- A crowdfunded electric fat bike designed to be affordable and simple, available in four colors, single speed drivetrain with throttle only
- Limited power for climbing, sand and snow applications because the motor is mid-sized at 350 watts, optimal use would be urban or trail riding
- You can add a fender and rack thanks to threaded eyelets on the rear section of the frame but you cannot add a gear cluster or internally geared hub, consider a Schlumpf gear or Efneo at the bottom bracket if you want to change your cadence range
- Limited 30 day warranty, lower end components (brakes, saddle, wheelset), more involved assembly required than other ebikes I've built
The Sonders Ebike (formerly the Storm Electric Bike) is an ultra-affordable fat tire ebike that was launched through Indiegogo in February of 2015. The name change was a result of conflict with ProdecoTech which offers two Storm electric bike models of their own including the Storm 500. The Sondors, still named for it’s creator “Storm Sondors”, remained interesting due to its extremely aggressive opening price point of $499 plus $194 shipping and the controversial claim that it was the “worlds most affordable electric bike” despite the thousands of ebikes sold in China annually for under $300 USD… Yay for marketing! Having raised over three million dollars within a week, selling over 3,000 units and ultimately reaching nearly $6M total, new concerns were raised by backers about the possibility of delivery delays. The original target for manufacture, shipment and arrival in the US was set just four months out, May of 2015. Further questions were raised about the weight and performance specs of the bike which were eventually updated on Indiegogo to include a heavier overall weight and smaller battery capacity than the initial advertised specs. At the time of this review, those specs were still listed online and they were still far from accurate which is sad because many people are learning about this ebike through word of mouth or one of the myriad ads running on Facebook and Google AdSense. To me, that’s wrong and hurtful to the crowdfunding movement which is built on trust. Perhaps as a means of addressing concerns and validating the product, the Sondors team began a tour of demo rides in mid February 2015 which I attended and filmed. Shortly thereafter, the marketing agency which helped promote the Sondors sued based on fees that they had not been paid. With all of this historical context in mind, I will now focus on the final product which I received in mid July 2015.
Many things changed about the Sondors as it was produced and ultimately delivered. Some of those things were bad (increased weight at ~59 vs. the advertised 45, smaller 160 mm disc brakes vs. the advertised 180 mm, reduced range ~15 miles vs. the advertised 30 to 50 miles, fewer colors, smaller motor size 350 watt vs. 380 watt) and some of those things were good (upgraded ergonomic grips with lockers, improved throttle control and LED readout, the addition of a basic pedal assist sensor). Considering the short amount of time that these electric bikes were finalized, manufactured and shipped internationally I was actually amazed and thrilled with the results… even if the delivery was a month or two late (many people have not received their ebikes at the time of this review, especially those who live outside the US). Compared to many other electric fat bikes I’ve tested and reviewed this one felt a bit under powered but it actually handled the beach riding and hill climbing well (note that I only weigh ~135 lbs). The Sondors is currently only available in one standard size ~18 inches, but for me (a 5’9″ male) it felt perfect. Perhaps the most delighting addition to the frame (in my opinion) is the threaded eyelets on the chain stays! There are two on each side for adding a carry rack and there are bosses at the fork and rear for adding fenders. I also like the solid and oversized platform pedals, cutout rims, plastic chain guide and kickstand. These are inexpensive minor touches but they impact how the bike fits into your life… Perhaps the greatest design decision of them all is the plastic battery box mounted in the main triangle of the frame. It beautifully conceals the battery pack, controller and extra wires and even provides storage space. There were no instructions included with the bike and this resulted in me missing a few of the extra features like pedal assist, I also wasn’t able to discern whether or not it was okay to put items in the battery box for storage while riding. I decided to experiment and was able to fit the keys and charger in there for my test ride, this is not something I can endorse as it could be dangerous if air circulation is required to keep the battery from overheating. Longevity is one of the big question marks for me with this ebike… You get a 30 day warranty (according to my interview with the founder) but representatives from the company are slow to respond to emails if you use the publicly available email forms (they didn’t respond at all to my multiple requests for a delivery address change). If you do end up with some kind of issue you might end up on your own, so proceed with caution.
