The Sondors Ebike.
Here we go.
I rode the Sondors Ebike with the throttle pegged down and my first reaction was “Wow! This bike doesn’t totally suck”. The logos and the styling make it look like the latest incarnation of the Batmobile, and it rides like a tank over most everything in its path. Tooling around everyone looks at you like you’re wearing a cape and a mask with funny ears and things you far more physically fit than you actually are. This bike works well if two important conditions are met
- The battery has a charge and the motor is actually powered
- The ground is pretty much level or downhill and not soft sand
The first thing I did was get on the Sondors bike and try to pedal it around for 5 minutes with the power off. Let me tell you right now, that is NOT an enjoyable experience. I suspect that when most people kill their battery they will likely just get off the bike and walk. If there is any hill whatsoever (even a 1% grade) then forget it. You have to stand up and pedal with all the power that god gave you in those puny chicken legs of yours. Most lazy Americans who bought this bike will probably call someone to pick them up so they don’t have to walk home pushing this 60 lb beast. The gearing is set such that you can pedal along comfortably if the bike is already moving at 15mph or more. The bike is just not designed to be pedaled without the motor running.
I gear all my single speed fatbikes so they can be pedaled comfortably in case the motor fails or the battery dies or someone sees me riding on a trail I’m not supposed to be on. This generally means a 32T front chainring and a 22T cog, a 10 tooth difference. The Sondors ebike has what looks to be over a 24 tooth difference between the chainring and the freewheel, that means the tire turn 2.5 times FASTER on my single speed fat-bikes for every pedal revolution than it does on the Sondors ebike. When you single-track ride every day like I do the two most important things you learn quickly are weight and proper gearing. At 59lbs the Sondors ebike loses out in both those departments.
Then I turned the motor on. The Sondors ebike ended up shipping with a Pedal Assist System (PAS) that puts around 100Watts (I’m guesstimating here) into the rear geared 350Watt Bafang hub motor automagically if you’re pedaling. This Pedal Assist System puts enough power into the system that you can go about the speed of a normal bike with about the effort it would take to pedal a normal bike. The throttle dumps a whole lot more power into the motor. You can hear the poor clutch squeak and squeal when you hit full throttle from a standstill. Once the motor gets up to speed it does very well, easily hitting around 20 mph on level ground or so if there is a slight downhill. I’d be willing to bet my favorite hamster that this oversized Bafang motor is wound for speed, not torque.
The real problems crop up when you start going uphill. Less than a 4% grade is doable with a little pedaling effort if you’re already up to speed, but trying to get up anything much more than that you are standing up and pedaling as if your life depended on it. The “ha-ha I’m cheating” factor of the electric motor completely disappears. I tried to get up some 8% grades and the bike quickly stalled out and wouldn’t go no matter what I did. This might have something to do with the fact that I am a 200lb+ Queso chugging monster. If you live in an area that has any hills at all then you might want to seriously consider a mid-drive system instead. With my BBS02 equipped AWD build The Reaper I was able to very, very slowly climb up a hard-packed snow hill that was over a 30 degree grade straight up with a 34T chainring and a 36T cog. The BBS02 is a stair climbing machine with the right gearing.
Most people have a really hard time guesstimating the grade of a road. To calculate grade you divide the rise by the run. Most graded roads that are paved are much less than 10 percent. A 30 percent grade is challenging to walk up and is about the steepness of most stairs.
I tried taking this bike on single-track trails. I made it about 20 feet before the bike stalled out on a tiny little incline and I had to turn around and walk the bike back out. If you want to ride in the woods then I recommend something mid-drive that is a lot lighter with way more power like Duh Banana Bike (~$765) which weighs in at 41lbs without the battery.
The tires are quite heavy and the tread pattern reminds me of the Panaracer Fat B Nimble which is one of my favorite tires for the price. How could I tell that the tires were heavy without taking them off and weighing them? The rotational momentum in the tires was pretty intense and I could even feel some gyroscopic procession with the wheels when moving at top speed. The last time I felt that was test driving a Walmart Beast with a Stokemonkey installed on it. When testing fat-bikes the thing that I keep coming back to is that the tires make all the difference in the ride. Going ghetto tubeless will save a little weight and make the ride feel much more cushy all around. Just swapping out the tubes with ultralight qtubes will probably save a pound or three. The tires have a little bit of self-steer at around 10psi but it wasn’t distracting. I would recommend that people use the max tire pressure of 20psi to maximize their range.
The plastic triangle box opens to the side and also has only 2 small ports with rubber stoppers to keep out the weather. One side hides the on\off switch, the other hides the charging port. I liked the design but I felt like the rubber plugs could easily get misplaced or lost. It would be nicer if they had a little dangly thing to keep them with the bike. There is also an on\off switch near the battery meter on the handlebars. This is a nice addition, although there is no way to turn off the PAS system that I could find. You could probably pull the drive side crank and chuck the PAS magnet ring on the drive side of the BB. I don’t know how that would affect the controller though. It would be nice to have a throttle-only setting. What do you expect for $499 (early adopter cost) + $193 shipping?
