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?
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.