Velotric Thunder 1 e
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Velotric Thunder 1 e

May 07, 2023

The new Velotric Thunder 1 e-bike ($1,800) is a super-lightweight, connected e-bike for city dwellers, commuters or anyone looking for a low-key ride without the bells and whistles of a more complicated electric bike.

A sleek, comfortable bicycle that tops out at 20 miles per hour (mph) using solely pedal assist, the Velotric Thunder 1 offers almost no outward signs that it houses e-bike technology. Apart from the fingerprint sensor, all of its high-tech innards are housed inside the aluminum alloy frame — you won't find a throttle on the handlebars. And, with no LCD screens or monitors, everything you need to know about your ride can be viewed on your phone via the companion app, including speed, distance, battery life and pedal assist level.

I used the Thunder 1 for a few weeks to get around New York City, and I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to use, store and get in and out of my high-rise apartment building. Not only does it feature a 350W motor, hydraulic disk brake and torque sensor for a more natural ride, but it's also imbued with GPS and mobile tracking in case someone tries to nab it.

Interested in learning more about this attractive, urban workhorse? Here's everything you need to know about the Velotric Thunder 1, an e-bike so ultralight and understated, it can easily pass as a traditional bicycle.

The lightweight Velotric Thunder 1 looks and rides like a traditional bike, making it a great choice for city dwellers and commuters.

This is not my first rodeo when it comes to e-bikes. As a New Yorker, getting around without a car is built in to our lifestyle. But especially during the pandemic, when using mass transit was not a viable option, I started looking for a way to quickly and easily go longer distances without heading underground.

Though I started with the heavy, sometimes hard to find Citi Bike e-bikes, I was later able to try out a Rad Power Rad Runner 2, and it was a marvel — easily helping to transport me all over the city for work, pleasure and errands. However, the downside of the Rad Runner was its larger size and bulky weight (63 pounds, to be exact). Not only was it tough to find a place to charge and store this bike, but getting it out of my apartment, into an elevator and out of my building was no easy feat. I can't even imagine if I had stairs to deal with. So, when I was offered a chance to check out Velotric's new Thunder 1, which weighs in at just 36 pounds, I was eager to give it a whirl.

I am not the handiest when it comes to fixing things or putting stuff together. Even Ikea can be a challenge. So it gives me great pride to report that I put the Thunder 1 together all by myself (though I did have a few frantic Slack texts to my editor, which he calmly walked me through). The instruction pamphlet and matching video were straightforward, and other than a missing nut to cover the end of a loose bolt, everything was included in the packaging.

Once finished, I was, frankly, in awe of how much less space the Thunder 1 took up than the Rad Runner. At just 36 pounds, its matte gray frame is downright slender compared to more powerful e-bikes (though a tad chunkier than most traditional bikes), and other than the brakes and gears, the battery and all the electrical components are safely stowed inside the bike's frame. This makes the entire thing look super sleek, and the charging port is so inconspicuous, unless someone is looking for it, you’d never know this bike includes a motor.

When it was time to take it for a ride, I could easily pick up the Thunder 1 and maneuver it from its storage space and out of my apartment. For those who have stairs, it should be a breeze. Likewise, I wheeled it directly into the elevator and didn't have to adjust it for the doors to close. My 17-year-old could similarly heft it with ease and was utterly disappointed to learn I was keeping it for myself.

Related: The Swytch Kit lets you transform the bike you already own into an e-bike

The Thunder 1 may be a literal lightweight, but it also is a heavy hitter when it comes to its built-in technology. Like most things connected, Velotric includes what it calls a Smart+ Hub, which pairs with its companion app (available on iOS and Android) via Bluetooth. Once you download it and set up an account, you can use it to do things like track your ride, check your bike's battery life and even brush up on its CO2 emissions. This includes choosing between the three riding modes (City, Adventure and Max) and five pedal assist levels, and you can even set the light-sensing headlamp to automatically turn on and off.

The idea is to simply place your phone in the included mount so you can access the smart features while you ride. However, I was not thrilled with the flat mount, which sticks to the back of your phone with an included 3M adhesive and chose to replace this cumbersome option with a clip-on mount (more on that below). At first, I was a tad put out by the idea of using my phone to monitor and customize my e-bike, but once I updated the mount so I could more easily attach my phone, everything felt more natural.

