Excerpt from the Article below
Your new car? The cargo bike with some electric assistance
For the past few months, I’ve been living life without a car. The tipping point was yet another thing going wrong with our ailing, wheezing Peugeot 206, and the realisation it cost a vast amount of money given how little we used it.
The transition has been pretty painless. Family trips have thus far all been done on the train, and we got about everywhere within London on public transport or bike anyway. The only addition was the purchase of a slightly wobbly bike trailer for bigger food shops.
All well and good, you might say, for a three-person family living in inner-ish London, but it’s not practical for most Britons. What about the school run? The commute? The supermarket shop?
It’s a fair argument in some ways, and I’m not suggesting everyone can, or should, give up their car for a primarily pedal-based life. But there are many more than currently do who could, or could at least give up a second car. After all, around two-thirds of car trips in the UK every year are less than five miles, while a fifth are less than a mile.
This is where the likes of the Vélo Électrique E250 cargo bike become so interesting.
Cargo bikes, generally the Dutch or Danish style three-wheelers with a metal load-carrier at the front, are still pretty rare in the UK. Their appeal is obvious: you can carry several children and/or a load of shopping but park more or less anywhere, and the running costs are negligible.
There are three main drawbacks to them. First, you probably need a garage or accessible garden to store them. Then there’s the cost: the very lovely Danish-made Nihola cargo bike I tried out for our video review of ways to carry children on bikes costs about £2,200. That money can obviously be recouped fairly quickly if the alternative is a car, but it’s still a lot.
Finally there’s the physical effort. Cargo bikes are surprisingly easy to ride, but add in a big load and starting off from traffic lights, let alone climbing hills, can require serious thigh power. Some people might relish that but many don’t.
Jeremy Davies, the man behind Poole-based Vélo Électrique, can’t do much about the first problem but he’s sought answers to the second and third by making an electrically-assisted cargo bike assembled in the UK from Chinese parts. It’s fairly basic: the gears are unbranded, and it has V-brakes rather than, say, discs. But it starts at £1,395: pretty cheap for a cargo bike, especially so for one with a (small) motor.
Davies calculates that his use of one of his machines in place of his family’s second car saves more than £3,000 a year in running and maintenance costs. He also boasts that the bike is big and powerful enough to take him up a steep local hill while carrying his children, aged three and six, and “a fat dog”.
I tried out the posh version of his two-bike range, the £1,995 Retro Deluxe, which adds arguably less than vital luxuries such as a Brooks leather saddle and coloured tyres, as well as a rain cover for the cargo cab and built in lights, but is otherwise identical.
As a family vehicle it’s certainly a lot more fun than an elderly Peugeot with a faint residual smell of toddler sick (that was another reason for getting rid of it). Children seem to love cargo bikes. My three year old insisted I ride him round and round for about 20 minutes after we returned from our first trip. That never happened with the car.
Riding any cargo bike on the roads takes some getting used to, but no more, say, than taking your child on your own bike for the first time. Cargo bikes have the advantage of being wide enough to be almost treated as another car (albeit a pretty slow one) and protecting occupants with a metal frame and, in this case, seatbelts and roll bars. I’ll mention here that my son did wear a helmet while on it, unlike when posing for the photo above.
My admittedly limited experience pottering around the back roads of south London was very positive. People grinned, a few waved. One woman held back behind me on a narrow road before, as we headed in different directions at a junction, wound down her car window to say how much she loved the bike. Some of this might, of course, be a factor of the E250’s novelty value.
It’s certainly bigger than some of its peers – mine had straps for four children on the facing bench seats; you can also get attached baby seats and dog carriers – the fairly long wheelbase and handling take a bit of getting used to, but that’s only to be expected.
You can tell some of the parts are relatively basic – for example, mine was a brand new model and the gears started off very stiff – but the electric assist controls are straightforward, with three power options and a twist throttle. The 250w motor, the most powerful allowed under law, isn’t going to give you a flying start with a machine that weighs 59kg unladen, but then that’s not what you need.
The toughest test I gave the bike was the steep if brief hill leading from my local supermarket while laden with a week’s shopping and my three-year-old assistant. Even on full power the bike still needed a decent push on the pedals, but still made the climb with relative ease. It’s the sort of thing which could otherwise be a deal-breaker for an unpowered cargo bike, especially if the purchaser isn’t a particularly keen cyclist.
I think e-cargo bikes can play a massive role in towns and cities in the future, particularly for deliveries, with some vehicles able to carry loads of almost half a tonne. For the domestic market cost does remain a barrier, as people do compare them to bikes rather than cars, which is why the (relatively) economical E250 is so interesting.
Would I buy one? Probably not, but that’s simply because it’s almost too big for my modest-sized family’s needs, but it’s both incredibly practical and hugely fun. If that’s not enough, think of the running costs: even including money aside for a replacement battery every few years, Davies estimates his sets him back about £100 a year.