Posts Tagged: Onya Cycles


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!


24
Oct 2010
by don

Electric cargo bikes everywhere

About five months ago, I wrote an article called Dawn of the (U.S.) cargo bike revolution.  At the time, the title seemed like a pretty big leap.  I was extrapolating a new market and mode of transportation based on two barely-available cargo bikes with electric motor options.

If I was worried I was out on a limb last May, in retrospect I was just uncovering the tip of the iceberg.  In the past few weeks, I’ve been overwhelmed by numerous electric cargo bike designs.  I wish I could cover all of them in as much detail as my recent review of the Urban Arrow, but it takes a lot of time and energy to write reviews like that, and this is not a full-time job for me.  :-)

Onya Cycles

Onya Cycles is a San Francisco-based company with three different electric cargo bikes in the works.  They are the brainchildren of inventor Saul Griffith, who won the MacArthur “Genius” award for a variety of projects he has initiated.  Saul owned several cargo bikes and wanted to try his hand at correcting deficiencies he saw in each.  His innovations range from the somewhat incremental to the fairly radical – definitely worth a mention here.

Onya’s bikes could fit under my “third generation” criteria (bikes designed with electric assistance as a central feature), but in contrast to the Urban Arrow, they will be available without the motor for people with flatter commutes or Lance Armstrong legs.  The current BMC motor/battery option is the same for all three bikes and adds around $1300 to the price of each.  The motor is rated at 600W (2000W peak) – these people have to face some of the steepest urban hills in the country, and they are serious about them!  The battery provides 10 amp-hours at 48V - enough to provide assistance for about 20 miles.  Onya bikes ride on 20″ wheels to increase torque and lower the center of gravity.  They also have 160mm disc brakes on every wheel (did I mention these guys think about hills?)

Onya Mule

Onya’s “Mule” cycle won’t surprise regular readers of my blog.  Like most of the bikes I’ve reviewed during the past year, it’s a longtail.  However, it is the first assisted longtail available prebuilt from a manufacturer that adheres to the Xtracycle standard, which opens the door for Xtracycle-compatible accessories (rather than locking into accessories provided by the bike’s manufacturer).  There are arguments on both sides whether Xtracycle standardization is a good thing, but it makes a lot of sense for a smaller company like Onya to leverage the standard.  The target price of around $3000 (powered) is high compared to the competition, but if you’ve got hills, the heavy-duty brakes and motor might justify the premium price.

Onya E.T.

The “E.T.” cargo bike is an interesting new shape (at least, new for the U.S.) for transporting lighter loads (less than 50 pounds) with a more compact bike.  With a normal-length wheel base, this might fit on standard bike racks if the front bucket doesn’t get in the way.  Target release for both the Mule and the E.T. is early in 2012.

Onya Front End Loader

I saved the most interesting for last.  The “Front End Loader” is the first serious electric tricycle that I know of.  Besides the hill-hungry motor and three disc brakes, the suspension is very interesting.  It allows you to lean the bike during turns, reducing the risk of lifting a wheel (or worse).  The company is quite proud of the custom computer code they had to write to model and optimize the tilting mechanism.  You can meet the inventor and watch the bike climbing hills and tilting through turns in this video:

Leaning Loader

If you want to see lots of hills and turns, here’s another video with pretty much nothing but that.

The Front End Loader is closer to release than the other two bikes.  Onya has already sold 10 beta test Loaders for $4200 each.  They realize that price is high, and hope to reduce it as they increase production volume.

The videos show the bike climbing significant hills with little or no pedaling.  I watched that with a mixture of excitement, dread, and even a bit of skepticism.  I’m excited because this was almost exactly my wish when I daydreamed about a perfect bike for my friends and neighbors last May.  I asserted that people of all ages and abilities needed to be able to ride up a hill at a decent pace in order to make cargo bikes practical for a broad audience.  Maybe that day is close at hand.  A tricycle addresses concerns about balance at low speeds. However, I’m concerned that first-time bikers may hop on bikes with this kind of power and exceed their skill levels.  A few unfortunate accidents could give the nascent market a black eye, and it might even produce legislation that could curtail the use of these bikes.  I’ll have more to say on that later.

Finally, I’m a little skeptical because riding a bike up a hill at the claimed speed requires enormous amounts of power.  I have questions about the battery’s ability to sustain that, and the motor’s ability to handle the heat that is generated.  I’m hoping these are issues that a MacArthur genius can solve.

