Vintage Electric Bikes is known for their high-powered, high-speed, motorcycle inspired e-bikes. The founder, Andrew Davidge, has been widely recognized for his unique design approach and was even invited onto an episode of Jay Leno’s garage. Since 2013, his company has been refining and expanding their lineup, and in 2017 they launched the Cafe. It’s their first pedal assist only model, and it complies with the Class 3 definition of an electric bicycle in the United States; to be used on most public streets without a license or insurance. By comparison, their slightly more expensive Cruz and Tracker models do have throttles, can exceed 28 mph with the addition of a special off-road key and are classified as Class 2 throttle powered ebikes or a moped level off-road recreational product depending on how they are setup. The one thing they all have in common is a beautiful aesthetic. They are all powerful but operate super quiet and smooth, I was told that the motor controller uses a pure sine wave converter to make this possible and is even optimized for reduced cogging drag when powered on. The Cafe relies on a torque sensor to respond immediately to rider pedal input and balances fast acceleration against strong hydraulic disc brake action from Shimano. The front rotor is a larger 180 mm size and both levers are three-finger with adjustable reach to fit different hand sizes and accommodate gloves. The drivetrain on this bike offers ten gears for comfortable pedaling at a wide range of speeds and uses an upgraded derailleur with one-way clutch to keep the chain tight and reduce bounce and noise (just press the grey lever in the up position to activate it).
At just under $4k, The Vintage Electric Cafe it’s not the most affordable electric bike on the block, but it definitely isn’t the most expensive either, and it doesn’t skimp on quality or support. The company offers a two-year comprehensive warranty on all of their bikes and has backed that up with software updates and out-of-warranty upgrades on many of their earliest products. These bikes are almost like art to me, with premium leather touch points, high-end integrated lighting systems that match the other silver hardware parts, and a custom battery design. The battery pack is very unique and not only looks great but also keeps weight low and center on the frame for optimal balance, is easy to remove, and can still be secured to the bike if you’re leaving it parked at a public rack by removing a twist-in pin as shown in the video review above. There are a few trade-offs worth noting however, such as the mid-mounted kickstand that gets in the way of the left crank arm when rolling the bike around, minimal suspension, a bulky heavy battery charger, and the lack of bottle cage bosses… but Vintage Electric does sell a stylized rear rack for hauling cargo, the charger is faster than most others I have seen, and the two-inch Schwalbe tires combine with the Steel frame to reduce some vibration and jar at speed. This bike feels solid and comfortable on smooth terrain and none of the parts rattled around. I absolutely love the color-matched fenders and chain guard, the sturdy thru-axle, thicker spokes, and tapered head tube for strength and stability. The bike is available in three frame sizes and two beautiful color choices so friends and partners can enjoy it together… but the frames only come in high-step which might be a little tall for those with shorter inseams.
I was told that the Cafe model was inspired by vintage motorcycles, the cafe racer in particular, but I don’t really know much about classic motorcycles. Perhaps it’s mostly in the name because to me they look different, but it’s a cool theme to go with. The motor chosen for this bike is produced by TDCM and delivers 750 watts nominal with up to 70 Newton meters of torque. That’s a lot for an electric bike! Some of the most powerful and efficient mid-drive motors these days put out 60 Nm to 80 Nm and have a big mechanical advantage if you shift gears thoughtfully, so I went into the ride test a little skeptical. Once I gave it a try, especially in the highest Level 5 assist, I was blown away. They really got the sensors configured right to feel natural and the power is there. I found myself mostly riding in assist level 3 and still having a blast. The motor is a bit larger than geared designs and weighs a bit more at ~7 lbs vs. ~5 lbs or so, but it’s likely more durable because there aren’t moving parts inside, just magnets glued to the inside perimeter of the hub and electromagnetic staters in the center. One trade-off with this design is electromagnetic drag called cogging when the motor is not being powered. You can see the rear wheel spin down faster during part of the video review where I talk about cogging. I asked Andrew about this because the upside to cogging is power regeneration, but the Cafe does not have a regen button the way that some of the other models do. Perhaps a bit of electricity is recaptured but they really focused on reducing cogging by sending a small amount of power through to the motor whenever the bike is on so that it would not produce drag. In practice, it’s not a big issue, but I try to be fair and complete in my descriptions of these bikes and want to weigh the differences between each drive system type. This motor is powerful, sturdy, quiet, and won’t interfere with the chain, cassette and derailleur the way that mid-motors sometimes can.
