RadWagon Review

I asked and got this bike for my birthday a few months ago. I wanted an electric cargo bike and spent months looking at options, including the the Spicy Curry, an elMundo and a self build based around a Bafang mid drive. Then I came across the RadWagon from Rad Power Bikes and decided to take a chance on it (there was no way for me to test drive it). Overall I am really happy with the purchase, but the bike is not without its flaws. To give some context, I am not an avid cyclist and have two kids below the age of 4. I wanted something to get me into cycling, to commute to work (6 miles each way) and to take the kiddos on adventures to the park.

My almost fully set up RadWagon

The good …

Frame: This bike is great value and I mean great! The frame is steel and built like a tank. Yes it is heavy, but it is comparable to many other cargo bikes and with the large battery it is essentially inevitable. It has an built in center stand that does a pretty good job, although I would not trust it with “live”cargo, such as when you are loading kids.

Motor: The 750W motor is zippy and can take you up a very steep hill. I live in the middle of a hill that is talked about in Austin as the place to go and train for hills … it is bad and I cannot go up on my own unassisted, I just can’t. Apart from the giant hill right at the start, my commute is gently rolling slopes and mostly flat. I keep the assist level at 0, 1 or 2 for the rest of my commute and use the throttle to cross a few busy intersections.

Battery: My commute is 6 miles each way. I use the assist (average level 1) and throttling to get through intersections. Starting with a full battery, when I get to work, there is no apparent depletion in the controller. By the time I get home usually the battery level has dropped by 1 bar. I usually recharge overnight, but occasionally go a couple of days between charges. On those occasions I will see the battery indicate slightly less than half full. I have yet to run out of juice.

Controls: The Radwagon can be operated in pedal assist mode or with a throttle and in any combination of the two. Apparently this is not that common and it is extremely flexible. You can set pedal assist to say 1 and use the throttle on top of it to give you an extra boost to cross an intersection; or you can be in pure pedal assist and disconnect the throttle via a disengage button, very useful for when you don’t want to accidentally engage the motor such as when you are walking the bike. Not much to say beyond that. The LCD is clearly visible and has basic info on trip distance, power, level of assist, etc.

The not so good …

Shipping: The box the bike came in was pretty beat up. The bamboo boards had several gauges in them and the fork was damaged (see below).

Assembly: The bike comes partly assembled. It is not hard to put it together. For context, I don’t know anything about bike mechanics, but I am otherwise reasonably mechanically inclined and I could put the parts together in about 40 minutes. However, the front brake was rubbing pretty badly and no matter what I did, I could not get it right. A friend who is very familiar with bike mechanics had a look and eventually we concluded the front fork was defective. I emailed RadPowerBikes and they sent me a replacement, so no complaints there, but it was quite frustrating. I started having similar problems with the back brake and eventually took it to a bike shop to have it adjusted. It is better, but I am not convinced it is right, but I can live with it.

Deck: The bike comes with a pretty nice bamboo deck, but they specify that if you want to mount some of the accessories such as a child seat or the caboose grab bars ($200), you need to buy the aluminum deck ($60), which I did. When I tried to mount the caboose bars to the deck, the holes in the deck did not match the holes in the caboose and the supplied hardware could not be used to put them together. This is rather frustrating, this is the same company making those two things that are meant to fit together. Again, I emailed them and they really had no solution beyond suggesting that I use a drillpress to make the holes in the deck slightly larger so that the pieces could be assembled. I eventually got different hardware, some extra washers and made it work, but this should not be so hard for them to get right.

Child seat mounting and Caboose grab bars: In one of the promotional pictures from Radwagon, you see two children in the back. A young kid in a Yepp child seat and an older one seated on the deck and using the Caboose grab bars. However, if you try to assemble that configuration, you realize it cannot work. The Yepp seat does not fit inside the Caboose without modification. This is a major selling point of the bike, they should make sure these things work as advertised, it should not be a struggle to put them together to work. Parents of young children are the demographic that does NOT have time to fiddle endlessly with this stuff, we need it to work out of the box, that is why we buy a pre-made solution.

Ballard Cargo bags: These are bags that attach to the rear rack. They are okay as far as construction quality, but are fiddly to attach and dettach. It is not a major complaint, but unless you are okay leaving them permanently attached to the bike, I would recommend looking for a different solution.

Conclusion

Most of my issues with the Radwagon are minor and reflect growing pains of a small company. Overall the bike is awesome and I keep getting asked about it by friends and strangers. My radwagon gets me up my crazy hill and on the road with a big grin on my face and I really can’t ask for more :)

Feel free to ask me questions about the bike and I will answer the best I can. If you found this review useful and you buy a bike from Radpower bikes, please use my (husband’s) name (Carlos Rosales) in the referral box and we both get something (I still need some more accessories for my bike!).

Update September 2018

After as couple of years of using this bike it is time for an update of my review. The conclusions from my original review remain unchanged, but I have slowly adapted and upgraded the bike to better fit my usage. Also, I should say that I am inclined to tinkering, so many of my modifications are just that I like changing things.

Below are the modifications I made in order of increasing complexity and clarifications on some of my previous comments.

  1. The Ballard cargo bags turned out to be pretty rubbish. Not only are they annoying to attach and detach but the construction quality was very poor. They have not held up well and Rad Power bikes does not even sell them any more. So, total fail there.
  2. My comments about not being able to fit the Yepp seat inside the Caboose was unjustified, it does fit, but you need to remove the inner crossbars in the caboose structure. This was not described anywhere when I first got the caboose and I figured it out from looking at pictures. I think eventually it made it to their documentation, but by then I was not using the Yepp seat any more.
  3. I became unhappy with the brakes, as I live on a very steep hill and I just wanted something stronger when fully loaded with the kiddos. Following others online I installed a TRP HY/RD hydraulic brake on the front wheel. While this is hydraulic, it is cable actuated, so it is directly compatible with the brake levers and the rest of the break assembly. It just requires substituting the calipers, which is quite straightforward. It made an immediate difference in the braking distance and my confidence in the system. I still have not done the back wheel, but I will relatively soon.
  4. I substituted the handle bar for a Jones H-bar. This is a personal preference as I wanted a different geometry.
  5. The most significant modification is that I decided to change the motor to a mid drive, specifically the Bafang BBSHD. The reason is simply that the unavoidable hill in my commute was just too much for the original motor with a fully loaded bike. This is somewhat of an edge case. This is a very steep hill >20% and the kids are getting big. Also, I just wanted to try the modification :) The takeaway is that installing a BBSHD is fairly straightforward in this bike and by buying an additional tray for the battery with an XT90 connector, I was able to take out the original drive train without cutting any cables and still reuse the battery. I have to say that the mid drive motor is a great fit to the radwagon. It has a lot more torque and the motor has a freewheel, so when the bike is not powered there is hardly any drag. I much prefer the BBSHD to the original motor, but it is not a cheap upgrade (~$700). Still, given the original price of the radwagon and depending on your application it can be a worthy upgrade; for me, it was worth it.
  6. Still pending an upgrade is the center stand. It is not good enough for this bike, but I have not found a reasonable alternative. Let me know if you have a suggestions.

What has not changed in all this time is the joy I get out of riding this, particularly with the kids on board. Two years in, this was a great purchase for our family.