You get what you pay for
Not everyone can afford a premium electric bike with prices that usually start at $2,000. But what if you could spend half that and still grab yourself a good-enough e-bike that’s suitable for long urban commutes and flexible enough to toss into the trunk of your car, roll onto a train, or carry home to your fifth-floor walkup? That’s what I hoped to find with the newest folding e-bike from the Chinese brand Fiido, which recently started selling directly into the European and North American markets.
The Fiido D11 ticks all the boxes: it’s available for as little as $999.99, has a claimed range of up to 100km, and folds into a tiny transportable package. It also looks nice.
But is it any good?
- Good value for money
- Throttle with cruise control
- Good range from high-capacity battery
- Folds quickly and compactly
- Build quality and after-sales support a concern
- Battery could be an impact risk for shorter riders
- Battery / seat can be easily stolen
- Weak motor, even by European standards
Buy for $999.99 from Geekbuying
Prior to the D11, Fiido bikes were difficult to get outside of China. But the company recently setup international operations so that buyers wouldn’t have to pay expensive import duties that could easily add a few hundred dollars to Fiido’s budget e-bike prices. It should also help get parts to Fiido bikes in Europe and North America more quickly when they need service… and they likely will based on my testing (more on that later).
Unboxing a direct-to-consumer e-bike that’s only been viewed on the two-dimensional pages of Indiegogo sets the mood for everything that comes after. The Fiido experience started off well enough: I was surprised by how tiny the D11 box was upon delivery. It’s especially small compared to the full-size e-bikes I usually receive. Opening it up, however, revealed a box full of haphazardly packed foam and other environmentally damaging materials that immediately sullied my already tempered expectations.
The unboxing experience was certainly well below the high bar set by VanMoof… usually, but the D11 also costs half as much.
Freed from the shackles of polystyrene garbage and a dozen or so tie-wraps, I was immediately stumped by how to raise the handlebar stem. The English assembly instructions are meager at best, and following them sequentially would have snapped a brake cable. Fortunately, I noticed that the handlebar had rotated en route (or at packing), causing the brake line to pull taut. Rolling it back into position with a flip of the quick release latch created enough slack in the line to smoothly raise the handlebar into place. Next, I attached the pedals and tightened everything up. Then I charged the battery.
The novel thing about the D11 design is the giant seat post that houses a rather beefy 418Wh (36V 11.6A) battery for such a diminutive bike with 20-inch wheels. The battery charges from zero to full in a slow seven hours. The Cowboy 3, which costs more than twice as much as the D11, is fitted with a slightly smaller 360Wh battery that charges in just 3.5 hours. The speed difference is likely explained by Cowboy’s use of more advanced 21700 lithium-ion battery cells that pack more energy into less space but also cost more.
That long battery creates a very long seat post, which should make the D11 adaptable to a wide variety of rider heights. But… no. The battery is marked with numbered gradations so that you can insert it to the same depth each time. If you obey the max and min insertion marks, then the Fiido D11 is only suitable for tall riders — something the company fails to mention. I’m six feet (183cm) tall and when the seat is at its lowest setting, I can barely touch both toes to the ground. In my opinion (I could be wrong!), it’ll safely lower another four centimeters (1.5 inches) before the battery juts out of the protective frame, creating a potential impact hazard. That’s the depth I tested the seat post at because it was just right for my height. In other words, the D11’s not really suitable for anyone under six feet tall. (Fiido doesn’t list a min / max rider height for the D11 — it only gives a vague “saddle height” range of 80cm-110cm. For what it’s worth, my saddle height measures 98cm from the ground.)
The battery / seat design does allow the D11 to fold nice and compact since it can be shoved through the frame, nearly to the ground, instead of sticking up like a flagpole. Other, more expensive folding bikes make you carry the battery separately when collapsed, or require a few extra steps to reposition and secure the seatpost to reach minimum volume claims.
There’s also no easy way to lock the battery / seat even with an external bike lock. That means you either take it with you when parked outside a shop or cafe, or risk having someone flip open the quick-release latch and stealing the battery / seat, which would be an embarrassing and costly ride home.
Once the battery is inserted, you still have to connect the small pigtail cable hanging off the bike to the battery near the top of the post, just below the power button and integrated tail lamp. Now the bike is ready to go.
Assembled, the blue D11 looks rather nice. Sure, it’s not iconic like the $3,499 Brompton Electric, but its folding mechanism is superior. It’s not as sleek or innovative as a GoCycle, but you can outfit a family of five with Fiido D11 e-bikes for the price of just one GoCycle GXi.
A short press of the power button causes the D11 to spring to life. But the 250W motor isn’t ready to begin assisting your pedal strokes until you click and hold the upper left button on the display.
I was all smiles during my first ride — it rode better than I had expected. Yes, the D11 is limited to just 25km/h (16mph), but that’s fine because this bike is made for European city commuters. The D11 speed limit can’t be bypassed with a cheat code either, unlike the Fiido D4, for example. Fiido’s clearly hoping to avoid tangling with regulators with the launch of its first international bike.
The D11 offers three pedal-assist modes as well as a throttle that doesn’t require any pedaling at all. Pedal-assist mode 3 (max) was my preferred setting as it best augmented my aggressive riding style. The motor does whine, but it’s not bad (I’ve definitely heard worse), and power delivery can feel slightly jerky at times, even in the lower pedal-assist modes. That’s because the D11 uses a cadence sensor instead of a more expensive torque sensor that helps smooth out the power delivery. The seven-speed Shimano gearbox shifts smoothly, allowing for quick starts off the line and speeds well in excess of 25km/h as long as you don’t mind your quads doing the work.
