Posted by Madi Carlson (Family Biking Columnist) on October 15th, 2019 at 9:18 am
I was beginning to think there wasn’t an “off-the-shelf” solution to carrying two bigger kids (ages 12 and 10, weighing a combined 171 pounds in my case) by bike. I’m happy to say I stand corrected! The Urban Arrow I’m currently borrowing isn’t the perfect answer to this question, but it works. And it makes me think that even if there isn’t a stock family bike that works for this purpose, small customizations aren’t as tricky as I had feared (to be addressed in a future column soon).
“Having passengers up front is wonderful for conversation and sibling bickering management. It’s also blissfully convenient to have a big open bucket to haphazardly dump cargo into.”
To reiterate the purpose of my investigation: yes, my kids are both able to ride bikes and we get most places on three separate bikes. And no, this isn’t about finding a bike for me specifically. I’m curious about solutions for families who have two tweens and want to replace a car with a bike. It’s hard to go from zero to 171 pounds just like that. I started carrying 20 pounds of baby on my bike and ever so gradually added weight. I don’t consider my bike a “car replacement” since we only travel kid-bikeable distances. That means we think twice and either skip or take transit to anything far away. However, that might not be appealing for a family used to having a car at their disposal. I want to identify a bike for them.
➤ Urban Arrow family varieties
There are two models here in Portland at Clever Cycles, the Urban Arrow Family Electric Cargo Bike for $5,999 and the Urban Arrow Family Electric Cargo Bike With CX Motor and 500W Battery for $6,699. I’m borrowing the former. It has a Bosch Performance Line e-assist and it’s a joy to ride. The e-assist seamlessly works with each pedal push so there’s no wobbly hesitation when getting started from a stop — which is critical when carrying heavy loads. It features the coolest (in my opinion) shifter on the market, the enviolo hub using NuVinci continuously variable transmission technology. That means one can shift through an infinite number of gears even when stopped (see it in action in the video link below). This is also critical when carrying very heavy loads for those of us who sometimes forget to downshift when approaching a stop.
➤ Weight limits
Both versions of the bike weigh about 100 pounds and have a cargo box weight limit of 275 pounds and overall weight limit (bike, rider, any cargo, and accessories) of 600 pounds. That means even with my big kids I can add 100 more pounds of weight to the cargo box and then 50 more pounds onto the rear rack. Having all the cargo weight down low in the front is nice. I can walk the bike with both kids in it — something I can’t do with my longtail cargo bike.
➤ Rider height
At 5’5″ the one-frame-size bike fits me very well with room to adjust a lot in either direction. The minimum suggested height for the rider is 5’4″ but I can put the saddle five inches lower than where I need it so I think someone even shorter would be comfortable on the bike (and I know shorter people who own Urban Arrows). The handlebars have two adjustment spots: the TranzX JD-ST17-2 stem adjusts from -10° to +60° and the Ergotec Moon Cruiser sweptback riser handlebars can be rotated to put hands higher or lower. I usually just worry about the shorter end of the spectrum because Dutch bikes tend to accommodate tall people well. I think people from 5′ to over 6′ can ride this bike (Jonathan rode it before me and he’s about 6′ 2″).
Oh how I love talking about range anxiety! I forgot to charge the battery early on and had to pedal the bike around with no juice. Empty and in fairly flat conditions it’s fine! The range of the battery, even of the more basic model, has been excellent for me. There are four modes: eco, tour, sport, and turbo (newer models with have eMTB in place of sport) and riding around in eco mode with an empty box doesn’t need charging for days. At the other end of the spectrum, riding eight miles with 200-foot elevation gain while carrying both kids and moderate additional cargo while using turbo mode and often going 16 miles per hour used about 1.5 of the five battery bars and the display claimed 20 miles of range at the start and six miles of range by the end. Normally one would vary the assist, only using turbo, but I was still impressed with the range for this especially heavy load. The battery has two ports so it can be charged while still attached to the bike or while removed. I park the bike inside my house so I like being able to leave it all in one piece for charging. Range varies greatly based on cargo weight, terrain, and assist level. I like having the range showing on the display (other options are clock, max speed, average speed, trip time, odometer, and trip distance), but noting the number of battery bars left is a more accurate gauge.
