I had some trepidations before testing the Vintage Electric Roadster, an electric bike that scrapes the gray areas of legality with a top speed that approaches 40 miles per hour. But after a few weeks of riding, I’m happy to say my biggest fear is getting a bug in my Cheshire Cat smile. Despite the café racer looks, this doesn’t feel like a motorcycle at all. It’s something more fun and less lethal. There might be no better toy for stir-crazy suburbanites during this pandemic, but its base price of $6,999 will put most people off.
The Vintage Electric Roadster is unlike any ebike I’ve ever ridden. Where other mopeds or motorcycle-inspired ebikes tend to look like something a tanked bro would ride down Venice Beach, this feels entirely more classy.
It’s also made to be ridden more than a few miles. The leather-wrapped handlebars and cushy leather seat are cozy and form-fitting, forcing a classic forward-leaning riding posture. The reverse-mounted shocks in front (meant to mimic the look of vintage motorbikes) are relatively hard to compress without speed, unlike on mountain bikes. Instead, it’s got big donut tires to take the smaller bumps.
Then there’s the weight of it. It’s heavy for an ebike but featherlight for a motorcycle or moped. You can stand up on the pedals, BMX-style, and throw this thing around corners like you’re on a dirt bike. You can slightly lift the rear wheel and do burnouts. You’d never try that on a Vespa.
I also love the built-in lights, which are bigger and bolder than on other ebikes and provide a cool focal point on the front. The attention to detail is exquisite too. There are two hand-stitched leather wraps on the front shocks, designed so your handlebars never ding the finish.
Spend a few hundred miles in the e-saddle, and you’ll discover a hierarchy of bellyaching from “all-natural” cyclists. Pedal-powered spandex lovers are least averse to cargo ebikes. They’re big, and you’re often carrying kids or groceries. Onlookers gaze at you fondly, thinking about the gas you’re saving as your motor helps you up a long, steady hill.
Superpowered electric bikes like this one sit at the opposite end of this spectrum. Even with the hidden “race mode” key removed—a special stainless steel bolt that unleashes the full 3,000 watts instead of the bike-path-legal 750 W—you’re likely going to get yelled at by someone on their Bianchi.
They’re not wrong to be mad. This isn’t really a bike in the classical sense. While you can pedal the Vintage Electric Roadster, you really never do. It’s an 86-pound bike with a single gear and a thumb throttle. In two weeks of riding, I spent more time spinning the pedals backward than forward.
This is a class 2 ebike, which means you can only ride it in the bike lane at less than 20 miles per hour. You need to be on the road if you go over that speed (which it’s more than capable of), and depending on what state you live in, you’ll need a motorcycle license. That means for trips around town, you legally need to remove the race-mode key.
Like most who will buy or want this bike, I removed the race key exactly one time. I think it’s safer to leave it in and stick to the legal limit of 20 miles per hour on bike paths, because sometimes you need more power with a bike this heavy. (I only opened up the throttle when nobody was around.) In any case, you’re unlikely to have anyone test your ebike’s wattage output.
Riding the Roadster around other people, I quickly discovered, isn’t really the point. The bike’s at its best on secluded paths and in tree-lined suburbs, where you can silently zip around while doing your best Tom Cruise-in-Top Gun impression.
The motor is astonishing. It pushes and pushes and pushes. Just when you’re rollicking around a bend, convinced it couldn’t possibly go quicker, it laughs in your face and takes you to 35 miles per hour. And yet it’s not as scary as zooming to 60 in a Tesla, because the Roadster uses a rear hub motor, so the power isn’t immediate from zero. Instead, it builds up as you gain speed.
If you’re scared of unleashing the full power of the bike’s motor, you can pick from five different power levels. Like the race key, you’ll probably never change it out of the highest setting. Nobody buys a bike this fast to ride it slowly.
Did I mention the Roadster is silent? Cheaper ebikes make a sound akin to a golf cart. This one? Practically no noise at all. It feels like you’re the Flash with wheels instead of legs. When you’re stopping, the rear hub regenerates a bit of power and provides a smoother stopping experience overall. In a pinch, the giant disc brake on the front will stop you quickly.
Bundle of Joy, Mountain of Cash
I have to mention that the first unit the company sent me had issues with the rear wheel, which seems to have stemmed from poor handling during shipping. The second unit worked flawlessly. And I’m not exaggerating when I say the Vintage Electric Roadster is the most fun I’ve ever had on an electric bike. I rode all across Portland, Oregon, finding new and exciting places to let it loose on beautiful summer days. It was magical.
But it’s not free from issues. When you back the thing up, the kickstand gets locked on the pedals. Also, the battery pack isn’t removable, so you’ll need a garage with power (and a solid lock) to recharge it, unless you’re willing to watch it like a hawk as you juice it up.
Speaking of recharging, it takes about 4.5 hours to go from zero to 100 thanks to the included quick charger. And if you’re wondering about range, you’ll get a little less than 30 miles per charge if you ride it like a maniac, as I did. The company claims a range of 75 miles per hour, but that’s only if you ride it like Grandma.
The real problem here is the price. The Roadster starts at $6,999 ($7,144 with race mode, which I’d call a must-buy). It’s a bespoke bike made from ultra-premium components, but it’s totally out of reach for most people. You can get a very decent, real motorcycle for that money, or spend far less on plenty of other good electric bikes.
You’ll have more fun, and look fancier, on the Roadster, but maybe 2020 isn’t the year to flaunt. Instead, grab something a touch more practical if you need an electric machine, and help someone in need if you can. Right now, it feels like those who can afford a bike this expensive should pay it forward.
social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #wired https://www.wired.com/review/vintage-electric-roadster