Electric bikes are becoming big business. Plenty of mainstream manufacturers like Giant, Specialized, and Raleigh have at least one in their lineup, and the trend has fueled numerous start-up bike companies, too. But the high price of an e-bike still makes them unreasonable to people looking to put some electric pep into their commute. But what if an electric bike could be more useful, like an electric powered utility vehicle?
The might be the answer. Although it looks like a strange setup with two huge wheels up from, this trike provides for serious off-road flotation in sand, mud, and snow. Plus, it can haul up to 200 pounds of cargo through that rough terrain with the stability of an ATV.
We caught up with the Rungu's founder and chief engineer Peter Godlewski for a test ride of the company's electric Juggernaut model in Southern, California.
A Rungu trike without electric assist runs about $2,500. If you want a serious workout, that's the bike for you. But in deep sand, the electric models make much more sense. The Rungu trike we tested was a prototype of the new top-level Juggernaut LE which will sell for $6,800. It uses a 15Ah lithium ion battery (74V) which provides a capacity of 1.11 kWh, and to get the power to the wheel, the Rungu LE uses a 4kW hub motor from Hi Power Cycles. The $3,500 lower-power standard electric version has a .73 kWh battery and has a motor exactly half as powerful as the one on the LE. Both powertrains allow these nearly 100 pound trikes to travel 15 miles without pedaling or 30 miles mi in human power.
Turn the key, crank the right handgrip and the electric power flows to the rear wheel instantly. Once you get to the rough stuff, pedaling a bit initially helps minimize battery drain. But even without pedaling, hub motor got us (180 lbs.) and the heavy three-wheeler up and over the undulating sand dunes easily—and quickly.
However, if you do pedal, even sparingly, the trike moves out so much quicker. Pedal hard on the beach and it's possible to hit 30 mph. That's fast. Once that battery is drained it will take about 4.5 hours to charge.
Godlewski designed this trike to haul stuff over rough terrain that simply can't be handled by a bicycle. He's an avid surfer and lives minutes from the world-famous Trestles surf spot near San Clemente, California. But getting the boards to the beach is a challenge.
"There are a lot of people who like me were riding beater bikes to the beach and then pushing that bike and dragging a surfboard, through the sand," says Godlewski. "And that's awkward."
Godlewski solved the problem by designing an all-terrain electric trike that can drive 30 miles using pedal and battery power. Rungu owners can use off-the-shelf trailers or bolt on a Rungu rear rack that can handle 200 pounds and multiple surfboards, and Godlewski has transported four boards on a prototype overhead rack.
But the Rungu is more than just a surf trike. It's also a new option for hunters who currently use ATVs or gas-powered utility vehicles. Today, many public and private lands no longer allow motorized vehicles. So, a small, silent electric alternative makes sense.
"We have 1/14th the carbon footprint of an ATV," says Godlewski.
The front track width of the Rungu is approximately the same as the shoulder width of the rider. Godlewski found that if he made the track any wider than that, the bike became unwieldy. But if it were any narrower, they lost some stability. So how does a Rungu turn? It might seem awkward at first but the rider leans into a corner like you would on a typical bicycle. As you lean, the weight transfers to the inside front tire and the Rungu will lift the outside tire completely off the ground. Once the road straightens out, that lifted front tire lands with a slight chirp as it makes with the pavement.
Balancing on those two wheels with the third front tire in the air feels very strange at first. But as we found out, it's a sensation that only takes a couple hours of riding to get used to. On the off-camber terrain of the local beach, where we spent a majority of our time riding the Rungu, the tires don't lift nearly as often or as high as they do on pavement.
We didn't have a chance to try a Juggernaut with the optional suspension forks, but Godlewski says the ride is obviously smoother on pavement and off thanks to those 2.4-inches of suspension travel. He says that carving figure eights in the sand, his testing found the suspension trikes to be 17 percent quicker. But he admits that on sand, the non-suspension (rigid frame) bike is actually easier to ride.
Bikes don't work too well on the sand. Even one with fat tires, the front end can push (understeer) and wash out if the rider tries to turn too aggressively, and that could land a rider flat on their bottom. But there's no worry of that happening on a Rungu. This electric trike rides on fat Maxxis 4.8-inch tires aired down to just 5 psi. So, having two of them on the frontend with about five inches between them means you can float over deep sand like a dune buggy. The excellent floatation from these tries not only allows the rider to charge over sandy hills but also to stop the Rungu and hop off without you or the trike falling over.
On our test, we found that if the rear tire does begin to lose traction and spin in the sand at the beginning of a particularly steep climb, simply transfer a little more of your weight rearward. The tire then digs in and pushes you forward.
Rungu's all-aluminum frame might resemble a mountain bike, but a closer look reveals that it's much longer—and beefier. The wheelbase is about 50 percent longer than that of a typical mountain bike—and that's both for stability and safety. Godlewski says that early versions had a frame geometry close to that of a mountain bike. "When a surfboard was loaded on a rack overhead and you went up small elevations, because of that extra weight up high, the whole bike would tip backwards—it was terrifying," says Godlewski.
So the design team made the trike look long, low, and planted.
Look closely and it might seem like the stem and the linkage rod used on the handlebars are mounted backwards compared to a traditional bike. Company founder Godlewski says that's no accident. The frame of this trike is unique because the front portion had to be stretched far enough forward so that both front wheels clear the rider's feet when turning. And if the handlebar arrangement were mounted in the conventional way, the rider would have to stretch forward to reach them. So, his solution places the handgrips closer to the rider making for a far more comfortable riding experience. And Godlewski says that steering design is patented.
Rungu's first concept trike in 2010 was far more radical than the ones that finally made production. The idea was to create a trike that had a low center of gravity with the rider laying prone on their stomach. That way, according to Godlewski, the rider could generate quite some serious torque from the pedals.
"Well it didn't work very well," says Godlewski. "It was very painful to ride because all your weight was on your chest...and you felt every bump."
The wheels were too far apart as well, so this prone trike would fall over cornering like an old school three-wheeled ATV of the 1970s. Over the next four years the design team built and tested numerous prototypes. They made subtle updates to those iterations and eventually in 2014, they had an electric assist trike similar to what the company sells today.
The sight of a pedal-powered bike cruising along the beach is rare. Bikes just don't really work very well on the beach. So, when beachgoers see this fat tired three-wheeler effortlessly bombing along sand dunes and whipping along the shoreline kicking up salt spray—they stare. If you want to ride something that grabs attention, this is it. We were flagged down by surfers, kids, parents basically anyone that noticed what this machine could do.