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Is an E-Bike Better for Commuting than a Motorcycle? We Find Out
E-Bikes are growing in popularity for their ability to offer commuters and fitness enthusiasts a means to cover greater distances without having to expend as much energy. As a motorcyclist, I believe time spent on two wheels is a matter of therapy; it’s religion, freedom and fun, all wrapped up in one. Anything that can bring that to more people more easily, well, it’s good in my book.
The Vintage Electric Roadster e-bike can best be described as an electric-powered beach cruiser featuring design elements reminiscent of classic American and British motorcycles. Its most notable features are an LED headlamp, inverted front forks, beefy spoked tires and a prominent V-twin-shaped battery pack.
Electric power comes in the form of two delivery options: a pedal assist mode, where the rear-wheel-mounted electric hub motor helps propelling the bike forward as the rider pedals like on a normal bike; or a thumb-throttle similar to that found on a jet ski that allows the rider to manually control the rear wheel hub, removing the need to pedal.
An easy-to-navigate LCD panel with three buttons rests on the left handlebar with gauges like battery life, speedometer and odometer. Through this menu, riders can select the degree of power assist being served up to them. Setting one provides minimal power, while setting five provides full juice.
Power Delivery and Battery Specs
Powered by a 48-volt, 1123-watt-hour rear wheel hub motor, the Vintage electric produces 750 watts in Street Mode, with a limited speed of 21 mph and a range of about 40-75 miles per charge. At best, I was able to manage 50 miles on a charge on flat land using only the throttle-assist with power set at setting three.
Where the Roadster shines is in the form of a removable race key that screws into the battery pack and unlocks the 3000-watt Race Mode. In that mode, with power set to level five, the Roadster can reach speeds up to 36 miles per hour. But that will take its toll on the battery pack; the best range I could muster after flogging it in Race Mode on flat ground was 22.3 miles. (Also, for the record: This feature is for use only on private property, as electric bikes are limited by law to 21 miles per hour on public roads.)
What It’s Like to Ride
It’s hard to look at the Vintage Electric Roadster and not acknowledge how stunning it is from almost any angle. Little about it screams electric bicycle; the designers took pains to incorporate classic motorcycle cues into its overall aesthetic.
Once on the Roadster, it is fairly comfortable. if not a little small for larger individuals like myself; at 6’5’’, the Vintage Electric Roadster is not suited for my stature. (Sadly, it only comes in one size.) Pedalling this 86-pound fixed-gear bike is not very desirable, and for this reason, I came to rely almost entirely on the thumb-throttle to maintain speed during my time riding the Roadster.
Overall, the ride is smooth and predictable — and a sheer delight on flat ground. With electric power set to the max, the Roadster is capable of tackling inclines, but it does so at reduced speed. The beefy 26-inch Schwalbe Fat Frank tires provide exceptional grip at high speeds and inspire a good deal of confidence when cornering. I found myself testing their limits along the boardwalk with a handful of sand and asphalt in my path. Not once did the Roadster waiver.
Though the tires have decent mass to soak up imperfections, don’t expect too much; bumps and road imperfections are easily felt throughout the chassis. With very little suspension to speak of and no shock absorption in the saddle stock, shockwaves are quickly and noticeably transmitted into your spine when rolling over remotely rough terrain. The front inverted fork has only 60 millimeters of travel, and is suited to absorb light imperfections.
With a good amount of punch to keep you moving, it’s equally important to have good brakes. The Promax Lucid hydraulic disc brakes front and rear provide ample stopping power; I found myself relying on the front brake more than the rear, as its strength in slowing down the 86-pound bike was necessary. More often than not the rear brake was too soft, and sounded more like a squeaky drum than a refined caliper biting a disc.
Can an Electric Bike Compete with a Motorcycle?
As a motorcyclist who commutes every weekday and ventures out the canyons and racetracks every other weekend, I’ve always been curious to see how an electric bicycle experience would compare to a motorcycle in real life. I understand a machine like this would be right at home in a dense city such as New York or Austin, but I live in Los Angeles — and there is nothing short about our commutes here.
Living in Redondo Beach and working in Santa Monica, my daily commute via motorcycle is 15 miles in each direction. 90 percent of that commute is relegated to the world’s most famous parking lot: the 405 freeway. Thanks to lane splitting, I’m able to make the trip in roughly 24– 28 minutes, depending on how ballsy I’m feeling as I slice through traffic. However, if I opt to take surface streets, my commute extends to 40 minutes.
I did not expect my commute time on the Vintage Electric Roadster to be greatly reduced compared with the motorcycle, but over the course of three weeks of weekday riding, my average commute time wound up being 46 minutes door-to-door. Though the ride time was longer, my commute was made more peaceful; I enjoyed 8 miles of non-stop traffic-free riding along the beach in each direction.
Overall traffic speeds in urban areas rarely exceed 40 miles per hour; at one point in my commute, I kept pace with a Ducati Panigale V4 over the course of two miles simply because traffic dictated our paces. Though the Ducati was splitting lanes, I was able to navigate through even-tighter spaces than the Panigale. (When I pulled up alongside him, he began asking me about the Roadster.)
Once at work, I would plug the Roadster in, and the bike would charge back to full battery power in four and a half hours. Let’s see a Ducati do that.
Where Does It Fall Short?
Right off the bat, the $6,995 price tag will be hard for many to swallow. But the design is second to none and the attention it commands out on the boardwalk certainly makes it a conversation piece. The absence of any kind of real suspension caused by sticking so close to a traditional beach cruiser design limits how and where you will choose to ride the Roadster. As time went on, I found myself standing on the pedals and riding the Roadster like a BMX bike above 20 miles per hour when the ground got rough.
The Vintage Electric Roadster comes in one size only and sadly, one size does not fit all. If you are north of six feet tall, like me, the Vintage Electric Roadster will feel mighty small. Pedalling this fixed-gear e-bike will become more of an awkward burden than a pleasure. Sure, I rarely pedaled the Roadster, but it’s still something to consider — because when the battery dies, that’s how you will need to get the bike home.
As for comfort, I would like to have seen Vintage Electric feature a cushy and broader saddle. The current saddle looks fantastic, but after 20 minutes of riding, I was begging for something more kind to my rear end and lower back.
I am not going to be giving up my motorcycles for an e-bike anytime soon. However, I love that we are living in an era of innovative mobility solutions. I do foresee myself investing in an e-bike system in addition to my motorcycles in the next couple of years, because these machines provide a fun, practical means for getting around an urban area without the need for insurance.
More importantly, they have reignited my love for bicycles once again. The Vintage Electric Roadster is a fun, very stylish take on an e-bike — and further shows how the lines between motorcycles and bicycles are changing in the 21st Century.
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