Electric Bikes Have the Power to Change the World

By Josh Caffrey

Electric Bikes Have the Power to Change the World

The first destination I wanted to ride to when I finished building up our new Rad Power RadWagon 4 electric cargo bike was a decade back in time. 

The RadWagon 4 from Rad Power Bikes

The RadWagon 4 from Rad Power Bikes

Doing hot laps on our street put such a huge grin on my face that I immediately wanted to crack the code on time travel so I could show my perpetually podium adjacent amateur racer-self what the future would hold. 

There’s no doubt in my mind that I classified e-bikes as cheating back then with my philosophical stance likely falling somewhere between Luddite (who ironically always needed the latest and greatest) and soul surfer (but never understood the appeal and purity of fixies).

Fast forward back to 2020 through a wave of technological innovations and the realization that e-bikes have endless potential when it comes to accessibility and getting people out of their cars and I’m suddenly singing a different tune about their game changing potential.

Two quick pieces of anecdotal evidence:

A few years ago, a friend who’s a longtime fixture in a regular riding group was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Rather than dwelling on the prognosis, he did what any good bike geek would do and saw that as an opportunity to add a new bike to his stable. He’s now on his third electric road bike (each one more amazing than the last) and is able to continue riding with friends and doing what he loves. The accessibility provided by electric bikes cannot be ignored. 

Then late last year when folks still dined inside restaurants, my wife and I crossed paths with an electric Jump bike parked outside of where we had just finished dinner. After a couple minutes of circling it like we were hominids inspecting the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, we decided to take it for a spin and took turns flying up and over the Spring Street Bridge

$2.63 in rental fees later, we started making plans to get an e-bike.

The boost from the motor was the missing link that would enable my wife to start making the six mile commute to her office in downtown LA by bike. Until that late night electric epiphany, the two obstacles standing in her way were a half mile sheer wall of a climb to end her commute and a job that doesn’t lend itself to showing up looking like you just slogged up the biggest hill in downtown. 

Cut to today. 

While my wife's current office might be our dining room table, should the need ever arise to go to work in-person, she’ll be rolling on our new Rad Power which was paid for in part with money saved by not paying for a parking pass at her office for the last seven months. 

There were a few reasons why we chose the RadWagon over other electric cargo bikes and size was at the top of the list. Rad Power’s new generation dropped the wheel size from 26 inches down to 22” which reduced the overall dimensions of the bike, making it much easier for both of us to ride with only a quick seat height adjustment and to store in our garage where space is at a premium. To make room for the bike (both in the budget and garage), I sold my townie to a new cyclist who was planning to dump their car (a Craigslist connection that was right on target). Then I spent the next couple months converting a beloved MTB that I’ll never part with into a townie with bikepacking aspirations to take the departed bike’s place in the lineup. (Shoutout to The Cubhouse for stocking the nearly impossible to find 26” Panaracer Gravel King tires.) 

The next reasons were cost and expectations. Rad Power’s consumer direct model coupled with making niche bikes not currently offered by the major brands made the RadWagon an appealing option to test the e-cargo bike waters. Since LA began its quarantine back in March, our daily world has been simplified to a five mile radius and it’s been delightful. Virtually everything we need can be found in our little bubble and as such, our car stays parked in the garage for days at a time. It’s used half a tank of gas since August and likely won’t need a fillup until 2021.

Thanks to its passenger friendly cargo deck (and a fairly strong circle of trust), our new two-wheeled machine has replaced the car for getting takeout from local restaurants. Our neighborhood is very hilly and riding back home requires at least a mile long climb from any direction which means running a quick errand is actually a workout in disguise and can spell trouble after you’ve crushed hot chick-un sandwiches and a pint of curbside dairy-free ice cream.

While I’m still sorting out the ideal cargo carrying setup, a $10 storage bin held in place with a pair of tie down straps is proving to be an effective solution to bringing home a couple weeks worth of groceries without the stress that comes from navigating a Trader Joe’s parking lot.

RadWagon 4 at Trader Joe's
The best parking spot at Trader Joe's 

Then if life returns to normal next year, we have grand plans to beat traffic when we go to Dodger games. We live three miles from the stadium as the crow flies and the under construction Taylor Yard Bridge across the LA River is going to be a wormhole level shortcut for us, making riding to a games a no-brainer.

And speaking of riding, every ride has been a total blast. The bike has five different levels of pedal assist that works in the background up to 20mph. (Any faster than that and you’re on your own.) Even set down at level 2, the assist turns what feels to your legs like a leisurely spin on a beach cruiser into a brisk 20mph. There’s also a throttle that can be used separately if you’re not in the mood to pedal but to me its biggest benefits are using it to get a torquey boost off the line at stoplights to quickly get up to speed and enter the flow of traffic or for an on-demand kick to power over the top of the hill and get a taste what it must feel like to be Peter Sagan

Add everything up and our expectations for the RadWagon amount to replacing the car for trips under five miles which should be well within its capabilities. If you look at the bike’s spec sheet, you’ll see the traditional bicycle components are on the basic side but so far everything is more than adequate for our needs. As far as the electronics and motor go, I have no idea how any of that stuff stacks up compared to other e-bikes and honestly it’s been a refreshing change of pace to get a new bike without obsessing over it like I’m cramming for finals week.

Besides, we’re already eyeing a Tern should the time ever come that we need to upgrade.