Rad Power Bikes, the US-based e-bike manufacturer, made its name as a direct seller of fat-tire bikes that helped fuel the COVID e-bike boom. In 2021, the company raised two massive rounds – $150 million in February 2021 and another $154 million just eight months later – that pushed its total funding beyond what Europe’s e-bike darling VanMoof had secured.
I wanted to see why investors were so keen on the company and why these bikes were growing in popularity.
The company recently sent me two e-bikes to test: the RadRunner 2 and the RadExpand 5. Both appealed to me as affordable and stable bikes that could be delivered to your door, but I also wanted to try them out based on a comment , which Rad’s Chief Product Officer Redwood Stephens did in a recent interview with TechCrunch.
Stephens told me that Rad’s main target customers aren’t urban commuters. Rather, Rad’s sturdy frames, beefy tires and easy-to-read digital displays are aimed at people over 50 who live in suburban or rural areas and want a greener form of transportation that still feels safe. I decided to test this out by putting my mom on one of these, and you’ll hear her thoughts on that later (Spoilers: she wants to buy one.)
The RadRunner 2, an update of Rad’s highly successful low-frame utility bike, was released in December 2021 for $1,499 and is available in black or forest green. The RadExpand 5 was launched in April as a $1,599 foldable e-bike. It comes in black or white.
Specifications of the Rad Power Bike
The two bikes have very similar looks, feel and specs. They have the following in common:
- Engine: 750W brushless geared hub motor
- Top speed: 20mph (unless you’re flying downhill, then it can definitely go faster)
- Battery: 672Wh; can be charged on the bike or removed for charging inside
- Area: 25 to 45 miles
- Brakes: Mechanical disc brakes
- Other things: Simple LED display, bell, 4 pedal assistance settings, half twist throttle
The following is the same but different:
Both bikes come with an optional front carrier and an integrated rear carrier, but differ in their payload capacity. For example, the RadExpand’s maximum rack load is 59 pounds, but the RadRunner can handle 120 pounds (and even more, as my partner and I proved).
The stands are different too. RadExpand’s kickstand is a regular kickstand, but RadRunner’s kickstand is a two-legged, spring-loaded kickstand that’s much harder to push. While both bikes feature LED front/tail/brake lights, the RadRunner 2’s taillights not only indicate when you’re braking, they also have a flashing mode.
They’re both very easy to turn on by holding down the ON button, but I found that might make them easy to steal. Many suburbanites don’t even lock their bikes, but leave them in the shed. For a smart bike, it would be cool to see an anti-theft system.
Finally, the RadRunner and RadExpand both have thick, puncture-resistant tires, but how thick varies on each bike. The RadRunner has 20″ by 2.2″ tires and the RadExpand has 20″ by 4″ tires. I found that on both bikes the fat tires made for a springy ride rather than a bumpy ride over potholes and other cracks in the road.
What my 61-year-old mother thought of the RadRunner 2
“The gas pedal makes it a game changer. I like that when you accelerate, it doesn’t accelerate where you feel like you’re being thrown back. It’s a smooth acceleration that’s especially good for us older folks,” Bellan the Senior told me after an hour-long bike ride through a suburban Long Island neighborhood.
She noted that despite its 65-pound weight, the RadRunner 2 isn’t as heavy as her current e-bike, the Aventon Pace. Incidentally, the pace actually feels like you’re about to be thrown out of the saddle when you accelerate with the pedal assistance.
Bellan said the high handlebars prevented her from feeling like she was leaning forward too much, which helped with the overall feeling of stability and the avoidance of back pain.
The model we tested had a seat in the back for an extra driver. It’s probably intended for a child, but my partner and I defied the advertised 300-pound weight limit on a previous trip around the neighborhood. My mom said she would opt for a storage rack instead, which is one of the options available to RadRunner 2 buyers.
“I would go shopping in it. Absolutely, without a doubt,” she said. “With all those months I didn’t have to worry about the weather, that’s how I would travel around the city.”
Bellan is an avid suburban biker and even said she’d be willing to take it off-road.
“It would make me feel more confident riding a mountain bike trail if I knew I had the opportunity to take advantage of those extra treats and develop my legs,” Bellan said; The added tidbits are the different levels of pedal assistance and throttle. “I like that I can still train but cross all the hills without killing myself.”
The screen, which simply shows battery capacity, pedal-assist power mode, and headlight/taillight status, was also approved by the mother.
Off-road with the RadExpand 5
When Rad Power brought the bikes to me, they told me that the RadExpand is geared towards suburban people who would leave the bike in the trunk of their car and take it with them on camping and other off-road adventures. So naturally I decided to find the nearest mountain bike trail and try it out.
I’ll first note what the experience was like folding and unfolding the bike. In a word: clumsy. But over time it got easier. Folding the bike is a two-step process. First you drop the handlebars lower and then close the bike like a book while balancing on a tire. No tools required which is great for saving your time and mind.
The bike weighs 62.5 pounds, which somehow feels heavier when compressed into a smaller package. I had to lift it vigorously to get it in the trunk of my crossover – I also had to fold down the rear seats to get it to fit properly, so plenty of storage space is crucial.
I rode the bike to a nearby trail and chose the “harder” route as opposed to the “easy” or “difficult” routes just to see how the RadExpand would perform. I forgot to think about how I might perform.
I am a very self-confident city biker. I can weave through rush-hour traffic on Second Avenue and throw a middle finger at the car double-parked in the bike lane without losing momentum. But mountain biking is a whole different beast and there were a few moments where I really feared for my life. That may be because Rad doesn’t really advertise it as a mountain bike, but I’m also confident that someone with more off-road experience would have found the RadExpand to be a dream on this trail.
Despite this, I generally felt more confident on the RadExpand in this rough terrain than I ever did on a regular mountain bike.
The fat tires just make you feel more stable, and being able to rely on the throttle to accelerate when needed was crucial when braving gravel, sand, gigantic tree roots and big climbs on the trail. I think I would say the suspension was good because I never felt that jerky pain going from your tailbone to your spine that I get when I ride my balance bike over bumps. But that could be due to the bouncy tires rather than Rad’s suspension system.
Regardless of my mountain biking forays, the ability to toggle between low pedal assist and throttle was something I also appreciated when riding in dense urban areas. For example, when you’re standing at a traffic light, you want to be able to crawl past other pedestrians without accidentally bumping into them when you step on the pedal. But then when you’re trying to cross a busy street and get around a double-parked car, that throttle really comes in handy for speed.
Overall, both bikes were quite a dream to ride, and for the price and the convenience of delivery to your door and Rad’s mobile service network for testing, buying and servicing bikes, I can’t say many bad things about the bikes.