Powering the Sondors electric bike is a 350 watt planetary geared hub motor laced into the rear wheel. I’ve seen dozens of motors from Bafang (the company that made this one) but none were as wide as this. It’s possible that this is a fat-bike specific design or something new? In any case, it performed as expected and definitely looked nice with the black paint because the spokes, tires, saddle, grips, crank arms and wiring are also black. A few times when accelerating from standstill the motor stalled when I pushed all the way down on the throttle. This might be a built in protection mechanism designed to keep mosfet transistors from failing. For best results, accelerate slowly and help the bike by pedaling for a few strokes. Geared hub motors tend to be light weight and small while remaining zippy. They freewheel efficiently so there’s no drag when coasting but they can wear out more quickly over time because there are plastic gears inside. I like that this motor was wired into the system with a quick disconnect break point because it will make maintenance much easier. Speaking of maintenance… these wheels did require some spoken tightening and truing during the initial build. Compared with some other ebikes I’ve purchased online, this one took longer to build and required more fine tuning. I worked with a professional ebike manufacturer who spent ~27 minutes building it straight from the box and I was thankful for the specialized tools they used and the stand that made it easier to work on. For the $50 to $100 that this sort of service might cost, I think it’s well worth it and could ultimately extend the lifetime of the bike altogether or make it safer.
Powering the Sondors is an average sized 36 volt 8.8 amp hour canister style battery pack that mounts to the downtube inside the plastic box. The sticker says Samsung cells which is reassuring and the Lithium-ion chemistry was chosen to be light weight and long lasting compared with some older Lead Acid types. The pack itself is removable but there are also two circular holes punched into the box surrounding it that allow you to charge it or switch it on without having to take it off. Many times I suggest removing batteries during transport because it helps to reduce the overall weight of a unit but in this case it’s only ~5.4 pounds. One of the big challenges surrounding this battery case/box design is that it completely fills the space beneath the top tube. That means some bike racks simply won’t work with this product, you’ll probably need an oversized platform rack like this and some fat-tire adapters which can add up. People with trucks can use straps or just lay the bike on its side. You could remove the front wheel to shorten the bike but that will require extra tools as there is no quick release here. I like that the battery locks to the frame and includes an LED charge level indicator (useful if you’re storing it away from the bike and wondering whether it’s full). To help extend battery life I recommend storing in a cool dry place because extreme heat and cold can degrade the cells. You should also keep the battery charged between 20% and 80% if it’s not being used and check in on it every couple of months in case it’s slowly going down. Because this ebike is so affordable and there are some questions about the quality of the cells used I feel compelled to remind users only to charge the pack with the included charger. This charger got pretty hot when I used it and I have heard of several ebike fires in the past based on cells that were damaged or improper charging. Be careful with this thing and store it somewhere that won’t burn easily just in case there is some issue. Many electric bike shops have special metal cabinets to store batteries because they deal with damaged packs that customers bring in. I’m not trying to be hurtful towards Sondors or imply that their pack is lower quality, I just know that many people who purchase this product are first time ebike owners and I want to support a positive experience.
Operating the bike is about as simple as it gets. Once the battery is charged and seated inside the box area… you close the door and use a little thumb screw to secure it. From here, you actually have to switch the pack to “on” and this can be done on the right or “starboard” side of the pack through the little circular cutout. Next, press the rubber button at the base of the throttle control module. You should see three LED lights activate (green, yellow and red) communicating that the bike is ready to go and the battery is fully charged. At this point you simply press the throttle and the motor takes you away! Initially, the Sondors ebike wasn’t going to have this LED display (there was a smaller, dimmer one) and the throttle wasn’t as large or smooth. I love the upgrade they went with and I appreciate that they used a thumb throttle vs. a twist throttle because it means they could go with affordable, locking, ergonomic grips. The grips feel great and they sort of match the accent colors on the frame (yellow/gold in my case). The cockpit is clean and simple… probably fairly durable if the bike tips over. You don’t get a fancy LCD display (at least not initially) but there is some discussion that one might be arriving as an optional addon at a later date. During the ride it seemed like I was hitting 20 mph (according to Strava) and even though the LED lights changed from green to yellow fairly quickly, the range wasn’t cut short immediately, even as it went to red. I’m guessing that the display is based on a simple voltmeter because I saw the lights drop to red while accelerating and riding and then go back up to yellow when parked. I parked several times to let the bike rest and I also pedaled part of the time during my tests to simulate real-world riding. I did some small hills, some packed dirt, some wood and a little bit of sand but I was not overly aggressive in the way I rode the bike. Also, there was extra hardware installed at the bottom bracket for use with pedal assist but I didn’t realize it was working (because it was very gentle and I was focused on the throttle for most of my review). Here’s an updated video that explains pedal assist and shows how it compares with using the trigger throttle to drive the bike. I though it was left on as an extra part because one end of the cable was a dead end. It’s neat that they added this extra feature and I was excited to hear that there may be an optional LCD display panel for use with this assist sensor in the future.