Regardless of how these bikes turn out, Onya Cycles is interesting in another respect.  Like Urban Arrow, this is a company whose sole products are cargo bikes (and primarily electric).  These companies represent a bold bet that the electric cargo biking market is here to stay.  Unlike Trek and Kona, they don’t have traditional bikes to fall back on if interest in cargo biking stumbles.

I am further encouraged that these companies are not making a bunch of “me too” products.  At this point, each of the bikes I’ve mentioned in this blog might address a fairly small niche.  But taken together, they cover a pretty broad range of riders and uses.  We’re not growing a mono-culture crop here.  Just as biodiversity indicates a healthy ecosystem, a variety of cargo biking designs bodes well for the health of this kind of transportation.

Once again, I’m looking at developments I didn’t expect to see so soon.  However, I know what cargo biking will look like when it enters the mainstream, and I bet you do, too.  We’ll see stores like Wal-mart and Costco selling electric cargo bikes for about half the price of today’s models.  They will be made in China, and probably designed there as well.  When that day comes, I won’t know whether to cheer or cry…

Advanced Vehicle Design

Speaking of different designs, a German company (formerly British) named Advanced Vehicle Design produces quadricycles for business with a couple of motor choices.  Another first: electric-assisted recumbents!  While these might be expensive for individuals, they provide an impressive way for businesses to burnish their eco-friendly credentials.  And they look cool:

AVD Truck

AVD Van

AVD Taxi

But where can you drive them?  I’ve been trying to figure out how they fit into the vehicle code of my state.  There are regulations pertaining to medium-speed electric vehicles (speed limited to 45 mph), and there are rules for electric bicycles.  But I’m left scratching my head: where could I legally drive a quadricycle?  In the bike lane?  Probably won’t fit.  On the road with car traffic?  That would be an annoying obstacle for drivers on some of our faster roads, even with electric assistance.  Perhaps these vehicles are really only useful in big cities, although there are plenty of opportunities there.

Legal infrastructure

After our year of living in Copenhagen, it’s easy to see how far the physical infrastructure in most American cities needs to evolve to support lower-speed and lower-energy transportation choices.  The legal infrastructure pertaining to electric bikes also needs to evolve – that became increasingly clear as I perused the Washington State Vehicle Code.  Different statutes from state to state and country to country impede progress.  On the other hand, I fear that regulations developed in the absence of a real understanding of these vehicles will go overboard and unreasonably restrict them.

For example, I have a friend who does a good job of tracking biking trails on his blog and trail network website.  He alerted me to a recent ruling that restricts use of electric bikes on a trail near Aspen, Colorado.  The bewildering varieties and capabilities of different bikes and motors stumped officials until they made it easy: no electric assistance allowed, period.  Although that regulation may be revisited, similar motions will be considered in many town councils and state legislatures.  To maintain our freedom of mobility, we need to play a part in these discussions.

The situation that concerns me most is transport of children.  That is a uniquely emotional issue that biking critics will use to restrict cargo bikes on the grounds of safety.  If I weren’t allowed to transport my kids by bike, at least half my bike trips would be eliminated, and it would then be difficult to justify the cost of my “car replacement bike.”  Cargo bikes will eventually reach a critical mass, and there will be a significant outcry if their use is unreasonably curtailed.  But at this point, I feel the industry is vulnerable to restrictions that might appear as reasonable compromises to non-bikers.

To avoid any sort of legal backlash, I believe we need to help the public understand the benefits and the realities of cargo biking.  Sometimes advocates of a greener life style get a little too enthusiastic and the public gets over-hyped impressions of cargo bikes.  For example, in the following video, a helmetless rider carries two kids (at least they have helmets) on a bike that the motor propels at “up to 30 mph” (well over the federal legal limit).  Can you blame people for becoming alarmed when they see that?

Although I may be alone in this, I also think cargo biking will receive long-term benefits if we are careful to follow traffic laws – even the ones that don’t seem to take electric cargo bikes into account (read BikeForth.org’s counterargument here).  If we flaunt the laws we don’t like and annoy 99.9% of the people with whom we share the road, we will have few friends to defend us when laws begin to restrict what/where/how we ride.  I realize this advice goes against a cargo biker’s natural inclinations towards non-conformity, but if I can help my community embrace a slower-speed, greener, more sociable lifestyle, living within the rules is a small price to pay.