I have been building, riding, and writing about electric fat bikes for years now…way before they became the hot new thing. A few years back I reviewed the $500 Currie Trailz and thought that this was a decent bike for $500. This bike was powered by lead-acid batteries, it was very heavy, and was as ugly as sin…but performed decently. I said in that article and I say now that there is a place for a $500 decent performing electric bike. The Currie Trailz was probably the best selling electric bike of all time because of that $500 price point…
Now, in 2015, the Trail-Z has been blasted…and there is a new best selling beast in town…and it doesn’t even exist yet. Wait…how is that even possible? It seems an eccentric and charismatic man by the name of Storm Sonders (previously a McDonalds happy meal toy tycoon, believe it or not) has released a $500 electric fat bike toting some spectacular performance numbers, a slick marketing team, snazzy videos, and I have to admit it, the bike looks good…really good. It seems someone with some aesthetic taste is coming in and teaching the big boys like Currie, Pedego, and Prodeco-Tech how good a bike can look at only 1/6th of the price of what they offer. Seems too good to true…lets dive deeper.
My first thought when I saw this picture is I want to buy one at $500. But I soon realized that the snazzy looking prototype in the photo with sweet anodized components is not at all the fat electric bike I will be getting. And diving deeper, I started wondering if I spend $500, since this is an Indiegogo campaign, there is a chance that I might never get my bike at all.
Indiegogo is a company that offers start ups such as entrepreneur Storm Sondors to offer their products and get investor who are pre-buyers of the product. There have been many successful Indiegogo campaigns where the buyers happily got what they paid for, but also many that went bust and backers lost their money or got a product that was much less than they were promised.
There has been a lot of excitement and speculation lately caused by this campaign, which turned out to be the most successful in Indiegogo’s history, selling thousands of bikes and raising 5 million dollars at a very fast rate. Never has there been this much attention on an electric bike in the mass press. I would boldly state that this is the best selling electric bike of all time…and not more than 5 of them have been produced yet. Yowsers!… One thing that is undeniable is that the Sonders Electric Bike has made a significant impact on the public, and has been great exposure for ebikes. He has proven that thousands of people want ebikes and are willing to pay for it right now…but they just don’t want to spend much more than $500. And they don’t want a dorky looking ebike…they want their ebike to look good.
Sonders is offering a deal that seems too good to be true…a $500 electric bike that performs great and looks great too. Selling an electric fat bike at this price is even harder (read our story on electric fat bikes). Fat bike components are more specialized and more expensive to source than regular-sized bike parts. So how is it possible to offer a $500 fat bike with a complete electric kit to the public and not lose money? The answer is it probably isn’t. We know that many of the performance numbers are exaggerated (more on that later), and who knows how well Sonders researched this to know what this bike would really cost to produce, and what type of after the sale support he will be able to offer.
So lets start taking this $500 bike apart to see what it really costs. To start with this is no longer a $500 electric bike. So if you’re reading this now…you missed the band wagon. It started as a $500 electric bike and currently it is at $649 and scheduled to go higher. At $649 the bike is barely selling…by far the most supporters bought in at $500. Eventually the bike will retail for $1300 if you are going to believe the advertising campaign… but who is going to buy a $1300 ebike that got its reputation by blowing up sales at $500?
Sonders Ebike: Sales By the Numbers
The lions share of the Sonders Ebikes (more than 6,000-7,000) were ordered at the $499 price level. Another 1000 or so at $599, and it looks like another 300-500 will sell at the final Indiegogo price of $649. Sales have grown really stagnant at the $649 price level…and we expect at $1300 the bike will barely sell at all.
Shipping Cost Matters
Another factor is it will cost you $195 to ship this bike, there is no option to pick up, even if you live in California. $195 is way too expensive a price to ship a bike like this. I have shipped fat electric bikes larger and heavier than this and it costs me only $80 through UPS and that is without arranging a bulk shipping deal that Sonders is no doubt in the position to negotiate. Add $200 to the price of this bike and suddenly it is not as cheap as it first sounded…
Is it too good to be True?
Many ebike experts are skeptical for good reason. We have been let down a lot in the recent past. The electric bike industry has been full of what I call “Vapor Ebikes” bikes that look great, tout stupidly exaggerate performance numbers, and then never materialize. The industry is full of ebikes like this. Here is a small sample with links to the articles I wrote: Blacktrail Ebike, Audie Ebike, Pi Bike, BMW Ebike. These now-defunct vapor ebikes all had huge price tags, and still didn’t make it as viable products in the marketplace. There are many more ebikes that have come to market and have failed. Check out the electric bike graveyard. The industry is flooded now with a bunch of ebike companies with high hopes that do not make money. New electric bike companies seem to start every day…and fall like flies.
So why didn’t anyone think “let me make a quality lithium powered ebike and sell thousands of them at $500. Because even with China and new technology, it seems impossible to offer a quality ebike at that point and not lose your shirt.
Then how is Sonders able to do it? The first point is he probably can’t. I personally don’t see how he can offer a bike at $500 and not lose money…especially considering product support.
But maybe he can develop such a big name for his ebike company that he can make money on the bike by selling it at a higher price point later….or maybe he can use the big name he has made himself by attracting millions in investor money to kick off a giant ebike company.
What are Sonder’s Misleading Ebike Claims?
Some of the Sonders claims are blatant exaggerations. Starting with the 50-mile range claim. The Sonders bike has 36V / 10-Ah battery pack, 350 watt hours. It is heavy and large friction-creating tires. It has a cheap inexpensive motor. A more realistic estimate on a bike like this is 15 miles with regular riding, which includes some pedaling. Read our article on calculating range.