In closing, the Sondors electric bike really impressed me but there was drama and disappointment in the way it was advertised and sold. It feels premature to call it a complete success because I haven’t used it for weeks or months of riding (and I’m selling it so I can continue traveling and reviewing). That part is up to the community to share with each other. The build was difficult and long and the limited support was unsettling but that might be a temporary issue because the company is so busy right now. There are probably some legal issues with this bike, I wonder if the importer has manufacturers insurance (or even who the importer officially is?) I was surprised that the bike came with a plastic cadence sensor and extra wiring at first but it’s great that it actually works, the only mention I found of this feature was on the Sondors blog from three months ago and there were no instructions with the bike so I missed it in the video (annotation has been added to help clarify there). If you take this out and get 10 to 15 miles per charge, I’d call that a success! If you want to climb steeper stuff or plan on pedaling, there is some limitation with the single speed drivetrain… I looked for a way to mount a derailleur and add a cassette but there just isn’t room. You could add an Efneo Gearbox or Schlumpf drive at the bottom bracket but the range will still be limited and it might not fit with the wider bottom bracket. The sprocket size they chose feels good, it’s smaller than average which provides more leverage for starting and maneuvering the heavier frame and larger tires. I like the cutout rims because they look cool and reduce weight and that improves steering. For a fat bike, it’s pretty cool and got a lot of smiles and interest. My hope is that everyone else receives theirs and that the drive systems work well or are easy to replace when there are issues. With this many bikes going out it’s impossible to avoid some issues but mine arrived in great shape (aside from a few minor frame scrapes) and I was fairly impressed with the performance I got.
- Extremely affordable for a purpose built electric bike, I like that the wires are integrated and the custom battery box matches the frame and hides the electronics (while protecting them)
- Decent components including Tektro disc brake rotors, levers with motor inhibitors, solid pedals with nice grip and ergonomic grips with lockers that tie into the color options
- The chain is tight and short, uses decent hardware from KMC and is kept on track with a plastic guide on the front ring, it should perform well on bumpy terrain
- Four color options for a custom look including yellow with gold accents, black with black accents, blue with black accents, yellow with black accents
- The larger 4.9″ wide fat tires help absorb bumps when riding, this compliments the steel frame which also dampens vibration, the comfort saddle includes rubber bumpers which also helps
- The battery can be charged on or off the bike, this is great if you’re using it for commuting or need to top it off half way through a long trip, the charger is small and light weight ~2 lbs so it’s convenient to bring along
- Upgraded rims add an element of style because they are punched out and allow the colored liners to be viewed, punched out rims reduce weight but also allow the inner tube to squish around and add comfort
- Optional fenders and rack for improved utility in wet riding conditions or for those who plan on commuting, they fit nicely with the frame and can be attached at the threaded bosses on the chain stays and near the rear dropouts
- Includes a basic pedal assist sensor that activates the motor at a low efficient level helping to offset the weight and single speed drivetrain, if you relied on this purely it would significantly increase range
- Only available in one frame size ~18, I noticed that the seat tube has a cut in the backside to allow the collar to clamp down on the seat tube but most other bicycles have this cut on the front to maintain the integrity of the tube as riders tend to lean back or push backwards on the seat when riding
- Assembly was required and much more involved than other electric bikes I’ve purchased online, there are some good instructional videos posted by Sondors but it might be worth getting help from a local shop with the proper tools, grease and stands
- Limited use on soft terrain like sand and snow because the motor isn’t especially powerful and there’s only one gear to pedal with… consider adding a schlumpf or efneo bottom bracket to add gears
- Very short warranty period of 30 days, difficult to reach the company (at the time of this review) due to high volume of orders and fulfillment through Indiegogo
- A couple minor interesting choices in hardware… the kickstand is fairly tall and didn’t seem adjustable so the bike feels a bit tippy (but I love that it has a kickstand)
- This is a fairly large bike and there are no quick release options on the wheels which would make it easier to fit into cars or storage areas like garages etc. even though the wheel size is officially 26″ with the giant tires it’s actually ~30″ wide when inflated
- Official Site: http://gosondors.com/
- Indiegogo Page: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sondors-electric-bike
- More Pictures: https://goo.gl/photos/ZaSk4yv5d6B6D4Sb8