The first time I spied a “fat bike,” with its ludicrously oversize knobby tires roll smoothly over a sandy beach, I knew I had to have one. Not long after, I met Storm Sondors.
By “met” I mean “funded his Indiegogo campaign,” which promised to take the world by, well, storm. Sondors was offering not just a fat-bike, but an electric fat bike, for the seemingly impossible price of $500. Many, if not most, competing products were selling for $2,500 and up.
This “Tesla of e-bikes,” as Sondors referred to it during the campaign, would cruise up to 50 miles on a single charge, over sand and snow alike, at a top speed of 20 miles per hour. All with same eye-catching fat tires that had so transfixed me on the beach that day.
I plunked down my $500 (plus a painful $194 for shipping), momentarily forgetting that Indiegogo differs from Kickstarter in one crucial way: Under its flexible funding option, Indiegogo users have the option of keeping money raised during campaigns if they don’t reach their intended project goals.
This fact hit home a few days later, when the campaign’s comments section lit up with accusations of deception, misrepresentation, and outright fraud. Self-proclaimed industry experts claimed there was no way Sondors could make good on the promise of a $500 e-bike. Others pointed out that Prodeco Technologies had long been selling a similar product with the exact same name: Storm. (A cease-and-desist letter from Prodeco resulted in Sondors renaming his bike, which now bears its eponymous moniker.)
More bad press followed when the PR firm Agency 2.0, which helped the company mount the Indiegogo campaign, sued Sonders for breach of contract. As a backer, I started having serious doubts about whether my $500 would ever result in a bicycle.
All this didn’t stop the two-wheeler from crushing its $75,000 funding goal and becoming Indiegogo’s second most-successful crowdfunding campaign. To date it has amassed over $6 million in Indiegogo-fueled sales—but, until very recently, nagging questions remained. Would backers ever get their bikes? And would they be any good?
I found out two weeks ago when my black-frame-black-tires Sondors eBike arrived—about a month behind schedule— in a large, heavy box.
I’d never assembled a bike before, nor even touched an e-bike, so I was tempted to enlist my local bike shop. But the enthusiastic members of the Sondors Storm Owners Facebook group encouraged me to do the work myself, and 45 minutes later (with a little help from that same group), I had a fully assembled velocipede. Then, after a seemingly endless 3.5-hour wait to fully charge the battery, I hopped on the saddle and gave the throttle switch a little nudge.
I learned to pedal a bike at age 4, but I’ve never experienced as much joy riding one as I did during my first trip around the block. Take the inherently freewheeling fun of a bicycle, then goose it with a motor. A virtually silent motor, one that delivers a glorious zero-to-20 kick in the pants. It’s not that the Sondors bike is fast; it’s that it’s faster. To hit 20 mph on a regular bike, you’d have to really pump the pedals and keep pumping them. Here, it’s effortless.
My next trip was a six-mile journey to my mother-in-law’s farmhouse, a route that mixes pavement, dirt road, and wooded trails. Mostly I pedaled, occasionally I coasted, but always I zipped along at what felt like cheat speed. And loved every moment of it.
Once I got over the thrill of zooming along without pedaling, I settled into a pleasant groove with pedaling. The motor still kicks in when you do this (though it cuts out when you hit 20 mph, ostensibly the bike’s maximum speed), but only as “pedal assistance.” And that’s where the Sondors eBike becomes a commuter’s dream, whisking you to the office on light aerobics instead of a sweaty-mess workout.
I found that if I pedaled steadily I could travel a mile in almost exactly four minutes. Of course, that was on a reasonably flat surface. The steeper the hill, the less help you’re going to get from the bike’s modest 350-watt motor. As for overall range, it’s difficult to gauge because of variances in speed, rider weight, pedal assistance, and other factors. I wasn’t able to conduct any detailed testing, but after a couple local miles and 12 roundtrip miles to the farm, the three-LED power gauge on the throttle showed yellow—meaning the battery was somewhere in the middle between full and empty. You’ve heard the expression, “your mileage may vary”? Never been truer.
I also can’t comment on long-term durability, but nearly everything about the Sondors eBike looks and feels remarkably solid. And speaking of looks, it’s a dazzling, gold-accented beauty. Riders should fully expect to be stopped, questioned, and envied on a regular basis.
Although you missed your chance to score the bike for $500, Sondors is currently promising a price of “under $650” for the next production run. If you want one, however, you’ll have to join a waitlist.
I’m happy (and relieved) to report that the Sondors eBike is absolutely worth the wait. Sorry, naysayers: This is the real deal, and a real steal, too.