A lot of e-bike for the money
We’ve tested many, many folding bikes. Some are crazy sleek and ingenious, like the GoCycle (EBA, July 2020), but those often come with a price tag that puts them out of reach for entry-level riders. Although there are quite a few budget-friendly folding bikes on the market, the Populo Curve jumps in as one of the least expensive e-bikes we’ve ever tested.
The aluminum bike looks like a fairly typical folding bike, with a beefy top tube and a strong frame gusset just behind the hinge. The folding stem can telescope up for those who want a higher hand position, and the suspension fork has enough travel to take out the harshness of bumps. The total weight the bike can handle (rider plus cargo) is 264 pounds.
Owing to the price, there’s nothing exotic on this bike; instead, it’s simply basic parts with a great feel, fit and finish. The Shimano shifter and derailleur were the only components with a brand name on them. The brake levers have motor cutoff switches to stop motor power instantly when you start slowing down. Pedals, like the frame and handlebar, fold when not in use.
The rear rack is bolted on and can hold up to 55 pounds of cargo. The bike has aluminum fenders with a rear light mounted on the rear. A very bright handlebar-mounted light accompanies a handy bell to enhance the bike’s visual and audible safety features.
Between the controller, shifter, both brakes and cutoff switches, and the throttle, there are a lot of cables coming from the front of the bike. Populo has very neatly managed to get all the cables into one spiral wrap that exposes quick-disconnects at the top and doesn’t make it look like you’re riding Medusa’s bike.
The Curve is powered by a CZJB geared 250-watt hub motor. It’s light weight, at only 6.6 pounds, and it has an IP65 rating for water, meaning you can even ride it in the rain.
The 6.6-Ah, 36volt li-ion battery is hidden in the top tube in front of the frame hinge. It is removable and can be charged in place through a port near the front of the top tube. That port also houses the master on/off switch and a USB port to allow you to charge your phone while you ride. The range is a mere 15 miles on this bike, but that’s fine, because folding bikes are best intended for the last mile than for touring!
The LCD display is clear and has the mode control buttons located on the side and mounted next to the thumb throttle on the left side of the handlebar. It is backlit for night rides, and displays speed, battery level, assist level, odometer, total mileage, light on/off indicator and single running time.
WHO IT’S MADE FOR
The Curve is a great last-mile bike. Whether you ride from your RV to the local store, need a bike to get home from the train, or just want to have a bike in the trunk or back seat of your car to ride around on when you get to your destination. At the price, you may want two of these in your trunk.
Folding the Populo takes the same time (30 seconds) and effort as most other folding bikes, with the exception of one extra safety step built into the telescoping stem. It does fold down to a really small footprint. Once folded, there’s a stand integrated into the bottom bracket to keep the bike upright and keep the chain from getting grease on your floor or the back seat of your car.
Like all bikes with a cadence-only sensor, the Populo will go the maximum speed of the mode level chosen. There are six modes on the Curve. When you start up, the bike is on 0, which means the system is on but provides no power. That includes the throttle. At level 1, it will go up to 10 mph when pedaling, level 2 goes to 12, level 3 goes to 14, level 4 goes to 16 miles per hour and level 5 gives you 20 mph.
“We found this a bit jarring, and also found that using a little throttle to get going as you started pedaling took the edge off of the motor kicking in.”
None of this happens instantly. You first need to pedal the bike for one to two revolutions of the pedals before the torque of the motor abruptly kicks in and accelerates you to the top speed of whatever power level you’ve chosen. We found this a bit jarring, and also found that using a little throttle to get going as you started pedaling took the edge off of the motor kicking in. Relying on the throttle to get going is handy for anyone with leg or knee issues, or even someone who forgets to downshift when they come to a stop.
The delay of the power kicking in has a hidden advantage. When walking a bike with a cadence sensor that kicks the motor in instantly, the motor can kick in when just taking the bike down the stairs or off a curb. The Curve’s setup prevents that.
The saddle on this bike is fairly big and comfortable. The overall ride is comfortable, and you can use as much or as little power as you like. It turns well, and we even took it up some steep hills to see if that affected it. It did a little. There was a drop in top assist speed at each level, but not significant. It did drain the battery faster. Though it didn’t happen to us, because we didn’t try extremely long, steep climbs, but if you regularly climb really long, steep hills in your commutes or other rides, keep in mind that hub motors are likely to overheat and shut off on long hill-climbs. And, it eats the battery power like crazy.
The battery is quite small, so the range isn’t going to impress anyone, but again, it’s not for that. Currently, though Populo has spare/replacement batteries for their other bikes, but they don’t have one for the Curve yet.
The mechanical brakes on this bike are adequate, not exceptional. Thankfully, the levers have cutoff switches that help with that. The no-name 20×2.2-inch tires have enough volume to help tame some of the bumps in the road, and the suspension fork with about 20mm of travel helps further. If you go over really bumpy roads, you might consider looking into a suspension seatpost.
Honestly, at this price we didn’t expect this bike to be this good. We’ve ridden other inexpensive folding bikes that cost twice as much but didn’t deliver a ride quality that was better. Fit and finish are excellent, and there’s plenty of power. If you’re looking for a folding bike or simply an inexpensive e-bike to run short errands, the Curve is well worth a look.
Weight: 47 lb., 3 oz.
Fork: Zoom suspension
Motor: CZJB-90C 36V 250W geared hub motor
Battery: Li-ion, 36V 6.6Ah
Charge time: 3-4 hours
Top speed: 20 mph (Class 2)
Range: 15 miles (claimed)
Rear derailleur: Shimano 6-speed
Brakes: Mechanical disc
Rims: Aluminum, 20”
Color choice: Black
Size: One size