Superstrata eBike Review: Is It Worth The Wait?

  • Good amount of battery capacity
  • Very unique looking
  • Decent top speed
  • Really uncomfortable
  • No throttle
  • Awkward gear selector placement

Superstrata launched its eBike with the aim of offering a cutting-edge, carbon-fiber vehicle tailored to its user's exact measurements and available at an entry-level price point. Costs are kept low through the bike's manufacturing process — they're basically 3D printed in room-sized machines. The concept seems to have gained traction as there is a wait list due to Superstrata receiving more orders than they initially anticipated. 

To balance that out you will receive a notification when your bike is being made and can actually watch it being printed and assembled. Superstrata also make a conventional bicycle called the "Classic," which is essentially the eBike without its battery or motor, on the market for $2,800. This review centers on the "Electric" version, which retails from $4,000, though it is easily possible to add a couple of hundred to that figure with some of the optional extras. The bike Superstrata sent me to review came in a striking orange color, but plenty of other colors and patterns are available. 

I'm not a particularly enthusiastic cyclist, and while reviewing things is my job no amount of money will get me into a pair of Lycra shorts. So I've approached this review from a different angle. If you're concerned about the planet, or just sick of paying $4 a gallon for gas, and you want to leave the car in the garage for a few days a week, is the Superstrata for you? I rode it in my regular clothes, took notes on how comfortable it was, and decided if it was a better option than the bus.

What was missing from this model

The bike itself is heavily customizable, and a few of the things missing from the version I received would have been useful. The version I was sent came without a light, which made night journeys a no-go. There is a section of the manual which references the light, but it doesn't seem to be an option while designing a bike on the website. The Superstrata didn't have a kickstand either, which was just an inconvenience, as was the lack of a storage rack though you can remedy that with a backpack. It did come with a small toolkit, which contained a very useful multi-tool capable of adjusting every part of the bike, and a borderline useless mini-pump. The Superstrata I received came with mechanical disk brakes, but they are more than enough to meet the bike's needs. Yes, a good number of eBikes come with a hydraulic system, and those systems have their benefits. But I had no issues stopping the bike with the brakes provided.

Arguably, the main difference between the bike I received and one that you could order is the lack of "tailoring." Based on what the company told me, I received a bike designed for someone around two inches shorter than me. The handlebars are the "sport" model and aren't the most comfortable or intuitive things in the world. There's also an option to choose the level of ride "aggressiveness," and I would have preferred something more laid back.

Assembly was easy

Looking at the manual, some people may have a couple more steps when assembling their Superstrata — but it's all pretty straightforward. The bike itself comes with a small toolkit which is all you need for assembly and basic maintenance. Mine arrived in a very large box, which is more awkward than heavy. The front wheel, seat, and pedals were removed for shipping and the tires were deflated.

The pedals are clearly marked left and right. All you need to do is get the threads aligned, get them finger-tight, then finish tightening them with the wrench that comes in your bicycle's toolkit. Installing the wheel is also simple. Just take out the front axle and remove the brake caliper. Then slot the wheel in, feed the axle through, and screw the axle back into the frame. Finally, fit and adjust the brake caliper, and you're good to go. 

The seat just drops in then you only need to tighten a single screw to secure it. It can be adjusted to some degree, both in terms of height and angle. The tires also came deflated, and the included pump is so small you'll be there all day. The wheels on the bike I was sent have Presta valves, which are pretty standard on high-end bikes and have some clear advantages when it comes to things like reliability and pressure tolerance. 

They are also a bit of a pain to work with compared to the Schrader valves you get on a regular bike's tires. So if you're a total casual like I am, opt for Schrader valves and buy a decent bicycle pump. If not, inflating the tires will probably be the most difficult, frustrating part of the assembly.

You won't go fast enough to hurt yourself

If you're really pushing it on the pedals, with maximum assist, in top gear, on a flat road, you can expect to get up to around 20 mph with an average level of fitness. Cycling enthusiasts may be able to push that a bit further — but I'm not Chris Hoy so I'll never know. Downhill, I managed to hit 30 before having to tap the brakes as, for whatever reason, every hill I went down had a sharp turn at the bottom. From my youth, I remember hitting decent speeds downhill on a conventional bicycle — so that's probably more to do with the combined weight of the bike and myself than it is the electric motor.