Powering the bike on is also high tech. There are no keys to carry around here, and you can choose from using the app or the discreet fingerprint control panel on the top of the frame near the handlebars. You can register up to 12 fingerprints on the app, and I favored using these simple biometrics to unlock and start the bike. Apart from a few misfires when I first downloaded the app (which I chalk up to first-generation bugs), I used my index finger and it worked consistently every time I swiped it. To shut it down, you can use the app's Auto Lock feature, which you can set to three, five, 10 or 30 minutes. I stuck to five for the most part.

The last thing the app does for the Thunder 1 is add some peace of mind with its GPS tracking and anti-theft alerts. If someone moves your bike, you’ll get an alert — though I did get a few false alarms when someone moved it inside the house. And, if it is taken, you can track the sucker using the app's Find My BIke button.

Of course, when it comes down to it, it's the ride that counts. Because it only goes up to 20 mph, the Velotric Thunder 1 is designated as a Class 1 e-bike. And that suits me just fine. I like the idea of getting around quicker on an e-bike, but I also like to feel like I’m still on a bike, not a downgraded moped. There's no throttle here, so if that's a must, the Thunder 1 is not for you.

The 350W motor helped ease me up hills (like the nasty incline to the Manhattan Bridge) without forcing me to sweat. This was especially nice if I decided to bike to the CNN offices located all the way across town in Hudson Yards. I mainly stuck to City mode, which the app says is recommended for paved roads and is the most battery-efficient of the three. Plus, because the Thunder 1 has a Max Range of 70 miles, I didn't have to worry about running out of power every time I rode.

The torque sensing took a little getting used to as it figured out how hard I was pedaling and adjusted accordingly. It felt a little sticky at first, but once I got used to its responsiveness, I appreciated how it could help me decide which level was best. My rides were comfortable and smooth, and because the bike is so light, I could even turn off the pedal assist and ride au naturel for exercise or to pace myself with a friend. This is not so easy with larger, heavier e-bikes.

Lastly, I got the medium size Thunder 1, which accommodates heights from 5-foot-6 to 6 feet, but taller folks can opt for the large, which goes from 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-5.

To reiterate, I’m not the handiest. So I’m always looking for the easiest route to adjusting most everything. Unfortunately, the Velotric Thunder 1 does not come with a quick-release seat, and when I originally put it together, I made it way too low. This meant that I could not just stop pedaling and raise it up, because I needed an Allen wrench (which was included in the box but not in my pocket at the time).

It's certainly not a deal breaker, but if you’re sharing the bike with another family or household member, it can get annoying to have that tool in hand every time you switch riders.

As mentioned above, the Thunder 1 comes with a KOM universal phone adapter and a mount that can be installed on the handlebars so you can follow along with the app. But here's the thing: You’ll have to stick the adapter onto your phone with the included 3M sticker to use it. So, not only do you have to carry around an extra plastic piece on the back of your phone, but you also can't use any wireless chargers.

I was not interested in bulking up my phone, so I found an old case and stuck it on there instead. However, now the problem was that I had to take my iPhone out of its everyday case and stick it in this other one every time I wanted to use the bike. And you know what ended up happening? I stopped using the mount altogether. That is, until I ordered this nifty Lamacall Bike Phone Holder ($19) from Amazon, which clamped right onto my handlebars (just the way I like it) and fit my giant iPhone 14 Pro Max with ease. No messing about, no fiddling.

When I asked Velotric about this via email, the representative replied, "They are quite confident that the phone adapter is reliable and safe given that it's one of the most widely used adapters for bike computers." But, she also mentioned that because the Thunder 1 is the company's first app-integrated bike, they are open to feedback.

Electric bikes are all the rage. And though they are fun to use and come in all shapes, sizes and speeds, many of the more popular e-bikes are big and heavy, and they can go to top speeds of over 40 mph. The Velotric Thunder 1 is a more laid-back option; it weighs in at just 36 pounds and has a top speed of 20 mph, plus it has a sleek frame that looks and feels more like a traditional bike than an e-bike.

With no throttle, no visible electronics or batteries, a keyless power-up and a simple-to-use app that replaces techy-looking displays, it fuses the traditional with the modern in all the best ways. A perfect purchase for the urban rider and commuter, you can pick it up, carry it up and down stairs and even track it with built-in GPS.

Though I enjoyed its pedal-assist-only power, it may not appeal to everyone. But I reveled in the feeling of the Thunder 1's torque sensors, which gave me an extra push when I needed it and conserved energy when I was easily spinning. And when the folks in the park came over to compliment me on my sweet ride, it was worth feeling like the coolest mom on the block.