An expensive premium electric bike, which typically costs $2,000, is not something that everyone can afford. What if, though, you could pay half that amount and yet get a decent-enough e-bike that you can throw into the trunk of your vehicle, roll aboard a train, or bring home to your fifth-floor walkup? With the newest folding e-bike from the Chinese company Wowcat, which has lately started selling straight into the European and North American markets, I was hoping to find that.
The Wowcat C1 checks all the right boxes: it can be purchased for as little as $1439, has a range of up to 100 kilometers, and collapses into a compact transportable package. And it looks good too.
But how excellent is it?
|Range||Up to 100km|
|Assist levels||5 pedal|
Video Review of Wowcat C1
Wowcat C1: Design and Build Quality
The Wowcat C1 is delivered in a sizable rectangular box that gives you the impression that it will require considerable assembly, probably won’t have big wheels, and will be quite light.
In reality, assembly is quite simple and only involves unfolding the frame, fastening the clasp on the cross beam to keep everything in place, and repeating the process for the handlebar column. The pedals must be attached using the provided tools only. The saddle column must be slid into its slot and secured with the quick-release clip before the process is complete.
Wowcat bikes were hard to find outside of China before the C1. However, the company has just established international operations so that customers won’t have to pay pricey import duties, which could potentially increase the cost of Wowcat’s low-cost e-bikes by several hundred dollars. It should also speed up the delivery of replacement parts to Wowcat bikes in Europe and North America when they require repair, and based on my tests, I believe that this will be the case.
It’s the first electric bike that we are aware of to use this strategy, and in many respects it’s a smart solution, especially given how quickly you can remove it to charge the bike or store it indoors.
However, as there is no locking mechanism, you can’t actually leave your Wowcat C1 locked up in a bike rack somewhere public because it would be too enticing and simple to steal. You should obviously obtain electric bike insurance for this reason alone.
Setting the stage for what follows is opening a direct-to-consumer e-bike that has only been seen in two dimensions on Indiegogo. The Wowcat experience got off to a good start when the C1 box arrived, which shocked me for its small size. In contrast to the full-size e-bikes I typically receive, it is unusually little. However, when I opened it, I found a box full of foam that had been carelessly packed and other harmful things, which immediately dashed my already low hopes.
Although the unboxing experience fell well short of the excellent standard that VanMoof often sets, the C1 also costs less than half as much.
The Wowcat C1 is a good-looking, if rather peculiar-looking, machine once everything is set up. You’d imagine it would flex and wobble without chainstays, but overall it’s quite rigid.
It has a refined and modest appearance thanks to the slate blue and black color combination. However, some of the welding detracts from the aesthetic due to its distinctly industrial aspect. There is a front light in addition to the rear one, but there are none with mudguards to protect your business attire.
My initial assessments of the bike when it arrived in the box were accurate because it had two 20-inch wheels and isn’t too hefty. Wowcat advertises a featherweight 12kg, but that doesn’t include the battery or a number of other obviously necessary components. It actually weighs around 17.5kg.
The bike may be folded back down again in a matter of seconds by simply releasing a few clamps. So it will be simple to get it in and out of the automobile. Its collapsed dimensions are 80 x 74 x 40 cm as opposed to 150 x 110 x 40 cm when it is prepared for use.
I was instantly at a loss for how to elevate the handlebar stem once I was freed from the shackles of the polystyrene waste and the roughly a dozen tie-wraps. Following the English assembly instructions sequentially would have snapped a brake cable because they are at most rudimentary. Fortunately, I caught sight of the handlebar rotation that had occurred while packing or during the trip, causing the brake line to become taut. The handlebar was easily raised into place by rolling it back into place with a flip of the fast release clasp, which left adequate slack in the line. I then fastened the pedals and secured everything. I then put the battery on charge.
It does not include a carrying handle or a way to fasten the folded frame together. While carrying it by the crossbeam appears solid enough for short outings, keeping a bungie in your luggage will address the first issue.
The saddle can be adjusted pretty high, which makes it perfect for our family to share (min and max indications assist you keep within the boundaries). Despite the fact that my wife, daughters, and I are all different shapes and sizes, we were able to find acceptable heights, whether it was a 5’9″ man who weighs about 12 stone or a 5’1″ woman who won’t tell me how much the scales say.
A clasp that loosens to allow you to rotate it back and forth allows you to alter the tilt of the handlebars, which also helps you change the angle of the electronic display that shows your speed and the state of the battery. It displays four bars rather than a percentage, just like on the M1. I was unable to easily convert the speed from km/h to the MPH that is used in the US and the UK. This is primarily due to the lack of a manual.
Additionally, there is a button for switching between the motor’s three levels of assistance.
Two gear-change levers are located next to the right handle-grip. They are difficult to see, and throughout my time using the Wowcat C1, I did discover that I frequently touched the incorrect one, selecting the incorrect gear and necessitating hasty modifications to get back into a rhythm. There was no getting away from my mistakes because the small, mechanical panel directly above the grip reveals which gear is selected.
Additionally, there is a thumb-lever above the right grip that you can press to start the motor. I was really appreciative of its location and ease of use when attempting to climb the huge hills that characterize the area of Cornwall where I currently reside.
The mechanical disc brakes on the front and rear wheels are operated by the brake levers, and both of them were very effective in bringing the bike to a stop. It’s best to use a gentle touch.
Wowcat C1: Motor and Driving
The seat post conceals a useful feature: it houses the rechargeable battery that powers the 36V, 250W motor from the Xiongda brand. The charging outlet, power button, rear light, and wire connecting the battery are all located directly below the saddle itself.
