Review: Pedal-assist city riding with fast-folding Flit-16 Commuter ebike
The Flit-16 folding ebike launched on Kickstarter back in 2019 is now on general sale as the upgraded Commuter Edition, which we got to ride and fold, roll along and then unfold and ride for a few days earlier in the month.
The Commuter Edition is built around the same heat-treated 6061 aluminum T6 frame with stainless steel reinforcements at the hinges as the Kickstarter launch model.
Where most UK/EU ebikes sport a 250-W motor, in line with local regulations, Flit elected to go with a 220-watt Bafang hub motor for pedal assist up to 15.5 mph (25 km/h) over five power levels.
The company's Technical Lead Dave Henderson explained that Flit decided to use this motor because "it's made by Bafang, which has a good reputation and good spare parts availability; it was (and I believe still is) Bafang's lightest rear-hub motor; it has an unusually narrow OLD (a measure of the width of the rear dropouts) of 120 mm instead of the common 135 mm which helps when designing for a compact fold; and it has a 9T cassette driver (like the type you'd find on a BMX) instead of the more common 13T freewheel which means we don't need such a large chain wheel to get a decent number of gear inches (less weight & better for fold design)."
"It's also worth mentioning that motor ratings are a bit misleading and don't necessarily translate to real-world performance," he continued. "The 220-W rating is the continuous power, not the peak power. The continuous power is a benchtop test for compliance reasons that measures the power the motor can steadily produce without overheating. The peak power is limited by the controller. In our case, the controller max current to 13 A, so power peaks at 13 x 36 = 468 W."
You can see Henderson taking on a 16% incline in the short video below.
I tackled a number of steep hills between the nearest railway station and my home during my test rides (the curse of where I live), and have to admit that Henderson does make it look fairly easy on that Bristol breath-taker. Sure, he's younger and very possibly much fitter than I am, but though the torque sensor in the bottom bracket made for responsive motor input, there were a few occasions where I had to dismount and push the ebike up the hills (which sat somewhere between 18 and 20% gradient). Defeated.
A couple more gear options might help here – the Flit-16 Commuter Edition is a single-speeder. "We have opted for a single-speed set up (38T to 9T - 70 gear inches) that for most people will work really well," the company's co-founder and Managing Director, Alex Murray, told us. "When you’re pulling away or going uphill the motor gives enough assistance that you don’t feel the need to drop down to a lower gear. When you get to 25 km/h (the point at which the electrical assistance cuts out) the gear ratio is high enough that you can cruise without too high a cadence. Speeds beyond 30 km/h would probably warrant a larger chainwheel but for city use we feel that the lower maintenance, improved reliability and reduced weight of a single-speed transmission outweigh the benefits of multiple gears."
The motor gets its juice from a proprietary 36-V/230-Wh Li-ion battery with integrated LED rear lighting that's housed in the top tube, and can be removed by unlocking the seat clamp, pulling out the seat tube and then sliding out the battery.
A full recharge from empty takes around 3 hours, and users will get somewhere between 20 and 30 miles (30 - 50 km) of per-charge range – depending on variables such as rider input, motor usage, terrain and so on – which should be enough to satisfy its commuter identity. Riders can get pedal-assist to the local transport hub, for example, fold down the ebike and board the train or bus, get help from the motor when needed on the last mile to the office and top up during work hours for the return journey.
Clever engineering takes the lead for the intricate quick-fold dance to get the ebike ready for between-ride transport. A couple of twists, some tucks and the odd lift see the Flit collapse down to something about the size of a medium suitcase in under 10 seconds (after watching the support video on YouTube and going through a few dry runs).
There's also a nifty attachment that allows the front wheel to lock to the frame. "We tested many solutions involving springs and magnets but found the simple mechanical hook & hoop to be the most reliable and robust," said Murray. "For the Flit-16 Commuter Edition we have reinforced these even further to handle the inevitable knocks and bumps of regular cycle commuting, for example by making more parts in metal."
