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Sep 24, 2023

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From day trips to road trips, the Lightning is an amazing vehicle for living the bike life.

The Takeaway: The Lightning is polished, quiet, fast, and one hell of a truck for cyclists. With a solid range and tons of comfort, it's perfect for road-tripping. Use the truck as the base camp for e-mountain bike rides or as the ultimate shuttle truck. Just don't use it for towing.

Price: $99,000 (as tested)Weight: 6,893 lb.

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Last summer, I was presented with a unique opportunity to borrow a Ford 150 Lightning for a week. I took it because pickups make great bike cars and I wanted to see what it was like to live the cycling life with an EV in the mountains of Colorado.

I am not a car reviewer, so this will be a look at the Lightning from the perspective of a cyclist. If you want to read a pro car reviewer's take, I suggest colleague Matt Crisara of Popular Mechanics. You can find his review here, and his writeup of using the Lightning as a mobile power station here.

Like a lot of cyclists, I own a vehicle. But while I do find vehicles interesting, cycling is my hobby and where most of my time, attention, and money goes. The primary purpose of the car I own is to support my cycling. I like a reliable car, a practical one, and one that can deal with the realities and rigors of driving on and off the pavement in the somewhat isolated Four Corners region of southwestern Colorado. And it must be a good bike car.

Not all cars make great bike cars. I think the defining qualities of a bike great bike car are: Space for all your bike crap (clothes, pump, repair kit, portable stand, etc.), roomy enough to take along friends (and all their bike crap), a practical way to carry your bikes (increasingly a hitch as rooflines get taller and bikes get heavier-most, especially e-bikes and mountain bikes), comfortable seats for long drives, enough power to get up hills, and big enough to lay down somewhat comfortably and sleep. Personally, I’ve found that pickup trucks and station wagons make the best bike cars.

Like a lot of you, I’ve been paying attention to the increasing number of electric vehicles for sale to the public. Not just because of curiosity, but because it seems almost inevitable that I’ll own an electric car at some point in the future.

While EVs make a lot of sense for shorter trips and more populated areas with good charging infrastructure, out in my area—where the distances are greater, the hills are bigger, and the populations are sparse and spread out—EVs still raise a lot of questions. There are plenty of places out here where you can stop and put a few hundred miles of range in an internal combustion vehicle's tank in a matter of minutes. Finding a place to quickly top off a battery before you drive a long way up a steep, unpaved dirt road to access a trailhead (with no cellular coverage) is another matter.

To find out how the Lightning fared as a bike car, I grabbed a riding buddy (my wife), filled the Lightning with a bunch of bikes (two mountain bikes and two e-mountain bikes), a long weekend's worth of gear, and take a road trip from my home in Durango, Colorado to Crested Butte for some playtime. Basically, a typical summer riding weekend in the life of a bike nerd. Here's what I learned.

Ford delivered me an F-150 Lightning Platinum that stickered, at the time, around $94,000. But Ford has since raised prices, so the same build retails for about $99,000 today.

Whoa! That's like six and a half Specialized S-Works Turbo Levos.

Aside from a decked-out Sportsmobile camper I once borrowed, this is (by a huge margin) the most expensive vehicle I have ever driven. The most expensive car I’ve ever owned cost about a quarter of this Lightning. While I certainly don't have the means to spend nearly a hundred grand on a vehicle, some of y’all do. And honestly, I say good on ya. Lightning models start at $56,000 (about eight grand over November 2022's average new vehicle price) though incentives—until they expire, anyway—do help bring the price down.

My Lightning tester had pretty much every option Ford offers. Most notably, my test vehicle had the larger 131-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery (the standard battery is 98 kWh). That drivetrain is good for 580 horsepower with a monstrous 775-pound foot of torque. It also carries a claimed range of around 300 miles (XLT and Lariat models have a 320-mile range) from a fully charged battery (more on that below)

Stomp the accelerator and this hefty (6,893 pounds) battery-on-wheels reaches 60mph in around four seconds. And while that is objectively quick, it feels otherworldly because the Lightning is so smooth and quiet, while the linear-pull of the electric motors presses you into the seat cushions. I’ve been in some reasonably powerful cars in my life, most notably an 800-horsepower Challenger Hellcat, but I have not experienced anything like the way the Lightning accelerates.

A pickup with a frunk is a dream bike vehicle. An open bed for easy bike hauling (and a place to lay down and sleep), plus a sizable, secure, and weatherproof area up front for your gear (especially your wet gear). There is plenty of room left over for a repair stand, tools, pump, and more. And if you’re driving out to a trailhead with a bunch of buddies, the frunk keeps the passenger area free of bags so there's more room for your friends. The frunk's lip—which sits lower than the Lightning's tailgate—is also a nice place to rest your butt while you’re pulling on shoes and socks.

