It's been a year since we bought our electric Bakfiets long cargo bike from Dutch Cargo Bike. See this post for some initial views we had on it. We have done over 3,000kms in it this year, so now is probably a good time to review it.
All three of us love this bike, in fact Amy and I fight over whose turn it is to ride it! It's a breeze to ride, thanks to beautifully designed ergonomics, top quality components and superb build quality. The electric assist is super smooth and the box carries just about anything we need it to. Here is a summary :
Cargo carrying: A trip to the beach with a 5 year old, a boogie board, towels, picnic, etc is easy. A trip to the community garden with tools, soil mix, plants, etc no sweat. I've even picked up supplies like chook food and bales of straw down the road and fitted it all in.Grocery shopping, no worries. 3 kids fine. 2 adults plus a kid, hard work up the hills but otherwise easy. Going to the park with Quin and Porridge, our 20 year old arthritic dog is no probs. The best bit has been in helping Quin ride his bike around. When he gets puffed out we just chuck him and his bike in the box and we're away. I would definitely recommend the long box over the short.
General use: We're really happy with the gears and brakes, which are pretty much maintenance free. I now think that derailleur gears are awful, I can't believe they are so common! I was unlucky enough to get a puncture on the rear tyre and luckily got the flat at home. A big cardboard box staple had pierced the side wall (where there is less protection), but it was quite easy to fix. I didn't have to remove the wheel, so no worries there. The tyres were a bit tricky to inflate until I bought a $2 adaptor for our pump (the valve type is quite uncommon in Australia). I find the 'Smart' lights a bit annoying, since they turn themselves on and off according to the light level and whether you're riding or not. This is fine most of the time, except when the lights go on when you don't want them to. Amy loves the covered chain guard and wheel guard for being able to wear anything while riding, even long dresses. Lots of people ask isn't it hard to ride, due to the look of the bike. The bike is very easy to ride despite the handlebar being so far from the front wheel. In fact I'd say that after a few rides it's just as easy to ride this bike as a normal bike (albeit with a wider turning circle) and compared to a tag-along it's much, much easier and more enjoyable.
Electrics: Factory fitted 24V 10a pedelec system, where assist is only provided when pedalling. A controller on the handlebar tells you how much juice is left (5 levels) and allows you to set the level of assist (5 levels again). It's easy to charge the bike, no disassembling of the battery just an easy plug into the wall. It takes about 6 hours for a full charge and uses 0.4 kWh (about 10 cents worth). A full charge gets us 35-50 km depending on various things (wind, level of assist, hills, cargo, etc.). One annoying aspect is that less power is delivered as the battery discharges and also that a bar on the controller's battery level does not give the same number of kilometres. At the highest level of assist we have found that we travel around 20 kms on the first bar, 10 on the second, 5 on the third and maybe 3 on the fourth. You'll be lucky to get 2 kms on the last bar and the power delivery is very low. It's not a huge issue, it's just something to be aware of and we usually charge when the battery is on 3 bars or less. The bike weighs around 45kg, so if you run out of juice you're walking the rest of the way. Although the battery is not very powerful we have found it fine for us. At one stage we found that the electrics had an intermittent fault where they didn't deliver power for a while. This issue has gone for now and we think it may have been due to water getting in a connection. The motor cuts out at 25 kms (this is standard for this model), which is a bit annoying, but a good power saving device. We are definitely glad we got the elec assist. It means the bike replaces a car for 80% of the trips we make and we ride it almost every day. We still get a work out, since you have to pedal to get the motor to run.
Faults: No big issues here. We spent $35 to fix a faulty gear cable and $20 to replace the pedals which also wore out prematurely. We change the seat level very often since Amy and I share the bike and we have worn out 2 saddle quick releasers already. I really think better ones should be fitted since the fact that this is a unisex bike is a big selling point and it's obvious most families will need to change the seat level often. The front mudguard used to rub up against the steering rod and after much consultation we chose the tried and tested 'whack it with a hammer' approach, which has worked fine.
Any other grumbles? A friend built the boxed up bike for us. The instructions were very poor, especially for the electrics. I can't believe that a bike this expensive doesn't come with a free torque key to fit the box together (Ikea style)! The tool was very hard to get (I found one at a fasteners shop in the end) and you need one to tighten the screws every now and again.
Cost: Is it really worth the cost ($5,000)? Absolutely, we have no regrets. We have a few friends with the chinese copies and I hear tales of front wheels coming loose, the bike stand dropping down while riding, poor braking and gearing systems, etc. I can't see those bikes lasting more than 5-10 years, whereas I think ours will still be going in the next century. Our ongoing repair costs will be lower, our riding enjoyment higher and the resale value will be much better. I'm not saying people shouldn't buy chinese cargo bikes, any cargo bike on the road is preferable to a car. I'm just saying that if you can afford the extra then don't hesitate to buy Dutch. FYI here's a link to a blog post with some views on most of the common cargo bikes on the market.
The ultimate proof of the value of this bike is this: we just got rid of our second car. We couldn't have done this without the Bakfiets. This means we'll save at least $5,000 a year on running costs, so the bike will have paid for itself in a year. The car has been demoted to the verge and the garage is now given over to the more valuable bikes. We're even thinking about getting a second cargo bike (a Workcycles Fr8) so we won't have to fight over who gets to ride them!