cargo bike vs. the car

Over the previous 12 months and a half, I’ve spent an infinite period of time pedaling round the San Francisco Bay Space on my Gazelle e-bike. The three,800 miles I’ve coated have been nice enjoyable and good train. However I didn’t consider them as a substitute for driving. Vehicles–in case you hadn’t heard–excel at hauling a number of folks and their possessions. My Gazelle, on the different hand, carries me and a pannier bag that may accommodate roughly one small grocery bag’s price of stuff.

There may be, nonetheless, an entire class of e-bikes whose complete function is to ferry heavy masses, whether or not they contain multiple individual, gadgets in bulk, or some mixture thereof. Generally known as cargo e-bikes, they’ve acquired outsized racks and different affordances for transporting items, choices for passenger seating, and electrical motors which can be highly effective sufficient to bear the burden. Lately I acquired to spend some prolonged time with one such e-bike, Momentum’s PakYak E+.

Like different cargo bikes, the PakYak is unusually lengthy, giving it room for an outsized rack, a lockable storage bin, and choices corresponding to a rear basket or seating for one grownup passenger or two youngsters. [Photo: courtesy of Momentum]Although Momentum shouldn’t be a big-name bicycle model, it’s an arm of Big—the appropriately-named huge bike producer primarily based in Taiwan. The corporate goals its Momentum fashions at metropolis dwellers, a market that makes explicit sense for a cargo e-bike. Cities, in spite of everything, are often horrible locations to drive and park a four-wheeled automobile. With many city journeys consisting of only a few miles, it’s potential to swap a car for an e-bike for such journeys. Until you enjoyment of being caught in visitors, the e-bike would possibly even be the superior type of transportation.

In case you haven’t been protecting tabs on e-bikes, the PakYak E+’s record value–$5,500–would possibly startle you. Although there are many different fashions that price that a lot, it’s far more cash than it’s essential to spend to get a cargo e-bike: Rad Energy Bikes’ RadWagon 4, for instance, begins at $1,800. However the PakYak is tricked out in all types of spectacular ways in which assist to clarify its value.

For starters, it’s a Class 3 e-bike, which implies that its Yamaha SyncDrive Professional motor assists your pedaling at speeds as much as 28 miles per hour, somewhat than the 20 mile restrict of e-bikes corresponding to the RadWagon. As an alternative of utilizing typical derailleur gears for shifting, it’s acquired a Shimano Nexus hub, which helps you to select between 5 speeds even when the bike isn’t shifting, and–as a result of it’s sealed–provides low-maintenance reliability. Luxurious touches embrace a motorcycle-style kickstand that retains the bike upright and secure, a lockable storage bin, and a smartphone app that connects to the e-bike through Bluetooth for functions corresponding to journey logging and diagnostics. A lever on the left deal with enables you to shortly increase and decrease the seat; that, together with the bike’s comparatively quick stature and low step-over top, facilitates members of the family of various heights sharing the bike.

The PakYak comes normal with a large entrance basket, and the elective rear one is downright huge. [Photo: courtesy of Momentum]For all of the PakYak’s fancy options, I did discover two primary design points to be minor ongoing irritants. The handlebar-mounted controller you utilize for duties corresponding to adjusting the stage of pedaling help has a colour display screen, however it’s on the small facet and was a lot harder to learn at a look than the bigger monochrome show by myself e-bike. And the PakYak’s charging port is positioned down close to the pedals, the place it’s powerful to achieve; I by no means acquired the knack of inserting the oddly-shaped plug on the first strive.


Whereas the PakYak comes loaded with normal tools, the raft of equipment Momentum provides are much more vital to its utility as a car substitute. For example, if the rear rack and roomy entrance basket aren’t sufficient, you may add a big rear basket with a 100 lb. capability. Or you may occupy the identical rear house with a passenger seat and footrests. There’s an elective security bar that lets a toddler journey securely on the again, or you should utilize third-party seats to hold as much as two youngsters. To increase the distance you may bike with motorized help, you should buy an auxiliary battery that sits inside the storage compartment. (E-bike ranges differ wildly relying on terrain, cargo weight, and even climate: Momentum estimates 35-60 miles on a cost with one battery and double that with two.)

