RadRunner electric utility bike review: my daily driver

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When Rad Power Bikes first released its RadRunner electric utility bike last August, I knew I had to get my hands on it. I had just reviewed the company’s cargo bike and was eager to put this new model through its paces. Foolishly, I assumed I would ride it for a week or two, and then publish my impressions.

More than four months later, I’m still riding it. Every. Damn. Day. I’m writing these words on a day in December when temperatures in New York City have dropped to an icy 24 degrees. And yet, with a manic glint in my eyes, I still lugged the RadRunner out of the basement of my apartment building for my ride to work. This bike has turned me into a bit of an eccentric.

This is a review of an electric bike that I couldn’t stop riding long enough to actually write. The RadRunner has transformed the way I get around on a daily basis. It may do the same for you, or it may not. It’s completely dependent on your circumstances and the type of riding experience you’re seeking. But for me, the RadRunner’s uniquely sized fat tires, sturdy, aluminum frame, and simplified-but-not-underpowered drivetrain have made riding the rubble-strewn streets of New York City an unexpected delight. The RadRunner fits so perfectly in my life it’s almost embarrassing.

It’s weird, too, because there’s nothing really remarkable about the RadRunner. It’s fine to look at, but it eschews a lot of high-tech bells and whistles that are found with newer e-bikes today. Many people have commented on the design, but I don’t see it as too revelatory. There are plenty of low-riding, drop-frame, moped-style e-bikes on the market today, with new ones coming out seemingly every day. It’s a hot look, and Rad Power Bikes is just the latest company to jump on the bandwagon.

But it gets the job done. And by that, I mean it got me out of the subway, off the bus, out of my car, and in the saddle, using it as that mythical “daily driver” we all are seeking.

That said, I did discover some things about the bike over my four months of riding that I probably would not have encountered with just a week’s worth of testing. For example, the bike needed some tuning in order to make it compatible with all types of weather. But more on that later. (This is me retroactively congratulating myself for stalling this review as long as I did.)

The RadRunner is the eighth design from Mike Radenbaugh and his crew at Rad Power Bikes. The Seattle-based company’s other bikes include the aforementioned RadWagon cargo bike; the fat-tired RadRover; and the folding RadMini and commuter RadCity, both also with step-thru models. In just a few short years, Rad Power Bikes has emerged as one of the most noteworthy US-based e-bike companies. And it’s already looking beyond direct-to-consumer sales: Domino’s recently announced a partnership in which Rad Power Bikes will provide the pizza chain’s franchise owners with e-bikes to replace vehicle deliveries.

The premise behind the RadRunner was simple: the company wanted to take the RadWagon and shrink it down to more manageable proportions. While I loved the RadWagon, its size and weight made it a relatively bad fit for anyone who lives in a city. On its own, the RadWagon weighs 73 lbs (33 kg), but this is by design. After all, it’s not meant to replace your regular bike, it’s meant to replace your car.

The RadRunner is also a decent car replacement, but unlike the RadWagon it’s more versatile and, dare I say, fun. The RadRunner has a load capacity of 300 pounds, including 120 pounds on the extended rear deck. That deck can accommodate a child’s seat, but also an adult passenger. All you have to do is lower the driver seat so it’s flush with the deck, and then add a padded rear passenger seat ($99) for a more moped-style configuration. There are also optional foot pegs and a skirt guard to help protect your passenger. I convinced my wife to test out this setup a couple times and judging by her excited squeals as we zig-zagged through Brooklyn, I think she liked it.

There are a number of other accessories that Rad Power Bikes sells — such as a cool, motorcycle-style center console ($99), a front rack ($69), and front and rear fenders ($89) — for added cargo capacity and protection. But I don’t want to detract from what I think is one of the central points about the RadRunner, which is its affordability. The bike is currently listed at $1,299, making it Rad Power Bikes’ least expensive model. Not the cheapest e-bike on the market, but a really great entry-level price nonetheless.

It’s obvious where Rad Power Bikes is getting its cost savings. The display and the drivetrain are both extremely streamlined, to the point where some might call it oversimplified. You can get an e-bike with a high-tech experience, but you’ll have to pay for it. Gone is the digital display featured on Rad Power Bikes’ other models, replaced instead with a series of orange LED lights that indicate battery charge and power assist levels. There’s no odometer, no supplemental information about battery voltage or trip time, no Bluetooth pairing capability. Also, there are no seven-speed gear shifters; this bike is single speed only. The RadRunner is stripped down to the absolute basics.

