As parents of two developmentally disabled children, my wife Deana and I struggle to wrangle everyone together for family activities. We’ve always tried to find ways to get our kids riding, and despite his visual impairment, that has been relatively easy with our son, Ryan. First, we used a Burley trailer, then a trail-a-bike, and finally a traditional tandem. This has been wonderful and we ride a fair amount, but we were often leaving the ladies of the house behind.
Our daughter, Allison, has gross motor issues and is non-verbal, so while she has good sight, even getting her to navigate a tricycle safely on her own has been a challenge. We had the Burley trailer which served us well and was a way for all of us to ride together for a few years when both kids were younger, but as soon as Allison grew out of that, the bikes fell by the wayside as a group option.
When we recently moved to Boulder, Colorado, all of the cycling infrastructure really got us hankering for a solution to get Allison on (or behind) a bike again somehow so we could all ride together. She’s 11, and she’s pretty big. Her inability to balance safely and consistently had us leaning toward some other trailer option. We briefly considered an e-bike plus a larger trailer to account for the added weight. In addition, we were trying to think ahead with a potentially significant investment involved. We wanted something that we felt we could use for at least a few years, and hopefully many more into young adulthood and beyond.
The A-HA! Moment
Brainstorming with my cousin Ellen via email one day, she offered to put us in touch with her friend James to discuss some possibilities. Ellen mentioned that James had recently gotten one of the excellent Yuba Spicy Curry cargo bikes for his family and thought it might be worth checking out and exploring as a solution for us.
As an e-cargo bike, it seemed compelling. After discussing some of the pros and cons, we decided we should go check one out in person. Both Ellen and James immediately pointed us to local cargo bike specialist, Front Range Cargo Bikes, with the thought that we could certainly put our hands on a few bikes there, if not get some novel ideas from folks who deal primarily in this niche.
It was probably only a day or two later when I headed on down to Front Range Cargo Bikes, and that’s when I saw it. Front and center by the open bay door, the first thing that caught my eye was a crazy, bakfiet-looking cargo bike with an electric motor, integrated lights, and a cool looking cargo area made of EPP foam. As I waited for someone to come help me, I started poking around it. The first thing I noticed was a small bench seat bolted in the cargo area with a SEATBELT! QUEUE THE HALLELUJAH CHORUS. Right then, I suspected we found our answer – The Urban Arrow Family.
First Test Ride
The first ride was a solo affair. I figured Deana and I need to crawl before we sprint – we needed to be steady on this bad boy by ourselves before we could strap a child in the front with a clear conscience.
The first piece of advice was that the steering would be much different from I was used to. The analogy used by the folks at the shop was, “it’s like steering a canoe”. I have to say, that’s a pretty good analogy. I was a bit wobbly, but as soon as the Bosch electric motor kicked in with the first pedal stroke, things straightened right out. More about the fantastic motor later.
I pedaled down to the end of the industrial area where the shop is located, and found a nice big area of tarmac to make a complete turn with lots of space, then headed back. Instead of going straight back to the shop, I hooked a left turn and rode on down an adjacent bike path. Before I had even hit the path, I had the steering sorted out, so I opened it up to see how the thing felt at speed. Right away, the bike is confidence-inspiring. At just under 100 pounds, one might think it would be a bear to manage, but with a low center of gravity, and a lot of the weight out in front of the long wheelbase, this thing is very stable. If there was a precise moment I knew the bike would work for us, it was then, on the path.
A return visit with Deana and Allison proved that the bike was, indeed, a winner. The test rides with those two went better than I expected. Deana quickly handled the awkward transition to driving a long and heavy machine, and Allison showed no fear riding in the front. In fact, Allison clearly loved having the wind in her face and was actually resistant to getting out at the end of the first test ride. Smiles and high fives ensued!
Tires, wheels, etc
The Urban Arrow has features galore that really make it a legit car replacement option. In fact, since we got the bike, my car has seen fewer miles than it has in years. A big reason why is all of the features that make the bike easier to grab as a first transportation option.
