Cargo bike economics: maintenance

Today I took my bike for its first checkup after 7 months and over 500 miles of hill-chewing.  As you may recall, I have done no maintenance on this bike other than one application of chain lubricant.  Since I rely on it to provide safe transportation for my family, I wanted to ensure that no latent problems were developing.

For the diagnosis, I went to one of Seattle’s pricier bike shops.  I deliberately chose a different shop than the one that built my bike, because I wanted a second opinion — especially on those mission-critical brakes.  The owner of this shop is a big fan of the Big Dummy/Stoke Monkey bike, and I thought it would be enlightening to talk with someone who is somewhat skeptical of my bike.  He has a reputation for pulling no punches, so I prepared myself for some rough sledding.

But actually, things went quite well.  The owner found several occasions to point out advantages of the Stoke Monkey, but these were arguments that I’ve written about previously.  He complained that the BionX hub motor makes it harder to adjust the rear disc brake calipers, because the hub blocks easy access to the dial that positions the brake pads.  He charged me an extra $10 for the additional effort required.

The total bill was $75 for labor.  He adjusted and lubed my derailleur to recover my lost gears, cleaned and tuned the brakes, and lubricated various cables.  I paid another $25 to upgrade the front brake cable for better responsiveness, but that wasn’t critical.  Using the $75 figure for essential maintenance, I calculate a cost of about 15 cents per mile.  On the one hand, this figure is probably high due to the difficult geography this bike has to tackle.  On the other hand, it’s probably too low on an annualized basis, because I didn’t have to replace any parts this time.  In another 6 months, I may have to replace at least one of the disc brake rotors and possibly the pads, but that shouldn’t cost more than $50.  As I suspected, the regenerative braking of the BionX motor seems to be extending the life of my brake components.  What isn’t clear is how often other components will need to be replaced, and how much that will cost.  Although it will be pretty cheap compared to repairs/maintenance of a car, the number of bike miles will also be less, so it remains to be seen which is cheaper on a per-mile basis.

Just to be complete, the electricity to help propel me during this time period averaged about 1/2 cent per mile.  Hardly worth mentioning compared to the maintenance.

One sweet moment occurred while I was paying my bill: a customer was admiring my bike and asking questions about it.  He was initially attracted by those huge Xtracycle-incompatible pannier bags.  He was really intrigued when I told him the bike was assisted by a quiet (and virtually invisible) electric motor.  He was standing less than a yard away from the owner’s Big Dummy at the time, but it was my bike that caught his eye.  I have no doubt that the owner had him converted to a Big Dummy shortly after I left the shop, but my bike and I had our moment.

I plan to return to the same shop after another 7 months and 500 miles.  The owner did a good job and seemed to know what he was doing.

  • It’s great to see you have a local bike shop so friendly to ebikes. I’ve just encountered poor attitudes and basically resigned myself to doing all my own maintenance. It’s something I enjoy anyway, but sometimes if i’m busy it would be great to just take it somewhere and have the work done.

    I have been riding my second hub motor bike recently and really been enjoying the quietness and simplicity compared to the eLation through the gears system. The eLation is a great system and I think a more refined end product than the Stoke Monkey (and Australian!), but extreme hillclimbing aside I recon the Hub motor is the future of ebiking.

    • Don

      I’ve got a choice of three bike shops who offer different electric bikes. Definitely blessed! But I know what you mean… when I mention electric bikes in another shop, they look at me like I’ve come from outer space.

  • nick

    Hi, Don
    If you wanted to, could the stokemonkey be installed on your hammer bike?

    • Don

      I’m not sure. The Stoke Monkey was designed for Xtracycles (specifically for the Surly Big Dummy). While the bracket system can be modified to work with other bikes, the different frame geometry of the “crank forward” Hammer Truck might present issues. I am not aware of anyone who has done this, but lack of precedent didn’t hinder me from adding the BionX motor, which I hadn’t heard of before my bike was built. My main concern was that the Stoke Monkey didn’t seem like a solution that would appeal to the masses. It might be a good solution for cargo bike enthusiasts with big hills to climb, but if we don’t widen the appeal of bike-based transportation, it will remain a niche that won’t make any difference in our air quality, physical fitness, or our car-isolated culture. My interest continues to be both personal and how my actions fit into the big picture.

  • nick

    Hi Don
    This is new for me commenting so sorry if I’m in the wrong area with remarks. Our interest are similar. I have been researching for months (Good job taking the plunge) I definitely would like the yuba mundo with an electric assist. The “elmundo” when I actually talked to YUBA is not really integrated into the bike. In matter of fact he had little knowledge about the electric assist – seriously. It is an add on kit like all the others. He YUBA did not do any research/testing making sure it is a quality set up. If you speak to him would would know what I am talking about. If anyone is going to put a kit on the yuba you should go to cycle 9 at least they have experience with the product first hand and from the publics impression they have great customer service. When I asked Yuba what happens if something goes wrong??? Whats the warranty??? – RESPONSE I don’t know. I would have to look into that. Then I brought up cycle nine and I asked why would I get your ELMUNDO over their E-Mundo? He said “Yeah if you want to put a kit on it you should deal with them”. What I found astounding was that Yuba is selling an electric bike that honestly is not supported by Yuba Mundo. The public at large when you see Hey Yuba has an electric bike you get the impression that you are buying an electric bike backed and produced by the manufacturer! Not a kit slapped together with no first hand research – UNBELIEVABLE. Anyway, I asked him to call me back with info about warranty and how they handle them. He called me back in five minutes and said he spoke to cycle9 and they trouble shoot it over the phone and that takes care of the situation for 95% of the problems (they send you the part) and if it is unresolved at that point you can ship it back and they will take care of it. (FYI- this is already known by me since I have spoken to their staff on a couple of occasions.) So I asked him OK but what is YOUR warranty and how do YOU honor it? And his response was “OH same as them” Boy was that reassuring!!! I am not saying that their kit is bad. I sure hope that it is great! The hub is supposed to be good since “endless sphere is doing their research”. It is disheartening to think that YUBA would advertise a new product with such poor regard for PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT as well as their reputation as a COMPANY and most importantly the customer experience which is going to make or break this POWERED SUB MOVEMENT.

    • Don

      Whew. If this is true (I sincerely wish it was a misunderstanding), it is quite disturbing. The reason I was so excited about cargo bike manufacturers offering electric assist options was that I hoped they would do some research and testing on the loads and stresses, not to mention the reliability of the bike/motor combination. While I haven’t had any big problems, it makes me a little nervous that my motor wasn’t designed with cargo loads in mind, and my bike probably wasn’t designed to be cranked with 3 times the strength of normal human muscles. If something goes wrong, both manufacturers could claim their warranties aren’t intended to cover my usage scenario. As long as that’s the situation, I doubt that many people will be motivated to join me in this experiment. If Yuba isn’t going to be serious about it, Kona will own the category, although it’s still not clear how vigorously they intend to pursue it.