Overall rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
What would happen if a folding electric bike had dreams of becoming a BMX? It would probably end up looking something like the Estarli e20.8 Play, £1,850.99. This version of Estarli’s well-regarded folding e-bike has more of a rough n’ tough vibe with chunkier tyres to give you a bit of off-road capability while still being a lightweight, practical e-folder. But does this unusual combination work in the real world? We’ve put one through its paces to find out.
- Commuters that need to venture off the tarmac
- Exploring out of town
- (Relatively) portable
- Easy and quick to fold
- Comfortable ride from 20-inch wheels
- Punchy performance
- Integrated and easily removable battery
- Flexible specification
- Plenty of accessory options
- There are cheaper alternatives
- Battery range isn’t outstanding
- A few creaks from the steerer tube when riding
- Chunkier when folded than some rivals
- Other folding e-bikes are lighter
Estarli has various versions of its folding bikes, and the e20.8 Play is our favourite. Why? Because it’s so darned versatile. Want to commute through a busy city? No problem. Exploring the countryside at the weekend? Fold it up and pop it on a train or in a car boot without issue. While some bikes of this type will struggle if you want to leave the tarmac, we had no problems riding the Estarli on trails and towpaths, which opens up a whole new world of riding. It’s got punchy assistance that makes short work of hills, too. The range isn’t outstanding, and there are cheaper options, so you’ll have to decide if the extra capability is worth it for you, but if it fits your rider profile then this is a bike that comes highly recommended.
One size, suitable for adults between 152cm/5’0” and 196cm/6’5”
Max Rider Weight
Eight-speed Shimano Altus
Hydraulic disc brakes front & rear
Assembled & built
Berkhamsted, United Kingdom
Up to 50km/31 miles
250 Watt rear-wheel hub
Samsung 7Ah 36V
3-5 hours. Charger included
15.5mph (UK e-bike speed limit)
Five power assist modes
LCD display with USB charging
Integrated front and rear
Yes, on Pro model
Yes, on Pro model
|Components and build quality
|Safety and security
|Performance and handling
|Comfort and practicality
Components and build quality
On paper, the Estarli e20.8 Play looks rather pricey. At more than £1,800, it’s up against numerous other folding e-bikes, including several made by the same company. The (now-discontinued) Estarli e16.7 was just £1,250, while the Estarli e20.7 is £1,425. Then you have bikes like the ADO Air 20, which is less than £1,200.
On the other hand, there are also rivals that are substantially pricier, like the MiRider One GB3 at £2,500, the GoCycle G4 at £2,800 and the Brompton Electric, which starts at £2,900.
So where does the Estarli fit in? Well, its base is essentially the same folding aluminium frame and Samsung 7.2ah, 36V battery as the UK-based firm’s other folding e-bikes, but with a few differences from the rest of the range.
The designers were inspired by the BMX, with the results that the frame is beefed up with extra strengthening, different rear stays and magnesium alloy forks, within which are housed 20-inch, rather than 16-inch wheels. It also has more gears than its siblings (and the single-speed ADO Air 20), with an eight-speed Shimano Altus setup allowing it to tackle more varied terrain, and the 160mm disc brakes are hydraulic rather than mechanical. The cables are internally routed rather than pinned to the frame, for a sleeker look.
Power comes from an upgraded rear hub with some extra punch courtesy of 50Nm of torque, rather than 42Nm in other models. I’ll go more into that later on, but I could immediately feel the difference in oomph when the power assistance kicked in.
One very attractive feature of the e20.8 Play is the flexibility in specification when you order new. If you’ll mostly be riding on-road then you can opt for hybrid tyres or if you’re likely to be tackling trails and gravel then you can go with more off-road-focused rubber. My test bike was shod with Schwalbe Billy Bonkers with stylish tan-walls, which promise loads of grip in the dirt.
You can also specify the standard bike or the Pro model, which adds mudguards and a rack for just an extra £45. Sure, it doesn’t look as BMX-like, but it’s way more practical, and on my rather very damp test ride I was grateful to not have dirty ground water sprayed up my back. There are two frame colour choices – raw metal or Sage Green.
I did notice a slight creak from the steerer tube hinge while riding, but generally, the e20.8 Play feels like a quality product, and it’s outfitted with proven, top-notch components. When you consider the spec and look at it against some of its rivals, it doesn’t actually seem that expensive. The pricier MiRider One GB3 has a fancy magnesium frame, full suspension and a carbon belt drive to account for its higher price and the GoCycle G4 is full of high-tech proprietary parts rather than relatively common elements that can be repaired and replaced by any local bike shop. The Brompton Electric is brilliant, but you pay dearly for its compact folded dimensions and relatively light weight. And for the brand name.
Safety and security
Like the rest of the Estarli folding range, the e20.8 Play’s battery is integrated beautifully into the seatpost. Not only does this look great, it also has added security benefits – I found it very easy to just unplug the battery and remove the seatpost using the quick release. This meant I could recharge the battery while making the bike far less attractive to thieves.
When it comes to stopping power, the hydraulic brakes are a great upgrade over other Estarli bikes. On my test ride around London they provided fantastic stopping power when weaving through busy streets, and my colleague Eilis used them to great effect on the hills of Bath when she ventured further afield.
Front and rear lights are both included, which is great to see. The front is integrated and turned on and off using a button on the LCD display. It took me a while to realise that the rear light under the saddle isn’t integrated and that I needed to turn it on manually. This is because integrating it would be tricky due to its position on the removable seatpost. It therefore runs on a battery that can be recharged by removing the unit and plugging it in via USB.
