More people than ever before are considering an electric bicycle. The benefits are numerous: it’s faster than walking and, while a good form of exercise, won’t make you sweat like a traditional bike would. It helps the environment — more so than a gas-guzzling car, anyway — and keeps you outside, minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission. The vast majority of e-bikes are too expensive for the average person, though. To become truly mainstream, the industry is going to need cheaper models like the RadMission 1, developed by Rad Power Bikes.
The bicycle was first unveiled with a $999 introductory price. That’s hardly an impulse purchase — the entry-level iPhone 12 costs $200 less, after all. But for a modern e-bike, that’s shockingly cheap. Rad Power Bikes has since raised the price to $1,099, which is still competitive with entry-level alternatives such as the Propella and Aventon Pace 350. The question with all these bikes, though, is quality. If your budget is around $1,000, you can’t expect too many tech-related luxuries like location tracking and integrated lights. It needs to be well-made, though, otherwise you’re better off saving your money or spending the same amount on a traditional bike with better parts.
So which is the RadMission 1? A basic but dependable road warrior, or a cost-cutting measure gone too far?
You can order the RadMission 1 with a simple mid-step or classic ‘double diamond' frame. The former is meant for shorter riders (five feet and two inches to six feet and two inches) while the latter supports slightly taller (five feet and 10 inches to six feet and five inches) cyclists. Other e-bike manufacturers have taken a similar approach. VanMoof’s third-gen e-bike, for instance, comes with a standard S3 frame or ‘radically compact’ X3 alternative. I’m roughly 1.7 meters tall, so I went with the mid-step RadMission in a predominantly white color scheme. The frame also comes in black, while the high-step is available in a black or dreary gray.
Unsurprisingly, Rad Power Bikes hasn’t taken any risks with the design. The aluminum frame is paired with steel forks that are heavy but dependable. The 504 Wh battery sits on top of the downtube, rather than inside, while the controller box rests behind the seat tube. No attempt has been made to hide these components. If you’re coasting through town, everyone will know that your bike has a pedal-assist motor.
The RadMission 1 is covered in unattractive cables, too. The front of the bike, for instance, is dominated by wires needed for the disc brakes, cycle computer, lights and throttle. Rad Power Bikes has done its best to clean them up with basic cable ties. Still, it’s a messy and unrefined look. More expensive e-bikes, such as Gocycle’s GXi, hide all of this cabling inside the handlebars.
The frame is also riddled with screws. You’ll find four on the head tube, two on the underside of the down tube and seven around the two seat stays that run between the seat tube and rear wheel. These are mounting points for accessories that you can buy through the company’s website.
These add-ons are partly why the RadMission 1 is so cheap. The standard model costs $1,099, yes, but it doesn’t come with a kickstand, fenders, wheel lock, front basket or rear rack. If you want any of these parts, you’ll need to buy them separately. Some will think it’s preposterous for an e-bike to ship without a plastic kickstand. The counterargument, of course, is that you’re not paying for any accessories that you don’t want. It’s also possible to buy the RadMission 1 and then save up for ‘nice to have’ upgrades later.
You’re not paying for any accessories that you don’t want.
There’s just one problem with this strategy: assembly. For this review, I requested a kickstand and full fenders to combat the UK’s typically rain-soaked roads. The stand was easy enough to attach using two screws and some corresponding holes located near the back of the bike. The mudguards were a nightmare, though. To attach the rear fender, I had to turn the bike over, cut two cable ties and pull apart a connector for the hub motor. I was then instructed to lift the chain off the front ring, remove a few bolts and detach the back wheel. Then and only then could I unscrew some bolts on the frame and install the fender.
But one of the bolts wouldn’t budge.
I checked my Allen/hex key was the correct size and removed a couple of other bolts on the frame. Sure enough, the four on the head tube came off no problem. But for whatever reason, a crucial bolt near the back of the bike just wouldn’t come off. It soon started threading, which meant my multitool would spin around the inside helplessly. A couple of Google searches revealed that bolt threading is common on older Rad Power Bikes. I tried using some locking pliers to turn the bolt, but the round head made it difficult to grip.
Rad Power Bikes believes the bolt was an isolated issue. “We consistently review all our fasteners, thread treatments, and torque specifications to ensure they meet our high standards for quality and reliability,” a spokesperson told Engadget. “We’ve made numerous changes on the supply side over the years, and the fasteners on our more recent models have been improved upon since previous generations. We’re confident the issue you’ve run into isn’t widespread.” The company offered lots of advice, too, about how to remove the bolt. When that didn’t work, they offered to put me in touch with a local bike shop.
Admittedly, my repair skills are mediocre at best. And Rad Power Bikes stresses that inexperienced cyclists should “consult a local, certified, reputable bike mechanic” for help. Still, I’m a little disappointed. I didn’t have this problem with VanMoof’s S3 and Gocycle’s GXi, both of which come with fenders as standard. And I suspect many people — especially the kind of first-time buyer that the RadMission 1 appeals to — have less bike-making experience than me. The company offers plenty of support through its showrooms, which double as service centres, assembly tutorial videos and a Mobile Service that will drive to select parts of the US and help you out in person. Still, I wish there was an option to just buy the bike with your chosen accessories pre-installed.
