Over the past few years, electrified bicycles, or “ebikes,” have been rapidly maturing. The electrical bits are getting more cleanly integrated, weights are dropping, performance is rising, and prices are coming down. All good things, to be sure. In fact, it’s getting to the point now where it’s hard to tell if a bicycle is an ebike at all, the integration is becoming so seamless.
Then there’s the RadRover 5 by Rad Power Bikes, which leaves no doubt about what it is.
Back before the coronavirus and COVID-19 madness descended upon us all, I was setting up ebike reviews in hopes of getting in several models before summer arrived. I try to book bikes that feature new tech, an usual design, or some other standout feature. Rad Power Bikes was one the first to respond to my request, and sent me their Class II RadRover 5, a fat-tired, big-bodied, no-excuses bulldozer of an electric bike that features a 750-watt peak output rear motor, and 4-inch wide knobbied tires riding on wheels so big they almost seem silly. Almost. Does it display some new advanced design? New technologies? Not really, no. But tons of attitude? That, it has in abundance. The RadRover 5 is one big fun machine that dares you to question what an electric bicycle can be, and what it can do.
Tech and Design
The RadRover 5 is a large, heavy bike as befits its mission: To basically be a force of nature when ridden. The 69-pound bike’s sloping hardtail frame, built from 6061 aluminum, is both robust and aesthetically pleasing, and includes an RST suspension fork with preload and, nicely, a motion lockout. The 4-inch wide 26-inch tires are appropriately Kenda Juggernauts, and include puncture-resistant liners and a reflective stripe on the sidewalls, which helps with nighttime visibility since the bike is essentially matte black. 180mm mechanical disc brakes front and rear slow things down and have good power, but careful setup is key.
A 7-speed Shimano SL-TX50-7R rear derailleur shares space with the 750-watt Bafang motor in the rear hub, and a basic but useful LCD panel up on the bars displays data bits including speed information, tripmeter, battery status and motor output in watts. There are five levels of assist and a no-assist option (level zero) that keeps the ebike system online and tracking distance if you decide you want a serious workout by just using pedal power. And instead of a thumb throttle, the RadRover 5 has a twistgrip on the inside of the right handlebar, like a motorcycle. The grip is progressive (again, like a motorcycle throttle), so you can precisely add any amount of power to the motor above what the preset assist level is adding to your pedaling at power level 4 and below. Level 5 (”Power” in the LCD display) is the maximum, of course.
A small control pod for turning on the power, adjusting assist levels and toggling display options is on the left bar, as is a bike bell. There’s an LED headlight, and a rear LED taillight with a brake light that also relocates into the optional rear rack that came with my bike. The headlight needs to be brighter and the light pattern is a square, so maybe a rethink is needed there. If the bike is powered on, the rear brake light actives, a feature every bike should have in my opinion. It can also be set to blink but still goes solid when you hit the brakes. A 7.7-pound 48V, 14 Ah (672 Wh) battery with Samsung 35E cells powers the motor and electrics, and Rad says it’s good for 800 charging cycles and between 25 and 45-ish miles of range depending on use. The battery is modular and rides in a carrier where a water bottle usually sits, and can be quickly locked or unlocked to be swapped out with an included key. Extra batteries to extend your ride cost $545.
The Rad Rover 5 is not some lightweight miracle. At a base 69 pounds, it’s big, heavy, and built like Mike Tyson in his prime. It arrived partially assembled and after half an hour with a few common tools, I had the front wheel on, the fat fenders in place, the rear rack attached, lights connected, seat adjusted and the battery topped up. I’m in Oregon, so not unsurprisingly for early March, it began to rain as I buttoned up adjusting the bike to my size. I’m also a fairly typical taco-and-burger-loving big guy at 6 foot 1, 225 pounds, so I appreciated the RadRover 5’s larger overall profile: It fit me perfectly.