Driving the Lightning is extremely pleasant. There are oodles of power, but the throttle is smooth and easy to modulate, and the brakes are impressive. The steering is light and slop-free, though lacks a bit of feedback. Handling for daily driving is fine considering the length, width, and weight of this beast. However, there's no hiding that weight and size on steep and curvy mountain passes, where it felt a bit lumbering. But this isn't a sports car and honestly, I was fine with taking it a bit slow up and down passes because it extended my range. The ride is quite good too considering it is a truck. Overall, it was hard for me to fault the Lightning's comfort or driving manners.

Access to many trailheads in Crested Butte, and many places out West, requires driving down dirt roads; sometimes for quite a while. The experience off-pavement was much the same as it was on: smooth, quiet, and comfortable. While this thing isn't set up as a rock-crawling, river-fording, overlander (and my tester had decidedly pavement-oriented tires on it), the ground clearance is decent enough. I had no challenges getting up and down some mildly rough, albeit dry, roads. Just be sure you have enough battery to get out of wherever you get into. You can't just pour some gas from a jerry can into the Lightning: If the battery dies, you need to be towed to a charger.

The front seats—highly adjustable, heated, ventilated, and massaging—were superbly comfortable and helped the five-hour pulls go by quickly. And if you want to talk about luxury for a cyclist, firing up the massaging seats after a long, hard ride ranks way up there. The vibration-free and hushed cabin was sumptuous and made long-distance drives almost pleasurable. I’ve never felt fresher at the end of a long drive as I did in the Lightning. It was easy to hold conversations, and the audio system sounded great playing both music and podcasts.

With the Lightning's onboard power, camping and riding with e-bikes reaches a new level. You can power lights, stoves, coolers, and all sorts of accessories from the Lightning's 11 outlets—all without a noisy generator—and live a deluxe car-camping experience.

If you’re riding e-bikes, you can use the Lightning to recharge and keep the fun going. The Lightning's 131 kWh battery is the equivalent of 172 Pivot Shuttle LT 756Wh batteries, so charging e-bikes makes only a small dent in the truck's battery. You can even charge an e-bike while driving, so even if you forget to charge your bike the night before a ride, you might still be ready to go by the time you arrive at the trailhead.

With its comfort, room, features, and range, the Lightning is a badass shuttle vehicle. If it's a muddy day, you can bring along a power washer to keep your bikes running smoothly. You can grill some brats and veggies at lunch, and you can keep your electric cooler running so your snacks are fresh and your beers are cold all day.

Oh, and one small but awesome thing about an EV: The heat and defroster are ready to go instantaneously. No shivering in the car waiting for the engine to warm up on a cold morning or if you get stuck in the rain on a ride.

Going into my time with the Lightning I was wreaked by range anxiety. "Refueling" an EV is a different experience and takes much longer than refueling an IC vehicle. But I found that with a bit of thought and planning, range—even out here in the Mountain West where the charging infrastructure is more limited—on road trips wasn't much of an issue. And the range for day trips is practically a non-issue. Though I’ll say again: I was not towing.

Although I was skeptical that an EV pickup would make a good bike car, the Lightning alleviated most of my concerns. Scrubbing them away so thoroughly that I’m an EV convert. I found an EV preferable to an IC car in almost every way and am looking forward to the day when I own one. So, definitively, the Ford F150 Lightning is a great truck for a cyclist.

Ford claims a 300-mile range for the Lightning with the extended-range battery equipped in my test truck. But just like your IC car's miles per gallon fluctuates based on how and where you drive, and many other conditions so do an EV's range.

Unfortunately, I accidentally nuked most of my accrued charging and range information from the FordPass App when I returned the truck, so I don't have many specifics other than a few photos and some notes. Here's what I do know.

I drove from my home in Durango, Colorado to Crested Butte via Lake City. The trip is about 260 miles with around 18,000 feet of elevation gain thanks to several major passes along the way (notably Wolf Creek and Slumgullion). I started with a full charge and when we stopped for lunch in Gunnison, the dash showed enough range to make the final 25-mile push to Crested Butte. Even so, I found a 7.2 kW charger near the restaurant and plugged the Lightning in while we ate to add a few more miles. For the return trip, I took the more conventional route through Montrose (190 miles, 15,500 feet of climbing) and easily made it home with the dash showing 78 miles of range remaining.

The trips were made with two adults packing plenty of clothing and gear for a long weekend of riding: A bike repair stand and tools, four mountain bikes—two acoustic, two electric, and the air conditioning running. I transported the bikes by hanging them over the tailgate. According to the Ford representative I spoke with, the Lightning's engineers felt that method of transport was more aerodynamic than any hitch rack arrangement.

