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A deep-V frame makes NIU’s first e-bike as easy on the eyes as it is to ride

NIU BQi-C3 Pro left side with a soccer practice field in the background.
NIU BQi C3-Pro
MSRP $2,200.00
“NIU's first e-bike is an easy-to-ride, no-fuss commuter dream.”
Pros
  • Very low step-over height
  • Quiet carbon drive belt
  • Simple single-gear operation
  • Dual batteries for extended range
  • Standard fenders and rear rack
Cons
  • Mechanical, not hydraulic disc brakes
  • No front or rear suspension
  • Throttle mode restricted to 20 mph
NIU BQi-C3 Pro left side with a Connecticut Tobacco Valley shed tobacco barn in the background.
Bruce Brown/Digital Trends

When NIU contacted me about reviewing the NIU BQi C3-Pro e-bike, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew NIU manufactured e-scooters and e-mopeds, but not e-bikes. After spending two months with NIU’s first e-bike, it’s clear that the company’s experience with other electric two-wheelers paid off.

The BQi C3-Pro is a more-than-competent all-purpose e-bike that’s exceptionally easy to ride and maintain. The NIU e-bike is also easy on the eyes, with two bright red rechargeable batteries partially embedded in a deep V-shaped step-through frame.

Accessible and easy to ride by design

The lowest section of the NIU’s step-through frame is a mere 13 inches from the ground, which makes it uniquely approachable. A friend with recent orthopedic surgery and no e-bike experience was concerned about balance but said they felt confident getting on the NIU. In comparison, the step-throughs of the Rad Power Bikes RadRunner 3 Plus utility e-bike and the recently updated Juiced Bikes Scorpion X2 measure 17 inches and 16 inches, respectively.

So, the BQi C3-Pro’s extra-low mounting height is a reasonably big deal. Even if you have outstanding balance and long legs, a low step-through is convenient when you have cargo strapped on a rear rack or wear clunky boots.

I learned quickly that pressing the NIU’s thumb throttle restricts your speed to 20 mph, no matter how hard you pedal.

You can adjust the NIU’s seat height from 32.3 inches to 40 inches, which the company says will accommodate riders five feet two inches to six feet and six inches tall. The e-bike’s maximum payload is 287 pounds, including rider and cargo.

If you look at the photos closely, you’ll see the NIU BQi C3-Pro doesn’t have the multiple-gear cassette and derailleur you’ll find on most e-bikes. The NIU has a single physical gear, although there are three electronic gears for pedal power assistance. The primary reason for the simpler gear setup is the bike’s Gates carbon drive belt that replaces a more typical steel chain. More on the drive belt below.

The NIU BQi-C3 Pro dual batteries add style and fit unobtrusively in the seat and frame downtubes.
Bruce Brown/Digital Trends

The NIU’s single mechanical gear gives riders less to manipulate while riding. The trade-off for the single gear is that riders who intend to use muscle power primarily with minimal battery power assistance won’t have a selection of gears to level out hills or gain more speed through skillful gear selections. You can undoubtedly pedal the NIU with no battery assistance, but pushing 70 pounds with a single gear means most riders will want to stick with smooth, flat terrain.

There’s no front or rear suspension on the BQi C3-Pro, but I didn’t find that a significant hindrance in everyday riding. The NIU’s 27.5-inch by 2.4-inch puncture-resistant tires have a maximum 55 PSI rating. I inflated the tires to the top rating and then deflated them to 40 to 45 PSI to help cushion bumps and road surface irregularities.

The NIU BQi-C3 Pro medium-width tires and slender frame minimize rolling road and wind resistance.
As much as I’m a fan of hydraulic disc brakes on e-bikes, in my testing, the NIU’s front and rear mechanical disc brakes with 180mm disc rotors had plenty of stopping power and didn’t require heavy pulls on the handlebar-mounted brake levers.

The NIU BQi C3-Pro has front and rear fenders to minimize water and mud splatters from the wheels, making them a desirable feature if you use the bike for commuting. A standard rear rack that holds up to 66 pounds of cargo is also handy. Also standard are the front halo-style dual-level headlight and a rear light that increases intensity when the brakes are applied.

