When people ask me about buying ebikes, I always suggest they should view £2,000/$2,500 as the entry point. Yes, you can get some solid bikes for less than that, but it's very hard to vouch for their longevity, and the ride experience is never going to be all that great. The BirdBike A Frame is an excellent electric bike, which proves my point very well. It costs £1,999/€1,999/$2,299 and it has a whole gamut of features that you won't find as well implemented – or at all – on cheaper ebikes. It's also a lot of fun to ride, it looks great, and you can pick one up from Halfords, so distribution and availability should be good too.
Of course, nothing is ever that simple, so there is one fairly major caveat to make here. The BirdBike takes practically all its design cues from VanMoof's ebikes but lacks a number of the premium features of the VanMoof. Okay, the Netherlands' VanMoof S3 is slightly more expensive at £2,148/$2,448 – but not by much.
Despite that, I still rate the BirdBike as one of the best electric bikes I've had the pleasure to try. For more on my views on what is a sensible price to pay for an ebike, read mistakes everyone makes with ebikes. We also have mistakes everyone makes with bikes (ie: non-electric ones), and they are largely also relevant to electric bikers. Alternatively, you can find out all about how Apple wrecked my James Bond Omega watch. On purpose for all I know!
I don't think anyone could really claim that Bird hasn’t 'drawn inspiration', let's say, from the VanMoof design. Judging by the BirdBike website they also are pitching it straight at the same hip, urban audience as the VanMoof S3, and the forthcoming upgrade, the VanMoof S5.
The VanMoof ebike features a number of useful security features including GPS tracking, an integrated lock and alarm and even a team who will go and try to retrieve your bike should it get stolen – by all accounts with a very high success rate. It also features automatic gears – an unusual feature, which beginners in particular may find useful. You won’t find any of that on the BirdBike.
The VanMoof also boasts hydraulic disk brakes, which should perform better than the mechanical ones on the A Frame. It's slightly lighter too, although at 21kg and 23kg respectively, neither bike is able to claim to be lightweight. Finally, the VanMoof has, on paper at least, a longer battery life.
I don't really mean all these comparisons to sound too negative, but it's worth spelling out. America's BirdBike A Frame is clearly intended to be a VanMoof rival, and yet its Dutch rival is a better specced bike in most respects. However, with its (slightly) lower price, and Halfords on board as retail partner in the UK, the BirdBike will likely gain a larger audience in the long run.
The good news is that the BirdBike is easily a good enough ride to still be worth considering, despite the looming presence of the VanMoof.
In fact BirdBike, who got started in the ebike biz by making hire bikes, have a few neat tricks up their sleeves that VanMoof lacks. One of them is pretty simple: there are 7-speed Shimano gears with a shifter.
Sure, they are only entry-level Shimano Tourney, but I would take a full range of gears, with a mechanical shifter, over the VanMoof's 4-speed hub gears, which are set up to change automatically, which I find immensely irritating. Yes, you can turn off the auto-shifting, and the gearing system is technically superior, but I prefer the simplicity and familiarity of BirdBike's cheapo gears.
Having an extra 3 speeds is also potentially handy although I have to admit, I don't do a whole lot of gear changes on ebikes, since the motor takes the effort out of starting up in too high a gear, and is also able to conquer practically any hill I'm likely to encounter in central London. But still.
Another useful feature that VanMoof lacks is a built-in screen. Sure it doesn't do much, but it's good to see your speed, remaining battery life, distance travelled and current assistance level literally front and centre. The screen is nice and bright, too.
Continuing to do the basics well, the integrated lights are bright and well directed. Among the best I've tried, in fact. The battery life of 60 miles tops – realistically more like 20-30 unless you really want to stay in the sluggish 'Eco' mode at all times – is not amazing by any means, but for the urban riders this is squarely aimed at, that should be perfectly sufficient.
The most important thing about an ebike is what it rides like. That's especially true for me, as I get sent plenty that ride like shit, which gets pretty tiresome, I can tell you. The BirdBike is a great ride. As soon as you mount up, everything feels right. The seated position is comfortable but not too laid back, and despite its bulk, I found the bike surprisingly nimble and enjoyable. It corners well, accelerates to the requisite 15.5mph legal speed limit pleasingly quickly, and while better brakes would be a welcome upgrade, they are adequate for anything except steep hill descent emergencies.
The key to the fun ride performance, as well the geometry of the bike, is the sensor that measures your pedal input and the road/gradient conditions, and converts it into motorised assistance. On cheaper ebikes this is like taking pot luck, with power applied seemingly at random. On the BirdBike, however, the electrical help feels perfectly natural. Pedal harder, take on a hill, or go from a standing start, and it powers up. Settle into a more gentle rhythm and it scales back the assistance, but without leaving you relying on pedal power only.
Of course, where it does leave you relying on your own efforts is after that 15.5mph speed limit is reached, but that is true of all ebikes. We really must raise the ebike speed limit sometime soon.
Overall, I was really impressed with the BirdBike A Frame. It would be very interesting to do a direct comparison of the ride with VanMoof's bike but going from memory, I think I actually enjoyed riding the BirdBike even more – something subtle about the riding position possibly. Both bikes pull of the clever trick of feeling nippy despite being heavy, and of course they keep the benefit of a heavy bike, which is to say it feels extremely stable.
The BirdBike A Frame is the only ebike Bird currently makes, but the intention is obviously to bring out a step-through model at some point soon. I don't have any info on when, but I would be surprised if it didn't happen sooner or later.
BirdBike A Frame: price and availability
This BirdBike is on sale in the UK, USA and Europe, but not Australia as far as I can see. It's available in black, grey or blue and the price is £1,999, $2,299 or €1,999.
- Buy BirdBike A Frame for £1,999 at Halfords (UK)
- Buy BirdBike A Frame for $2,299 at Bird (USA)
- Buy BirdBike A Frame for €1,999 at Bird (EU)