Having too much fun on a Mate X electric folding bikeSeptember 10, 2018
There are two types of people in this world: those who like fat-tire bikes and those who don’t. I’m very much of the fat tire persuasion, which is why I just had to test the new Mate X electric folding bike. There’s something about those big knobby wheels that speaks to my desire to forge a new path, to take the road less traveled. To explore strange new world’s and go where no one has gone before, even if that’s just to the corner store.
My brain has evolved to filter Instagram ads, but seeing one for the Mate X caused an interrupt. My finger froze when I saw the off-road e-bike barreling down a stoney cliffside path. A few weeks later and I was getting squirrelly with a Mate X prototype in the North Sea dunes.
That was Saturday. And let me tell you something, I have never had more fun on a bike. Here, see for yourself:
Unlike many electric pedal-assist bikes, Mate bicycles are relatively affordable. The Mate X funding tiers on Indiegogo start at $799, plus $200 more for delivery anywhere on the planet. The maxed-out Mate X prototype I tested brought the price closer to $1,500, delivered, with the “Big Daddy” all-terrain tires, and optional items like a 48V 17Ah (816Wh) battery ($99), a more powerful 750W motor ($200), hydraulic brakes ($129), thumb throttle ($49), and rear mud guard ($49). Expensive, yes, but dirt cheap relative to many e-bikes, the best of which start at around $2,500 and are half as much fun.
Mate Bikes is a small brother-and-sister company based in Copenhagen that has raised over $12 million on Indiegogo since 2016. First they raised $6.8 million for the skinny original. Now they’ve raised close to $6 million more for the beefier Mate X, a laughable 11,785 percent beyond its funding goal with five days to go in the Indiegogo campaign. Mate Bikes has no outside investors although that’s likely to change soon, the company tells me.
As to the Mate X riding experience, well, let me just say that I couldn’t stop smiling. The bike’s powerful motor and hydraulic brakes combined with those fat tires handled anything I threw it: flat asphalt roads, steep dirt trails, rock faces, downed trees, sea water, shorelines, and even loose sand. I only wish I had more time with it.
The Mate X, like the original, can be folded completely in about 10 seconds. That can be a huge convenience for many urbanites since you can pack it in the car or take it on pubic transport where folding bikes are often allowed free of charge all day long (in Amsterdam, there’s a 6 euro surcharge for bikes and they can only be taken on trains during off-peak hours). You can also just fold the handlebars and pedals if you need a thin profile to store the bike in a narrow hallway, a wall rack, or to roll it into a busy elevator. But don’t underestimate the weight or the size of the Mate X. At 29kg (64 pounds), this bike is heavy, and it can be unwieldy to lift because it doesn’t lock into the folded position.
I found the $49 optional thumb throttle to be very useful. It’s a great way to get yourself easily out of a mess like deep sand or mud, while walking alongside the bike. It’s also useful when you want to make a quick start from a stop light without having to shift into a lower gear, or when you’re feeling lazy and want to cruise along without peddling.
The prototype Mate X I rode still had a few obvious issues related to non-final software and components. My prototype was not even meant for press previews. That bike, I’m told, was stolen the day before my test ride. As a result, there were some tuning issues and a battery mismatch on the bike I rode. After about 30 minutes of riding, for example, the motor started cutting out every 30 seconds or so, before resetting and coming back online. The culprit is likely the removable battery pack which didn’t fill the housing completely, causing it to rattle around when riding on bumpy surfaces. The company assures me that none of these issues will exist when the bikes start shipping to backers in December, as they didn’t exist in the stolen prototype.
The Mate X I rode is not a quiet bike. It sounds the way it looks: loud. On flat pavement, the drone of 750W motor was louder than the 250W bikes I’m accustomed to riding on the streets of Europe (750W requires a license here, but not in the US) and the knobby treads only added to the din (you can opt for quieter street tires). Off road, the tires go quiet, but the sound is replaced with chain slaps and some creaking from the (optional) rear fender. While the knobby tire and motor noise isn’t likely to change, the company assures me that the final bike will ship with a tighter chain and silent rear fender.
Backing any high-tech crowdfunding campaign always comes with a degree of risk. In the case of the Mate X, I’d rate that to be fairly low. The brother-and-sister company now employs about 15 full-timers, and has the experience that comes from shipping over 8,000 bikes to more than 50 countries. As such, the company is much better positioned to handle the logistical and support issues that created some delays and frustration seen in overly ambitious Mate first campaign in 2016.
Mate Bikes is focusing on volume right now, which helps to explain why its prices are so low. The company first wants to establish itself as a global brand, before introducing more premium bikes in 2019 and 2020 (a cargo bike is coming) using materials like carbon fiber. For now it earns money on thin margins and by up-selling buyers on higher-margin accessories. And yes, Mate Bikes, like most bike manufacturers, uses off-the-shelf components like Shimano shifters, LG batteries, and Bafang motors, but it’s not a white-label Chinese bike, the company assures me. The Mate X frame, for example, has been customized to the point of now being considered an original design, and each component has been independently selected to achieve the targeted cost and performance required from the overall product.
The biggest risk in backing this campaign, like most crowdfunding projects, is long-term support. The company offers a 24/7 help desk and the ability to video conference with a mechanic on complicated matters. It also offers a two-year global warranty on the important stuff. But that requires the company to exist long enough to honor it. I think that’s likely, but it’s a risk you need to weigh. Fortunately, Mate Bikes are designed to be serviced by local bicycle shops, and the electronics can be swapped out easily thanks to the liberal use of cable connectors (if the LCD breaks, for example, you can quickly unplug it and swap in a new unit).
Mate X is a ton of fun. And the perks on the Indiegogo campaign make this about as cheap an entry point as you’ll find for a modern pedal-assist electric bike that folds. If you’ve been wondering what all the e-bike fuss was about, then the off-roading Mate X, or even the regular Mate, should be on your radar.