Starting from the ground, a thoughtful spec is apparent. Supporting you are two Schwalbe Big Apple Plus tires that serve two purposes – durability and suspension.
These things are impenetrable, and even at the higher end of the pressure range, they offer a surprising amount of shock absorption over inconsistent tarmac. My only complaint with the tire set up would be the odd Dunlop valves which are sort of a combination between Presta and Schraeder and only fit one of my two pump heads in my home garage.
Moving up from the tires brings us to the excellent SKS fenders that came stock on our Urban Arrow. These are the bolt on variety and are wide enough to accommodate the Big Apple tires, and as anyone who has any experience with SKS fenders will tell you, they’re great. They come with buddy flaps installed and everything, so the coverage and splatter protection are top-notch.
Mounted to the top of the front fender is an integrated headlight, and there’s a tail light mounted under the seat in the back that is similarly hard-wired. The lights can be turned on and off from a switch on the Bosch head unit, and the lights run off of the prodigious battery. The lights work well enough, but they do leave some room for improvement. The headlight is adequate, but not particularly bright. Because it’s very adjustable, I was able to point it in a way that maximizes illumination and it works well enough. The rear tail light is large, but again, if I could have it 100% my way, I would like to have an option to make the tail light blink. Despite these minor issues, both lights appear to be high quality and completely adequate.
Cockpit and Shifting
I have to admit, it took me a while to get used to the bendy bars. With hands resting in position on the grips and just straight line cruising, it’s a very comfortable setup. The grips are…grippy, and the ergonomic shape is comfortable. Standing up in the pedals took a while for me to confidently figure out with this setup. There’s rarely a need to do so in order to accelerate or power up a hill – you have the battery-powered e-assist. Where it occasionally becomes handy is going over bumps, across uneven driveways, or otherwise navigating a bumpy section of road. Even though the saddle and tires are cushy, sometimes it’s nice to stand and use your arms and legs to absorb some of it.
The stem is like unique and provides lots of adjustment options:
The bike came with the stem almost as high as it would go. The upside to that position is that it clears the bars out of the way for larger passengers inside the cargo area. In a lower position, which is more comfortable for me as the driver for several reasons, the bars _might_ get in the way a larger passenger’s noggin. So far, this has not been a problem for us, even with Ryan who is a 5 foot 7-ish inch 15-year-old and always wears a helmet.
Shifting via the NuVinci N380 system is a key component to the killer spec on this bike. It’s a completely sealed and continuously variable shifting solution that’s contained in the hub of the rear wheel. There are essentially two extremes (easy and hard), with a rotating grip shift to adjust between those extremes. I find that I need to pause shifting for a beat to make the up-shifts as smooth as possible. Downshifting seems to go much smoother while pedaling, but I find that I still pause my pedal stroke for just a second when going in either direction. This is no different from what most people should be used to with traditional derailleurs.
Conveniently, you can shift to the easiest end of the spectrum while at a standstill. This comes in handy if you have to stop short, or just forget to downshift. This allows you to restart a 100 lb. bike from a standstill without needing to crank over a huge gear which is a must. The closed system of the NuVinci also continues the low-maintenance, durable theme of the bike. The chain is also enclosed in a rubberized Chainglider cover. As with the shifter, this keeps the chain entirely sealed, keeping water out, and also protecting the pant leg of your Armani suit from drivetrain lube, should you choose the take this mean machine to work after dropping the kids off at school.
The Key Bits – Cargo Area and Motor
What sold us on this bike is the integrated, purposeful human hauling capabilities. There is a cushioned bench that comes stock with the Family version of the Urban Arrow, and there are adjustable nylon belts to secure your passenger (or passengers). A second, smaller bench is available as an after-market option, which allows for a forward-facing and a rear-facing passenger in the cargo area. We haven’t gotten the second bench yet, but we may at some point. For now, the main bench is perfect for any single passenger.
I purposefully avoided the use of “child” in reference to the passenger, because there’s room for a full-sized adult. The hauling capacity in the cargo area is rated at 400 pounds, so with that much room, you could technically put two average-sized adults in there, as long as they were willing to share some knee room. We haven’t tested the upper ends of the hauling capabilities, but it was reassuring to know we had room to grow.
