Yes, I know this is a motorcycle magazine. But here’s why you should be interested in and maybe even excited about a $4,500 Chinese-built electric bike that looks like a Puch moped from the 23rd Century: This kind of vehicle is hands down, no question absolutely, the most fun and fastest way to get around a congested urban environment. So, shut up and start reading.
It’s called a “Monday,” and the story started in Nate’s shed in San Francisco’s Sunset District, the neighborhood closest to the Pacific Ocean. Those of you that haven’t been to SF and think of California beaches as idyllic places packed with bikini models playing volleyball may think (logically) that it’s the most expensive and desirable place to live in SF, but that’s not true. It’s foggy AF, the chilly, corrosive air makes it a dreary place to live, and it’s an hour bus or train ride to downtown SF. So, it’s one of the more affordable neighborhoods, a good place for Nate Jauvtis (say “Jaav-tiss”) to move to when he was a young buck in the early ’Oughties.
He quickly realized the Sunset, though good for surfers, depressives, and Tubes drummer Prairie Prince, was remote, and that meant he needed a good way to get around. The neighborhood is mostly single-family homes, with long, spacious garages: which meant lots of old, neglected 1970s mopeds on Craigslist. Iconic 1970s Puchs were the dominant models, and soon he was bombing about town. “I love riding them around the City,” Nate told me. Good times, but Nate was irritated by the noise, smell, and mess from the smoky little beasts. How would he make them better?
Luckily he a) had a shed, b) was an avid motorcyclist, and c) is also a mechanical engineer by training (and in fact worked for electric-motorcycle startup Zero). A moped buddy asked him what it would take to make an electric moped, and after much metal grinding and electrical wiring, the Monday V.1 was born. It was an elegant design that used the iconic Puch Magnum’s dimensions and shapes as a template. Nate built the first Monday for himself, but “I learned also pretty quickly that I wasn’t the only person that faced those challenges [of getting around San Francisco]. So, I realized that there was a business opportunity there.”
That was in 2006, and Nate and a small team started building bikes for customers, first in his shed, and then in a slightly larger facility just south of San Francisco. Versions 2 through 6 followed, with dozens of customers for the $6,000 bikes, but it was clear that mass sales would require mass production. That’s when Josh Rasmussen, Charlie Schock, and others got on board to bring the Gen 7 bike – the version I tested – to market.
Thanks to the magic of outsourcing production overseas, it’s available now for $4,500. It weighs about 170 pounds, has a 32-inch seat height, and basically works like a small motorcycle, with the exception of the pedals. There are no gears, but there is a throttle, which controls the 5,500-watt (7.7 hp) motor, no pedaling required. The 2.4 kilowat-hour battery is rated for 50-100 miles of range depending on mode. In Econ mode, the motor is limited to just 750 watts, enough to get to 20 mph on flat ground. Sport mode (intended for off-road-only use) unleashes the full 5,500 watts, with a claimed 45-mph top speed. It’s equipped with instruments, lights, and a horn – but no turn signals.
What’s it like to ride? Riding a 185-horsepower superbike in a crowded city like SF is…boring, sort of like driving an F-1 car on a go-kart track. You have to obey laws, not so much because of police enforcement, but because…physics. But here’s what happens when you ride an electric moped around San Francisco: whatever the f – k you want. That’s because a powered two-wheeler that can be propelled by pedals alone and won’t exceed 20 mph under engine power is a Class-2 electric bicycle in 13 states. That it can be turned into a fire-breathing 45-mph (off) roadburner with the flip of a switch is a loophole that Josh Rasmussen didn’t seem too interested in discussing, but we all know it’s there.
In San Francisco, where bicycle-traffic enforcement is as lax as you can get, you start feeling like Tony Soprano in downtown Hoboken. “That’s a nice ‘no left turn’ law you’ve got there, 16th and Mission…be a shame if someone were to… break it accidentally.” Red light? Just step off the bike and (carefully!) jaywalk. No U-turn? Maybe for other people. You save a lot of time ignoring stop signs and traffic lights (but still, always using common sense and courtesy to avoid getting hit by a bus or pissing people off) crossing a densely populated city with 19th-Century streets like San Francisco. A lot. In fact, if I had a choice, a 40-mph electric bicycle would be my go-to ride for intra-city travel.
And the fun doesn’t end on city streets, either. I decided to ride up into a famous park to get some photos, and as long as I was pedaling, nobody gave me a second glance (unless it was to say, “cool bike!”). There’s no noise, no exhaust, no gas or oil dripping on the ground. Just a dude on a bike on a summer day. That means no parking hassles; no reason you can’t take it up into your office, or just lock it to a tree or bike rack. It’s not quite a bicycle, but it’s more of a bicycle than a scooter or conventional moped.
