Posts Tagged: News


31
Aug 2011
by mark

Now on Twitter, still on Flickr

I now have a Twitter account just for the topic of bikes-as-transportation. You can find me on Twitter as @BikesAsTrans. My hope for the account is to share related content from myself and others around the internet, as well as to provide short timely updates about my experiences with family cycling, cargo bikes, and electric bikes.

I also continue to post photos more regularly to my flickr stream than I do here. If you use a feed reader, you may wish to follow the feed of my latest bike photos, which usually include some short posts with them as well.

I look forward to posting more content here as well. This spring we added a second child to the family, and also added a Surly Big Dummy as my personal bike, complementing our existing bakfiets and my wife’s electric Yuba Mundo. There’s plenty to say about how these three distinct cargo bike options compare, contrast and combine. If you have a question about how any of them compare, leave a comment here and I’ll try to answer your question.

For now, here’s a couple recent photos from Flickr. Click through either for more explanation.
stopping to check out the cows and throw rocks in the creek
Another bike trailer load too big for the car


14
Apr 2011
by mark

A Song about a Purple Pedal Power Berry Bicycle Blender

Smile and enjoy this catchy music video starring some students who readily trade in Halloween candy for purple pedal powered bicycle-blended berry smoothies.

If you’d like to buy your own bike-powered blender and maybe a bike to go with it, Rock the Bike has you covered.


2
Jan 2011
by don

New Year status report: Year 2

An eventful year has passed since my first New Year status report. A lot has happened in my life and the cargo biking scene that would have strained my imagination last January. And a few things didn’t happen that I confidently anticipated.  I would be thrilled to repeat last year’s progress in 2011, but I’ll try to avoid making any bold and probably inaccurate predictions and instead focus on recent events.

Manufacturer hibernation

After a flurry of announcements in early fall, there has been little news from cargo bike manufacturers during the past couple of months.  Perhaps they think that most Americans aren’t looking for new bikes when so many states are buried in snow.  While that seems like a reasonable assumption, my blog has seen no seasonal decrease in interest.  On the contrary, every month of 2010 saw significant increases in readership, with literally thousands of unique visitors in December alone.  And that was despite the fact that I posted no new articles in December and only two short articles early in November!

But perhaps those statistics deserve closer scrutiny.  For example, the top search keyword for my blog (at about 15%) was “fixie”, due to an article I wrote last September.  In that post, I predicted that non-electric bikes would someday be viewed like the fixie bikes of today: idealogically pure, but not practical for the average commuter (at least if you live anywhere with moderate hills or wind or traffic intersections).  Imagine the horror of someone looking for information on fixies and landing on a blog dedicated to electric cargo bikes – about as polar opposite as you can get in the biking world!  And I’m probably skewing future results by mentioning fixies again in this article.  Sigh…

On the bright side, 2010 saw the release of two electric cargo bikes (the Ute and elMundo) and the announcement of three more (the Transport+, several models from Onya cycles, and Urban Arrow).  Waiting for availability of these latter bikes has required considerable patience.  Despite my frequent criticism, Trek’s web site still claims the Transport+ will be available in late fall (they don’t mention which year!).  Hey, Trek, is there anyone awake over there?

Some features and prices have evolved since my earlier reviews of the Ute, elMundo, and Transport+.  All of these bikes now sell for about $2600, so they must now be evaluated on features (and availability) rather than price.  I am pleased to see continued evolution of the elMundo, both in the bike’s features (like the rear disc brake) and the increasing accuracy of the specs published on their web site.  For example, I complained in an earlier article that the power rating of their motor seemed inflated, and now it’s fixed.  Thanks, Yuba!

I don’t have any news on the Urban Arrow, but I received some interesting feedback from Todd at Clever Cycles regarding my article about it:

Our wariness about the high-speed braking characteristics of bikes in this format [front loader] is why we never pushed the assist concept with them. It’s not just the brakes per se, but the lightly loaded front wheel without a big load, and the relatively small amount of rubber on the road relative to the total kinetic energy of the vehicle. The crashes didn’t happen from not being able to stop the wheels, but when the wheels did in fact stop and the tires lost purchase. Large footprint lower-pressure Big Apple tires, modest motor power with a sensible speed limit, relatively low vehicle mass: these are more reasons to be optimistic that Urban Arrow might be “the one.”

