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Hummingbird Electric folding bike review

23 Nov 2018
Verdict:

The world’s lightest electric folding bike is stylish and intuitive, but not without its minor hiccups and comes at a hefty price

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£4,495
For 
• Fantastic engineering and stylish design • An extremely low overall weight
Against 
• Expensive • Electronic assist is a little rough around the edges

Several brands lay claim to making the world’s lightest electric folding bike, but as far as we can tell the Hummingbird is unmatched with an 11.0kg overall weight, lighter than many non-electric folding bikes.

Hummingbird has already established itself as a boutique brand, with its standard folding bike designed and manufactured in the UK, made in a motorsport engineering facility in Banbury, Oxfordshire.

That facility belongs to Hummingbird’s sister company, Prodrive, motorspost and technology specialists.

The standard non-electric version came in at a startling 6.9kgs, making it the lightest folding bike on the market. Much like this version, it stood well ahead of the crowd in terms of aesthetics – managing the difficult task of making a folding bike look slick and stylish.

The addition of a motor has been interesting, as it will encourage those with lower fitness, but also offers a perfect multi-modal transport solution for even the most committed roadies.

That is because with the Hummingbird Electric you can in theory get to a train station up a steep hill, take a rush hour train and then pedal with total ease in your Sunday best to any work or social occasion.

Its low weight makes it easy to handle, and its electronic assist makes it able to take on challenging inclines or tough terrain. But how does the bike measure up to that idyllic image?

There’s no doubting that from the onset, the gains offered Hummingbird’s motor are substantial, but this shouldn't be confused with a fully fledged Bosch or Shimano Steps-equipped e-bike.

So let’s begin by looking at the motor.

Electronic assist

The Hummingbird Electric uses a brushless hub motor that provides a generous 40km range, and a claimed wattage of 250 watts.

The hub motor is also the weapon of choice for the Brompton Electric and the GoCycle GS, owing to a lower weight and less space needed in the frame compared to a direct-drive motor.

It’s worth clarifying here that a good direct-drive motor offers more direct power, as well as a more intuitive and subtle electronic assistance.

A hub motor will often feel as though it’s being driven from behind, whereas a decent Bosch or Steps system often makes it feel like the bike is lighter and your legs are far stronger.

That slightly binary feedback is certainly evident with the Hummingbird, which can feel a tad jerky at times. Some hub motors are more smooth and better linked to the input from a rider. The Hummingbird could be a little rogue.

For example, when walking alongside it immediately after dismounting – where the system sometimes takes off briefly by itself. I wasn’t sure if this was down to the torque meters being used, or possibly just the small size of the wheels causing a little bit more impulse than with a standard 700c wheel.

While the drive isn’t the smoothest, the general electric assist works very well, and the user interface is very nicely conceived.

The Hummingbird has an app to partner with the motor, which has bluetooth connectivity, and will display power, battery life and usage. The pairing was easy, but in truth I preferred to use the bike in an analogue way.

To turn the Hummingbird Electric’s motor on, you just need to backpedal three times while the bike is at low speed. The electronic assistance then kicks in, palpably, and the motor turns itself off after two minutes of inactivity.

When I was first told of the backpedalling system, without a button or computer, I was a little baffled, but it never went wrong. I came to consider it a very elegant and intelligent system.

Hummingbird also offers an immobiliser system for the rear wheel, to improve security, which is a nice innovation.

Range and power

The Hummingbird Electric is pitched at 30-40km of range, and I rode it well over 30km without running dry. I also did a few longer commutes – over 10km – and the battery didn’t run in to trouble.

The power claim of 250 watts seemed a little optimistic, though, as on some steeper inclines the motor seemed to work hard, as did I, to maintain a cadence.

That’s not to say that the motor cannot create 250 watts, but the delivery did not seem as direct as with a direct drive system.

Equally, for any normal inclines, the electronic assistance made the climb substantially easier where the single-speed Hummingbird may have lured me into a sweat.

I found the gearing to be well selected, as this is single-speed with 65 gear-inches, but where the motor cut out at 25kmh I found the cadence to hover around a healthy 90rpm. For me that meant that I spun out when putting in too much effort, and kept me safely below a high intensity throughout my commute – my biggest issue when riding in plain clothes.

On the whole, the bike was certainly speedy for a folding bike. I found myself able to make a long 10km commute in only five minutes or so extra compared to my aero road racer.

On the whole, though, the Hummingbird Electric was best set to shorter 3-5km commute distances.

Practicality

While the weight is startlingly low, the Hummingbird does sacrifice a little folding capacity as a result of the one-piece frame. Compared to a Brompton, it is still sizeable when folded. When on a busy train it generated a few grunts from fellow passengers.

That was offset by the advantages in weight terms. The Brompton electric was not easy to lug on and off trains, where the Hummingbird was like a fairly heavy suitcase.

Although a lack of wheels on the Hummingbird meant I had to unfold it entirely when walking to and from a station entrance to a train or else have to carry it slightly awkwardly.

On another practical note is the choice to spec presta valve wheels. Searching three bike shops after a puncture I was unable to find a replacement for the specific wheel size.

It’s not an enormous issue, but would-be buyers should order replacement tubes in bulk as they appear to be a rarity, compared to the schrader alternatives used on Bromptons.

Aside from that, the folding of the bike was highly intuitive, and fast. The adjustability of the contact points was also very straightforward, with quick-releases at every intersection, while proving very secure while riding.

I also just found the practicalities of keeping it with me at all times very pleasant. I could easily carry it upstairs, and though a minor point, its aesthetics meant it was never out of place in my living room or in a nice pub.

Value

The Hummingbird Electric is certainly a stylish offering, and showcases some very high-end material and technical engineering. However at £4,495 it is a very expensive bike.

Despite its speedy inclinations, it can’t realistically replace a fully fledged road bike in comfort, versatility or speed, so remains a commuter first and foremost.

In terms of that limited appeal, I would probably only recommend it to a wealthy consumer with a wide stable of bikes, or a non-cyclist looking to ditch the car in style.

In terms of a standalone piece of design and engineering, it’s fantastic to see such a leap forward in the folding bike sector, and indeed in the e-bike sector. It’s all the more encouraging to see a bike designed and built entirely in the UK produced to this level.

I enjoyed every ride with the Hummingbird Electric, for the thrill of the electronic boost or the pure nimble sharpness of the handling.

While I struggle with the price point for now, I’m excited to see where this brand goes from here. 

Black Friday 2018

For now, Hummingbird is promising a Black Friday reduction from £4,495 to £3,147, at which point the offering turns into a very good one – not much pricier than a Brompton Electric or Gocycle, but looking substantially better and weighing a huge amount less.

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