Even though electric bicycle prices in the West are dropping, with many decent e-bikes found in the sub-$1,000 range, China is still king of the inexpensive e-bikes. So I wanted to see how one of these ultra-affordable e-bikes stood up to the types of e-bikes in the US and Europe.
My goal: Find one of these e-bikes and bring it to the US for testing.
[Note: This entire saga happened before the COVID-19 pandemic.]
So the hunt to snare a super-cheap e-bike was on. The first thing I had to do was find a bike, which was actually pretty easy, considering how enthusiastically China has embraced e-bikes.
Xiaomi’s crowdfunding platform YouPin has been used by the company to launch plenty of inexpensive e-bikes over the last few years.
We’ve seen $375 electric bicycles, $420 electric mopeds, $284 e-bikes that blur the line with electric mopeds… you name it, Xiaomi has funded an e-bike to fit it. For me, I wanted the least expensive one yet, the $261 Himo V1 that I covered here on Electrek.
These ultra-budget electric bicycles are mostly produced for the domestic market in China. While you can find many of them on direct-from-China shopping sites like AliExpress, the price is usually jacked up for the Western market.
Instead, I went with the personal approach. I called up a friend of mine living in China and told him my plan. I’d wire him $261 and he’d go get me a bike.
We’ve all heard about how international shipping is subsidized in China, so I figured he could ship it over to me in the US for pennies on the dollar.
I sent him the money and a few days later he had a bright orange Xiaomi Himo V1 e-bike for me. The only problem was that shipping turned out to be a lot more than I expected for the big box. In the end, I wired just over $100 more, and we were in business. Two weeks later, the most beaten-up box I’ve ever seen arrived at my doorstep.
I unboxed the bike and was surprised by how small it was.
I knew it would be small, but not that small!
It arrived with a dead battery, which got me worried when it wouldn’t turn on, but I figured an initial charge would solve that. So I hunted through the carcass of the box for the charger, only to come up empty-handed.
Dangit, my friend forgot to mail the charger!
Now I was going to have to search around for a compatible charger. In the meantime I continued to check out the bike. There was a small zippered pouch behind the battery compartment that looked odd, so I unzipped it to see what it held. Out popped a coiled charging cable! As it turns out, the bike has a built-in charger on board. Oops, sorry Bin.
A quick charge and I was in business. The bike fired right up.
I took it on a joy ride where I got to feel the entire thrill… or lack thereof. With a 250W motor and a top speed of 20 km/h (12 mph), this isn’t exactly a speedy e-bike. Though to be fair, the small diameter 12-inch wheels mean the little motor is actually quite torquey.
It’s got decent pull on hills, but it also has pedals (unlike many “bikes” of this size), which means you can help it on hills. The gearing isn’t really that tall, meaning you won’t be able to add much pedal assist at the top end. But when you’re slowing down on a big hill, the pedals are quite handy. And again, those small wheels mean more torque.
The downside of the small wheels is that you feel the bumps more, rise up more quickly on obstacles, and drop down deeper into potholes. And of course there’s no suspension at this price.
However, the bike actually feels nice and nimble, riding much better than I expected it to ride. The 220Wh battery isn’t going make it a great distance machine, but with the lower top speed I can still get around 12-15 miles of range on throttle only.
For those of you wondering, I’m about 5’7″ and 150 lb (170 cm and 70 kg), and the bike sure fits me alright, though I can see how you 6 footers out there could have an issue.
The most elevator-friendly e-bike in the world?
So what’s my verdict here? To be honest, I’m actually surprised by how good of a bike you can get for $261 (or about $370 shipped). Not only is it a fully functional e-bike that is more powerful than I thought, but it folds, has an LCD screen, front and rear LED lights, a built-in charger, disc brake (just the one!), fenders, and even a ridiculous little rear rack. That’s a lot of features for an e-bike that costs around the same as one month of car insurance and gas!
And while this e-bike is small, it honestly fit me just fine and can handle my needs as a city commuter e-bike. It would easily fit in the trunk of just about any car out there and would be an excellent last-mile vehicle for drivers that need a set of wheels for inner-city travel. Or it could be a cheap little campus runaround bike.
So I’m pleasantly surprised by what I got for my money. It’s not a great e-bike, but it’s a decent e-bike for the price and the use case.
Now that we’re starting to see more of these inexpensive Chinese e-bikes hitting international markets, I’m excited for what’s to come in the future.
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