The Bosch Active motor and battery are phenomenal. I had no experience with any sort of e-bikes or e-assist motors at all before test riding this bike. The first thing I noticed when stepping on the pedals is that the engine assists you right away. As with the downshifting capabilities described above, the instant assistance of the electric motor is VERY handy when you have a heavy and unsteady payload….such as an excited, hand-flapping, 100-pound autistic girl. The assistance is subtle and, in a word, perfect in those situations. It allows the driver to confidently lift both feet on to the pedals at very slow speeds, so steadying the bike is a breeze.
Beyond the instant availability of the e-assist, the motor feels and works very intuitively. It’s not a motor in the traditional sense – when engaged, the motor will not propel the bike by itself. It only assists the pedaller while pedaling with variable amounts of power based upon the four settings: Eco – just enough boost to take the edge off of completely pedalling the thing by yourself; Tour – a bit more power, more than enough to help get over moderate hills with a light load without too much extra effort; Sport – the next notch up, great for powering up hills with a kid in the front, getting up to speed in traffic, and most any situation; Turbo – tons of power for getting over the steep hills with a full load.
The battery life on the unit is pretty good so far. The higher power settings obviously eat up battery life much faster. If you left the bike in Sport mode, you might get 15 miles of pedaling assistance. I find that I most often use Eco mode when riding by myself, and the estimated range on a full battery in that mode is somewhere around 25 miles. My technique to extend battery life has evolved to maximize life between charges. When going downhill, I’m getting better about turning off the motor and just pedaling. I think Bosch got the design right when they developed this product because the toggle switch between e-assist modes is easy, intuitive, and right at your fingertips. Your mileage will obviously vary, but so far, we get two to three days out of a charge. That’s with regular use riding at least one child to school every day (sometimes two), and using it for nearby errands and/or short fun rides around the neighborhood every day.
The Extra Bits
There are several key features built into the bike that really help put it over the top and make it easy (and fun) to grab as a primary transportation option. First, Urban Arrow used a sturdy, double-legged kickstand that engages and disengages with relatively little effort.
The only thing you might need to take into account is steadying the bike when a passenger is getting in or out of the cargo area. When the kickstand is engaged, if you don’t have weight on the seat, the bike will tip forward about an inch and weight ticks forward to the front wheel (you can see this better in the first picture at the top). This is a natural consequence of the kickstand acting as a bit of a lever when it’s engaged with the bike defaulting toward leaning “back” toward the heavier back-end of the bike. You can also just push the front down to ensure the weight is tilted toward the front of the bike to steady it that way if the passenger prefers that when they’re stepping in. This is a very minor thing and is hard to explain, but I thought it would be worth mention. In either case, the bike is very stable and otherwise steady when parked with the kickstand in use.
Next, the seat has a hard molded plastic handle built into the underside:
This thoughtful addition serves a specific purpose. As you’ll find out after test riding the Urban Arrow, it has a very large turning radius and is very long. This makes the bike hard to handle and manipulate in tight spaces. Having a sturdy handle to grab helps pick up the back-end to move the bike around a bit quicker when you need to…and there will be times you need to (think parking on a tight sidewalk area). Because of the length of the wheelbase and the relatively low clearance, it could be pretty easy to scrape the bottom riding off of a tall curb or other obstacles, so just be careful in those situations – you can use the handle to lift the back end a bit to walk the bike over. As for the low clearance, I have yet to come across any major slam scenarios, but I did strike the crank arm while pedaling up and over a grassy sidewalk/path interface while riding my son to school one day. This was undoubtedly a consequence of the low clearance (and perhaps a poor line choice by the driver!)
Next on the list of nice extras is an integrated lock:
With the flip of a lever and a turn of the key, a miniature u-shaped bar wraps around the rim, between the spokes, and locks into the other side. This essentially immobilizes the bike since attempting to move it causes the rear wheel spokes to bump into the bar, so you can’t roll it when engaged. To retract the bar, all you do is insert the key and twist, and the lock springs back, hidden away and locked in the housing. The key (shown above) is locked in place when the lock is retracted, so you can keep it there and don’t have to worry about it falling out while riding around. To disengage the key, you have to push the lever and fully engage the lock. This is really handy and is another critical factor that makes the bike so easy to use.
