German supermarket chain Aldi is best known for its deeply discounted groceries and flash sales on everything from welding gear to tents, and, every once in a while, bikes and cycling gear.
You could be forgiven for thinking it sells the same poorly built cheap bikes as other well-known retailers, but based on recent reviews of some Aldi bikes, such as the latest AU$350 MTB, that’s not the case. So when Aldi offered me the chance to ride the Crane Folding E-Bike, I was intrigued.
So, does the folding e-bike measure up?
Crane Folding E-Bike assembly
Most of the time, when a bike comes in a box, you need to attach the handlebars, seatpost, put the seatpost in the seat tube, and pop the front wheel into the fork. The beauty of a folding bike is, by design, that it fits in a relatively small box (compared to a standard bike box). All you have to do is unfold it, make sure there is air in the tires and ride away.
Straight out of the box the gears were indexed correctly and the brakes didn’t rub or squeal. The quick release levers on the handlebars and seatpost were also correctly tensioned.
The hardest part of the initial setup was lifting the bike out of the box, because with a rear hub drive system and battery it’s weighty, tipping our scales at 21.12kg.
The Crane Folding E-Bike utilizes a central hinge design, with the clamp locks closing with a sturdy snap. There are only two joints and all up it takes about ten seconds to fold or unfold the bike.
It doesn’t pack down quite as compact as something like a Brompton, but it’s plenty small enough to slide under your desk at work or wheel behind the seat on a crowded commuter train.
Although my testing period has been brief, there’s no play in any of the joints and the tolerances are tight with everything fitting together as you’d expect. When the bike is folded, spring loaded magnets hold the wheels together and prevent the dropouts rubbing together. My only minor complaint is that the hinges don’t lock in the open position.
There’s only one frame size available, but with a monstrous seatpost and plenty of adjustability at the front, most riders should be able to find a comfortable fit.
Crane Folding E-Bike ride impressions
Given this bike has narrow 560mm handlebars, a short wheelbase, 20in wheels and an exceptionally upright position, the steering is pretty quick, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying twitchy or nervous. You can sneak through small gaps and turn on a dime.
The frame itself is robust and despite there being a hinge in the middle of the step-through frame, there’s no detectable flex in the tubing — though there is a bit in the elongated steerer, which worsens depending on its extension. It’s a minor bit of give and presents only under hard braking, but it doesn’t translate into steering feedback.
Beyond the heavily padded saddle complete with a bow clip at the rear, the bike doesn’t see any comfort add-ons such as the elastomer Brompton block that sandwiches into the rear frame joint.
With such a stiff frame, front and rear wheels with 18 heavy gauge spokes each, and skinny tires the Crane’s ride quality isn’t super plush, but it’s not a bone rattler either.
It’s a surprise to see Shimano branded drivetrain components on a supermarket bike and the Crane even sports a 7-speed Revoshift grip shifter and Shimano Tourney long cage rear derailleur.
For commuting, grip shifters are great because you can dump all your gears quickly as you run out of steam going up a hill, or slowing down at a stoplight. The internals are also less complicated than trigger shifters, meaning fewer parts to maintain or potentially break.
Working in combination with a 14-29t rear cassette and a 44t single chainring at the front, the gear range pairs well with a pedal assist and you spin out right about the same time the motor cuts out.
Crane Folding E-Bike motor
The team behind this bike has used a rear hub based motor, over mid-drive or front hub systems both for ease of use and to keep the price down.
It’s likely that inexperienced riders will purchase the majority of these Crane e-bikes, and as front hub motors can cause adverse steering feedback and be a handful if the road is wet, this might be not ideal if you’re just getting into bike commuting.
While mid-drive motors are becoming pretty standard, they are brutal on chains and derailleur, requiring burly parts or a belt drive — both of which would raise the overall price.
Like the parts on the drivetrain, the hub drive motor and battery are not cheap unbranded items. The bike is built around Entity’s E-100 series E-bike system which puts out 250-watts of assistance but cuts out once you’ve reached 25kph — per Australian regulations.
In all honesty, with the handling characteristics of the Crane Folding bike, and most other folding bikes for that matter, you don’t really want to go much faster.
The motor provides steady power and ramps up nicely with no initial jerk.
There’s a handlebar mounted colour LCD display that lets you choose from five levels of assistance. It also shows how much charge the battery has and keeps track of speed and distance travelled.
It’s all powered by a 281Wh Samsung Lithium-ion battery, complete with a battery management system. Beyond protection against overcharging and short-circuiting, the system features inbuilt diagnostics and if a problem occurs, will show an error code through the handlebar display that can be relayed to one of the 23 Bicycles Online nationwide service centres for support and repair.
The claimed range of pedal assist for a single charge is 50km. I got 39km according to the bike’s own odometer over mostly flat terrain, although this was cruising around using the maximum level of pedal assist the entire time. With a charging time of 6 hours, this is still a pretty reasonable range.
The brake levers feature a motor cut-off and integrated bell. The V-brakes provided good braking power in dry conditions, but I can’t speak for wet weather performance because the test period coincided with this summer’s record-breaking heatwaves with no precipitation.