- A more affordable pedal-assist electric bike available in high step and a step-thru, predominantly sold online (requires assembly) and may be discontinued?
- Solid commuter package including steel fenders, a chain guard, a sturdy rack with pannier blockers and battery surround tubing as well as independent LED lights
- Entry level Shimano Tourney 7 speed drivetrain but the grip shifter works well with basic ergonomic grips, the control pad is basic with limited readouts but easy to reach and understand while riding
- The saddle is kind of firm and there's no suspension, the motor and battery are both mounted at the rear which can feel unbalanced and the frame flexes a bit (on the step-thru version especially), only available in one size/color combination for each frame type
I purchased this bike on Amazon because the company that makes it, Vilano, had a few different models there and to me they looked good and offered value for the price (Lithium batteries and nice accessories for under $1k). Rather than going directly through the company, I felt like Amazon would help me with any shipping and warranty issues… but I was surprised to find that after only one month of having and testing the bike, they were no longer being sold on Amazon and possibly not available through the official site either. That said, the overall experience of receiving, building and riding this bike has been pretty good!
The Vilano Pulse comes in two styles, a step-thru (almost a cruiser) that I tested for this review and a “men’s” high-step which comes in gray-silver vs. the white. Having received ebikes before via mail, it’s always a bit daunting because the box is so large and there are parts all zip tied together inside. The box for the Vilano Pulse e-bike weighed ~61 lbs and I got help from my friend to lift and then ultimately assemble it. We aren’t professionals but I did use a bike stand to make it easier. If you were considering this or any other online bike I’d suggest paying ~$80 to have it assembled at a local shop or with a mobile bike repair service like Velofix.
Okay, so what you get here is a basic step-thru bike frame with a 250 watt geared hub motor and 36 volt Lithium battery. There’s not throttle mode but pedal assist works well thanks to a responsive 12 magnet cadence sensor. Sometimes, in higher levels of assist (there are four to choose from) the bike an actually feel jerky as the motor offers a lot of zip despite its smaller wattage rating. I couldn’t tell whether we were hitting 20 mph at the high end but it felt pretty fast. Charging and operating the bike is a cinch because the battery is removable and the charger is light and small. If you are someone who wants a cheap electric bicycle to get to work and then top off the pack for a longer ride home (or out around town) this would be a solid choice and given the price tag it might feel like less of a risk leaving it outside. The battery weighs nearly 10 lbs so it’s probably using lower energy density cells but they should still age well and offer way more cycles than absorbent glass mat (AGM) or other sealed lead acid variants (SLA). I personally love that the key, which locks the pack to the bike, can be removed while operating the bike!
Some complaints I heard from my friend Darlington (who rode the bike for a week with his girlfriend) and things that I personally noticed were lack of a bottle cage mounting point, a unique rack that might not work with clip-on panniers given the way the support arms extend out to the sides vs. straight down, an adjustable angle stem that is too tight and wouldn’t swivel for us, the lack of suspension and harder seat which became uncomfortable on bumpy terrain and some missing hardware (which hindered our assembly). When comparing this model to other budget ebikes, I felt like the aesthetic was great and overall the weight was low and the drive system impressed. Some people opt for kits and a DIY approach with their existing bikes but I love how well integrated the motor, battery and display were on this one (with some wires being run through the frame). It looks good and Vilano still appears to be in business so you’d have a resource to turn to even if the warranty is minimal. I wish it were still available on Amazon and am curious whether the company plans to continue selling ebikes or not? It could make a solid second-hand electric bike for $500 and overall it worked quite well.
- At ~61 lbs in the box, this bike was reasonably easy to handle and move around compared to some of the other affordable online-purchase electric bikes I’ve seen, once it was assembled the bike weighed just 50 pounds which is pretty good for how affordable it was! It still costs more than Lead Acid battery ebikes but Lithium is more durable and offers more charge cycles (usually 2x more)
- I like that the battery is removable and can be charged off the bike, it has a rubber cover over the charging port and only weighs ~9.5 lbs… it also has an LED charge level indicator built in so you can see how full it is without putting it on the bike
- The battery locks to the frame with a key but the key doesn’t have to be left in while using it, this is huge for me because keys can be forgotten and often jingle or snag when left on the bike during rides, it’s nice that the bike comes with four keys too in case one gets lost!