Never before has any ebike crowdfunding campaign created so much publicity and so much emotion in the online e-bike community. I started covering the Sondors ebike when it first came out but the intensity and negativity on both sides quickly made me want to remove myself from the discussion entirely. On Feb 22nd when I stopped covering the Sondors campaign my life immediately got much, much better. My web traffic immediately got cut in half, but it was well worth it as it really wasn’t the kind of traffic I was interested in. I promised to not write anything about it until it came time to review the bike. After this review I will continue to write nothing as Ivars continues the work in this life that he clearly feels called to do. While researching I ran across this article on crowdfunding insider which had this to say about the 2nd most funded campaign in Indiegogo’s history.
“Sondors bounced not one check – but three, all designated to cover campaign expenses.”
“The car he [Ivars] was driving had been towed (apparently the car was borrowed). He had no money to pay to get it off the impound lot, and he did not have a drivers license, so Ivars asked Jonathan, if he could help him out. Agency 2.0 picked up the tab and asked someone (with a valid drivers license) to drive the car off the lot. This all appeared a bit odd.”
What do I think?
So am I a fan of Storm\Ivars? Do I think he is a loser? Neither one really. He had a chance to take everyone’s money and skip town and he didn’t. For that he deserves a pat on the back, that being said he also misrepresented the bike in a pretty extreme way to the point of fraud during the original campaign. I didn’t test the range of the bike, but most users will get less than 10 miles of range if they peg the throttle, which is the only way I would ride this beast. If they only use the PAS system and ride on only completely level ground they will get closer to 20 miles. [Update: I stand corrected, there are several Sondors users who claim to get close to or over 30 miles of range with this bike, see the comments below.] It seems silly to me to ride this bike with only the PAS system, as my $300 skinny tire road 20lb non-ebike is MUCH easier to pedal without a motor than the Sondors bike is to pedal with the PAS system active. No one is going to get the originally advertised 50 miles of range out of this bike, except maybe Lance Armstrong or a 75lb child. If you want more range out of this bike your best bet is a snap in upgraded 13.6Ah (for 54% more range) water bottle battery with Grade-A top quality cells from lunacycles available here for $311.
Ivars also used a false name (Storm), and it is unlikely that the campaign would have gone viral if he had used his given name Ivars, it would have scared off far too many people. I think Ivars Sondors is just a guy who has made some good choices in life and a lot of bad ones. It will be really interesting to see how it plays out.
I got a refund and my friends got their bikes. In the end I’m pretty happy, I do not want a bike in my quiver that weighs 59lbs and can’t climb any hills steeper than 4%. That being said there are people who would be really happy with this bike.
- Citizens of Black Rock City – Sober up and pay attention: This really is the perfect Burning Man bike. Playa resistant and cheap so you don’t care when it gets destroyed with big fat tires to run over passed out hippies without killing them. You’ll have a harem of Sparkle Ponies within a week with this ride. As a side note I’ve been to Burning Man 9 times and dress up with the 43′ high el-wire & bamboo puppet of The Man on my back.
- Riding on the beach – You could ride on the hard-pack for miles and be happy as a clam, the case keeps the salt water out of the battery. Forget about riding in the soft stuff, you’re gonna be walking the bike.
- Normal everyday people who want to commute a few miles (less than 8) without any hills in their commutes. Take the charger with you if it’s more than 8 miles so you can charge it when you get to wherever you’re going, its very light and small.
- People who want to dress up as a superhero and ride around the neighborhood with a cape looking cool.
People that probably won’t be very happy with the Sondors ebike
- Anyone ever stuck dealing with this bike when the battery dies.
- Anyone ever trying to ride this bike up pretty much any hill.
- Singletrack riders beware. There is no way to get this bike into a decent single track machine no matter how much you spend, it is just too heavy. Steer clear.
Will he deliver all the bikes promised before he self destructs from the lawsuits from agency 2.0 and the coming income tax bills? By my very rough calculations he will owe Uncle Sam about 2 million dollars come April 15th 2016, Indiegogo $350,000 and Agency 2.0 about $700,000 of which $190,000 has been paid so far. Don’t forget the old pre-Indiegogo settlement of ToyJobs for $39,456 which seems like small potatoes now. Considering he made at best around $150 per bike he will probably run out of money long before all those debts are paid.
That being said Ivars has accomplished something that no other ebike seller ever has. He sold $6,100,000 worth of ebikes which now represent approximately 10% of all ebikes & kits made into ebikes sold in 2015 on nothing but a promise.
That’s right, if Ivar’s delivers on his promises to customers then 1 in 10 ebikes or ebike kits in the US sold in 2015 are going to have the Sondors logo on them. How did he sell so many bikes in such a short time? They were cheap and they looked pretty awesome. The #1 criteria for most uneducated ebike consumers in the US is price, the 2nd criteria is price, the 3rd criteria is will it attract attention from attractive women. Ivars sold a whole bike for what I usually pay for just one BBS02 drive unit or one ebike battery from China (when you factor in the outrageous shipping costs for batteries).
