Best Electric Bike 2018: Hands-on With the Mate X, the 'Tesla of E-Bikes'
The Mate X could spark a new future for transport.
Julie Kronstrøm Carton has become a key player in a transport revolution. She’s the Danish co-founder of Mate, the team behind the most crowdfunded electric bike in history. Long dismissed as obscure health machinery, e-bikes are increasingly rolling out of the shadows as an eco-friendly alternative form of transportation that’s easier on the legs than a conventional bicycle.
“We want to be the Tesla of e-bikes,” Kronstrøm told me in the lobby of a London hotel near the Olympic Park, as we waited to take the foldable bike out for a spin on the rain-soaked streets. “We want to be the brand you would think about, and I think compared to our size, we have managed quite well.”
Quite well is perhaps an understatement. The team posted its original Mate Indiegogo campaign two years ago, ending on October 10, 2016 with $6.8 million in funding, a staggering 4,320 percent of its original goal. The company has since sold over 8,000 of these bikes. The second campaign for the Mate X ended on September 29 this year and far surpassed all expectations, scoring just under $13 million in funding and reaching over 25,000 percent of its original goal. It’s the largest-ever European crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.
With fundraising totals like that, it’s no wonder at all that electric bikes in particular are having something of a moment right now. Bike-EU, citing Cycleurope statistics, saw double-digit growth in European electric bike sales, with French sales jumping 50 percent in part thanks to a €200 ($231) government incentive. British folding bike maker Brompton recently released its own version after three years of development, declaring to The Guardian this month that “we’ve cracked it.”
Mate could find itself in a good position to ride this wave. At present, there’s three models of bike: the $2,199 Mate X 250, the $2,399 Mate X 250+, and the $2,699 Mate X 750, with special Indiegogo pricing at $899, $999 and $1,099. The first two come with a 250-watt motor, the latter with a 750-watt motor. While the cheapest has a 48-volt 11 amp-hour battery with a 35-mile range, the latter two come with a beefier 14 amp-hour pack capable of 55 miles, plus a quick charger.
As with other electric bikes, the aim is more about ride comfort than super-fast speed. The 250-watt models can reach 25 mph and the 750-watt models 30 mph, but they ship with speed limiters switched on by default to abide by regulations. In the United Kingdom, where Inverse tested the Mate X on the rain-soaked streets of London, the law limits e-bikes to 15.5 mph.
To develop their vision for the electric bike, Kronstrøm, 40, joined up with her brother Christian Adel Michael. It was an ideal partnership with roots in their childhood: Michael always had a passion for motors and mechanics, which Kronstrøm helped cultivate when she bought him an electric scooter as a confirmation present when he was 14. As this e-bike revolution kicked in, Michael decided to get on board — but he was disappointed at first.
“He was just looking at the market and what he found was… grandmother bikes with a huge battery, ugly as hell,” Kronstrøm says. “All the TV programs around e-bikes was always, if you have lung disease or you’re obese then you should go for an e-bike. If you really looked, there would be maybe one cool e-bike brand, and it would just be so expensive, double the price at least.”
It was the perfect opportunity to merge his background in product development with his sister’s experience as a city development consultant. The pair got help from a number of noteworthy sources, chiefly Christine Vardaros, a cyclist that’s represented the United States in more than 30 World Cups and World Championships, and who helped the team produce a series of instruction videos to show buyers how to use the bike.
The bike cuts an imposing figure in person. It’s a hefty chunk of steel, weighing 57.3 pounds without the battery and up to 63.9 pounds with the battery included. The bike is foldable, but even folded it still occupies a a lot of space. By comparison, Brompton’s offering weighs 36.6 pounds total. Nonetheless, the folding mechanism makes it ideal for storing in a space-constrained apartment, reducing the risk of leaving it out for thieves.
All that weight is not for nothing. The chunky wheels mean a smooth ride — a design feature requested by Mate’s American buyers, who made up 25 percent of sales for the first bike and 30 percent for the second. It also gives it a distinctive look, and one impressed passer-by stopped to chat with us during our tryout.
“It’s really rewarding and quite funny to see the impact that we’ve actually had on some people’s lives,” Kronstrøm says.
With a half-turn of the pedals, the bike motors kick in at one of six computer-set levels. At first, it’s quite unnerving to feel the bike move with such little force, but it quickly becomes second nature.
Slowing down the pedals also slows down the motor’s speed, making it feel like a smooth and natural ride. There’s also the option of a throttle (though not in my native Britain, again, due to regulations). There’s also eight-speed Shimano gears to enable use as a regular bike, meaning you’re not constrained to only using the bike when there’s a charged battery at hand. The use of such typical components should also simplify repairs further down the line, ideal for a small company like this.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. During our conversation, Kronstrøm mentions “passionate” customers that “get angry with you if there’s a problem.” The company’s Trustpilot page has a three-star rating based on an average of 325 reviews. The team also has a backlog of 10,000 Mate X orders from more than 25,000 contributors to ship to 70 different countries. The first 1,300 are in production, and Kronstrøm expects it to take another six months before the rest are ready.
Slamming on the brakes in the pouring rain, it’s quite a feeling to get to grips with what is essentially a new class of vehicle. As cycling infrastructure weaves its way through cities, Mate could be one of the first to capitalize on the next form of urban transportation.