The SONDORS Metacycle first ride: Does this low-cost electric motorcycle meet the hype?

Entertainment

I waited for this day for nearly two years, biding my time until I would finally get a chance to throw a leg over the SONDORS Metacycle electric motorcycle and ride off into the sunset with the twist of a wrist.

I never quite got that sunset, but an overcast LA morning was the next best thing I could wrangle up on short notice. The SONDORS team let me take out an early production Metacycle to get a sense of how the bike rides and whether or not it lives up to the long-building hype.

Where did the bike come from?

Just a quick refresher to set the stage: SONDORS is an electric bicycle company that unveiled a sexy-looking $5,000 electric motorcycle set to drastically expand the brand’s market reach. The bike claimed impressive specs including an 80 mph (130 km/h) top speed and an 80-mile (130 km) range to match.

The project ended up running a bit long in the production cycle, rolling out nearly a year after the earliest promised delivery date.

Over that time, the specs and appearance started to change too. The sexy silvery polished aluminum frame turned into a gray painted frame. The bike had less-than-elegant plastic bits added all over, including necessary DOT parts, like a rear fender to hold the license plate, larger (and more legal) lights and signals, etc. The SONDORS Metacycle somehow gained around 100 pounds (45 kg) from its target weight. The quick-release battery turned into a slow-release battery that requires a tool. And the price walked up from $5,000 to $6,500.

So yeah, there were a lot of changes along the way: Some were for legal reasons. Some were for comfort reasons (like a plusher padded seat). And some were likely cost savings measures. I can’t imagine how many hours went into polishing that prototype’s shiny aluminum frame. It surely wasn’t cost-effective for mass production.

After all of that, the bikes finally started rolling out to early reservation holders, or at least those folks who were living in Southern California.

And that’s where I come in. I may not live in Southern California, but while passing through, I got to borrow one of these early bikes for the morning, and here I am to tell you about it.

Make sure you check out my video below if you want to see the bike in action.

Love the one you’re with

I’d have loved to ride the original SONDORS Metacycle from all those beautiful product shots we saw in early 2021. But that’s not the bike that is getting delivered these days. That bike now exists only in the thoughts and memories of those who drooled over it many months ago. So all I can do is tell you how the real-world SONDORS Metacycle looks, feels, and rides.

For anyone that laid down a cool five G’s last year and is getting a somewhat different bike than they expected, that’s definitely a bummer, and I feel your pain. But what I can tell you is that the bike you’re getting is still a fun ride. And it’s still an awesome little commuter bike.

With SONDORS’s background in electric bicycles, it’s no surprise that the company’s first electric motorcycle is a commuter-spec bike. It’s not overly powerful, and it’s not overly sporty. But that doesn’t mean it can’t offer a fun ride.

The bike feels much lighter than its reportedly more than 300-pound (136 kg) curb weight. It spits right out in front of traffic when the light turns green, which is exactly what I want in a commuter bike.

I don’t need to beat a Ducati off the line. I just need to beat that distracted SUV driver texting her boyfriend while juggling a latte in the other hand.

With so much of the bike’s weight mounted down south with that low-slung battery and rear hub motor, the bike is quick to lean and quicker to stand back up, making for a nimble ride in traffic. And the SONDORS Metacycle is so easy to ride that it feels like a great starter bike. It’s basically a sexy scooter. Someone who has spent years on electric bicycles but has no motorcycle experience could hop on it and feel at home. In one ride, they’d probably be comfortable with it, though riding at highway speeds for someone only used to going 30 mph (48 km/h) on an electric bicycle can sometimes take a bit longer to get used to.

But for so many e-bike riders that have toyed with the idea of upgrading to an electric motorcycle, the Metacycle is probably one of the best candidates I’ve ridden in terms of easing that transition by blurring the line between e-bike, e-moped, and e-moto.