US dealers need to wake up and smell the coffee. There are 100,000,000 bicycles in the US and a billion bikes in the world. The future is not $5800 Bosch electric fatbikes that no one can afford like the Felt Lebowski (read our critical review here). The future is sub $1000 electric fatbikes that shred in the woods like my $765 Duh Banana Bike. 20 lbs lighter than the Sondors (with the battery thrown on your back) with a top speed of 15mph Duh Banana bike climbs 20 percent grades with ease. I have a whole shed full of electric fat-bikes most that cost me over $2,500 to build and my favorite ride only cost me $765 and took 2 hours to build. Things in the ebike market really must change. They need to change now.
Upgrade that crappy motor with DD?
There is a whole lot of room for improvement on the Sondors ebike design. You could throw a 1000W (really 1500W with the right battery) direct drive motor from Luna Cycles on the back for $350. If that’s not enough power for you then you can throw a 3000W Mxus build up with a fatbike rim from Barent over at Kinaye Motorsports for $849. If you opt for the Mxus you should use a beefy torque arm like Dr Bass’s custom machined ones. Then add a 52v triangle battery on it for $470 which will work with either motor and can produce 2600W continuous or 4160W burst. This turns your wimpy Sondors ebike into the ebike that it should have been. For around $800 (or $1350 for the Mxus build) and a couple of hours spent swapping things around you have a bike that is way more awesome and will go a heck of a lot faster than 20mph and not stall out so easily on small hills.
The Ultimate Sondors Street Machine
The ultimate Sondor’s ebike would be a big block Lightning Rods kit ($1000), Lyen 18 Fet Controller ($200) with a Rohloff 14 speed IGH ($1500) in the rear and a Luna Cycles 60v 25ah Samsung 25r Monster Pack Extreme ($980 and you need a permission slip from your mommy to buy). That will set you back about $3700, a little bit more than the original purchase price. You could knock a few dollars off if you used a smaller 3 speed IGH like the Nexus 3 or i-3 disc which would save you about $1100 bringing the total to $2,600. That would give you an electric fat-bike that truly is awesome and would climb any hill with ease and probably top out at around 45mph on the level and have a range of about 20-25 miles at speed. That’s what Bruce Wayne (or is his real name Donald Trump?) would do, but he’s rich.
What would I do if I had one of these bikes? There is a pretty entertaining article about ways to upgrade your Sondors ebike that I wrote before this bike was released. The first thing to do would be to overvolt the system by hooking up a 48v battery to the Sondors controller. If that didn’t fry the electronics then I’d try it with a 52v battery. It’s unlikely that the controller mosfets could deal with more than a 52v pack (which is over 60v off the pack). Volts are going to make the bike run much faster, but they are not going to fix the lack of hill climbing ability. For that you don’t need volts, you need amps. In order to get more amps you would have to pull the battery and controller and sell them on ebay to some other Sondors ebike owner (if they were not fried yet). I would take apart the Bafang motor and upgrade the phase wires and install a thermal probe. Using a tiny aquarium thermometer mounted on the top tube I could watch the temps and then run a whole lot more power through the motor until I destroyed it. After installing a much larger batter pack (Lunacycles 20ah 36v pack for $305 with charger can put out 50 amps) and controller (Lyen 9 fet $89 can handle well over 6000 Watts) I would do my best to melt down the windings in the motor. It looks like it could take about 1000 watts sustained before the windings would melt. I’m sure doing all this would void your 30 day warranty.
Once the motor was fried I would relace a new motor into the Sondors rim (major PITA) and use it with my brand new battery and controller. The motor I would probably use is the 10T FatMAC from em3ev for $280. Although the FatMac is rated for 500Watts it can take a lot more power than that, especially in short bursts on level ground. Total cost to replace the battery, controller and motor? About a $674 to build a bike that has a hell of a lot more power (~1800 watts peak 36v * 50Amps) and well over twice the range, unless you are going really fast. Adding volts to your pack adds weight and cost without increasing the range. If you’re happy with the top speed of your ride, then what you need is amps.
Some enterprising dealer should build Sondors upgrade kits with battery packs that are guaranteed to fit in their little plastic box and motors that are fit in those massive rear dropouts. If the motor is too small you can just bend the chainstays because, well it’s steel and steel is like that. That being said I’m not a big fan of hub motors so if you need a hill climbing machine then I would opt for a BBS02 750W 100mm kit or Lightning Rods kit and an IGH in the rear. You will need to hit the 120mm bottom bracket with an angle grinder and knock it down to 100mm to get it to work with a middrive setup. For IGH The Nexus 3 or i-3 should work well, although you will likely have to squeeze the rear dropouts together to make them work with those IGHs.
The electric fatbike market is set to explode, but bikes like the Sondors will never make it take off. Is it worth $842.00 USD ($694 + $194 for Shipping in the US) for a new Sondors ebike? Probably not. Their bike is too limited in power and range to satisfy anyone for very long. If you want a heavy commuter on the cheap that climbs any grade less than 20% with ease, you’d be much better off spending 3 hours and building up a Walmart Dolomite with a 750W BBS02 and some Hobbyking Lipos. The price and weight would be about the same and your performance, range and climbing ability would be dramatically better.
The time has come for a new era, the era of the cheap but awesome electric fat-bike.
It’s up to us to make that happen.