23
May 2010
by don

Cargo bike survey

Occasionally I spend some time online looking at what others are doing with cargo bikes.  The spike in American interest that accompanied the gasoline price shocks of 2008 seems to have subsided somewhat.  The forecast is for moderate gas prices through the summer, so I’m not expecting any huge change in cargo bike usage in the U.S. for the near future.

The story is different in Europe, of course, where gas is roughly twice the price and the infrastructure and culture are more accommodating.  However, the European cargo bike market is more developed and possibly even saturated, so there aren’t many major developments.  At least, I’m surprised that the marriage of cargo bike and electric motor hasn’t become more common.

Sometimes when I start to feel a little lonely in this pursuit, I go to http://www.cargobikegallery.com to look at all the weird and wonderful bikes that people are riding.  It’s definitely inspiring, but only four of the 120 bikes shown there have electric assistance (mine is number 112 on the list).  Now I feel lonely and wimpy to boot!

Perhaps you can imagine my excitement to discover a blog by an Australian dad who uses his electric cargo bike much like I use mine (http://keller74.wordpress.com).  He carries his two kids — and occasionally his wife! – on the back of a Yuba Mundo assisted by an eLation motor:

Electric assisted Yuba Mundo bike

If you’re interested in a different approach to similar transportation challenges, I encourage you to check out his blog.  After decades spent writing computer software, I can only fantasize about being mechanically talented enough to do what this blogger has done.  I love the craftsmanship and the flashy color of his bike, in contrast to the more utilitarian appearance of mine.  But the admiration goes both ways: he likes the power and silence of my BionX motor, which exceeds the legal power limit in his country.  His experiences make me appreciate the relatively problem-free operation of my bike.

So, are we the leading edge of a global movement of electric-powered cargo bikes, or are we just a couple of eccentrics indulging a hobby that will have a miniscule impact on the environment and the economy?

I’m sorry to say that my friend’s blog is a little more optimistic regarding this question than I am.  Even though my bike generates lots of interest wherever I go, I see no indications that Americans would be willing to give my bike a try unless the cost of a gallon of gas doubles or triples.  Ironically, the world’s financial woes seem to be restraining oil prices.

In the meantime, battery-motor-bike technology will progress, but maybe not so quickly without the pull of a big market or the push of a major manufacturer.  The main focus of research and development efforts will be on cars, whether they be hybrid, plug-in electric, or hydrogen powered.  Bicycles will continue to face a daunting chicken-and-egg problem: not enough riders to spur investment in bike lanes and Copenhagen-style infrastructure, and not enough infrastructure to encourage people to try biking.

One thing that would help is a big company that helps develop the market for powered bikes.  Volkswagen appears to be ready to make the leap (http://www.gizmag.com/volkswagen-folding-bike-concept/14949), but with something more like a scooter than a bike with pedals.  This particular product may confuse things for a while – can it be ridden in a bike lane?  Does it help or hurt the case for bicycle infrastructure?

Note how the Bik.e's split centrestand folds flush when in use.

When I ponder these questions in front of my computer or laying in my bed, the answers seem discouraging if not overwhelming.  But when I’m on my bike, everything seems clearer.  The fresh air and exercise are invigorating, the pace is relaxing, my neighbors are waving and smiling, and my kids are calling to their friends from the back of the bike.  Maybe I don’t have to solve all of the world’s problems today.  At least I can point my path in a good direction.

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  • http://mark.stosberg.com/bike Mark Stosberg

    I recently bought an electric Yuba Mundo from cycle9.com, and my wife and I really like it– it has been getting used about every day.

    I have some photos of my electric Yuba Mundo on Flickr.

    • Don

      Thanks, Mark, those are great photos. I especially love the one of your child helping with the hand signals. My kids do that too, and it’s empowering for them to share some responsibility as we transport ourselves. They don’t get to contribute much when I belt them into the back seat of our car.

      Your blog is great, especially the “ton of bricks” article (http://mark.stosberg.com/bike/2010/05/like-a-ton-of-bricks.html#more). I sometimes try to make that point myself, but never as eloquently as you have.

      I’m feeling less lonely tonight!

  • http://couchtocyclist.blogspot.com/ Virginia Pykonen

    I love your blog! I found you through the link at the Yuba Mundo site. I just bought a YM myself, and it is due to be delivered sometime this week.

    I chose not to get the electric version because I wanted to save some money and be able to afford to buy a (standard) bike for my daughter as well. Seeing your review of how the motor helps makes me wish I’d gone ahead and invested in it.

    Still, I have confidence that my muscles will eventually grow to accommodate the tasks being required of them on a daily basis.

    I think you are right, that we ARE on the leading edge of a new bicycle revolution. Twenty years from now I predict it will be as common to see bicycle commuters here as it is today in Denmark. The need is there, the answer fits, and it’s affordable. The change is going to happen!

    • http://mycargobike.net Don

      Wow. I read your blog, Virginia, and you are an inspiration! When you are bicycling around town, don’t worry about someone thinking, “What is she doing on a bicycle?” Instead, consider all the people you are inspiring: “If she can do this, maybe I can too!”

      I think you made the right trade off between the motor and a bike for your daughter. You want her to develop her biking skills and see it as a good mode of transportation too. I make my kids ride their own bikes up our hill twice a week (they aren’t so thrilled about that) and then they each get a free ride on my cargo bike once a week. They walk up the hill on the other days.

      Your comment also alerted me to the existence of an electric motor as an option on the Yuba Mundo (http://yubaride.com/yubashop/28-e-mundo.html). This is very exciting. I didn’t know that a motor was available from a cargo bike manufacturer, and at about half the total price of my bike, this one looks interesting. I will probably blog about it later — I would love to hear if anyone has any experience with it. How powerful and how loud is that motor? How long has this bike/motor combo been on the market?

  • barton cohen

    i own 2 dutch cargo bikes and i pronghorn mountain bike all made in denmark,i have others trek,raleigh,many years ago kmart specials,i tried bike delivery,you are right it is still a hobby,and eccentric for now.very frustrating,i am now without a car i owned a honda civic hybrid that was totalled about 7 years ago,i have not bought a new one,for now i do not know if i will ever owne a car unless i rent one,which i have done for a few days here and there,i believe that the hybrid rode great,and i treated it like a bike not a car nobody understands that,i now believe that the car is only used as status and for work and family,gas must go up more for people to considier hybrid,/electric for now i fell it does not faze them thanks barton cohen