Cargo Bike Visit to Northern California - Part I - Two BionX Product Tests.
We juggle keeping the store open with doing promotion and business out of town. In reality, with just 2.5 people on staff here at Splendid Cycles, a business trip means closing up shop. Since we don't like to inconvenience the customers that come to our Portland shop we are not only very judicious about when we close, but we tend to optimize our time away.
That means that we do multiple stops on the road visiting customers, attending events, doing some promotional photo shoots, and of course we also always try to plan a little product testing.
Since Biketoberfest Marin and the Cargo Bike Jubilee was a big hit with us last year, and the Bullitt cargo bikes a big hit with the fest attendees, we decided to go again this year. On our agenda:
- Biketoberfest Marin;
- Visiting Bullitt dealers in Berkeley and San Anselmo;
- Visiting potential and existing Bullitt customers in San Francisco;
- Product testing on the Sacramento River Trail and at Castle Crags State Park.
We happily fit all of those activities and the 1100+ mile drive into a weeks worth of days.
First, you're likely wondering how we transport bikes to show and ride. Since Bullitts are neither ultra-light or compact, the solution is to stow them onto our Yakima RockAndRoll Trailer using Rocky Mount Tandem Mounts. The trailer is lightweight, and has proven itself quite road-worthy.
Making the most of our travel time, we slowly made our way south with our first planned product-testing stop in Redding, California. Previously, I associated high summer temperatures with that town. Now, I associate an amazing network of paved bike-ped paths. We chose to ride our BionX Bullitts from Redding to the top of Shasta Dam, a round-trip of about 40 miles. Our ride essentially began at the Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay on the Sacramento River. Across the bridge we turn left and head upstream following the river. First we pedal through city parks, and neighborhoods but we're soon out in the rolling chaparral-covered hills. Not far from town, we crest a hill just as two bald eagles perch in a nearby Ponderosa pine. The rest of the ride feels equally wild. We see only a few other cyclists but multitudes of birds, squirrels, and lots of bear scat.
The paved trail takes us past two smaller dams , more bridges and a through an old tunnel. We leave the hills and cruise along the river-grade trail towards at a nice 16-17-mile per hour pace. Soon we arrive near the base of Shasta Dam. The trail continues on a back road; 600-feet in about 1.5 miles later and we're on top of the dam. And despite a bit of a headwind, we cruise back to Turtle Bay at a lovely clip. All-in-all a wonderful Bullitt adventure.
Our second product-testing stop was on the return trip, at Castle Crags State Park. This time a much shorter ride but testing out one heavily loaded Bullitt on another steep sustained climb. For this ride, Barb was loaded into the cargo hold of the bike along with her camera gear for a mile-long 500-ft climb to a vista point in the park. I'd approximate the load at 150 pounds.
First, I must say, if you haven't been a passenger on a Bullitt, it is a total blast. As an adult passenger, more leg room would be nice, BUT, for short trips sitting in the kid seat and being pedaled around is nothing but fun. Usually, I laugh, or at least smile, the whole time. For the pilot, it usually takes just a minute to get accustomed to a live, squirmy adult passenger. Once past that moment, the sole issue is having the leg strength to move the load.
We've had great success moving adults and heavy loads (over 100lbs.) around the rolling hills of Portland with BionX Bullitts, but how did it do on the steep climb at Castle Crags?The answer: the BionX system certainly helped but after about a half mile when the grade of the road rose to over 15% in places, the system showed certain signs of strain. When that happens, the motor reduces its output in order to protect the motor from over-heating. So, after that, we were moving at a walking pace up the hill. After another quarter mile, it just didn't make sense to stay seated in the cargo hold. So, Barb got out and walked. The motor soon cooled and Joel was able to zip up the last few yards of the road and trail. And, the trip down was a hoot!
The bikes ridden for these test rides utilize the standard, rear hub-drive BionX PL350, a 37 V, 350 watt system. BionX is a great system for increasing your range. Whether needing to go farther, faster, or carry more we've found it quite capable in the right circumstances. For our 40-miler it was great. Forty miles on a cargo bike, even the speedy Bullitt is taxing. With the e-assist, we rode as if on lightweight bikes, had fun doing it, and were able to enjoy our long walk to dinner afterwards. In other words, we were tired, but not exhausted.
But, BionX does have its limitations, as proved by test ride #2. Performance of hub drive systems, like the BionX, decline with more extreme weights, road grades, high ambient temperatures, or combinations of those factors. We give BionX credit for designing safeguards that protect the system when stressed in those conditions But, it's our opinion that it is not a system for every situation. For moderate loads and hills we love it. But, in situations where you're hauling heavy loads up steep grades e-assist systems, like EcoSpeed, are far more suitable.