This review compares the 2013 Yuba Mundo cargo bike with the 2014 Xtracycle 27D EdgeRunner. My daughters have named our matte black Yuba “Black Pearl”. The Xtracycle is named “Baliwick” after a butler in the Princess Sofia cartoon.
Welcome Mrs. S., a biking mother of two young children who is making her first post here.
I don’t consider myself a hardcore cyclist, but after completing the 30 Days of Biking challenge and now having signed up for the Endomondo National Bike Challenge I have to admit to myself that at this point I am bicycling with at least the same frequency that I am driving my car. I feel like I should write at least something about my bike experiences.
Perhaps I should confess at this point that I love to drive. I also love my car. Having never had a car newer than 8 years old and most frequently having traded in a 16 year old vehicle, my 2010 is like a dream. It looks nice, runs great, has loads of space, and has a cd player (how could I ask for more?). It doesn’t get bad mileage either, for a mini-van. But I don’t love buying gas. I also don’t love using up fossil fuels for trips that could be just as easy (or even easier) with my bike.
Today’s article comes from a guest contributor, Shawn McCarty of Venice, Florida. Shawn is an avid cyclist who has completed bike tours through various parts of the United States and Europe. His blog (aworldspinning.com) has some nice photos of his European adventure. And his custom electric cargo bike is amazing!
If you have biking facts, photos, or a story you think our readers would enjoy, let us know. We’re interested in presenting a variety of topics and points of view as we build our biking community.
Here’s a little photo essay about my family’s bicycles. I’m proud to say that we use our bikes a lot. Each bike is tailored to its user: I drive a cargo bike capable of carrying passengers and cargo long distances; my wife drives a slower and lighter but more stylish bike; my 11-year-old daughter Thea and her friend JJ drive bikes tailored to their 2-mile drive to school. (My son Jasper, aged 15, resists having a bike. He pretty much walks wherever he needs to go.) Ithaca is hilly, so it’s important for a utility bike to have an electric motor. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of years experimenting with electric bike motors and other accessories. Maybe you can benefit from my discoveries.
The Aqua-Xtracycle is a do-it-yourself amphibious electric cargo bike. This video shows how it works, and the photo gallery below shows a bit of our development process. In a future post I’ll describe how you can make your own Aqua-Xtracycle.
I recently increased the power of my Stoked Big Dummy by setting it up to use two 36v batteries in series rather than only the one 36v battery. (“Stoked Big Dummy” means a Surly Big Dummy extra long bike with a Stokemonkey electric motor.) The change required purchasing a more robust motor controller from the fine folks at ebikes.ca. I also had to open up the controller and solder some beefier resistors in there and make some other modifications. But the result has been amazing. My bike is now very responsive and can easily accelerate to 20mph in a few seconds, and go up hills at 15mph without pedaling. Normally in this blog I rail against speed, but I am discovering that this moderate increase in speed increases the utility and safety of my beloved car replacement vehicle. I can now go on single-afternoon 100-mile trips by bike without it being a big deal “tour”. And I can more easily maneuver in traffic and join the flow. True, I’m now using 20 watt-hours/mile rather than my usual 10 watt-hours/mile, but still nowhere near the 1200 watt-hours/mile that a car uses.
I won’t deny it, speed can also be fun. I recently put together an ebike for my daughter. In the photo above you can see that the bike has a big black front hub. That’s the motor. The batteries are in the bag on the bike rack. Her first ride produced in her the legendary “electric vehicle grin”. She said that her bike was “like a car disguised as a kid’s bike”. She instantly recognized that her new ebike would give her a basic freedom that is denied to kids in our society: the ability to use roads for transportation. Kids in our society are taught from the moment they can walk to stay out of the road. No wonder then that kids must rely on parents and school buses for transportation. No wonder we have an obesity epidemic in this country. The ebike, and the EV grin it causes, may change this sad state of affairs.
I thought this recent post to the Endless Sphere ebike forum by icecube 57 captured the “EV grin” phenomena that is currently only shared by hobbyists but may soon be experienced by the general public as ebikes take off. You can read the original post (along with video) here.
