The Vika+ foldable electric bike delivers both performance & style (Review)
The Blix Bike Vika+ e-bike comes through on both form and function, and offers a well-designed electric assist bicycle that can fold down into a small footprint for transport and storage.
Over the last few years, the electric bike scene has gone from being a fringe element to serious contender, and the combination of both technological advancements and consumer interest has been responsible for a virtual explosion in e-bike offerings, with models being launched for a wide variety of cyclists, ranging from casual riders to bike commuters. And it's important to have the right model of bike for the task at hand, as there's no better way to ensure that a bicycle will gather dust instead of road grime than to buy one that doesn't really meet the needs of the rider.
One category of bicycles that caters to a specific need is foldable (or folding, if you prefer) bikes, for those who need to be able to easily fit their two-wheeler in a trunk or closet or other small space, yet still have full-sized bike functionality. Being able to quickly stow or transport the bicycle with you can help overcome 'last-mile' and multi-modal transportation hurdles, and when combined with an electric drive component, folding bikes could offer a low-sweat option to a number of commuters.
Although I'm not exactly the target market for a folding bike (I spend more time on a mountain bike on dirt singletrack than city pavement these days), the folks at Blix Bike asked if I'd like to try out their Vika+ foldable e-bike, which is said to be the result of "more than 9 years of product development and continuous technological improvement." To be honest, I wasn't prepared to like this bike as much as I eventually did, and while I did end up finding the bike wanting in a few areas, I also came to appreciate the well-thought-out design of both the bike and its components.
The first hurdle that I had to get over with the Vika+ is its stepover frame (which is actually convenient, but not my usual) and smaller wheels (20"), both of which led me to think that the bike wouldn't be as stable or smooth on the road. However, after the first ride, I changed my tune a bit, because while it certainly wasn't the same exact ride as I would get on my road bike or mountain bike, those bikes also wouldn't easily fit in the trunk of my little sedan, so it's a fair enough trade-off.
The second issue that I had to come to terms with was its weight. At about 48 pounds (~21.8 kg), the Vika+ weighed in quite a bit more than any other bike I regularly ride, and at almost double the weight of my favorite bike, I thought for sure I that the Vika+ would end up getting low marks from me, simply because of that. However, the first few virtually effortless rides I took up the long steep hill by my house, and the feeling of rolling along the highway at speeds of almost 20 miles per hour while barely pedaling caused me to seriously reconsider it. If I lived where I had to physically carry the bike up and down multiple flights of stairs every day, I might feel differently, but I felt that the effort of hauling it in and out of a trunk, or carrying it short distances, was overcome by how quickly and easily I could get from place to place with it.
The Vika+ is quick and easy to fold up as well, as the design uses two simple mechanisms - one on the frame and one on the stem and handlebars - to allow it to fold almost into thirds for storage or transport, while also keeping the bike as rigid and stable as a conventional bike. My previous experiences with folding bikes led me to believe that all folding mechanisms had to compromise on stability and strength in the frame, but riding the Vika+ has convinced me that it's not always the case, as this bike didn't seem to suffer from any ill effects because of its folding nature.
The bike has full-sized fenders on both front and rear, and an LED head- and tail-light, both of which are essential components on a commuter bike, and the inclusion of a rear cargo rack is a nice addition. The coil-spring seat is wide and comfortable for the upright riding position of the bike, and both it and the handlebar grips are a faux leather material that add a bit of style to the bike. A quick release fitting on the stem makes it easy to quickly adjust the height of the handlebars, a tilting mechanism under the seat allows for easy removal of the battery for charging or security, and the Vika+ comes with a sturdy kickstand for ease of parking as well as a chainguard for keeping clothes from getting soiled by contact with the chain.
When it comes to the riding experience of the Vika+, you can either choose from one of four power assist modes (or turn it completely off, for manual pedaling only) and although the bike's pedal-assist feature is easy enough to use, there's also a throttle on the handlebars for pedal-free locomotion. It took me a little while to get used to the feeling of the pedal-assist kicking in, especially on the higher power modes, but once I knew what to expect, it quickly became no big deal - with one exception. On occasions where I was trying to navigate slowly around or through something, such as parking the bike in a small space or turning completely around, sometimes the pedal-assist would kick in and propel me forward unexpectedly. Clearly, some of that is rider error, as I probably should have just turned the bike's power mode off during those times, but it also seemed to me that the sensor and motor cut-in controller technology still isn't quite where it needs to be yet.
The bike has a 350 W electric motor in the rear hub, powered by a 36V/11Ah Panasonic lithium-Ion battery that sits behind the seat tube directly under the rider, and has a range of up to 35 miles, a top speed of about 18 mph, and a recharge time of about 3 hours. A Shimano 7-speed gear system completes the drivetrain, the puncture-resistant (certainly true in my experience, and I live in serious goathead country) tires have reflective stripes on both sides for safety, and front and rear V-brakes provide the stopping power.
The weakest points of this bike, in my opinion, were the fact that the folding features of the bike don't include some form of catch or tie system to keep the folding parts securely together, which allowed the segments of the bike to knock against each other in transit (the team says a magnetic system is in the works for the 2017 model), and the fact that the motor cut-in seemed a bit abrupt. Neither of those would be a deal-killer for me, as a rubber bungee cord could solve the first issue, and the second is more a matter of getting used to the bike than anything else.
The Vika+, which is said to fit riders measuring from 4'10" to 6'3" (~147 cm to 190 cm) tall, retails for US$1,650, comes with a 3-year warranty on the frame and a 2-year warranty on the motor, battery, and controller, and is available in black, cream, and British racing green. The time I spent riding this bike convinced me that it's a well-priced and well-built e-bike, and is well worth considering if you're looking for a folding electric bike solution. More info at Blix Bike.
[Disclosure: Blix Bike loaned me a Vika+ model to use for review purposes, and all opinions, errors, or omissions in this post are mine alone.]