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This article was published on March 14, 2022

Vello Bike+ review: the folding ebike with ‘unlimited’ range

Unlimited with caveats, but unlimited nonetheless

Vello Bike+ review: the folding ebike with ‘unlimited’ range

There’s no such thing as a perpetual motion machine — well, except maybe time crystals. But as far ebikes are concerned, the Vello Bike+ is about as close to a perpetual motion machine as it gets.

Starting at €3,290 (~$3,617), it’s a really pricey folding bike, but it does a lot to justify its price.

The Vello Bike+ is super lightweight for an ebike at 14kg (31 lb). It has a unique folding mechanism that contorts the bike into a smaller footprint than anything I’ve used other than the Brompton. It uses a fancy Gates Carbon belt and other high-quality components. And the bike is highly customizable, with a wealth of custom accessories and solid cargo capabilities thanks to optional front and rear racks.

But the Vello Bike+’s real claim to fame is a combined motor and battery unit that can offer virtually ‘unlimited’ range. And while the use of the word ‘unlimited’ comes with some important fine print – don’t expect to race a motorcycle and win –  Vello isn’t lying either. 

How is that even possible, you ask? Efficiency.

Vello Bike+ ebike

First, a disclaimer: The Vello Bike+ is currently only officially available in Europe (Vello is based in Austria). Although the company plans to bring its bike to the US soon, you won’t be able to purchase one quite yet in the states. But I hope it makes its way across the pond soon because there’s nothing else quite like it.

The Vello Bike+ uses an all-in-one electric system that’s fully contained in the rear wheel hub. Despite having just a 173 Wh battery (250-600 Wh is typical), it uses a combination of regenerative braking, smart pedaling sensors, and clever algorithms that dynamically adjust the motor’s power level based on ride conditions to waste as little energy as possible. The fact that it’s the lightest ebike I’ve tested that isn’t made out of carbon fiber doesn’t hurt either.

On most bikes, braking is terribly wasteful. If you’re going downhill and pull the brakes to slow down, all your kinetic energy just gets converted to heat and sound. Of course, wasting some energy so you can slow down and not die is all well and good, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could get that power back too?

The Vello Bike+’s motor, designed by Italian company Zehus, does just that. Backpedaling manually activates the regen feature, slowing you down and generating “up to 500W” on downhill terrain, according to Zehus. The hub has an integrated tilt sensor as well, knowing to adjust the strength of the assist and regenerative braking depending on the incline.

Indeed, using the bike in its most efficient ‘Bike+’ mode — in which the bike theoretically never has to be recharged — I was able to take several trips and arrive home within a couple of percentage points of the power I left with. In a couple of instances, I arrived home with more charge than I left with.

Vello Bike+ ebike Zehus assist system

But it’s important to keep your expectations in check. Bike+ isn’t going to let you zip down city streets like you’ve been doping at the Tour de France. Instead, you will pretty much only feel the assist when starting from a dead stop and on an incline.

The mode is aptly named: it’s 90% like riding a regular bike, but it takes the edge off. It’s not at all for someone who wants to completely avoid sweating as much as possible unless you’re already in godly shape.

That said, those who would like more power can opt for the ‘Turbo’ and ‘Hybrid’ assist modes, as well as custom settings for anything in between. In Turbo mode, you get access to the motor’s full 250W of power up to the 25 km/h speed limit, but your range will only be about 30-50 Km (or 19-31 mi).

‘Hybrid’ mode will likely be the sweet spot for many people. It also allows for the full 250W of power when you really need it, but prioritizes assist during acceleration and on inclines, for a range of about 55-75 km. That should be plenty for most people — more than many bikes with much bigger batteries — but you can always switch to Bike+ mode before your battery gets too low. Regenerative braking even works when the assist is off, so you could theoretically work out with the bike in ‘analog’ mode while simultaneously topping off the battery for your return trip.

The bike’s settings are adjusted via the Zehus Bitconnect app, where you can also track your stats, as well as see whether the motor is currently assisting or recharging the battery. Unfortunately, because the whole point of the Zehus system is to have everything integrated into the rear wheel, you do have to rely on your phone for these controls.

Vello Bike+ ebike app

It also means that turning on the assist is a little awkward if your phone isn’t accessible. Activating the motor first requires getting the bike up to 8km/h and then backpedaling 3 rotations. This is apparently for safety reasons, but it’s rather awkward compared to just pressing a button. That said, Vello does offer a €99 Bluetooth remote that allows you to change power modes and activate the regen feature (and slow down) at the push of a button. Otherwise, you’ll probably want to mount your phone on the handlebars.

Fancy electric drivetrain aside, the Vello Bike+ is just a really nice folding bike. It feels superbly built, with nary any flex. The 20-inch Schwalbe Marathons offer some of the best puncture protection around and the rear suspension helps soften bumps. And the hydraulic disk brakes have excellent stopping power for when the regenerative braking (which is more of a gentle slow-down) isn’t enough.

The folding mechanism definitely has a learning curve, but it’s worth it for the extra slim fold. Besides, if you ever lock the bike outside while folded, there’s no way a thief is going to figure out how to unfold it to make their escape (the Zehus motor has an integrated locking feature that slows the bike down too).

The bike’s gearing is limited; it only comes in single-speed and two-speed configurations. Because the motor system doesn’t support a rear derailleur, Vello provides the option for a fancy Schlumpf drive instead, which allows for high-speed and climbing-friendly gear options. You have to kick against the cranks to change gears, a motion that takes some getting used to, but it’s nice to have the option for additional gears even with a motor on board.

The one thing that drives me a little nuts is the lack of integrated lighting. I normally consider this unforgivable on an ebike — there’s a battery right there! — but as it’s a consequence of the all-in-one Zehus system, Vello gets a pass. The company does at least provide lighting mounts right on the frame, which ends up looking tidier than many ebikes given the lack of wires running through the frame.

Vello Bike+ ebike

The Vello Bike+ isn’t going to be for everyone. It’s pricey, for one, starting at €3,290, and its assist system isn’t going to let you race a supercar up a mountain. The folding mechanism takes a bit of getting used to, and its gearing options are limited.

But to some people, none of that will really matter, because… it’s an ebike with unlimited range. 

Sure there are asterisks all over what “unlimited” means. Mainly, it’s that you’ll still need to get your heart rate up as the assistance is subtle and only kicks in when you most need it. But it’s noticeable, even to a heavier rider like myself. For many riders, that subtle assistance will be exactly what they’re looking for.

It’s simply an excellent ebike for the person who enjoys the analog cycling experience but isn’t such a purist that they begrudge a little assistance going up a hill. And if you’d prefer a bit more assistance, Hybrid and Turbo modes offer comparable range and power to some ebikes that are much heavier and less fun to ride.

If you’re the type of person that prefers your ebikes to feel more like a bike than a moped, the Vello Bike+ is a really nice bike… plus a little something extra.

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