Photography by Field Mag, unless otherwise noted
Over the past dozen years spent living in New York, I learned that for me, the best way to survive and thrive in the city is to escape it every opportunity I get. What defines escape varies by day and season. An afternoon in the park can provide a mental reprieve. A day at the beach makes for a more physical mini vacation. Weekends Upstate (or farther) can provide a proper reset. Regardless of duration or destination, mechanisms for escape are essential. Late this past summer, without a vehicle for the first time in nearly a decade, I had the opportunity to test ride a new freedom machine—a Cake Ösa electric motorcycle. Could this funky little rig provide the escape so many of us city dwellers seek?
Since the Swedish electric motorcycle maker launched in 2016 with the Cake Kalk, a futuristic off-road e-bike seemingly straight out of a William Gibson novel, I’ve been both attracted to and slightly skeptical of Cake. With Stefan Ytterborn at the helm (Ytterborn also previously founded the eyewear and helmet brand POC, which stands for Piece of Cake), the performance and aesthetics are undeniable. But the five-digit price tags across the catalog are prohibitive for many, this writer very much included.
Momentarily avoiding the question of affordability, I was eager to put the 125cc equivalent Ösa+ motorbike through the paces inherent in daily life as a New Yorker. This meant daily rides throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan, plus a couple of rides out to Rockaway Beach in Queens, pushing the Ösa's ~45-mile battery range to the absolute limit. (Note: all Ösa+ bikes now ship with an upgraded battery capable of 111 kilometers/69 miles—I was on an older model, which, spoiler, almost stranded me on the Brooklyn Bridge at rush hour.)
Design-wise, the Ösa+ is a pleasure to both behold and use. Unlike a moped, the street legal Ösa+ does not have pedals and does require a motorcycle license to operate. Its stout, stable design and upright riding position accommodate a wide range of riders—mountain bike style handlebars helped keep my 6’2” build comfortable even without the option of an adjustable seat height.
Billed as a workbench on wheels with a proprietary “unibar” frame, the unique electric motorbike is compatible with a wide range of add-ons and can even charge your phone or laptop, and power tools with multiple integrated power outlets. I opted for the Ösa+ Explore Package to gain a second seat, rear rack, and surfboard rack (sadly, I didn’t have the opportunity to use the latter of the three).
The electric motor provides plenty of pep, the suspension stomached cobblestones and potholes, and the modular accessory clamp system made on-the-fly adjustments of racks and seats extremely easy and fast. That said, the singular screen, which displays speed, trip distance, braking, and riding modes—which it also controls—was nearly impossible to see in the sun, especially with polarized sunglasses.
Whether this little piece of Cake could get me around town wasn’t really up for debate. Of course, it could. And in rather eye-catching fashion—like it or not, Cake bikes seem to invite questions, unsolicited opinions, and general curiosity from strangers on every ride.
But would a Cake electric bike be practical for a real New Yorker to own? Is it a viable mechanism for escape? The answer is a little muddy.
Be it off-season clothing, a toaster, or a car, cost and storage are the two most relevant limitations to owning basically anything in New York. First and foremost, at $11,470, the Ösa+ is far too expensive for most folks to entertain (that’s more than 3x what I recently sold my '96 Jeep Cherokee for, after all). Living in the East Village, street parking is too risky. Shelling out for a parking garage isn’t a sensible option either. Luckily, my 1890s tenement building features a rather charmless jail cell of a rear courtyard accessed exclusively through the ground floor lobby—perfect. A spare piece of plywood provided access to this safe haven, though muscling the 215-pound Ösa+ up the three exterior stoop stairs and through a range of dissimilar door frames was no treat.
Carrying the 39-pound battery up five flights of stairs to charge at night wasn’t fun either. But it wasn’t impossible, nor a deal breaker (though the new XL battery, at 57 lbs, might be). With a standard outlet and the provided charging cord, the Cake battery charges to 80% from zero in just two hours, and 100% in three.
Back to the actual riding experience, which was a joy, especially in ride mode 3. This mode prioritizes power and pep over battery efficiency, with a top speed of roughly 56mph. Ride mode 1 tops out at 28mph and is specially tuned for efficient city riding, while ride mode 2 sacrifices acceleration to conserve energy with a top speed of 44mph. Braking modes also come into play—mode 1 allows for free wheel coasting, while mode 2 activates motor braking for modest battery regeneration.
When I wasn’t planning to push the range, I kept the rig in ride mode 3 and ripped around like I owned the place. Which brings me to my main problem with Cake bikes—they’re so lightweight, maneuverable, and zippy, it’s all too easy to want to treat them like a bicycle and coast through stop signs, weave through traffic, and generally just disregard the rules of the road that apply only to cars. Of course, this is illegal and safety should always be our top priority. But… when you’re looking at 30 minutes of breathing in truck exhaust in stop-and-go bridge traffic versus slipping past it all in the bike lane in 30 seconds, it’s tough to always be a Good Boy. (Don’t worry Cake legal team, I didn't do that even once, or twice.)
Speaking of bridges, on two occasions I rode out to Rockaway Beach in Queens to test the Ösa’s battery range. My first beach-bound test ride, with a brave and trusting girlfriend in seat two—and a big arse tote bag full of beach chairs, blankets, and snacks on the rear rack—was a complete success. It’s almost exactly 40 miles from the East Village to Jacob Riis Beach and back and we made the round trip with zero hiccups.
For round two, a solo endeavor brought me farther to Rockaway. With a pit stop at 69th street to check the surf and eat lunch at Tacoway Beach, I limped home to the city, completing the 45-mile round trip on whatever the electric equivalent of fumes is. With just a mile or to go the Ösa+ went into low battery mode while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, limiting output to under 10mph—this was sketchy, but I made it home safely, albeit slowly.
Enter gripe number two. While I did intend to push the range limits, better design could have helped me do so more safely. The display screen’s battery level indicator (a skeuomorphic D battery) does not show a numeric readout and does not drop like a regular fuel gauge. Instead, it reduces incrementally by something like 20% at a time, which creates a good bit of anxiety by making it very difficult to accurately gauge just how much juice you actually have left. One moment you appear to have a significant amount of battery remaining, and the next it's practically empty. Something to fix, if you ask me.
So, what’s the verdict in the end? The answer is a matter of means. If you can afford it, the new electric Ösa+ is an incredibly fun vehicle for commuters and daily errands. It’s comfortable with two people, can carry an impressive amount with various rack systems, and its high-performance acceleration means getting the jump on the rest of traffic is easy from stopped positions. It may be wise to stay off the freeway, but let ‘er rip on side and surface streets.
For the rest of us, start saving those pennies and keep an eye out for what’s coming next from the talented Cake team in Sweden. Today, Cake has announced their first stand-alone retail and service center in Los Angeles, California, with more to come (anyone else itching to make a Tesla-but-for-motorbikes comparison here?). And the new electric Makka, a playful Vespa competitor that doesn't require a motorcycle license, was also recently released with a slightly more approachable starting price tag of $4,470.
One thing's for sure, Cake is really revving up.