Retro-styled machines have a way of inspiring warm fuzzies, and the latest from Vintage Electric Bikes is no exception.
With a slim profile and board track racer-inspired lines, these premium e-bikes trigger knee-jerk nostalgia. But the top models from the Santa Clara, California-based brand also harbor a wicked secret: They pack a monstrous 72-volt battery capable of hurtling the bikes at speeds up to 40 mph—just one reason why we named the Vintage Electric Roadster one of the eight best e-bikes on the market.
Under the shade of an oak tree at The Huntington Library in San Marino, California, CEO Andrew Davidge regales me with tales of early collaborations with EV land speed record contender Shea Nyquist and the man responsible for Jay Leno’s notorious tank-powered Blastolene Special, Mike Leeds. With hot rod roots like these, who needs to hide behind false humility?
At first glance, the top models look like deluxe beach cruisers you might find in a coastal SoCal town. But they incorporate moto-inspired hardware like a front suspension fork, hydraulic disc brakes, and full LED lighting. Climb aboard the leather saddle, and the touchpoints come across as thoughtfully finished. There are serrated pedals to assist with propulsion if desired, leather-wrapped grips, and a seemingly innocuous thumb throttle that unleashes up to 4,000 watts of power in race mode. A small LCD display offers battery charge information and a readout of the five levels of e-assist—from gentle, to zippy, to downright bonkers.
Easing out of the Huntington’s demure grounds, my borrowed ride blends in with the neighborhood’s patrician undertones. But as I gently squeeze the thumb throttle, the scenery accelerates with deliciously improper urgency. The thrust feels strangely naughty, but there’s also the cognitive dissonance of traveling the same speed of cars on a vehicle that’s barely wider than a bicycle.
A few things to mind while piloting a 40 mph e-bike: Things happen quickly at that speed (like the doors of parked cars whipping open); it can be tempting to cruise through stop signs (bad idea); and skipping eye protection may lead to a stream of tears across your cheeks. Importantly, the bike’s brakes are just as capable of slowing it down as its hub motor is adept at whisking it forward. For those less intent on hot-rodding their way through town, Vintage’s Tracker Classic line offers a more upright seating position and milder 48-watt power capable of achieving a 26 mph top speed and up to 75 miles of riding range, the same as the 70-watt model.
Priced in the range of some high-end Italian scooters, Vintage’s EV offerings are positioned more as objects of electrified desire than utilitarian A to B transport. While the 72-watt top models are a bit much for most riders, those seeking discreetly swift two-wheeled Q ships might have finally met their ideal electrified ride.