– Apr. 24th 2019 4:12 pm ET
Vintage Electric Bikes out of San Jose California is a boutique e-bike firm that specializes in great looking retro e-bikes that go surprisingly fast. This week I got to demo their whole lineup from their Cafe 750W pedal assist commuter to their Tracker which looks and feels like a small 3kW motorcycle and took me up a mountain at over 30 mph.
There’s so much to like about these bikes…
First of all, I’ll get the ‘bad’ news out of the way. This is a boutique bike manufacturer based in the high-rent San Jose CA city limits with premium, beautiful and powerful parts from top to bottom. So they aren’t cheap — starting at $3,999 and going up to $7,000 and above with premium options. But those prices aren’t outrageous when you consider the premium components and workmanship against bikes like the 250W Bosch-based $5000 Trek Supercommuter or $7000+ Riese and Muller Supercharger. Consider that these bikes are 750-3,000W and really there’s no comparison.
In fact, if you spec out 3kW e-bikes from China, you are starting at around $3,500 on Alibaba and those are ugly, unproven and will take months to arrive.
Compare any bike you’ve seen to the Trackers we took up the mountain:
Vintage Owner Andrew took me up to the San Jose mountains to Lick Observatory with the Tracker base model. These have 3kW motors that run at 48V but can still be pedaled at lower speeds. This wasn’t our ride but it looked very similar to their demo real:
These were “unlocked” so not Class 1 or 3 but they do have street legal settings which I’m sure aren’t as fun (let’s fix that). Our ride was over 10 miles almost completely uphill and we had plenty of electricity to make it back. If you need more range, you can upgrade the 48V 723 Wh battery to a whopping 1,123 Wh which also raises the weight from under 80 to 85 lbs.
Getting all the way down the hill was helped by regenerative braking which is baked into the handbrake levers. Brake a little and you engage the regen. Brake a lot and the disc brakes spring into action. This not only adds modest battery range but also reduces wear on the bike’s disc brakes. I’m not sure why this isn’t done on more premium bikes with rear hub motors.
Off Road Vintage?
If you are looking for a more off road or gravel bike type of experience, the Scrambler model adds suspension and knobby tires and that big battery standard.
I’m a little embarrassed to say that my favorite part of these bikes is how cool they look. The battery, instead of being encased in a tube or in some plastic housing, is in a gorgeous art deco die cast case. Everything else, from the seat to the fenders to the oversized motorcycle-esque front light are an amazing look. All of the wiring is tight and well hidden.
My one gripe was that the display could have provided more information and maybe more accurately. It’s small and located on the left side of the handlebars. Obviously speed is there but battery level fluctuates a lot based on usage and was based on 5 bars of use. I would also have loved to see watts being pushed and maybe battery voltage and some other more premium features.
Overall, it’s hard to complain about the Tracker. If you’ve got the money, and they do let you pay in installments through a 3rd party, I would certainly recommend taking a look at this bike.
But that’s not the end of the story here.
After our ride, I drove the (750W Class 3 pedal assist) Cafe home almost 20 miles across town. On the mostly flat streets of San Jose, I had little trouble hitting 28 mph and often found myself passing cars in street traffic. There’s often a look of bewilderment when a classic looking commuter bike roars past city traffic like a Pee-wee Herman movie.
The Cafe had many of the same design elements including die cast art deco battery, although smaller at 500 Wh. The wheels and frame are also smaller and my review unit even came with white tires for that extra fun look. The battery here is removable so you can run it up to your apartment of office for a charge.
As, I mentioned previously, the Cafe is a pedal assist speed demon with every one of those 750W available with a push of the pedals. With 5 different pedal assist levels to choose from, this Class-3 bike will give you a great workout or basically acts like a foot throttle. It has so much power that I often rode at level 2 or 3 just so I could stay in control during busy foot and car traffic areas.
Again, you can find faster bikes from China for less money so the standout was the appearance. I basically rode this everywhere I went for 3 days in San Jose and almost the entire time people were asking where and how much it cost to grab this e-bike. Even my wife, who hates my e-bike collection, was hinting that she’d happily ride one of these around town.
My complaints are pretty muted but again the display could have more information or even better integrate with an iPhone/Android app with a charger/holder in the center. Everyone uses a smartphone these days and having a maps interface would add a ton of utility to these bikes. Also with the thinner tires and rigid fork, the bumps and potholes to the groin started to take their toll, especially because I was putting so many daily miles on this thing.
As if an answer to my prayers, upon returning the Cafe, I was presented with an all new off road “black” version of the Cafe with front fork suspension, off road pedals and knobby wheels. If’ I’m dropping $4000 on a bike, this is probably the one I’d want.
Vintage Electric Bikes are expensive but high quality, incredibly cool-looking e-bikes that go very, very fast. If you are looking to eliminate your car from your commute (even just on warm sunny days) or just a vehicle to fly down mountain roads, check out Vintage. If you are replacing a car or a motorcycle with one of these, you’ll not only save a ton of cash, you help eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, too.
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About the Author
Publisher and Editorial Director of the 9to5/Electrek sites. Tesla Model 3, X and Chevy Bolt owner…5 ebikes and counting