The PakYak virtually begs you to see how a lot stuff you may transport. [Photo: Harry McCracken]Loaded with all the choices Momentum supplied with my assessment bike—the secondary battery alone prices $900–the bike prices $7,300. However even for those who don’t blink at that value, the PakYak’s weight would possibly provide you with pause. Like all cargo e-bikes, it’s a beast: formally 79 kilos, not counting the kickstand and entrance basket, any equipment you’ve put in, and no matter cargo you occur to be toting. That makes it a nonstarter for those who’re in search of a mannequin you may simply raise–say, to hold it up stairs to retailer in an house. (The battery is detachable, which helps you to cost it externally for those who can’t stow the bike close to an influence plug.)

As I used to be acclimating myself to the PakYak, I used to be keenly conscious that it was giant and heavy. Climbing aboard felt slightly like mounting a locomotive, and as soon as I used to be pedaling, the journey was extra lumbering than sporty. However I acquired used to the really feel shortly sufficient and ultimately just about forgot that the bike weighed round 50% greater than my Gazelle.

In comparison with bikes that run on pure pedal energy, the single neatest thing about e-bikes is that they allow you to snicker at hills. Set to the most stage of help, the PakYak’s motor supplied sufficient energy to zip up most of the ones I encountered with out severe exertion. One significantly prolonged, steep incline did show to be a little bit of a exercise, however that may have had much less to do with the bike’s heft than the incontrovertible fact that its Shimano hub solely has 5 gears vs. the 9 by myself e-bike.

As soon as I acquired the knack of getting round on the PakYak, I reveled in the alternative to deal with errands that may be impractical by myself e-bike. The nice massive rear basket might deal with all the pieces from an extra-large takeout pizza to 5 12-packs of soda pop, and I had room in the entrance basket and panniers for extra groceries. Even selecting up drycleaning was a breeze–I folded it in half and laid it flat as if I have been packing a suitcase.


Me on a nice journey by means of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. [Photo: Fredric Paul]Operating errands by e-bike additionally let me keep away from certainly one of the most dreary facets of car journey: discovering parking.  As an alternative of circling in quest of an area, I locked up the bike at racks that have been often steps from retailer entrances. As soon as I used to be carried out purchasing, I used to be on my means in moments.

Nonetheless, even a cargo bike as succesful as this one can’t trump a car in each respect. Vehicles don’t simply have extra room for folks and enormous objects; they’ll accommodate each at the identical time. With the PakYak, it’s one or the different, since the rear basket and passenger seat choices for youths and grownups all occupy the identical house.

I additionally wouldn’t wish to swap forwards and backwards between them with any regularity. Putting in or eradicating the rear basket includes wielding two wrenches and protecting monitor of a large number of bolts, washers, and nuts, although the passenger seat goes on and comes off rather more simply. (I spent most of my time with the PakYak with the rear basket put in, since I don’t have youngsters and my spouse didn’t appear significantly intrigued by the prospect of tagging alongside on my travels.)

There’s additionally the query of distance. Taking longer journeys on an e-bike could be great–I rode the PakYak on a 31-mile journey up the San Francisco coast, throughout the Golden Gate Bridge, into Sausalito, then again–however except you’ve acquired an infinite period of time, it’s a leisure exercise somewhat than a sensible different to blasting down the freeway at the velocity restrict.

In the finish, the PakYak felt prefer it’s probably to please precisely the kind of individual Momentum targets: urbanites for whom a car is commonly overkill. If a cargo e-bike like this had existed again once I lived in an house in a very hilly San Francisco neighborhood—somewhat than my present suburban digs—it might have been a less complicated, more healthy, extra sustainable, and enjoyable strategy to get round. And that may have been remarkably liberating.


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