104 of 104 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2011
I have tried this bike on a demo track and the manufacturer's lot, and since there are no reviews currently I thought my info might help someone with a purchase. I don't own it, but would like to when funds allow since I found it a very nice little bike.
I have owned electric bikes for several years. My first, a Giant Lite, is considered one of the classics of the ebike world but is no longer in production and parts are getting hard to find, leading to warning #1 about ebikes: no matter what you buy, you are an early adopter in the US, and long-term maintenance and support may be an issue.
In response to that, my second electric bike is a recumbent with an electric hub motor kit and non-proprietary batteries. I love that bike but it is heavy and unwieldy until you get going, and there are many times it's too much trouble to pull out, leading to warning #2: electric bikes have to be convenient to use, or they defeat their purpose for most riders.
I am starting to think the sweet spot of ebikes for average city users may be a lightweight, affordable, comfortable electric folder that you can grab quickly, ride even when you are tired, and fold away. This bike may not meet that goal perfectly, but it is pretty close.
1) It is one of the lightest ebikes around (they typically run 40 pounds and up), and at 27 pounds is really easy to lift. This really matters. If it's too heavy, you'll be getting into your car instead. In addition, finding an ebike and a folder in one package is pretty rare. Most are kits that are added on in the after-market. You could go this route or install a kit yourself, but most non-electric folders weigh in the 20-30 pound range, and an electric hub kit and battery will probably add 20 pounds to that (not to mention $500 on up). You'll have a powerful little bike but it will weigh so much that you won't look forward to lifting it into your car. Weight really matters, and there aren't any others I know of at the weight of the e-Lightning.
2) It is not a true folder, since its frame doesn't break down, but its compacted dimensions are still quite good for packing. With the bars folded, seat lowered and pedals folded I estimate it is about 52" x 29" by 8". Removal of the seat would drop it to 24" or so on height. Most inexpensive folding bikes are closer to 28"-36" on the longest dimension, but often wider than 8". In a lot of car trunks and back seats, the e-lighning may be as easy or easier to pack given its narrow width. Before buying a folder, you should know where you will need to carry it and what dimensions will work; if you need something to carry on a train or plane, this may not be for you. Around town or on vacation, though, this bike should be great, and you could probably carry it into work easily if you rig up a bag for it.
3) I find folders surprisingly comfortable and easy to ride, and this is no exception. It rides much like a cruiser with an upright position and high handlebars that don't stress your hands. You should probably try out any folder to get a feel for it before buying one.
4) I think electric assistance should make a bike fun to ride almost before anything else, since that will get you on the bike. It can also help you carry cargo, compensate for injuries or fatigue, and get you places without getting too sweaty when you need that. This electric assist is not turbo-powered, but lots of fun and adequate for many errands and town rides that don't require a lot of cargo room. When I took off on the bike, I thought the assist was off, but I found the bike pleasantly easy to pedal. Reading on their website later, I think I had this wrong -- the pedal assist does come on when you start pedaling, but at a low gear and with virtually no noise. When you want to add power, there is a tab on the right handlebar that you hold down (quite comfortably with your thumb), and then you go into second gear and definitely feel the motor. You can then cruise along with very little work if you want. If I'm right about this, the downside is that there is no way to turn the motor completely off to conserve battery power or get more exercise, but this is a minor issue since the base power level is pretty subtle.
I did not test the bike on any hills, but given the specs I think you might want to look for more power if your terrain is hilly, or if speed is what you want. The site says 14 mph is the max speed with assist, or you can pedal your heart out and go faster. Realistically, buy something with a bigger motor if it matters to you.
5) I can't judge this bike's battery performance, but its lithium technology should be pretty good and the warranty is a good one for the ebike world. The battery is proprietary, which I dislike, but it can be removed from the tube and replaced if needed. It is probably possible for a hobbyist to rig up some kind of battery if the proprietary battery becomes unavailable. I also don't like that it is fully enclosed, since I live in a hot climate and might worry about battery heat dissipation. You should check with Lightning for detailed info.
6) I have never had a pancake motor, but there is info on the web that makes it sound like a good, lightweight solution for an ebike. It is much smaller and lighter than the hub motors I'm familiar with. Not sure about long-term reliability.
7) There are not too many extras on the bike, but it does have a cute rear rack that could carry a basket or small pack. The rack is too short for standard panniers, so you may need to improvise or look into accessories for folding bikes that deal with this. There is also an integral light that runs off the battery. You use the removable handlebar tab that starts the motor to start the light. You get a spare tab with the bike, but I'd probably attach a string to it to keep from losing one. The charger is similar to a laptop charger, according to the maker (I haven't seen it), and you can buy a spare to keep at work. I think they told me it takes 4 hours to charge, but check with them if you need to know for sure. Battery status is three small lights on the handlebar. This is not a great system, but most ebikes don't indicate much more than this. Of course, if you run out of power, you can pedal the bike on home.
8) This is a simple one-speed ebike, and looks pretty durable, but support matters a lot in the ebike world and it's important to know who you are buying from. Lightning Cycle Dynamics has been making a legendary recumbent bike for 20 years, and their bikes are known for solid frames, great handling, and speed. (Lightnings have held a lot of speed records.) I recently visited their factory in Lompoc, California. They hand-build all of their recumbents, have a full machine shop, and are very enthusiastic about bikes. If anyone could keep you going on a bike, I would think it would be them, but the ebike world changes fast and you should expect obsolescence.
I was kind of bemused that makers of custom racing recumbents would produce a little electric folder, so I asked the owner about it. He took an existing Chinese ebike and did some design work to adapt and improve it for the US market. It is produced in China, which is currently probably the ebike center of the world. The owner is an aerospace engineer, designer of the Lightning recumbents and holder of a number of racing records, but he said he uses an e-Lightning himself for errands.
If you're thinking of buying an electric folder, you'll have to weigh price, folding size, weight and durability to make a decision. The e-Lightning is certainly a compromise on folding size and turbo-power, but on weight I don't think it can be beat. On top of that it's a lot of fun. I think it's a great little ebike from a US company that's been around awhile, and it might be just right for a lot of people.
32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2012
I got the e-lightning a few weeks ago, but since I was planning to take it down to S. California, I didn't take it out of the box. When I did, I found parts missing, since it was apparently a demo, so I called the dealer and was pleasantly surprised when the missing parts arrived within three days. BTW, the price reflected its status.
The bike itself was extremely simple to assemble and the directions on YouTube were straightforward. Once assembled, the bike ran well and responded quickly to the thumb switch on the handle bars that kicked it into "second." I rode it for three days within the confines of our square-mile development and had no problems. It collapses reasonably well, however the frame does not fold. However, at 27 pounds, it's a snap for me (at 82) to lift it into the trunk.
Riding the e-lightning takes a little getting used to. The smaller front wheel makes steering different from a conventional bike. I'd advise caution for the first few days until you get used to it. The electric motor seems to be "on" constantly, but this doesn't seem to be a problem since only on hills does extra power seem necessary. The ride is smooth and it seems the advertised 15 mph is realistic.
I would recommend the e-lightning on the limited experience I've had. I'll post more if I have any issues with it.