When traveling over smoother terrain, the Wowcat C1 is a pleasant vehicle. Unlike some other bikes I’ve tried, this one’s saddle didn’t feel like it was attempting to carve new crannies into my body, and the sat posture is one that would fit a day of leisurely pedaling or a trip from the train station to the workplace.
With a few rattles here and there, the ride was passably smooth when on the roads. If you do decide to buy a C1, be ready to give it a short check and tighten-up after a week or two of riding because there will be a riding in period where the mechanics settle, just like with any new bike.
I had the chance to test the motor’s torque while riding up a little slope, and the results were excellent. There is a slight jolt when the motor starts up because a cadence sensor is used, but overall it was welcome because I could feel the bike taking on more of the load.
There didn’t seem to be much of a benefit to using the motor in the lower assistance mode, but switching to full power was a blessed relief. I was able to quickly complete the hill while keeping my efforts at a more civilized level by using the motor’s full capacity.
During my first ride, it rode better than I had anticipated, and I couldn’t stop grinning. The C1 has a top speed cap of 25 km/h (16 mph), but that’s okay because it was designed for European city commuters. Wowcat C1 speed limit can be overridden using a cheat code.
The C1 has a throttle that doesn’t require any pedaling at all and three pedal-assist settings. I found that Pedal-Assist Mode 5 (Max) best complemented my aggressive riding style. Even in the lower pedal-assist modes, the motor does whine, but it’s not horrible (I’ve definitely heard worse), and the power delivery can occasionally feel jerky. That’s because the C1’s power delivery is slowed down by using a cadence sensor rather than a more expensive torque sensor. If you don’t mind your quads doing the work, the seven-speed Shimano gearbox allows for quick starts off the line and speeds well in excess of 25km/h.
The cruise control ultimately activates when the throttle is held down, but only after the vehicle achieves the top motor-assisted speed. After that, you can let go of the button and simply enjoy the trip. You can pedal more quickly, and when you slow down again, the motor will eventually turn back on. It’s a very useful feature.
Unfortunately, even in comparison to other 250W motors popular in Europe, the C1’s motor is somewhat underpowered. The little rear-hub motor performs admirably on flat terrain, but it truly suffers against even mild inclines and gusts. According to the bike’s display, the motor on my test unit shuts off at 24 km/h rather than the advertised 25 km/h. However, it felt much slower, so I checked the pace against a Garmin smartwatch, which indicated a speed of 22 km/h. I’d hazard a guess that the Garmin was more precise. However, with just the throttle, that motor has enough torque to propel my 82kg (180-pound) body from a standstill to top speed on level surfaces in 12 to 15 seconds.
Wowcat C1: Battery and Range
The unique feature of the C1 design is the enormous seat post, which holds a relatively substantial 10Ah battery for a bike with 20-inch wheels this size. It takes the battery seven hours to slowly charge from empty to full. A slightly smaller 360Wh battery that charges in under 3.5 hours is included with the Cowboy 3, which is more than twice as expensive as the C1. The speed disparity is most likely explained by Cowboy’s use of more sophisticated 21700 lithium-ion battery cells, which cost more but also store more energy in a smaller volume.
When pulling away from a stop up a hill, the throttle really helps by removing a lot of the strain from your legs. The C1’s battery life is advertised by Wowcat to be up to 100km (60 miles), although actual mileage can vary depending on the level of help you utilize, the terrain, and even the weather.
We were unable to test the claim because we could only test the C1 for a few days.
The C1’s battery was certainly less taxed when used on flatter roads, but once more, we’d need a more precise battery charge display before feeling completely comfortable using it for lengthy rides. Although it takes about seven hours to fully recharge from empty, you do have the option of only removing the saddle column and plugging it into the supplied charger. This eliminates the requirement for the entire bike.
Wowcat C1: Conclusions
The C1 is affordable for an e-bike you might use every day at $1439, but it’s still a sizable investment that raises expectations for durability. Sadly, this is where I have some reservations. After only two weeks of testing, I already have a problem with the saddle: despite tightening it as much as I can, whenever I hit a bump, the seat abruptly and uncomfortable tilts upward a notch. Additionally, the mount is not a stock component I can purchase from any old bike shop because the saddle is integrated into the battery.
The rear wheel also makes a faint metal-on-metal sound as it rubs. Since there doesn’t seem to be a problem with the alignment of the disc brakes, I assume it has to do with the resistance that the rear hub motor introduces. When pushing the bike, it is loud, but when riding, it is only occasionally noticeable as a high-pitched squeak that comes and goes.
There is no shortage of commuter-focused foldable electric bikes. The Wowcat C1 isn’t the best, but it has a lot going for it, including seven gears, a reasonable price, and a readily changeable battery.
If you live in the UK, there is a case to be made for spending a little extra to buy the MiRider One because you’ll get local service and a UK guarantee. But it’s a logical decision if you don’t mind that and prefer the benefits of the C1.
Making warranty claims on the motor, controller, and electronics of the Wowcat C1 as a newcomer to the global market and obtaining replacement parts would probably be difficult even under the best of circumstances. Since there is a shortage of the widely used generic parts for e-bikes like the C1 and couriers are overburdened with delivery, the pandemic further complicates matters. On my test C1, I’ve learned to live with the things that need maintenance, but if I had spent $1,439 and had support needs for a bike that was only two weeks old, I might not be so at ease.