This is a point that I hadn’t considered before.  In the past, I’ve worried about braking performance of loaded cargo bikes, and I found that increased load seems to also increase the braking performance of the tires (at least, on dry pavement).  The performance of an unloaded tire is therefore of some concern, especially for people riding on steep hills.  I’m optimistic that the Urban Arrow will be a good bike for relatively flat terrain; I will be quite interested to see how it performs in our neighborhood.

My bike

My Hammer Truck continues to work beautifully.  But ironically, it’s not getting much use right now.  I used to have a great biking circuit: I would bike with the kids to school, then bike to the Y for a workout, pick up groceries on the way home, and bike back to school to pick the kids up in the afternoon.  However, my daughter now rides the bus to her new school, and my son likes to walk with his friends to school.  My wife joined the Y, and now we drive there together at 5:00 in the morning.  My son joined a gymnastics club which is a 30-minute commute by car, so I pick up groceries on the way home from taking him.

With these changes to our family schedule, I have to invent opportunities to ride the bike, and there isn’t much incentive to do that in the wet winter weather of the Pacific Northwest.  When I do get the chance, it feels quite luxurious, and increases my nostalgia for the lifestyle we had in Copenhagen.  Some days I spend 2 or 3 hours in the car – a nightmare!  We bought a used Prius to increase our gas mileage while we await the arrival of our electric Leaf (perhaps as much as 5 months from now), but I’m discouraged that the layout of our city and the demands of our busy lives make it so difficult to pursue bike-centered transportation.

Kids on board

Speaking of transporting kids, I was recently introduced to a wonderful blog focused on carrying children on bikes: http://totcycle.com.  The blog includes a great survey of the options, and it’s broader in scope than anything I’ve written on this subject because it includes non-electric alternatives.  If you have young ones, check it out.  The photos of kids napping on various bicycle configurations is heartwarming.  I only wish I had started biking when my kids were younger.

Looking forward

I recently read an interview with an oil industry analyst who thinks we will see $5/gallon gas in the U.S. by 2012.  He thinks this is possible not because of any near-term shortage of oil, but due to fear of shortages as the world’s economies recover.

If this turns out to be true, the timing isn’t great.  Expensive fuel will either inhibit the long-awaited economic recovery, or it will spur inflation if our economy manages to power through it.

If there’s a bright side to this prediction, the price of gas is probably the most significant factor in determining how many bicyclists there are on U.S. streets.  However, I would rather see people choose bikes for all their benefits rather than because they have a financial gun to their heads.  But no matter how it happens, bicycles will play an increasing role in our transportation options.  For solo riders with relatively short commutes, a bicycle just makes too much sense from the standpoint of energy expended per mile traveled.  And because electric assistance extends the range and lowers the effort for a broader section of our community, it really is possible to see bikes in numbers we’ve never seen in modern America.

I said I wouldn’t make predictions, but if 2011 isn’t the year of the electric bike, no one will be more surprised than I.


8
Nov 2010
by don

Year of the electric cargo bike: 2011

Today I was eagerly searching for a Trek dealer in the Seattle area who might have the new Transport+ cargo bike available for a test ride.  I knew I was being a little optimistic, but several months ago a Trek marketer told me the bike would be available by November.  Trek’s web site continues to say “Available late fall”, and there’s even a brief video review from ElectricBikeReport.com.

But no luck.  The best I could hope for at local bike shops was late February of 2011.  The marketer that gave me the more ambitious date is now out of the country and apparently not answering email.

Perhaps I’ll just need to be patient for the next 4 months, but I find this a little discouraging.  It reminds me of the glacially slow rollout of the Electric Ute, and I expected something different from Trek.  Instead, the introduction of the Transport+ is looking just as cautious as the Ute, and I’m wondering why.

Then I found this blog entry from the president of Trek, asking his customers to help him make the case to his market forecaster that this is a bike that will generate interest.  What the #@%!?  Maybe this is a clever ploy to increase buzz, but it’s not the approach I hoped the company would take to build this market.

I found another review of the Transport+ that looks encouraging, but in the details it trimmed 100W from the power of the motor, and nearly $500 from the price.  If these specs were true it could make the Transport+ even more attractive to the mass market (if a bit less attractive to us hill dwellers).  However, since these details conflict with Trek’s web site, I suspect they are not accurate.

