10.3kg) is lighter than my personal (admittedly budget) full-size aluminum road bike, which is neither electric nor folding. For comparison, Gocycle's G4 weighs 36.6lbs (16.6kg) and Brompton's electric bike weighs upward of 36.5Ibs (16.6kg) including its battery. I had little trouble carrying Hummingbird's bike around the London Underground on an evening when I was too inebriated to ride it home. My only complaint is that I wish it had an option to be wheeled around while folded.
Given the focus on weight, the e-bike is pretty bare-bones as standard. There are no built-in lights, fenders, kickstand (though you can half-fold the bike to make it freestanding), bell, or a rear rack, though most can be added as optional accessories.
The Hummingbird Electric 2.0's electric elements are almost entirely housed within a new Zehus-manufactured rear hub motor. This motor is the only significant difference between this and Hummingbird's first electric bike, and it offers more torque and range than the previous motor. You plug the bike's charger into this motor directly to refill the battery, but it's not easily removable if you want to charge it separately from the rest of the bike (which is an option for other brands like Gocycle and Brompton). Outside of this motor, the only other sign that this is an electric bike is the small, battery-powered remote attached to the handlebars, which is a far cry from the digital or LED displays found on many other e-bikes.
There's no physical button on the motor to turn the bike on, which makes starting your ride a little more complicated than some other e-bikes. But once you’ve activated the motor, it stays on for the duration of the ride. There are three options to turn it on. The simplest, and the one I ended up using for most rides, is to get up to a speed of 10km/h (around 6mph) and then backpedal three full rotations to kick the motor into life. It's not ideal if, for example, you start your ride at the bottom of a hill which makes getting up to 10km/h on this single-speed bike a challenge, but it's reliable without much room for error.
There are three ways to activate the bike's motor
The second method is to use the wireless remote attached to the handlebars. This process can be a little finicky, but it's straightforward once you know what you’re doing. The easiest way is to lift the bike off the ground and start its back wheel spinning with a quick push on its pedal. This wakes up the motor, after which you can press the remote's central button to establish a connection, and then press it again to start up the motor. It can feel unresponsive at first, but once you understand you need to wait for the remote to connect, it's fairly painless.
Finally, you can engage the motor by using Zehus’ companion app. Like with the remote, you’ll have to start the wheel rotating in order to wake the motor from sleep and ensure the app can discover and connect to it via Bluetooth, but once you’ve done so you can engage the motor in a couple of quick taps.
There's an app, but you don't have to use it for every ride
I broadly don't like having to use companion apps when it's not strictly necessary, and thankfully the Zehus app is mostly optional. Yes, the app is used for registering the bike, and yes you’ll need it if you want to tweak the motor's custom power setting, but you can get away without using this functionality for most day-to-day riding. I found it more convenient to use the bike's handlebar remote to switch between power output modes, rather than using the app.
The one app-exclusive feature I could see being useful on a regular basis is a locking function, which applies resistance to the back wheel, making it hard to rotate. Given how light and easy-to-carry the bike is, Hummingbird doesn't recommend relying on it to prevent a theft on its own. But it's a nice extra bit of deterrence when paired with a more traditional lock (or two) that makes the e-bike unrideable if stolen. The Hummingbird's thick frame means that finding a place to affix a D-lock is a bit of a challenge, so in the end I preferred to put a lock through the rear wheel's frame whenever I needed to head into a shop for ten minutes or so. Given the bike's $6,000 plus value, however, I’d be careful about locking it up outside for any longer.
Start riding the Hummingbird Electric 2.0, and you’ll very quickly become aware of the fact that over a third of its weight (3.5kg) is concentrated in its rear hub motor. Lean back too much when you take off from a set of lights, and it's all too easy to pop a wheelie and go full Vin Diesel, especially considering the bike's relatively relaxed riding position. There was also an occasion going up a steep hill that I felt the beginnings of a wheelie coming along, so it's definitely something you need to be aware of mid-ride.
In general, once you’re up to speed, Hummingbird's second-generation electric bike is a real joy to ride. Despite its low center of gravity, I never had any issues with balance, nor did I find it at all twitchy to steer like I did with Brompton's e-bike. It's a smooth and enjoyable ride, and the amount of carbon used in its construction helps with shock absorption as much as it makes the bike incredibly lightweight. At a push, I think Gocycle's larger wheels make for a slightly more stable ride, but Hummingbird's design was still easy to control through London's streets.
The motor is quiet, but far from silent
Hummingbird's bike was less comfortable over long rides. During an hourlong ride across London, I started to get sore at around the half-hour mark. After 45 minutes, I was choosing to stand up when stopped at traffic lights to give my poor posterior a rest. Shorter rides than this were generally fine, however.
The bike's Zehus motor emits a quiet electrical whirring sound, even when in its least powerful eco mode. But it offers a smooth ramp of power as you cycle, with the gentle sensation of someone running behind you with their hand on your back offering an extra bit of assistance, and it's happy to give you an extra push even from a standstill.
I got around 45km of range in my tests
Hummingbird says that its second-generation electric bike should get you around 35km of range when used in its Turbo mode, extending to up to 60km in Eco mode. In practice, I never stuck with just one mode over the course of a ride, and I think most other people would do the same. I found Eco tended to struggle on steep hills, so it made sense to use the bike's remote to pop it into Turbo mode briefly until I was on level ground. In the end, this meant that I got a little less than 45km of range out of the bike in mixed usage. That was a combination of shorter rides to and from stations, as well as two longer rides between south and north London. I think that's more than long enough for any single day of riding.
I was very thankful for the bike's light weight when its battery did eventually run dry. I wouldn't say that riding it up a steep hill with no assistance was a pleasant experience, but it wasn't bad enough that I had to get off and push. It felt a lot like riding a non-electric folding bike up a steep hill; unpleasant but manageable.
As a final note on battery life, Hummingbird says you should expect to get around two weeks of charge out of the bike's handlebar remote. Unfortunately, it requires an old-fashioned Micro USB cable to charge it. It's a little annoying having to charge two different elements of the bike, but at least you won't have to charge the remote as frequently as the main motor.
It's hard to fault the Hummingbird Electric 2.0 by most normal measures, because clearly this is a bike that's been designed to offer zero compromises aside from its extortionately high price. And when a bike costs over $6,000, you really do want to be aware of every tiny potential pain point before you make a purchase.
So yes, I would have liked for it to be possible to wheel the bike around when folded, and I’m also not a fan of having to keep both the remote and motor's batteries charged independently. At a push, you could also argue it’d be nice to have an easily removable battery, but when you’re dealing with a folding e-bike it seems fair to assume most people will be stashing these in hallways rather than having to store them in a garage or bike stall on the street.
But really, the only problem I have with the bike that could possibly be elevated beyond "quibble" status is its size while folded. It's just a tad too long to be comfortable to maneuver on very packed public transit, and it's a shame that your only option is to carry it, with no potential for wheeling it around. As lightweight as it is, it's still taxing to carry over the long distances necessary in the London Underground.
Aside from that, though, the Hummingbird Electric Bike Gen 2.0 ticks basically every box for urban commuters. It's light enough to carry through a multimodal commute and has enough range to ride over longer distances when you want to skip the train entirely. If you’re spending over $6,000 on a bike, it needs to be able to do it all, and Hummingbird's bike comes so very close.
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