Powering the bike is an above-average sized Lithium-ion battery pack. It offers 48 volts and 10.4 amp hours for just under half a kilowatt of juice. I was told that you can order a second pack for extended range but at 9.4 lbs and with such a unique form factor, I think I’d just bring the charger along if I needed to ride further. This battery sits low and center on the frame, it can be charged on or off the bike without any sorts of dongle adapters, and the leather handle on top is comfortable to use. The battery slides down onto a track and clicks in place. I didn’t hear it rattling at all during my rides and I love how the little pin locking mechanism works (and looks), it reminds me of a grenade or something. If you pull the pin out (or rather, twist it out) the battery cannot be taken off of the bike. This pin is small and light, it’d be easy to clip onto a keychain to take with you into work or a restaurant and most people probably wouldn’t even know how to remove the battery if you did leave it screwed in. My only complaint about the battery design has to do with the charging interface which is not magnetic like some of the other models and has a rubber cap which could easily be lost. I asked why they chose a non-magnetic charger connector (because that pulls out easily if tripped over and has always seemed like the nicest option to me) and was told that it slowly accumulates iron filings and gets dirty in garage environments. I was also told that their future chargers will be 5 Amp vs. the 6 Amp on show in the images and video, and that it would be slightly more compact and maybe a bit lighter too. So to reiterate, the Bosch Powerpack 500 battery that offers roughly the same capacity as the Vintage Cafe pack only weighs ~5.7 lbs and is physically smaller… but it doesn’t look as cool, probably isn’t as rugged, and is used on some competing products like the Electra Townie Commute Go! which weighs more than this bike overall. Interesting, right?
Operating this bike is intuitive and fast. Once the battery has been charged and is properly secured to the downtube, just hold the rubber M button near the top of the display panel. This turns it on and also allows you to cycle through menus. There are two more buttons below the display that allow you to arrow up for more power or down for less. You can even ride without any assist by using level zero, and this is handy for running the lights if you nearly deplete the pack or just want some exercise or slower riding. The display is pretty, just like the flick bell, silver bar, locking leather grips, and all of the rest of the hardware… but it is not removable. If you leave it out in the sun and rain, it should hold up pretty well, but it might get scratched or worn out over time at public bike racks. This is not uncommon, most ebike displays are not removable, much to my disappointment. But, just like the threaded motor connector, brake lines, and controller cable, it’s likely easy to replace and service. That’s because Vintage Electric did not route their cables and brake lines internally through the frame. This might have been a strength decision (the bike is rated at 300 lbs vs. most others at just 250 lbs) or maybe it was purely for accessibility and tuning access. Whatever the reason, I feel that the cables still stay out of the way and look good. I like that they rand them below the downtube vs. on the top tube. This is a bike that could easily hang from many car and public transport racks. You won’t snag the cables while riding or lifting the frame and that’s great.
In short, The Cafe electric bike is a thing of beauty. It rides well and blends in with non-electric bikes because the motor is painted black and the battery is part of the design. It stands out, but in a good way. I don’t mean to gush too much here, I’ve tried to be fair about the trade-offs (cost, high-step only, limited suspension) but it’s delightful to see something different and good in the space. It’s not just another decent affordable bike. It’s a reasonably priced beautiful bike with a unique drive system that performs above expectations. I love this thing to be honest, and I would probably keep it mostly as-is with the exception of a 27.2 mm silver Suntour NCX suspension post to ease my back and neck. I love riding fast but appreciate how stable this bike is with the wider tires. I love that the tires are lined with puncture protection to minimize flat fixes (especially because the rear wheel with the hub motor will take more time and effort to service. The front wheel has a quick release maxle and the rear rack is option but has two levels of mounting options. If you do go the way of swapping the seat post, just be careful with the power cable leading to the custom-integrated rear light. I think you might even have to unplug it if you swap the post (unless it has a hole at the top) and this is where the rear rack upgrade with a separate aftermarket light could come in handy. Vintage Electric sells through a network of dealers across the USA, has an beautiful factory store showroom in Santa Clara, California (near San Jose), and I believe they also sell online direct with a range of customization options. Big thanks to the Vintage Electric Bikes team for partnering with me on this review and having both colors on hand to film. We had a blast cruising around the city streets and a closed parking lot track for the video.
