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Delivering bread by bike

Hello to you all!

I regularly use an old Bakfiets cargo bike to make bread deliveries and to go to the Stirling farmers’ market on Port Street one Saturday per month. It is a sturdy, non electric-assist tricycle which can carry a surprising amount of weight, and has a very good volume capacity as well because of its front loaded square box. Now, this old friend broke down quite dramatically last month, and it has been so busy that I haven’t been really able to take care of it and to put it back on the road, it will have to wait!In the meantime, the cycle hub came to my rescue, and I was able to borrow the brand new Urban Arrow Cargo Bike for a week of good service!  I felt so smug riding this thing around Stirling for the first time that I had to write about the experience, hoping the reader might find both encouragement to use the machine, and tips on how to handle it.

There are plenty of reviews available out there, so I will not linger on the technical details, I’d much rather give practical examples of how it felt to ride it in Stirling, and the ideas it gave me.

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How it feels...

First of all, the Urban Arrow is an electric assist two-wheeled cargo bike, which makes it different to ride to a regular bike.

If you pull a trailer with a bike, you need to worry about your trail, and the trailer following you around corners without tipping over or bumping into a curb.

If you ride a front loader tricycle like a bakfiets (picture above), you need to worry about the space you take at the front, easy, because you see it, and also not tipping the load went going around a bend.

With the Urban arrow, you only need to worry about tipping the load when you are still, indeed, just like a regular bike, stability comes with movement. Just like the tricycle, you see where you load is at all times, if you look where you’re going, that is!

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Steering:

it is the big element of surprise at the start. When you turn the handlebars, the transmission goes all the way to the very front, 4 ft further than on a normal bike, so you end up feeling like you are driving a bike from a trailer far behind. This means that turning corners and avoiding potholes needs a bit more anticipation than usual. Give it a try on a quiet road, car park or cycle path first to get used to it.
Bottom clearance:

I remember thinking: “this thing will scratch every time I got up a curb, or down a step, even walking it”. Although I was quite careful not to push it too far, I never had such problem, and the bike is well conceived at that level. If you walk it down a curb, it will not touch and damage the frame, though I wouldn’t do it at full speed with a load.
“These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they do”:

Very good lesson here from Nancy Sinatra. A cargo bike is at its full potential only when securely loaded, that’s when you can feel the best stability. The front wheel will be prone to jump if you hit an obstacle like a pothole or a stone unloaded, I nearly got surprised on my way home through Braehead. When you ride the bike empty, take extra care when going at speed and around corners, the electric assist makes it quite easy to forget you are going at 24km/h. If you are good at logistics, you will always find a backload for the journey home, and that’s what the bike is for, use it!

Power!

In addition to its good designs and narrow silhouette, the arrow is set apart by its electric assistance and very good battery life (Bosh). There are four modes available on the display screen:

  • eco: perfect for riding empty, or loaded on flat or downhill and to save battery charge, will give you a range of about 50km.
  • tour: a slightly more pushy mode for flat and small hills, ideal for cruising with a load
  • sport: the sport mode will take you up most hills without breaking a sweat, loaded or not, and is also very useful to get started at traffic lights or roundabouts.
  • turbo: seriously reduces your range, so keep it as a last resort, but the turbo mode does everything the sports mode does, faster! If carrying a particularly heavy load, use it to start off the bike, or to go up a tough hill. It took me up Coxithill road like a breeze at a comfortable 10km/h with a 20 kg load.

Coming to a halt:

Speed would be a dangerous thing without good brakes, and the hydraulic system on the Arrow does a perfect job, very safe, even when loaded, and of course because the bike is so long, no risk of going over the bars if you have to do an emergency stop because you saw the ice cream van drive past you! If you want to jump of the bike for that ice crea afterwards, the kickstand will keep it in place, simply lower the stand with your foot until both arms touch the ground, and push on the end of the stand with your heel, the bike will naturally hop into place without much force needed. I used to try and pull it towards me with my arms, but take my word for it, it works best this way.

Walking the bike:

When you are at a standtstill is when the bike is the most awkward to manoeuvre. It is heavy, it want to tip to one side or the other, it doesn't turn very well. Good advice is to keep both hands on the bars and hands on the brakes at all times if you have to get the bike into a shed or park somewhere specific, and slight tip it towards yourself so that it isn't tempted to fall on the other side, which is harder to control and might end up hurting someone passing by.

Here we go, this about as much as I can tell you about my experience with the bike, I hope it helps and makes you want to try it, it'll soon be on hire at the Cycle hub, just get in touch with us!

Oh and by the way: if you borrow it, prepare to encounter some serious curiosity on the way. I always try and stop for a chat, lots of people seem genuinely interested in what this thing can do, and how it can revolutionize urban life. From taking children to school, to picking up a weekly batch of shopping, to small deliveries for businesses, to tradespeople being able to carry all their tools and move around the city without having to worry about parking or fuel costs and pollution, riding this bike not only gives you great pleasure, it allows you to imagine something different for the future!

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