Some may miss the option to shift into a higher gear, depending on the incline. But after about a day of riding, I couldn’t say I was one of them. Even with my wife on the back, or my daughter, the RadRunner was never difficult to get started, either with the pedals or (more easily) using the throttle. Rad Power Bikes says the RadRunner’s single-speed drivetrain is the “centerpiece” of the bike’s simplicity. And I found the rear-hub Bafang motor to be more than capable of picking up the slack.

The RadRunner is a Class 2 e-bike, meaning it has both pedal and throttle assist with a top speed of 20 mph. It retains a number of tried-and-true features from Rad Power Bikes’ other models, including a geared hub motor (750W in US, 500W in Canada, and 250W in Europe), and a long-range 48V / 14Ah lithium-ion battery (672Wh) for 25-45 miles of range per charge. The low-profile cadence sensors help deliver more power based on how fast you pedal, which is fine, but I would have preferred torque sensors that dole out power based on how hard you pedal. I understand, though, that it would have made the bike pricier, so c’est la vie.

Quick (and obvious) disclaimer about the range: the higher the power level, the less range you can expect. Also, the more you use the throttle, the less battery power you get. My commute from my apartment in Brooklyn to my office in Lower Manhattan is about six miles, and I would typically ride in the highest setting. The bike’s display would drop from five lights (fully charged) to just one after about two round-trip commutes (so about 24 miles total) of mostly pedaling and some minimal throttle use. When the last light starts blinking, you can’t help but feel a little anxious. This is not a bike you want to get stuck on without power. Rad Power Bikes sells extra chargers, so you can keep one at home and one at work in case you get nervous about range.

Why’s that? The RadRunner weighs 64 lbs (29.02 kg), which technically makes it the lightest bike that Rad Power Bikes sells. But that doesn’t mean it’s lightweight. The company admits it designs its bikes this way, with larger batteries, bigger hub motors, and thicker tires. Remember the whole “it’s not a bike replacement, it’s a car replacement” thing? That said, without the electric assist, the RadRunner becomes a very poor, very heavy single-speed bike.

There are some things about the RadRunner that took some getting used to. The Kenda K-Rad 20-inch x 3.3-inch semi-fat tires — puncture-resistant and “exclusive” to RadPower — provide good traction and comfort, but still left me a little nervous when making sharp turns. This is a bike I would recommend taking for a test ride first before committing to a purchase, especially if you’re used to more traditional road bike-sized tires.

Another important tip before buying this bike: ask the company to install a skid plate to protect the electric controller that sits below the battery on the down tube. It’s practically unnoticeable as its almost hidden by the chain ring, but it’s really important to the operation of the bike. Twice I had the electric assist die on me while riding the RadRunner through rainy weather.

It turned out that rain and other road muck were seeping into the little black box that houses the controller unit and frying the mechanism within. Fortunately, Velofix, a mobile bike repair company that has a partnership with Rad Power Bikes, was able to install the skid plate and I haven’t had a problem with it since. Had the bike simply come with the skid plate included, though, I wouldn’t have had this problem to begin with.

(Update January 2nd, 5:08PM ET: After the publication of this review, a spokesperson for Rad Power Bikes reached out to clarify that the skid plate now comes standard on the RadRunner. We’ve removed it from “negative” column of the scorecard to reflect this fact.)

Electric bikes are quickly becoming a huge business. Experts predict an astonishing 130 million e-bikes will be sold globally by 2023, which is just astonishing. But if e-bikes are going to transform how people get around, they need to be accessible — and price is a big factor in accessibility.

There will always be customers who want a premium, high-end e-bike with anti-theft trackers and Bluetooth connectivity so you can pair it to your smartphone, just like there will always be people who prefer a Mercedes E-class over a Toyota Camry. But dependable, mass-market e-bikes will be the canary in the coal mine if we want to shift more people to sustainable modes of transportation, especially in cities where a majority of the Earth’s population will live.

Rad Power Bikes is leading the pack for affordable e-bikes, as well as other companies like Lectric, Nakto, and e-Joe. Their bikes have always been relatively inexpensive, with no model priced above $1,499. The fact that the company still felt compelled to release a new bike that was even cheaper is a testament to Rad Power Bikes’ commitment to getting more people to take the plunge and go electric.

Now that this review is published, I guess I have to return the RadRunner to the manufacturer. That is, unless I just decide to buy it.

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