The 14.5 kW peak-rated motor puts out 20 horsepower, which is sufficient for this type of commuter riding but isn’t going to leave you slipping off that narrow seat. Speaking of which, I was expecting the seat to be an issue, but I found it to be surprisingly comfortable. I’m not a big guy myself, and I don’t have an American-sized rear end, so perhaps that’s part of it, but I felt like I could sit on that bike for hours without an issue. The hour or so I spent on it was perfectly comfortable.

The only uncomfortable part of the bike for me was how my ankles tended to rub on the wide battery case. By changing my stance a bit, I could mostly get away from it, but I think if the battery had stayed as slim as it looked in the original prototype photos, then that issue would have been avoided entirely.

Other than that though, the bike felt quite comfortable and confidence-inspiring. In fact, the SONDORS Metacycle largely feels like a scaled-up electric bicycle, which makes sense based on the company’s roots. You’re in a more upright riding position that gives you a better view of the road and the cars around you. It’s not a little City Slicker electric motorcycle, but it’s also not a big Energica either.

The bike even had some cool features that I’ve never seen anywhere else. That glove box with the wireless charger is a really cool feature that likely came out of SONDORS never having designed a motorcycle before and not being limited by what people think of as conventional motorcycle features. It’s easier to think outside of the box when you’ve never seen the box before.

I did notice that occasionally I’d hit a big bump and my phone would jump around a bit, stopping and then starting the wireless charging if it didn’t quite land back in the correct spot. But as long as I stayed away from major potholes, it wasn’t too much of an issue.

And speaking of those potholes, the bike’s suspension was also decent. It’s not super plush, and you do have a pile of unsprung weight in the rear wheel, but then again, this isn’t a performance bike. For cruising around town and hitting the freeway, the suspension was more than adequate.

What are the disadvantages of the SONDORS Metacycle?

As much as I enjoyed the ride, there were several areas that seemed a bit limiting to me.

First was the range. With just a 4,000 Wh battery, you’re not going to be going too terribly far. They claim a maximum range of 80 miles (130 km), but that’s likely only possible at electric bicycle speeds.

Here’s a little tip for you and a quick way you can suss out whether or not e-bike or e-motorcycle ranges are BS. Use these two numbers: 25 Wh/mile and 50 Wh/mile. The former is the efficiency of an average e-bike on throttle only at around 20-25 mph. The latter is the same figure for a light electric motorcycle or seated electric scooter (think Vespa-style) at around 30 mph.

So if you’re sticking to absolute city speeds, you can take an e-scooter or light e-moto’s battery capacity in watt-hours and divide it by 50 Wh/mile. In this case, that’s 4,000 Wh divided by 50 Wh/mi, giving us 80 miles. Bam. There you go. So if you’re super gentle on the throttle and you don’t exceed 30 mph, you might be able to just eke out that 80 miles of range from the SONDORS Metacycle. But good luck staying at those speeds.

During my riding, I had an extrapolated range of around 40-45 miles (64-72 km), though that was with plenty of highway riding and ample use of the sport mode button (more on that in a moment). As a commuter bike, that’s probably fine for most people.

If you need to take a highway and you have a commute of less than 20 miles (32 km), or double that if you can charge at work, then the bike can work for you. But the SONDORS Metacycle is not a long-range motorcycle by any stretch of the imagination.

Oh, and one more thing about the battery. The display uses one of those 10-segment battery bar icons instead of displaying a battery percentage. That may be fine for some people, but my engineering background makes me super uncomfortable with that fuzzy approximation. I’d rather see battery voltage if I could, but if not, then at least give me a battery percentage readout. I don’t need five significant figures, but I’d rather know I have a 28% battery charge than just that it’s somewhere between 20-30%. Don’t do the analysis for me with battery bars; just tell me exactly what I have left!

Actually, one more thing about the battery. The fact that you can’t remove the battery using some type of quick release anymore, which was part of the original design, is also a bummer for those that wanted to carry it into their home or apartment for charging each night. That was a huge feature that somehow got left by the wayside. For those that planned to bring the battery inside an apartment to charge, going through a two-minute procedure that includes unbolting several bolts in an aluminum housing each day just isn’t realistic.

