There’s no such thing as the perfect electric bike, but if you asked me what my perfect ebike would be like, the M-E1 from the Massachusetts company Montague Bikes comes close.
This folding bike with a step-through frame is the most comfortable folding ebike I’ve ridden. I’m 6′, 4″, so it’s rare that I get to ride a folding frame that feels stable. (Given my height, it’s also the rare folding bike that doesn’t make me look clownish.) That’s all thanks to the 28-inch wheels on this full-size frame—atypically large dimensions for the folding category.
The M-E1 is not very powerful, but I like how the quiet Shimano mid-drive motor supplies just enough pedal assistance to make me feel like I’m getting some exercise in as I turn the cranks. It also helps that the bike is outfitted with high-quality components like Shimano brakes and Schwalbe tires. Best of all, the folding mechanism is dead simple and lets the bike pack down into a narrow size, taking up very little room in my tiny New York City apartment. What’s not to love?
It’s hard not to feel impressed when you hop on the M-E1’s saddle. There’s no part of it that feels rickety, unlike some other folding bikes I’ve tested. The aluminum frame is durable, and the whole thing feels sturdy. It’s attractive too, but not so much that I’d call it stylish like the Specialized Turbo Como SL; the blue and matte black color scheme resembles something you’d see used in an urban bike-sharing program.
There’s an integrated rear rack, front and rear lights come built in, the tires have reflective stripes on the sides, wide mudguards hover over the wheels, and an easy-to-remove 11.6-Ah (36 volts) Shimano battery is mounted toward the bottom of the seat tube. Plug the chunky charger in and it usually only takes around three hours to fill up the cell. One thing that might be awkward—the power button is on the battery, so you’ll need to reach down near the pedals to turn the bike on. It would’ve been a little easier to access if it was on the handlebars.
Below the right handlebar is a tiny display that indicates battery life, speed, distance traveled, and other ride data. I prefer this compared to much larger screens that can be distracting (or ebikes that require a phone app). You do need to tap an even tinier button on the bottom of this screen to cycle through the screens that display the data though. That’s tricky during rides, so I usually left it on the speedometer setting.
The display cycles through different data readouts with the press of a button.
Buttons on the left handlebar let you switch between three pedal assistance levels—Eco, Normal, and High. That’s it. No phone needed. (You can install Shimano’s E-Tube app to download firmware, customize certain settings, and see more data, but it’s not necessary.)
The only other thing you’ll need to worry about on your ride is the 10-speed Shimano shifter, which is easy to operate and offers up a satisfying amount of resistance on the highest gear, even at peak pedal assistance.
Folding the M-E1 takes mere seconds. First, you’ll want to put down the dual-leg kickstand. It raises a part of the bike off the ground and makes it effortless to fold, something that can be tricky with heavy bikes like the Lectric XP or Biktrix Kutty X.
Between the downtube and the seat tube is a clamp; open it, push it down, and that’s it. Now you can fold the bike and halve its size. If you want to pack it down even smaller, open the clamp below the handlebars to fold them down and save even more space, though you’ll need to lower the seat post.
Here’s what’s unique: If you don’t fold down the handlebars, you can grab the handles from the front and roll the folded M-E1 around as though it were a shopping cart. It’s much better than lugging it into an elevator or train. You can keep the wheels together via a hook, so there’s no need to worry about the bike coming apart as you roll it. It’s brilliant.
That said, it’s still 54 pounds. That’s lighter than the aforementioned Lectric and Biktrix, and it’s infinitely easier to grip and carry, but it’s not as lightweight as the GoCycle. It’s not fun carrying it up the stairs, so if you live in a walkup, take note.
I only ran into one issue with the folding mechanism. The thick wire connecting the two halves of the bike where it folds doesn’t slide into place after some time, making it difficult to unfold the M-E1 without guiding the wire with your hands. The company says this was an issue on initial retail models, but there’s now an updated lubricated wrap to ensure the wire slides correctly.
Ready to roll along with you.
How does it ride? Let’s just say you won’t feel like you’re pedaling air as you barrel down the street at the 20 miles-per-hour top speed. The Shimano 250-watt mid-drive motor, on High pedal assistance, still makes you feel like you’re exerting effort and riding a bike. Everything’s a little easier though. That hill you always had trouble with? Feel safe going up it with the M-E1.
You’ll feel some light sweat on your forehead on longer trips, but never so much that you’ll end up a mess. It’s satisfying. I personally want to feel like I’m getting some exercise when I ride an ebike, and too often that’s easy to avoid on more powerful bikes, especially throttle-equipped models.
The big feature here is the size of this thing—it’s got large 28-inch Schwalbe tires despite being a folding bike. That means it does a better job rolling over bumps for a smoother journey, and indeed my rides have been really comfortable. (The front suspension helps as well.)
That also makes it look rather ordinary. I’ve been biking to see my folks whenever I get a new folding ebike to test, and for the first time my dad said, “This one looks normal.” It doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, important in a city like New York.
I also don’t look silly riding it. That’s partly because of the full-size frame. I don’t feel as low to the ground with this ebike, a common feeling on most foldables, and that makes it ride like an upright cruiser rather than a go-kart. Montague recommends it for folks from 5′, 4″ to 6′, 4″ (perfect for me!), but, as it only comes in one size, it might be too big for some.
The Shimano hydraulic disc brakes never failed to halt me quickly whenever a car decided to park in the bike lane. As for range, I frequently went close to 30 miles before it needed recharging, and that’s usually on the maximum pedal assistance. On one ride to a Jollibee in Queens, around 10 miles round trip, I returned home with more than half remaining in the tank (and lots of delicious food). Naturally, you can eke out more range if you demand less help from the motor.
The only snag I ever had was with the seat post. I was carrying a ton of camera equipment in my bag, and the seat drooped all the way down mid-ride. I looked like I was riding a kid’s bike. A nearby bike shop was able to tighten it up, and I haven’t run into this issue after three months.
That’s another thing—Montague has a fairly robust dealer network, so there’s a good chance you’ll be able to order one through a local shop (or at least take a test ride). That means you also have a place to get the bike tuned up or repaired. The frame is covered by a five-year warranty, and the motor has a two-year warranty from Shimano. That’s better than competitors like GoCycle and Lectric.
It’s a polished, well-built folding bike that feels satisfying to ride. If I could change one thing, it’d be to make it a little lighter, but otherwise the M-E1 comes pretty darn close to perfection.