Overall, the Lightning's displayed range information seemed spot-on. I used the onboard navigation system for long drives, and it seemed smart enough to consider not only the length of the trip, but also the significant passes I was to traverse when providing trip time, battery use, and remaining charge.

One of the niftier things about the nav system is how it calculates routes. If your trip is longer than the available range, it builds a route that diverts you to charging stations at the most opportune time, and factors charging time into your total trip time.

Unsurprisingly, charging and charging infrastructure turned out to be the biggest challenge during my time with the Lightning.

The Lightning, like many EVs, only charges the battery to 80 percent unless you dig into the settings and tell it you want a 100 percent charge. The primary reason for the 80-percent soft cap is it maximizes the battery's life; charging the cells to 100 percent deteriorates them more quickly. That means that though the maximum range is around 300 miles with a 100 percent charge, most days you’re operating with a decent 240-mile maximum range. The other lesson is the charge rate slows as the battery takes on more juice. And while the charge to 80 percent goes quickly, the last 20 percent is much slower. Charging speed is also temperature dependent and slows in very hot or very cold weather.

I did not have a DC fast charger at my house, but with one, the EV experience levels up exponentially because you can charge your car at home, and have it always topped up for your trips. Many vehicle brands offer a free home charger if you buy one of their cars, and some power companies—mine is one of them—offer a free charger and installation credit.

Ford includes its more powerful 80 amp Charge Station Pro with the purchase of a Lightning with an extended range battery (it's $1,310 otherwise, installation is not included). The cool thing about this unit is its ability to reverse and uses the Lightning's battery to power your home in the event of a blackout.

There's also a smaller Mobile Power Cord inside the truck which plugs into a 120 or 240-volt outlet. I didn't get a chance to try it in 240V mode, but I did check it out with your basic 120V home outlet. And, wow, it’d be comical if it wasn't so sad. With the truck's battery at 45 percent I plugged in, and the dash estimated it would be over five days before the Lightning was fully charged.

In these still early days of EV charging infrastructure, finding charging stations while you’re out and about can be an adventure. Charging stations, at least based on my experience, can be in some weird and out-of-the-way spots—typically public parking lots, near municipal buildings, and sometimes parks. And because charging takes a while, you need to busy yourself for a bit while the vehicle charges. That's if you’re not waiting for the charger to free up, or if the charger isn't out of service, which seems to happen with alarming regularity.

Before my trip home from Crested Butte, I needed to top off the Lightning's battery. Most chargers are networked with their status available by checking an app. When I searched, I found eight charging stations in town. Of the eight, three were down, four had Teslas charging on them, and one was open. The open charger was the only 62.5 kW fast charger in town (the others were 6.6 kW Level 2 chargers). However, in addition to the electricity cost, this charger had a 25 cents per minute parking surcharge. It took one hour and 55 minutes to put about 55 kWh into the truck which cost me $11.04 in electricity and $28.86 in parking. Many chargers start a per-minute fee once charging stops—to motivate drivers to move along so others can use the station—but this per-minute fee while charging is less common.

Though charging was a bit of a headache, overall, it was a lot more straightforward than I imagined. Even on a very busy weekend in a small touristy town with a limited number of chargers, I was still able to charge the Lightning when I wanted and had plenty of range for driving out to trailheads far and near. I expect charging infrastructure will only continue to get better, EV ranges will only get longer, and charging times will only get shorter.

Now, onto one last topic. During my time with the Lightning, I was asked a lot of questions about the truck. And the ones that came up most often were about towing range. I did not tow anything with the Lightning but based on what I’ve read/heard/seen, I don't think it is suited to be a tow vehicle for more than local trips with smaller trailers. The power and technology are there, it's just the range/charging that's an issue.

Essentially, towing at highway speeds cuts its range by half (give or take a handful of miles) depending on outside air temperature, trailer weight, trailer aerodynamics, and hills. However, the Lightning can regen on downhills, so if there's a decent downhill on the other side of the climb, you might get some amount of the lost range back.

A gear editor for his entire career, Matt's journey to becoming a leading cycling tech journalist started in 1995, and he's been at it ever since; likely riding more cycling equipment than anyone on the planet along the way. Previous to his time with Bicycling, Matt worked in bike shops as a service manager, mechanic, and sales person. Based in Durango, Colorado, he enjoys riding and testing any and all kinds of bikes, so you’re just as likely to see him on a road bike dressed in Lycra at a Tuesday night worlds ride as you are to find him dressed in a full face helmet and pads riding a bike park on an enduro bike. He doesn't race often, but he's game for anything; having entered road races, criteriums, trials competitions, dual slalom, downhill races, enduros, stage races, short track, time trials, and gran fondos. Next up on his to-do list: a multi day bikepacking trip, and an e-bike race.

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