Assembly issues aside, I like the RadMission 1’s unashamedly basic design. The front and rear lights aren’t integrated like the third-generation Cowboy or VanMoof’s S3. Instead, they sit proudly off the frame. They’re bright enough for nighttime riding, though, and sit next to reflectors for additional visibility. If the lights are ‘off,’ the rear one will also come on whenever you hit the brakes, just like a conventional car.
These components are toggled with a small controller attached to the left handlebar. It doesn’t stand out like VanMoof’s Matrix Display or Gocycle’s Formula 1-inspired Cockpit, but the controls and LED visualizations are functional. One button press turns the bike on, while another controls the lights and two more shift the motor level up or down. If you hold the down button for long enough, the e-bike will also move forward at a brisk walking pace. Five lights explain which power mode you’re in and a second set represents the battery’s remaining charge.
Ideally, I would like to know my current speed and how hard the motor is working. I can live without these metrics, though, and plenty of apps, including Google Maps, can explain how fast you’re traveling.
E-bike regulations differ around the world. In the UK, for example, pedal-assist bicycles are capped at 15.5 MPH (25KMH) and a 250-watt motor. They also can’t have a button or ‘twist and go’ throttle that pushes you forward without any assistance. (You can have something more powerful, but it’s then treated like a motorcycle and requires a driving license.) The lowest class of e-bike in the US, meanwhile, can have a 750W motor and 20 MPH (32KMH) top speed. Most companies ship the same e-bike around the world with a software-controlled top speed. I’ve ridden a few that trust you to set the location through a companion app.
The RadMission 1 is different, though. If you buy the bike in the US, you’ll receive a model with a 500W motor and a twist-grip throttle. The European version, meanwhile, has a 250W motor and twist-based boost that requires at least a small amount of pedaling. While relatively minor, these differences might affect when and where you want to buy the bike from. I’m based in the UK, so I spent my review period with the European model.
Like the Cowboy and many other commuter-centric e-bikes, the RadMission 1 is a single speed bike. That means you don’t have to worry about shifting gears or, in the care of VanMoof’s S3, trust that the system will make timely changes. I liked the simplicity, though occasionally missed having the option to move up and down gears myself. The RadMission 1’s single gear is quite high, which means you have to push quite hard to get the bike moving. I found this a little frustrating on my debut ride. Other e-bikes, including the Cowboy and Gogoro’s expensive Eeyo 1s, are noticeably quicker out of the blocks. When the traffic lights turn green, I want to feel like Usain Bolt, not someone who’s just woken up.
But then I remembered the Twist Power Assist. According to the RadMission site, it’s designed to help you “move-off from a complete standstill, or speed up when you need to.” Unsurprisingly, the difference is stark. So stark, in fact, that I soon refused to set off without it. I wish the bike delivered this kind of power automatically, but it’s a small nitpick.
The higher gear has an upside, too. Once you’re rolling along, it’s considerably easier to maintain the RadMission 1’s advertised top speed. I’ve ridden other e-bikes that seem to actively punish pedaling. The gear is so low that you have to pedal, freewheel, and pedal again like you would on a small BMX bike. Not so with the RadMission. The higher gear means you can cruise at speed and move the cranks at a slow but consistent pace. For me, it’s a more natural and relaxing way of riding. The higher gear choice also means that you can pedal for a little while longer while riding down steep slopes. That’s useful if you want to maximize the effects of gravity before taking on another hill or flat stretch of road.
Your power is converted to the rear wheel through a traditional chain. Many e-bike manufacturers have adopted carbon belt drives because they last longer and don’t mess up your trousers with lubricant and dirt. I don’t mind a cheaper chain, though. I’ve ridden chain-powered bikes all my life and have no problem riding with my jean legs rolled up.
The chain is connected to a rear hub motor that delivers 50 Nm of torque. For comparison, Cowboy’s rear-hub motor offers 30Nm and VanMoof’s S3 supplies 59Nm while you have the Turbo Boost button held down. The RadMission 1 needs all of that torque, too. The mid-step weighs 21.5KG, which is lighter than everything else Rad Power Bikes makes at the moment. It’s not the lightest e-bike on the market, though. The current Cowboy weighs 16KG, for instance, while VanMoof’s S3 weighs 19KG — and unlike the RadMission 1, that includes a kickstand and fenders.
It’s a natural and relaxing way of riding.
For the most part, the motor is great. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it switches on at the right moments and delivers power that’s proportionate to your pedaling. But every so often the bike would act a little strangely. Once or twice, for instance, the motor didn’t switch on at the start of a hill. It then ‘woke up’ a second or two later and offered maximum power. While surprising, these moments weren’t frequent enough to spoil the otherwise respectable riding experience.