It’s all about the tech

The NIU BQi-C3 Pro's Gates Carbon Drive belt is quieter, cleaner, longer-lasting, and needs little maintenance compared to metal chain belts.
Bruce Brown/Digital Trends

The NIU’s Gates carbon belt drive and dual battery setup help give the e-bike a clean look, but style is a secondary benefit in both cases. The Gates carbon drive belt doesn’t need oiling, runs quieter than metal chains, requires zero maintenance, and is rated to last 30 to 35 times longer than a chain. The beautiful and capable Priority E-Coast cruiser e-bike I recently reviewed also uses a Gates carbon drive belt.

The frame-embedded dual-battery design doesn’t just look great; the placement helps keep the e-bike’s center of gravity low. The 48V 9.6Ah batteries provide 920Wh of power and have a maximum rated range of 90 miles, assuming, as usual, riding at low speeds in the first pedal power assistance mode. Range distance varies depending on speed, rider pedaling, road incline, rider weight, and several additional factors, but the NIU’s 90-mile rating is nearly twice the average range of most single-battery e-bikes. The batteries weigh 6 pounds each, and extras cost $250, so for an additional $500, you could double your range if you don’t mind carrying a spare pair when you travel.

NIU includes a splitter cable to charge both batteries with the 48V 2Ah charger installed or off the bike. When you ride the NIU BQi C3Pro with both batteries installed, which isn’t required, the electric controller draws power from both rather than one at a time, which would deplete the batteries faster. The TFT color display has separate indicators to show the percentage of charge remaining for each battery.

Power to move, but know when to let go

The NIU BQi-C3 Pro handlebar and controls are uncluttered, leaving plenty of room for mirrors and a phone mount.
Bruce Brown/Digital Trends

The NIU BQi C3Pro’s proprietary 500-watt rear hub electric motor has a 750-watt peak power rating and 45Nm of starting torque, which is a big help when moving quickly from an intersection. The NIU conforms to the Class 3 e-bike standard, so you can travel up to 20 mph using the throttle or pedal assistance and up to a maximum of 28 mph in the pedal-assist model.

In my test rides, I found the BQi C3-Pro was sprightly from a standing start, but it wasn’t jerky. I rode it mostly on paved roads, although 2.4-inch wide tires did a fine job riding on grassy fields and hills. I learned quickly that pressing the NIU’s thumb throttle will restrict your speed to 20 mph no matter how hard you pedal in the top assistance mode, so be sure to stop pressing if you want to reach higher speeds.

The Gates carbon drive belt and dual batteries with up to 90 miles range add tech to brag about with your friends.

I seldom saw greater than 26 mph using pedal assistance, but that’s not unusual for Class 3 e-bikes and undoubtedly sufficient for riding around our small New England town.

If you don’t mind riding in the rain, the NIU is ready to go, with an overall IP45 water-resistant rating. The motor is rated IP65, and the battery IP67. The wiring harness and cable connections are all water-resistant as well. It would be best if you didn’t ride in deep puddles or stop in standing water, but a little rain won’t mean you need to stay home.

Our take

NIU BQi-C3 Pro left side with a soccer practice field in the background.
Bruce Brown/Digital Trends

There’s a lot to like about NIU’s first e-bike. The BQi C3-Pro is a rider-friendly e-bike with a deep step-through frame that most adults find easy to mount, ride, and dismount. The Gates carbon drive belt and dual batteries with up to 90 miles range add tech to brag about with your friends. Mechanical disc brakes and lack of suspension don’t appreciably detract from the e-bike’s performance or riding comfort.

The official list price for the BQi C3-Pro is $2,200, but it has been on sale for $1,299 for five months, suggesting that the latter is the actual price. Even at $2,200, the NIU is worth checking out for its approachable design, maintenance-free components, and battery range, but at $1,300, it’s an excellent choice for riding around town or commuting.

Editors' Recommendations

Bruce Brown
Digital Trends Contributing Editor Bruce Brown is a member of the Smart Homes and Commerce teams. Bruce uses smart devices…
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