China is the uncontested e-bike capital of the world. And while the country is home to plenty of cheap $200 e-bikes, you might be surprised to learn about the premium-level electric bicycles that are designed and built for international export. And you’ll be even more surprised by the prices, which can come in at less than half of European-made e-bikes of comparable quality and spec-sheets.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to take part in a week-long tour of FREY Bike’s factory in Jinhua, China.
There I got the chance to learn how these high-end e-bikes are designed and built. And then I got a chance to ride a few different FREY e-bikes everywhere from city streets to carved out mountainside trails and even in a famous downhill e-bike park often referred to as China’s Whistler.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you can have a blast on a well-made e-bike, you have to start with the right design.
And design is something that FREY prides itself on.
FREY video tour
Check out my video below to see the entire process of producing a FREY e-bike. Then read on for all the details.
The Jinhua-based company isn’t very old, having been founded just three years ago by husband and wife team Xing Xiong Xing and Ivy Wang.
Xing is the design whiz, while Ivy brings the business chops to the team with her past experience working in electric bicycle companies.
One of FREY’s key differentiators is their suspension design, upon which they hold several patents. Front suspension is easy, you just slap a suspension fork on a bike. But proper rear suspension is tricky. Small changes in the geometry and linkage have big effects on the dynamics of the suspension performance. How much does it squat? How quickly? How do the force and displacement change over time?
All of these questions and more must be considered at the design stage, which one of the reasons that the performance of well-designed e-bikes is so drastically different from cheap copies. And FREY prides itself on its originality.
Now keep in mind here that FREY isn’t a large company by Chinese e-bike industry standards. The company produces between 1,000 to 1,500 e-bikes per year or only about 30 bikes per week. The company is growing quickly and has enough capacity in its factory to produce up to around 5,000 e-bikes per year. But they never intended to become a massive, cookie-cutter e-bike company. Instead, they have focused on building high-performance e-bikes with top-shelf components.
Until the company can grow a bit bigger though, the first step of actual production takes place outside of the factory. The frame and swingarms of the company’s half a dozen or so e-bike models are produced offsite by a larger company, though FREY performs extensive quality checks to ensure the frame is produced to their high standards. From there, everything else happens in FREY’s factory.
I had the pleasure of watching FREY’s team building bikes at the factory. I call them a team instead of just factory workers because that’s what they are. These aren’t just shift workers. They’re actual mountain bike enthusiasts. And they don’t just build the bikes – they ride them too.
They were our tour guides as we bombed hills, blazed trails, and climbed stairs on FREY’s entire model line of e-bikes throughout the week. But alas, I’m getting ahead of myself again.
These guys hand assemble the bikes three or four at a time. Most of the company’s bikes are based around the massive 1,500 W peak Bafang Ultra mid-drive motor, though the company also builds e-bikes with the slightly more reasonable M600 mid-drive motor, which puts out closer to 1,000 W of peak power. But if you want the best of the best, go for the Ultra motor. FREY doesn’t really publish top speeds for their bikes, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: I hit 59 km/h (36.7 mph) on flat ground on one of their Bafang Ultra-powered e-bikes.
After the motors go in, the bikes get the rest of their component load-out. From here, it’s all high-end parts. We’re talking RockShox suspension, Magura MT5 hydraulic disc brakes with 203 mm rotors, Neco headsets, Italian saddles, Maxxis tires, Shimano SL groupset… the list goes on. Basically, these are all high-end mountain bike parts that FREY puts on its electric bikes.
FREY’s line of e-bikes mostly fall in the range of $3,000 to $3,800, depending just how crazy you want to with your component choice or battery count. And these bikes can compete with the best of the European electric mountain bikes that cost over twice as much.
I know this because I rode them on some crazy terrain all over China. We hit the slopes at Brave Peak Bike Park (often called “China’s Whistler”). While I was happy getting inches of air, I watched some of my riding partners getting feet of air. It was like watching ballet as they soared through the air, making the heavy e-bikes look weightless. Over the next few days, we then continued on to trails throughout Jinhua, China.
We rode past temples carved into mountainsides where the monks smiled and waved as we went by. We rode through places where the trails seemed to end and we wound up just riding through dusty village alleys and down old, stone-carved stairs and simply traversed anything that got between us and the cardinal direction we were headed.
We didn’t just ride down stairs, Kevin demonstrates riding back up them too!
We rode highways, and we rode switchbacks, and we rode overlooks.
Basically we rode everything.
We even accidentally popped out of a forest near a Chinese military base on a mountain top and spent a tense few minutes deleting GoPro footage at the direction of a soldier on patrol (don’t worry, we still had tons more as you can see in the video at the top of this article).
Basically, we rode everywhere and did everything – things I never would have thought I could do on an e-bike. One of the things that amazed me the most was how well I could ride up and down stairs. I’d never ridden stairs before in my life. I had always thought that was something better left to the professional stunt riders. As it turns out all it takes is two things. A bike with high-quality suspension and a bit of confidence. And fortunately for me, the former was conducive to the latter. I started small with sets of 3 steps. Then suddenly I was doing 5 steps. An hour later I was riding down sets of 20 steps carved into a mountainside. I couldn’t believe it! I was performing feats on a bicycle that I couldn’t have dreamed of just a week prior.
But alas, nearly as quickly as it had started, my week-long visit to FREY had ended. I said my sad goodbyes, both to the friends I had made and to the bikes I had ridden. And ever since coming home, I’ve had an itch for a bike like the FREY models I rode. I’ve been on some really fun e-bikes since, but nothing has quite touched that experience. Not yet.
In fact, I’m seriously considering getting my own FREY bike to fill the full-suspension high quality electric bike-shaped void I now have in my life. Which brings me to the last interesting twist in this saga. Small companies like FREY have found it somewhat difficult to reach an international audience, no matter how awesome their e-bikes are.
FREY actually has a few country-specific dealers in the UK and Switzerland, as well as others potentially coming aboard (with each one so far being a happy FREY customer that ultimately saw a chance to help spread these bikes into their home country). But by and large, FREY has been using Alibaba to sell their bikes internationally, which is where FREY’s website will direct you if you decide to order. While Alibaba is a staple of life in the East, it’s not a very common purchasing platform in the West. And it also means that shipping can be a bit pricy when sending a single bike by airmail to an address halfway around the world.
To help solve this, FREY is quickly working to expand its local dealers as well as organizing group buys. For example, the company currently has a group buy open for the US, where Americans can order bikes that will all be sent as a group in a sea container. From there the bikes will be forwarded to each US customer’s address. It takes longer due to the sea shipping but can cut an $800 shipping charge down to around $300, which turns out to be around a 15% discount on the entire order.
As FREY expands, expect to find more local options. Until then, you’ll join a growing community of fans eagerly awaiting their own FREY box to arrive at their door.
If you want to learn more about a few of FREY’s specific models, stay tuned to Electrek. I’ll be back with a few more videos showing more in-depth reviews of specific models.
And lastly, a big thanks to FREY Bike for inviting me out to China, showing me your factory, and letting me spend a week trying to break your bikes and my body. Somehow I managed to break neither.
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