Skeptics might be worried about relying upon a tiny locking device like this to secure the bike. The fact of the matter is, this bike is at least 5 feet long end to end and weighs right around 100 pounds. It would take at least two people, a truck, and some planning to pick up and make off with this bike while it’s immobilized. For almost every use I have for this bike, the integrated lock is sufficient and is all I rely upon. I bring along a larger cable lock if I know I’m going to be away from the bike for more than a little while, and obviously, your circumstances may vary.
Lastly, this thing has a siiick bell! A Dutch neighbor recently showed me a very similar bell that she has on her bike that she said she picked up on her last trip home, so I think these bells are a Dutch thing. Anyway, there’s a great chance that you’ll be one of the few folks with a cool bell like this in your town. It’s just a small cherry on the top of an already stellar package that makes it fun to ride.
The Final Analysis
Because it perfectly fit as a solution to a problem that had been nagging at our family for quite some time, this is my favorite bike in the stable, and is the most fun I’ve ever had riding a bike. It’s certainly not going to get you anywhere as fast as other machines, and of course, you’re limited by its natural range of capabilities. You’re not going to go touring on it, you’re not going on any serious off-road trails, and you’re certainly not going to race this bike. I like to do all of those things, and this does none of them.
What this bike _does_ do is change your life. It changed our lives, at least. We’re lucky enough to live very close to a lot of amenities. We have two grocery stores, several banks, restaurants, dry cleaners, etc, all within a mile of our house. Our kid’s schools are next door to each other and sit less than two miles away. We also have an extensive network of multi-use paths and bike lanes right outside our door. These things unquestionably make riding a bike easier.
The undeniable fact is that we drive much, much less, and we are riding as a family again. If you think that you’re ready to make an investment in a purposeful, workhorse machine as a commuter, a grocery-getter, and an all-around car replacement, the Urban Arrow Family does all of this and more. Go get your hands on one and pedal it.
I have to give a huge thanks to Ellen and James for helping us find this bike. It really has been a blessing to have an option to ride together again with “all four friends”, as our son might say. We all owe you guys big.
Also, I can’t forget to mention that, if you’re serious about pulling the trigger on one of these awesome machines, be prepared to talk to people. More often than not, people want to talk about the bike when I’m out and about on it. People are perplexed, curious, confused, amazed, and otherwise very interested in the bike, and they WILL ask you about it. It’s a great conversation starter and it turns heads wherever you go. You’ve been warned – enjoy!
LONG TERM UPDATE – OCTOBER 2018
Time and miles have not changed much with this bike. Pretty much everything has proven to be durable and reliable after extensive daily use, with two minor exceptions:
- The Chainglider chain cover came loose after several months and became difficult to secure. As a result, the chain would rub against it on the inside and generate a bit of noise when pedaling. After futzing with it for a few weeks and trying to find a way to get it to work unsuccessfully, I decided to just remove it. While this eliminated the built-in grease protection for your pant legs, things immediately became quiet again. I don’t wear pants where chain contact is much of a concern, and to be fair, I made no attempts to contact the vendor or take it to the shop. I’m fine with lubing, cleaning, and otherwise maintaining an exposed chain as with my other bikes.
- The stock pedals are not great. They were pretty smooth on the surface and would probably work well with a variety of shoes (including dress shoes), but they also began to make noise after some significant miles. I decide to replace them with some inexpensive nylon Odysseys and everything has been smooth and quiet since.
I consider both of these issues minor and neither change my previous enthusiastic endorsement.
