When I’m not busy driving sports cars in the hills of Topanga and Malibu, you can typically find me riding my road bike on the very same roads. Cycling allowed me a chance to get outdoors during pandemic lockdowns, so during the course of 18 months or so I took the opportunity to explore the canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains on two wheels—albeit with significant less than one horsepower propelling up long ascents.
The pandemic created an unbelievable bike shortage in West LA and also helped initiate a boom in sales of electrically helped bicycles, known as e-bikes and offering different offers of power, range, and weight savings on road, gravel, and full mountain-bike frames. As the automotive consumers able industry transitions to electric vehicles the same technology filtering down to other industries results in happy to travel further for longer without sacrificing style. Over the course of a couple of years, watching all the old folks power past me on my local hills left me excited—and more than a little curious—to spend two weeks testing out the retro-themed Shelby from e-bike manufacturer Vintage Electric .
Vintage Electric And Shelby American
Yes, the bike features Shelby’s iconic Cobra logo and branding, hinting at the potent performance lurking in a classy beach cruiser frame. It only seemed to fit for me to bring the bike along to a recent Shelby meetup where one of the quintessential mavericks of the internal-combustion age revealed a new Rent-A-Racer program in partnership with Hertz. But the Shelby bike also turned heads as owners and fans of Cobras, Mustangs, and even an Omni GLHS walked by where I parked the retro-themed ride next to—again, fittingly—the new Shelby Mustang Mach-E concept.
The specs for this e-bike pay homage to the performance that made Carroll Shelby a household name well before the Ford v Ferrari biopic. With a top speed of 36 miles per hour and up to 75 miles of range from a 1,123 watt-hour battery, the Shelby should impress average consumers in terms of acceleration and livability. For more dedicated cyclists who track their own power output in wattage, the Shelby can deliver a whopping 3,000 watts in race mode from the hub-mounted motor. But the performance and style come at a price, starting at $7,249 before counting accessories like mirrors, racks, and paniers.
Classic Cruiser Design With Modern Motivation
That kind of power crammed into a cruiser makes the Shelby a serious departure from the lightweight carbon-fiber road bikes I practiced throughout the pandemic. The riding position, with high handlebars and a low seat, definitely feels more at home on a beach bike path than up in the hills, but in the name of science, I decided to take what Vintage Electric calls their “Two-Wheeled Cobra” on a 20-mile round trip up the nearest climb which serves as my average daily ride: Mandeville Canyon just off Sunset Boulevard. At almost exactly five miles long, with just under 1,000 feet of climbing, Mandy draws thousands of Strava users per year and the competition to claim the KOM (King of the Mountain) time for the ascent requires serious commitment from professional and semi-professional cyclists alike.
The Shelby smashed every human rider—doping or not—with a time of 11 minutes and nine seconds. By my visual average, the battery and motor allowed me to cruise at around 28 to 30 miles per hour up the climb, which ranges from two to five-percent grades, numbers all the more impressive since adding the battery, motor, and beefed- up components to handle such power also contributes to a hefty weight of 86 pounds.
Controls For The Electric Assist
I committed to taking the e-bike up Mandeville as a true test in addition to my city riding, though I spent much of the time staring at the bike’s digital gauge to check on consumption battery. Vintage Electric programs the bike with five different assist levels, with five counting as “race mode” and recommended for private property only. Pushing a small thumb lever acting as throttle allows for acceleration up to 20 miles per hour without requiring the rider to pedal. Pedaling without using the throttle also creates enough modest assist, but pedaling with the throttle pegged allows for the top speeds up to 36 miles an hour.
I set out for Mandeville with the battery display showing four bars out of five. By the top, I still showed two bars remaining, though every now and then on the way up, the gauge dipped to only one bar and then as high as four again. That kind of inconsistency paired with the idea of having to pedal an 86-pound bike without any assist at all left me wishing for a remaining range estimate, even if the Shelby reasonably lived up to the 75-mile claim and got us home just after the gauge dipped to only one bar.
Big Power Requires Big Brakes
Achieving such impressive speed and range simultaneously still requires tradeoffs, in this case arriving in the form of the additional weight. And the heavy batteries dictate a set of disc brakes so massive and effective that they border on touchy at lower speeds. I still believe disc brakes on carbon road bikes only allow manufacturers to charge more for their new bikes, given that the braking power easily outstrips traction on the tiny tires’ rubber contact patch, but disc brakes prove their worth for gravel and MTB riders on every slippery descent. For Vintage Electric, due to the Shelby’s weight, disc brakes seem mandatory in the name of safety, as do a set of impressive shocks that helped smooth out my descent down Mandeville without creating any tendency towards driftiness or speed wobbles. And yes, the rear brake lever engages regen at the rear wheel!
Battery Cradle And Wiring
The battery itself cradles between the seat tube and down tube, with a retro air-fin design and Vintage Electric’s nifty logo. The hydroformed aluminum frame must receive significant strengthening to handle the combined weight of bike and rider, as well as the instantaneously available torque from the electric motor—though the power delivery definitely ramps up from a stop, rather than for immediate rear-wheel burnouts like so many electric cars these days.
A few little nits to pick about the build include exposed below the battery itself, rather than wiring integrated into the frame, plus a surprising combination of a small chainring (only 40T) with a large single rear gear (16T). To maintain battery assist at higher speeds, the rider needs to pedal either extremely fast to match the actual speed or create their own resistance with the opposite leg to fool the electric motor out of throttling down, which can create a jarring lurch if not finessed properly . Also, my thumb got pretty tired from holding down the throttle for a solid hour-plus riding up to the top of Mandeville and back.
Pretty Close To Motorcycling
The laws in California classify the Vintage Electric Shelby as a Class 2 e-bike, which allows for throttle without pedaling but requires the use of a helmet for riders 17 years old or younger. The higher-speed race mode that Vintage Electric’s legal team must say is for use on private property leads me to suggest that everyone should wear a helmet because, in reality, the temptation to go fast and have more fun on such a steady machine quickly overpowers reason and logic. And coincidentally, during the two weeks I kept the Shelby for my review, I also happened to take the California Highway Patrol’s official motorcycle training course in preparation to apply for an M1 endorsement on my license.
Comparing the Shelby to a motorcycle reveals the importance of keeping safety in mind. Both allow riders to keep up with cars at traffic speeds in town. Pedaling to keep assist active at the higher speeds requires significant concentration and a fair amount of physical exertion, which can lead to distraction. But for experienced road cyclists and motorcyclists alike, hopping onto an e-bike like the Vintage Electric Shelby only requires a quick adjustment period before the fun factor of such an enjoyable cruiser kicks in.
I rode the Shelby all over Santa Monica and Venice, choosing to hop on instead of into my Montero or Cayenne when faced with a short journey through rush hour. Of course, locking up an e-bike that runs around eight grand gave me a bit of pause, given the rash of bike theft lately, so I used a pretty serious lock when necessary (and still wouldn’t recommend leaving it anywhere for too long). For quick trips around town, a relaxing cruise down at the beach, or even running errands, the Shelby serves perfectly—as both a traffic-avoider and head-turner. And for me, as both a cyclist and journalist, two quick weeks with the e-bike revealed once again just how rapidly battery and electric motor technology evolved over the past few years, not to mention why every bike shop in LA sold out of e-bikes over the first few months of the pandemic.
Sources: vintageelectricbikes.com, shelby.com, strava.com, and juicedbikes.com.
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