The stylish city ride folds down to compact 728 x 632 x 335 mm (28.6 x 24.8 x 13.1 in) dimensions, and can be lifted into the trunk of a car or onto the train from the platform, or rolled along on the back wheel at a slight tilt while using the saddle to steer. The whole shebang weighs a tad over 15 kg (33 lb) but the battery can be removed and popped in a backpack to make the heft a little easier.
The ebike's given name hints at its wheel size, with the 16-inch spoked wheels coming wrapped in 1.35-in-wide Schwalbe Marathon ebike tires. Stopping power is provided by Tektro v-brakes front and back. "To enable our ebike to fold so small, we have used a 74-mm hub on the front wheel," Murray explained. "Unfortunately, 74-mm hubs are not currently disc brake compatible. We find that v-brakes are perfect for the city riding that the bike is designed for."
The Flit-16 also boasts proprietary rear suspension made up of five aluminum discs separated by elastomer – the aluminum serving as a kind of heatsink to cool the elastomer as it warms up during use. This doesn't offer anywhere near the squishiness of a spring shock, but it's much lighter and proved very welcome on the less, erm, well-maintained areas of road I traveled during the review.
Other features of note include an integrated LED headlight that's reported to offer 30 Lux output, Wellgo folding pedals, a chain tensioner and jockey wheels, a Velo Sport saddle, and a Bafang DP C231 display mounted to the handlebar.
This display shows ride metrics such as speed, trip distance and pedal-assist levels as well as remaining charge level, lighting status and so on. There are five levels of motor assist available – plus a zero (no assist) mode and a walk-assist mode – and control is via three soft buttons under the screen.
The Commuter Edition comes with fenders included, and these things are a little special in that they snap out flat above the tires when deployed and coil back like a spring when not, with the rear fender attached to a pivot arm for stowing away close to the frame during transit. Murray revealed that "the mudguard blade itself is designed by Genice, the mudguard bracket that fixes the mudguard onto the bike is a custom Flit design."
Differences between the launch edition and the Commuter model include the upgraded Bafang display, the custom retractable design of the rear fender that "leaves the rear wheel unobstructed when folded, allowing the ebike to be easily rolled on its full wheel (as opposed to the small castor wheels that other folding bikes use which struggle on uneven surfaces), an included kickstand, a metal chainstay, a metal retaining hoop, and reworked hinge clamps "to be quicker and easier to use during folding/unfolding."
The rear suspension has benefited from a redesign too "so that the Flit-16 can tackle a wider range of terrains and heavier loads," the single-piece handlebar is new, and the company has improved the matte paint finish as well.
The bottom line
The Flit-16 rocks a classic minimalist "Brompton" kind of feel with a modern twist, and like models from that veteran marque, the ebike gives off a built-to-last vibe, which helps with ride confidence. And unlike some other folders, the main frame tube isn't hinged in the middle, which again adds to the ebike's sturdy feel.
The company reckons that the fastest fold time has been clocked at just over seven seconds, and I managed eight after discovering a few time-saving cheats. But even at a 10-second average, folks rushing toward the platform could still make the train on time. And it collapses down to easily squeeze into luggage cubbies or between seats, so shouldn't annoy fellow passengers.
For most of the miles clocked up during my test rides, the Commuter Edition offered enough assist at the pedals to make the journeys much less of a chore – ensuring that I didn't arrive at my destination in a sweaty, heavy breathing heap. But there are quite a few challenging hills between my home and the local railway station, and I feel that even one or two gears would have seen me conquer them with much less effort (who says ebiking won't keep you fit?).
Crazy inclines aside, the Flit-16 was great fun for short hops around town and city streets, with enough juice in the battery for some rides beyond.
The Commuter Edition is on sale now for an introductory price of £1,999 until the end of August, after which it will rise to the RRP of £2,499. Though 2019's Kickstarter attracted backers from around the world, the company is restricting shipping to the UK at this time due to rising export costs and other complexities associated with Brexit.
As for Flit's future plans... "While we can't talk about anything specific yet, we can say that, rather than working on different types of bikes, we're focused on making the best folding ebikes that we possibly can," Murray told us. "To achieve that we are working on projects to develop new products and reimagine the way that they are built and recycled."
Product page: Flit-16 Commuter Edition