Review: Yuba Spicy Curry

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Tester: Eric McKeegan
Price: $4,200
Weight: 55 pounds
Sizes: One

Cargo bikes and electric assist are the peanut butter and chocolate of low-impact transportation. Maybe I shouldn’t be using a sweet food metaphor for a bike with a savory name like Spicy Curry, but right now my belly is full of chocolate peanut butter ice cream and I’m having a hard time thinking about anything else.

The Curry part of the name comes from the electric motor manufacturer: Currie Tech. With almost two decades of e-bike experience, Currie Tech was recently purchased by Accell Group, an international company which owns a huge portfolio of bike brands including Raleigh, Diamondback and Redline. Currie Tech teamed with Yuba to develop the Spicy Curry solely as an e-bike platform.

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The aluminum frame is bristling with mounting points for cargo accessories, and the bright color is sure to attract attention on the road. While there is only a single size to choose from, the huge standover, long seatpost and stack of stem spacers make it easy to dial in a good position for riders of many sizes.

The swept-back bars are immediately comfortable, but the 1.5 inch steerer makes sourcing a shorter or longer stem more difficult. The components are all basic and functional. With the torquey 350 watt motor to back you up, the Shimano Acera 8-speed drivetrain has plenty of gearing for even the steepest of hills. Tektro hydraulic disc brakes are a nice touch for all-season stopping power. Front and rear LED lights, wired to the battery, are a welcome stock feature. It’s something I think should be on all e-bikes meant for road use. Full coverage fenders and a kickstand round out the build.

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I also tested some accessories. The Bread Basket ($169) bolts to the frame, not the fork, and includes a stretch cargo net and water-resistant liner. Passengers sat on the Soft Spot ($30) padded seat, which strapped onto the Rear Deck ($40), and held on the Hold On Bars ($70) mounted to the seat post. The Carry On ($139) rack extenders created a wide platform for all kinds of bulky cargo.

The Spicy Curry may be the easiest cargo bike to just get on and ride. The well-triangulated aluminum frame and low center of gravity afforded by the 20 inch rear wheel makes the bike amazingly stable under heavy loads, even heavy loads of two squirming kids who are starting to get too big for me to haul around anymore. Frame stiffness plays a huge role here, and Yuba nailed it with the Spicy Curry.

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The gearing might sound high (48 tooth chainring, 11-32 cassette) but the 20 inch wheel effectively lowers the ratio. In fact, I was left wanting an even bigger gear for those stretches where I was spun out at speeds below the motor’s cut-off point of 28 mph. This top speed makes the Spicy Curry a “Class 3” e-bike in California and your local laws might vary. Although, to be honest, we are probably at least a decade away from anyone enforcing e-bike speed laws.

The motor itself has plenty of power, although it isn’t as refined feeling as the Bosch mid-drive motor. At low speeds it is reluctant to kick in much power, which makes it very manageable, but sometimes it was hard to get moving with a heavy load and poor gear choice. As speeds increase the power does too, but gear shifts can cause driveline noise and surges in power.

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I spent most of my time in the highest assist levels of 3 or 4, depending on traffic conditions, load and distance. The display predicts 16, 25, 29 or 33 miles per full charge in power modes 4, 3, 2 or 1 respectively, which I found to be quite accurate. The display is large and easy to read, but I’d like to see more info on each screen.

Without adding the pictured accessories, the stock bike isn’t capable of handling that much cargo. I highly recommend the Bread Basket to start—it is huge, and since it doesn’t turn with the front wheel it barely affects handling, even with a lot of crap inside. The oversize tubing of the rear rack wouldn’t work with any panniers I tried, although the copious mounting points had me scheming various DIY methods to make use of bags I already have. Yuba sells the 2-Go ($219) cargo bags that look to be a wise investment, with a large capacity and stirrups for passengers’ feet.

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It’s been interesting watching the evolution of the long-tail cargo bike in the United States. What we see here, in my opinion, is what will be sticking around as the default orientation for the electric-assist cargo bike: mid-drive motor, 20 inch rear wheel, single ring drivetrain and a la carte accessories to personalize the bike for each owner’s needs.

Yuba is fully invested in e-cargo bikes (or is it cargo e-bikes?), this being one of four you can order directly from Yuba or a dealer. Price-wise, the Spicy Curry compares most closely with the elMundo V5 ($4,500) an e-bike version of Yuba’s oldest model. I’ve spent a good deal of time on the non-electric version of the Mundo and the best way I can describe the difference is another metaphor: The elMundo is a Ford Econoline van—heavy, sturdy, versatile and capable of hauling just about anything. The Spicy Curry is a Honda Odyssey— refined, comfortable and easy to drive.

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Yuba is working to secure an agreement with a lender to offer consumer financing for its bikes, which should put them within reach of more families that don’t want to pay up-front or carry a large credit card balance.

The stock bike comes with a lot of things that are add-ons for most cargo bikes, at a price that undercuts its closest competitors. The lack of stock cargo capacity is easily offset by the lower price. Even with the generous amount of accessories I tested, the Spicy Curry is hundreds cheaper than the similar Xtracycle Edgerunner e-bike. This is a bike that I can see really making a dent in car use for many people.

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I am as happy taking my kids home from the bus stop as I am hauling home remodeling supplies. The motor also made me much more apt to grab this bike rather than the car keys when I was tired or felt pressed for time. In the city, with a top speed nearing 30 mph, most trips are faster than in a car, and parking is easier, too. The Yuba Spicy Curry makes me hopeful for a transportation future that is more centered on people and not cars.

