Sunday, March 22, 2020

Rad Power Bikes RadWagon Review

Affordable, feature rich cargo style electric bike with a stiffer and lighter frame because it's not quite as long as some others
Offers five levels of pedal assist, throttle mode and throttle override as well as regenerative braking to recoup power and reduce wear on brake pads
Standardized rear rack and runners should work with traditional cargo bike accessories, several nice extras are already included such as wood decks, plastic wheel guards, full length fenders, lights, adjustable stem, oversized kickstand, deflopilator, adjustable stem and ergonomic grips
Only available in one size and color, no quick release on the rear wheel, some cheaper components, solid one year warranty

The RadWagon is the second electric bicycle from Rad Power Bikes which started out with a fat ebike called the RadRover (crowdfunded through Indiegogo in early 2015) and has been working in the space since 2007. The Wagon emphasizes value and is one of the most affordable electric cargo bikes I’ve ever seen… To keep the price low a few components have been stepped down including the Shimano Tourney TX drivetrain, basic adjustable stem, independent rear light and cheap grips. But where it counts, things are done right and there’s a lot to appreciate including wood platforms on the rack and running boards, full length fenders, front and rear lights, oversized 180 mm disc brakes and a sturdy double legged kickstand. Compared with similar electric offerings from Yuba and Xtracycle the Rad Wagon is shorter in length and quite a bit heavier at ~75 lbs. It’s built on a steel frame that helps to dampen vibration and features large Kenda tires and a Velo Plush saddle to smooth things out further. The most impressive aspect to me is the price… which is enabled through the “online only” sales model that Rad Power Bikes uses. You will have to assemble parts of the bike on your own (or with the help of a shop) and cannot try it in person first which means the ~17″ frame may or may not fit your body perfectly (I’m ~5’9″ and it felt comfortable). You do get a one year warranty here and even though the company is relatively new I feel like they are well funded and operating in a professional manner.

Driving the bike is a quiet and smooth 500 watt gearless hub motor. Not having gears, this motor is able to offer regeneration as well as power but it also weighs more and isn’t as strong at low speeds. Many people ask “can you pedal an electric bike to charge it” but that’s not really the point here given the 10% to 15% efficiency. Basically, with a larger and heavier bike like this the regen feature just lets you save wear on your brake pads and extend range slightly if you’re coasting down hills for part of your ride. The top speed of the bike is ~20 mph and you can operate in either pedal assist or throttle mode. I love that there’s a throttle only setting (level zero) and that you can override assist at any time with full power using the twist throttle. You can also completely disable the throttle using the red on/off button near the right grip. I noticed a quick disconnect point in the wire running to the hub motor which will make tuneups and fixes easier but there’s no quick release back here… just in the front. The bike uses a sine wave controller that puts out up to 20 Amps and controls power in a smooth way.

Powering the motor and front light on the RadWagon is a high quality 48 volt 11.6 amp hour battery. Inside are Samsung 29E cells that use a Lithium-ion chemistry aimed at being light weight and long lasting. To extend their life, store the pack in a cool dry location (avoid extreme heat and cold) and if you’re not going to be riding for a while leave the pack at ~50% instead of plugging it in. Check in on the battery every few months and fill it back up if power has been draining. I like the mounting location of the battery here because it’s out of the way and somewhat protected by the frame. The pack weighs about seven pounds and that weight is kept low and center for improved handling and balance. I did notice that when braking the rear tire can skid more frequently than on shorter non-cargo bikes because there’s less weight over the rear wheel. Getting back to the battery, one of the downsides I noticed is that you have to turn the pack on independent from the display console (so that’s two on/off steps). It’s not a huge deal but there is more potential for accidentally leaving the battery on which could drain its power. Same deal for the rear light, it’s independent from the main battery and runs on separate cells… if you turn it on but forget to turn it off while parking overnight you may come back to a non-functioning light in the morning. I would prefer that all systems run off of one main battery and that there be only one on/off switch to make it fast and easy but this design still gets the job done and saves money. The battery casing is a generic “dolphin” style and the rear light doesn’t require extra wires as it would if it were integrated.

