Cargo Cult

Cargo container dolls

The last line of the last posting I did on this website read “Ride safe and see you real soon”. Unfortunately, I’ve failed on the “real soon” part as I’ve left another large gap between postings but I’ve been busy talking to people and test riding various models of cargo bikes to see how I might do what I need to do a little more efficiently and comfortably.

For quite a while now I’ve been harping on about the importance of looking at cycling holistically and not just as a sport or weekend adrenaline rush. Of course, doing that stuff is awesome but bicycles have so much more to offer and although I already use bikes regularly in a utilitarian fashion for actually getting stuff done, I felt that the setup I have (a converted mountain bike with a trailer) had reached the limits of it’s capabilities and that it was time to move into something more capable and built for the purpose of carrying loads.

So, after embarking on a fact finding mission involving speaking to various experts in the field and testing out several alternatives, I ended up at Earth Cycles at South Brisbane where I finally decided to update my mountain-bike-plus-trailer setup to the Yuba Boda Boda e-cargobike. It’s classed as a compact longtail style cargo bike which means that it’s a little shorter than it’s big brothers, the Spicy Curry and Mundo and a different configuration to a box bike or bakfiets style cargo bike like the Yuba Supermarche or Riese and Muller Packster. The idea of the longtail design is that it has most of it’s carrying capacity over the back wheel by means of a largely extended and reinforced rear triangle. The chain is also much longer than a conventional bike to accommodate the extra distance between the bottom bracket and the rear axle. Apart from those specialisations, the rest of the bike is furnished with fairly standard bike parts available at most bike shops.

Carrying a lot of groceries on the Yuba Boda Boda cargo bike

Besides the extra room and carrying capacity, the other thing that’s new to me is the addition of an electric assist system. Why did I opt for electric assist? Well, as much as I believe that one of the fundamentally great things about cycling is the idea that you propel yourself using the energy in your body, given that I have to contend with some decent hills where I live and that the purpose of this bicycle is to carry some serious loads (the Boda Boda can carry around 100kg plus the rider), I felt that the electric assist would really seal the deal to opt for bicycle use over car use any time I needed to go and get pretty much anything except for maybe a pallet of bricks.

The other thing to note is that I have in no way become a convert to all bicycles needing to be electric. My philosophy is still firmly that electric assist is fine for utility purposes where, for the relatively tiny extra emissions created, the trade off of greatly reduced car usage is worth it via the great increase to that utility which makes the bike that much more appealing for tackling heavy tasks. But for any other kinds of cycling which are purely recreational or require little to no load carrying, my existing analog bikes remain in full service which in practical terms means that, besides things like groceries and some commutes, I’ll still be riding an analog bike most of the time.

Groceries in a cargo bike

There are some people who view the use of e-bikes as some form of cheating or negation of the health benefits of cycling and I guess if I was to use an e-bike and nothing else all of the time, there may be some truth in that (though it’s still not as cut and dried as that – think of older riders and people with disabilities or injuries). But when you’re carrying forty or fifty kg of groceries, believe me that the electric assist really needs the assistance you give it by pedaling thus providing an ample workout. Not that there’s any option but to pedal. There’s no throttle on the Shimnano E6000 system that the Boda Boda comes with and, in actual fact, you’d struggle to find a quality electric assist system that still has a throttle as many early generation systems did. Instead, the electric assist works kind of like the power steering on a car in that it amplifies the effort you put in. You just set the level of amplification required (eco, normal or high), start pedaling and let the onboard computer take care of the rest.

What can this thing actually do?

At around 27kg, the Boda Boda is certainly no lightweight but all the frame reinforcement that makes the impressive load carrying capacity possible has to go somewhere though it’s still not overly heavy either thanks to the largely aluminium construction. Not that you feel any of that weight while the Shimano electric system is helping you along. It’s also possible to ride without assistance which I have done at times when unloaded and on a flat surface.

Shimano e6000 e-bike electric system

The frame design is particularly impressive with bosses everywhere which allow you to let your imagination to run wild about attachments you might want to build for the bike. Not that you need to make many yourself if you don’t want to because Yuba already has many attachments available like the Bread Basket front rack or Monkey Bars if you have kids to carry (the Boda Boda will happily carry two children). I went for the enormous Baguette pannier bags and bamboo running boards which provide extra support for the loaded bags or you can take the pannier bags off and load stuff straight onto the running boards (BBQ gas bottle or Esky, anyone?). I was keen to also be able to load stuff on the top of the rack and was very fortunate that the wire laundry basket I already had at home fitted the rack like a glove and has now become a permanent feature.

