When you first look at a Rungu, you sort of scratch your head and think “What is that?”
From the side, it looks like a fairly standard fat tire electric bicycle. But from any other angle, you can’t miss the odd double front wheels. And so when the Rungu team invited me out to San Clemente, California for an adventure ride, I looked forward to it with a combination of excitement and a healthy amount of skepticism.
Riding the Rungu
While the bike looks pretty far out there, I can confirm that the performance boost of that third wheel is really quite impressive. This is no gimmick, the Rungu actually rides better on the toughest terrain than a standard fat tire e-bike.
And that’s because it isn’t built with just biking in mind – it’s built to handle so much more. As Rungu President Peter Godlewski explained to me, “The question from the beginning was always how do we build an electric all-terrain vehicle (ATV) using bicycle parts? Because we want it to be as capable as an ATV, but light and approachable like a bicycle.”
And spoiler alert: I think they’ve achieved it.
But before I get ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning. Because before I could experience what the Rungu could really handle, I had to learn to ride it. That process went both quickly and slowly, where I quickly got the basic hang of it, but spent most of the day really becoming one with the machine.
Within two minutes of hopping on the saddle, I was successfully doing donuts and figure 8’s. I found that the Ackerman steering is well designed and fairly intuitive, though I learned that leaning and counter steering like on a motorcycle makes it even easier to turn.
The front wheels are spaced fairly close together, unlike a tadpole tricycle which has two front wheels spaced much farther apart. The small gap between the two front wheels means they function more like one wheel in turns and corners. You simply lean over on the inside wheel as you round a turn, treating it just like a bicycle. But because there is some gap between the wheels, you also get increased stability, especially on uneven terrain.
Check out that high powered off-road ATV-style light
After a few minutes of riding around to get my bearings on the bike, we hit the trails to the beach and popped out on beautiful, soft sand. Beautiful to look at, but torturous to bikes that try to ride through it. Even with a standard fat tire bike, you’d be well advised to stick to the wet, hard-packed sand near the high tide mark. Just like running up in the soft sand is much harder, so is biking. Unless you have two wheels up front, that is.
Rungu ride video
I can spend all day telling you about this crazy e-bike, or I could just show you. Check out the video below to get a better sense of it, then keep reading for all of the nitty-gritty details!
With the wider front end and extra contact patch of the Rungu, I was able to soar over the top of deep, soft sand much more easily than I ever have on a mountain bike or even a fat tire bike. The nearly 1.5 kW of power from that Bafang BBSHD mid-drive and the low gearing on the Rungu certainly helped too. That’s 3-5x the power of most retail electric bicycles, for reference.
As we transitioned terrain to piles of softball-sized stones, I got another taste of something no other fat tire bike could do. I was flying fast over those stones in a way I never would have attempted on any other bike. Sure, I was bucking around a bit – even the dual front suspension forks can’t totally smooth out random 6-inch drops every other foot. But with two wheels up front, one of them always finds the highest ground and keeps you from dropping down into holes and ruts.
This was perhaps one of the coolest parts of riding the Rungu: being able to float over ruts. On twisty mountain trails, especially in areas of high offroad vehicle activity and after recent rains (of which our trails experienced both), you’ll generally find long and twisting ruts throughout the trail. As a less-than-highly-skilled off-road rider, my biggest fear is often the prospect of dropping a tire into those ruts and then being thrown off when I can’t steer out of it fast enough.
But I was amazed that with the Rungu, the dual front wheel spacing is sufficient that even when one front wheel looks like it’s about to get swallowed up by a particularly nasty rut or hole, the wheel ends up just floating in the air right over it. As long as the other wheel has solid ground underneath, you can keep the second wheel in the air over a rut. And the same thing applies for crossing big holes at an angle. Instead of dropping into a hole like a normal bicycle tire would, the Rungu’s wheel spacing means you can take holes at an angle and practically keep one wheel on the ground at all times, preventing yourself from dropping down into them.
That makes it so much easier to climb up or over obstacles. In fact, as Peter explained to me, sometimes the best strategy is to just adopt the “I’m too tired to go around” approach to obstacles. Instead of trying to choose the best line around it, just let the massive dual 4.8-inch tires and wheel spacing handle it. Once I adopted that strategy, I was tackling obstacles that I never would have thought I could overcome before.
And that’s really the point of the Rungu. Yes, it’s technically an electric bicycle. But it gives you the capability to do so much more than a standard electric bicycle can do off-road. I’d argue that it crosses into the realm of an ATV at that point. Except that at between 80 to 100-ish lbs (36 to 45-ish kg), it’s a heck of a lot lighter than an ATV. The few times I had to dismount, I could pick the Rungu up to reorient it. I can’t do that with a quad.
Check out this video with riders better than me doing things that I can’t do… yet!