Note: Corrected 10/10/18 to reflect the following note from Urban Arrow-Ed. “The box on this bike is not EPS, the material used inside bicycle helmets. That stuff is brittle and purposely intended to break on impact. (absorbing shock in the process) We use Expanded Polystyrene (EPP) which is actually what’s used inside motorcycle helmets – a more expensive and durable material altogether. It’s sort of rubberized as you’ll see if you press on it. Almost impossible to do more than scuff, and it will not shatter like EPS. Also note that flashing taillights on bikes are illegal in many Euro countries as flashing is reserved for emergency vehicles and red flashing for trains rear facing”.Tweet Print
The longtail cargo bike, with its stretched rear end, has been my go-to whip of late due to its ultimate versatility, utility, and fun. And with an electric motor for extended range, there are no worries about what (or who) you might pick up during your travels, or how far you might go in a day. But longtails are long, taking up a good amount of space and being difficult to load onto a larger motor vehicle.
So when Tern showed up in the cargo bike market with its GSD, I was Intrigued. First, what does GSD stand for? Get Stuff Done is one answer. And secondly, aside from its attractive looks, what is so new and exciting about this bicycle? Tern calls it a new kind of bicycle, a compact longtail.
What makes it compact? Well for one thing, with the help of dual 20” wheels, the GSD has a length similar to your average bike. Combined with a folding handlebar and highly adjustable saddle, it’s easier to get it into the back of your SUV, easier to take on public transportation, and a lot easier to store. In fact, the GSD can be stored vertically on its tail, taking only a small footprint.
It’s also electric. Some of you are thinking that is not what you are looking for. A while ago, I wasn’t either. But once you get accustomed to the increased range and versatility you will likely be sold for life. Power comes from a 250 watt Bosch motor, putting out a maximum 63Nm of torque in Turbo mode. That’s right, the GSD controls offer four power modes from Eco to Turbo. Different levels of assistance for different needs. In Eco the motor gives you 50% more power than you pedal into it, up to Turbo where the motor is adding 275% more power to the bike. Stock battery is 400 Watt-Hours but you can also buy the GSD with a 400 plus 500Wh battery for extended range. This pushes the GSD into the touring realm.
Versatility is key. Accessories unlock the GSD’s potential. Kids? The GSD will easily take two Yepp child seats for the small ones. Big ones and adults can ride on the back using accessory foot pegs, seat cushions, and grab bars. Panniers? Enough for all your groceries. Racks? Front and/or rear for even more hauling capability. One size fits most all here with the GSD fitting riders from 5 feet to 6’5”. I’m 6’4” and had no trouble with it. Plus the handlebars rotate around the stem for further fitting options.
The build is pretty heavy, in a good, strong way. The frame, while aluminum, appears beautifully built and ready for anything. In fact, the weight capacity is 400 lbs. so there’s not much you can’t haul. The feeling of solidness is welcome here. Weight comes in under 60 lbs. in the single battery configuration. Component-wise there are a few things that stand out. Tern-specific Schwalbe 62mm tires on Tern-specific 36mm rims with plenty of spokes and Boost axles. Magura 4 piston brakes handle the stopping with great power. Super solid, top notch, up to date modern stuff. I would not hesitate to carry anything with this bike, as long as I could get it on there.
Accessory-wise you won’t need to add much to this bike. Lights, fenders, center stand and bell are all included with the bike. Optional accessories to consider include Tern’s Cargo Hold panniers, child seats, and the Shortbed tray that is on the test bike. Handlebars and pegs are also available for adult passengers as well.
In practice, it is easy to get on and go. The step-through frame and low center-of-gravity sure help. Turn the motor on, select the amount of assist you’d like, and go! Easy-peasy. The Bosch motor helps as little or as much as you need. But you still have to pedal. Power is solid, but keep in mind this is no motorcycle.
My friend Stewart and I shared the testing duties. We both found the GSD to be super-capable for a wide range of tasks. Loads included a pile of camping gear, the band’s bass drum, passengers, boxes of magazines, garage sale items and more. As much as Stewart did not want to use the motor (Out of pride I believe), he was glad to have the motor as an insurance policy in case he got tired too far away from home. Me on the other hand, I just enjoyed the lack of throttle as I bopped around town picking up random articles. But I did wish for a bit more power on some of the steeper hills. I do weigh well over 200 lbs you know. The good news is that the 2019 model will have more, power that is. The other small improvement we’d recommend would be a larger center stand as the current one is a tad small for parking on uneven surfaces.