But truthfully, I’ve had always had a bit of scorn for what I thought of as those silly super-fat-tired bike-things that seemed more like a rolling bicycle fashion statements than practical transportation. Riding a friend’s regular (non-powered) “fat bike” a couple of years ago confirmed my suspicions: it was slow, heavy, ungainly, and tiring to ride. But give the phat ride idea a more mountain bike-like stance and add in an electric motor, especially a stout 750-watt plant, and everything changes.
The RadRover 5’s Bafang 750-watt hub motor is nearly silent, emitting only a slight whirrrr as it speeds you along with 80Nm of torque. Coupled with the 7-speed Shimano rear derailleur operated by push-button shifter on the right handlebar, hitting 20 miles an hour in the flat is no problem, including going up a reasonable hill. Twenty nits on a bike this size with these fat, wide tires feels a lot faster than 20mph on a regular bike, a sensation fortified by the tire noise as the big machine thrums down the road.
Additionally, since I’m also a motorcycle guy, I appreciated the stability it had while riding, similar to my Suzuki DR650 dual-sport, except not quite as powerful and 350 pounds lighter. But it still had that “I can go anywhere and up/down/over just about anything” attitude like my big Zookie. Nothing left to do except put it to the test. My teenage son and myself pointed the Big 5 (as we came to call it) at every kind of alt-surface we could find: gravel roads pocked with mud puddles (super fun), fields of deep grass, a BMX track, muddy forest trails, gravel byways, and even a bit of snow (we initially received the bike in February). The result was always the same: The RadRover 5 just powered through, the front fork soaking up hits, the wide fenders repelling the detritus thrown off by the tires, the strong motor clawing up hills or speeding down bike lanes. This big bruiser was just unflappable, unstoppable and a genuine hoot to ride.
I also commuted to work on the RadRover 5 before my job was shut down due to the pandemic. As I’ve said in other reviews, bike lanes may be paved, but they’re far from pristine boulevards of safety, since every bit of car crash debris, litter and other urban obstacles ends up there rather than in the roadway. Didn’t matter: With the tires aired up to their maximum of 20psi of pressure (yep, that’s it), rolling resistance decreased and with the front fork locked out, the 5 took on a more urban cruiser attitude, with a dollop of Hummer stirred in. At first, I was steering around the things in the bike lane like usual. Eventually, I just started to run things over. It was especially satisfying to crush cans, cups and other collapsible objects at a full clip. Another unexpected perk of the wide tires: they are so wide and the fenders work so well, that blasting through deep puddles essentially plows a wide channel of clearance around the pedals, so your feet stay (mostly) dry. Outstanding.
The RadRover 5 is a seriously fun machine. Riding it put a smile on my mug as it blasted through Oregon’s wet spring weather. Rad Power Bikes included a rear rack and swank Fremont bike bag with it and that helped make the 5 an even more capable commuter and errand runner. We never had a single problem with the RadRover 5 despite leveling some serious challenges at it, including dropping off curbs, railing through mud or even some airtime at a local riding park complete with jumps and drop-offs. Sure, it went over the jumps like it was made of lead, but that was expected and it was still fun to try and get a little air under the big wheels and tires.
Out on the road – literally any kind of road – the RadRover 5 is just unstoppable. It’s easy to operate and understand, and I love the twistgrip throttle that pours on the power whenever it’s needed. And despite being a truly big bike, the RadRover 5’s seat and bars are easily adjustable and my son and wife, both about 5 foot 3 inches tall, had no trouble riding it. Additionally, Rad Power Bikes offers numerous accessories to tailor it to your needs, whether it’s commuting or even delivery work. I had my doubts about how a fat bike would work, but color me a convert. The RadRover 5 is one of the most truly entertaining bikes I’ve ridden in years.
Rad Power Bikes RadRover 5: MSRP $1,499 As Tested: $1,669
Added options: Rad Rover rear rack ($79), Fremont pannier bag ($89)
• Go-anywhere fat tire design really goes pretty much anywhere
• Powerful motor, decent battery range
• Built-in brake light
• Inspires confidence while riding
• Apocalypse ready
Not So Rad:
• Headlight could be a lot better and brighter
• Big and heavy, but what did you expect?
• A genuine workout to pedal if you run out the battery, but still doable
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