Holding the throttle down eventually engages a cruise control, but only after it reaches the maximum motor-assisted speed. You can then release the button and just enjoy the ride. You can pedal faster, and the motor will eventually re-engage when you slow back down. It’s a super handy feature.
Unfortunately, the D11’s motor is pretty weak, even compared to other 250W motors common in Europe. It’s fine in the flats, but the small Xiongda rear-hub motor really struggles against minor hills and even moderate winds. On my review unit, the motor cuts off at 24km/h, according to the bike’s display, not the stated 25km/h. But it felt even slower than that, so I measured the pace against a Garmin smartwatch which read 22km/h. If I had to guess, I’d say the Garmin was more accurate. Nevertheless, that motor provides enough torque to get my 82kg (180-pound) body moving from a standstill to top speed on level surfaces in about 12 to 15 seconds using nothing but the throttle.
Some other things to note:
- I managed 49km (30 miles) during my range test over mostly flat city bike paths. My lazy riding was probably 90 percent throttle usage and 10 percent pedal-assisted. Fiido claims a range of 40 to 50km (25 to 31 miles) in electric-only (throttle) modes and 80 to 100km (50 to 60 miles) in pedal assist modes, which sounds about right.
- The rear light integrated into the seat post / battery is also a brake light that brightens and then flashes when pulling either brake caliper.
- Lights, dual mechanical disc brakes, electric horn, and kickstand come standard, but mudguards do not. Those fenders will add $29.99 / €25.79 to the total price.
- Steering is agile without feeling overly twitchy.
- The handlebar stem can’t be extended, which makes the riding position more sporty than upright, especially for taller riders.
- Grips are hard, transferring road bumps directly into your hands.
- Saddle comfort is fine for short trips or the occasional long commute.
- The display is fine at night but quickly washes out even in overcast conditions. But it’s not something you need to be constantly checking.
So, you do get a decent set of features for your money with the Fiido D11. But you also give up many of the things enjoyed by premium bike owners:
- The D11 weighs 18.5kg (40 pounds, 13 ounces) which isn’t even close to being “ultralight,” as claimed by the Indiegogo campaign, since you’re not going to be riding it without the battery / seat. The full-sized $4,599 Gogoro Eeyo 1S weighs just 11.9kg (26 pounds), for comparison, while the Brompton Electric folding e-bike plus battery / bag combo weighs 16.9kg (37 pounds, 4 ounces).
- Features like folding pedals or locking mechanisms that hold the handlebar and frame tightly together are missing on the D11, making it unwieldy to trolley or carry one-handed when collapsed.
- High-end e-bikes have clean designs with cables that snake through the frames. The D11 has lots of exposed cables that look ugly and risk snagging.
- The D11 has a Shimano seven-speed shifter, while premiums often have automatic transmissions and internally geared motors.
- The D11 has a messy, exposed chain and derailleur that require more maintenance than the simple belt drives found on higher-end electrics.
- Premium e-bikes often include theft protection in the form of integrated locks or GPS / GSM location tracking and recovery services. But at least you can carry your Fiido into the house or office at night.
- Everything from the D11’s packaging, to the thick welded seams, to the tire selection, to the chosen battery cells is inferior to the superior build quality associated with bikes above $2,000.
- The better e-bikes have homegrown apps that track your trip history, help the company remotely monitor the bike’s health, and allow the owner to fine-tune ride settings. Fiido doesn’t offer any app at all.
- Premium bikes offer better after-purchase support, over-the-air software fixes, and first- or third-party arrangements that can even service or repair the bike right where it breaks down. Cowboy owners are even offered a free crash detection service.
At $999.99, the D11 is cheap for an e-bike you might use every day, but it’s still a big bundle of money that sets an expectation of durability. Unfortunately, this is where I have some concerns. I already have a problem with the saddle after just two weeks of testing: whenever I hit a bump, the seat abruptly, and uncomfortably, tilts upward a notch, despite tightening it as much as I can. And because the saddle is integrated into the battery, the mount isn’t a stock part I can get from any old bike shop. The rear wheel also rubs with a slight metal-on-metal sound. It doesn’t appear to be a disc brake alignment issue, so I’m guessing it’s something to do with resistance introduced by that rear hub motor. It’s audible when pushing the bike, and then heard only periodically when riding as a high-pitched squeak that comes and goes.
The email addresses no longer exist
When I reached out to Fiido to report the issues, my messages to the company bounced, saying the email addresses no longer exist. These are the same Fiido.co.cn employees who arranged to send me the test bike. I still wasn’t able to reach anyone at the company by publication time, four days after losing contact.
As a newcomer to the international market, making warranty claims on the motor, controller, and electronics, and getting replacement parts on the Fiido D11 would likely be a challenge even in the best of times. The pandemic complicates things further since the high demand for generic parts used on e-bikes like the D11 are in short supply, and couriers are overwhelmed with deliveries. I’ve learned to live with the things that need to be serviced on my test D11, but I wouldn’t be so calm had I paid $1,000 and needed support for my two-week-old bike.
Taken at face value, the Fiido D11 is a fine little folding e-bike, made better by its €859.99 / $999.99 price tag. But like most things in life, you really do get what you pay for.
All Rights Reserved for Thomas Ricker