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I love bikes of all shapes and sizes, and in recent years, I’ve been particularly interested in e-assisted cargo bikes. They’re incredibly useful, and are loaded with a similarly incredible amount of tech and ingenuity. But perhaps most importantly, I’ve found that they’re a fantastic way to log more saddle time when I don’t otherwise have time for a “real” ride.
My latest fixation revolves around the Urban Arrow, a front-loader cargo bike that’s particularly prevalent in parts of Europe. It’s easy to see why they’re so popular in places like the Netherlands, where the terrain is mostly flat and the weather isn’t terribly extreme. But could I pull off using an Urban Arrow in lieu of an automobile here in Colorado, where we have very real winters? And what about shuttling around a kid?
This will be an especially long-term review, punctuated by regular updates where I share lessons learned along the way. You can read my introduction to this long-term review series, here.
Have you thought about adding a cargo bike to your life? Follow along!
The Urban Arrow has seen a fair bit of action as a two-wheeled taxi lately.
After a week away for work, I promised my daughter that I’d give her a ride to school in the “big bike” — never mind the fact that it was well below freezing, overcast, and with well-above-average humidity levels that made it feel way colder than the thermometer indicated. Luckily for her, the rain cover did a wonderful job keeping her warm — but not me! — while the mesh back meant that the two of us could still catch up a little bit on what happened at home while I was gone.
Mostly dry weather in the previous few days had thankfully dried out the roads and paths on the way to school, too, so we didn’t have to worry about any ice that morning (which is good, since those Schwalbe studded tires I mentioned in my previous post still haven’t arrived).
Later in the week, I picked her up from school (in north Boulder) and we went in the Urban Arrow down to south Boulder for a little “Girls Leadership” workshop — a distance of about 10 km, almost entirely on separated bike paths snaking their way through town. By the time we’d got home that evening, I’d logged nearly 30 km on the Urban Arrow that day alone, and never set foot in a car.
So far, so good, but the question still remains as to how well the Urban Arrow can handle a truly nasty winter day. I have, however, been able to answer the question of how the Urban Arrow can handle a heavier load.
A friend of mine broke her leg last week, and we were joking the other day about me shuttling her around in the Urban Arrow since she’s still on crutches and can’t ride or drive. Well, one thing led to another, and just this morning, I picked her up from her doctor’s appointment. She had no problem loading herself into the giant foam bucket (I left the rain cover at home), and there was plenty of room for her crutches as well. The down blanket I now keep in the Urban Arrow proved useful for the 15 km journey, given that she was now in a soft boot — and shorts.
There was an awful lot of laughter between the two of us that morning, and lots of smiles from onlookers we passed on the way. Amazingly, I found that the Urban Arrow was just as stable and easy to ride when loaded up in that manner as when it was empty, and by the time we rolled up to her front door, Kristin said that the ride had been the most fun she’d had since she busted herself up.
Some other observations I’ve gathered over the past few weeks:
– The built-in lights are nice to have since the controls are integrated into the Bosch head unit, and they’re powered by the main battery. But they’re pretty disappointing in terms of total output, and I find myself constantly wishing there was a daytime flashing mode. For the time being, I’ve resorted to separate front and rear daytime running lights until I can figure out what I want to do here.
– I replaced the stock pedals with plastic-bodied MTB models from OneUp Components. The platform is far bigger and the steel traction pins provide much more confidence, especially when wearing boots.
– The side steps on the side of the cargo box are super convenient for pint-sized passengers, and the superb kickstand means I don’t have to stabilize the bike at all when loading and unloading. However, the steps aren’t very easy to use when the rain cover is in place given that the opening sits more toward the back end of the box. I’d prefer that Urban Arrow relocates the cutouts to the other end, or maybe just add a second set.
– The TransX adjustable stem is nice from a sizing perspective since it allows for such a broad window of height and reach settings. However, the clamping mechanism isn’t quite up to the task. Friction paste is a must between the stem and handlebar (despite the fact that both are aluminum).
– I still need to put some more powerful brakes on here. I might try some upgraded pads from SwissStop first, but looking long-term, my guess is that I’m ultimately going to end up with at least a DH/Enduro-centric four-piston setup.
– The built-in Abus lock is incredibly convenient; just turn the key, rotate the shackle, and just like that, the rear wheel can’t be moved. For longer stops, I can also add the purpose-built steel chain so that the Urban Arrow is physically secured to something, but the wheel lock alone seems to suffice for short stops in low-risk areas. After all, this thing weighs nearly 50 kg as is, so it’s not like someone can just casually pick it up and walk away.
– Both fenders need to be upgraded. They provide good coverage, but allow for far too much spray out the sides. I’ve got an idea here that I think will work well, and will cost very little. I’ll report on how this goes in a future post.
Perhaps the most important conclusion I’ve come to over the past few weeks is that I can’t bring myself to give the thing back. By the time you read this, Ryan at Front Range Cargo Bikes (who has gracefully facilitated this whole thing with Urban Arrow’s US subsidiary) will have run my credit card, and I’m now multiple thousands of dollars in the hole.
More to come.