“In other news Im very suprised at the power of this motor. My neighor just moved in her bf. I came home to find them socializing with my wife in the garage. The conversation shifted to my bike. He was like ill try it later. I said you are going to try it now. He gave in. I started him off in Grandma mode. (20mph legal restricted) He was excited about that. The controller still dumps 3500-4000w off the line but it tapers off quickly and he proceeded to take my bike up the huge as hill on my street that I will stall on in grandma mode and it took him up the hill without stalling un assisted maintaing about 15mph. Which I cant even do unless I have a running start. He is about 120lbs lighter than me so I can understand it being easier on the motor and controller. He went around the block and came back. He said take this out of grandma mode. He had a grin from ear to ear…Its one thing to ride your own bike but to see someone else riding it with EV grin hauling ass at top speed in traffic like its a motorcycle”
For the record I only have a temporary interest in riding an electric motorcycle, until the grin wears off. My ultimate goal is to build a lightweight (200 lbs.) narrow (42″) slow (20mph) passenger-carrying “car” that falls within the legal definition of an ebike. I couldn’t see myself succeeding with 36v. I can definitely see it happening with a 72v machine.
There are many alternatives to haul cargo on bikes – a fact that was demonstrated daily on the streets of Copenhagen during the year we lived there. By far the most popular were Christiania bikes, which were used to haul various daily goods including kids and girlfriends. There were also quite a few bikes with extended front ends, which look a bit awkward but have the advantage of keeping your cargo in view.
With such a variety of hauling solutions, the one cargo bike I never saw in Denmark is the one I’ve focused on in this blog: the longtail bike. One might wonder why I haven’t broadened my scope a little.
The main reason is my readership. Although my blog is read in many countries, roughly 80% of my readers are in the United States and Canada. Since I’m most familiar with the transportation landscape in North America, I can offer suggestions and opinions that are appropriate here. My experiences in Denmark strengthen my conviction that transportation must be tailored to local circumstances.
There are three things that make a Christiania bike a better choice for Denmark than the U.S.: flat geography, advanced biking infrastructure, and higher expectations or education about bikes in general.
As I’ve often said, flat terrain is a huge advantage for Danish bikers. The Christiania bike is heavy and not very aerodynamic. I rode one once and it required some effort to push it through a stiff Danish headwind. I’m not sure I could pedal one up a Seattle hill, even without a load.
The bike infrastructure in Copenhagen enables a diverse ecosystem of bikes. For example, many bike lanes in Copenhagen are wide enough for one Christiania bike to pass another without impinging on car lanes. Contrast that with my own city, where some bike lanes aren’t wide enough to accommodate a single Christiania-sized bike.
Finally, these kinds of bikes are viable because Danes use their bikes differently than Americans do. They tend to ride relatively short distances at a relaxed pace. They are accustomed to seeing all kinds of citizens on bikes, including many senior citizens who are more comfortable on a tricycle than walking. Bikes of many shapes and sizes are optimized for diverse needs. Here’s a video that illustrates what I mean. Check out the guy carrying 4 kids, a kid’s bike, and a whole bunch of other stuff on his bike:
Bike trailers represent another cargo hauling strategy that I rarely saw in Denmark. I’m guessing that’s because the added length, the extra wheels, and the location of the cargo farther behind you make a trailer difficult to maneuver in cozy urban settings. But I’ve been getting occasional emails from readers wondering about towing a trailer with an electric bike, so perhaps it is time to tackle the subject.
Before I start, I should say that I have never used a trailer, and I’m in the precarious position of expressing opinions that aren’t based on actual experience. I’m hoping that my trailer-towing readers (I know there are some of you out there!) will let me know if I say anything stupid.
From a price standpoint, a trailer-based cargo bike has some advantages. If you already own a bike, you can buy a nice trailer for about $500. If you were to add an electric motor and lithium-manganese battery for less than $1000, your outlay would be at least $800 less than the least expensive electric longtail bike I’ve described in previous blog posts. So how do they compare on features?
The trailer gets points for flexibility. When you’re not carrying cargo, you can enjoy a nice electric bike that’s a little more nimble than a longtail. It will fit on the rack of a suitably-equipped bus – not something most longtails can do.
The trailer can also carry heavier or awkward loads due to its longer cargo deck and lower center of gravity. For example, here’s a story of a guy moving a refrigerator using a bike trailer. That’s not going to happen on a longtail!
However, if you’re thinking of using your cargo bike for more common daily chores (carrying kids and/or groceries, for example), a trailer will be overkill. It’s not going to be as easy to pack or to ride.
