For most adults, there are a plethora of factors that prevent people from riding a bike. Weather, road infrastructure, and safety are all concerns that keep people in cars and stuck in traffic.
But two other concerns are also front and center when it comes to biking: cost and convenience. Not many people have showers at their places of employment, and who wants to show up to work coated in sweat and stinky for the rest of the day? Electric bikes solve the convenience problem by making the process almost effortless; you can bike for miles—even up and down hills—without breaking a sweat.
The problem of cost, however, is a larger obstacle. Search for e-bikes for sale and you’ll see many that cost thousands of dollars. Fortunately, new companies are working to deliver quality bikes at a more affordable price point, and I decided to check one out to see how it rides.
Over the past few months, I’ve been testing the RadWagon Electric Cargo Bike from Rad Power Bikes. At $1,799, it’s more reasonably priced than many of its competitors. I chose to test the cargo bike because it boasts a 28-inch cargo rack with wood panels that can be used to haul kids, groceries, or picnic supplies.
I’m already a bike advocate and I have the quiver of bikes to prove it. Our family of four (including two kiddos aged three and six) has mountain bikes and commuter bikes that we use to get around Denver, Colorado. I’m also a big fan of box-style cargo bikes—called “bakfiets” in Dutch—that position kids in front of you on an elongated bike frame.
When I began testing the Rad Power bike, I wasn’t sure if it would ride like a bakfiets or more like your standard bike. Hundreds of miles later, the RadWagon’s biggest strength is how well it handles. If you aren’t riding with kids, you almost never notice the weight of the cargo area behind you and pedaling is made easy and efficient thanks to a 750W direct drive hub motor and smooth acceleration.
An LCD display fills you in on your speed, battery power, and odometer, and you can also switch through different pedal assist modes (like eco, power, or speed) that provide more or less help from the motor. Crank it to the top speed and it’s easy to fly around streets at 20 mph, slightly more if you are going downhill.
A twist grip throttle makes acceleration a breeze, and a handy on/off button helps to prevent accidental surges if you (or your kids) don’t want to use the throttle. All of this is powered by a 14Ah Lithium-Ion battery that sits on the center frame and gives you 25-45 miles per charge.
During testing—and unlike some of the other bikes I’ve tried—this range held true, with the Rad Wagon handling a 20-plus mile round trip with ease. This is helped by a regenerative braking system that automatically charges the battery whenever you engage the brake levels. It’s also relatively quick to charge back up—taking around four hours in my garage—although Rad Power reports that average time is five to six hours.
Riding through the streets of Denver, the bike handled so well that I began to wonder why anyone would spend the money on a pricier e-bike.
Some of the Rad Wagon’s (small) flaws became apparent once I added more weight to the bike. The integrated rear rack can attach various panniers, platforms, or baskets to cary your cargo, but I was most concerned with hauling my two kiddos to school. Riding the bike with my three year old was a cinch; he held on to the bars in the caboose (available as an accessory add-on) and enjoyed the view. Adding my very tall, almost seven-year-old daughter, however, was a bit more complicated.
I eventually got used to it over time, but at first having both kids behind me made the bike feel like it would sway to or fro perilously. I think it was just too much weight to navigate safely, and would be fine with younger kids that didn’t come close to the 120-pound weight limit for the rear cargo area. Overall I’m still a bit partial to a box-style bike if I’m hauling multiple kids and want to be able to see what they’re doing.
Like most electric bikes, the Rad Wagon is also fairly heavy, weighing 72 pounds. The last drawback is that it comes in only one frame size (which I imagine helps to keep costs lower) that fits rider heights between 5 foot 2 inches and 6 foot 2 inches. My 6 foot 4 husband, however, can ride the bike just fine, so there’s some wiggle room to this range.
These small complaints prove that the Rad Wagon isn’t perfect. But its overwhelmingly positive qualities clearly outweigh the drawbacks. The Rad Wagon handled beautifully on city streets, accelerating with ease and maintaining a charge for extended range. Rad Power bikes also offers an array of helpful accessories—think racks, baskets, panniers, and platforms—that make the bike nearly as convenient as a car. Time and time again I passed cars stuck in traffic on their daily commute and couldn’t help but wondering: Why don’t more people switch from cars to an e-bike?
Electric bikes aren’t just a practical and environmentally conscious solution to gridlock, they also are really fun to ride. On top of all of the persuasive arguments to get an electric bike, I think the Rad Wagon’s best-selling point comes down to enjoyment. Zooming down the street each morning I wasn’t angrily yelling at fellow drivers or rushing not to be late. The bike commute was part of the journey each day, and not just the means I used to get around. There’s a reason so many people loved biking as a kid, and it can be just as fun as an adult.
Rad Power’s lineup of 2019 bikes start at $1,699 (there’s also a Cyber Monday special on their 2018 models), proving that electric bikes don’t have to be over $2,000 to have the amenities and quality you need for daily commuting. Of course, that’s still a steep price for some. But as prices keep dropping in the e-bike industry, affordability breeds better access, and this might be the key that our cities—and their traffic—so desperately need.