With vaccines rolling out, it sure seems like only a matter of time before the days of full-time working from home will be coming to an end for many of us. That means the return of the commute. You know, sitting in traffic. Maybe driving some car that's dull but economical and fitted with an automatic. Ugh.
Alas, now that the weather is warming up, allow me to suggest a compelling alternative, something that might even convince you to trade in that commuter car for a weekend plaything. Behold, a fold-up electric-assist GoCycle.
"Boy, that thing looks a bit dorky," you might say. Admittedly, the tiny wheels and sky-high seat and handlebars are atypical, to say the least. However, they allow the GoCycle to fold up small enough to fit easily in most car trunks and make it far easier to bring safely inside once at work. Just pull the big, sturdy latches on the frame and handle bar, fold over and down, secure the two halves together with an elastic strap, and you're done. Though heavy at 38.5 pounds, it's much easier to carry about than a regular bike, especially if you get the available rolling carry bag.
Why is such portability important? Well, people steal bicycles, and no lock is perfect. People also steal bicycle parts, and one would imagine a thousand-plus-dollar electric bicycle would be a prime target. So, simply put, it's more convenient and space-efficient to own a GoCycle than a bigger, conventional electric bike. And, since it is an e-bike itself, you also don't have to worry about those pesky regular-bike calamities like hills or sweating like a pig in office attire.
GoCycle GX in the back of a Toyota Venza
Of course, GoCycle isn't the only maker of fold-up electrified bicycles out there. And at a price of between $4,000 and $6,000 depending on model, they are considerably more expensive. So, what are you getting for all that extra money? Well, as car enthusiasts would appreciate while explaining to someone the differences between mainstream and luxury cars, the answer largely seems to come down to design, quality, engineering and performance.
Other fold-up bikes have exposed chains and long unwieldy wires bound to snag while trying to carry or store them. The GoCycle has far less of its wire harness exposed, while the chain and gearset are neatly encased. That gearset is also a clever three-speed that's far more appropriate for an electrified bicycle (more gears are just unnecessary with all that torque, and a bit annoying as I found out with the Vintage Electric Café), and easier to shift thanks to the ability to loop back from third to first rather than sequentially moving your way back down.
Others bikes have batteries mounted outside the frame for a less streamlined appearance and a more tantalizing theft target. Those batteries also tend to be less sophisticated, with longer recharge times (only 3.5 hours with GoCycle's optional fast charger) and often shorter ranges. GoCycle’s various offerings go between 40 and 60 miles depending on model, which is great for a fold-up bike, but admittedly the same as mainstream conventional e-bikes that cost in the mid-$1,000 range.
As for engineering, besides the slick packaging of the body, it's quite the feat for something as tall and gangly as a fold-up bike to ride as utterly normal as the GoCycle does (and it must be noted that I was riding what amounts to the previous-generation GX model as opposed to the new-and-improved GoCycle G4). I was admittedly wary of riding it given that sky-high handlebar and seat height, which would be nearing its maximum with all 6-foot-3 of me riding it. Honestly, smaller wheels make the ride a wee bit firmer, and I was definitely less confident while making quick back-and-forth transitions. An uphill stretch on a loose gravel surface with the small, road-oriented tires was a bit nerve-wracking, too. All that said, it really is shockingly normal. I didn't really notice the tall seat and handlebars and, if anything, I found the GoCycle more comfortable than many average-sized bikes I've ridden (my own bike is an XL). Indeed, reviews elsewhere by actual cyclists confirm that the GoCycle doesn't suffer from the twitchiness of other fold-up bikes. In other words, car people, it handles better.
It's also a lot faster, which was one of the main goals GoCycle had in creating a fold-up commuter bike that would be more capable and comfortable than the norm. It can reach the government-mandated speed limit of 20 mph with ease thanks to its 500-watt electric motor mounted in the front wheel hub. It feeds in electricity when you pedal, but unlike the Vintage Electric Café I tested last year, it also includes a throttle override. The amount of motor assist you get can be selected by choosing amongst City, Eco, City Plus and Custom modes in the GoCycle app that's connected to the bike via Bluetooth (the app also serves as a dashboard showing speed, charge status and gear). Your phone attaches with some simple elastic straps. These modes are obviously similar in concept to what you'll find in many cars today, but in this case, the Custom mode allows you to set how much motor you want versus how much you're pedaling. As I want to get up to speed as quickly as possible (I'm a car reviewer, what were you expecting?), I started the effort as soon as possible and with maximum power as soon as possible.
Once I set that, the GoCycle had no problem flying up Portland's Mount Tabor without a sweat, much as I did with the performance-oriented Vintage Electric. I couldn't as quickly get up to speed, nor blow so easily past cyclists huffing and puffing, but we're talking the differences between a 300-horsepower car and 400-horsepower one here. Considering that folding e-bikes are mostly meant to cover "the first and last mile" of a commute, this performance goes way above and beyond. You can cover the whole damn commute with this thing.
Besides satisfying my full-throttle tendencies, I also preferred my Custom setting to the basic City mode, which seemed to engage the motor at random times while pedaling to maintain momentum. Perhaps it works at efficiently moving you along, but the motor's unusual, deep whir draws attention to itself in a way that gets a bit irritating when it's not constant and not necessarily in concert with your pedaling.
Of course, using City Plus or my Full-Throttle motor mode is less efficient, which may indeed be an issue with the GoCycle relative other conventional electric bikes that go as far for a lot less money, or go much further for the same money. Now, you have to ask yourself, where are you commuting on a bicycle that you'll need more than 40 miles of range in a day? Or, alternatively, why is your office located on top of that mountain?
Yet, here's the important thing to remember: Even if 40 miles wouldn't be enough, the GoCycle's portability makes it possible to bring inside anywhere to charge, including next to your desk while you work. And that brings us back to the GoCycle's main reason for being: portability for the sake of commuting. There is unquestionable value in this brand and this design.
But, ah yes, that design. It is indeed a bit dorky in appearance – my co-workers didn't really take it seriously when I showed them my latest test "vehicle." But then, they live in Detroit, where everything is a 20-minute drive away on six-lane roads with Michigan lefts. Here in a more compact, bike-friendly town like Portland, where there are bike lanes and bike-optimized "Green Way" streets everywhere (we also tend to be pretty weird, so there's that), seeing a fold-up commuter bike and other two-wheeled oddities is commonplace. But none of those look as sophisticated or premium as the GoCycle. And they're definitely not going as quickly nor, I am wagering, do they feel as secure riding the thing. I compare it to the difference between a Kia Rio and a Volkswagen GTI – both are hatchbacks, but come on, we know why the VW costs so much more. If I needed to commute to a downtown office every day, I'd take one in green … and then throw it in the back of a GTI on weekends.