Everything I’ve said so far might be obvious, so the real question is how the electric motor is going to perform with a bike trailer. Since it’s going to provide a significant boost to your leg power, the motor will
Decrease your effort
Increase your speed
Increase the amount of weight you can haul
Increase the slope of hills you can climb
The last 3 items on that list arouse some safety concerns. Since the wheels of the bike trailer don’t have brakes, the momentum of your cargo will add stress to your bike’s brakes without adding weight to your wheels. This increases the chance of skidding. As I discovered here, a skidding front wheel radically diminishes steering control. That would be a bad situation on a normal bike, but the bike trailer adds another complication. Unless you’re stopping in a perfectly straight line, the trailer will impart a sideways force to your bike during hard braking. I’ve seen enough jack-knifed trucks to be sure I don’t want to see a jack-knifed cargo bike.
What does this have to do with the electric motor? Nothing, except that the extra power and speed provided by the motor will complicate emergency stops. A hard stop at 25 m.p.h. is qualitatively different from the same stop at 15 m.p.h. If my experience is any guide, it’s hard to resist the temptation to open up the throttle when there are no obstacles in sight. Unfortunately, it’s the obstacles you don’t see that lead to emergency braking situations.
My gut feeling (again without practical experience) is that bike trailers excel at transporting big loads at moderate speeds over relatively flat terrain. An electric motor would be helpful to get the load moving without shifting through all your gears. Your safety sense must be your guide in determining how fast you allow that motor to propel you.
I have one other concern. There’s a reason you don’t see a trailer hitch mounted on a Toyota Prius: the car’s drivetrain isn’t designed for it. Likewise, most bike motors weren’t designed to tow heavy trailers. Even if they work for awhile, the extra wear and tear may not be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. Anyway, it’s something you might investigate before pursuing this course.
If you use a bike trailer, and especially if you’re using a motor, I’d love to hear about your experiences.
My cargo bike is a Rans Hammer Truck with sling bag and runners. This is a “crankforward” design, which means that the pedals are about 10 inches in front of the seat rather than almost directly below. This has some interesting benefits:
The seat can be bigger and more comfortable, because it doesn’t have to be cut away to accommodate the motion of your thighs.
Your sitting position is more upright and natural. You aren’t supporting your weight on your hands, and your fingers don’t get numb.
You can crank pretty hard on the pedals by pulling back on the handlebar. You can climb a steep hill without standing on your pedals.
You ride an inch or two lower than a normal bike, which allows you to put your foot flat on the ground when you stop. That helps avoid tipping the bike when you’re carrying a heavy load.
The main downside to the crankforward design is that the bike feels a little wobbly when you’re travelling less than 3 m.p.h. I’ve fixed that by adding a BionX PL-350 electric motor. Now I can climb a steep hill with a heavy load at 4 or 5 m.p.h. — no wobbles! The battery and motor are hidden under bags. Since the motor is completely silent even under the heaviest loads, it’s not obvious to onlookers how much assistance I’m getting. 🙂
To heighten visibility during our gloomy Seattle days, I’ve added CatEye headlights and tail lights and Down Low Glow light sticks to increase visibility from the sides.
The final result is pretty expensive for a bike (around $5K), but cheap for a second car. I use it for errands, carting our kids up and down the hill to our local school, grocery shopping, going to the YMCA… well, you get the point. It’s a lot more fun than driving our mini-van around the neighborhood, but our bike lanes are nothing to brag about, so you have to be cautious as well. I never ride without the lights on.
That’s a bakfiets, (pronounced “bach feets”), a Dutch-made bike which recently started to be imported to the US.
For those who need haul kids or “stuff”, the bakfiets comes loaded with features that make it an attractive car replacement.
For kid hauling
This model comes standard with a bench seat for two children, including safety harnesses for both. Although difficult to see in the photo, the bottom edge of the bucket contains a step to make it easier to get in and out of the bucket. A super-sturdy four-point kickstand makes the bike totally stable as passengers enter and exit. And unlike a trailer, the kids have a commanding view of what’s going, and the parent can constantly keep an eye on them. It’s no surprise the Dutch royal family is known for carrying their own children around in a bakfiets. For rain and colder weather, a see-through cover is made as an accessory for the bucket.
For busy people. Real people.
A bike should work with your lifestyle, not the other way around. The bakfiets comes from a country with more bicycles than people, and practical bikes are understood there. So, it’s built to just get on and go. There’s no external gears to maintain. Eight gears are provided inside the wheel. The are no external brake pads to be serviced. Discrete drum breaks work reliably. A built-in lighting systems provides bright front and rear lights, powered by your pedaling, and still shining for a while after your stop. Greasy clothes are no worry. Fenders, an enclosed chain and even a skirt guard are all standard. Locking the bike now works like a car, with a reliable key-based system that disables wheel and is difficult to defeat.
To top it off, it includes puncture-resistant tires, a comfortable riding position and a pleasant sounding bell!