- This is the first Vintage Electric bike model that’s being sold in three frame sizes, this allows riders to mount and pedal more comfortably… unlike some of their other ebikes, it does not have a throttle so optimal leg extension and comfort and ergonomics are more important
- The frame is made from chromoly Steel and can support up to 300 lbs vs. a lot of other electric bikes that max out around 250 lbs, Steel is often appreciated in the world of bicycles for being comfortable and offering vibration dampening qualities
- The wheels have 36 spokes for added strength (and the rear spokes are thicker 13 gauge), the head tube is tapered vs. straight, and both axles are thicker than average, the rear is 12 mm and the front is 15 mm with a Maxle style thru-axle (most bicycles use 9 mm skewers)
- Two gorgeous color choices, beautiful silver hardware, and matching leather grips, saddle, and battery handle make this one of the prettiest electric bikes I have tested, even the optional retro styled rear rack is something special and unique
- Safety is a big deal if you commute during peak hours and have to deal with dim mornings and dark evenings so I love that the Vintage Cafe has reflective tires and premium integrated lights from Supernova, they won’t get damaged or stolen as easily as aftermarket lights, nor will they run out of batteries and require more screwing around
- The fenders and chain cover are made from Aluminum which means they are sturdy, relatively quiet, and won’t rust but I also love how beautiful they are, both hardware components are paint matched to the frame, they will keep you clean in varied conditions which is important if you rely on the bike for commuting
- Given how sturdy the bike looks and feels, I was surprised that it only weighs about 56 lbs, many comparable e-bikes weigh near 60 lbs, it also stops well thanks to hydraulic disc brakes which have adjustable levers to make it easy for people with smaller hands or those wearing thick gloves
- The bike is well balanced front to rear, notice how low the battery box is on the frame vs. being built into a rear rack or even connected to the higher portion of the downtube
- Both the motor and battery are geared for power, the 48 volt pack sends higher amps and is more efficient than a 36 volt pack, the 750 watt nominal motor is rated at 70 Newton meters peak output which is incredible for a hub motor design… and it really does feel strong
- There’s no suspension fork or seat post suspension here stock but the dual-density saddle, padded grips, and high-volume tires feel good, at 28″ diameter, the wheels have a lower attack angle and coast very efficiently once up to speed, they even have Active Line K-Guard puncture protection to help reduce flats
- Great drivetrain, Shimano Deore XT with Shadow Plus one-way clutch to help tighten the chain and reduce bouncing, this derailleur setup is commonly found on mountain bike models but works well on speed pedelecs like the Vintage Cafe
- I noticed that the motor power cable is routed along the left side of the bike and doesn’t stick out very far where it might be snagged or bent, it’s a great design with a thicker gauge of wire and a threaded connector point to keep water and dust out, overall just more refined than a lot of other hub motor driven electric bicycles I have seen
- The battery pack is fairly easy to take off of the bike, it feels sturdy and I really appreciate the integrated handle because it does weigh ~10 lbs, it’s worth removing if you plan on lifting the bike up steps or storing it on a bike rack
- Pedal assist is activated through a torque sensor on this e-bike and to me it felt spot on, the power is delivered naturally so it ramps up smooth but it’s not at all weak, and the thing is just so quiet
- The display panel looks beautiful, is easy to reach, and navigate while riding but it is not removable which could lead to scratches and weather-wear if parked regularly in public places or outdoors
- Gearless hub motors are revered for being reliable and quiet, this one is particularly powerful, but it does suffer from a touch of drag due to cogging (magnets repelling the stater when the bike is turned off and just coasting), it’s a minor gripe and at least Vintage has tried to minimize its affects when the bike is powered on
- Most of the other Vintage Electric models I have reviewed use the magnetic EnergyBus charger standard but the Cafe uses a pressure-fit plug that might not get as dirty but could get bent or caught if tripped over, just be careful with it and also keep an eye on the rubber charge port cover because it doesn’t have a leash or other connector to keep it with the bike and would be easy to lose
- Kickstands are important and the stock design here works well to balance the bike but because it’s positioned near the bottom bracket, it does get in the way of the left crank arm if you back the bike up with it in the down position
- The bike looks great, and I almost didn’t notice the wires at first, but they are tacked beneath the downtube vs. being internally routed through the frame, this is a minor aesthetic gripe and might make the frame stronger, cheaper, or easier to service
- Despite being built in three unique frame sizes, the standover height is pretty high because they are all cantilever high-step designs, the small is still around 31 inches which might be too high for petite riders or those with hip or knee sensitivity
- The battery charger is bulkier and heavier than average… this means it can be more of a hassle to lug around, but the upside is that it is very fast at 6 Amps vs. most others which just send 2 Amps, I was told that some future models will come with a more compact 5 Amp charger which sounds just right
- Some of the other electric bikes from Vintage have a regen button that acts as an engine brake and converts kinetic energy into electricity to slowly fill the battery but the Cafe does not have this
- Minor gripe but the bicycle frame does not have bottle cage bosses to add an accessory, you might have to get a disc brake compatible rack (or their official rack) and consider a handlebar cup holder adapter like this
- Minor gripe here but because the saddle has an integrated light, there’s a wire that comes up through the seat post and makes swapping the rigid Aluminum post out for a suspension post more difficult, just keep this in mind and be careful with the parts (disconnect the power cable leading the to seat light before pulling the seat post out), if you do purchase a seat post suspension, keep in mind it will raise the minimum saddle height by a few inches, the SR Suntour NCX is relatively short and comes in silver which would match beautifully