Another cool aspect was that with two front wheels and thus twice the braking power, you can take descents that you wouldn’t dream of on a normal e-bike. At one such location, Peter took me to a fire break/access road to test out an extreme descent. At first, I honestly thought he brought me to a cliff. It wasn’t until we inched our two Rungu’s towards the edge that I could see there actually was an angle to it that was something shy of 90 degrees. I’m not sure how I would have walked down it if I had to – I probably would have just sat down on my butt and slid down the loose dirt to the bottom. But as Peter disappeared down the hill/cliff, I took a deep breath and did the same.
And amazingly it worked. Really well, actually. I could inch down at a much slower speed than on a standard fat tire bicycle because I didn’t have to worry about stability as much. Of course, when I looked up I could see that Peter was taking a different approach – just bombing the hill. So I decided that since I had already seen that I could inch down this sucker safely, I let out the brakes and left gravity to the rest as I rocketed towards the bottom.
And I’m glad I did because of course there was a huge uphill on the other side. And that momentum was a welcome boost at the bottom. But as we climbed back up hill after hill, we finally ran into the only obstacle of the day that the Rungu couldn’t take me up – a recently graded hill with soil so loose my shoes were sinking into it like fresh snow. The hill was so steep that it was hard to even walk up. “Yea, we’d basically need paddle wheels to get up this one,” Peter remarked as we dismounted and slogged up the remainder of the steepest part of the hill, struggling to walk next to our bikes. Though when I say the Rungu couldn’t take me up the hill, that’s only partly true. We couldn’t ride up, but we could get towed up. Standing next to the Rungu, and without the extra body weight pushing the rear tire down into the soft soil, we were able to give it some throttle and let it pull us up the incline. So in the end, the Rungu took me up even the steepest of the insane peaks – it just did it slightly differently.
It was about this time that I was starting to worry about my range. I definitely was relying on the throttle almost the entire time, with some spurts of pedal assist action to mix it up. With dual 52 V and 15 Ah removable Li-ion batteries, the Rungu has 1.5 kWh of capacity. I used almost all of that on our 45 mile (72 km) ride, though we were running through deep sand and climbing those loose dirt hills that eat up battery capacity for breakfast. Somehow though I still managed to make it back with a few pixels of capacity left on my battery meter. The e-bike gods had not forsaken me, today.
Muddied, bruised, and bloodied from taking everything from driftwood to dried reeds directly to the shins over the last 6 hours, we pulled back into home – my first Rungu ride completed.
And you know what? I get it. I get why someone would choose a Rungu. It’s definitely a niche vehicle, but there are a lot of niches that it fits.
Who is it for?
The ride was awesome and the bike was super fun, but I can see the utilitarian use of a Rungu beyond just recreation. With a 300 lb. towing capacity, hunters could replace their ATVs to easily pull a trailer full of deer or elk parts. Rangers in parks could use them to surreptitiously sneak up on dirt bikers trying to use forbidden trails in places most e-bikes couldn’t reach. Cyclists who want to get in their off-road exercise on the most extreme terrain including soft sand and fresh powder snow can definitely do it on a Rungu.
The whole machine is just really well built and specifically intended to tackle these types of terrains. With a number of patents and patents pending for innovative designs for everything from the unique steering to special tire liners for the three-wheeled fat-tire bike, the Rungu is at home in the absolute worst conditions and toughest trails.
The elephant in the room is the price. These aren’t cheap vehicles. The model I rode, the Juggernaut MDV Overland, is pretty pricey at about $5,500. But with the dual high capacity battery and other upgrades, that is to be expected. They have many electric models on their site, with some starting as low as $2,999. That will still get you the same awesome off-road Rungu experience, but without the extremely high battery capacity of the model I rode. They even offer a non-electric version for as low as $2,299.
So we’re certainly not talking about cheap bikes here. But we’re also talking about a niche vehicle. For someone who wants ATV capability but doesn’t want to deal with gas, insurance, liability, maintenance, storage, or any of the other nightmares that come with ATV ownership, you can save a decent chunk of change by going with a Rungu.
And while the knee-jerk reaction may be “how could one of these cost that much?”, you have to remember that we’re talking about a custom designed, hand-built product that is largely made right here in the USA.
I visited their factory in Santa Ana, California where they build the bikes. They receive the frames from their factory in China, where they spent a significant amount of time figuring out how to build bike frames in three dimensions instead of the standard two, and then they build everything up on-site in California.
They do all the testing of components there at the Santa Ana factory, and everything they build is simply top notch. You can see it in the dedication of their build team and you can feel it in the quality of the bike. When you’re bombing loose dirt hills at breakneck speed, you can tell if the thing you’re riding is well made or about to fall apart. And the Rungu passes the “I don’t feel like I’m going to die on this thing” test.
Specialty items like these will always be more expensive, but I’m impressed with the quality that comes along with the price tag here. And if you’re going to tearing up hillsides, rock shelves, or soft sand beaches day in and day out, then this is the kind of quality you’ll want to withstand the test of time.
What do you think of Rungu? Let us know in the comments below!
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