2022 in Review: The Year E
If you are going to replace a car, you need a bike that can do everything.
Perhaps it was the provocative title, "Improved Urban Arrow E-Cargo Bike Will Eat Ford F-150s," and the subhead, "Whether you are moving kids, dirt, or anvils, it can do the job." It attracted many comments like: "This is useless. You can put a mini fridge on that bike, but an F150 will carry your full-size fridge and still have room for other appliances, not to mention the ability actually to leave the city. Micro transportation will never replace cars simply because they never have the same range and payload as a car/truck." And this comment: "That's a nice story. Feel free to call me when you need to move your washer/refrigerator or literally anything that exceeds the size of that bike of yours."
But in the real world, how many people actually do move their own fridges and washers? How many could actually lift a fridge into their F-150? What do most people carry in their car? How far do they actually travel? I suspect it is not much and not far. And many who live in cities and suburbs are finding that an e-cargo bike can do the job for them.
VELLO / Leonardo Ramirez
Many people are also finding that if you are going to go electric, then an e-cargo bike makes more sense than a conventional e-bike.
Let's compare this to cars: I used to drive a 1990 Mazda Miata that could barely carry a couple of bags of groceries and a single passenger. But it was our second car; we also had a much more practical Subaru Impreza. As I noted in my look at the Vello SUB, purportedly the world's lightest e-cargo bike, if you only have one vehicle, it should be practical and be able to carry stuff. When I decided not to drive anymore, we kept the Subaru.
This is true whether it is a high-end bike or a cheaper one. Last year Sami Grover spoke with Arleigh Greenwald of Tern about whether e-cargo bikes work as a person's only vehicle—and she largely speaking agreed they really can: "If you are looking to replace car trips, and always have utility built into your bike—an electric cargo bike may be the perfect one bike solution for you."
It's likely to be the same with bikes. When I bought my Gazelle back in 2019, I was convinced that an e-bike should be a bike with a boost, essentially a conventional big-wheeled bike with a motor assist.
But I use it differently than I did my regular bike. I often go shopping with it and can't fit everything into my pannier. I strap cross-country skis to it. My daughter used to put a baby seat on it and the center of gravity of all that weight was very high. Big wheels with narrow tires make sense when you are doing all the pushing, but when you have a motor, you can handle a bit more rolling resistance.
So e-cargo bikes are being designed with smaller wheels and lower centers of gravity to carry more weight without getting huge. The ENVO Flex Overland is a good example of this.
It isn't all rainbows and unicorns in the bike lanes; there is so much happening in e-bike design that there are conflicts arising that threaten the entire movement. I have complained for years about the regulation of e-bikes in the U.S. with the silly three types, all of which go too fast, and the throttles that let people ride them like they are mopeds or motorcycles.
I thought the whole idea of e-bikes is that they are bikes and would play nice in the bike lanes, and a Class 3 e-bike going 28 mph is not going to do that. So when you have a situation like New York's where there pedestrians are walking in the bike lanes because the sidewalks are too narrow and you have e-bikes going as fast as cars, you are going to have problems.
I expressed my preference for Euro pedelec style with 250-watt motors and 15.5 mph speed limits and no throttles and got 379 comments saying I didn't know what I was talking about. Meanwhile, I was testing an "e-thing," a bike that didn't look like a euro-bike and had a throttle, and getting an education from it.
Small wheels are the next big thing in e-bikes. Because I liked big wheels and the European-style e-bike, I was a bit dubious when testing the Lectric e-bike and called it an "e-thing." But I wanted to see... could an affordable e-bike do the job?
The $799 bike costs a quarter of what my Gazelle goes for, and those 2.6-inch tires on 20-inch wheels eat up the roads. Ultimately, I concluded that the e-bike revolution allows for all kinds of vehicles if you throw out your preconceptions. I even enjoyed the throttle!
It seems that nobody is riding conventional bicycles anymore! When I was on a Halloween Kidical Mass ride, the only "normal" bicycle was ridden by one of the kids. The rest were Terns, two Gazelle e-bikes, two Bromptons, a Black Iron Horse cargo bike, and the icing on the cake, a Quattrovelo recumbent.
In crowded cities like New York, people are finding that cargo and e-cargo bikes are a great way to get around. I was concerned about the danger, but filmmaker Clarence Eckerson Jr. of Streetfilms tells Treehugger:
That's my son-in-law Neil, picking up not quite an F-150-sized load of soil and plants from the garden center. He doesn't have a driver's license, so a pickup truck isn't an option.
It changed his life: He can do shopping, he can take his daughter to soccer and swimming and school, and he can take a load of food for his pop-up calzone business. He doesn't need to move a fridge or a washing machine, but he probably could if he wanted to; the box can hold 220 pounds. He is still riding it into December.
An F-150 wouldn't fit into our garage, which was drilled into the basement of a 1915 house back in the 1970s—my Miata filled it. Now the garage comfortably holds four e-bikes, with room left over for my rowing machine, an elliptical, and a year's worth of tomato canning. Four people have all-electric transportation with a fraction of the upfront carbon of a car, electric or ICE, teensy batteries, and parked in a third of a single-car garage. It's not for everyone, but for most people in cities or suburbs, it is more than enough.
Want to take the plunge into the world of e-bikes or bike cargo trailers yourself? Treehugger's product guides can help you make the right purchasing choice:The Best E-Bikes The Best E-Bike Conversion Kits The Best Bike Cargo Trailers