The best thing about the GSD is its foldability and storability. The handlebar folding down made it much easier to load the bike into a SUV or minivan. As for storage, grab the rear brake, pull back and the GSD sits on its tail, taking up only a small amount of closet space.
The Tern GSD is sold with single 400Wh battery for $3999 The dual 400 plus 500Wh model will run you $4799. Panniers run $150 a pair and that rack runs $120. A lot of money? For some, yes. But this bike is a game-changer, a car-pooper, sonic reducer, life-changer. Imagine parking that multi-ton behemoth automobile and spending your time outside! Quality time! Quality life!
One of the most interesting cargo/utility bikes I have seen in a while, The Tern GSD is bound to get more butts on bikes, and that is what it’s all about, isn’t it? Click here for part 2, in which Stewart shares his touring experience!Tweet Print
Urban transportation and folding bike company Tern announced an upgrade to its Vektron folding e-bike lineup, with three new models. The new Vektron is equipped with the latest Bosch drive system, received a re-worked frame and riding geometry, and is equipped with a robust rack.
The bikes are equipped with new Bosch Active Line and Active Line Plus drivetrains. They are stated to be substantially smoother, smaller, lighter, more efficient and virtually silent. The Vektron has a completely re-engineered frame and frame geometry. The cockpit is longer for improved comfort for taller riders. The frame has been designed with additional forged and machined elements for additional strength without extra weight. The battery now reclines backward, keeping the center of gravity as low as possible for handling. The updated Vektron also stands up vertically when folded, making it even easier to roll around.
With structural cues from the heavy-duty Tern GSD, the new Vektron rack has been strengthened and increased in size. This reduces flex for more secure handling. In addition, the center of gravity has been lowered, making it much safer when riding with a child in a child seat.
The Vektron also features a new and optional Bucketload pannier. Engineered to fit the configuration of the Vektron, it can be used even when the upper rails of the rear rack are taken by other gear, such as a child seat or a basket. The Bucketload folds flat when not in use or when the bike is folded. It is also sized to provide heel clearance without interfering when the bike is folded or being rolled. And during riding, the Bucketload is roomy enough to swallow a large backpack.
The three new models include the Vektron Q9 at $2995, the Vektron P7i at $3195, and the Vektron S10 at $3595. Shipping to the US will start in fall of 2018.Tweet Print
This week, Tern launched the GSD, a utility e-bike that the company calls “category-defining.”
Tern states that “The GSD can haul two kids, a week’s worth of groceries or 180 kg (almost 400 lbs) of cargo.” But it’s a lot smaller than most cargo bikes, which tend to be highly unwieldy objects. If you have to put the bike in a small apartment or vehicle, forget it.
The GSD is actually no longer than a normal bike, so it fits on standard car or bus bike racks, and folds to reduce its height by one third and its length by 40 percent.
“One of our guiding insights was that cargo bikes are most useful in city centers, but they’re correspondingly difficult to manage and store,” according to Galen Crout, Communications Manager at Tern. “Dense urban centers bring cargo bikes to life–where groceries, schools and work are all within a bikeable distance–but they’re also where houses are small, and where bike theft is a persistent problem. We’re creating the compact utility e-bike category to let people in cities enjoy the benefits of cargo bikes without the limitations.”
The GSD is highly adjustable for a variety of different heights and sizes, and it’s meant for the whole family to be able to use. The cockpit and handlebars can be adjusted for reach, and low-step through and a low center of gravity make it easy for smaller riders to ride and handle.
The frame and components are meant to handle big loads, whether its two adults (one driver, one passenger), an adult and two kids, or plenty of cargo. The GSD rack is 80 cm (31.5 in) long and the included panniers fit a total of 62 liters.
The bike has room for two batteries that power a Bosch Performance motor, so the GSD can keep rolling for up to 250 km (155 mi) before needing to recharge.
The GSD comes with integrated lighting, fenders and panniers and will retail for $3,999.Tweet Print
Tester: Eric McKeegan
Weight: 55 pounds
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.