 

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Review: Faraday Porteur

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Tester: Adam Newman
Price: $3,499 (as tested)
Weight: 42 pounds
Sizes: S, M, L (tested)
More info: Faraday Bikes

One dirty little secret of the design world is that keeping things simple actually takes a lot of work. At first glance the Porteur looks like any other city bike, the double top tube notwithstanding. The steel frame, British Racing Green paint, chrome accents and bamboo fenders are classy and understated. But lurking beneath that demure aesthetic is a lot of modern-day technology.

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Yes, the Faraday is an e-bike. A fairly distinctive one at that. The motor is mounted in the hub of the front wheel, and the battery is entirely contained within the frame. When the bike’s initial design took the crowdfunding site kickstarter.com by storm in 2012, the plan was to install the battery in the second top tube. It subsequently moved to the down tube, but the designers wisely kept the look intact.

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Even without the electric assist, there’s a lot to like about the Porteur. The drivetrain is a Gates Carbon Belt Drive running to a standard Shimano Alfine 8-speed hub. The two go together like peanut butter and jelly, making it a virtually silent and maintenance-free drivetrain.

Further simplifying things is integrated lighting that runs off the battery and is always on if the bike is on, even if the motor is disengaged. The control unit is housed in the box under the saddle, with a charging port, some LED taillights and a big on/off button.

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The motor itself puts out a nominal 250 watts with a peak of 340 watts—more than powerful enough to get you up to speed in a hurry. While many e-bikes have complex dashboards, the Porteur has a simple thumb switch with options for high, low or off. There is no throttle mode—the Faraday is pedal assist only. The LCD battery fuel gauge display is on the handlebar switch where you can see it, but it is tiny and impossible to read while moving, so a solution like a green/orange/red light would be easier to read.

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At 42 pounds the Porteur isn’t a lightweight, but it’s really not far off what you’d expect a bike like this to weigh. I experimented with riding it with the motor off and it goes just fine. I appreciated that because the internal battery simply can’t match the capacity of some larger, external units, and with normal use I was averaging about 15 miles on a single charge.

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Another drawback to the internal battery design is that you can’t remove the battery to bring it inside to charge. This means you have to get the bike relatively close to an outlet to make it work. Later this year Faraday will be offering an add-on battery pack inside a classy, leather saddle bag. It can plug directly into the bike for a battery boost and can be taken with you inside to charge, but will set you back $500.

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Small hiccups aside, the Porteur is a joy to ride. If you’ve ever ridden a classic English three-speed you’ll immediately feel at home on the Porteur. The swept back bars and upright posture are comfortable and keep your head up in traffic, and it gives you a lot of confidence being in such a natural, upright posture.

What’s remarkable is how drastically it changes your riding behavior, especially when commuting on the same boring route every day. Hills that used to be obnoxious just disappear, and distances are seemingly cut in half. The very nature of electric-assist bicycles fills me with existential angst, but if you just want to get yourself from A to B, I am wholeheartedly on board.

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No, the Porteur isn’t cheap, and new technology never is. Then again, I’d gladly sacrifice some battery range for a bike that looks and rides like a bike rather than a mini motorcycle. If you want another option, the Porteur S model substitutes a chain for the belt drive and has five speeds instead of eight, knocking the price down to $2,799.

Faraday also recently announced a new model, the Cortland, which is essentially the same as the Porteur but with a dropped top tube. It, too, is available at both price points.

 

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First Impression: Haibike XDURO Trekking RX

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Electric bikes are setting the cycling industry and community abuzz. Manufactures are excited about this “new segment” of the market and are quick to point out the virtues of electric bikes for facilitating commuting and a greener lifestyle, as well as bringing non-cyclists into the fold. The cycling community is quick to point out that, technically, electric bikes could be considered a motorized vehicle—it does have an electric motor afterall—and thus, shouldn’t be allowed on trails designated for human power only.

In reality, it seems both of these perspectives have merit. With this conflict in mind, I agreed to review Haibike’s XDURO Trekking RX. As a long-time cyclist, I went into this review siding most closely with the community’s skepticism. At the same time, the idea of having some assist during my 14-mile round trip commute this winter had a lot of appeal.

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On my very first commute, it was clear my electric assist fantasy was every bit as good as I had imagined. Bosch’s sophisticated Performance mid-drive system used on this Haibike is impressively engineered with an easy-to-use human interface and smooth, reliable power output. The 350 Watt electric motor roughly doubles the output of the average in-shape cycling enthusiast, so it really is quite speedy. Speedy, at least up to 19 mph where the system begins to taper off assist prior to cutting out altogether at 20 mph.

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Governing maximum assist speed to 20 mph has been a legislative maneuver to manage the small but growing demand for e-bikes. My home state of Pennsylvania recently legalized e-bikes for on-road use, utilizing the definition “pedalcycle with electric assist” in the process. What hasn’t yet been fully addressed is the legality of using e-bikes on non-motorized trails-to-trails-style trails.

At this point, it’s a little bit of a wild-west scenario. As I currently understand the situation, these regulations are to be made on a case-by-case basis by the locality with jurisdiction over any given trail. Most of these local entities haven’t yet ruled on the pedal assist issues since there has been little need to do so to this point, largely due to the limited number e-bikes currently in circulation.

But, as e-bikes like this become increasingly widespread, it will be interesting to see how these bikes are managed. After spending time on the Haibike, I’m convinced e-bikes can play a vital role in lessening our reliance on fossil fuels for transportation.

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Look for the complete review of the Haibike XDURO Trekking RX in issue #35 of Bicycle Times. Subscribe by April 30, 2015 to have that issue delivered to your home or electronic device.

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