What we bought: I sold my car and bought this e-bike instead
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To be clear, I still own a car. While I might wish I were hardcore enough to live car-free, I’m not. But instead of owning two or more vehicles (like most American households do), my family now just has one. We bought the RadRunner Plus from Rad Power Bikes after we sold our second car, but I should note that two factors made that move feasible: My husband and I both started working from home, and we moved to a neighborhood that’s only a three-minute walk from our kid’s school. So if I feel a touch of pride in swapping a car for an e-bike, I realize I’m in a fortunate situation that doesn’t apply to everyone.
That said, this bike is rad. It’s fun to ride, it can carry a lot of cargo and takes on hills with seemingly zero effort. I feel like what keeps more people from adopting the bike as a routine form of transport are sweatiness and cargo space. No one wants to show up wherever they’re going looking like they just got out of a sauna, and most of us need to carry around more stuff than what fits in a small bag. The RadRunner solves both issues. If you don’t want to pedal a single stroke, the throttle and 750-watt motor will oblige. If you need space for your kid, your coffee and a bag of groceries, you can configure the bike to handle them all at once (though the accessories are going to cost you).
Rad Power offers three cargo bikes: the RadRunner 2, the RadRunner Plus and the RadWagon. They all have a 45-mile range, a 750-watt motor and an integrated rear rack. The Runner 2 and the Runner Plus are the same size, while the Wagon has an extended (and noticeable) rear rack. When I was first thinking about investing in an electric bike, I saw someone riding one around town with a huge orange rear rack that provided enough room for two school-age kids on the passenger seat. Turns out that was a RadWagon, and while I ultimately went for the smaller Plus model, I’m glad that my Wagon sighting led me to investigate the brand further.
The decision to go for the smaller model was easy (I don’t have two kids or carry all that much stuff), but deciding between the RadRunner 2 and the RadRunner Plus was a little tougher. The former costs $1,500, which is expensive enough, and the Plus adds another $400 to the sticker price. The biggest difference is probably the drivetrain, with a single speed on the Runner 2 and seven speeds on the Plus. The Plus also comes with a cushioned back seat, fenders, an improved headlamp and a control panel with a display that includes an odometer, current speed, battery life and pedal assist levels (the control panel on the 2 doesn’t have a display). The Plus also comes in silver, and it’s very possible that color was the final deciding factor for me.
Before pushing the buy button, I did take a cursory glance at other brands, but no one else seemed to match the level of enthusiasm Rad Power owners put into their reviews. I also liked the large number of accessories they offer. (I’m a sucker for accessories.) Case in point, I bought the front basket, the center console and a basic milk crate and some bolts from Amazon for the back basket, since Rad Power seems to always be out of theirs. I haven’t installed the front basket yet (it requires some light brake rewiring and I just haven’t gotten around to it). The center console is cool, especially the cup holder part, but it negates the sideways step-in benefit of the moped-style frame, so I don’t use it often. So far, the rear milk crate is what I get the most use out of. For kid transport, I got the Thule kid’s seat which fits kids up to 40 pounds, and a grab bar to use with the padded passenger seat once he outgrows the Thule.
Assembly is straightforward with an easy video that walks you through installing the front tire, handlebars, headlight and seat. Rad Power recommends consulting a bike repair person to help, but that wasn’t necessary for me. I liked that the battery came charged enough to get a few rides in. After paying $1,800, it would have been a bummer to have to wait to play with my new toy.
Riding it takes a little adjustment if you’re accustomed to a manual road or gravel bike. First of all, your riding position changes. If you tend to adopt the aggressive, forward-leaning bike messenger position, it might feel a little odd to sit so upright. I’ll admit I felt a little “uncool” the first time I rode it. But that feeling disappeared once I started thinking of the Plus as a moped rather than a bike – more like Roman Holiday, less like Miss Gulch.
The motor kicks in after a half turn of the pedals and you can increase your pedal assist from the light push of a level one to a very zippy level four. There’s also the throttle, which pushes you along with zero pedaling on your part. I find that I use the throttle most after coming to a full stop, particularly at intersections. It engages immediately and quickly propels the bike forward, getting me across traffic safely, with none of the slow start up you have to muscle through on a regular bike. Once going, I mostly rely on pedal assist levels two and three to keep the pace. One thing I noticed is that this bike does not coast. That’s not surprising as it weighs over 75 pounds and has 3.3-inch wide tires, but pedaling more or less constantly made me modify my riding style.
Turns are a little different as well. Where you might feel like a cohesive unit on a road bike, leaning into the turns Tour de France-style, on the Plus, turns are a two-step process: you turn the wheel, then you go in that direction. I was a little wobbly at first but here, too, I got the hang of it. With all that power behind you, it’s nice to know the brakes are solid. There were times when I got going around 25 miles per hour, and the brakes brought me to a stop in a way I felt was safe. I should note that after you reach 20 miles per hour, you won’t get any sort of motor assist. That’s because Rad Power bikes are limited to comply with the legal limits for e-bikes in many states.
In the end, the little differences are just things to get used to, and I got acclimated pretty quickly – especially when facing a 250-foot elevation gain over the course of a ride. I was a little disappointed when I realized the 300-pound weight limit means that my husband and I will never be able to ride the same bike together. Given that I don’t know many couples with a combined weight of under 300 pounds, I feel like this might be true for many adults over 30. Still, this bike has opened up an ideal alternate form of transportation, one in which I can carry lots of cargo plus a kid, while getting only minimally sweaty.