In any case, the clock is ticking.  Unless competitors slip their schedules, there will be other interesting bikes to consider in 2011, such as those from Onya and Urban Arrow.  I’m excited to see this race heating up, but I’m disappointed if the starting gun has actually been delayed for a few months.

P.S.  If anyone at Trek is listening, I would be happy to present your side of the story if you would like to tell it!


4
Jun 2010
by don

A few words about that oil spill

I’ve been debating for weeks whether I should include any mention of the Gulf oil spill in this blog.  On the one hand, my desire to minimize our impact on the environment is a major motivation for my cargo biking activities.  On the other hand, I’m not sure I can say anything new or relevant about the situation.  With hourly updates on the containment of the spill (or lack of any real progress), you’ve probably heard all you need on the topic.

But if you haven’t seen this site (http://www.ifitwasmyhome.com/), you should.  It moves the oil slick to your neighborhood to give you a more visceral appreciation of the scale of the calamity.  In my state, the slick covered all of the Olympic National Park, Rainier National Park, North Cascades National Park, Puget Sound, and most of Washington’s coast line:

Imagining all that beautiful scenery fouled with mats of smelly oil is heartbreaking.  But no less than what Gulf state residents feel about the waters near their homes.

If you want to read more about a cargo biker’s take on the spill, here’s an article that says everything I wanted to say, only better: http://bikeforth.org/dont-blame-bp-blame-me/


27
May 2010
by don

Dawn of the (U.S.) cargo bike revolution

[NOTE: I originally posted this article on May 27, 2010.  Since then, new information has become available.  I edited this on August 24 to incorporate some of the new developments.]

The title of this post might be a tad premature, but today I’m feeling a little more optimistic than I have in recent weeks.  That’s partly due to encouragement from my readers (you are a wonderful bunch!)  And perhaps some of the credit goes to a break in our Seattle rain that is allowing work to proceed on the solar panels being installed on my roof this week (soon I will be motoring up the hill using electrons harvested very locally).

But the biggest boost in my outlook came from news that two of the biggest names in cargo bike manufacturing — Kona and Yuba – are offering electric assistance as a pre-built option for their bikes.  Regular readers of my blog will know that this is a development I’ve been waiting and wishing for, and I think it signals the beginning of a new chapter in the annals of this kind of transportation (at least in the U.S.)

Why is it significant?

First, customers will no longer have to build these bikes themselves.  That requires either mechanical ability or a good bike mechanic and some extra cash.  But the process isn’t streamlined: which motor do you use?  Where do you mount the battery?  Are the specs on the motor a good match for the loads on the bike?  I’ve read several blogs where the build process took months to complete.

One can assume that the bike manufacturers have matched an appropriate motor to the bike.  If there are issues with the bike, there is a single contact, rather than wondering if the problem lies with the bike, the motor, or the installer.  To date, electric cargo bikes have been one-off custom builds, and there is no easy way to leverage knowledge or share solutions.

Economies of scale will reduce prices (both of the new bikes are significantly less expensive than mine), and competition will keep those prices within reach of people who need an alternative to a car for financial reasons.

So here’s a quick comparison of the bikes, with mine thrown in for context:

  Kona Electric Ute Yuba elMundo

Rans Hammer Truck / BionX
Price $2,599 $2,297 (includes tax and shipping!) $3,887 = $1,997 (bike) + $1,890 (BionX)bags/runners/deck not incl.
Motor 250W front hub 500W front hub 350W rear hub (BionX)
Links http://www.konaworld.com/bike.cfm?content=electric_ute http://yubaride.com/yubashop/28-e-mundo.html http://www.ransbikes.com/Hammertruck09.htm

http://www.cycle9.com/c9store/electric-bicycle-kits-c-5/bionx-pl-350-rear-hub-motor-kit-p-48

When I originally wrote this article, I included a row in the table above listing the carrying capacity of each bike.  Since then, I have become concerned about the ability of cargo bike brakes to stop loads that approach the carrying limits of the bike.  Yuba has actually removed any mention of carrying capacity from its website.  In my opinion, that is the responsible thing to do.  There is already a tendency for enthusiastic cargo bike promoters to put very large loads on these bikes and post photos for bragging rights.  Even though it’s fun, I don’t think it’s in the long-term interest of cargo biking to promote unrealistic or unsafe behavior.

Since I wrote this article, there have been further developments for the Ute and elMundo, and there is a new bike coming from Trek.  You can read about them here.