Operating the bike requires a couple of extra steps but also includes some nice extras. Once the battery is charged and locked to the downtube you press on and then on again at the button pad near the left grip. The LCD display comes to life and shows your power, assist level, speed and distance stats. At this point, you can hold mode to activate the headlight and then reach back to click the on/off switch for the tail light. At any point if you want to go, make sure the red button on the twist throttle is in and then twist! For improved range and a bit of exercise you can arrow up through five levels of assist and the 12 magnet cadence sensor (near the right crank arm) will sense movement and activate the motor. It’s great that they used a higher end cadence sensor because it’s very responsive but the brake levers are wired in to cut power to the motor so if you ever feel out of control just squeeze. Another benefit to cadence sensing vs. torque on an e-bike like this is that you don’t have to push hard to get the motor going, it just listens for movement and then puts out the specified power and speed (low for level 1 and higher for level 5). I tend to ride in level two or three and then use the twist throttle for a boost of power when passing fellow cyclists or topping hills.

In recent years, established electric bike companies have been investing more and more money into designs. Some bikes like the EdgeRunner have a smaller rear wheel for lower center of gravity when hauling and use a mid-drive motor for increased torque and efficiency. This is awesome but it also costs 2x to 3x as much money. The RadWago is a competent electric cargo bike that could empower you to haul groceries, bring kids along or completely eliminate your car or motorcycle. It’s a solid platform with thoughtful accessories, a good warranty and a lot of potential. It might not go as far as a mid-drive bike but the charger is small and light weight… in ~1 hour you could refill to ~70% and easily get home. If you’ve been considering a utility oriented bicycle but weren’t sure about the added weight and size, this bike addresses those concerns by adding electric power and being a bit shorter. It feels sturdy and stiff and also comfortable but you could add something like a Thudbuster to smooth things out even more. Just remember to turn that battery and light off when you’ve reached your destination ;)

Pros:
Compatible with many of the leading cargo bike accessories from companies like Yuba and ExtraCycle, add a child seat, sidecar, extra set of handlebars and many other utility-oriented extras
Shorter wheelbase than traditional cargo bikes, makes it stiffer to ride and somewhat easier to store if you have limited space
Durable gearless motor operates quietly and offers regeneration to help recoup energy when coasting down large hills (and save wear on your brake pads)
Quick release on the front wheel and removable battery pack (makes bike lighter for transport) there’s also a quick disconnect in the power cable going to the motor but taking it off requires a wrench because it uses standard nuts
Very stable when parked thanks to the oversized double legged kickstand, there’s also a deflopilator spring running from the fork to the downtube to keep it straight when loading gear
Protective clear plastic guards are mounted to both sides of the rear wheel, this should keep strapping from packs away from spokes and the tire (reduced rubbing and snagging potential)
Useful accessories including full length plastic fenders with mudguards, front and rear lights (though the rear light runs off of independent batteries and not the main pack) and reflectors
Comfortable saddle with integrated handle for easy lifting when repositioning the bike, larger tires smooth out bumps, ergonomic grips relax hands a bit and the adjustable stem helps to optimize body position when riding
Offers throttle only mode as well as throttle override offering full power that overrides assist, five levels of pedal assist help to conserve power and extend range
Responsive pedal assist uses 12 magnets vs. 5 or 6 on more basic ebikes, this helps it get going quicker and stop when you discontinue pedaling, I like that the brake levers have motor inhibitors and also activate regeneration mode
The steel frame helps to reduce vibration but you could add even more comfort by adding a seat post suspension like the Thudbuster (just make sure you get the 27.2 mm diameter to fit or use a shim if you buy a smaller post)
Two integrated USB charging ports! One is located on the right side of the battery pack but can get in the way if you’re pedaling so the second one is right up on the display (right side) so you can charge your phone or other portable electronic devices
Cons:
Adjustable angle stems like the one used here can come loose over time if you go off-road or ride off of curbs… consider checking it regularly
Only available in one medium ~17″ frame size, the mid-step frame and low seat post makes it accessible to shorter riders but some larger people could feel cramped
Currently only available online so it may be difficult to test out in person, the warranty is solid and Rad Power Bikes has been in business for many years
In order to start the Rad Wagon you first have to activate the battery pack and then press power again on the button pad, this adds time and makes it easier to forget to de-activate the battery after a ride
The battery pack takes up most of the space where a bottle cage might mount and the controller box is already fastened to the seat tube so no bottle cages… consider a saddle rail adapter or something like a Camelbak
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