It takes a brave brand to go for the Brompton Electric and GoCycle GX's position as top dog in the folding electric bike market, but then that market has expanded rapidly in recent years, and will likely continue to do so over the next decade, so maybe it's as sensible as it is brave. Especially when you're offering a bike of comparable quality to the electric Brompton for well over £1,000 less – so long as you make an Early Bird investment via Kickstarter, anyway.
What is really brave, however, is taking on Brompton with something you've decided to call the FLIT-16 but that is precisely what FLIT of Cambridge, UK, is doing.
This is boom time for the best electric bikes, and one of the biggest areas where brands old and new are looking to cash in is with folding e-bikes (the other is electric mountain bikes). This new e-bike in town is from, among other people, Dave Henderson, a former Jaguar Land Rover engineer and that is reflected in the quality of its design. Unfortunately, as noted, it is 'saddled' with the name FLIT-16… But hey, maybe that will grow on you.
You couldn't call the FLIT-16 a handsome beast. In fact it looks, it must be said, a little bit like a child's drawing of a Brompton. Once you get past the slightly primitive appearance, however, what you find is a very high quality e-bike that, from my test ride, seems to match the Brompton in several details, and better it in several others.
Overall, perhaps the Brompton is slightly better – and certainly a more established product – but the FLIT-16 offers both a riding and folding experience that are broadly on par with the market leader.
The design influence of Brompton is obvious in the riding position, dimensions and the way it folds. However, it's by no means a mere, cheap rip-off. FLIT's team have clearly studied the E-Brompton and observed what could be improved, as well as what works.
By moving the battery to the frame and the motor to the rear (both are situated at the front on the Brompton), what you end up with is a bike that's easier to carry when folded, as the weight is better distributed. You also don't need to remove the hefty battery pack, as you do on Brompton's bike.
The down side of moving the battery to the tube is that it's somewhat smaller than Brompton's, which means it will last for a shorter time between charges. However while 'only' about 30 miles is quoted as an average battery life for the FLIT – compared to 50 for the Brompton – that is surely enough for most potential users' commutes.
Folding seems quick and easy – admittedly this was demonstrated to me by Alex Murray, who I am going to assume is an expert, seeing as how he is Co-Founder and Managing Director of the company. However, to my eyes, it didn't seem any more tricky than a Brompton (I've had a Brompton for the last month and still haven't quite mastered folding it, which is rather embarrassing for me).
The hook for holding the front wheel in place when folded seemed likely to prove better in the long run, if anything, and I liked the fact that the clamps that hold the joints in place when unfolded are themselves held in place with springs for easier location, where with the Brompton you have to manually find them every time.
The integrated lights also seemed good although since I rode it at mid-day last Thursday aka The Hottest Day EVER, I didn't really test that aspect of the bike.
FLIT-16: is it good to ride? Hell yeah!
The FLIT-16 is not, it seems to me, quite as much fun to ride as the Brompton, despite seemingly being stiffer and lighter. For me, Brompton has really nailed it with the front-wheel drive, and the way power is applied in a way that matches the effort of your pedalling.
However, as I think I may have already mentioned, a Brompton currently costs over £1,000 more than a FLIT-16, and this newcomer is really not far off the ride experience of the E-Brompton. The agile handling and comfortably upright ride position in particular were eerily similar. There's only one gear, and I did miss the 2nd one that Brompton offers, but there are 5 levels of assistance, and it's pleasingly nippy from the 2nd or 3rd one upwards.
I wasn't too impressed with the tactility of the handlebar controller for the assistance level, nor the visibility of the screen that shows your current power mode, speed etc. But then on the Brompton, neither of those things is even provided.
I think it's quite a good test for an e-bike to ride it up a steep (by London standards) hill, on The Hottest Day Ever, and that's just what I did. While no Strava segment records were in danger, the FLIT-16 went all the way up Pentonville Road in 30º+ heat at a solid 15mph or so, without me even remotely breaking sweat. My arms got rather sunburned but I don't think FLIT's engineers can really be expected to do much about that, sadly.
On the flat or milder slopes, it's just a great, zippy, fun ride – definitely up there with the most enjoyable commuter e-bikes I've tried, and I have tried a LOT in the last few years. Going back down the (quite) big hill, the brakes were good enough to make me not concerned for my well-being, which as much as you can ask with bicycles really.
And now here is a promotional video
FLIT-16: should you buy one?
That is the £1,375 question (there's currently a few left at that price, then there are 150 at £1,500). Compared to its fellow folders, GoCycle's GX and the Electric Brompton, that is damn cheap. Having only ridden it for half an hour I can hardly vouch for its long-term potential but everything about the FLIT looks and feels well made.
FLIT's home town is Cambridge, which is the UK's number one location for both cycling and tech, and with FLIT-16, it seems to have made a great job of combining the two. Hopefully next time they can take just a little bit more of a lead from the town's 'dreaming spires', when it comes to considering the aesthetics of the bike…
However, while the FLIT-16 may look a little basic, the engineering and performance of this Brompton rival are anything but.
• Shop for FLIT-16 on their Kickstarter page. At of 8pm BST on July 30 there are still 11 early-bird bikes still available at £1,375. At retail it'll be £2,500 which is about the same as the 2-speed Brompton Electric.