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Engwe M20 e-bike review: a budget Super73

Less than half the price of a Super73-ZX but with more inattention to detail.

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A rugged looking Engwe M20 electric bike with fat knobby wheels faces the camera against a rugged background of rocks and industrial equipment.
The Engwe M20 in an equally unrefined landscape.

“An affordable Super73 alternative,” is how Shenzhen-based Engwe markets its new M20 e-bike. True to its word, the M20 mimics the trendy California cafe racer’s design, disdain for European e-bike laws, and liberal use of zip ties, while costing less than half as much at $1,149.99 / €1,149. But the M20 also gives you a second headlight and the option for a second battery. Innovation!

My review e-bike — fitted with a twist-throttle and a reported top speed of almost 45km/h (28mph) from its 750W (1000W peak) rear-hub motor — is a class 3 e-bike in the US but far exceeds the legal specs of what the EU allows from a regular electric bike. Nevertheless, it arrived at my home in Amsterdam with no questions asked by importers.

Look, every once in a while I like to live on the edge and test a random mail-order e-bike brand to see how the low-end of the market is evolving. The last time I did this the e-bike was recalled due to a non-zero risk of it just breaking in half.

So the bar is pretty low for Engwe, a brand that stylizes its name with an “EnGUIE” wordmark because attention to detail — I quickly learned — isn’t a strength of the M20.

Super73’s expensive yet inelegant e-bikes notwithstanding, spending over $2,000 usually gets you a refined e-bike with features like over-the-air software updates, cables hidden inside the frame, top-of-the-line components, and a battery neatly integrated into the overall design, not bolted on like an electrochemical afterbirth.

Things change considerably as the price drops to $1,000, which is cheap for an e-bike but still a ton of money for most people. At that price point, you’re usually getting basic components that you’ll have to service yourself when things inevitably go wrong. Any e-bike you ride regularly will develop problems, but premium e-bikes can often be serviced at their own stores or through partnerships struck with local bike shops. Not so much at this budget.

So let’s start this review by looking at Engwe’s warranty. It’s anywhere between one month for basic parts like tires, to 12 months for things like the battery, motor, and electronics. The company operates two support phone numbers, one for the US and one for Europe. “If the customer finds non-human damage within the warranty period, we will send the replacement parts free of charge,” writes Engwe, presumably by a human. 

Shipping is free to the US, UK, and Europe, but I found this fine print for US orders: “Note: There are 2 types of the seats, the different seats are sent out randomly.” That’s fun.

Unboxing and assembling the M20 for my first ride took over an hour — longer than any of the dozens of e-bikes I’ve put together. Installing the optional second battery added another hour and 15 minutes to that time in order to remove the seat (why are the rear bolts so long!?), install the mount (easy!), and reconfigure the wiring (confusing!). The packaging was sufficient to protect the M20 during shipment (good!), but the materials used were excessive and brutal in their application (bad!). The bundled instructions were a struggle to parse and the included toolkit wasn’t up to the task (sigh).

Look, I did my best to remove the protective plastic but it seems to have been cooked onto the lens somehow.
Look, I did my best to remove the protective plastic but it seems to have been cooked onto the lens somehow.
The rear running light is bright and works as a brake light warning.
The rear running light is bright and works as a brake light warning.
I tried, but couldn’t remove what I assume is a protective sticker on the display showing what the buttons do. I quit trying to avoid another Galaxy Fold situation.
I tried, but couldn’t remove what I assume is a protective sticker on the display showing what the buttons do. I quit trying to avoid another Galaxy Fold situation.
The twist-throttle pretty much obviated the need to switch gears, or to pedal.
The twist-throttle pretty much obviated the need to switch gears, or to pedal.

Assembling the headlights took far too long as well, and the metal-on-metal mount still rattles and will definitely rust in the days ahead. (Owners will want to install rubber gaskets at the mounting points.) Adjusting the angle of the lights requires two wrenches and I’ve already had to reposition them after a few weeks of riding. The low-beams for each light are on all the time (which is good for safety, I guess) while the “brights” comes on with a push of the assigned button. Even then the M20’s lights aren’t as bright as modern bike lamps that take up one-fifth of the space. The integrated brake / running light is a nice touch though.

Riding the M20 feels stable thanks to the 4-inch wide, 20-inch knobby tires. Engwe says the frame will fit riders as tall as 6 feet 8 inches, but good luck if you ever need to pedal. I’m 6 feet tall and pedaling still feels awkward compared to the Super73-ZX I reviewed last summer despite sitting all the way back on the seat. And unlike the ZX, the M20 only fits one person making it less fun for anyone hoping to carry a friend.

Wiring the optional second battery can be daunting as soon as you unbolt the seat to find a rat’s nest of cabling.
Wiring the optional second battery can be daunting as soon as you unbolt the seat to find a rat’s nest of cabling.

The power delivered by the M20’s pedal assist is delayed and sometimes engages far too abruptly in the higher power modes. It also continues to propel the bike forward longer than expected after pedaling stops, which caused me to panic brake a few times. The entry-level 7-speed Shimano Tourney derailleur shifted fine, but I barely used it. Mostly I just rode with the throttle, using the pedals as foot pegs until I’d see police.

The Wuxel levers and Filel brakes aren’t great for an 89 pound (41kg) e-bike that tops out at around 42km/h (26mph) in my testing. The M20’s mechanical brakes are excessively grabby, and deeply inferior to the smooth controlled stops offered by more expensive hydraulic brakes. The electric horn also isn’t loud enough to provide sufficient warning given the M20’s top speed.

The handlebar-mounted LCD display is basic but gets the job done. Engwe doesn’t offer an app, yet, but you can put the bike into a custom settings mode by pressing the +/- display buttons at the same time. That way someone like a parent can reduce the e-bike’s 45km/h out-of-the-box speed — at least until their teen figures out how to reverse it. You can also configure the M20 to require a passcode to power the bike on, or change things like voltage, current, or wheel diameter. (Changing the wheel size setting in this manner is a common cheat the industry uses to let e-bikes exceed local speed limits while — on paper — remaining legal.)

<em>The fat tires aren’t too loud on pavement despite those knobs.</em>

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The fat tires aren’t too loud on pavement despite those knobs.

With a single 48V 13Ah (624Wh) battery installed, I was able to eke out 27 miles (43km) riding in power modes three or four (of five) while using the throttle about 95 percent of the time in relatively cold (averaging 40F / 5C) conditions on nothing but flat roads. Engwe says the M20 has a 47 mile (75km) max range when using a single battery, which might be obtainable if you ride exclusively in the lowest power mode using only pedal assist in warmer conditions. The battery charges in roughly five hours via the bundled charger.

The M20 can be fitted with a second 624Wh battery for extended range which also bumps the price to $1,449.99 / €1,449. Engwe doesn’t do any intelligent power management when both batteries are turned on. The e-bike simply depletes the fuller battery first since its higher voltage exerts more electrical “pressure,” or discharges both at the same time if the charge / voltage levels are equal. You can always control the flow, however, by turning off the battery you’d like to conserve. Each battery also ships with a pair of keys to secure them to the frame.

The Engwe M20 isn’t a bad e-bike, it’s an okay electric bike made better by a low $1,149.99 / €1,149 price. It’s a fine option if cost is of paramount importance and you’re just looking to buy a fun two-wheeler for play and the occasional errand. Hell, when it fails you could replace it entirely and still have money left over compared to the purchase price of a single Super73. But if you need a dependable e-bike for use as a daily rider then you have to ask yourself what saving money now might cost you down the road.

All photography by Thomas Ricker / The Verge