Also the Sonders team claimed the bike weighed only 45 pounds, and when electricbikereview.com brought a scale to a test ride event and weighed the Sonders Ebike, it actually weighed in at 57 pounds (oops), and that is the prototype bike which is most likely higher quality and lighter than the production ebike.
The other great exaggeration is the speed you can expect. The test bike is obviously burning a lot more than 350 watts, which the production bike will max out at. The 20-MPH top speed is far-fetched, given the 350 watt power system. It is misleading to let the press and potential buyers to ride around on a prototype bike that was pumping out 4X as much power as the production bike will have.
It is easily proven that the prototype electric bike is “souped up”. How can I make such an assertion? Pictures have been released of the prototype bike with a Cycle Analyst on board…you can see from one Sonders video if you take a screen shot and zoom in on the Cycle Analyst that the prototype bike is putting out 1,300 watts… So news media etc who have gotten to ride the prototype ride are riding on a thrill ride compared to the sluggish product that Sonders will end up releasing.
What to expect from the Sonders Bike given the $500 price point:
Expect the bike to look different than the prototype ebike Sonders is showing around. It will have the same basic structure, wide tires etc…but for sure it will have different bicycle components and ebike components that are more affordable and lower-quality.
Consider the basic bicycle components
Fat bike tires and rims (sweet to get these for an affordable price)
Basic steel frame and fork
Plastic case in the triangle to hide battery box.
Cheap bicycle components through out
At a test ride someone weighed the complete bike and it weighed 57 pounds, which is heavy for an ebike with such a small battery pack and motor. Obviously, the bike would be a lot lighter if it was made from aluminum (which would be more expensive than steel).
The 3 key components to this Ebike…where’s the beef?
Every electric bike consists of 3 basic key components…motor, battery, and controller. (read our article on the 3 key components of ebikes) And you will see when you read that article, that it is very hard to “hot rod” a production bike without changing all 3 components. This is especially true for the Sonders ebike which is using very weak components for these 3 parts.
- Puny low amp output 36 volt battery (36 volts, 8-Ah)
- Wimpy geared hub motor (350 watts max)
- Basic 36 volt controller.
For this thrifty combination of ultra affordable components, the bike will be limited to very low wattage. 350 watts is a low number for todays production ebikes, which is the very max you will get out of the Sonders bike. Forget riding in the sand or doing any real off road riding…and forget going as fast as all the prototype videos circulating around the web, forget about climbing massive hills without tons of pedal-assist. Also remember if you want to go faster, you will have to swap out all 3 of the above components to get any extra speed…so forget about that unless you are ready to spend $1,000 on your hop up kit.
Whenever you buy into a Indiegogo Campaign, there is a chance the project can go belly-up and you lose your buy-in. There has been a lot of skepticism about Sonders and this campaign. You can read this long Endless-sphere thread with a lot of facts mixed in with a lot of speculation here.
For this campaign, Indiegogo did the totally unprecedented maneuver of offering insurance:
“Get your money back if you don’t receive your Sondors eBike within 3 months after the estimated delivery date. Insurance provided by Indiegogo”
This makes the bike way less of a gamble.
Getting to the Real Price
So the bike now costs $640…but you add another $120 to the price of the bike to buy the optional insurance if you’re not a gambler. Add-in the super inflated $195 shipping cost and you are now at $1000. The $500 fat electric bike just turned into a $1000 electric fat bike which is more realistic, but its debatable that the Sonders ebike is worth this price with its mediocre components.
Things Are Looking Good
The good news is if you bought into the Sonders ebike, and bought it at the $500 price point and you decided not to opt for the $12o insurance policy…its looking like you made a good gamble.
Sonders made adjustments to his campaign after some initial missteps that made the project seem more viable. Here is an article about those changes.
Indigogo stepped up with an optional $120 insurance policy that people could purchase if they are worried..
Sonders has really seemed to come through on his end with keeping backers updated with pictures and blog posts from him on the production lines in China, Supposedly right on target to meet his May 1st deadline.
Would I Buy One?
Honestly if I could go pick one of these up tomorrow at a store somewhere for $500 I would go buy it…and not even expecting any kind of warranty or support. I think the bike looks really good and is a great value for the money. I would test ride it..and if it worked, I would buy it.
But given the waiting time, the gamble, the shipping costs, and the insurance…I would opt to build my own fat electric bike, spend a little extra money and have something I am really happy with, like the one I built pictured below for around $1,500, and puts out 2,000 watts (instead of only 350 watts). Notice the Fat motor in the Fat front wheel to put out Fat power. That is called a Crystalyte hub motor…and it would be a good starting point if you want a bike that is actually powerful enough to ride in the sand. (read article on electric fat bike creations)
Available now Sondors Upgrade Battery Packs, 50 percent range and more power at Luna Cycle.com (see now)
July 2015 Update
Some Sondors fatbikes have started arriving into the hands of customers this week. We want to be completely fair, in spite of what we felt is a reasonable amount of skepticism on our part. You can track how this is evolving by checking posts on a couple of Facebook pages. The “Go Sondors” page is a pro-Sondors FB which was started for Public Relations (PR), and the Sondors Storm Owners Group was started by the customers, so they would likely be the most truthful source of what’s going on.
If you have read this article and want a more recent update, read our 2016 article here, on a review of the Sondors fatbike.
Written by Eric, April 2015