- California-based Vintage Electric builds electric bikes that are styled to resemble old-time motorcycles.
- The company recently updated its Tracker line of bikes.
- Vintage Electric let me borrow a Tracker S, which is good for up to 75 miles on a single battery charge.
- I was extremely impressed with the looks and performance of the e-bike.
I test cars and trucks all the time for Business Insider, but rarely two-wheeled conveyances. Dan McMahon is our bike person, and his coverage needs no introduction.
However, I also dig motorcycles and am particularly intrigued by electric versions. But because of my age and status as a parent, I’m deep in the realms of second thoughts about whether I should ever throw a leg again.
But then along came California-based Vintage Electric and their all-electric bicycles that are styled to evoke early 20th-century motorcycles. I love a Ducati Panigale as much as the next guy, but my heart truly belongs to small, dashing motorcycles from long ago. And unless I go vintage, it’s hard to locate reliable, new versions of such machines.
Yes, I could pick up up a moped or buy a scooter, but Vintage Electric’s combination of the electric bike with the old-school board track racer motorcycle design immediately appealed to me.
With updated versions of its Tracker hitting the market, the company was kind enough to loan me a bike for a few weeks. It was a top-of-the-line Tracker S, retailing for $US7,000. That’s expensive – other e-bikes can be had for thousands less – but as I discovered, sometimes you get what you pay for.
The Tracker S was my ride for a few weeks in the New Jersey suburbs. Here’s how it performed:
Behold — the Vintage Electric Tracker S! The Tracker was first introduced in 2013, but it’s been upgraded from 2018. The Tracker S has a little brother, the Tracker.
The Tracker S goes for about $US7,000, while the Tracker is $US5,000. The main differences are the Tracker S’s larger battery and its beefier front suspension.
If the Tracker S didn’t have pedals, you could easily mistake it for a throwback motorcycle from the earlier days of iron horses.
You might notice a similarity with this vintage Indian boardtrack racer — an inspiration for the Tracker and Tracker S.
This is what boardtrack racing looked like, back in the day. The tracks were actually made of wood. If they were banked, the small, early motorcycles could get cookin’.
Check our some more board-track racing videos at boardtracking.
I’ve been toying with the idea of riding motorcycles, but as a father of three, I’m leaning away from it. So the Tracker S popped onto my radar at exactly the right time. The motorcycle-meets-e-bike approach struck me as perfect for a total dad such as myself.
The heart of the Tracker S is this hefty battery — an 1,123-watt unit that can yield 75 miles of range and needs four and half hours to recharge. Note that it has been designed to resemble a “v-twin” motorcycle engine, encased in cast-aluminium.
I’ve plugged in one end of the charger to the small port at the bottom of the battery.
My Tracker S tester came with this charger.
I plugged it into a regular old wall-outlet that’s located outside my house. From a roughly 10% charge, the Tracker S was restored to 100% in four hours.
Let’s review some of the build aspects of this electric bike. It’s quite heavy, at 86 lbs. But you don’t want a lightweight mount if you’re achieving the private-property “Race Mode” speed of 35 mph — or the street legal 20 mph.
The Tracker S is made largely of aluminium, with a 750-watt rear hub motor, front hydraulic disk brakes, and regenerative-braking hydraulic rears that activate via the left handgrip. The tires are nice and fat, and there are vintage leather appointments.
The headlamp is nice and big, just like on a motorcycle, and there’s a narrow tail light under the seat.
The tires are fat and soak up the bumps, as does the front fork. The leather saddle is lovely, but in my riding, I found that it could use significantly more cushioning. Any bump, roadway imperfection, or railroad crossing meant standing on the pedals.
Overall, however, the Tracker S’s build quality is superb.
The headlamp …
… And the tail light and the saddle.
Time to saddle up and ride! I broke out my motorcycle helmet, but that was largely to complete the aesthetic. A regular bike helmet would be OK.
That said, in Race Mode, you might find yourself zipping along at 35 mph on full electric throttle, so I would recommend considering at a least an open-face motorcycle helmet of the type I own. I would also suggest a lightweight motorcycle jacket with some reinforcement at the elbows, if you want to guard against spills.
Here’s what the Tracker S looks like in action. That’s not me, by the way. At full throttle, the bike is FAST.
This digital readout provides info on the fly — speed, how many miles you’ve ridden, and how much charge remains — and it also lets you know how much throttle boost you have on tap, from 1 to 5. It also shows you when the re-gen braking is active.
The throttle is a thumb switch below the right-hand grip.
It’s quite sensitive! No twisting, as you would with a motorcycle.
I burned through a full charge twice on my excursions, which ranged from coffee runs to escorting my son to a summer basketball camp to some rides that were undertaken for pure thrills.
Parking was never an issue. Obviously, big-city owners will want to invest in a high-quality lock.
So what’s the verdict?
I’ll be honest: the Tracker S is easily one of the most FUN test vehicles I’ve every sampled. Yes, it’s expensive, but from my perspective, absolutely worth it. If I had a different life – that is, if I weren’t testing an automobile or two every week – I’d be a Tracker S owner in a heartbeat.
It would provide at least three benefits. First, I’d be riding a bike more – as compelling as the Tracker S is in all-electric mode, the variable torque-boost it provides when pedalling is groovy enough that I didn’t need to be draining the battery as fast as I could.
Second, I’d scratch my motorcycle itch without having to deal with an actual bike (and the motorcycle certification, which I currently lack). The Tracker S is basically what I want in a bike anyway: a modern-day, hipsterfied version of the earliest motorbikes.
Third, for managing life in a small town or (in my case) a suburb, the Tracker is ideal three-season transportation. With a rear rack and a pannier – Vintage Electric sells both as accessories – I could tackle most of my routine chores, errands, and shopping.
Those are the virtuous and practical reasons for getting a Tracker S (or another Vintage Electric bike, for that matter, starting with the $US4,000 Cafe model). Then there are the irrational ones, such as how flat-out intoxicating it is to ride the thing.
At 20 mph, you can hang with traffic on suburban roads. When I started testing the bike, I rode it like a traditional bicycle, hugging the side of the road. But as I got used to the Tracker S, I throttled into traffic and operated the bike more like a motorcycle, moped, or scooter. (Which raises another minor complaint, beyond what I already said about the saddle: I’d immediately add some side view mirrors to the Tracker S, if I were an owner.)
The Tracker S is exceptionally well-balanced to ride. It has the bulk to be aggressive in corners without unsettling the frame. The brakes are great, inspiring confidence. And the acceleration is smooth and snappy. The learning curve for me wasn’t at all steep: a few hours.
Electric bikes are an ideal solution to the difficulties of commuting or running errands on a traditional bike. Let’s face it: bikes are fun, but covering even a few miles can be tiring, and in hotter weather, the sweat can flow.
E-bikes alleviate much of this. But the Tracker S completely banishes all biking drawbacks. I could tackle a 20-mile commute with this sucker and have essentially no worries beyond getting caught in a rainstorm. As far as safety goes, I did notice that I had to up my awareness of vehicular traffic, mainly because I was going so fast that is was easy for cars to lose track of me.
The bottom line is that the Vintage Electric Tracker S might not be the ideal e-bike/motorcycle stand-in for everybody, particularly given its price. But for me, it was perfection – very tempting perfection!
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