A word about front-loading cargo bikes in general. I have always loved bakfietsen (Dutch for “box bikes,” the singular is bakfiets) and before bakfietsen with e-assists were readily available, I often rented analog versions when visiting flat cities. Urban Arrow has been around since 2010 and has always built e-assist bikes. I had my first UA sighting in 2014 in Seattle and it was a very exciting moment. This and many varieties of bakfietsen seat the rider in a bolt upright position with cranks positioned forward so it’s possible to get more of a foot down to the ground without sacrificing full leg extension. It feels a bit regal, sitting so nice and high. Personally, I feel like I’m channeling my Dutch mother and grandmother who never had bakfietsen per se, but did have regular Dutch bikes (also called omafietsen) with similar body position. It’s easy to check over my shoulder and it’s possible to come to a complete stop (ever so briefly) without having to put a foot down. The only downside is that switching to a sportier bike feels a bit squirrelly for a block.
Having passengers up front is wonderful for conversation and sibling bickering management. It’s also blissfully convenient to have a big open bucket to haphazardly dump cargo into.
Before spending time with this bike I thought I’d have to make adjustments to my everyday routes for a frontloader, but it turns out that’s not the case at all. Here’s an example: to get onto SE Foster Road I ride north on 62nd, but to avoid the three-way intersection with Holgate I use the third driveway from the corner (the closer two have dangerously high lips). This smooth driveway is paired with a dangerously thick seam in the middle of the sidewalk so it’s necessary to turn sharply as soon as I’m on the sidewalk (though the 2.15-inch-wide Schwalbe Big Apple Plus tire on the bike is probably fine with any road seam). Then I make a wide, slow arc around Round Table Pizza so as not to startle anyone walking in the opposite direction — this is something I thought the box would definitely get in the way of, but it doesn’t! And finally I can’t reach the walk button from where I would normally place the bike for crossing the street, but it’s surprisingly nimble so it’s easy to pull too-far and too-right forward to push the button and then back up and re-angle the bike. Every new experience (passing through a narrow diverter, carrying one adult, carrying two kids, carrying the dog) has been scary the first time, but a breeze the second.
Urban Arrow makes several awesome accessories. I’m using the extra front seat ($199) since my kids can’t fit next to each other comfortably on the standard bench. This bike also sports the rear rack ($89) that’s hefty enough to hold one of my kids and designed to attach a Yepp child seat to. The accessories I think are most exciting are the Maxi Cosi seat adapter ($215) for attaching a baby car seat into the box and the Yepp Mini adapter ($109) for adding the toddler seat that typically goes on the front of a regular bike into the box. Watch the Urban Arrow Cargo Bike video by Clever Cycles to see the bike in action and get a look at the amazing poncho ($119) that attaches to the bike raincover ($299). My kids are too tall for the rain cover, but for families with shorter kids, there are accessories to accommodate all ages and stages in all weather!
Other great built-in parts are the saddle handle, wheel lock, kickstand, and reflectors. The hand hold under the saddle makes it easier to maneuver the bike. It’s not light at 106 pounds, but that’s mostly in the front of the bike and I often lift the rear of the bike to get through doorways or move it closer to bike racks. The rear wheel cafe lock puts a metal bar through the spokes at the push of a lever and the turn of a key. What’s special about this one is that it shifts its position if you forget you’ve engaged the lock and push the bike off the kickstand. Otherwise you’d run the risk of bending a spoke. I thought this was a silly feature at first, but the same key sets the wheel lock and removes the battery so when I forgot I had the battery out for charging and pushed the bike forward I immediately appreciated this feature. Note: a second lock should be used in addition to the wheel lock. Bakfietsen usually have wide and stable kickstands and the Urban Arrow is no exception. It’s easy to pull down with a foot, even when balancing a heavy load in the bike. I’m not very strong, but I can rock the bike back onto the kickstand as well we shove it forward to get rolling even with a load heavier than myself.
While the kids would be happier in a wider bike that they can sit side-by-side in and both face forward, Pixie (a nine-pound chiweenie) loves it just how it is…though that’s not a good thing. I let her ride along in the box once and she started on the rear seat, with a terrific view. Then she migrated to the middle of the box, perched atop my cargo and still able to see fine. But she soon realized she could lean out the front of the box to really sniff the scenery and feel the wind in her ears. She loves being on bikes to begin with, and this was her favorite bike experience to date. Mine, not so much. I couldn’t convince her to sit back down so now she rides in her doggie backpack on the bench.
Thanks for reading! I’ll have one more part to this series to share so creative solutions to carrying two tweens.
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