According to Rad Power Bikes, the US version of the RadMission 1 should manage between 24 and 45 miles (40-72KM) on a single charge. The EU model, meanwhile, is supposed to land somewhere between 28 and 50 miles (45-80KM). It’s a small difference that’s likely attributable to the US version’s more powerful motor. For comparison, VanMoof claims its S3 can manage 37 to 93 miles (60 to 150 kilometers), and I averaged roughly 50 miles while testing that bike earlier this year.
I’m pleased to report that Rad Power Bikes’ estimates are accurate. Eerily accurate, in fact. I managed exactly 50 miles (I checked my Strava data just to be sure) before the motor switched off completely. All of that riding was completed on the highest power setting, too. Curiously, the assistance faded before the 504 Wh battery had completely run out of charge. I know this because I was still able to ride home with the lights on.
Range is notoriously hard to judge because it depends on various factors including your weight, preferred power level, and how many hills you typically climb each day. But if you use the boost sparingly and occasionally drop to a lower power level, I think it’s perfectly possible to eclipse 50 miles on a single charge.
Once the battery hits zero, you’ll need to plug in the included charger. It plugs directly into a port on the right-hand side of the battery that’s covered by a rubber cover. If one part of the bike is going to break, it’s probably this seal. On the opposite side of the battery is a keyport that lets you remove the battery and charge it separately from the bike. It’s a fantastic option for people who live on the upper floors of an apartment complex or want to recharge the battery by their desk at work. At the time of writing, you can also buy and swap in a larger 672 Wh battery from Rad Power Bikes’ site for $549.
Rad Power Bikes says that you'll "generally need three to five hours" to recharge the battery. That timespan is then expanded upon with a table inside the RadMission instruction manual. Five miles requires 45 minutes, it reads, while 45 miles demands five hours and 15 minutes. That last figure is a tad conservative, in my experience. I was able to fully recharge the battery in five hours and five minutes, which then delivered the aforementioned 50 miles of range. The charging time is longer than some other bicycles I’ve tested including the Cowboy (three hours and 30 minutes), Gocycle’s folding GXi (four hours) and VanMoof’s S3 (four hours). I had no issue with the length of time, however, because I usually charge e-bikes overnight or during the evening after work.
Some commuter e-bikes are packed with tech-centric goodies. VanMoof’s S3 has integrated lights, for instance, and a ‘stealth lock’ that stops the bike from moving and triggers an alarm if someone tries to roll it away. The Cowboy, meanwhile, has automatic crash detection and a ‘Find My Bike’ feature that leverages GPS and Bluetooth. Folding expert Gocycle, meanwhile, lets you tweak the motor’s behavior via a mobile app.
For better and for worse, the RadMission 1 has none of these features.
At times, I like how simple it is. I don’t need to pull out my phone, for instance, or wait for a Bluetooth connection to turn the bike on. A single button press is faster, too, than the morse code-style unlock mechanism that VanMoof offers. Location tracking is nice, of course, and a special locking mechanism — while no substitute for a traditional chain or D-lock — makes it easier to leave a bike outside in public. The stripped-back feature set is refreshing, though, because it encourages you to disconnect and focus on the simple joys of cycling, rather than Tesla-style niceties.
The RadMission 1 is one of the cheapest e-bikes on the market. Alternatives exist, such as the city-centric Propella and crowdfunded Analog Motion AMX but Rad Power Bikes is a brand that many people will recognize. The company has delivered a bunch of e-bikes over the last five years that strike an appealing balance between quality and affordability. The customizable RadRunner, for instance, is a popular cruiser. The RadWagon 4, meanwhile, is known as one of the most affordable electric cargo bikes. The company’s offerings are so reliable that Domino's Pizza has started using them for deliveries in the US.
If you’re considering a cheaper e-bike— and at the moment, $1,099 is alarmingly cheap — that legacy matters. The company has spent the last five years building its own e-bikes, and I'm confident it will be around in another five year's time. It has multiple offices and partnered with bike shops that can provide on-the-ground assistance. The RadMission 1 is easier to recommend, therefore, than alternatives by smaller brands. It’s not the most exciting e-bike but Rad Power Bikes has nailed most of the fundamentals. The aluminum frame is built to last and the rear-hub motor performs admirably. It’s comfortable, too, and doesn’t offer ‘smart’ features for the sake of them.
I’m torn on the company’s accessory system, though. Every commuter e-bike that costs over $1,000 should come with a kickstand, in my opinion. I also think that fenders are essential in the city. If you want those features, your total will come to $1,173. A front-mounted basket, too? Then the bike creeps up to $1,262. That’s still remarkably cheap, of course. But be aware that you’ll need to attach these accessories yourself or contact someone that can do it for you.
Rad Power Bikes has nailed most of the fundamentals.
There’s plenty that Rad Power Bikes could improve. I wish the battery was a little more discrete, for instance, and the cables weren’t so messy. And of course, I would like the assembly process — particularly for the optional fenders — to be simpler. But the RadMission 1 feels like a great deal overall. A basic but functional e-bike that will effortlessly blend into cities and college campuses alike. Stylish? Not really. But it’s comfortable and dependable, like an old chore coat. And when you’re on a budget, that’s far more important.