The world of electric bikes is evolving rapidly and expanding into dozens of different niches. From basic pedal assist to near motorcycle-like capabilities, the field is diverse. E-bikes appeal to overlanders looking to add a secondary mode of transportation to their outfit, and the Hovsco HovBeta folding step-through e-bike is an appealing option.
I’m an avid mountain biker, but I have been slow to adopt new tech and advancements in the sport. In fact, I only traded in my 26-inch cross-country bike for a 29’er just last year (merely a decade late to the game). I tend stubbornly to cling to my gear long after its obsolescence, and I will be a staunch advocate for human-powered bicycles long after the rest of the world has left me behind in a cloud of electrons. I admit to getting a kick out of battery-powered two-wheelers, but I also approach them with a skeptical eye and probably a little grumpiness.
Like most direct-to-consumer e-bikes, the HovBeta requires some assembly once it arrives on your doorstep. Hovsco makes it easy for the DIYer with clear step-by-step instructions and an included tool kit. Working methodically, it took me 40 minutes to build the bike, and I spent most of that time freeing it from its many layers of packaging. The most fiddly part of the process was aligning and clamping down the folding stem and handlebars. Otherwise, everything came together quickly. The battery had a 100 percent charge, the drivetrain was perfectly tuned, and the hydraulic disc brakes fully bled right out of the gate.
The final step to getting the HovBeta rolling requires connecting the bike’s computer to your smartphone via Bluetooth and the Hovsco app, and the initial setup is straightforward. Every HovBeta comes with its own unique QR code printed on the plastic screen protector on the bike’s LCD. Simply scan the code using the app, and the bike will be ready to ride. Don’t lose that small plastic sheaf with the QR tag on it. If you break your phone and it’s not backed up, or if you have multiple riders for one bike, you’ll need to scan it again to reconnect.
The HovBeta has upright seating and somewhat slack steering. The stem is adjustable up and down, which offers more aggressive riding positions but not exceptionally so. It folds fast for storage with two burly quick-release levers—one on the bottom of the frame and the other on the stem. The collapsed package is relatively compact, and there’s no need to remove the front wheel. It fits easily in the trunk of a small sedan, but be sure to lift with your legs, not with your back. At nearly 67 pounds, the HovBeta is no lightweight, though this is true of all e-bikes in this class.
This Hovsco model falls firmly in the middle of their lineup in terms of componentry and specs. It has a claimed 40-60 miles of range from its removable 720-watt-hour Samsung Li-ion battery and five user-selected power levels for the 750-watt (sustained) torque-sensing brushless rear hub motor. Like many e-bikes, the pedaled drivetrain is a bit of an afterthought, and even though it shifts crisply, the 7-speed Shimano rear derailleur is no XTR. A stiction-free 45mm travel front suspension fork with compression and rebound adjustment and lockout completes the front end. It does seem like a bit of overkill, especially with the fat tires. With this bike’s heft, you’re unlikely to be, as Napoleon Dynamite says, “taking it off sweet jumps” any time soon. The tubed 20-inch tires are labeled with a no-name brand, but they seem to put the power down well on loose surfaces and handle confidently.
Speaking of power, this is an area where Hovsco excels. With 85 newton meters of torque, this bike fairly screams when pinned, and it’s best to lay on the throttle only when you’re pointed straight down the trail. With the small wheels and relaxed geometry, it took me a few miles to get used to the twitchy steering, especially under load. Regarding power delivery, I found both the thumb throttle and the pedal assist drive to be somewhat abrupt in all modes, and I wished for a little more linearity. It can haul up to 450 pounds, and Hovsco offers a range of accessories, like baskets and racks, for carrying all your stuff. As a Class 2 e-bike, the HovBeta is governed at 20 mph in North America (only once you complete the bike’s registration through the Hovsco app), and you can unlock a pedal-assisted top speed of 28 mph (again, via the app), which bumps it up to Class 3.
Let’s discuss that app. It’s intuitive to use and bug-free, and it connects reliably to the bright LCD command center on the handlebars. It has several useful features that log your stats on the bike, as well as connect you to other Hovsco riders in their online community. Most importantly, to use the HovBeta’s full capabilities, it must be connected to the app. Without it, from the box, the bike is restricted to a measly 6 mph.
Here is where the Luddite in me rises up with torch and pitchfork. Whether Teslas or Hovscos, the vast majority of modern electrically powered vehicles seem to be constantly scraping, storing, and sharing data. In the case of the HovBeta, your $1,800 e-bike isn’t even fully functional unless you acquiesce to use the app. What if you simply want to ride a bike through wild nature, free from the constraints of technological life and social interaction mediated by the internet? What if you don’t want your location data and other statistics continually beamed up to a corporation’s servers somewhere? I would read the app’s terms of service carefully. In any case, the app works seamlessly, and the critique here falls more on this reviewer’s outlook on life than the bike itself.
The HovBeta took to the miles of paved road and mildly rugged off-piste trails I rode near Expedition Portal’s headquarters in central Arizona with aplomb. The fat, floaty tires and low center of gravity inspired confidence, and I surprised some four-wheeled traffic with the bike’s acceleration off the line. Despite the folding feature, the structure of the HovBeta never felt wobbly or unhinged. Uphill grades didn’t diminish the power delivery significantly, and the brakes scrubbed speed without drama despite the weight. I did not load up the HovBeta with extra gear, but it felt like any additional payload would hardly impact performance. The observed range was within expectations.
The Hovsco HovBeta works well for its target task and purpose. With robust power output, impressive range, and competitive pricing, it’s impressive, especially for a folding bike. If you’re clear-eyed and comfortable with the connectivity requirements of the HovBeta, this compact little workhorse would be an excellent way to add some transportation versatility to your overland life.
$1,799 | hovsco.com
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