Citizen Bikes made its name on folding bikes and an uncomplicated sales ethic – control of sales channels, delivery of a fully-assembled bike, so buyers didn’t have to pretend to be mechanics, and so on.
Despite an impressive appreciation of the zeitgeist and the need for simple, relatively light city bikes as a pollution-free alternative to car commuting, the company, once it had achieved some laurels, sat on them a while before dedicating the resources to adding ebikes to its roster.
Even now, the vast majority of its models, from the Barcelona to the Gotham 24-7 to the Tokyo, are standard pedal-powered bikes that stay true to the original core business of the company.
When it comes to Citizen ebikes, you’re really looking at the London (with the Lil London variant that’s exactly what you think it is), and the newly-announced Rio.
Let’s take a look at how Citizen ebikes shape up.
Table of Contents
The London ebike more or less set out Citizen’s stand on what it could do in the niche when it was launched. It comes with a 20-inch hand-welded alloy folding frame, gives you a city-decent 7 speeds, and weighs in at a reasonable, if not life-altering 39 pounds.
That makes it portable and foldable compared to, for instance, many other ebikes on the market, so there’s a reason to pick the London out of a crowd.
A Samsung 36V/7Amp battery is integrated into the seatpost, either for aesthetics and functionality, or to disguise the fact that you’re riding an ebike.
That’s still a factor for some buyers, so the London hides away its power boost in the seatpost, as opposed to a tell-tale addition to the frame, like some ebikes on the market.
The battery will take 3 hours to charge from nothing, which is hardly a consideration unless you use it for long stretches of a daily journey, and it recharges from a regular wall socket, so again, unless you’re trying to keep it secret that you’re riding an ebike, a power drain is unlikely ever to be a problem you have to contend with.
What are we talking about in terms of maximum speed?
Well, the London is limited to 15mph/25mph in its different modes, which again is more than high enough for most city work.
Depending on the level to which the battery is assisting you, you can actually get more than 25 miles out of one battery charge – so, doing the math, if you’re still using full-on electric support after an hour or so, you’re going to need to start pedaling in a big hurry, any… second… now.
The bike has anodized alloy almost everywhere you look, including on the handlebar and stem. And a standard set of disc brakes, while they won’t necessarily rock your world, will at least relentlessly do what you need them to do – stop you or slow you down.
Is there a maximum weight tolerance on the London? Well, yes – there’s a maximum weight tolerance on every load-bearing machine.
The London will happily carry you up to the 220-pound marker, which, while it’s always necessary to pick a borderline, feels unfortunately low in terms of helping bigger or heavier wannabe cyclists achieve their goals.
That could well fit in with Citizen’s folding bike ethos, though – the bikes themselves are sturdy but designed to be relatively light and portable, and to fold to make as little of themselves as possible.
There’s a similar ‘Goldilocks zone’ when it comes to ideal rider height too – if you’re under 5 ft or over 6 ft, you might run into issues in terms of leg length on the London.
But as an initial ebike offering from Citizen, the London translates the company’s ethos of folding bikes into the electronic age with a certain flair, a degree of style, and some performance specs which, if they don’t exactly blow the wax out of your ears at least put the London firmly on the same map as many other manufacturers.
The Lil London, as we said, is exactly what you think it is – it’s the standard London, with everything slightly reduced – most notably including the price.
Sporting a 16-inch frame compared to the rock and roll London’s 20 inches, the Lil London announces its intentions loud and proud – smaller, but smaller in every respect is its design note.
What’s surprising about that is that it doesn’t apply to the battery.
The battery on the Lil London is exactly the same as that on the full-size model, meaning exactly the same charging time, and exactly the same maximum speeds.
There’s a lot that’s exactly the same about the Lil London. Anodized alloy handlebar and stem? Check. Two electric modes, pedal assist, and throttle? Check. Straightforward disc brakes and alloy kickstand? Check, and check. Maximum passenger weight and height? Yep, double check.
Ah. Well… that’s awkward!
Where the standard London lets you luxuriate in 7 speeds (which are obviously useful in anything other than the likes of Amsterdam – which is to say anything other than a completely flat city), the Lil London has… Can you guess how many speeds?
Anyone say “Just the one”? If you said “just the one,” you’re simultaneously the winner and the loser. The winner because you got it right, and the loser because any second now, that information’s going to seep into your brain.
Just the one speed. That’s not so much a ‘Lil’ London as a wheezing, panting, what-fresh-hell-is-this London, and you might well feel the lack of those speeds if you live in a city with hills in.
On the upside, the Lil London is also a whole 6 pounds lighter than the original, which gives it a feel that’s significantly more portable than the full-size version.
We’re not saying you can lift it up, twirl it around your head and do tricks with it, but 33 pounds is a big weight saving when you’re talking about folding city bikes.
Whether it’s a big enough saving (added to the price reduction) to compensate you for losing those extra six gears will be an individual judgment call, and will probably depend on the geography where you use it.
Another important reduction is in the size of the motor. While the London has a 350W version, which can help push it harder on more challenging terrain to ensure no loss of speed or power, the Lil London has only a 250W motor, which means that while still good enough for lots of city transportation.
It might struggle in hillier areas – again, particularly with its single gear.
The Lil London is a smaller version of the London in most ways, while maintaining some of its core elements intact in the lighter-weight version.
While most of those reductions – size, weight, price, etc – will be welcome, whether the package as a whole will be as attractive as the full-size London will depend on whether it hits the precise range of requirements you have from a folding ebike.
If the lower power motor and the single gear are good enough for your needs, you can save yourself some cold hard cash by choosing the Lil London over the full-size version.
But you have to be sure those reductions won’t impinge on the biking you want to do, otherwise the full-size London looks like the better option.
As for the Rio – if you’re familiar with the Citizen Alhambra or the Barcelona, you’ll be in fundamentally familiar territory here.
Because the Rio has the same frame geometry, the same step-over design, and the same folding mechanism as those distinctly pedal-powered bikes.
If the Lil London is the half-pint version of the London, you might think of the Rio as the 2-pint family variant. The Rio has 26-inch wheels, so it’s up there with some full-on racing bikes.
That’s all very well in its place, but as a potentially compact folding ebike, it begins to feel like it’s drifting fairly far from the brief.
Add to that the fact that the Rio weighs in at not 33, not 39, but a full 50 pounds, and you start to seriously question whether the design ethos of the Citizen range is simply on vacation when it comes to the Rio.
Some users – especially those with smaller cars, like city cars – will struggle to put a 50-pound, 26-inch folding bike in the trunk of their car to take it anywhere, folded or not.
That said, the Rio comes with a 3-speed drivetrain, which is a fancy addition, and a step up from at least the Lil London. The gear-shifting on the Rio is agreeably smooth, so you feel like you’re ready to take on the world.
Unfortunately, the pedal assist is… well, it’s there, but you can’t stop yourself imagining that for a bike this size it would be more impressive than it turns out to be.
And like the Lil London, the Rio has a tendency to struggle on any hills that you’d look at and immediately class as ‘steep.’ That’s less surprising when you remember it has only a 180W front hub motor.
So you’re not exactly ready to take on the world, so much as you’re ready to take on a gentle two-wheeled stroll – which, given the size and weight of the bike, ultimately feels like a let-down, when it’s trying so hard to impress.
Overall, the Citizen ebike range does a lot of things right, but finding your favorite will depend on what you need the bikes to do, because only some models will tick your particular boxes, and choosing poorly will lead you to ebike frustration.
PLEASE ALSO READ