Being the proud owner of the Boda Boda for only a short time so far, I haven’t yet tested all of the carrying possibilities this bike has to offer but I have managed to pack eight green bags of groceries onboard which includes heavy items like two and three litre bottles of drink and bags of potatoes. There hasn’t yet been any need to hold back on what I get at the supermarket.

Yuba Boda Boda cockpit

Riding with larger loads like this takes a little getting used to but not too much. The gigantic double stand on the bike holds it very steady while you’re loading up and getting going is made all the more easy with the electric assist kicking in as soon as you press your foot on the pedal. It’s fairly plain sailing once you’re going.

Commuting on the Boda Boda is a cinch. The giant pannier bags are not only water proof but also let you carry everything you might need for work – spare sets of clothes, shoes, laptop. Remember that email from Jan at the office social club reminding you to bring a plate of food for the team morning tea on Tuesday? No problem, just wedge it next to a bag in the rear basket. Need to pick up little Johnny’s school fancy dress costume from the joke shop on the way home? Easy done.

Of course, variety being the spice of life, I’ll be rotating my methods of commuting between the Boda Boda, my bimodal Brompton-plus-train journeys and probably some kind of sprightly road bike commute involving leaving a set of clothes and shoes at work the day before courtesy of the Boda Boda.

Yuba Boda Boda hydraulic disc brakes

Range for the Boda Boda is probably going to be somewhere between 90km and 120km per charge depending on terrain, how heavy your load is and how heavily you rely on the electric assist. For a supermarket run with a heavy load load of groceries on the way back at a distance of less than 10km round trip, I’ll use between 5% and 10% of the battery including a few bursts of the highest level of assistance with the rest on Eco.

As another example, a round trip commute of a little under 40km with a light load and using mostly the Eco level assistance will use about 30% of the battery including usage of the built in lights on the way home.

Charging is super simple with the Shimano electrics and done without removing the battery from the bike. You just open a port on the side, plug the oversized laptop charger in, plug the other end into the bike and wait for the light to go out.

Why bother?

At a little under 6000 Aussie King Prawns including all the accessories like pannier bags and running boards, the Boda Boda isn’t exactly a bargain basement purchase. So why would you bother going down the road of getting something like this and is it really worth while?

For a bike nut like me, it’s kind of a non-question but for everyone else, consider firstly what your car costs to run to perform the tasks I’ve outlined above. You’ll need to take into account at least the purchase price of the car, rego, fuel, maintenance, parking and insurance. Even if you get the e-cargobike and still keep the car in the garage for occasional use, I reckon enough of those costs would diminish over a year or two to pay for e-cargobike.

There’s a more in-depth analysis of the cost of motoring by the RACQ here (pdf).

Then there’s the added convenience and sheer pleasure of getting around on one of these. During a commute, on the few short stretches of road that I come into contact with where there aren’t yet bikeways, I’ll almost always pass a long line of cars gridlocked at an intersection or roundabout. I can pick a car to watch, pass it, duck down some side streets and bikeways, pop out at the next intersection and see the same car still one or two light changes away from getting through the intersection.

At the supermarket, you can forget about cruising around trying to find that elusive parking spot like a cop searching for a fugitive or wheeling a trolley full of groceries past people’s exhaust pipes and hoping nobody backs over you. With the e-cargobike, you just ride straight up to the front door, lock up and head in and do the reverse on the way out. No queuing to get out, no scanning of number plates and hoping you haven’t parked too long – just get in, get what you need and get out.

And, whilst this post is definitely not meant to be a lecture about environmentalism, the amount of emissions created to build, run and charge one of these things is almost laughable compared to a car and even less if you have solar panels at home or wherever you charge the e-bike.

Yuba Boda Boda e-cargobike carrying a skateboard

And so…

And so, with the Yuba Boda Boda, I think I’ve ended up with a very useful addition to my stable which pretty closely matches my need for a cargo bike and greatly reduces my need for car usage.

E-bikes have definitely come a long way in the last five to ten years with big brands like Shimano, Bosch and Yamaha all offering some really good quality, well finished and easy to use systems and the bikes themselves are quite mind blowing in terms of their capabilities and the variety available so it’s a good time to seriously consider one if you weren’t convinced with previous generation offerings.

If you’re specifically interested in the Boda Boda or any of the other Yuba e-cargobikes, give Louis a shout at Earth Cycles in South Brisbane.

Keep riding and see you out there some time.

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The producer of the Velo Moda website acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land where I create and publish content from, the Turrbal and Jagera people, and pay my respect to Elders past, present and emerging. I recognise their continued connection to the land and waters of this beautiful place.
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