As a practical commuting tool, the Monday is pretty solid. There’s already a small cadre of folks who have been commuting on their early versions, like Nathan Vizcarra. He’s had his Version 6 for almost three years, and “it runs like a champ…absolutely reliable and range isn’t an issue.” Another V6 owner, Laura Lopez, says she uses it for the two-mile round-trip commute to her job at the Fairmont Hotel, where she works in events services. She met the Monday crew at an event at her hotel and asked about the bike. “They told me you don’t need a license or anything, it’s perfect for a city commute. So, I said, ‘sell me one.’” She’s ridden it over 1,000 miles with no mechanical or battery issues, and she’s a pretty passionate fan of the bike. She parks in her downtown apartment, as it fits into her building’s elevator.
My experience with range buttressed the owners’ reports about their range. I rode around SF for a couple of hours, and the 31.2 amp-hour battery still had about 80 percent charge. That’s while pedaling as little as possible in Sport mode; not because I’m lazy and hate peddling (I am and I do), but because the Monday’s low seat and hipster-fabulous styling make it a crummy bicycle. Pedaling a 170-pound, single-speed bicycle with a 32-inch seat hurts and is pretty much impossible for the physically fitness-challenged on any kind of uphill. Luckily, there’s that throttle: the pedals are a legality that negate the need for registration, insurance, or much scrutiny from the SFPD traffic-enforcement detail.
If I were to run it out of juice, there’s actually a small, hidden reserve that will let you limp it home, up to two miles. Once there, you just plug the charge adapter into a wall outlet, or pull the 25-ish-pound battery out of the “tank” and take it up to your apartment or office, where it will charge to 100 percent in under 5 hours.
Practically speaking, the Monday is a 1970s Puch moped, with a few important differences. It’s not priced like a 1970 Puch moped: MSRP of a 1980 Puch Magnum Mk II, admittedly the crown prince of all mopeds, and the one the Monday pays homage to, was $949, according to the historians over at Moped Army. Adjust for inflation, and you get about $3,900 in today’s money. The Monday is $4,995 ($4,500 if you preorder). That could buy you a lot of electric bicycle – though maybe not the 45-mph kind – but I’d expect Monday to be able to get the cost down to 1980 levels with experience and volume production.
That brings me to my second important distinction: power. You could modify a Puch with a 75cc kit and go faster than 45 mph, but it will be loud, messy, and unreliable. The Monday, if running in the “sport” mode (even though that would be illegal in most places, wink, wink), will go close to 45 mph on flat ground, go 30-plus uphill and keep up with traffic just fine. Acceleration is on par with a 125cc gas-powered motorcycle.
Important caveat: Riding a Monday in “Sport” mode means, from a safety and function standpoint, that you are riding a motorcycle. That means you should wear the same protective gear you’d wear on a motorcycle. You should also have the same level of experience you think you’d be comfortable with riding a motorcycle. That means proper training and licensing. Seriously.
Handling, ride quality, and braking may (I’m hoping) be better than your average 1980 moped, but the Chinese components are pretty low-quality items: lots of fork stiction, bouncy shocks, and a wooden-feeling, grabby front brake. Build quality was also a little lacking, with clunky welds (though I’ve been shown photos of how they’ve cleaned up the welds on the current run – the 5th – of this version) and cheap-feeling plastic parts typical of inexpensive Chinese-made products. Still, it’s hyper-light, has a short wheelbase and skinny (yet surprisingly grippy, DOT-approved) tires. So, it goes around corners just fine, probably better than your average home-built hipster café racer. It also has a one-year warranty and the backing of a big venture-capital fund, Sustainability Initiatives.
Riding impression bottom line: it’s a blast, way more fun or interesting than your average e-bicycle. It’s nice to be on a mode of two-wheel transport that, by dint of its small friendly nature and eco-friendly, quiet vibe, is treated by the world as the sensible way to get around that it is. Try riding your Wydra-Glyde through the park on a sunny day, parking your mud-spattered 700-pound ADV rig in a bike rack or running every stop sign for 3 miles on your 300-horsepower ZZXSGR-10,000RR. Suddenly, $4,500 seems cheap, especially considering that you’ll spend nothing on gas and next to nothing on maintenance and even less on parking tickets, as there is no plate or VIN to give a ticket to. California law even lets you park a motorized bicycle on sidewalks, so long as you don’t block access to other sidewalk users.
Suck on it, SFMTA!
And now we wrap up. If you’ve read this far, you want to know a couple of things: is the Monday a good value? And will Monday succeed as an electric-moped purveyor? I’m guessing the peanut gallery will hate it, but there are lots of folks buying electric bikes in the USA: 260,000 were sold in 2017, a 25% increase from 2016. Some of these bikes are very high end, fetching $10,000 or more. Buying one of these is easier, even for one of these apocryphal broke Millennials: Monday offers financing through Affirm at just $146 a month, and there’s no insurance or registration required. That’s less than many San Franciscans spend on Ubers in a three-day weekend, and for that kind of urban dweller, I’d say the Monday represents pretty good value.
My personal stance is that Monday has some work to do to make this a really standout product, but it has good bones and is really fun. More importantly for my audience – if I still have one – it represents a new trend in two-wheeled mobility that will act as a gateway drug to bring more riders into our world. I like it.
Gabe Ets-Hokin spends the vast sums of bribe money he gets from the electric-vehicle green weenie cabal on Spirulina powder and Civil War reenactment equipment.