In terms of average speed, pedaling at a constant pace in high gear with full assist enabled will see you average around 16 mph. An easy pace in a lower gear will allow you to plod along at around 10 mph, which feels low enough to affect your stability a little bit. So you're left with an odd choice between pedaling constantly and feeling some mild wear on your legs, or taking it easy and actually having to pay attention. Maybe it would be different if I was in better shape or had more time to find a balance that worked for me, but as things stand there isn't really a comfort option on the Superstrata.

Light for an eBike, but still hefty

As the frame is made from carbon fiber, you'd be forgiven for thinking the Superstrata is incredibly light. And it is, for an eBike. Compared to a conventional bicycle, though, it's incredibly hefty. You may be able to chip a few pounds off the frame by using a cutting-edge material, but the substantial battery isn't going anywhere. Comparing it to a standard bike isn't really fair, but part of me does wonder if the weight-shedding is a bit of a waste of money. Yes, a steel-framed bike is a bit less maneuverable, may have a lower top speed, and will have less battery life — but if the price quadruples for something that's a bit heavy anyway, then I'd probably opt to save the cash.

The battery itself is housed entirely within the frame of the bike, which is great from an aesthetic standpoint. The bike itself also seems well-balanced and I experienced no weight distribution-related handling issues during my time with it.

There was something wrong with the bike itself

Occasionally, I'd be riding along and suddenly notice everything immediately becoming a bit difficult. Looking at the display, this was due to "error 25." As for what this error is, the manual included with the Superstrata (here's a PDF for your convenience) doesn't give much of a hint. A more extensive manual on the company's website includes error code definitions, and identifies 25 as a "Torque Signal Error." The advice they give is to "check all connectors are correctly connected." and to contact the manufacturer if the problem persists.

This problem didn't occur during the short suburban test runs I had but persisted throughout the longer journey I took to really test the bike out. It seemed to crop up when I was pedaling hard at close to the bike's maximum speed, and the remedy seemed to involve stopping, turning off the bike, and turning it back on. It isn't the biggest inconvenience in the world, but it can be quite disruptive if you've hit a rhythm and are starting to enjoy yourself. There's no guarantee this error will happen, and I'm sure Superstrata's customer service department would go all out to help you fix it. But I can only report what I experienced, it happened multiple times on my one big testing day, and it was pretty frustrating.

You'll have a good time on smooth roads...

Where the Superstrata really shines is on a flat bit of tarmac. I took it down a stretch of the Erie Canalway Trail in New York, which has some nice scenery and a well-maintained path, and I had a pretty good time. Balance and handling are both fine, and the electric motor can really do its thing when there's a good clear stretch ahead and you already have a fair bit of momentum. You can also focus on your pedaling and really feel how much the bike helps you accelerate and maintain a decent speed.

You'll also be happy you have an electric assist when you're taking off from a stop light or sign. Getting a standard bicycle going takes a small amount of time and focus. However, as soon as your pedals start going, the Superstrata's motor will kick in, and you'll immediately feel a strong pull helping you on your way. I'd argue that the eBike's ability to get you going from a standing start without any vigorous pedaling is its best feature. Sure, hitting a decent speed without much effort is nice; it makes you feel like you're Lance Armstrong, only with a bit less help. But in terms of actual assistance and how often you're going to need the help in an urban environment, that boost getting off the line is something else.

But you're probably in for a rough ride overall

The worst thing about this bike is the total lack of any kind of suspension or shock absorption. Every pothole, bump, and bit of awkward terrain you hit will go right through you. The fact it came with what might actually be the worst bicycle seat I've ever encountered left this feeling more like a medieval torture device than any kind of personal transportation. The thin road tires, which do help performance, unfortunately, don't do anything to make the ride more comfortable.

While you may think the suspension is something more suited to off-road bikes designed to handle harsh terrain, I'd argue it's equally important on road bikes these days. I can only speak for the area I live in, but a lot of the roads here are riddled with potholes. The worst potholes also seem to appear on the edge of the road, which is the safest place to actually ride a bicycle. So while the well-paved bicycle path was pretty pleasant, the urban and suburban sections were absolute hell. You'll spend as much time navigating the road surface as you will looking out for cars. Some of the holes are unavoidable, so you'll have to brace yourself. Occasionally though, you'll get caught by surprise and be unfortunate enough to experience the very rigid bike frame launching that very unpleasant seat into your bottom and, if you're a gentleman like me, your love spuds. One incident like this on a fairly busy road was enough to elicit a very audible, involuntary "oh ****" from me, so you probably shouldn't ride the Superstrata past a school or playground.