Now let’s talk about that top speed. Yes, the bike can hit 80 mph (130 km/h), at least assuming the speedometer is accurate. But it can’t sustain it.

I always assumed that the 80 mph top speed from the marketing was going to be a constant top speed. But the SONDORS Metacycle actually tops out somewhere between 60-70 mph (96-112 km/h) during normal cruising. There’s a turbo button that engages Sport Mode for about a minute or so and lets you get up to 80 mph. That makes it good for passing or other maneuvers where you’d want all of your power and speed on tap. But once that minute is up, you’ve got to wait a bit before you can use the turbo button again. It’s like a power-up in a video game that has a recharge period.

If you never take roads that require going over 65 mph or so, then this won’t even be an issue for you. But if you were counting on that 80 mph top speed to always be there, then you’re in for a rude awakening.

Lastly, as much as I enjoyed the ride, it felt like there was just something missing. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but the bike didn’t seem to have the same passion that I feel on other electric motorcycles I ride. I know that’s an annoyingly vague sentence, but to be fair, it’s an annoyingly vague feeling. I don’t know quite how to describe what’s missing or why it feels that way. Maybe it’s the muted scooter-style performance. Maybe it’s the lack of a belt drive to give some type of sound feedback. Maybe it’s that it’s so easy to ride that you almost feel like you’re on an electric bicycle. I’m not quite sure. I’m not saying it’s not fun. It’s absolutely an enjoyable ride! But it just doesn’t have that passion to it that I feel on other bikes.

Part of that feeling may be that I went into this with the wrong frame of mind. I had been on a LiveWire One and an Energica Eva Ribelle in the few days before riding the Metacycle. Those two flagship electric motorcycles have several times the power of the Metacycle and are completely different beasts. When you hop on the Metacycle, you have to remember what it is and what it isn’t. It’s a fun and engaging ride, but you should expect performance more in line with a good, peppy scooter. It’s not a flagship electric motorcycle, and it was never meant to compete with those bikes.

Would I buy the SONDORS Metacycle?

Yes, definitely. Despite the list of disadvantages and even at its now higher $6,500 price, I still think the SONDORS Metacycle is worth it.

There are downsides, sure. Until they release some type of storage box for that center cavity, you can’t really carry anything on it that doesn’t fit in the TI-84 calculator-sized glove box. And even though they talked about releasing pillion pegs at some point, it doesn’t seem like a bike that is going to be comfortable for two riders. And of course, it’s not a long-range bike.

But even despite its shortcomings, it’s great at what it is designed to do. This is a commuter electric motorcycle, through and through, and it has to be judged through that lens. I’d rather ride the Metacycle any day of the week, experiencing the world around me, than be commuting in a car watching the world go by like a rerun on TV.

It feels so light and so easy to ride. I mean it when I say that it’s probably the best electric motorcycle out there right now for easing an e-bike rider looking to enter into the world of e-motorcycles. It’s a transition bike.

It’s got some stiff competition on the horizon though. Bikes like the Ryvid Anthem and the CSC RX1E are a few thousand bucks more expensive but offer their own compelling cases. And with the SONDORS current order books looking like it might take a year or more to fulfill outstanding reservations, those other bikes could be preparing to eat the Metacycle’s lunch sooner rather than later.

But assuming SONDORS can deliver, then I think the Metacycle is definitely going to have its place in the light electric motorcycle market.

Articles You May Like

Adobe launches AI assistant that can search and summarize PDFs
Sources: Nets promote Ollie to interim coach
Oil prices rise more than 1%, shaking off weak 2024 global demand forecast
Deep-sea mining ‘seems to be inevitable,’ UN regulator says, as fight for critical minerals heats up
Richard Branson and Oppenheimer’s grandson urge action to stop AI and climate ‘catastrophe’