- Despite not having a suspension fork, the bike felt pretty comfortable thanks to a swept back handlebar, ergonomic grips, angled stem (though it was locked up and didn’t swivel as it was intended) and mid-sized hybrid tires… areas to improve comfort would be a 27.2 mm diameter suspension seat post (here’s an even cheaper one) and comfort saddle
- The bike is thoughtfully designed to be electric meaning some of the wires are routed through the frame to look nicer and the controller box is integrated into the battery mount, I also like the white color for reflective visibility
- Even though some of the parts are more basic, you still get good commuting/utility options here including steel fenders with mud flaps, a plastic chain cover, an oversized rack with pannier blockers, a kickstand and independent LED lights (that run off of included AA batteries)
- A very similar bike is available from Vilano that is a high-step which offers a larger frame for taller people and might be easier to mount on racks… I haven’t seen or tested this bike in person, just saw it on their website here
- Uses a 12 magnet cadence sensor for responsive pedal assist feedback, it started and stopped pretty quickly during ride tests and the brake levers have motor inhibitors which instantly cuts all power so that’s awesome
- The battery charger is light weight at ~1.3 lbs, compact and portable so you can take it with to top off at work or a friend’s house, plugs into any standard US wall outlet
- The display panel is compact, easy to understand and reach while riding. You don’t get a lot of options (and can’t see your speed or precise battery level) but it gets the job done and seems well sealed against water
- The motor on this ebike offers a modest 250 watts nominal output, this is on the small side for technology available in the United States but fairly standard in Europe… it gets the job done and works great in conjunction with pedal assist but might struggle with larger loads or in very hilly terrain
- Generic parts including Sparkle brand mechanical brakes, Wuxing brake levers and a 7 speed Shimano Tourney drivetrain (the lowest level of groupset from Shimano), the adjustable stem is also pretty generic and I was not able to get it to swivel… might need a hammer to break it loose but in my experience they can stay loose then which can lead to more ongoing maintenance
- The rack is rated for 25 kg (~55 lbs) and already supports the battery pack which weighs ~10 lbs so be careful not to overload it, I also wonder if all clip-on panniers will work given the thicker tubing and protruding support arms on the side… they might dig into your bags, most other racks I see have tubing that goes straight down
- Neither wheel offers quick release which could be handy if you have to change a flat or are trying to transport the bike in your car (especially since the step-thru won’t work with hanging racks… I do like that the wheels use little torque arms for strength but they just mount with standard nuts which require bringing along a tool
- We had to use duct tape to secure the front fender and headlight because a screw was missing… we looked everwhere and were very careful when opening the box and during assembly so not sure if this is an isolated incident or a mistake on our part
- Originally the bike was being sold on Amazon (that’s where I bought it) but within a month it was no longer listed there and the official site isn’t clear about whether it’s for sale anymore, the bike may be discontinued and I wasn’t clear on warranty whether it had one or not
- No bottle cage bosses on the step-thru frame or the high-step (from what I can tell looking at the high-step images), this means you’ll need a hydration pack or maybe a trunk bag with a bottle holster like this
- Even though the cadence sensor is responsive, it still sends power in a sort of on/off all or none burst so if you’re in a higher level it might jerk you forward and surprise you a bit more than a fancier more advanced torque sensor or combined sensor… some ebikes are also just set to accelerate more smoothly
- The frame is all Aluminum for affordability and light weight but being a step-thru, it’s more flexy… if you want a more rigid tight feel go for the high-step version
- The bike is very rear-heavy given the hub motor and battery pack are both behind the seat tube, the battery is also mounted high up which can increase the potential for tips and creates a bit of “crack the whip” feel when turning hard or maneuvering bumpy terrain… I also experienced speed wobble when I hit higher speeds and rode with no hands