The configuration I received is uncomfortable and awkward

It might be due to the fact I received a bike designed for someone a couple of inches shorter than me, but the bike I received was pretty uncomfortable and awkward to ride. When I was younger, I definitely remember being able to sit up straight and still pedal effectively. With the particular Superstrata I was sent, it was either hunch over like you're competing in the Tour De France or nothing. The seat is adjustable, but I was basically left with a choice between setting it at a comfortable height for pedaling and how hunched over I actually wanted to be while riding the thing. This may not be an issue if you're actually ordering one, as it will be tailored to your measurements.

With the handlebars, the brake and gear placement weren't ideal. You can't get anywhere near comfortable and work the gears, and getting a good grip on the brakes also requires a bit of adjustment. I remember feeling like an emergency stop was out of the question, as I always had to adjust if I wanted to pull both brakes comfortably. The fact I didn't really have to bother shifting gears is another reason the flat, well-paved sections were the only really pleasant parts of my time with the Superstrata.

The battery will outlast your backside

A one hour, 12-and-a-half-mile journey on full assist used exactly half of a full charge on the Superstrata's battery. Around two-thirds of that journey involved cruising along a fairly flat bike path, though there were a couple of steep hills involved. The rest was in a suburban environment and around an industrial estate, which was quite flat but did involve a good amount of stopping and starting. Due perhaps to its weight, or maybe even the fact you're spinning a motor that will add a small amount of resistance, pedaling without any electric assist is far more of a chore than it would be on a regular bike. This is why it's probably a good thing that there's more battery capacity than you're likely to need.

If you rationed it or used less of an assist, the capacity would probably stretch further. But that likely doesn't matter, as 12.5 miles seems to be my limit. It wasn't fatigue or muscle aches that made me throw in the towel at that point, but the absolute battering my back end had taken from that seat and the lack of suspension. Obviously, I can't provide photographic proof because of the area involved, but there was a good amount of bruising and swelling. Sitting down isn't great four days on. Some configurations may be more comfortable, you can of course buy padded shorts, but the bike I was sent combined with a pair of jeans was enough to actually cause me physical injury. I got a lift back with the bike, had the lift not been available I would have probably chained it up there and taken an Uber home, as I was genuinely incapable of suffering through another 12 miles at that point.

Why doesn't it have a throttle?

Call me a fat, lazy mess if you want, but a throttle would have made the eBike experience a lot better for me. If I could pedal until I was bored or tired and then just clip along at 15 mph with the push of a button, I'd have probably had fewer complaints. I could have even put more focus on dodging potholes and improved ride comfort as a result. A combination of a throttle and a motor beefy enough to get the Superstrata up to 20 would have taken it to another level entirely and actually made me consider it a viable personal transport option.

There's a particular kind of fatigue you get with the pedal assist. It isn't enough to make you out of breath, I didn't even break a sweat despite it being a pretty warm day, and your muscles won't hurt as you're pedaling. But when you get off the bike, you're going to notice a strange amount of numbness. As things stand, you're probably fine over a mile or two, but if you're in average shape, you're going to feel an ache or two alongside all of the bruising if you choose to take anything resembling a substantial journey.

Probably alright for bike enjoyers, not great for personal transport

So, is the Superstrata a viable personal transport option for environmentally conscious people and those trying to save on gas? No, no it isn't. If you like eBikes, configure it to your exact specifications, and own a pair of padded Lycra shorts then it may well be a great option for you. If you're slightly out of shape, wear normal people clothes, and need a new way to get around town, you should really just get an electric scooter or something.

Between the need for constant pedaling, the lack of comfort, and the lack of things like a kickstand, it's just far too inconvenient to be practical. The price tag, which is reasonable for an eBike, is again a limiting factor if you want to take this around with you. A throttle, a fluffy seat, and a couple of shock absorbers might have been enough to tip the balance and make me give this one the thumbs up. Bikes have the potential to be more comfortable than electric scooters, and the "eBike" classification could give it an edge over something like an electric moped which requires a license and insurance in most jurisdictions. But with its current configuration, people who aren't already bicycle enthusiasts should probably swerve the Superstrata.