“This way to the Rad Cave,” Mike Radenbaugh says with a wink. It’s a cloudless day in Brooklyn, and I’m following the founder and chairman of Rad Power Bikes across a courtyard, through some doors, into an elevator, down several floors to a basement garage, past a bunch of expensive looking cars, through another door, and into a cavernous space with concrete floors, where there awaits Radenbaugh’s next big idea: a tricycle.
This ain’t no Big Wheel, mind you. This is a tricycle for adults. An electric tricycle. More specifically, this is the RadTrike, the Seattle-based e-bike company’s first foray into three-wheeled battery-powered locomotion. Radenbaugh can barely contain his excitement.
“Back before the automobile, there was a lot of exploration. Like, more than two-wheel cycle products, and we’ve just lost our way,” he says. “We just got duped by the four-wheel automobile and all the advertising that came with it.”
“This is the people’s trike.”
“So this,” he adds, squatting next to the three-wheeler with the grey frame, a hand lovingly resting on the saddle, “is the people’s trike.”
Rad Power Bikes is the largest producer of electric bikes in North America — and the most funded as well — largely due to its diverse and affordable lineup, which includes the RadWagon long-tail cargo bike, RadRunner utility bike, and RadExpand foldable bike. Adding an electric tricycle to that list seems slightly counterintuitive, but Radenbaugh insists it has been his most requested product since he founded the company 15 years ago.
“The idea for this started when I started the company in 2007,” he recalls, his voice echoing in the huge room that is currently used to stash extra inventory for the company’s Williamsburg retail location. “The first customer had some health issues and needed bigger tires, an upright riding position, comfortable seat, step-through frame, and more power to get up hills. And then people started bringing me trikes to convert.”
That idea of stability and power is at the crux of why Radenbaugh thinks the RadTrike can be Rad Power Bikes’ most transformational model. In addition to making products that are fast, reliable, and fun to ride, the company also has the ulterior motive of getting people out of their cars and onto a more sustainable and environmentally friendly mode of transportation.
Radenbaugh sees the RadTrike as a “mini pickup truck” designed to give its riders the confidence and stability to own the road in a country that lacks protective infrastructure and routinely prioritizes more polluting forms of traffic. The RadTrike is the latest weapon in Rad Power Bikes’ ongoing war on cars.
The trike itself sits on wide 18 inch x 2.25 inch wheels wheels and can carry a maximum payload of 415 lbs, which is the heaviest in Rad’s lineup. The saddle comes with a backrest that’s adjustable to accommodate riders 4’10 and up. And whereas an aluminum frame would lift up during a tight turn, the RadTrike’s steel frame allows for some flexibility that will really lock in and keep the vehicle firmly planted on the road with no slippage.
The powertrain supports up to five levels of assistance, but unlike Rad’s other models, the RadTrike will top out at 14 mph, which Radenbaugh says will feel “zippy” despite being slightly slower than the company’s typical 20 mph top speed-limited bikes.
Radenbaugh sees the RadTrike as a “mini pickup truck” designed to give its riders the confidence and stability to own the road
“A lot of trikes that are more toy-like in their design are traveling much faster,” he adds. We think it’s probably not good for the movement” for it to go that fast. Still, the trike has a “ton of torque” and will actually gain speed even when traveling up a steep hill, Radenbaugh says.
When I get the chance to test out the RadTrike, I keep this in mind as I’m weaving in and out of the room’s concrete columns in increasingly tighter and tighter turns. The vehicle feels stable and grounded, and I don’t detect any tire lifting as I weave in and out. The speed feels adequate, even to an e-bike pro like myself, who tends to prefer faster speeds so as to keep up with car traffic.
Other familiar features include the twist throttle, a controller with five levels of power assistance, a 750-watt motor, and a 672-watt-hour battery (48-volt and 14-ampere hour) for up to 35 miles of range — depending on the level of assist. The handlebars can fold down for easier storage.
Aside from that, the RadTrike will also serve as an introduction to several features that are entirely new to Rad Power Bikes’ lineup, including a front-hub motor, a 180-millimeter front disc brake, a parking brake, a reverse throttle, and the aforementioned saddle with backrest. The company wanted to give its customers a unique experience while also keeping in mind that most of its customers were likely to be aging adults with knee and joint sensitivity.
To that end, the RadTrike’s first power level has a max 2.7 mph top speed — which is also the average walking speed, making the trike a great vehicle for someone who has mobility issues but doesn’t want to be in a wheelchair or motorized scooter.
The RadTrike is also highly customizable. Customers may or may not be able to install their trikes with a sun shade and plexiglass windshield — depending on whether Rad Power Bikes decides to offer it as its still under development — or with front and rear cargo holders, similar to many of Rad’s other models. And there are more accessories being researched and considered as well, including a possible pet carrier.
“You could bring a whole zoo with you,” Radenbaugh says. “Dr. Doolittle and his magical trike.”
It’s a whimsical idea, but Rad Power Bikes is taking a serious risk with the RadTrike. The company’s manufacturing process needs to adapt to a new form factor — and as a direct-to-consumer business, customers will need to be willing to take on the challenge of assembling the trike on their own.
To that last point, Radenbaugh said the RadTrike was engineered in such a way as to make assembly as simple as possible. The trike will come in two sections: the front fork and wheel, handlebars, cockpit, downtube, and battery as one piece, and the seat, gears, pedals, back wheels and rear rack as the other. The two pieces come together in the middle, with four screws securing it in place. A laminated one-sheet easy assembly guide will be included with the trike. How-to videos online will also help guide the process. Radenbaugh estimates it will take approximately 45 minutes to complete.
Rad Power Bikes is taking a serious risk with the RadTrike
Rad raised $304 million last year as part of two separate cash infusions to fuel its capital-intensive business. It was valued at $1.65 billion in October 2021, according to PitchBook, making it one of a handful of “unicorn” startups in the Seattle region. The company has gone through several rounds of layoffs this year in an attempt to right-size its business for a potential economic downturn. It was forced to recall 30,000 cargo bikes last month over a safety issue. And Radenbaugh was recently replaced by Phil Molyneux, the company’s COO and a former Sony and Dyson executive, as Rad Power Bikes’ CEO. (He remains chairman.)
The RadTrike is meant to demonstrate that despite these setbacks, the company is still innovating. Ultimately, Radenbaugh believes they’ve landed on a final design that says a lot about the future of the company: broadly appealing, safe, accessible, and approachable. While other e-bike companies are attempting to outdo each other with high-speed, motorbike-style designs that look aggressive, exciting, and even a little bit dangerous, Rad Power Bikes is sitting comfortably as the number one seller of e-bikes in the country, and it has no intention of budging.
“The Volkswagen Beetle was designed to have this friendly look to it,” Radenbaugh says. “Yeah, this is the same idea: how do you make it kind of futuristic but also friendly?”
The RadTrike is now available for preorder for $2,499; the company says it will begin shipping to customers in mid-January 2023.
Update December 6th 11:37AM ET: The sun shade is still under development and may or may not come to market. A previous version of this story omitted that fact.