cargo bike vs. the car

Over the previous yr 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. Automobiles–in case you hadn’t heard–excel at hauling a number of individuals 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’s, nevertheless, a complete class of e-bikes whose complete goal is to ferry heavy hundreds, whether or not they contain multiple particular person, gadgets in bulk, or some mixture thereof. Often known as cargo e-bikes, they’ve obtained outsized racks and different affordances for transporting items, choices for passenger seating, and electrical motors which might be highly effective sufficient to bear the burden. Lately I obtained 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 reminiscent of a rear basket or seating for one grownup passenger or two youngsters. [Photo: courtesy of Momentum]

Although Momentum is just not a big-name bicycle model, it’s an arm of Large—the appropriately-named huge bike producer primarily based in Taiwan. The corporate goals its Momentum fashions at metropolis dwellers, a market that makes specific sense for a cargo e-bike. Cities, in spite of everything, are normally horrible locations to drive and park a four-wheeled car. With many city journeys consisting of just some miles, it’s doable to swap a car for an e-bike for such journeys. Until you enjoyment of being caught in visitors, the e-bike may even be the superior type of transportation.

Should you haven’t been protecting tabs on e-bikes, the PakYak E+’s listing worth–$5,500–may startle you. Although there are many different fashions that value 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 elucidate its worth.


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, slightly than the 20 mile restrict of e-bikes reminiscent of the RadWagon. As an alternative of utilizing typical derailleur gears for shifting, it’s obtained 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 embody a motorcycle-style kickstand that retains the bike upright and steady, a lockable storage bin, and a smartphone app that connects to the e-bike through Bluetooth for functions reminiscent of journey logging and diagnostics. A lever on the left deal with enables you to rapidly increase and decrease the seat; that, together with the bike’s comparatively quick stature and low step-over top, facilitates relations of various heights sharing the bike.

The PakYak comes commonplace with a large entrance basket, and the non-obligatory rear one is downright huge. [Photo: courtesy of Momentum]

For all of the PakYak’s fancy options, I did discover two fundamental design points to be minor ongoing irritants. The handlebar-mounted controller you employ for duties reminiscent of adjusting the degree of pedaling help has a coloration display screen, nevertheless it’s on the small aspect and was a lot more durable 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 obtained the knack of inserting the oddly-shaped plug on the first strive.

Whereas the PakYak comes loaded with commonplace tools, the raft of equipment Momentum provides are much more important to its utility as a car substitute. For example, if the rear rack and roomy entrance basket aren’t sufficient, you possibly can add a huge rear basket with a 100 lb. capability. Or you possibly can occupy the similar rear area with a passenger seat and footrests. There’s an non-obligatory security bar that lets a baby trip securely on the again, or you need to use third-party seats to hold as much as two youngsters. To increase the distance you possibly can bike with motorized help, you should purchase 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 possibly can transport. [Photo: Harry McCracken]

Loaded with all the choices Momentum supplied with my evaluation bike—the secondary battery alone prices $900–the bike prices $7,300. However even if you happen to don’t blink at that worth, the PakYak’s weight may offer you 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 if you happen to’re in search of a mannequin you possibly can simply elevate–say, to hold it up stairs to retailer in an condominium. (The battery is detachable, which helps you to cost it externally if you happen to 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 massive and heavy. Climbing aboard felt a bit of like mounting a locomotive, and as soon as I used to be pedaling, the trip was extra lumbering than sporty. However I obtained used to the really feel rapidly 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 chortle at hills. Set to the most degree of help, the PakYak’s motor supplied sufficient energy to zip up most of the ones I encountered with out severe exertion. One notably 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 indisputable fact that its Shimano hub solely has 5 gears vs. the 9 by myself e-bike.

As soon as I obtained the knack of getting round on the PakYak, I reveled in the alternative to deal with errands that might be impractical by myself e-bike. The nice huge rear basket might deal with every part 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 had been packing a suitcase.


Me on a nice journey by San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. [Photo: Fredric Paul]

Working errands by e-bike additionally let me keep away from considered one of the most dreary features of car journey: discovering parking.  As an alternative of circling seeking an area, I locked up the bike at racks that had been normally steps from retailer entrances. As soon as I used to be carried out procuring, 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. Automobiles don’t simply have extra room for individuals and huge objects; they will accommodate each at the similar 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 similar area.

I additionally wouldn’t wish to change backwards and forwards between them with any regularity. Putting in or eradicating the rear basket includes wielding two wrenches and protecting monitor of a multitude 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 notably intrigued by the prospect of tagging alongside on my travels.)

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

In the finish, the PakYak felt prefer it’s more than likely to please precisely the form of particular person Momentum targets: urbanites for whom a car is usually overkill. If a cargo e-bike like this had existed again after I lived in an condominium in a very hilly San Francisco neighborhood—slightly than my present suburban digs—it could have been an easier, more healthy, extra sustainable, and enjoyable solution to get round. And that might have been remarkably liberating.