Ridden: Vanpowers' Manidae Got Me off the Couch and on the Trails

Vanpowers Manidae Review 15 photos
Photo: Benny Kirk/autoevolution
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Before last month, I hadn't ridden a bicycle in 15 years. I may have secretly envied the people on staff here who get to test ride all the fancy bikes that manufacturers sent them for review, but I figured my place in the pecking order meant that wasn't in the cards for me. That was until Vanpowers decided very sweetly to send me their Manidae fat tire e-bike. Safe to say, it got my chubby rear end out of the house and back behind the handlebars in a hurry.
The day my Vanpowers Manidae arrived for testing, I was amazed at just how big and heavy the box it was shipped in was. In truth, I'd only had time to casually skim the spec sheet on the Manidae e-bike before it arrived. But opening the box revealed a sturdy aluminum-alloy bike frame complete with the chunkiest 26x4.0 front and rear tires I'd ever seen on a bicycle. If there was any doubt about the Manidae's capabilities before I took it out of the box, it was all gone by this point.

Indeed, removing the rest of the accessories out of the Manidae's box revealed more and more interesting tech and gadgets than I would've ever expected to find on something you don't need a license to ride. In total, it took a group of three non-all-that-graceful 20-somethings a little over an hour to complete building the partially-assembled Manidae. That's in spite of the front tire quick-release skewer bedeviling us for the better part of 15 minutes.

But once the Manidae was put together and its 48V/650Wh lithium-ion battery installed, I could finally hop on the Manidae and take it for a ride. Before this day, I figured I'd never ride a bicycle ever again. Thoughts of a wipeout so bad that only my ATV helmet saves me from becoming another statistic for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania filled my mind as I took the Manidae's lithium-ion battery off its charger after 12 hours exactly.

The fear radiating from my mind was almost palpable, even through my blacked-out helmet goggles, as I flicked up the Manidae's kickstand, adjusted the power setting to the second-to-highest level four, and attempted my first push-off since I was in middle school. But what I wasn't quite expecting was the Manidae's 750-watt electric motor to fire to life with an audible click and a delightful whirring noise. This was immediately followed by what felt like an almighty force that propelled me at what seemed faster than what my ham hocks of legs could do themselves.

Vanpowers Manidae Review
Photo: Benny Kirk/autoevolution
If you've been riding e-bikes for the last decade like my pal and colleague Cristian Curmei has, this feeling is almost routine for you. But for me, the Manidae's on-board 85 N.m (62.7 lb-ft) of torque felt like a divine hand was sending me down a rural gravel road. With five degrees of electric power assist ranging from basically completely pedal-powered level one to the fully boosted level five, there were plenty of ways to fine-tune the riding experience. For an even greater degree of control over the ride, a Shimano eight-speed gearbox mounted in the rear wheel felt fairly seamless to row through with my left and right thumb as I made my way up and down the same gravel road to familiarize myself with the road mannerisms of the Manidae.

Weaving to the side of the road along which a grassy knoll with some weeds sat wasn't a bother either. Truthfully, none of the terrains I threw at the Vanpowers Manidae seemed to even make it break a sweat. But then, as I crested a hill further up the gravel road, I saw something that made my heart sink; it was a pothole roughly a foot or so deep. With my King Meter LCD speedometer display reading 15 mph (24.1 kph), I figured it was time for that wipeout mentioned above to happen. Except, that didn't happen.

Instead, the Manidae's chunky all-terrain tires and RST suspension fork with 95 millimeters (3.75 inches) of travel simply absorbed the force of impacting the pothole like the shock absorber on a car. I.e., I barely felt the tires hitting the hole in the first place. Now invigorated by how effortlessly the Manidae shrugged off a pothole, I decided to get a little bolder. Turning around and stopping over the same crest of the hill, I flicked the Manidae's electric motor to power setting five, the speed setting.

I was told that the Manidae could easily crack 25 or even 30 mph with the right downhill conditions. If I'm being honest, nobody who hasn't ridden a bike in almost 20 years has any business going that fast, in all likelihood. But against my better judgment, I pushed off down the hill, peddled as fast as my legs could possibly muster, and sped down the hill as if the Manidae was a street-legal motorcycle. In fact, if the Manidae were any more powerful, it probably would be just a motorbike. In any case, it was quite tricky keeping the bike stable while also trying to monitor how fast I was going.

Vanpowers Manidae Review
Photo: Benny Kirk/autoevolution
At the last chance I had to check my speedometer before the end of the hill, I was going a scarcely believable 28 mph (46 kph) before I chickened out and panic-squeezed the rear brake like my life depended on it. Somehow, some way, I'd managed to make it down the hill without wiping out, breaking the bike, or otherwise embarrassing myself. In the process, a man who often finds himself gritting his teeth having to share public roads with cyclists was suddenly seeing things from the exact opposite perspective.

Think about it for a second, a completely silent but supremely powerful electric bike that can travel over pretty much any terrain with around 70 miles (112.6 kph) of EV range and the potential to reach small-motorcycle levels of speed. If that doesn't sound like your idea of an awesome vehicle, we can only assume you're somewhat biased in favor of four-wheeled transportation. But even if you are terminally behind the wheel instead of behind handlebars, we really must urge you to reconsider. To preface, I totally understand being firmly on team automobile.

Until this year, I figured I'd never ride a bicycle, electric or otherwise, ever again. I got into the journalism-biz to write about supercars and fighter jets, mostly. I never thought in a million years there'd be room in the mix for something that has no engine in its most primal form. But in the same way that the electric Polaris Ranger XP Kinetic opened my life to UTV side-by-sides, slapping a beefy electric motor on the back of a bicycle built like a dirt bike made getting back on two wheels a heck of a lot more tempting.

But then again, I'm not so out of touch that I don't realize most people can't drop $2,399 before taxes and fees for a Manidae on a whim. It's still a high-quality luxury/leisure item at the end of the day. Of course, the Vanpowers Manidae's build quality is worth every single penny of that asking price. But that doesn't change any potential qualms about being out of reach financially for some people. That said, seasonal sales on the Manidae do take place on Vanpowers' website from time to time, where you can save up to $200 on your order and up to $300 on other Vanpowers models.

Vanpowers Manidae Review
Photo: Benny Kirk/autoevolution
So if you save up a little bit of cash and take the city bus for just another few months, working-class city-folk who don't have the space for a car can own an e-bike far that's just as good at getting you to work and back as your mom's hand-me-down Kia Optima is. It can also be a wicked awesome off-road toy on your off days.
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Editor's note: This review was not sponsored or endorsed by Vanpowers or any third party.


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