Folding is an absolute doddle – just unclip the centre of the frame and the steerer tube and you can pack it to relatively compact dimensions in around 10 seconds. Although it’s not the lightest folding e-bike at 20kg, it’s not the heaviest either, and I found it easily light enough to lug up a flight of stairs. Getting it a car boot or onto a train should be no problem.
Performance and handling
Across the Electroheads test team, we’ve been impressed by every Estarli folding bike we’ve tried, and the e20.8 Play is no exception. Personally, it’s my favourite model in the range, because the addition of off-road tyres, the beefing up of the frame and the addition of hydraulic brakes makes an already good riding experience even better.
The upgraded motor really makes a difference too. Power assistance kicks in using a cadence sensor that responds very quickly to pedal movement, and with five levels of assist to choose from I never felt like I was yearning for more power. The e20.8’s motor has 250W, like most other bikes on the market, but it has more torque at 50Nm, compared to 40 or 42Nm on many rivals. This gave me more instant punch when it kicked in, which I found to be both useful on hills and fun, too.
Mix that with the extra flexibility of the eight-speed Shimano Altus gears and you have a bike that really can go just about anywhere. Some of the rivals we’ve tried are great around the relatively flat terrain of London, where our office is based, but wouldn’t fare as well when the hills really kick in. On Eilis’ trip to Bath – a particularly lumpy city – she had no issues at all taking the e20.8 Play up some serious gradients.
Then you have the chunky off-road tyres on 20-inch wheels. The larger diameter wheels make a difference to comfort – blasting across bumpy, muddy and grassy terrain I noticed a definite improvement compared to the 16-inch tyres on rival bikes, and the grippy treads of the Schwalbe’s on my test bike meant I never worried about slipping out. Sure, it’s no mountain bike, but rural bike paths and trails would hold little fear for me.
On the road, the e20.8 Play handles much like other Estarli bikes, which is very much a compliment. I took it around fast cycleways where, in a high gear with a middling level of assist, I cruised along at 15mph in stability and, dare I say it, style. Then when I powered into smaller side roads, dodging in and out of delivery vans and blithe pedestrians too busy texting to watch where they were going, it felt agile and quick to change direction. Those hydraulic brakes really come into their own when the going gets tough and the public get careless.
According to Estarli, you can get up to 50km or 31 miles from a single battery charge. How much charge is left is displayed via a graphic on the LCD display, rather than by an exact percentage. When it’s about to run out, it’ll momentarily cut the assist to let you know. Exactly what you’ll get in the real world depends on multiple factors including how much weight the bike is carrying, the ambient temperature, what level of assist you use and how hilly your riding has been, but we’d say 20 miles should be pretty realistic for most people.
Is that enough range for a bike that costs £1,850? Honestly, I’d hope for more, but the constraints are with the seatpost-integrated battery – more range would require a chunkier unit and less practicality as a result. The good news, if you reckon you’ll need extra juice, is that Estarli makes a 250Wh range-extender that fits into the e20.8 Play’s battery cage on top of the frame. It’ll cost you another £299, however.
Comfort and practicality
The bigger 20-inch wheels really make a difference when it comes to comfort. I’ve ridden several other folding e-bikes with 16-inch wheels (including from Estarli) and things start to get rather firm and teeth-rattly when the road surface gets cobbled or badly maintained. I never felt like that on the e20.8 Play. I didn’t get the cloud-like bump suppressions from suspension bikes like the MiRider One GB3, but then you won’t pay as much for the Estarli. For on-road and light off-road riding, it’s very adept.
The riding position is upright and relaxed, in common with just about every rival bike. The saddle fitted to our test bike was more than squishy enough for my delicate sit bones, but if you’re worried, you can spec your Estarli with an even more comfortable Selle Royal unit for just under £50. Alternatively, use any saddle you like – unlike some rivals that have proprietary components all over the place, many parts of the Estarli are replaceable and upgradable.
The LCD display is nothing to write home about but it does the job it needs to do, showing you battery life, speed, mileage and letting you turn on the front light. Again, I might hope for something a bit flashier for the price, but it’s no biggy. Its small size meant I had plenty of handlebar real estate – enough for a phone holder and a bell.
As standard the e20.8 Play doesn’t come with mudguards or a rack, but both are included on the Pro version, which is only £50 more expensive. Well worth it, in my opinion.
Woman rider’s verdict
Women can ride any electric bike but we know they often want a bike suitable for less tall riders, that are easy get on or off in dresses or skirts, and that are lighter. So here’s Eilis Barrett’s verdict: “The 20.8 Play is one of the best bikes for women"
“With a starting rider height of 5ft thanks to its lower top tube, this ebike may be a one size frame, but caters to a wider range of riders. I’m a 5ft10 woman and I found this frame to be conveniently compact, but still comfortable.
“For any adventurous, multimodal riders, once folded down (45x72x86cm), the Play sizes down to be the perfect cross country train companion. I could fit it neatly under a luggage rack and best of all, most 20 inch wheel bikes don’t need a bike reservation. Although it weighs 20kg, the handle in the middle of the frame makes it very convenient to carry, spreading the weight of the bike evenly so you can grab and go.
“The torquey motor makes a standing start quick and fun, meaning you can conquer steeper inclines, travel with ease on tow paths and beat everyone at the traffic lights. This bike makes you feel safe with the extra power it has to navigate busy roads, dodge danger and explore further.
There are cheaper options out there, but you can’t beat how a bike makes you FEEL and this Play is rather magical.”
Phill Tromans has been a journalist and reviewer since 2001. As both a keen road cyclist and car aficionado, he’s fully embraced the concept of e-mobility, and while he still loves pure pedal power, he also likes not being a sweaty mess at the end of every bike ride.